Everyone wants to know…what does it all mean for education? And as an education analyst I guess I’m supposed to hype it as a big thing but I can’t with a straight face. While I do think this election mattered a lot overall, and I’m pleased with the outcome, I don’t think it means very much on the education issue because these days education politics pretty much transcend party lines. But here are a couple of interesting notes and a bit of forecasting. In PA, incoming Dem Senator Casey championed Sara Mead’s universal pre-K access plan, a national advocate for that idea from the political center is a good step. In MA, incoming Governor and Clinton Admin. alum Deval Patrick has been warming to charter schools –which overall are doing a pretty good job in MA — data here — so that’s worth watching. And in AR Bill Halter is now the LG, he’s an innovative and forward looking guy, part of an up and coming generation of smart, solution oriented Dems like DE Treasurer Jack Markell, Indy mayor Bart Peterson, etc…who you should keep your ed eye on.
But that’s down the road…in terms of this new Congress, George Miller taking over the education committee in the House will probably surface a misunderstood dynamic around national education politics. Namely, while a lot of people think that the No Child Left Behind debate is Republican v. Democrat, in fact it’s really intra-party. Miller is a stronger accountability hawk than President Bush’s Administration is. He’s for teaching to standards in that debate…Senator Kennedy (who seems likely to again chair the education committee in the Senate) has moved to a pro-accountability position over the past decade (and his key staffer on education is a former civil rights attorney so she gets these issues from that lens which is the Ed Trust, CCCR, etc…lens).
But, a lot of Dems who won last night are relatively conservative, for instance Senator-elect Jim Webb (VA), Congressman-elect Heath Shuler (NC), etc…and their serious concerns about No Child are more likely to be about federalism, flexibility, and the proper federal role in schools than the silly back and forth about No Child funding. And don’t forget the National Education Association – Republican Study Group axis of weasel…there will be pressure on NCLB from the right. That’s all worth watching in terms of the coalitional politics. Still, right now I don’t see much happening until 2009 on NCLB but in a fluid political environment like this, 6 months is an eternity. Higher ed still seems the safer bet.