“Winning the Future.” Duh.

March 16, 2011
Photo: Getty Images/Alex Wong

“Winning the future.” We know Charlie Sheen wants to (or is already), but suddenly President Obama wants in on the action too. With these words as his backdrop (see photo left!), the President recently spoke at Kenmore Middle School in Arlington, Virginia to call upon Congress to fix the federal No Child Left Behind education law – and before the next school year begins in the fall. Among other things, President Obama advocated for:

  • A new way of measuring whether a school is succeeding or failing, one that identifies troubled schools but also rewards good ones (translation: goodbye Adequate Yearly Progress, NCLB’s much-reviled measure of student achievement);
  • “Better standards to make sure our students are meeting one clear goal — they’re graduating ready for college and ready for a career”:
  • Better assessments to ensure we have “accountability without rigidity”;
  • Making sure “our certified teachers are outstanding teachers,” and we must “stop making excuses for the occasional bad ones … [and] start paying the good ones like the professionals they are”; and
  • Stopping any additional cuts to education funding.

So far, so good. Of course, nothing here really differs from what the President laid out last year in his “blueprint” for reforming NCLB (as an aside, the law is now often referred to under its older, less tainted name, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, or ESEA). But there’s nothing wrong with being consistent, and it’s heartening to see this Administration continue to make education a domestic priority.

That said, my conversations here in Washington suggest that Republican Members of Congress do not share the President’s sense of urgency, particularly in the House of Representatives. Indeed, Rep. John Kline, chairman of the House Education Committee (and thus the person who decides when education legislation will move), has made it clear that “we need to take the time to get this right-we cannot allow an arbitrary timeline to undermine quality reforms that encourage innovation, flexibility, and parental involvement.” Kline’s right, and if (as I strongly suspect) he’s spending a good deal of his time explaining to certain Members of the rhymes-with-Glee Party why the Department of Education shouldn’t be abolished outright, the House is a long way from passing a comprehensive fix to NCLB.

But fret not, education entrepreneurs. Even if we don’t have comprehensive education reform before September, there is tremendous energy around education policy within both parties, which means something will get done this year. As one highly placed (Republican) staffer told me earlier this week, “I’m more hopeful now about doing some serious education policy this year than I have been in a long time.”

You might just call that winning.