The Education Gadfly

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As Amy implies below, Arne Duncan's Senate confirmation hearing was by all accounts a smashing success-if you define "success" as making no waves, upsetting no constituents, and sending no signals about the Obama Administration' intentions in the education sphere. Nor was it a honeymoon attended only by Senate Democrats; once-Secretary-of-Education Lamar Alexander told Duncan that he was Obama's "best" cabinet pick. (Take that, Hillary!) Duncan was happy to play along, with risky statements such as "never before has being smart been so cool" and "we must build upon what works and we must stop doing what doesn't work." Eventually Duncan and his boss are going to have to make decisions that will frustrate either the establishment or reform wings of the Democratic Party, but don't expect that day to come anytime soon....

Just think if this idea made its way to the k-12 system: ???A&M to base bonuses on student input???!

The New America Foundation beat me to the punch with its "20 Questions for the Secretary-Designate." They are pretty good, if somewhat leading. Example: "Would you say that universal pre-k education is (a) the best idea to come along in 100 years; (b) the key to America's future prosperity; (c) such an obvious solution that we shouldn't even be having this debate; or (d) warm and fuzzy like a new puppy?"

So I'm going to be both more modest and more ambitious. More modest by only offering one (timely!) question, and more ambitious by just coming out with the answer, too. Here goes:

Question #1: Mr. Duncan, by all accounts it appears that the Congress is about to spend upwards of $750 billion of taxpayer money to stimulate the economy. $200 billion of this will likely go to bail out the states, and, since one-third to one-half of state budgets go to the schools, $75-$100 billion of that will end up in k-12 education coffers. As Secretary of Education, are you going to have any involvement in that part of the bailout? If so, will you attach any strings to that enormous infusion of cash?


I spent yesterday afternoon on Capitol Hill and it confirmed what I already suspected: Washington is in complete paralysis around the No Child Left Behind act.

Republicans are commencing their stampede away from the law, particularly in the House, now that moderate Republicans have been all but eviscerated. Consider the new GOP Members of the House education committee, for example. Here's what Representative Tom McClintock has to say about the federal role in education:

Returning control and decision making power to our local communities and families regarding our children's education is crucial in making our education system work again. It is not the federal government's role to force every school district into a predetermined one-size fits all formula.

Or Duncan Hunter, Jr.:

The federal government has no business poking its nose into our local schools, telling parents and teachers what is best for our kids. Our public schools suffer from too much bureaucracy that eats up resources. We need more resources in the classroom, where they will do the most good.

These are not Margaret Spellings Republicans, to say the least.

Meanwhile, a sizable chunk of...

Amy Fagan

According to the New York Times coverage of Arne Duncan's Senate confirmation hearing this morning, the education secretary-designate told Senators he'd work for "real and meaningful change" in the nation's schools, but he didn't shed much more light on how exactly that would be done, or how he'd handle the No Child Left Behind law.

When Duncan did mention NCLB, seems (to me) he walked a middle line.

According to the NYT blog post:

"I have seen the law's power and its limitations," Mr. Duncan said, but he provided no examples of concrete changes he will seek. "I agree with the president-elect that we should neither bury NCLB nor praise it without reservation."

Duncan pledged to do "anything that works" to raise academic achievement in public schools, according to the NYT, and said the new administration plans to expand early childhood programs, foster the opening of more charter schools, improve teacher training and recruitment, and increase access to college for low-income students.

The Senate seems ready to give quick approval to his nomination, according to the NYT post. You can watch Duncan's Senate confirmation hearing here and read the transcript here....

Amy Fagan

Check out these two articles that each quote our own Mike Petrilli. A Christian Science Monitor piece dissects the Bush legacy on domestic policy issues, including education. Mike jumps in to discuss NCLB. And a story in USA Today talks about how some hard-pressed school systems really want a piece of the federal bailout package. Why are schools hurting in the first place? Well, Mike says one reason might be that long-term teacher contracts have locked many districts into automatic raises and growing pension expenditures without the flexibility to cut costs. Hmmm....He also manages to deftly weave chickens into his quote.

While the Buckeye State's K-12 education establishment is hoping for a federal bailout to keep it afloat, Ohio's state colleges and universities are busy taking real steps to cut costs. Ohio Board of Regents Chancellor Eric Fingerhut recently announced the University System of Ohio Virtualization Program. Through a three-year cooperative purchasing agreement with VMware, Inc. to "virtualize" software and technology support services, colleges and universities in the state will save an estimated $130 million. And the move is good for the environment, too. The agreement is expected to result in eliminating 25,000 computers from college campuses, reducing the University System's CO2 emissions by 111,000 tons, which the Board of Regents says is equivalent to removing 37,500 cars from Ohio's highways or planting 500,000 trees....

The Education Gadfly

Checker appeared on NBC Nightly News Jan. 9 to share his thoughts on education reform and President-elect Barack Obama's economic stimulus package.