More What’s Next

In today’s Times, Paul Krugman speculates about what is next for the Republicans, if, as expected, they fare poorly at the polls tomorrow.  Overall I think he’s right about where this is likely headed. 

If indeed Virginia is a bellwether it means they could be in for a long winter.  Here the political story is as much about the purpling of the state and demographic changes as it is about a seemingly willful effort on the part of Republicans to marginalize themselves from the electorate.   Mark Warner’s senate campaign is a prime example.  He’s poised to win by an enormous margin regardless of what happens at the presidential level in part because he was a great governor who led the state out of a real fiscal mess, but also in part because the Republicans have put themselves so far out of the mainstream as not to be at all compelling or competitive.  

So, in our corner of the world, what does the coming Republican wilderness time potentially mean nationally for education policy?  It would seem there are three basic possibilities:   

First, Republicans could decide that while a party’s base matters, national elections are won in the center.   Like George Bush did in 2000 they could use education as a part of a way back by promoting sensible middle of the road ideas and rhetoric.   As I’ve written before, I can’t figure out why many conservatives are so reflexively hostile to public schools rather than seeing them as a powerful national institution that should be strengthened.  And, while Bush’s presidency certainly has not turned well, politically his 2000 campaign was pretty good coming on the heels of eight pretty good years.

Second, and conversely, we could see a return to the slash and burn and culture war approach of the 1990s (or its last gasp).   Sarah Palin hasn’t been hostile to public schools in Alaska but if she sees these sorts of politics as a way to a political future in 2012 it’s hard to imagine she wouldn’t turn on a dime and others wouldn’t follow.   This would mean a lot of ideas to effectively eviscerate the federal role in education, cut spending, devolve authority to the states and so forth.   In a tight fiscal climate state “flexibility” can have a siren-like appeal because it gives states more flexibility around using federal dollars to plug other budget holes.   The likely lack of Republican moderates on the Hill will only add to this dynamic.

Third, we could see some combination of the two approaches.   This would involve big “moonshot” ideas that have little chance of becoming policy but give Republicans something to talk about that isn’t completely negative.  Mike Petrilli’s ideas about completely flipping the federal role in education is one example of this approach.   Not gonna happen anytime soon, but it’s a handy talking point to illustrate that you’re not just against everything.

But, if the experience in some states as well as the likely composition of the House and Senate after the dust settles is any guide, I’d bet on the first second [Sorry for the confusion!  And thanks for the notes, bad editing.] option.   That means a lot of theater, but not good news if you want to see a serious national debate about ideas for improving our public schools.

5 thoughts on “More What’s Next

  1. Reason

    “As I’ve written before, I can’t figure out why many conservatives are so reflexively hostile to public schools rather than seeing them as a powerful national institution that should be strengthened.”

    What do you mean by ‘conservative’? And what are they conserving? A true conservative would be concerned and outright hostile to any government creation labeled a “powerful national institution”.

    You do not see that it is nationalist government causing the worst of problems?

    How arrogant it is of you to believe that

    1) the certainty of physical factors and interactions in the study of natural sciences could be transferred to the social science of educational management;

    2) that your positivism justifies using national government power.

    You advocate national power because you believe that the dictator (the US Government) will express your values. Don’t forget that Stalin had Trotsky killed- even though Trotsky shared the same views.

    You and the Washington educrat establishment should be stopped in the name of liberty.

  2. Andrew Bell

    Reason,

    Seems to me you are making too much of the question of the OP. OK, so you don’t want the federal government involved in education. This isn’t the main point of the comment. OP was asking what the Republicans might have to say about education going forward.

    The federal government has no real power in these matters anyway. If states don’t like what the feds are suggesting, why do they follow along? They refuse to stand up for their rights under the Constitution, so they get what they deserve. It doesn’t seem to me that states or even most local districts deserve any great praise for the quality of eduction in their jurisdictions, but of course that doesn’t give the federal government an implicit right to impose despite what might be the best of intentions.

  3. Stephen

    Well put, Andrew. Ultimately, what it comes down to is something that is actually rather unfortunate: money. We simply clamor for it, and refusing money for the sake of principle is seen as foolishness. And I say it’s unfortunate because, despite popular opinion, I don’t believe we need to spending as much, no matter who is doing the spending.

  4. Constructive Feedback

    It is interesting that you speak of “Republican hostility to public education”, particularly funding – when the record shows that education has received a substantial increase in funding during the “last 8 years”, a term that thankfully be retired soon. If you allow certain people to go unchallenged – one would swear that Bush actually CUT education rather than increased federal commitment.

    No Child Left Behind, as controversial and provocative as it is – stands toe to toe and in many ways surpasses anything that the Clinton Administration did in regards to educational reform. Please note that both of the current presidential candidates have their educational policies based on NCLB rather than the Clinton era 100,000 teachers rhetoric.

    What of the unions and the ideology that has a relative stranglehold on education and who’s intransigence has not only created the need for educational alternatives but have blocked such community based drives for charter schools, for example from coming to fruition based on the demands from parents for alternatives to their failed public schools?

    With education as with economic matters certain people’s assumptions and biases allow them to look past where the problem really resides and instead go after their usual suspects.

  5. Reason

    Andrew,

    The Republican Party, Northern Industrialists and corporate powers aligned under Abraham Lincoln ensured that states could no longer defy the national Leviathan by virtue of their “Civil” War victory. In addition, state politicians and organizations are very much paid-off by the Washington class. Entities that once would have to rely on states now go to D.C. The fact that Senators are not sent by the individual state legislatures has something to do with it too. The Constitution only means what those in power say it means and power rests in D.C.

    If anything, I understate the totalitarian trajectory. Your lack of concern for centralized power only reinforces my points.

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