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Is Education About to Go Local?

The Republicans' obsession with local control could undermine efforts to fix No Child Left Behind.

Come January, the chair of the House's Education and Labor Committee will be Minnesota Republican John Kline. He's not a big fan of the federal government having too much say in how state and city school systems do their business. One of his favorite phrases is "local control."

And his disdain for programs like Race to the Top and the Common Core State Standards could end up being a roadblock in any attempt to reauthorize ESEA (the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, currently known as No Child Left Behind). He did, however, tell the AP that he thinks that the ESEA is an area where Democrats and Republicans can "make changes." After all, both sides of the aisle agree that the Act, in its current form, is largely ineffective.

Over at The National Journal's Education Experts blog, a question about what will be possible when Kline takes over prompted primarily responses from the right side of the aisle on what to expect on the reauthorization front.

Sandy Kress, former education advisor to George W. Bush, says that Republicans shouldn't subscribe so dogmatically to local control that they blow an opportunity to compromise—softening some of the Obama administration's positions to get to a reauthorization. (This is a position agreed on by prominent right-leaning education experts Chester Finn and Michael Petrilli.):

So, conservatives have some tough decisions to make. Are we for local control so much that we support encrusted, top-heavy, expensive local bureaucracy? Are we for local control so much that we support union and bureaucracy-based decisions that prevent meaningful parental choice? Are we for local control so much that we support decisions in many districts that foster waste and ineffective spending?


Frederick M. Hess envisions Congress passing something similar to the "doc fix" it passes to keep Medicare doctors from having to accept less pay for their services rather than a full reauthorization of ESEA/NCLB.

I do expect, though, that before the 2012 elections the new Congress will pass some kind of "NCLB patch," which suspends the ludicrous consequences of a law that will soon label most of the nation's schools as failing to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).


Kress fires back that the "patch" makes no sense, since it would amount to taking the consequences out of NCLB.

Meanwhile Chad Wick, the CEO of the nonprofit KnowledgeWorks, which helps turn around schools, advocates for a balance of local control mixed with support and advice from the state and federal sources.

Amy Wilkins, a policy specialist at The Education Trust told a group of journalists in October that she believed the prospects of an ESEA reauthorization seemed dim given the Republicans' likely surge in Congress. With the partisan rancor that's palpable far from Washington, it's hard not to agree with her. Now that the power shift has happened, we'll have to see if any progress can be made on the one issue where there's vast swaths of agreement between not only the administration, but also the conservative right.

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