Anti-Washington Fervor Extends to Education

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Polls are still open in the western half of the country, and although control of both the House and Senate remain undecided at the moment, the current returns and projected winners suggest several emerging themes in education reform among the incoming class of United States Senators. Those themes are school choice, parental involvement, and local control.

Kentucky senator-elect Rand Paul’s (R) position may be the most extreme example of this mindset given his advocacy for the abolishment of the U.S. Department of Education, but it highlights the shared interests of his incoming colleagues in curtailing federal involvement in education and shifting decision-making back to the states, and more specifically, to the local level.

Indeed, Arkansas senator-elect John Boozman (R) declares on his congressional website, “Our teachers, administrators, and parents are far more familiar with the needs of the students in Third District of Arkansas than the federal government can ever be. I believe it is imperative that their role in our children’s education is not constrained by micromanagers in Washington.”

Kelly Ayotte, the winner to replace retiring senator Judd Gregg (R-NH) and a member of the Senate Education Committee, says she “strongly believes that the best way to strengthen public education is by empowering parents and local school boards–not Washington bureaucrats…[and] supports efforts aimed at providing parents with school choice.”

Six of the twelve points in incoming Florida senator Marco Rubio’s education platform are related to vouchers (or publicly funded “scholarships”) and school choice: vouchers for 1) students with disabilities, 2) pre-school children, 3) Washington, DC students, and 4) students in failing Title I schools, as well as a universal education tax deduction for families for education expenses (including tuition) and a corporate tax deduction for companies that donate to scholarship programs.

Even amid Kansas senator-elect Jerry Moran’s call for a safe learning environment and more highly qualified teachers includes the admonition that Congress “must be careful not to pass federal mandates that restrict ingenuity, responsiveness, and development at the state and local levels. Since parents and teachers best know the educational needs of their children and students, Congress should allow local school districts to determine how to best use federal educational resources.”

The adversarial attitude to Washington in education matters isn’t confined to Republicans. Connecticut senator-elect Richard Blumenthal (D) sued the federal government over provisions in the No Child Left Behind Act regarding unfunded education mandates.

Post submitted by David Griffith, ASCD’s Director of Public Policy. Sign up to receive special analysis of the mid-term elections delivered right to your inbox. A special edition of ASCD’s Educator Advocates newsletter will analyze the election results–the winners, the losers, the impact on state and national education policies and priorities, and what it all means for educators and students.

6 COMMENTS

  1. I continue to believe that “No law or ordinance is mightier than understanding.” So, how does it apply to the emerging themes?
    School choice
    As discussed in Choice or Commonality, if educational responsibility remains solely on the immediate family, “‘choice’ may take place in a world of insufficient numbers of quality schools, inadequate information about the stakes and alternatives, and large numbers of people unable to use the choice system effectively. This state of affairs means choice for some and not for others, and whether a child’s educational needs are met will depend on her parents’ ability to choose” (Minow, 1999, p.551). Does that sound in keeping with the promise of equal opportunity?
    Parental Involvement
    Can anyone argue against it? But do they know what it looks like and how to get it? Some do, some don’t, and some won’t say it out loud but they don’t want it, really.
    Local Control
    This is where understanding is absolutely essential. Where local and state control is not working, we, in these disadvantaged dysfunctional districts, need the support of the federal government…make that “proper” support. That is exactly why we had the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act. We are coming full circle…will we get off the merry-go-round and find our balance?

  2. Very well said, Victoria. We all know our education system is not perfect. In fact those of us teaching within the public schools know very well the flaws because we deal with them every day. However, if the answer was to be found in giving all control over to parents (choice) or our local politicians, then children should all be coming to school with their basic needs met (sleep, food, security) in order to learn, and local funding (or lack thereof) should never be an issue. As in all areas of life, not everyone is capable of fully understanding the complex issues at hand, therefore the choices made that effect something as broad-reaching as public education may not be made best by those not properly educated or informed. –Kristie Mitchell–

  3. Isn’t it ironic… no one wants the federal government involved in their state but how many of these states applied for the Race to the Top funding??? Isn’t that just like your kids asking you to buy them a car but they aren’t willing to pay for the gas, the insurance, or the maintenance. States are willing to “take the hand-out” but for goodness sake don’t ask them to do anything to deserve it, earn it, or be able to keep it! Could these politicians be more hypocritical!?!?!?!?!

  4. Thank you, very well said. As you say “Does that sound in keeping with the promise of equal opportunity.” But, is it only education? The promise of equal opportunity is quickly slipping away from health care to jobs to civil rights. Are we heading for a new feudalism, where local governments will control the populace and send off its young to the military to support the king?

  5. School choice, parental involvement, and local control are part of an arsenal of rhetorical euphemisms school deformers use as smokescreen to promote privatization, the profit-motive and the disengagement of the federal government in public education. The deformers need to be reminded that Education is a right, not a commodity, and is enshrined in the Constitution. They may think they have a mandate to destroy public education in America. Surprise, Surprise! Educators together with parents will fight their backward, deformed, demented and primitive ideas head-on.

  6. We do have schools run by parents in certain areas. They are called school boards! and we all know how in it for the children they are…..

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