Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Good and The Bad of Republican Education Policy

This week brings news from two states regarding a Governor's involvement in education. In Wisconsin, the debate rages on while one must wonder if the rest of the nation really cares any longer. What was the news of the day in the midst of a Senate Democrat walk-out and Republican union-busting activity has been relegated to page two. But in the aftermath of this debacle, more attention turns to Governor Walker's treatment of public education in his budget. Reports claim that Walker's cuts to education are about to greatly cripple the state's system. His cuts go so deep in fact that many voters are starting to wonder if they really got what they bargained for.

I think the important lesson to the rest of the nation sounds a bit like the "sheep in wolves clothing" story. When facing tough economic times, politicians find it easy to sway public opinion and scapegoat large groups of people. This is where Walker started in Wisconsin. Once the mandate of the populace is given, the true nature of the ideologues shines through. Walker and many of his ilk are flatly anti- anything public.

I've grown just as frustrated as many with wasteful spending in the public arena, but the public must be wise about whether our politicians truly aim to limit public spending or if their true motive is a basic distrust of all things public. When we put people like this in power because we grow tired of hard earned money being drained by public waste, we should stay mindful that we do not send to the statehouse individuals whose primary mission will be systematic dismantling of the public system, education or otherwise.

Our own Republican governor, Bob McDonnell recently made a wise decision and gave a hopeful statement in doing so. Opposing a bill to mandate greater time for children in Physical Education was likely unpopular for many. In today's climate, a push for more physical activity for children easily gained steam in Richmond. McDonnell rightly recognized the financial burden this mandate would place on already cash-strapped school districts. I hope the reader does not lose the irony that the very reason physical education has taken a hit in the state in the first place is due to state and federal policies that focus so intently on math and reading test scores.

I'm not opposed to more Physical Education, in fact, the bill was a great idea. That has become part of the problem with public education. People often fail to recognize when the great idea can potentially become the worst practice. Schools should provide adequate Physical Education, but Richmond could more efficiently accomplish this by changing educational priorities instead of placing an additional mandate on schools.

We try to stay above the political fray at the Teaching Underground, but personally, I've been equally disappointed with both Democrat and Republican education policy of the last ten years. Regardless of the source, I think the following quote by McDonnell may be the smartest thing I've heard from a politician regarding education in quite some time:

“I am a strong proponent of the importance of exercise for our young people. My wife, Maureen, has made combating childhood obesity and inactivity, and promoting preventative [health care], one of her chief issues as Virginia’s first lady. However, we should not attempt to achieve important goals by disproportionately placing the burden of implementation on others. While I strongly agree that we must encourage exercise and physical activity, I oppose unfunded mandates, whether they come from Washington or Richmond.”

*** a little update--
I wrote this piece two days ago, and we were a little apprehensive about getting political here.  I've read several pieces and reactions to Gov. McDonnel's veto and see that education and politics mix like, well, like nothing, they just don't go well together.  It seems that liberals are ready to attack anything Republican and conservatives are poised to strike at anything Democratic.  No wonder we feel so "stuck in the middle." 


  1. Good and bad ideas are not tied to one particular political party. Race to the Top is a Democratic initiative that I absolutely loathe. Then again, so is the idea that we should cut funding in one of the lowest funded states in the nation (Arizona) while still giving two thousand dollar tax credits to those who pay for private and religious school education.

  2. I totally agree. I our classrooms and even schools we've started to move beyond the "carrot and stick", but in the political arena that seems to be the answer for everything. Maybe not the carrot and stick as much as "the rod of punishment."

    But the idea and rhetoric of Race to the Top (and NCLB for that matter) are hard to argue with. Unfortunately, too many people don't get past the rhetoric to the reality and we end up with public policy and public perception where it is today.