Discussion surrounding ESEA re-authorization has helped clarify the question that distinguished between the Democratic and Republican parties when it comes to education--
Is it better to have stupid education policy implemented by the state or federal government?
Democrats believe (and asserted it with vigor in their ill-conceived Murphy Amendment) that high-stakes testing and prescriptive punishments attached to test results should be managed by the federal government. The GOP, however, argues that the feds should be left out of the equation and that power brokers on the state level should have the privilege of crushing public education and selling off the parts to privateers.
Neither party has displayed any interest in discussing what educational policies might actual help public education in the US. Neither party has shown an ability to hear the chorus of educational experts and qualified researchers pointing out that stack ranking, magic VAM sauce, and disenfranchising local members of the community are not working and will most likely never work.
Neither party has displayed an inclination to say, "Hey, we've been doing some of these things for fifteen years now. Are there any signs that any of it actually works?"
Nope. The parties disagree one one point only-- should the feds be in charge, or should each individual state run its own show.
That's our choice, apparently.
Given that choice, I lean toward the state-driven answer.
Not that I have unbridled faith in the states. Guys like Scott Walker and Andrew Cuomo have shown themselves completely capable of destroying their state's public education systems without any help from the federal government.
But I side with states for two reasons.
First. the state can only hurt the state. Cuomo can make a mess out of New York, but his idiotic ideas have not done any damage here in Pennsylvania. Sam Brownback may be able to shamblize education in Kansas, but Arne Duncan has been able to screw up education in all fifty states.
Second, on the state level, progress can be made. In Pennsylvania, we managed to can a governor who was destroying public education and replace him with a governor who is at least trying to help. Local activists can focus resources on local issues, while the national-scale corporations and activists who are pushing the reformster agenda have to fight on fifty fronts.
It isn't optimal. Optimal is elected officials and policymakers who listen to educators and use their powers of critical thinking to figure out the obvious-- that the policies which reformsters love are bad for education, corrosive for democracy, and don't actually accomplish any of their stated goals. That's the conversation we need to have. But in the grand debate between DEM and GOP, only one question is on the table--
What's the best way to implement bad policy? Is it better to have stupid education policy implemented by the state or federal government.