Why do Bernie Sanders and some of his primary rivals think it’s good for government to fund community-based, nonprofit organizations to educate two-year-olds but suddenly an enormous problem when children turn five and start kindergarten?
I grew up in Iowa. I attended public schools in Iowa.
So it pains me to say this, but the Iowa caucuses are bad for education policy. As I lay out in a new column at The 74, the policies favored by an unrepresentative sample of Iowans have an outside influence on our national politics. That has distorting effects, and not in a good way:
When it comes to certain policy areas, such as farming and agriculture, it’s easy to see how an unrepresentative sample of Iowans would result in policies that were unrepresentative of the rest of the country. Our national farm policies are at least partly shaped by the fact that our presidential candidates must kowtow every four years to local interest groups like the Iowa Farm Bureau, where my father worked when I was a kid.
The same applies to presidential contenders crafting their education policies, meaning an unrepresentative sample of Iowans play a quiet but powerful role in shaping our national educational debate. But are the education policies favored by Iowans any good? Are they worth spreading across the country?
The short answer is no. On education, Iowa is falling behind the rest of the country.
In terms of education policy, Iowa is an outlier, and not in a good way. It’s time to give other states a chance to take the lead. Read my piece here.
Two members of Bellwether’s Policy & Evaluation team, Cara Jackson and Beth Tek, watched Wednesday’s debates for any mention of education. They didn’t get what they were looking for, but there’s still plenty to discuss.
Beth Tek: I have to say, while I was disappointed about the lack of education-related talk during the Democratic debate last night, I’m also not surprised.
Cara Jackson: Yup, I’m guessing no one got education bingo. But several candidates did discuss social supports that impact children, such as child care, paid maternity leave, and housing.
Beth: That’s true. Elizabeth Warren talked about childcare, universal pre-K, and the exploitative wages of childcare workers. And Andrew Yang mentioned the fact that close to 75% of school outcomes are determined by what happens to children at home.
Cara: Yes, we know that out-of-school factors explain much of the variation in student achievement. This has been demonstrated since the 1966 Equality of Educational Opportunity report by James Coleman and colleagues, and by more recent work too.
And candidates rightly addressed housing policy, which directly impacts education policy! Tom Steyer commented that housing determines where your kids go to school. Warren noted that her housing plan includes 3.2 million new housing units for lower-income families and middle-class renters in communities with severe housing supply shortages. She aims to mitigate the long-term impacts of redlining, the segregation created by refusing loans to black families, which continues to impact neighborhoods, and by extension schools, to this day.
There’s also evidence of long-term academic benefits for children from low-income families who attend universal pre-kindergarten programs, so the debate certainly had implications for education.
Beth: And it’s not like these candidates don’t have education plans! I would have liked to hear Warren talk about her proposed infusion of Title I funding. Schools could use that money to provide more wraparound supports for America’s students, which would go a long way to educate the “whole child.” We know that Millennials (approximately ages 24 to 38) and Generation Zers (currently in K-12 and early adulthood) are reporting the highest percentages of anxiety and depression of any age group. And schools are trying to do more to address and support mental health.
Cara: Yes! I’d love to see some of that additional funding used to ensure students have access to supportive, high-quality school counselors. We know that these supports could improve high school graduation and college attendance. Or we could provide incentives to push back high school start times, in keeping with research that suggests doing so would improve academic outcomes.
Beth: Exactly Cara! Let’s take what we know works and provide the resources needed to implement it. In addition to later start times for high schoolers, how about free breakfast and lunch for all students? Students who come from food insecure homes have a hard time focusing in school, and this leads to poor behavioral and academic outcomes. Free breakfast and lunch would remove this obstacle from their education.
Cara: I hope we’ll hear more about education in the December debate. Stay tuned!
A prodigal son of the charter school sector returned home on Monday, when Senator Cory Booker voiced support for charter schools in the New York Times, a notable shift from his criticism of charter schools back in May.
It was a bold move in some ways, especially given the precariousness of his presidential bid and the inevitable price he will pay with the teachers unions. It was also a strategic move to the middle as centrist Michael Bloomberg joins the race and underdog Pete Buttigieg builds steam.
It’s not hard to see the politics at play, but Booker deserves credit for calling out the Democratic party for being unresponsive to many constituents who support charter schooling. Booker takes fellow Democrats to task for not listening to the families who face “impossible choices” in favor of the more “privileged voices” in the party, a veiled reference to the omnipotent teachers unions, whose favor Senator Elizabeth Warren courted with her anti-charter education plan a few weeks ago.
Recent survey data on charter schools illustrates the misalignment between Democratic Party leadership and many of its key constituent groups, with higher levels of charter school support from African American and Hispanic subgroups than from Democrats and teachers.
Although he took more than a week to concede, Kentucky’s 62nd governor, Republican Matt Bevin, will not serve a second term. Experts agree that his provocative and insulting style, particularly his comments about teachers, attributed to his loss. Most notoriously, Bevin called teachers “thugs” and blamed them for the sexual assault of children and the shooting of a seven-year-old girl, after teachers protested the legislature’s sneaky efforts to reform the state’s pension systems.
We are both Kentucky-based Bellwarians, and in the short conversation below, we discuss why Governor Bevin failed to advance education reforms in the state — and what Governor-elect and Democrat Andy Beshear might be able to accomplish given Kentucky’s Republican-dominated legislature.
Katrina: I think you and I have some diverging ideas and perspectives about politics in general, and even about some education policies. But is it safe to say that we both think Matt Bevin is, well, a bit of a jerk?
Alex: I think we definitely have some common ground there, although I’d be careful about calling him a jerk — he might label you with a nickname like “Kooky Katrina.” More seriously though, I think a big part of his legacy will be the policy wins he left on the table, due in large part to his incredibly abrasive approach to governing.
Katrina: You’re not wrong about that. I was a fan of some of his policy positions, especially much-needed pension reform and increased school choice. If he had a bit more goodwill and emotional intelligence, he might have been able to demonstrate how those policies could actually help teachers and students.
Alex: Yep, but because of his style, pension reform and school choice are likely off the table for the next four years. And while some may be satisfied with the status quo on those issues, there are a lot of teachers and thousands of students who could benefit from reform to teacher pensions and school choice policies.
Katrina: So where do you think Beshear has the opportunity to move the ball forward on education policy?