Bill Bennett’s CL4E Platform for State Implementation of ESSA: Good for Parents, Profits, and Technology; Not So Good for Equity
This morning’s Politico feed on public education included a link to the platform of Bill Bennett’s latest advocacy group, Conservative Leaders for Education, or CL4E. Unsurprisingly the group of conservatives who wrote the platform recommends that State’s embrace choice, choice, and more choice… and fails to mention equity anywhere.
The four founding principles of the CL4E group are hard to reject at first blush. They are: Local Control; Parent Choices; Accountability; and Quality Content. But a translation of each of these broad ideas indicates that there might be a reason for suspicion.
The Local Control plank, for example, makes no mention of LOCAL school boards. Instead, it refers to the need for States to control more oversight of education and for the Federal Government to back off.
The Parent Choices plank intimates that parents should be able to use “set-aside funds that empower” them to choose any school at all for their child. CL4E believes that if parents are given more control over their child’s education they will naturally do what is best for their children if they are given sufficient information. It seems to assume that all parents have the time and resources to conduct a search for a school that meet their children precise needs… and that every community can provide that array of choices.
The approaches described in the Accountability plank are on target. They suggest that in the long run each student should develop an individualized learning plan and the successful implementation of that plan should be the basis for determining success. But there is one clinker: there is no clear delineation of who should be responsible for developing and monitoring such a plan. How can CL4E say it values accountability while failing to specify who will be accountable? The logical answer to this would be a public school— but that would mean the “government” would be involved instead of– well I’m not sure who CL4E thinks would be responsible.
Last, the section on Quality and Effective Testing section is devoid of any meaningful recommendation other than it doesn’t want any kind of consistent national expectations for children. On the one hand it strives to use tests for diagnostic purposes… but on the other it envisions “more effective tests modeled on the NAEP”. What the purpose of those tests would be isn’t clear. It seeks high academic standards and aligned tests that measure what a student is learning and insists that STATES determine the content to be taught and measured. Given that at least three states think creation science is something that should be taught I’m not certain that what their tests measure is worthwhile. Nor is it clear how a NAEP-like test would interface with these new State tests.
There is nothing in the CL4E proposal that addresses the gross inequities that exist in schools today. Nothing that addresses the steps public schools need to take to address the problems children bring with them into the classroom because of the grinding effects of poverty. Nothing that addresses the need for more and more children to adapt to the world they will be in charge of once they become adults. The CL4E proposal WILL help parents who currently enroll their children in private schools, de-regulated for-profit charters who want to recruit more students, and the testing and technology companies who will develop assessments and track data. The CL4E proposal will also help taxpayers since it doesn’t call for any more spending on schools or social services. The CL4E proposal will help guide states in the direction of privatization and at long last realize the dream of entrepreneurs who ant to convert the public school monopoly into a free market.