September 22, 2004
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Reading Checker's letter in last week's issue ("Bush v. Kerry Round 3," September 16, 2004), I got the impression that he didn't agree with my last one ("Faith without works," September 2, 2004). That's fair enough, but several assertions cannot go unchallenged.
Checker's primary point that I was less than enthusiastic about John Kerry is just wrong. That he must chide me for using double negatives indicates that there is not a lot of meat on those bones. Besides, my charge was not to laud Kerry but rather to critique President Bush. I'll happily write another 1000 words for Gadfly about Kerry if Checker would like. In any case, ideas like pay-for-performance, differential pay for teachers, better accountability for graduation rates, and expanding opportunity in higher education don't suddenly become "lame" when a Democrat supports them.
Nor did I buy into the tired canard about NCLB funding. What I did say is that, by low-balling NCLB funding, the Bush Administration created an easy political opportunity for opponents of the law and shattered the bipartisan NCLB coalition. It's impossible to know for sure, but looking at the contours of the debate today, particularly Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Representative George Miller's (D-CA) continued support for the central policy tenets of the law, the problems created by the political debate over funding seem pretty obvious. And, as I wrote, implementers need new resources to drive change. This process may not be as "pure" from an academic standpoint as Checker would like, but it's the reality of policy implementation. And, considering the Bush Administration's overall fiscal policy, its exceptional frugality around this issue is inexplicable.
Regarding the American Federation of Teachers charter school report, Checker made my point for me when he noted that, "it would have been nice if the Education Department had announced their [the NAEP charter data] availability, nicer still if the National Center for Education Statistics had expedited the release of its own analysis of those data." Yes, it sure would have been. The issue is not that the charter community and various think tanks were asleep at the switch, it's that charter schools took a demonstrably unfair hit on the Bush Administration's watch for the very reasons Checker outlines.
The Administration's lack of savvy and execution is abundantly clear on other issues. I mentioned the ridiculously slow pace of ABCTE adoption but other examples include the widespread gaming of NCLB's teacher quality provisions for veteran teachers, which were recently documented by the National Council on Teacher Quality, and the subverting of NCLB's public school choice and supplemental services provisions. I'm certainly not claiming that policy execution like this is easy, but the Bush Administration did come in saying, "no excuses."
Checker is right that education is a sideshow in this election. But he's wrong to think that if it were more prominent it would provide an unmitigated blessing for President Bush. His education record as governor could withstand a lot more scrutiny than his record thus far as President likely could. I credited the President with passing NCLB, but just passing it is far from sufficient.
Andrew J. Rotherham
Director of Education Policy
Progressive Policy Institute