Monday, February 2, 2015

CAP Scolds Lamar Alexander

CAP has rushed to the defense of the reformy status quo and takes a moment to try to school Lamar Alexander with the pearl-clutching headline, "5 Reasons Why Sen. Alexander's Draft Education Bill Fails Parents." Let's take a look at their five compelling slices of baloney.

1) Lowers academic standards.

Today, all states have academic standards that are aligned to career and college readiness.

Man, if you're going to lie, be big and bold. Their is not a shred of evidence anywhere that the Common Core (which oddly enough CAP does not mention by name once in this article-- oh, where has the love gone) or any of the versions of it actually align to college and career readiness. In fact, I'd be delighted for CAP to show us all where any such "college and career readiness" exists to be aligned to.

Nor is there a shred of evidence that Common Core standards are high standards. None.

2) Prevents parents from making informed decisions about where to send their children to school.

Yes, an ESEA rewrite could undercut the marketing programs for privatizers and takeover artists, and will create a major revenue gap for the corporations that are hoovering up billions of tax dollars on the backs of federal testing requirements. Of course, the premise here once again is that parents are dopes, completely unable to judge how well a school is doing without helpful government documents to straighten them out.

Then again, given the number of parents who find themselves being shafted, snowed, and just generally abandoned by various charter operators, perhaps some sort of consumer protection is in order. Given the number of charter schools that can't manage to keep a simple sales promise like "we'll stay open till your child finishes," maybe ESEA does need some beefing up in this department.

But the assertion that parents have no idea how their child is doing without a federally-mandated standardized test-- that's both patronizing and stupid.

3. Allows low-performing schools to languish.

The other recurring theme? States are terrible and stupid and can't be trusted. I've always found this argument in favor of federal centralism odd-- didn't most of the people working in DC get their political starts in states? Were they shiftless, untrustworthy, and dopey when they worked on the state level, but when they breathed in the air of DC they were suddenly imbued with wisdom?

But the argument here is that "states could design and implement almost any system they want with no federal checks or guardrails." And that would be bad because....? Yes, I know that states have not always exercised superior judgment in the past, but neither have the feds, and when the feds screw it up, they screw it up for a whole country-- not just one state. If you are really concerned about this, set a low bar that you won't let a state sink below. If they sink below it, then the feds can step in. Otherwise, the feds can leave them alone.

Here's the thing-- the feds have been taking steps to not allow low-performing schools to languish for over a decade, and how has that worked? Name me ten schools that used to suck and are now doing great because of federal intervention. Name me five. You can name me lots of schools and districts where federal intervention allowed some charter chains and educorporations to make a bundle, but that's it, and it's certainly not enough.

4. Eliminates federal funding for before- and after-school programs.

Well, it eliminates one funding stream for them. This is small potatoes, easily fixed by legislators if it's an actual issue across the nation.

5. Fails to provide parents with protection from substantial school budget cuts.

The concern here is about a stream of Title I funding, which is an intriguing concern coming from reformsters who have happily held Title I funds hostage in order to arm-twist states into accepting federal control of state-level education.

Without this provision, states would have free rein to cut their education budgets. As a result, children would face larger class sizes and under-resourced schools.

Because states don't have the ability to cut education budgets now? Because I'm in Pennsylvania and over the past few years we sliced off a few billion budget bucks without any trouble at all. I'm not seeing how this provision mysteriously ties state budgetary hands.

But if such cuts become a problem, you know what might help balance it out? Not having to spend billions of dollars on federally mandated tests or billions of dollars on federally mandated new curricular materials or billions of dollars on computers and infrastructure just to take federally mandated tests. If you are really deeply concerned about states having enough money, there are all sort of revenue-leeching bloodsuckers attached to the public education teats-- lend a hand and scrape them off.

Bottom line?

CAP's tale is a story of nefarious states and hapless parents, tragic situation that can only be fixed by federal mandates and bureaucrats (and their dear, close friends at Pearson et al who make a convenient bundle from the one-stop-shopping opportunity that is federally-controlled public education).

Lamar Alexander may well manage to fail parents before he's over, but it sure won't be because he failed to listen to the compassionate humanitarians at CAP. Of all the criticisms of the new draft version of ESEA out there, these are five of the lamest and least valid.

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