Holding out billions of dollars as a potential windfall, the Obama administration is persuading state after state to rewrite education laws to open the door to more charter schools and expand the use of student test scores for judging teachers.
That aggressive use of economic stimulus money by Education Secretary Arne Duncan is provoking heated debates over the uses of standardized testing and the proper federal role in education, issues that flared frequently during President George W. Bush’s enforcement of his signature education law, called No Child Left Behind.
This illustrates perfectly the pitfalls of both the stimulus and of federal involvement in education. The stimulus gives the federal government new opportunities to intervene in state policies. The federalization of education that No Child Left behind engendered means that variety and experimentation at the state level will be far less common.
Advocates of charters and testing might believe the current federal interventions are a good thing. But they should remember that no administration lasts forever. So, the same control that they like today can be used for purposes they will oppose in future.
My own assessment on the specifics is that charters are fine as far as they go; they increase competition to some degree. Testing undoubtedly makes sense in some instances, but its benefits have been vastly oversold.