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The Issue Left Behind

Republicans and education reform.

Feb 11, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 21 • By CHESTER E. FINN JR.
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  Insist on more school choices for more kids, including those who live in smug suburbs. But also insist that the choices be effective schools. Shut down the bad ones, whether district-operated or charter​—​and stare down everyone (both profit-hungry plutocrat and jobs-centered union heavy) who presses to keep them open despite persistent educational failure.

 When it comes to federal policy, get the “tight-loose” balance right. No Child Left Behind, we now know, got it backwards, laying heavy regulation from Washington upon states, districts, and schools regarding the means of education while being almost totally laid back about the ends. The GOP should reverse this, embracing rigorous​—​and common​—​academic standards and the means of assessing (and comparing) performance across the land, but liberating schools (and states and districts) to operate as they think best.

  Apply the principles of transparency and comparability to school finances, too. Today it’s impossible to find out how much money the education system spends on a given child, even a given school, much less what that money is spent on. It’s harder still to compare how those dollars flow in Springfield, Ohio, with their amounts and uses in Springfield, Ill. ​—​and Springfield, Mass., Ga., Tenn.,  etc. It’s time America had a uniform system of financial accounting for its education system.

These are more than talking points. They’re important emphases and policy directions. Some will prove more immediately popular with the electorate than others, but this is no time for hollow slogans and policy-via-focus-group. Rather, it’s time, in education as in many other spheres, for the party of Lincoln to craft a new platform for itself, one that would make the United States a better place to live for a long time to come.

 

Chester E. Finn Jr. is president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the author, with Jessica Hockett, of Exam Schools: Inside America’s Most Selective Public High Schools (Princeton, 2012).

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