Blogs

The Politics of Education

Obama Chalkboard.jpg

(Danville, California)

Education is always one of the most volatile and emotional issues, whether it’s being debated on Capitol Hill or at the many local school boards around the nation. Because of this, I am a bit surprised that President-elect Barack Obama has yet to nominate anyone for Secretary of Education. Perhaps they are deeply vetting candidates, because so much is at stake.

The first job for the new Education Secretary will be to handle the “hot potato” known as "No Child Left Behind." The law was approved by Congress with wide bipartisan support in 2001 and signed by President Bush. In a nutshell, NCLB mandated that each state conduct standardized tests to measure student proficiency (and, it was hoped, improvement) in math, reading and writing. Schools that don’t improve face sanctions and can even lose federal funding. Parents are supposed to have the option of moving their kids out of failing schools.

The results have been mixed and the law controversial. Supporters point to a Department of Education report in 2005 that showed reading and math scores were up, overall. Critics say that because states write the tests, they can lower standards and reclassify students to make the scores look better. Supporters say NCLB provides accountability in the classroom; critics say it forces teachers to spend valuable instruction time “teaching to the test.”

If there is one area where there is widespread agreement, it’s that NCLB has been underfunded. It was passed by Congress before the September 11, 2001, attacks (although signed by President Bush in January 2002) and before the two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Obviously there was a major shift in resources in Washington, DC. Critics say NCLB was eligible for $23 billion in funding for 2006, but that the Bush Administration requested only $13 billion. Republicans in Congress say the higher figure was meant to be a ceiling for spending, not a promised windfall.

In either case, many supporters and foes alike believe NCLB would work better if more money were spent on it. For example, some students might perform better if tutors and after-school programs were funded, rather than having low-scoring schools lose federal dollars. It seems counterintuitive that the schools most in need, stand to lose the most money. Yes, it’s an incentive for them to improve, but it can tie their hands along the way.

The issue fascinates me from political, academic and parental standpoints. It was widely discussed on the Presidential campaign trial, which is where I spent much of my time this year. We also discussed it a lot at St. Mary’s College, where I continue to work on my Doctorate in Educational Leadership. And most of all, as with any parent, I want to see how it helps my kids and their classmates.

A big concern for all is where President Obama puts his priorities. According to the “Contra Costa Times,” Obama has listed education as fifth on his priority list, behind the economy, energy policy, health care reform and tax cuts. http://www.contracostatimes.com/search/ci_11143404?IADID

Given the overall state of the economy and a year-old recession, it’s hard to guess how much attention and money NCLB will receive. The new Education Secretary must be a vocal and high-profile advocate for either fixing the law or gutting it. NCLB expired in 2007, but is now up for renewal before Congress

Obama has promised to bring bipartisanship back to Washington. With that in mind, he and Members of Congress need to remember an important history lesson. While President Bush proposed No Child Left Behind, it had the huge support of such Democratic luminaries as Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Rep. George Miller (D-CA). In short, it was a real bipartisan bill; and so the credit for its successes and the blame for its failures should be spread across party lines. That’s also the best road map for getting it fixed!

Keep checking in at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

Keep Your Friends Close and Your Enemies Closer

Obama Richardson.jpg

(Danville, California)

“Keep your friends close and your enemies closer!” It was a saying made popular by the Michael Corleone character in “The Godfather” movies, but it dates back much further. The line is originally attributed to Sun-tzu, a Chinese general and military strategist in 400 B.C.

The whole concept was to keep your enemies close so that you could keep an eye on them and prevent them from attacking you.

Fast forward to 2008, and it appears this may be part of Barack Obama’s political strategy. He has now appointed former rivals Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton and Bill Richardson to top posts inside his administration. All certainly come with long resumes, so that could help Obama, too. Abraham Lincoln, whom Obama has studied intently, did a similar thing. Lincoln appointed rivals and foes to posts in his cabinet.

What this does in the short term, is to neutralize the intraparty opposition. For now, it would be hard for Biden, Clinton or Richardson to bolt and to challenge Obama for the nomination in 2012 should his presidency go sour.

History is full of examples when opposition from within his own party has torpedoed a President. Ronald Reagan challenged Gerald Ford for the nomination in 1976 and nearly won. Ted Kennedy challenged Jimmy Carter’s renomination in 1980 and so criticized Carter that it helped lead to Carter's loss. Pat Robertson’s challenge to George H.W. Bush in 1992 forced the elder Bush to spend too much time and money on an intraparty fight. It left him wounded and relatively easy for Bill Clinton to beat in November.

There are other examples, too; but for the sake of discussion, modern political history is all one has to look at. Appointing former and, perhaps, future rivals helps Obama in two ways. First, if his administration falters in the first two years, it would be hard for any of these three to challenge him because they would be blamed also as “part of the team.” Any serious challenger to Obama in 2012 would have to step out by 2010 to raise money and to organize his or her campaign. Second, if Obama's first term goes well, it forces potential challengers to really gear up their resumes for a run in 2016. That almost forces undying loyalty to Obama right now. To quote “The Godfather” again, Obama has “made them an offer they can’t refuse.”

Biden, who would be 74 in 2016, probably would be out of the picture; but Clinton and Richardson would be very much in the mix.

Keep checking back for my latest political commentary at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.
Also, if you know any company or non-profit that needs public relations or media help, have them write to me!

Syndicate content