School Improvement Slowing Under Obama

The Wall Street Journal published a devastating op-ed on Friday by the Hoover Institution’s Paul E. Peterson and Eric A. Hanushek pointing out that much of the improvement in education assessments for which the Obama administration is taking credit actually occurred on President George W. Bush’s watch, under the No Child Left Behind program, which President Barack Obama has all but abandoned.

When I ran for Congress in Illinois, I talked to many public school teachers–including my sister–about No Child Left Behind. Most teachers understood the importance of helping students achieve certain standards. But they did not like spending so much time and energy “teaching to the test.” And many felt that state and local levels should be given more flexibility in designing standards, rather than the federal government.

I think those are reasonable critiques. I also think that there are some worthy school reforms that the Obama administration has embraced. The Race to the Top program, for example, promotes excellence, reform and competition. Crucially, however, Obama and the Democrats have continued their war against charter schools, and have used Race to the Top more as a tool to centralize control than improve results.

The reason so many parents are suspicious of plans like Common Core is that they continue that effort at centralization, which the left has promoted for so long. Somehow the concerns about federal standards are out the window, now that Democrats are in charge and taking cues from the teachers’ unions. No Child Left Behind was a bipartisan policy that needed to be “mended, not ended.” Its replacements may be far worse.