Opinion Blog


Rick Hess Straight Up

Education policy maven Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute think tank offers straight talk on matters of policy, politics, research, and reform. Read more from this blog.

School & District Management Opinion

What We’ve Got Here Is...Failure to Communicate

By Rick Hess — May 19, 2011 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

One of the funniest developments of the past six months has been watching self-confident individuals at the Department of Education and at various advocacy outfits (especially putatively “conservative” ones) explain to newly committed small-government Republicans what Republicans are “supposed” to favor.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is trying to convince the Republicans that they’re supposed to embrace a supersized, amped-up version of NCLB. The Fordham Foundation that they should embrace the Common Core, efforts to develop common curricula, and the rest. Reform-minded Dems that they’re supposed to embrace federal direction on “highly effective teachers,” ED’s anti-bullying crusade, federally-mandated school turnarounds, more Race to the Top, more federal ed spending, and so on. Like an American tourist addressing a non-English speaker, the “reformers” have tried pleading, using outsized gestures, repeating themselves (a lot), and speaking louder. All to no avail.

Long hailed by the Bush administration as a bipartisan force for reform (the Bushies, shall we say, had a taste for big government), the Education Trust is having trouble believing that GOP staff now regard its ambitious proposals as conventional liberal wish-lists. Hill staffers tell of the Ed Trust showing up, with the Business Roundtable in tow, to make the case for an expansive NCLB reauth--imagining that this demonstration of spectrum-spanning will cow Republicans into submission.

After all, the would-be reformers know themselves to be smart, thoughtful, educated, and well-intentioned. They’ve anointed themselves (and been anointed in the popular press) as gutsy reformers. Thus, they can’t imagine that any sensible person would feel otherwise. Conservatives who disagree must either be nuts, dim, or not yet had the issues properly explained to them.

It all brings to me the drawling prison warden in Cool Hand Luke who laconically observed, “What we’ve got here is...failure to communicate.”

As one frustrated Senate Republican staffer told me: “We’ve reached the point where those in favor of nationalizing the system (surreptitiously of course) can only refute arguments against their position by implying they are the only serious people at the table and the other side is filled with pre-pubescent toddlers who don’t understand that mommy and daddy should be trusted to take care of them just fine.”

Even mainstream conservatives are being radicalized. Last weekend, standards guru Sandra Stotsky, a longtime champion of standards-based reform and generally regarded as an NCLB supporter, blasted the very notion of federal involvement in schooling. In an e-mail exchange regarding the Common Core, she wrote, “I’ve tried to think of sound federal policies in education (with positive effects on student achievement), and the closest I’ve come are the Land Grant Acts of the 19th century...In my lifetime, I can’t think of ONE federal policy that has improved student achievement.”

It’s kind of amusing, really. The self-proclaimed reformers just can’t imagine that, confronted with data showing that many children are poorly served, any sensible adult could look askance at their favored policies. When confronted with skepticism that the measures will work as intended, the would-be reformers ask with wide-eyed shock, “Are you willing to just let those children fail?” If a conservative House staffer suggests that maybe the feds lack the ability or purview to solve the problem, would-be reformers seem to think they’ve stepped through the looking glass.

I don’t know how much longer this little show will run, but I’m betting it’s at least through November 2012.

Related Tags:

The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

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
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
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
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

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

School & District Management Some Teachers Won't Get Vaccinated, Even With a Mandate. What Should Schools Do About It?
Vaccine requirements for teachers are gaining traction, but the logistics of upholding them are complicated.
9 min read
Illustration of a vaccine, medical equipment, a clock and a calendar with a date marked in red.
iStock/Getty
School & District Management A Vaccine for Kids Is Coming. 6 Tips for Administering the Shot in Your School
Start planning now, get help, and build enthusiasm. It's harder than it looks.
11 min read
Cole Rodriguez, a 15-year-old student at Topeka West, gets a COVID-19 vaccine Monday, Aug. 9, 2021 at Topeka High School's vaccine clinic.
Cole Rodriguez, a 15-year-old student, gets a COVID-19 vaccine at Topeka High School's vaccine clinic.
Evert Nelson/The Topeka Capital-Journal via AP
School & District Management Letter to the Editor School Mask Mandates: Pandemic, ‘Panicdemic,’ or Personal?
"A pandemic is based on facts. A 'panicdemic' is based on fears. Today, we have both," writes a professor.
1 min read
School & District Management How 'Vaccine Discrimination' Laws Make It Harder for Schools to Limit COVID Spread
In Montana and Ohio, the unvaccinated are a protected class, making it tough to track and contain outbreaks, school leaders say.
4 min read
Principal and District Superintendent Bonnie Lower takes the temperature of a student at Willow Creek School as the school reopened, Thursday, May 7, 2020, in Willow Creek, Mont.
Bonnie Lower, a principal and district superintendent in Willow Creek, Mont., checks the temperature of a student as Willow Creek School reopened for in-person instruction in the spring.
Ryan Berry/Bozeman Daily Chronicle via AP