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Education Week Hosts Event to Explore the Post-Election Outlook for American Education



Prepared by:
Trevor Sparks (

November 19, 2010

On Friday, November 12, Education Week, in partnership with the American Enterprise Institute and the Center for American Progress, hosted a day-long conference titled, “Reform, Money and Politics” to explore the impact of the mid-term elections on American education. With the power shift in the 112th Congress and state legislatures from coast to coast, the panel discussions offered an opportunity for some of the nation’s leading education policymakers and analysts to examine the practical effects of stimulus-era reforms, analyze the impact of the 2010 election results and discuss the political and budgetary forces that will define the education agenda for years to come.

Below is a summary of one of the panel discussions—the one most relevant to education stakeholders and policy advocates. The moderated conversation among key Hill staffers and a Department of Education political appointee focused on Congress’ upcoming “education agenda” and priority programs in the 112th Congress. In addition, a summary of the keynote address given by Melody Barnes, Director, The White House Domestic Policy Council, is provided.

• Alyson Klein, (Moderator), Staff Writer, Education Week
• Carmel Martin, Assistant Secretary for Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development, U.S. Department of Education
• Jamie Fasteau, Senior Education Policy Advisor (Majority Staff), U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and Labor
• David P. Cleary, Staff Director, Subcommittee on Children and Families (Minority Staff), U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions
• Frederick M. Hess, Resident Scholar and Director of Education Policy Studies, American Enterprise Institute

Alyson Klein moderated the discussion, driven by her prepared questions. She asked the panelists: what the prospects are for reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) in the new Congress; what would be needed for bipartisan support for a new bill; and would the relevant House and Senate education committee members produce targeted bills to address specific education issues.

Responding to a question about the prospects for ESEA reauthorization during the 112th Congress, Carmel Martin stated that it “can and should move forward.” She provided three reasons for why it would be possible, stating first, “the leadership is in place—especially for standards at the state level.” Second, “the need for reauthorization is there,” to continue improving the education system beyond the results of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in such areas as assessments, teacher evaluations and curriculum requirements. And third, according to Martin, reauthorizing ESEA does not represent a difficult set of issues for bipartisan agreement. She explained, for example, that there is no disagreement between parties about transforming the bottom five percent of schools or revamping the teacher evaluation system. Martin added that a new law would allow greater state and local flexibility, but “moving early in the new year is the best hope for a new bill and a new system of accountability.”

Responding to the same question, Jamie Fasteau said, “There won’t be conflict over the content of a new bill, but over the details instead.” As the discussion continued, Fasteau addressed a question on whether the Chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor, Representative George Miller (D-CA), would support a “patch” approach to reauthorizing the law. She explained that the Chairman has thus far rejected proposals for any sort of quick fix or “patch” to NCLB. She responded similarly to a later question about whether Miller would instruct his staff to draft more targeted bills addressing specific issues.

David Cleary also responded positively about the prospects for ESEA reauthorization, saying, “There is reason to be cautiously optimistic.” He added that conversations at the Leadership level are necessary, but the broad topics in the Administration’s Blueprint for Reform—charter schools, state and local flexibility, consolidation of programs—are appealing to Republicans in the Senate. He agreed with Martin that “the devil is in the details” in drafting a new bill and that much time will be dedicated to them, but “with no new money,” he explained, “there will be cuts.” On the topic of drafting targeted bills to address specific issues, Cleary pointed out that Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Ranking Member Senator Mike Enzi’s (R-WY) staff has also rejected this approach, but said that his boss, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), is not opposed to this possibility.

Frederick Hess responded to a question from Klein on the bipartisan efforts to reauthorize ESEA. Providing context, he said, “1965 [Elementary and Secondary Education Act] and 2001 [No Child Left Behind] is what we should refer to when we talk about bipartisanship on education policy; otherwise, federal efforts have just been a sprinkling of federal funding to states” by different Congresses. He added that since 2001 and NCLB, “education talks have been deeply intertwined with the larger debates of the 2010 mid-term elections, such as the size of the federal government, deficit spending and the lack of new money.” He Martin and her comments on bipartisan support for transforming the lowest performing five percent of schools and improving teacher evaluations, because, according to Hess, “many Republicans won’t be inclined to write federal legislation forcing states to comply.” The altered fiscal landscape, Hess concluded, “has largely changed the game, which now demands a new playbook for ways districts can leverage technology or restructure staffing and compensation to boost productivity and efficiency.”

Klein then opened the discussion to questions from the audience. Panelists were asked what role research-based interventions would play in the development of a new ESEA. Martin echoed the Administration’s previously voiced commitment to research-based interventions and strategies. She pointed to Investing in Innovation (i3) as a significant program that supports research-based interventions, but said that “the federal government should not dictate the strategies in a detailed way.” Martin added that the Department of Education (ED) closely works with the Comprehensive Centers and Regional Labs to find the most effective ways to assist districts and schools. Cleary built on her response, stating there is “bipartisan support for research,” and added that John Easton, Director for the Institute of Education Sciences at ED, has helped to broaden the scope of effective research. Hess, on the other hand, said “using research to drive policy is a real complex question,” and cited the implementation issues surrounding Reading First.

The final portion of the day’s event was dedicated to a keynote address by Melody Barnes, Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council. Acknowledging the post-election atmosphere, Barnes said, “Education is an area where Republicans and Democrats can get together.” She emphasized the Administration’s commitment to quality education in the 21st century, as well as the economic and moral imperatives for “cradle to college education.” Economic progress and educational advancement go hand-in-hand, and Barnes said Land-Grant Colleges and the GI Bill have exemplified this symbiotic relationship, but said, “We must advance reforms for college affordability and access in order to compete with other leading countries.”

Barnes shifted focus to early childhood education and spoke of the “incredible returns” from investments made in early childhood education programs. For the Administration, the uneven quality of early childhood programs has presented the biggest challenge, but the Administration’s work, within ED and the Department of Health and Human Services, has raised the bar for states to develop effective, innovative models that promote high standards of quality with a focus on outcomes across early learning settings through the proposed Early Learning Challenge Fund. “In K-12,” Barnes continued, “districts and states have jump-started reform.” She cited how 32 of the 46 states that submitted Race to the Top (RTTT) applications have already made significant changes in state and local policies, mostly in line with the rigorous RTTT expectations. She explained that the President has requested $1.53 billion for RTTT in FY 2011 and plans to expand the program by allowing districts to apply directly for funds. Barnes then outlined the four key principles of RTTT, which are the familiar assurances of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), and emphasized the need for new systems to not only identify the most talented teachers but also the need to confront the lowest performing schools where children “deserve more time on task.”

Barnes concluded her remarks with a basic plan for reauthorizing ESEA, noting that “equity and opportunity” is a key priority of the President as well as plans to promote “successful conditions for innovations at the district level.” She said President Obama is committed to engaging the House and Senate because ESEA reauthorization will be his top priority at the beginning of 2011. “The evidence is clear,” Barnes concluded, “the moment is here to move forward with reform, and the President is committed to work with parents, schools, governors, private industries, and Congress to move his education goals forward.”

Although Melody Barnes could not stay for any audience questions, Chris Swanson, Vice President, Editorial Projects in Education at Education Week, thanked her and all the panelists for their contributions and their answers to audience members’ questions throughout the day’s event. To view the one-day event in its entirety go to:

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