What This Year’s Election Taught Us

With a little more than one week’s perspective on the 2012 elections, some important conclusions for educators and education policy can be drawn. Here are three major lessons we’ve learned so far:

  1. Unions Still Pack a Punch—Teachers unions have been playing defense for the past two years, fending off attempts to roll back collective bargaining rights and institute new teacher evaluation systems that were heavily weighted to student standardized test scores. But the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on TV advertising—the air war—was no match for the Obama campaign’s get-out-the-vote ground operation which proved decisive in the end. Union members supplied many of the front-line troops in that effort, and both the National Education Association (NEA) and American Federation of Teachers (AFT) endorsed Obama; the AFT committed to the President during the Republican primary campaign.
  2. Initiative Fatigue—The education field has been straining under the stress of the Common Core implementation, new teacher evaluation systems, No Child Left Behind waivers, and shrinking funding. Last Tuesday, we found out that the public is feeling overwhelmed too. In Idaho, the Luna Laws, a sweeping set of reforms associated with State Superintendent Tom Luna (R), were defeated. In perhaps the biggest Election Day upset, Indiana State Superintendent Tony Bennett (R) was defeated by little-known Democratic challenger Glenda Ritz, who was given little chance to win in reliably conservative Indiana, especially after being outspent by more than $1 million. Shockingly, Ritz wound up garnering more votes (1.3 million) than any other statewide candidate, including Mike Pence (R), the incoming governor. Bennett’s stunning loss is being spun in multiple ways, but my take is that voters were concerned that Bennett was going too far and too fast on too many issues including the Common Core standards, a new teacher evaluation system, a state takeover law, and a new voucher program. It’s a cautionary tale of trying to do too much too quickly and without sufficient buy-in from stakeholder groups that Arne Duncan and proponents of the Common Core standards would be wise to consider.
  3. Emerging Common Core Partisanship—To date, Common Core State Standards adoption and implementation have been relatively free from partisan rancor, but that may be changing. Some attribute Tony Bennett’s loss to his support of the new standards in Indiana, and Arne Duncan’s championing of the standards and financial support to the two assessment consortia developing aligned state tests has created the perception that the standards are both a federal and Democratic reform. The term “Obamacore” has begun to surface as pejorative play on words from the earlier “Obamacare” that was meant to denigrate the Affordable Care Act. Even though the Common Core standards have been adopted in states with stalwart Republican governors like Chris Christie (N.J.), Bobby Jindal (La.), Rick Scott (Fla.), Nikki Haley (S.C.), John Kasick (Ohio), and Scott Walker (Wis.), support for the standards could erode, especially among conservatives, if it is increasingly viewed as a political issue rather than an education reform.

In the coming weeks and months, the ASCD Public Policy team will continue to monitor developments, but it is crucial for educators to become involved to ensure education remains a top priority for the Obama administration and the 113th Congress. For a list of ways to participate in ASCD’s public policy efforts, visit ASCD’s public policy website.

David Griffith leads the development and implementation of ASCD’s legislative agenda, as well as ASCD’s efforts to influence education decision making at the local, state, and federal levels. He has 20 years of political experience as both a congressional aide and on several political campaigns. Prior to joining ASCD in 2009, Griffith was the director of governmental and public affairs for the National Association of State Boards of Education, where he oversaw the organization’s advocacy and political activities as well as media relations.