Education Innovation Missing in Democrats’ ‘Innovation Agenda’

Published August 1, 2007

In recent years, corporate leaders have so overused a perfectly good word, “innovation,” as to render it meaningless.

Now, they’re being joined in that effort by the majority party of the U.S. House of Representatives.

On April 30, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D) released with great public fanfare the “Innovation Agenda” of the House Democrats. The headline on the education portion reads “A New Generation of Innovators,” and the opening sentences typify the promiscuous use of the magic “I” word:

“America’s greatest resource for innovation resides within classrooms across the country. With a new commitment more of our students will be trained in math, science, and technology to turn ideas into innovative technologies. Future innovators must reflect the diversity of our country, and we must provide opportunities for every qualified student, including minorities and women.”

Great: Affirmative action for innovation.

More Involvement

What the Innovation Agenda proposes is more government subsidizing and control of education at all levels.

In a quest for 100,000 “new innovators” (as though a degree confers creativity) over the next five years, the agenda would fund Congressional Science fellowships and new master’s degree programs in science, engineering, and math, with “loan forgiveness options.”

It would dole tuition handouts to undergraduates who major in math, science, or engineering and who agree to teach in troubled schools. It would “invest in” (that is, subsidize) 25,000 new teachers by paying for various forms of training.

The agenda also would “enhance the ability of states [meaning state governments] to coordinate education and workforce goals, identify the challenges of recruiting students and retaining them in innovative fields, and developing collaborative solutions through statewide coalitions of education, business, and community leaders, such as P-16+ Councils.”

Translation: The Innovation Agenda would foster even greater government control of education, from preschool (P) through graduate school (16+).

Rehashed Material

That’s innovative? Federal influence in K-12 education has grown steadily since the passage of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act more than 40 years ago. Yet in return for hundreds of billions of dollars in federal subsidies and diminished local control, Americans see disappointingly low levels of student achievement in core subjects.

Even if some good can come from targeted federal student aid, it is reasonable to ask what is innovative about it. The National Defense Education Act (NDEA) of 1958 funded math, science, foreign language, and technical education programs as part of the effort to keep the United States ahead of the Soviet Union in the space race.

NDEA may have helped to some degree, but it didn’t bring nearly as much regulatory baggage as today’s federal enactments.

The House Democrats first released their agenda in 2005 when they were still the minority. So the Innovation Agenda isn’t even new. It’s a re-release. That’s not very innovative.

True Innovation

Truly innovative thinking means seeking ways to remove the dead weight of government from the backs of citizens so they can make their own decisions as free people. In many cases government rules, such as the imposition of teacher certification requirements that block bright people from becoming teachers, are what stifle innovation.

One of the few even minimally innovative proposals in either the Democrats’ agenda or President George W. Bush’s extremely similar American Competitiveness Initiative, announced in his 2006 State of the Union Address, was Bush’s proposal for suspending certification rules so science and math professionals can bring their content mastery and practical experience into high school classrooms as teachers of math, science, and technology.

Schools are desperately short of education school-educated teachers who know math and science, yet government certification bureaucracies continue to block true experts from helping out.

Unfortunately, the Democrats’ Innovation Agenda makes no mention of anything like Bush’s proposed Adjunct Teacher Corps.

Robert Holland ([email protected]) is a senior fellow for education policy with The Heartland Institute.

For more information …

The Innovation Agenda, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats,

American Competitiveness Initiative, President George W. Bush,