NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The GOP's Education Dilemma

November 30, 2010

The federal government has ballooned into the all-powerful education behemoth that the GOP long feared, says Diane Ravitch, a research professor of education at New York University.

The trouble started with No Child Left Behind (NCLB), which decreed that all students, in all states, must be proficient on state tests in reading and mathematics by 2014 -- a goal no state is even close to meeting.  President Obama's Race to the Top fund extends federal control well beyond NCLB.  Last year, as part of the economic stimulus plan, Congress gave the Department of Education an unprecedented $5 billion in discretionary funds to promote educational reform.  The Obama administration used the money to promote unproven strategies.

  • To qualify for Race to the Top money, states and districts were expected to evaluate their teachers by using student test scores, even though research consistently warns of the flaws of this method.
  • Similarly, the Obama administration is pressing states and districts to replace low-performing regular public schools with privately managed charter schools, even though research demonstrates that charters don't, on average, get better academic results than regular public schools.

The present course is virtually the opposite of what high-performing nations do, says Ravitch.

  • Countries like Finland, Japan and South Korea have improved their schools by offering a rich and broad curriculum in the arts and sciences, not by focusing only on testing basic skills, as we do.
  • These nations have succeeded by recruiting, training and supporting good teachers, and giving continuing help to those that need it.

National curriculum standards promoted by this administration were not implemented anywhere before they were foisted on 40 states by state legislatures competing for federal dollars.  Massachusetts, the highest-achieving state in the nation, dropped its own proven standards to adopt the new, unproven ones so as to be eligible for Race to the Top funding.

The question today for Republicans is whether they are a party that endorses top-down reform from Washington, D.C., or a party that respects the common sense of the people back home and their commitment to their local public schools, says Ravitch.

Source: Diane Ravitch, "The GOP's Education Dilemma," Wall Street Journal, November 28, 2010.

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