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June 08, 2011
September 10, 2010
October 19, 2010
Late 2009 and early 2010 saw state legislators virtually
nationwide all aflutter with education-reform excitement. Dangling a $4.35
billion Race to the Top carrot, Arne Duncan’s Department of Education lured policymakers
from both sides of the aisle to support some key reform-style initiatives.
These included adoption of the Common Core State Standards, creation of linked
data systems, implementation of meaningful teacher-evaluation systems, and
expansion of charter-friendly policies. Sure, they’re reforms states should
have embraced on their own, and maybe some would have without federal
inducement, but there’s little doubt that RTT sped things up and in some cases
likely changed the outcome.
What we’ve learned over the past six months, however, is
that education reform at the state level doesn’t necessarily depend on a big
red-velvet triple-decker on Uncle Sam’s cake stand. Maybe all it really needs
is voters willing to throw the establishment’s friends out of office. Aided and
abetted, perhaps, by budget shortfalls.
It’s good to know that when states step back into the driver’s seat, they press the gas rather than slamming the breaks.
For what’s happened since the November 2010 election has
been an intensification rather than a slackening of the pace of education
reform in state capitals across the land—without any evident regard for federal
carrots (or sticks).
Most of the big reform victories can be traced to the resurgence
of education-reform governors (most but not all of them Republicans);
greater, more cohesive, and more urgent advocacy work by groups like the
American Federation for Children, Stand for Children, Democrats for Education
Reform, and the organizations under PIE
Network’s umbrella; and, of course, states’ need to tighten their fiscal
belts and rein in their education budgets.
Let’s take a look at the movement so far this year on three
and Related Issues
According to the National Conference
of State Legislators, over 700 bills targeting collective
bargaining have been introduced in state legislatures this year. At least seven
states (of the thirty that allow collective bargaining) so far have enacted
legislation in 2011 limiting these district-union CBAs (the five noted below,
and the Democratic stronghold of Massachusetts).
Several states also limited the rights of union members to strike, reformed
last in, first out (LIFO) firing policies, and changed teacher pension and
According to the Foundation for
Educational Choice, at
least fifty-one pieces of legislation tying public funding to
private-education provision (spanning thirty-five states) have been introduced
this year. (NB: Voucher proponents can also add the reinstated D.C.
Opportunity Scholarship Program and Douglas County, CO’s district-wide
program—the first of its ilk—as notches on their belts.) Many of these
legislative bids have focused on expanding or creating voucher or tax credit programs.
While a handful of states have improved their charter-school laws since
January, charter legislation has taken a distinct backseat to the voucher
movement in 2011.
In 2009-2010, many states passed RTT-related
legislation allowing for the linkage of student achievement to teacher
evaluations. But these reforms often fell short of ensuring or mandating such
evaluations. Legislation enacted thus far in 2011 has gone further by requiring student achievement gains to
matter for teacher (and, in some cases, principal and superintendent)
evaluations. A few states have also begun to tackle performance-based pay.
To be sure, not all of these legislative wins are
teacher bill (SB 736), for example, is problematic
in many ways. Still, there’s been solid progress on multiple fronts, and
that’s worth cheering without hesitation.
The Obama Administration had reason to boast about the
remarkable movement we saw on the education-reform front in 2009-2010. But now
it’s time for governors and state legislators to take a bow. And since—for
political and economic reasons—we’re unlikely to see the feds play such a heavy
hand again anytime soon, it’s good to know that when states step back into the
driver’s seat, they press the gas rather than slamming the breaks. The Race to
the Top might be (mostly) over but the race for higher student achievement goes