Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Heritage Fdn. SOLUTIONS: Liquidating No Child Left Behind

Wealth Redistribution and
 No Child Left Behind
GOP: "Why stop with just the children?"
"Why not leave everyone behind?"

Why have Congressional Republicans taken such an interest in No Child Left Behind? Very, very few of the children of the Republican elite attend public schools, and those in the Party's voter base are famously -- and eagerly -- semi-literate with educational interests limited to vaguely useful Biblical re-interpretations and wildly biased revisionist history while assiduously avoiding any scientific or other empirical studies. However, the mystery need not dawdle too long awaiting an answer.

No Child Left Behind consumes a massive share of U.S. Education Department money. If the program can be "overhauled" by a Republican controlled Congress [both House and Senate], the savings will become available to "off set" General Fund revenue reductions resulting from the accompanying tax cuts. Somewhere along the line of the legislative process of exacting such changes, we can be assured that we will hear that just the very changes being enacted are something similar to "revenue neutral," "waste reduction" measures which will result in "beneficially streamlining" the program.

Some of this blather might actually "hold water," but... the proposition of simply continuing the current cascading results in the effectiveness of U.S. public education is not "revenue neutral." The scenario becomes another chapter in the now far too familiar tale of thinly veiled, embarrassingly amateurish yet frenetic GOP wealth redistribution schemes.

Granted, the policy doesn't actually physically remove dollars from the pockets of the middle class families abandoned to "bargain basement" public schools and delivering them to the top 10%, but it may as well. Access to a good public education constitutes "wealth" for families relying on it. It represents a "valuable commodity" which is collectively "purchased" and freely delivered as a Constitutional benefit of living here. When legislative policy further degrades the quality of that education to "compensate" for tax reductions, this middle class "wealth" has been monetized and handed over  -- in the form of those "offset" tax reductions -- to the oligarchs who own the Republican Party.

All this must include an important addition, too. Those middle class families with children in the public schools are paying the taxes which are being targeted for "redistribution" in the scheme. The sold out Congressional lackeys presently serving the billionaires and corporatists have already managed to cut their masters' tax burdens to essentially zero.

When your taxes are already as low as they can go, the prospect of your tax money being "redistributed" to some other income class becomes even lower. All that's left is to seek out more tax money which can be "redistributed" to you.

The W's Creation Comes Home To Roost
What was the attraction in the first place?
It's not like Republicans to care about education.

The No Child Left Behind law [NCLB] had essentially nothing to do with actually educating anybody. Instead, at its roots the NCLB law was originally intended to be a mechanism to bring the nation's troublesome teachers' unions under political [Federal] control. This was to be accomplished by standardized testing which could be used to calculate the amount of Federal [Department of Education] money which would be granted to public schools in the states. Naturally, all academic usefulness which might have, at least theoretically, possibly come from such a testing regimen went out the window immediately to be replaced by what could only very generously be called a "bag of vipers."

Further, every possible player in the play, that is, every one who might potentially benefit from even a fleeting fragment of a media "interpreted" nuance so much as even hinting at actual success or failure in the policy, has insisted that his viper be included in the bag.

As of late the PR goal of the anti-science, tea bag crowd [i.e. Heritage Foundation, Chamber of Commerce and Americans for Prosperity] was to garner some traction with a depiction of these standardized tests as "onerous" and the imposition of the testing plan as useless "teaching to the test." The scheme worked swell. It was considered quite impolite to notice that the already shocking  U.S. educational outcomes continued to plummet.

The enmity that the PR campaign stirred up through this effort manifested itself "big time" early in the 2010's with violent, reactionary legislative attacks not only on the teachers but on all unions in the red controlled states. [Remember Governor Scott Walker's recall effort and the mobs of protesters in Madison? That was a union prohibition dispute. The billionaires won. The unions became prohibited in Wisconsin.]

The US public education system hasn't been performing "competitively" with any of the other industrialized countries for years -- including those claiming a GDP 10% even as large as this one. Those aren't conclusions derived from some arcane "testing gizmos" hatched in the chaos of NCLB. Those are UN statistics, and they are pretty well supported by comparisons of the corresponding economic outcomes. It's fairly straight forward to determine the impact of the educational effectiveness level of various national populations as it correlates to the growth energy of the corresponding national economies.

The point? The W's NCLB scheme has financed lots of testing but not much teaching. The program has emphasized educational competition to ferret out "winners and losers," meting out lots of punishment for educators producing "non-competitive" outcomes but not offering very much  effective assistance where it is clearly needed.

However, in hindsight there have been plenty of politics, and most important of all, billions and billions of dollars worth of Federal expenditures. Because "educators" are, by their nature, prone to write plenty of books and studies about "education," MeanMesa's post will focus on the politics rather than on the manifold details which make up the NCLB as an "educational mechanism."

The current day debris of NCLB amounts to a gigantic, incoherent land fill with plenty for the supporters of the policy to cheer about and plenty for the detractors to complain about -- the "cheering" and "complaining" have kept the monstrosity in a dismal stasis since the dark times of the Bush  autocracy.

Redistributing Education Expenditures
Oh gee. Who should get the money we save?

You're on your own. [data source]
The GOP's interest never strays very far from the Party's obsession with absolutely any form of possible austerity. The Great Republican Recession of 2008 left strapped state governments -- Constitutionally required to balance their budgets annually -- cutting state investments in higher education. Although the graph [left] does not perfectly map red state governments with the highest cuts to state high education investments, the trend is, nonetheless, obvious.

Generally, the "redder" the state, the greater the cuts. Take a look at the "biggest cutters" at the top of the list. The GOP's "mantra" is to produce an "automatic nosebleed" at the mere mention of a single dime of Federal money going to any citizen without a lobbyist. [This is why they hate the ACA.]

While this data is not directly connected to NCLB, it does suggest a possible motive for the GOP's Congressional interest in "fixing" the program and a likely "strategy" for the Republicans to deploy in the process. We can see the trend dealing with public education costs by taking a look at the "research and conclusions" of that great defender of maniacal GOP cost cutting at any price, The Heritage Foundation.

Visitors to this blog have heard the reactionary chorus of "Heritage" Congressmen repeatedly calling for the "obsoleting" of the U.S. Department of Education during every election cycle for years. Although these "Heritage" Party Congressmen don't actually have any particular "voter" constituency, the Foundation occasionally finds it necessary to publish a few scraps of its "research findings" for the consumption of the scattered Republicans required to dutifully vote the oligarchs' puppets into office.

This particular Heritage publication, "Solutions 2014," represents an amazing spread of this precise propaganda which is intended to explain all these awkward campaign comments. It is actually worth the time it takes to read through it. [One page. Read Solutions 2014 here - HERITAGE]

"Thar's money in them thar hills!" [DoE - HERITAGE]
The "spending figures" shown on the graph represent the Federal resources that the freedom loving Heritage researchers are dreaming of diverting to important "trickle down" tax cuts as quickly as possible. Remember, there are two central objectives coursing through the Heritage plan.

1. Redistribute the Department of Education funding now targeting NCLB to "job creators" and oligarchic heroes of "economic recovery,"   and,

2. Damage the remaining teachers' unions as much as possible by depicting educational efforts as ineffective and wasteful.

The SOLUTIONS proposal is important. 

Lodged no more than mere "inches" behind the waves of "conservative" think tank blather Republicans are parroting about NCLB and the Department of Education, these are the established arguments -- provided by Heritage, of course -- which have been prepared to maneuver the "take over and liquidate" plan through the Congress and sell it to the electorate. 

The "Federal Policy recommendations" on the Heritage's Solution page may sound familiar.

1. Allow states to opt out of No Child Left Behind and restore decision-making authority to state and local leaders to encourage effective reforms.
2. Reduce the size and scope of the Department of Education by eliminating ineffective and duplicative programs and consolidating other programs.
3.  Prevent any new federal funding of national standards and assessments.
4. Allow states to make their Title I and IDEA dollars portable in order to empower parents with school choice.
5. Recognize that parents and private preschool providers should be the first and second options for families, followed by state programs when necessary, and avoid any incentives to expand government preschool.
6. Decouple federal financing from accreditation.

Heritage plows straight ahead with some "State Policy recommendations." These will also probably sound familiar.

1. Expand private school choice
2. Lift caps on charter schools
3. Expand public-school choice options
4. Expand online learning opportunities
5. Create and expand education savings accounts
6. Protect homeschooling
7. Exit the Common Core national standards and tests

Let's take a closer look at some of these "policy recommendations." We can begin with the "Federal" set. These will almost certainly be surfacing from the fetid quagmire of the Republican controlled House. [House Republicans and tea baggers are now in charge of funding the Department of Education.]

Heritage's Federal Policy Priorities
The U.S. education system should produce 
the next generation of Republican base voters.

1. Authorizing states to "opt out" of the Federal program

This may sound somewhat reasonable. The existing NCLB has provisions for states to experiment with alternative policies so long as the educational goals of NCLB are still met. However, quit thinking of Connecticut and start thinking of Alabama.

The economic basket-case states of the new "Confederacy," along with other red states scattered around the nation, have been "chomping at the bit" for a chance to revert the public education system to the "Halcyon" days of the 40's and 50's. Many of the educational defects which prompted NCLB in the beginning were found in exactly these places. 

Further, MeanMesa is old enough to remember the violence of the "forced busing" and "school integration" battles which accompanied the civil rights struggle of the 60's. Millions of Southern crackers are still dreaming fantasies of "getting even" with the Northerners by re-inventing the old "separate but equal" nonsense. While the Confederate state politicians are "juicing" up all their bigoted voters with this incendiary, rhetorical dreams of re-segregating the schools and producing a new generation of Southerners who are "dumb as a bag of hammers", they are dreaming their own dreams about all the state money which could be "re-assigned" if the public school budgets could be slashed.

NCLB policy requires both state budgeting and and educational performance at a certain level. These two features have been, well, hard on the Confederacy.

2. Reducing the size of the Department of Education

First, forget about defining what "reducing duplicative" and "consolidating" might actually mean. These are code words for destroying the Federal Department of Education and reallocating the its budget to "job creating" tax cuts.

The "enforcer" for this line of Heritage's program will inevitably turn out to be a re-packaged version of the historically tarnished old "loot and grab" myth of "states rights." The Southern Confederacy -- along with the red "Confederacy light" states elsewhere -- will argue that not only the budget for public education but also the quality of acceptable results fall explicitly under the purview of state government autonomy, and that the "bloated" Federal government is "over reaching" when it attempts to place nation-wide minimum requirements on the public education American children will receive.

If the "states rights" propaganda falters, there is always the "big government" theme right behind it. [By the way, HERITAGE's adjective, "duplicative," is apparently found only in dictionaries located south of the Mason Dixon line. MeanMesa's trusty spell checker has never heard of it.]

3. Eliminate Federal funding for all educational testing of any kind

A certain psychological factor -- one with shockingly material consequences -- is too often over looked in observations of educationally challenged populations. This may be characterized as an issue of self-esteem or, in some instances, respect. Setting aside "political correctness" in favor of more empirical frankness, large regional populations have a prevailing sense of educational and social inferiority.

Citizens suffering with these issues, although loathe to acknowledge it openly, have an acutely painful "inner" suspicion that almost everyone else is brighter and better educated than they are. Dealings with others from regions which show more competitive or more successful "regional natures" spurs such individuals to boast about the disadvantages which seem permanently traditional on "their own home turf" and, generally, in the societies of their origins.

When the educational outcomes of these areas are measured with the predictable results of not meeting national standards, attention is turned to "defending" the local educational and social practices and "attacking" those who make the results of such a measurement public. The Southerners have struggled with this for decades. The same phenomenon very likely rests at the foundation of the racial bigotry -- often manifested as claims of racial "superiority" -- traditionally found in such regions.

MeanMesa is far from claiming that standardized testing is producing the maximum benefit possible as an educational policy tool, but in the South and in a growing number of truly "dumbed down" red states across the country, NCLB's testing regime amounts to a very public, statistical, "stick in the eye" to these historically less educated regions.

[MeanMesa has posted about the standardized testing challenge on this blog. 2009: Obama's Next Stink Hole - Educational Performance Testing ]

4. Allow Parents to Allocate Title 1 and IDEA funds: School Choice

This is a scheme to divert even more money from the public school system by authorizing subsidies to place students in private and charter schools. Of course the alternative would be to improve the public schools, but such a choice would not further Heritage's ambition of castrating the system. What isn't mentioned in the SOLUTIONS approach is that private and charter school outcomes, even when disregarding the typically high income level of families using them, still regularly fail to compete with their public school alternatives. [Read more  here - Fdn for Child Development ]

Intense right wing propaganda has been applied to create this misperception, and that propaganda has been largely successful. [Read more  here -] Additionally, racist parents often value such an opportunity to avoid having their children in schools with mixed race students. Heritage would like to see this made possible with Federal dollars.

5. Reverse the expansion of Federally subsidized preschools

The results were clear years ago: good preschool for pre-Kindergartners makes a measurable difference in educational outcomes for years afterward. NCLB actually set some Federal standards for what would constitute a measurably "good" preschool, and President Obama -- through his Education Secretary Duncan -- has indicated that he would like to expand the "Federal quality footprint" in preschools further.

This, by itself, may explain much of Heritage's criticism of such a plan.

However, the question quickly returns to the money involved. Heritage wants states to set the standards for preschools -- and set the budget for state subsidies to preschools. When matters concerning the material to be taught to these preschoolers lands on the table, the fundamentally medieval appetites common to the Confederacy emerge immediately.

The "educational mischief" of histories re-written and adversely biased "social realities" are famous. The little children in "bad" preschools are just as trusting and credulous as the ones in "good" preschools. When the cynical nature of those determining the curriculum takes charge of the material presented, NCLB says that the Federal support must stop.

6. Decoupling Federal financing from accreditation 

This is especially the problem encountered by sub-standard private and charter schools with the ambition of being "accredited" -- authorized -- to receive Federal money. State legislatures, especially in the economically parasitic red states, would love to have control over Federal money available for subsidizing these sub-standard public and private schools in their region.

NCLB did exactly the opposite of this Heritage talking point -- it "coupled" Federal financing to school performance. NCLB even included penalties -- usually funding penalties -- for schools which could not meet its national quality standards. Naturally, this utilized the standardized tests which were designed to establish whether or not schools either met or were "making progress" toward meeting national standard requirements.

If you are a legislator in a red state where the schools are not making progress like this, keeping the Federal funding while getting rid of the NCLB standards looks pretty sweet. If the Congressional Republicans manage to remove this "credentials testing" from public, private and charter K-12 schools, their next target will be to remove the "accreditation problem" from their in-state colleges and universities while retaining the Federal finding.

If anyone thinks that, say, Regent University is ridiculous, wait until universities with football teams and "State" in their name only need to satisfy a red state legislature's "educational requirements" to receive their Federal funding.

SOLUTIONS' Recommendations for States
"All politics is local" means Sunday Schools and kitchen tables.

Heritage's "state level policy recommendations" target individual "red" families' carefully crafted ideological appetites. The electoral base of GOP voters has been patiently indoctrinated with an essentially "detail-free and fact-free" incendiary ideology for decades. Heritage's "wish list" of "burning question" priorities designed to consume parental interests in this fabricated base is revealing.

State Policy Recommendations

1. Expand private school choice
2. Lift caps on charter schools
3. Expand public-school choice options
4. Expand online learning opportunities
5. Create and expand education savings accounts
6. Protect homeschooling
7. Exit the Common Core national standards and tests

Interestingly, the first thing we notice is that only one [7. Common Core] of these "recommendations" mentions anything about what will be taught. Instead, in each case the focus is on either reducing the cost of educational practices or further dismantling the existing public education system by diverting students -- and Federal resources -- away from the public system to alternate choices.

The first three "recommendations" mirror Federal priorities already discussed above, but the remaining four merit just a little more attention.

4. Expand online learning opportunities

Importantly, any "online" educational effort is immediately cheaper than the traditional alternative. Significant research at the university level concludes that "online" approaches produce comparable educational outcomes as traditional "face to face" approaches. [Read more  here - Academic Partnerships ] However, we must remember that NCLB and Heritage's alternatives target K-12 education -- not college.

"Online" or "virtual" schooling at the K-12 levels has produced results comparable to traditional schooling -- with some important caveats. Students must have the required technology at home, and parents must be energetic "education coaches" -- especially with younger students. [Read more  here - CNN ]

There really is an opportunity for this "virtual" option, but that opportunity is "demographic specific," and "demographic specific" educational inequalities are already one of the dilemmas facing the public system. MeanMesa's conclusion: "Proceed, but proceed with caution." A "public" education system means that it's "public." That means every child -- including the ones with no internet, drunk parents, no breakfast or an illiterate home life. The religious right is prepared to further disregard this reality, and Heritage intends to exploit such sentiments to cut education costs.

5. Education savings accounts

This is an interesting addition to the Heritage proposals. To date, educational savings accounts -- Coverdell ESA's and 529 accounts [Read more here: Coverdell - IRS and  here - 529 Plans - IRS ] -- have been ways for parents to set aside funds to pay for college. The tax exempt 529 rules have been in the news in the last week, primarily because use of this option has been heavily concentrated on high income families with enough surplus money to use it. [Read more  here - Obama and 529 - NYTimes ]

However, with Heritage's recommendation that Federal assistance be available for moving public school students to private and charter schools -- both options usually requiring parents to finance them -- the "educational savings" issue has been extended beyond college to students in the K-12 part of the system.

6. Protect homeschooling

The home school option has enjoyed a durable status as a "red meat" issue with real "attraction power" among right wing parents for years. The problem is that, while there are exceptions, home schooling outcomes are generally considered to be critically inferior to most other choices. When the home school option is chosen for reasons of religious purity, the quality of educational outcomes resulting from the practice decline even further.

This is Heritage courting the extreme religious right of the GOP base.

7. Common Core

This is referring to "Common Core State Standards Initiative," a plan to bring state level educational qualities up to a uniform national standard. [ Read more  here - CoreStandards ] Predictably, all sorts of "bloated Federal Government" types and an interesting collection of "others" are horrified with the prospect of schools' educational performance being standardized to national levels. A fairly objective denunciation of Common Core appeared in a 2012 Washington Post article Eight Problems with Common Core Standards - Washington Post.

MeanMesa suggests spending a little time with both of the links provided. Heritage or not, Common Core -- or something like it -- is probably firmly implanted in U.S. public education's future.

Some Brief Conclusions

MeanMesa has a quite "unsettled feeling" about what may be coming next for NCLB and for the U.S. public education system overall. There is practically nothing in NCLB which is "valuable enough" to merit trying to re-organize and rehabilitate the existing law. Yet, having said that, the goals and objectives which might have been incorporated in the original legislation remain urgently relevant. 

As a modern nation and culture, we can do an INCREDIBLY better job with the task of solving these problems. George W. Bush never had the interest of the country's common people in mind for a second -- with this, with Part D, with anything. The Bush era laws put into place under the guise of being for the "public good" have all turned out pretty much the same way -- relentlessly durable, gigantically expensive, frustrating "toothaches." NCLB is no exception.

Additional Reading

This seems to have become a long, complicated post, but the No Child Left Behind law is a long, complicated issue. What is to become of the original law is important because 1. the outcome affects the critical education of American K-12 students, and, 2. the NCLB is a monstrously "big," big ticket item in the Federal budget

Count on it. This is shaping up to become a gigantic political foot ball for a Republican Congress. Have a look at a few other informative articles on the subject that MeanMesa found with the GOOGLE.

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