Post Election Odds & Ends

A couple of odds and ends plus some eduimplications from yesterday.

My election day tradition is that I like to help out at the polls for a while, pass out literature and sample ballots for candidates, etc…I find something very special in watching all your neighbors, and where I live that means people from all walks of life, come out and pick their leaders freely and together.  In too many parts of the world such a simple and elegant act of human dignity is routinely denied.  At our party we watched the returns last night with a friend from Central Asia, from a little town where my wife lived for a while in the Peace Corps.  He came here through a challenging route to get asylum seeking many different kinds of freedom, the kinds we shouldn’t take for granted.

On a related note, like a lot of Democrats I know, I didn’t vote for Obama — in my case one of my two year old daughters did and many of my friends did the same thing with their children.   She knew that Obama’s name started with a “B” and an “O” and that Mark Warner started with “M” and with a little real-time alphabet coaching found our candidate in our congressional race.   And, on our machines the “vote now” button is a big bright orange thing so that was especially big fun.  In fact, after voting she immediately started demanding to “let’s do it again” for the next half hour.  She would have voted dozens of times if it were allowed.   I can only assume that’s the influence of having two grandparents from Massachusetts but who knows.

Looking at the returns from yesterday a couple of things jump out and they do have short and long term eduimplications.  

Watch the U.S. Senate.  Although Obama racked up a very impressive electoral coalition and one that everyone in Washington will take note of, once business gets underway the U.S. Senate seems poised to become ground zero for a variety of legislative fights.  Depending on the amount of discipline Republican leaders can enforce on their moderates, especially those from states Obama carried, the Senate could be a real challenge overall given its likely makeup.  And, traditionally on the education issue that environment in the Senate has been messy because of the amendment process in that body. 

Everyone reads the same exit polls.  The economy was a key to the broader coalition Obama was able to assemble in this election and trumps other issues.   That likely means (a) more rhetoric from our field about how education and the economy are linked and (b) despite that, second tier status for education for at least a while.     

Equity Tension Ascendant?  Again, the coalition Obama assembled was driven by a really staggering sense of economic anxiety in the electorate.    That means there are some tensions in there around traditional divides on school reform.  African-Americans broke for him hard, and increased their share of the electorate overall (more than young voters did it appears) and Obama performed better among Hispanics than Kerry did in 2004.   And he made inroads among white voters.   But, there is still a distinct coastal “wine track” to the coalition and looking ahead to 2012 you can expect Obama to want to boost his performance among white women.   In 2000 Bush was able to do that by fuzzing up reform and talking about low-expectations and so forth.  But now that there is a better understanding out there that real reform has an edge and, in the short term, requires picking some winners and losers if you really want to focus on traditionally ill-served students, balancing all this will be a tougher political act.   But, if the last two years are a guide, this guy’s up to it. 

Lincoln Ascendant?   If my email, and my bias, are any indication, the explicit and implicit Lincoln references in Obama’s victory speech last night were a big hit.    Apparently a bigger hit than FDR is among some commenters on this blog…

Finally, let’s hope Glenn Reynolds speaks for more people than himself.  We do need a better politics given the challenges we face.   But regardless of how you voted — or how your kids did — hopefully you agree that last night shows what a great country this is and despite our problems how incredibly blessed we are to be Americans on so many levels.

6 thoughts on “Post Election Odds & Ends

  1. Bob

    As I’m sure you know, next year is the 200th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth. There will be numerous commemorations, including a rededication of the Lincoln Memorial. How incredible is it that an African American will preside over these events?

  2. john thompson

    Barack Obama has a mandate to bring us together. We in the edusphere should follow his lead, and I hope my comments will be in that vein.

    We should discuss the “lessons learned” of 1990s reforms. For better and for worse, many 1990s reformers were newcomers. They saw education with fresh eyes, and led a successful effort to redefine public education. At the same time, they operated within a larger effort to redesign the old New Deal Consensus. Maybe, some reformers would have agreed that their approach was not necessarily the best policy if we were just looking at education, but they were looking towards a whole new form of progressivism for the 21st century. I see Bill Clinton as the prime example. Sure, he wanted to use testing for accountability purposes to raise student performance, but he had much bigger fish to fry. The principle of accountability was not just a way to show that education proponents could be tough, but that New Democrats could also be tough enough to deal with crises abroad as well as home.

    Back then, we Dems had a great lack of confidence in our ability to stand up to the Lee Atwaters of the world. Back then, we had so much confidence in digital miracles that we talked of the Internet ending the business cycle, of mathematical models creating safe Hedge Funds, and even computers doing a better job than doctors of diagnosis. Now, we have a different set of hopes and fears and our strategy should change with the times.

    Again, Bill Clinton is illustrative. Now he says we are testing too much. I suspect that the great great majority of educators and policy analysts would agree, but too many are still afraid to say it out loud. But aren’t those fears mostly “inside baseball?” If our profession repudiated (at least for the forseeable future) the idea of “outputs” based accountability and went back to inputs based accountability, how many voters would notice? In fact, the issue is not that sharp. We do not need to abandon all forms of inputs based accountability. We just need to admit that the input models of accountability are not ready for prime time, and will not be ready for the foreseeable future.

    If we engaged in an interminable close textual analysis, perhaps we could agree that some models of input driven accountability are not incompatable with innovation, but that strikes me as a waste of time. The more you stress data-driven accountability, the more you discourage creativity. For instance, what would be the answer to the following.

    Data-driven accountability is least compatible with:

    a) the Soviet Planned Economy,
    b) quotas,
    c) a culture of compliance, or
    d) a culture of creativity, innovation, and entrepeneurialism.

    It may be impossible, but we would better serve school children if we replaced the term “accountability” with the term “cost benefit analysis.” Our “value-added” models are not nearly ready for sanctioning teachers, but they would be cost effective tools for locating students who need additional assistance. Why not design sentences for locating elementary students who have been absent for five days, so that interventions can be delivered in a timely manner?

    These are just examples and we could all create a long list.

    I don’t want to renege on my resolution to stay true to the values of “Yes We Can,” but I have to make an observation about the “Washington Consensus” on education. It claims that there is a researched-based conventional wisdom on “best practices” and that those practices which raise performance for lower poverty schools can transform high poverty schools. Speaking for myself, I resent the implications. Those of you who read the research know that the evidence is far less clear. If the majority of engineers told the political establishment that they misunderstand their profession, the Washington Consensus would listen. When the majority of educators and education experts say that the Washington Consensus on education is flawed, we are dismissed as “special interests.”

    If we are going to do more with less at a time of fiscal austerity, we need to think more deeply and have a more open discussion where the actual experiences of actual educators are treated with more respect.

  3. anonymous

    Mr. Thompson,
    A quick question: Your comment posted at 4:46 pm, which means it was 3:36 pm where you live. Giving you the benefit of the doubt, I will assume it only took you about 15 minutes to write it – so you must have started writing at about 3:30. Does this mean you weren’t helping any of the kids that you say so desperately need additonal time, support, guidance and enagement in a meaningful afterschool program?

  4. Seth Kirk

    I enjoyed the story about voting with the daughter. In Minneapolis, we have a program called Kids Vote, where every polling place has a separate voting station for kids. The kids use a special ballot that omits a few judgeships and such, but this year’s contained the full text of a constitutional amendment and two school referenda.

    My kids look forward to voting in Kids Vote, so much so that my nine-year-old daughter was upset in September when our primary did not have a Kids Vote option.

    http://www.kidsvotingminneapolis.org/index.html

  5. john thompson

    Anonymous,

    Its 8:26 and I’m not teaching today either.

    You’ve misunderstood my arguments. I argue that after school remediation which is one of the main tools in the NCLB toolkit is inadequate for improving high poverty neighborhood schools. The “best practices” for improving student performance in lower poverty schools are inherently inadequate for high poverty schools that do not cream. It is one thing to offer remediation to a few dozen students after school. Its another to offer remediation to hundreds at a school when each have a full range of deficits. This should not give us an excuse for going home early. But perhaps you should click the Bill Ferriter link on today’s Core Knowledge blog.

    The best idea I have at this moment is not necessarily that good. Our kids don’t need more remediation. They need more high quality classes, as well as the full range of interventions proposed by HZC and the Bolder Broader, etc. The best I could visualize in my school would be that another team of teachers clock in at 3:30, in order to continue the fight.

    So now I’m off to the hospital regarding family, and when I return I’ll check out the blogs to see if new ideas have been offered. I hope that the Obama victory and the combination of Obama victory, and seeing people who suffer through so much more than I ever have, will mean that I read comments with an open and charitable mind.

    But as I argued in my comment, its time to move beyond slash and burn politics at least when it comes to education.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *