Alyson Klein (along with Michele McNeil) authors Education Week’s influential Politics K-12 blog. She spoke with EWA about what the outcomes of Tuesday’s election will mean for education policy at the state and federal level.
1. One of the problems with creating long-term education reform is that it’s often interrupted. What will four more years mean for initiatives like Race To The Top, School Improvement Grants, and the Investing In Innovation (i3) program?
Presumably, assuming that Congress continues to delay the ESEA reauthorization, it will help those federal initiatives get even more traction at the state level. Now, President Obama can be more stringent if he wants to be. Consider Race To The Top: The Education Department has already threatened to withhold money from Hawaii and Georgia for not following through on what was pledged.
2. Latino voters were a major factor in this election. What does that mean for the president’s education polices?
The Dream Act is certainly back on the radar. I can’t imagine that a Democrat-controlled Senate won’t attempt to pass it. The president will continue the deferrals (Deferred Action for Early Arrivals) and push for comprehensive immigration reform even though it doesn’t have a great chance in the House. The National Council of La Raza has been really concerned that kids of color are being given watered-down standards and expectations under the state waivers. Obama will be under additional pressure to make sure schools aren’t ignoring students aren’t overlooked . There’s a sense that the president owes it to the Latino community to be aggressive in addressing these concerns.
3. How would you rate the night for education reform in general?
It was a tough night for Republican education reformers, who saw ballot initiatives go down in Idaho, and Tony Bennett lost his stewardship of Indiana’s schools. It was probably a good night for school choice, given what happened in Georgia and Washington state. We can probably say people are in favor of choice and charters, even if they were skeptical of vouchers.
4. What was the biggest surprise for you in the election?
Bennett’s ouster in Indiana was the biggest surprise for me. There are areas where teachers unions and Republicans have a lot in common – they’re skeptical of the Common Core State Standards, and too much federal involvement in local education. But you rarely see the extreme flanks of those two groups come together to get something done. That’s what happened in Indiana. Bennett was persona non grata with conservatives and with teachers on issues of teacher quality, and vouchers. That’s what cost him his job.
5. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has told you in a number of interviews he intends to stay on for the second term. What is the potential impact of his continued tenure, and that level of consistency in leadership?
First of all, Duncan has made it clear he supports things teachers unions generally don’t support, including pay for performance and charter schools. But the NEA doubled the number of volunteers they had out in the swing states, and they did so hoping they could have more of a seat at the table for Obama’s education policy. The fact that Duncan is staying on means the unions won’t get everything they want.
I don’t see Duncan reversing direction from anything he put in place during the first term. His staying on also means the person who crafted the NCLB waivers and Race To The Top is going to oversee its further implementation. So, he has ownership. If there are flaws in the policies going forward, there’s more room for quick course corrections than if we had to wait for a new secretary.