Thursday, November 11, 2004

They don't hesitate, do they

That was fast. Here's the future of public education straight from a rightwing education policy site. I doubt if you'll see any coverage of this but everyone should know about these education goals as set by the ruling party.
The proper GOP focus these next four years would be to bring the ownership society into primary-secondary education by invigorating and accelerating America's progress toward universal school choice. That's the K-12 equivalent of giving people a say over their health care and their social security investments. Give them a say over where (and how and from whom) their children learn. Not so much over what they learn; the core of the curriculum, in my view, is properly subject to statewide (or even national) academic standards and test-based accountability. That's where NCLB comes in, along with its extension to the high-school grades. But that has little to do with the delivery system or with choice among schools.

There are innumerable ways in which this goal could be advanced from Washington. Let me mention just five:

1. Turn NCLB's dual promise of "public school choice" and "supplemental education services" into reality by erasing the boundaries that constrain those choices (e.g., school districts), creating alternative mechanisms to operate these programs in states and districts that are hostile to them, seeding thousands more charter schools, and making it harder for states and districts to obstruct their spread. (As has happened in New York, for example. See "Sharp decline in transfers to new schools," by Elissa Gootman, New York Times, November 11, 2004.)

2. In the reauthorization of I.D.E.A.--one of Congress's many pieces of unfinished business--give families across the land the option of a Florida-style "McKay" scholarship program so that disabled youngsters can be educated in the school their parents think is best for them. (See "Vouchers for disabled youngsters" for more.)

3. Underwrite the spread of virtual schools and virtual charter schools, thus bringing the benefits of enriched curricula and high-quality instruction, as well as educational options and modern technology, to rural and small-town America and to home-schoolers. (There's even a foreign-policy angle here. Virtual schooling is a terrific way to beam the lessons of democracy into third-world villages and households whose governments--or mullahs--don't want them to learn such things.)

4. Following the new District of Columbia model, make federally subsidized voucher programs available for low-income youngsters in communities that are ready and willing to accept such programs.

5. Using consumer-friendly systems such as, bring specific information about school offerings and performance to parents across the land so that they can make informed choices among schools--and do their part to hold schools accountable for results. (NCLB contains the seeds of this, with its testing data and demand for school report cards, but translating that information and getting it into the hands of parents remains a huge challenge.)

Five worthy federal policy initiatives--and that's just the tip of the choice iceberg. (I did not, for example, include pre-school, summer school, or after-school.) If Mr. Bush wants a lasting education legacy from his second term, he should do for the empowerment of parents what, during his first term, he did for the accountability of schools. He might even find a measure of support among Democrats who have figured out that it's neither sound policy nor good politics to remain joined at the hip to the public-school establishment. (See, for example, Andrei Cherny's provocative discussion in The New Republic (subscription required) of an "ownership agenda" for Democrats: And sure, it's fine if Republicans and Democrats also work together to set U.S. high school education on a new course.
That PS about the Dems is so true; it's kind of a secret that the corporate Dems work happily with these guys in the education world.

Btw, Chester Finn is a bit biased when it comes to education policy for those who don't know. And anyone who likes his policies and his blog should be treated with suspicion.

When you have no opposition, you can afford to make public your plans like this. And, man, are these plans are breathtaking. God help us all.

It seems important, at least to me, that we know what our opposition is up to. And I keep repeating this over and over: we need policy development from a progressive agenda to counter the corporate-based one that has taken over.

Here's what I have to offer (and I'm wracking my brain for more so feel free to holler if you've got something):
Contact your Reps, House and Senate. Let them know what's coming down the pike and that you don't like it. Ask them to oppose these recommendations.
Complete the PTA survey on NCLB. Be sure to complete the comments section at the very end.