One week before the Nov. 2 election, the one thing I knew for sure was that if President Bush was re-elected educators would have more answers than questions regarding the future of No Child Left Behind. But consider the state of K-12 education post-election: three major issues--proposed changes to NCLB, Secretary Rod Paige's resignation and private-school vouchers--have created more questions than answers.
Bush's win means No Child will continue, but it might face more changes than it would have if Sen. John Kerry were elected. Just two days after the election, the president stated one of his major education goals: "We must continue the work of education reform, to bring high standards and accountability not just to our elementary and secondary schools, but to our high schools as well."
Because Republicans gained more control in both the House and the Senate, it seems logical to think it will be easier to get support for NCLB changes. But this just might not be the case. While education, and the law specifically, wasn't a major factor during the election, the split between parties over No Child certainly increased.
Expect the battle about funding to continue, with Democrats saying the law is under-funded. Bush's proposed budget for the fiscal year, which started in October, called for 3 percent more in education spending, a much lower increase than education saw the last three years. A new set of tests for high schoolers would certainly add to the cost of administering the law, and if funding isn't recommended to cover this, the change might not pass easily.
The second factor is Secretary Rod Paige's resignation. His leaving should not substantially change the law. What it will remove is a public defender of No Child. At times, Paige lashed out harshly at NCLB critics, most notably when he called the National Education Association a "terrorist organization."
As we go to press, Bush named Margaret Spellings, his chief domestic policy advisor, as the nominee to replace Paige. Spellings, Bush's former education advisor when he was governor of Texas, will have a clean slate when dealing with states, school districts and teachers' unions. This might make it easier for all sides to reach some consensus on what changes are needed in the law.
Indeed, Sen. Edward Kennedy told The New York Times, Spellings "has earned strong bipartisan respect in Congress." Sandy Kress, one of the authors of No Child, described Spellings to the Associated Press by saying, "She's conservative, but she'll listen to teachers, she'll listen to administrators. She wants to change the system, but she wants to talk to people in the system. She'll work very hard to get it right and involve people so they feel a part of the process."
The wild-card factor is the issue of vouchers and NCLB. The president has proposed a voucher program for three years running, but Congress never approved any money for it. In January 2004, Congress did approve a $14 million school voucher initiative for Washington, D.C.
At the time, Paige said, "I hope that the D.C. experiment will be a model for the nation." It remains to be seen whether another attempt at vouchers will be part of Bush's second term. The New York Times wrote on Nov. 16, "Some conservatives have raised questions about Ms. Spellings's willingness to advance vouchers and other initiatives dear to their hearts." During Spellings' nomination hearing, she said, "I am a product of our public schools. I believe in America's public schools ..."
OK, here's one prediction I should get right. It certainly promises to be an interesting year ahead.