Reading this morning’s LA Times article about Governor Ah-nold’s latest recipe for “reforming” education in California, one word kept popping into my brain.
What do you think the key words are in this lead?
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called on legislators Thursday to adopt sweeping education reforms that would dramatically reshape California’s public education system and qualify the state for competitive federal school funding.
Um, yeah, that would be those last eight words, which in just about any guise spells the “B” word.
Obviously,Â states are under the gun financially. And so when the Obama administration dangles $100 billion out there for education, it knows it can use it to get whatever “reforms” it wants. Don’t have teacher merit pay? No money. Not supporting charter schools? Step away from the window.
It’s not that I necessarily disagree with everything the administration is proposing. It’s the way they’re trying to get it done.
And it’s their hubris.
But in an interview Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan praised Schwarzenegger’s moves as “courageous” and said they could transform the state into a national model for reform.
Courageous? You’re kidding me, right? Courageous? Try “helpless.”
I expected better.
(Update: If you want to really be inspired about the future of education, listen to Chris‘s presentation to the FCC yesterday instead.)
Richard Lambert says
The same thing happened here in Australia with our last Federal Government. The conditions for funding bordered on the ridiculous (school must have a flag pole and raise the Australian flag each day to get money???).
This is what you get when the Federal Government in your political system has no direct power over Education. It has to resort to other means in order to influence things when it perceives that the States are failing in their duty.
Not sure what the answer is on this. Is this the only practical way a Democrat Federal government can lead Education reform in a Republican state?
Tom Hoffman says
Actually, I think “bribery” is closer. Nice post though.
Chris Johnson says
As Richard Lambert mentioned in his comment, this is the only way to really influence change in our system on the federal level. Either they dangle funding in front of the districts or they make recommendations which will likely be ignored.
If districts feel that they can operate successfully on their own teams without federal funding, they are permitted to do so. It’s not like the administration is going to take money away from districts.
What about people who offer money to college students in the form of scholarships? They often have conditions that must be met: student must maintain 3.0 GPA or higher, students must complete at least 20 hours of community service, student must study mathematics full-time, etc. If a student wants to have the freedom to fail classes, if he wants to spend weekends partying, if he wants to major in religious studies part-time, he must pass up some scholarship money.
Does the system “force” some students to participate in community service? I suppose one could look at it that way, but that person has a choice. Of course the politicians involved are going to spin the news with words like “courageous” rather than “desperate” and “reform” rather than “experimentation”, but it should already be obvious to any rational being that American news companies tend to blow certain issues out of proportion while completely ignoring others.
Tim Goree says
I agree with some of what you say here, but have to clarify two points. First, regarding your first paragraph, I have no doubt that those on the federal level want to influence change in education from that level, and they certainly think that they have the right ideas. Unfortunately, both federal and state levels of government, in reality, are hopelessly removed from from the American student. They have no real way to create positive change from the top down, no matter how bad they want that change to happen. Everything I’ve seen them do in the last 20 years in the name of bettering education does nothing but make our education system worse. If education is going to get better, it’s going to happen at the local levels, with best practices at those levels working their way naturally up. The best thing that state and federal governments can do for education is focus their brain power and resources on creating frameworks for how local communities can effectively assess the performance of their own schools, because the federal and state governments have already proven that they can’t do it.
Second, to think that local districts, especially in California, can choose not to take the “extra” money that the federal government is offering right now and not be affected financially is faulty. What is happening in California is that the state is using the federal money that it is getting to back fill it’s education cuts. For example, if California gets $100 million in education earmarked stimulus money from the federal government, then the state immediately cuts $100 million from the education state budget and back fills the cut with the federal stimulus money. In other words, the state is stealing the education stimulus money from the feds for it’s general budget shortfall. If a district elects to NOT take federal stimulus money, then it is definitely getting a whole lot less money than it was the previous year. The state is seeing to it that the federal stimulus money is NOT “extra” as it was intended to be. Apply those rules to your college scholarship example and see how ugly that really looks.
Welcome to California.
Obama could start by putting his kids in public school and let them be taught the same socialist fascist crap he advocates teaching to our kids in public school.
Chris Johnson says
How does this comment further the conversation? If you’re looking for mindless indulgence of your Republican opinions, turn on Fox. If, however, you have a point that contributes to the topic addressed in the post, I’d be interested in reading it.
Gary S. Stager says
Actually, you do not need to be a Republican to fear that Obama will make public education worse, not better, or that what he and his personal trainer, Secretary Duncan buy for their own children is 180 degrees away from what they are forcing on other people’s children.
There is not one bit of daylight between Bush’ fraudulent, mean-spirited and mis-educative NCLB and Obama’s plans for public education – except of course that Obama is going to spend hundreds of billions in (let’s call it) enforcement.
Todd G says
I guess, for me, it boils down to this. Regardless of where the money comes from and what new ideas or reforms come along, there will be kids in need of people to get up in front of them and teach. People to show they take an interest in their lives. I know, I know, these issues are more complicated than that. However, once the classroom doors open, those of us in that room have to shut out all the debate and, in that moment, focus on the kids. I guess that will be what I’m going to do.
You’re a bit late to this party.
We’ve been talking about it on GothamSchool.org for a while, and a few of us have been going at Kevin Carey at QuickAndEd.com.
On this one, Leonie “Class Size Class Size Class Size” Haimson and I are on the same page, and I disagree with her a fair amount. Diane Ravitch has also chimed in.
I think think that there are serious Constitution issues here, both dealing with federalism (yeah, that’s obvious) and our government’s design of checks and balances (apparently, not obvious to most people).
Check out what we’re saying in the comments The Quick and the and Ed.
I left a comment about this topic being covered well elsewhere. Is it being held for moderation?
Gary S. Stager says
BTW: I was at an event a couple of weeks ago where public education profiteers were gearing up to claim the unprecedented billions of education “stimulus” funds. There were defense contractors and corporate design firms who are now betting that Obama/Duncan will do for them what Bush/Cheney did for Halliburton.
Stephen Downes says
It’s ‘blackmail’ only when they pay *you* money. When you pay them money, it’s something else.
Perhaps it’s, as Tom Hoffman says, ‘bribery’ – but it’s ‘bribery’ only when you take the money for personal gain, and not when you take the money and use it for public infrastructure.
Technically, this sort of thing is often called an “inducement.” That is, the kind of policy instrument it most resembles is call an “inducement.”
“Mandates” are simply requiring someone to do something. “Inducements” are paying them to do it.
A problem here is that the inducements are far from guaranteed. That leaves a sour taste in many people’s mouths. This money is not promised, but rather these changes have to be made simply to ask for it. That’s a little odd.
But the bigger problem for me, is that these kinds of strings even on applying are not hinted at anywhere in the authorizing legislation are and without precedent. NCLB expanded the federal role in education, but this looks a lot like an further expansion that is neither blessed by the courts nor the legislature. That’s worrisome.
Of course, if there were actually a consensus among experts and researchers that these ideas worked, that we had the technology to do them in ways that help students, that would change a lot people’s views. But we don’t. So the whole thing smells quite fishy. Sneaky. Underhanded. Nefarious.
And that is why words like “blackmail” and “bribery” come up.