November 11, 2007

Finger-pointing 101

Charles Barone responds to news of the delay of NCLB reauthorization with a lament that (at least in his view) unions are crowing over a political victory. He broadens the field a tiny bit and then engages in a touch of nostalgia for times that never were: the education arena, there was a time when the mantra was that "politics should stop at the schoolhouse door." No one ever reached perfection on that. But it was aspired to or at the very least given lip-service. Now, however, such principles are dismissed with impunity. Politics, campaign contributions, and interpersonal feuds have taken over the entire schoolhouse and are staging a sit-in.

If one defines politics entirely as partisanship in an electioneering context, Barone might be partially right. There are plenty of examples of bipartisan support for various education policies in history. But he might be wrong even in that vein: witness bipartisan support for the College Cost Reduction and Access Act.

As important, though, is the fact that Barone views this issue ahistorically and narrowly. Since the Progressive Era, the cry "get politics out of education" has been a common rhetorical trump card that has often meant "get all the political views except mine out of education." For that reason alone, I am skeptical of various claims on that front.

In this particular context (reauthorization arguments), Barone is engaging in a fairly unsubtle form of finger-pointing: who's to blame for the death of reauthorization? I'm unconvinced that Miller-McKeon was enough of an improvement on virtually any front to rush it through. But beyond the issues, if you really want to point fingers, there are a few complicating factors. First is the distribution of blame: if one wants to call NEA obstinate, one has to explain why Educator Roundtable has rounded on NEA, why Ed Trust doesn't deserve equal blame for appearing equally obstinate, Bush for his Department of Ed appointments who allowed cronyism to poison the waters (Neil Bush and COWs, the inadequate control of conflict-of-interest issues with Reading First, etc.), etc.

Even if one wanted to get around the finger-pointing, there remains the fact that the political landscape of accountability has changed: Parents are changing their views of teaching to the test. Any reauthorization that does not address that issue will be politically risky, because most parents really do not want schools turned into test-prep factories (a term Diane Ravitch uses).

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein on November 11, 2007 10:33 AM |