Beware of Experts in Education Policy

Frederick Hess, resident scholar and director of education policies at American Enterprise Institute, warned that we should beware of experts, especially those in education policy, in AEI’s latest In 60 Seconds video.

Watch below:

Hess is right.

Hess mentioned education policy experts brought us No Child Left Behind and School Improvement Grants that did more harm than good. Had he had more time, based on Hess’ writings, I’m sure Race to the Top and Common Core would make his list as well.

Education policy experts often think top-down when the best solutions typically come from the local level. Top-down “experts” will never know local schools as well as parents, teachers, and administrators involved in those schools and school districts do.

I have yet to see a top-down idea work. I wouldn’t put much stock into education policy “experts” unless they are pushing local control and local solutions for problems in public education.

New Year’s Resolutions for Federal Educrats

Frederick Hess at Education Next wrote a great list of 10 New Year’s resolutions for those who will be taking charge at the U.S. Department of Education. I wanted to highlight a few here:

2. Because I know that serious people can disagree passionately and sincerely on heated educational questions, I’ll look askance at one-size-fits-all federal directives and instead work to give states and communities the ability to solve problems and own the consequences.

3. I’ll make sure there’s at least one day a month where I’m engaging with and listening to those who disagree with my views. So long as my critics offer me the same courtesy, I pledge not to simply dismiss them as “selfish,” “ignorant,” “misguided,” or “close-minded.” Rather, I’ll respect their willingness to speak up and keep in mind that hard-hitting exchanges can help keep me honest and grounded.

4. I’m in an office that I haven’t “earned” in any real sense and yet have a significant ability to influence the lives of millions of students, educators, and families. Thus, I’ll strive to remember that many of these people may disagree with me as to what’s “right” or in their best interest, and to accept their criticisms and disagreements in good faith.

5. However frustrating it may be at times, I’ll keep in mind that the people who do the work in schools, communities, and colleges are usually far better positioned than I am to make judgments about “what works” for their students.

6. I will work to restore the federal role in education to one that respects the constitutional and statutory role of the U.S. Department of Education, and I won’t be deterred by the sniping of self-impressed pundits, advocates, and former federal officials.

7. I will remember that it’s Congress’s job to write the nation’s laws, and that the job of executive branch agencies (like the Department of Ed) is to execute those laws—not to rewrite them or impose their own.

Be sure to read the rest.

Education and the First Presidential Debate

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore/Marc Nozell

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore/Marc Nozell

So who said what on education on Monday evening during the first presidential debate?

Crickets…. It is amazing that the topic never came up at all even in an answer for an unrelated question.

Frederick Hess had this to say at Education Next:

Outside of a five-word Clinton throwaway mention of debt-free college, education didn’t make even a token appearance in the 45 minutes the candidates spent talking about “prosperity”. Amidst heated talk about foreign trade, taxes on “the rich,” Trump’s tax returns, birther-ism, Clinton’s emails, and more, neither bothered to raise K-12, higher education, or college costs. As marginal as education has been in 2016, I was still surprised that neither chose to go there. It’s a chance to play positive and send a signal about inclusive growth.

Education was almost equally absent when moderator Lester Holt turned to racial tension, civil unrest, incarceration, and policing. Clinton’s initial response mentioned schooling, but the candidates never returned to the role of education. In purely practical terms, that struck me as peculiar on a bunch of levels. Education is a way to talk about how to reduce tensions and offer more promising avenues. It’s a chance to talk of opportunity and responsibility. It’s a way to talk about promoting civic virtues and mutual understanding. And I was surprised that, in talking about the problems related to incarceration and urban violence, neither candidate cited the importance of prison education or prisoner reentry.

He makes some predictions on what they might do… well sort of.

I know reporters are working hard to parse what a Trump or Clinton win really means for education. But I’ll tell you what I keep telling education writers—it’s damn hard to know. For Trump, as best I can tell, policy is performance art. There’s no reason to believe he means what he says. So, when he tosses out the notion of $20 billion for school choice, I don’t think it’s more than a short-lived symbolic gesture. Meanwhile, Clinton has made rafts of promises regarding new regulations, programs, and spending, and it’s hard to know which of it she’s serious about.

The safest bet is that, especially post-ESSA, she’d back-burner K-12 to focus on new spending and regulations for pre-K and higher education, which has the added benefit of uniting Democrats. The thing, of course, is that her proposals would create fierce new partisan divides on those issues, and have trouble moving through what’s likely to be a Republican House. Would’ve been nice if either of them had seen fit to offer any more clarity on any of this in the debate, but so it goes.

Trump has talked tough on Common Core, but it remains to be seen what his actual plans are beyond throwing money at school choice. At best with Clinton we can hope for is status quo with K-12 which isn’t good. At worst we’ll see her double down on Marc Tucker’s suggestions. She has laid out her platform, but we also have her record to go on as well, and it is dismal. Her plans for pre-K are frightening.