Education

No Lack of Policy Advice For New President, Congress

By Erik W. Robelen — February 14, 2001 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

While President Bush already has some clear ideas about federal education policy, it hasn’t deterred an onslaught of advice for him and his congressional counterparts.

One popular way for education groups and think tanks to get their messages out is through shiny policy documents, distributed to federal lawmakers and an incoming administration.

“This is a time-honored way of getting your marker out there,” said Norman J. Ornstein, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute here and an expert on Congress.

The round of reports pegged to the postelection turnover of power began arriving as early as December, but even last week a few more came out. The timing is no accident; with Mr. Bush making education his first policy priority, now is the time for organizations to make their views known.

Of course, the president and Congress aren’t starting with a blank slate. Mr. Bush has already unveiled his own blueprint for the federal role in K-12 education, and several education bills have been introduced on Capitol Hill. But the process of hashing out the details of legislation Congress would pass and the president would sign is only just beginning.

The degree of influence such reports have is hard to gauge, but at times it has been substantial. For example, a Heritage Foundation report released at the start of the Reagan administration 20 years ago made a splash.

"[President] Reagan handed out copies at the first Cabinet meeting,” said Michael G. Franc, the vice president of government relations at the Washington-based think tank. “That’s the kind of lore that’s repeated early and often around this building.”

‘Synergy of Thinking’

Some of the documents are strikingly similar.

For example, Heritage, the Education Leaders Council, and the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, all of which have a conservative tilt, have offered some nearly identical proposals for how to make K-12 policy more flexible, for strengthening accountability, and even for what to do with the Head Start program. (They’d move it to the Department of Education, an idea that President Bush also proposed in his campaign.)

“It’s sort of a consensus that’s been developing from reformers,” said Gary M. Huggins, the executive director of the ELC, a group of state officials that was formed as an alternative to the Council of Chief State School Officers.

“There’s an awful lot of synergy of thinking going on, which I think is healthy,” Mr. Franc added.

Much less popular now are calls to do away with the federal role in education, though the libertarian Cato Institute still advocates that position.

Machine Gun Approach

Reports alone only go so far, Mr. Huggins cautioned. “I think what matters most is the follow- up,” he said, promising that lawmakers and the administration will get plenty from ELC members.

A few of the major think tanks here, including the Brookings Institution and American Enterprise Institute, don’t issue broad policy documents at all.

“We never do that,” Mr. Ornstein of the AEI said. “It’s partly because ... we don’t have a uniform set of views on things.”

Of course, the AEI has other means of influence. Beyond issuing policy studies on specific issues, the think tank has a few personal ties to the new administration as well. Most notably, Lynne V. Cheney, the wife of Vice President Richard B. Cheney and a former chairwoman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, is also a fellow at the think tank. Lawrence Lindsey, another AEI scholar, is now the assistant to the president for economic policy.

Similarly, the Heritage piece on education was written by Nina Shokraii Rees, who was just named deputy assistant for domestic policy to Vice President Cheney.

John F. Jennings, the director of the Center on Education Policy, has an inside perspective on what generally happens to the policy recommendations, having served as a longtime aide to Democrats on the House education committee.

He said most lawmakers themselves don’t read the reports, though some staff members do, particularly on the committees of concern.

“It’s like a machine gun. You’ve got to shoot a lot of bullets to just get a couple hits,” said Mr. Jennings, whose organization released its own recommendations last week. “If you could write something that would be read by six senior members’ aides, then ... you’ve scored a hit.”

The reports can be most effective when they make similar points, Mr. Jennings argued, noting that many of the documents agree, for instance, on retaining a separate Title I program for disadvantaged students.

“If members are hearing all sorts of people say, ‘Retain Title I in some way,’ it has [a significant influence],” he said.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the February 14, 2001 edition of Education Week as No Lack of Policy Advice For New President, Congress

Events

Classroom Technology Webinar How Pandemic Tech Is (and Is Not) Transforming K-12 Schools
The COVID-19 pandemic—and the resulting rise in virtual learning and big investments in digital learning tools— helped educators propel their technology skills to the next level. Teachers have become more adept at using learning management
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Accelerate Learning with Project-Based Learning
Earlier this year, the George Lucas Educational Foundation released four new studies highlighting how project-based learning (PBL) helps accelerate student learning—across age groups, multiple disciplines, and different socio-economic statuses. With this year’s emphasis on unfinished
Content provided by SmartLab Learning
School & District Management Live Online Discussion Principal Overload: How to Manage Anxiety, Stress, and Tough Decisions
According to recent surveys, more than 40 percent of principals are considering leaving their jobs. With the pandemic, running a school building has become even more complicated, and principals' workloads continue to grow. If we

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Gunman in Parkland School Massacre to Plead Guilty
The gunman who killed 14 students and three staff members at a Florida high school will plead guilty to their murders, his attorneys said.
4 min read
Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz is sworn in before pleading guilty, Friday, Oct. 15, 2021, at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on all four criminal counts stemming from his attack on a Broward County jail guard in November 2018, Cruz's lawyers said Friday that he plans to plead guilty to the 2018 massacre at a Parkland high school.
Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz is sworn in before pleading guilty, Friday, Oct. 15, 2021, at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on all four criminal counts stemming from his attack on a Broward County jail guard in November 2018, Cruz's lawyers said Friday that he plans to plead guilty to the 2018 massacre at a Parkland high school.
Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP
Education California Makes Ethnic Studies a High School Requirement
California is among the first in the nation to require students to take a course in ethnic studies to get a diploma starting in 2029-30.
4 min read
FILE - In this Jan. 22, 2020, file photo, Democratic Assembly members, from left, James Ramos, Chris Holden Jose Medina, and Rudy Salas, Jr., right, huddle during an Assembly session in Sacramento, Calif. Medina's bill to make ethnic studies a high school requirement was signed into law by California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday, Oct. 8, 2021. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)
Education California Requires Free Menstrual Products in Public Schools
The move comes as women’s rights advocates push nationwide for affordable access to pads, tampons, and other items.
1 min read
Tammy Compton restocks tampons at Compton's Market, in Sacramento, Calif., on June 22, 2016. California public schools and colleges must stock their restrooms with free menstrual products under a new law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, Friday, Oct. 8, 2021.
Tammy Compton restocks tampons at Compton's Market, in Sacramento, Calif., on June 22, 2016. California public schools and colleges must stock their restrooms with free menstrual products under a new law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, Friday, Oct. 8, 2021.
Rich Pedroncelli/AP
Education Florida to Dock School District Salaries for Requiring Masks
Florida is set to dock salaries and withhold funding from local school districts that defied Gov. Ron DeSantis' ban on mask mandates.
2 min read
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, at the Doral Academy Preparatory School in Doral, Fla.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, at the Doral Academy Preparatory School in Doral, Fla.
Wilfredo Lee/AP