My friends Rick Hess and Jay Greene have done a good job recently in the Wall Street Journal, with some good follow up by Jason Riley, in describing the takeover of public education reform efforts recently by progressive Democrats and the difference they believe this has made in the progress of reform going forward. Among other elements, this takeover is reflected by the overwhelming imbalance toward Democratic candidates in political campaign contributions funded by staff and leadership of national education reform organizations, which dwarfs even the imbalance in contributions by traditional Democratic strongholds like Hollywood and the typically leftist teacher unions like the National Education Association.
And from a policy standpoint, they write that the damage is being done in such reform efforts as Common Core curriculum, the defeat of teacher evaluation methods, and the slowed advancement of the charter school movement, all of which could improve equality of access to good schools, which the left says they want, but then proceeds to oppose any measures that can deliver it.
But I have more to add to this story and it comes from red state Texas, where no Democrat has been elected to statewide public office since 1994 and Republicans have been in total control of both the House and Senate since 2003, but which has seen its Republican dominated state leadership roll back over 20 years of progress in standards and accountability-based education reform.
In 2009, as the culmination of two decades of effort, Texas put in place an updated accountability and assessment system which was rated by national organizations as potentially the most rigorous in the country when fully implemented. For the first time, this legislation embedded in law the concept of post-secondary readiness as the organizing principle of the public education accountability system. This meant that when a student received a Texas high school diploma it would reflect that he or she is prepared for college and/or the 21st century workforce without the need for remediation.
What happened next will go down as one of the major tragedies of Texas public policy. Based on the pushback and outcry from a strange and unwitting coalition of teachers’ unions, school administrators, suburban parents, and “local control” advocates over the next two legislative sessions, all obsessed with eliminating standardized assessments for accountability purposes, this system was gutted by the Texas Legislature while standards and expectations were diluted. As a result, the significant progress that Texas had made over a 20-year period in terms of national reform leadership in student achievement growth peaked in 2011 and has since been flat at best based on National Assessment of Educational Progress results. And as I survey the offerings so far in the current legislative session, I see no serious attempt to reverse this trend.
So who is killing public education reform? Sadly, it’s a bipartisan endeavor.