Disruptive Politics

A little while back I related this odd experience where I was invited by the Department of Education to cover a small briefing from the Secretary of Education as a blogger. It was the first time they’d done that, had a blogger in with the real reporters, so everyone was on 8th-grade dance behavior. But it went fine. However, I was actually wearing a third hat in addition to this blog and my day job because I’m on the Virginia Board of Education so some of the regulatory decisions she was discussing would impact my state and my work there. Yet it’s certainly not just me with more than one hat.

Spellings’ main agenda was announcing the two states that would participate in the growth model pilot and was discussing the review board that evaluated the plans, which included Kati Haycock and Bill Taylor. Both Haycock and Taylor head organizations with views on the pilot, and Haycock’s Ed Trust even did a lot of work evaluating the various state proposals independent of her service on the review panel. That was all confusing enough that NYT’s Diana Jean Schemo mistakenly reported that the Ed Trust as an institution rather than Haycock as a peer reviewer had evaluated the pilot programs for the Department. It’s understandable, a lot of overlapping roles.

In a larger sense, all this shows that perhaps No Child Left Behind is accomplishing one of the larger goals that broad general interest reforms sometimes do: Shaking up the constellation of policy actors around various issues. Essentially, as Frank Baumgartner and Bryan Jones have shown, while cozy stable policymaking arrangements are the norm, when they change it is often with intense punctuated rapidity. In the wake of these changes a new set of players emerge and eventually the process repeats itself again.

What makes No Child interesting to watch, however, are the complicated federal-state relationships embodied in the law. While NCLB may have stirred things up at the federal level, it didn’t change the policymaking apparatus at the state and local level. In fact, a bipartisan amendment sponsored by Senators (and former governors) Evan Bayh (D-IN) and George Voinovich (R-OH) that would have given governors sign-off authority on NCLB plans and consequently more leverage over state departments of education, failed 58-40. So it’s an awkward marriage there still and one worth watching going forward.

In terms of the multiple hats, if there ever was a time for attention to disclosure and transparency, now is it. In the long run, it’s for the good.

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