Friday, July 24, 2009

Obama tries to buy his own way on education

Amendment X - Powers of the States and People.

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
From our Constitution.

Of all the affairs of modern government here in the US, the most expensive and extensive one unmentioned in the Constitution is probably education. Following Amendment X of the Constitution, a clear reading says that education is the most important policy area that states "accidentally" ended up running, and boy does that tick off people like George W Bush and Barack Obama.

Not to be undone by the Constitution, these men seek to evade the Constitution by bribing states with federal money to play by rules cooked up in DC. Rather than allowing states to receive moneys they can use to improve education, these presidents see the opportunity to try to bribe their way into the game. Scholarship on this usage of federal money -- often called "spending power" or "power of the purse" is notably absent in the United States, compared to countries such as Canada (introductory example) where it is recognized and studied much more extensively, and understood as a fundamental piece of the current system. Perhaps policy study will catch up with reality here in the US eventually.

Anyway, what Bush did, and Obama just doubled down on, is offer comparatively little money in return for great power. Bush's No Child Left Behind law has obtained for the federal government the ability to bully communities about privatization, charters, standardized testing, union-busting, and a whole other set of issues in return for just about 5% of education funding in Massachusetts.

It's a great deal where the majority of goals and strategies are dictated by the people bringing 5% of the funding to the table, especially when that 5% is burned up in meeting the spending demanded by those dictated goals and strategies. Federal education regulations are pretty much a break-even proposition for states -- take the money from the feds and spend it the way the feds want, or go without, as states have done. It's not much of a net contribution. So if you want to load on new demands, you need to load on more money.

Is Obama troubled by the questionable Constitutionality of Bush's approach to education? Quite the contrary -- as with freedom of religion, privacy, and rule of law, Obama's approach in education is take Bush's bad model and expand it:

States and school districts will soon be able to compete for more federal money to undertake school reforms sought by President Barack Obama.Part of the economic stimulus law enacted earlier this year, the $5 billion education fund is Obama's big shot at overhauling schools over the next couple of years...To get the money, states will also need to be able to track student performance, and they will need a plan of action to turn around failing schools.
the administration says it will not award money to states that bar student performance data from being linked to teacher evaluations. Several states, including California, New York and Wisconsin, have such a prohibition. But there are also elements the unions will embrace; states can earn points by submitting letters of support from state union leaders.

I'm glad that Obama has found for education a fraction of his gifts to Wall Street, but this is yet another prostration to wrong-headed education policy. For Obama and his understudy Deval, "writing education policy" seems to mean "rotate the order of conservative shibboleths in the law". This proposal has got everything:
  • Questionable constitutionality of spending power use? Check.
  • Effort to override local or state democracy on education? Check.
  • Embrace of standardized testing? Check.
  • Judging teachers by their students' test scores? Check.
  • Attempting to turn communities against teacher unions? Check.
Someday, perhaps, one of these guys will have an idea that doesn't kowtow to conservative demands for privatization of educating and testing. But I'm not holding my breath...

No comments: