“What we do not need are prescriptive top-down mandates emanating from Washington D.C., which are so fashionable among many in the nation’s capital.”
– Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, in his foreword to Mitt Romney’s “white paper” on education.
Promises such as that have become boiler-plate in Republican campaigns, which take as a given that there is no problem that cannot and should not be attributed to meddling by the federal government.
However, in reading Romney’s 35-page education white paper (more on that later), I was struck by the contradiction between that boiler-plate promise and the long string of new requirements that Romney would place on state and local governments.
They include, and I quote (emphasis mine):
– “Require states to adopt open-enrollment policies for students receiving Title I and IDEA funds, and to eliminate caps on charter and digital schools.” (Note: This part of the Romney plan would create a federally funded school voucher system, using federal tax dollars. Is a federal voucher system an enumerated power in the Constitution?)
– “To expand the supply of high-performing schools in and around districts serving low-income and special-needs students, states accepting Title I and IDEA funds will be required to take a series of steps to encourage the development of quality options:
First, adopt open-enrollment policies that permit eligible students to attend public schools outside of their school district that have the capacity to serve them. Second, provide access to and appropriate funding levels for digital courses and schools, which are increasingly able to offer materials tailored to the capabilities and progress of each student when used with the careful guidance of effective teachers. And third, ensure that charter school programs can expand to meet demand, receive funding under the same formula that applies to all other publicly supported schools, and access capital funds.”
– “Replace federally mandated school interventions with a requirement that states create straightforward public report cards that evaluate each school on its contribution to student learning.”
– “States must have in place standards to ensure that every high school graduate is prepared for college or work and, through annual testing, hold both students and educators accountable for meeting them. The results of this testing, for both their own children and their schools, must be readily available to parents in an easy-to-understand format.”
“… states seeking block grants will be required to establish evaluation systems based in part on effectiveness in advancing student achievement, reward effective teachers and principals with additional compensation and advancement opportunities, eliminate or reform teacher tenure, streamline the certification process for becoming a teacher, and prohibit seniority-based transfer and dismissal rules (including Last In, First Out layoffs).”
If I didn’t know better, I’d say that those sound very much like “prescriptive top-down mandates emanating from Washington D.C., which are so fashionable among many in the nation’s capital.”
They sound as if Washington will be dictating how teachers will be hired and fired and also how they will be compensated, evaluated and promoted. They sound as if Washington would dictate how and even whether teacher tenure is granted. They sound as if Washington will require states to promote vouchers and charter schools. They sound as if Washington will dictate standardized testing of students and how those tests will be used.
We can debate the wisdom of such steps, and as I noted above, I intend to come back to the white paper and to Romney’s speech this week on the topic, because it contains some important material. But for the moment, let’s just acknowledge the basic hypocrisy involved in claiming to reject federal mandates on Washington and then proposing an entire new slate of those very mandates.
The idea of a federal voucher alone makes this a Washington intervention of historic proportions.
– Jay Bookman