Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Clinton on Education-And the Larger Implications.

The Washington Post is running a series of profiles of the front running candidates in the presidential election. On Sunday (of course), the Post featured Hillary Clinton. The profile contained the usual historical information on Clinton's past as a child and her formative years and how that impacts her politics now, blah, blah, blah. But the more interesting item was a short piece by Dana Milbank discussing Hillary Clinton's stump speech and the focus she puts on teachers and education.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, the leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination, opted to skip the applause lines after she accepted an endorsement last week from a New Hampshire teachers' union. Instead, she plunged deep into the weeds.

"We have one form of learning, which is pretty much an auditory form of learning supplemented by some visual aids," she announced. "We are leaving out . . . kinesthetic and esthetic learners."

Further, she reported that "60 percent of our in-age cohort will not graduate from college" and that "a child drops out of school in America every 29 seconds."

She blamed Bush education policy, which "homogenizes the classes," and pledged to help "individual districts and states achieve a level of facility and teacher preparedness and adequacy."

Let's hear it for facility preparedness and adequacy! Put your hands together for kinesthetic learning and the de-homogenization of the classroom! Save the in-age cohort!

The audience sat quietly through this, applauding in the appropriate places. They gave Clinton a seated ovation when she finished, rising only to put on their coats.
If teachers are among Hillary's primary constituency, she is not doing much to energize them.

Putting aside the ad hominem attacks on the Bush education policy and the plugs for multiple learning styles. The fact of the matter is that once again the front runners are not talking all that much about education, yet at its core, education is of massive concern both for the economic and political future of our nation. The truth is, if I were a single issue voter on the grounds of education, nothing in this election is inspiring me to vote for any candidate of any party. I am not seeing anything new, anything innovative or even anything that would induce me to think that these candidates have spent more than 10 minutes thinking about education.

Yes, ideologically, I believe the federal government does not have a constitutionally mandated role in education. But I am a realist as well and I know that the federal role in education is here to stay for the time being. As a realist, I believe that given teh federal instrusion, it would be nice to see the candidates offer something new--and no-more money doesn't count.

The fact of the matter is, particularly among the Democratic candidates, Hillary Clinton is pretty much indistinguishable from anyone else. Sure, they talk about a committment to public education; they talk about different learning styles. Everyone once in a while you might hear a variation on the theme, but essentially we are stuck on a skipping record. NCLB seemed innovative and has probably made all the impact that it ever will, namely, knowing for the first time what really is the performance of schools with regard to the various segments of its student body.

I don't see any candidate taking the next step, be it evolutionary or revolutionary, in education. The primary players in education are generally not helping either. One side is busy blaming NCLB for all sorts of shortcomings, another is too busy trying to defend it, and other groups are drowned out by the education establishment more concerned for their own livelihood and power to actually consider anything different. The result is another status quo election with regard to education.

The sad part is, that status quo is some 40 years old now.

As a long time observer of politics, I understand why we are in the position we are in, interest group politics being what they are. What troubles me more is that the interest groups adhere to the status quo rather than being bold and trying to achieve something new for their members. For example, it would seem to me in the best interests of the unions to embrace changes in pay structure for teachers as it would lead to teachers more appreciative of the union's efforts on their behalf and therefore more loyal to the union. As another example, it would seem appropriate for school systems to do a better job, no matter where they are located, in making sure that parents and students have choices for their education to meet the needs of the students, thereby enhancing the schools system's success and standing.

But by their very nature, leaps of faith are hard to make and may take years to produce results. The result is not innovation but conservation. In short, we are getting the very candidates for president we seek. Largely indistinguishable and largely incapable of innovation because they can't innovate lest they lose their interest group support.

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