Wisconsin Education Political Commentary

Alan Borsuk:

everal years ago, I was writing about how the most significant debates in approaches to improving education didn’t pit Republicans against Democrats. They pitted Democrats against Democrats.

Now, the dynamic to watch is between Republicans and Republicans. Both in Washington and Madison, they have so much power now — and they have some pretty big differences within their ranks.

Early in the Obama administration, the Democratic battles could be summed as education “reformers” vs. the education establishment, including teachers unions. For Republicans, I’d call it the smaller government people vs. the demand-quality-and-results people.

For Democrats, the differences included whether to push creation of charter schools, whether to evaluate teachers in ways that include student progress measured by test scores and, in general, what to think of a rising number of schools with high demands on students when it comes to both academics and behavior.

For Republicans, the differences include whether there should be a nationwide requirement that students take standardized tests in language and math, whether the goals for what students should learn should be a matter of broad agreement or left to each state or school district (the Common Core issue) and, in general, the ways federal or state power should be used to deal with low performing schools. In Wisconsin, but not really in Washington, you can add the question of the future of private school choice.

For context, start 13 years ago, when President George W. Bush and Congress, with sweeping bipartisan support, approved the No Child Left Behind education law. The law was scheduled to be revised by Congress in 2007. And it set the goal that by the end of 2014, all children in America would be on grade level in reading and math.

It is now the end of 2014. Not only are millions of children not on grade level — it was a ridiculous goal in the first place — but Congress has never agreed on how to fix No Child Left Behind. Seven years late and no action! Also ridiculous, right?