Special Election/ALCS Edition: Conservatives Swing And Miss And Wash Post Doesn’t Field Cleanly

In The Washington Post Michael Dobbs writes up the state-of-play on education in the 2004 race. It’s a solid piece and good overview but the usually reliable Dobbs does a little too much “on the one hand…on the other hand” when in fact the evidence is reasonably clear.

Regarding NCLB Dobbs writes:

Little evidence supports the White House contention that No Child Left Behind has significantly narrowed the achievement gap between whites and minority students, said Bruce Fuller, a professor of education and public policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He cites recent test results that show a leveling out or decline in fourth-grade reading scores in 11 of the nation’s 15 most populous states.

An analysis by the Education Trust, meanwhile, reported a narrowing of the achievement gap in 16 states in reading since 2002, and a widening in three. At the same time, the group reported the pace of progress was generally insufficient to reach the goal of full proficiency by 2014.

It’s true that the White House contention of dramatic gains, echoed by Secretary of Education Rod Paige at the National Press Club last month, wildly overstates the reality and it’s too soon for that sort of definitive judgment anyway. But, the landscape is not as mixed as this passage indicates (hint: go with the Trust). The Education Trust data v. the Fuller data is not a “meanwhile” or on the one hand… Apparently Dobbs didn’t get the same memo(s) everyone else did basically saying that the Fuller “study” was a partisan hit job rather than research as PACE distanced themselves from it as fast as they could. Fair and balanced doesn’t mean equal time regardless of the merits of the claim…

Meanwhile, it is fair and balanced to say that the Bush-Cheney campaign and conservatives more generally were caught flat-footed when John Kerry proposed a pretty ambitious plan for federally funded pilot programs to innovate with differential and performance-based pay schemes for teachers.

Their immediate response was that Kerry wouldn’t possibly follow through and do it. But that sort of fell flat because until after the election it’s impossible to validate or falsify that assertion. So now they’re saying that Kerry’s plan doesn’t go far enough because Kerry’s campaign has said that any initiative would have to respect local collective bargaining agreements for teachers. EIA’s Antonucci argues the point here, MO’s Sager here.

This latter charge is a ridiculous standard. There is a long-standing precedent that federal policies defer to local bargaining agreements. The wisdom of that policy is debatable but if conservatives want to grumble about it they should start with President Bush who failed to address it in Title I (then clumsily tried to do it after the fact and got his clock cleaned by the NEA’s legal team) where it will certainly impact many more school improvement initiatives than it will in Kerry’s plan.

Besides, are conservatives really now arguing that Washington should mandate pay schemes for local teachers? Doesn’t it make more sense to direct resources toward communities where there is buy-in for reform, and by doing so stimulate a greater willingness to innovate?

The election surely will not turn on this issue, but it’s grasping at straws nonetheless.

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