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What Reaction to Obama’s ESEA Proposal Might Mean

By Alyson Klein — March 15, 2010 3 min read
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So I’m sure you’re well aware by now that the Obama administration released its blueprint for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. You can check out our story here and take a look at the full document online here.

When I made calls to get reaction for the story, what jumped out at me was the fact that, for the most part, lots of people seemed basically pretty happy with the general direction of the blueprint. (That wasn’t the case nearly three ago, when Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, released a draft bill with some similar elements. That draft was attacked by just about everyone.)

But this time, even folks who don’t always agree with one another on policy direction (like the Education Trust, the American Association of School Administrators, and the Council of Chief State School Officers) found much to like in the blueprint. (Of course, all of those folks also said they were commenting based on the initial outline and were still waiting for more details. A lot could change when parts of the proposal are fleshed out further.)

Still, the first round of reaction would seem to bode well for the chances of actually getting reauthorization passed this year, right? Well, sure, but it’s still gonna be an uphill battle.

One big reason? Both of the unions are really unhappy.

Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, told me that the plan would put “one hundred percent of the responsibility on teachers while giving them zero percent authority.”

And Dennis Van Roekel, the president of the National Education Association, said in a statement that:

The accountability system of this 'blueprint' still relies on standardized tests to identify winners and losers. We were expecting more funding stability to enable states to meet higher expectations. Instead, the 'blueprint' requires states to compete for critical resources, setting up another winners-and-losers scenario. We were expecting school turnaround efforts to be research-based and fully collaborative. Instead, we see too much top-down scapegoating of teachers and not enough collaboration.

It was always going to be a long shot to get the unions to support a plan that would measure teacher effectiveness in part on test scores, so the reaction isn’t really a huge surprise. But it could pose a political problem for the administration. If the unions remain opposed, the Obama folks will almost certainly lose the support of at least some Democrats in Congress (just how many is an open, and important, question).

And that may make Republican support even more important. So far, it’s tough to say what the GOP will make of the plan. Allowing districts to opt out of the choice and tutoring provisions in current law may be a tough sell with some Republicans. (GOP lawmakers are likely to be concerned about that, a spokeswoman for Rep. John Kline of Minnesota, the top Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee, told me.)
I’m guessing that choice and tutoring might be big areas of debate.

Of course, some GOP lawmakers may agree with Mike Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a former Bush administration official who thinks the choice and tutoring provisions in current law haven’t been very effective. (Petrilli, a self-proclaimed “Whole Foods Republican” is “thrilled” that the blueprint largely delivers on Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s plan to be tight on goals but loose on how states and districts reach them.)

The bigger and more important question might be whether or not Congress can deliver any sort of major, bipartisan legislation so close to the 2010 midterm elections. Lawmakers’ recent track record isn’t a great sign for fans of the administration’s blueprint. We may have a better idea of where things stand later this week, when the House and Senate education committees hold hearings on the proposal.

What do you think? Are you putting your money on passage this year? What will help or hinder the blueprint’s chances?

UPDATE: Petrilli just emailed me to point out that there’s no mention of tutoring or school choice in a statement on the draft just released by Kline’s office.

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