Big-Government Business Leaders?

If the 2012 election were to be decided on the basis of federal education policy, chalk up another significant gain for President Obama (and Secretary Duncan), as the titans of American business come down foursquare for yesterday’s reform agenda, now promoted mainly by Democrats, and against today’s live agenda, which is the theme song of today’s Republicans.

I refer to the long letter to House education chairman John Kline from the co-chairs of the Business Coalition for Student Achievement, namely Intel’s Craig Barrett, Accenture’s William D. Green, and State Farm’s Ed Rust, denouncing Kline’s new ESEA reauthorization bills because they deviate from the orthodoxy of No Child Left Behind. In particular, those bills would demolish NCLB’s version of a national “accountability” system with its cascade of metrics, timelines, labels, and interventions into schools that fail to make “adequate yearly progress.” (Judging from last week’s waivers, Duncan’s own version is just as prescriptive about accountability but in different ways.)

Never mind that none of that has done any real good over the past decade. Never mind that the number of schools “in need of improvement” has risen to the point of laughability. Never mind that NCLB has led states to set the achievement bar way too low. Never mind that the interventions most lauded by the Business Coalition Leadership (e.g. the “ability currently given to students attending low performing schools to choose higher performing schools and access free tutoring”) have not amounted to a hill of decent beans.

Never mind that the GOP center of education gravity has shifted to a far more modest federal education role. (Consider not only Kline’s recent proposals but also Lamar Alexander’s—not to mention any number of presidential wannabes.) Never mind that the only prominent political types apt to trumpet the BCSA missive are Democrats—plus of course Margaret Spellings and a few other holdovers from the Republican ancien regime in Washington.

At least in the K-12 education realm, those holdovers appear to haunt the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable, the twin entities that staff the BCSA. One must wonder whether the senior folks at those organizations (the distinguished, onetime STATE-based education reformer John Engler at the BRT and take-no-prisoners free-enterpriser Thomas J. Donahue at the USCC) are even paying attention to what’s being written on their letterheads.

-Chester E. Finn, Jr.

This blog entry originally appeared on the Fordham Institute’s Flypaper blog.

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