Bipartisan Mangling of Education – Now It’s Trump’s Turn

As readers know well, I have been critical of the Obama Administration on many of its major education decisions.

It was especially troubling, after failing to secure a timely reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, that the Administration exercised executive power in a very harmful manner, supposedly to “fix” the law. In effect, essential accountability under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) was badly weakened in return for states promising to adopt “reforms” that ultimately materialized on paper but seldom on the ground. Now, with no student achievement gains to show for it, and in the wake of a change of Presidents, the “reforms” will gradually but substantially vanish.

The recent election, of course, didn’t turn out well for the Democrats. Now we ponder where education policy is headed under President-elect Trump and his Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos.

Let me begin with some nice words.

For some reason, I like Donald Trump, certainly far more than do most of my peers. (Lord only knows, and I hope I’m right. But that’s all for another discussion.) In addition, I must say I am increasingly pro-choice in education, so I am impressed with the focus the new Administration is placing on choice.

With that, though, the nice words come to an end.

Let me state it simply. If Donald Trump were running education policy like he ran his successful businesses, he would never take the approach he is currently taking.

First, this talk of Common Core is utter nonsense. The feds haven’t promoted Common Core since the early Obama days, and now, they can’t, by law. However one feels about Common Core, what exactly is this “back to the locals” President saying he will do? Is he saying he’s going to demand that states and districts that choose to use the standards on their own should be prohibited from doing so? Somehow, I don’t think so.

Can you imagine the quite successful businessman, Donald Trump, acting in such a fashion in the management of his real estate entities?

Yet, the one area in which he and fellow Republicans have clearly eschewed a federal role is in demanding accountability for results from those who have been bestowed the largesse of federal borrowing, taxing, and spending.

Education policy now is little more than “we stopped doing this, and we will stop doing that” (which mostly means we’ll no longer hold local politicians and educrats accountable for their use of the billions of dollars the feds send their way).

I fail to see anything conservative or intelligent in the resulting policy. Now the feds are basically spending billions, leaving all the decisions to state and local bureaucrats, and no longer demanding student progress as the quid for the quo of the spending. And this will be the approach whether there are gains or not.

Would businessman Donald Trump act this way? Would he send tons of money to partner businesses with total control of how the dollars are spent and without any accountability for success? NO WAY.

Sadly, I’ve come to the conclusion that he’s simply throwing out crowd-pleasing lines in education talk. They get applause. But, a a smart guy, Trump would never go this way, if he truly cared about the enterprise. And, as a person who seems to care a lot about economic growth, opportunity, and jobs, he should care about the details of education policy and insist upon, not merely wish for, its success.

This brings me back to the issue of parental choice. I’m for choice, and I’m glad he and his Secretary-to-be are, too. But is there to be any accountability to parents and taxpayers in the choice? And what happens in the policy if all or even most of the students and parents don’t get choice because choice opponents stall or minimize the degree to which choice occurs?

In other words, choice must be done right, and choice does not an entire policy make.

The real overall issue for Trump is whether he’s satisfied to relegate education policy to the typical sphere of ideology and political tummy tickling and back scratching. It would be more difficult to do the hard work to assure success. But, hard, smart work is the only true way to effect improvement for students. And it’s the only true way to effect improvement for the economy through a better-educated workforce.

The President-elect faced similar choices when he built his businesses. And, he knows: the easy, sloppy path didn’t work then, and it won’t work now. If he thinks through it deeply, he will understand. I hope he does. America will not be great under his watch if he doesn’t.

Why Keith Ellison For DNC Chair?

Although it’s hard to do, let’s put aside for the moment Keith Ellison’s unfortunate past in terms of both anti-Semitic comments and actions.

Indeed, let’s also put aside his previous affiliation with the Nation of Islam and Louis Farrakhan.

Rather, let’s take him at his word that he’s apologetic about and truly disavows these earlier comments, actions, and affiliations.

The question remains: why in the world would the Democratic Party choose Keith Ellison to be the Chair of the Democratic National Committee at this particular time?

Put another way: why, after this election, would the Democrats choose a person who is as far to the left as is Keith Ellison to be their titular leader? In a recent ADA rating, which appears representative of where he is on the political spectrum, Ellison was 100%.

The Democrats have lost ground politically by every measure over the past eight years. The White House and both Houses of Congress are now firmly in Republican hands. And in the upcoming 2018 Senate elections it is the Democrats who are at greatest risk of further losses in seats currently held by Democrats in purple or even near-red states.

More state legislative chambers than ever are Republican-dominated, and virtually half the states now have both Republican governors and legislatures.

In this recent presidential election, states, traditionally won by Democrats, such as Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, went Republican. And toss-up states, also in the Midwest, including Iowa and Ohio, voted with Trump.

A deeper dive into voting patterns in these states shows that many working class voters, who voted for President Obama in the past two elections, voted for Trump this time. The gap between union voters for the Democratic and the Republican candidates narrowed from 20% at the peak of Obama’s power to only 8% in this election, the same gap that existed when Reagan did so well with “Reagan Democrats.”

It’s instructive to look back in recent political history to see how Democrats have responded in the past to a loss of power when their base shrunk in such fashion.

In the wake of Richard Nixon’s rise to power, Bob Strauss and other centrists in the party came to positions of leadership and helped enable Jimmy Carter to re-claim middle ground and take power back in 1976.

In the wake of Ronald Reagan’s dominance of the political scene, the Democratic Leadership Council grew quickly and powerfully and set the stage for one of its centrist leaders, Bill Clinton, to take the presidency back in 1992.

Though President Obama certainly turned out to be no centrist, he initially ran a consensus-type campaign to bring America back together. One could argue that the loss of Democratic power during his terms may have been due to his serving in a manner that was out of sync with the manner and stance that had made him popular in the first place.

Some Democrats argue that the party ought to move further left to excite that part of its base. That’s exactly what the “wings” always argue, and the argument almost never turns out to work, for either party.

What works typically for Democrats when they lose is to recognize why a group of regular voters in the middle who often vote Democratic choose to vote Republican. These voters are constantly up for grabs, and they typically make all the difference in races that are determined “within the forty yard lines.” The winning path is to go after them with leaders and policies likely to attract them back, all in the middle.

These voters, generally speaking, leaned toward Carter, fled to Reagan, came back to Clinton, went to George W. Bush, sided with Obama, and recently decided to give Trump a try.

One would think that Trump has a better chance of keeping them if the Democrats choose to rally around the views and policies of a leader so far out to the left as Keith Ellison.

Of course, I’m an independent, so I have no role in this matter. So, chalk this blog up to my “just sayin’.”

An Eight-Team Playoff – Now

It was only a matter of time.

Yet, though bad, it could have been worse. And, in future years, it likely will be.

But now we have proof enough that a four-team playoff in college football is insufficient. This year, in my view, only Alabama merits sure inclusion. It gets crazy from there.

Let’s start in Happy Valley. Penn State would make the argument that they both beat Ohio State and won the Big Ten championship. Even with two losses, their case, at least for inclusion, is strong.

And, as we look at the rest of the competitive teams, how confident can we be about the other picks of the committee? However these “experts” came to their decisions, are we really convinced, for example, that Washington is better than Penn State and Michigan? One loss in a terribly easy schedule should not be deemed better than two losses in a tough conference with big wins against top teams.

And Clemson? Look at their pitiful schedule. Do we want to say their work merits beating out Michigan, Penn State or even Oklahoma, for that matter? After a rough start, Oklahoma, like Penn State, came on strong to win 9 straight games against a stronger set of opponents.

Recall Michigan’s situation. They handily beat Penn State, and they beat Wisconsin, the two teams in the Big Ten championship game. They beat Colorado. They lost two games on the last play of each game, including the game in overtime with Ohio State at Columbus.

Last year, the problem began to surface with Stanford’s exclusion. This year, it’s gotten worse. In future years, it will likely get even worse.

The role for committees and pundits and points should be reduced again. (Aren’t you totally tired of pundits and TV talkers, by the way?) This experiment with four teams is an improvement, to be sure. But let’s take the needed next step. I realize if there’s an eight-team playoff there will be teams in the 9th and 10th spots who will complain. No system is perfect. But making it over the bar of at least the top eight to compete for the national championship is probably the right and best marker.

So, Alabama should absolutely be in. Ohio State, Clemson, Washington, Michigan, Penn State, and Oklahoma ought to be among those to play, too. They’re too close in achievement for a committee to be able to make legitimate off-the-field judgments in favor of some and against others in the group. Let’s not just be satisfied that the committee did the best it could and accept it. Let the close decisions be resolved on the field, not in the committee room.

The bureaucrats complain the season will be too long if there’s an extended season. Balderdash! Cut out one of the meaningless early games. Or eliminate the conference championship games. Or, perhaps best of all, let four teams play extra games.

Fans would love it. The revenues would be huge and could be shared appropriately. Although the details would have to be worked out, the existing bowls could largely share in hosting most or all of the games.

I repeat: it will only get worse. There will be years when the problem is greater than it is this year.

So, fix it ASAP. Pretty please.