How to Get What You Want in Education Policy

Published August 29, 2016

If you want to win at education policy, says education researcher Jay Greene, you need to know something about politics. Merely having a good idea is not enough to get people to go along with you, he says, citing the failures of Common Core, reform candidates, and linking teacher job security to student test scores. These ideas all had high support among wonks but met the brick wall of political reality, and thus died.

“Reformers have had a bad habit of being attracted to policies that do not generate constituents to protect or expand those programs,” Greene says. The way to win politically is to create constituencies whose self-interest is directly aligned with pushing for your policy: “No one ever held a rally to test kids more. No one ever held a rally to support test-based evaluations of teachers and schools. No one ever held a rally to increase the share of informational texts in reading standards or to ensure that uniform tests are aligned with a particular set of standards.”

It’s not just the technocrats on all sides of the policy spectrum who think this way–not just the Gates Foundations and Obama administrations. It’s also many conservatives. Many seem to think they can accomplish their policy goals by yelling “No” at every crazy thing the technocrats come up with. But, to paraphrase Greene, a pathetic number of people come to rallies to get the federal government out of education. Nobody ever came to a rally to get brain scanners out of education research. Nobody’s going to come to a rally to slash education spending.

Now, your faithful correspondent agrees with those goals. But if conservatives are going to spend time and money pursuing our own end-game for public education, we ought to be smart about it. We shouldn’t use the Gates Foundation’s bad strategy to oppose the Gates Foundation’s bad ideas. Gates may have billions of dollars at his disposal, but we don’t. So maybe it’s time to get smart about strategy so we can actually get what we want rather than continuing to scream up at the empty sky.



School Choice Roundup

  • INDIANA: At this innovative network of private schools, companies help pay the $13,000 annual tuition in exchange for students working for them one day a week. To match students to their sponsors each year, the schools hold a “draft day” event modeled on the NFL.
  • ALABAMA: Private schools could double their enrollment right now if the state passed a broader school choice program, a new survey finds. It also finds that two-thirds of private school leaders are very concerned about what kind of regulations the state would attach to such a program.
  • POLLS: Public support for school vouchers is at just 50 percent, a new low in the annual Education Next poll; Republican support for vouchers has dropped, while Democratic support has increased. The poll contains trendlines for many other major education topics, including Common Core (which may have bottomed out), testing, and teacher pay.
  • CHARTERS: Charter schools suspend students less often, educate more black but fewer Hispanic students, and serve fewer English language learners compared to nearby traditional public schools, finds a new study.

Common Core and Curriculum Watch

  • TESTS: Tests are moving away from grading students based on how many questions they answer correctly and towards more complex measures that give unknown bureaucrats a lot more power over schools, explains a new study. This includes Common Core tests.
  • OPT-OUT MOVEMENT: “The typical opt-out activist is a highly educated, white, married, politically liberal parent whose children attend public school and whose household median income is well above the national average,” finds a new survey.

Education Today

  • ONLINE LEARNING: “Students appear to be better motivated to learn when they have an in-person, authentic relationship with a teacher and when they try to please that teacher by working hard to learn. Digital instruction or a human being on the other side of the internet may not be able to create that same relationship and motivation,” writes Jay Greene, citing recent, underwhelming research on the effects of online courses on student achievement.

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