Is bipartisanship killing the era of school accountability?

Partisan gridlock is something everyone loves to hate. The dysfunction in Washington underscores everything that’s wrong with governing today. That should make moments of bipartisan agreement something to celebrate, glimmers of hope amidst the endless rancor that show leaders can find common cause for the greater good.

But what if it turns out that everyone in Washington is coming together to agree on something that moves the country back, not ahead?

That’s what education policy expert Andrew Rotherham says is happening as Congress moves closer to ending what has been an eight-year stalemate over the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind law. The law, enacted in 2002 in another moment of bipartisan comity — George W. Bush and Ted Kennedy were its biggest champions — signaled a national commitment to bring all students up to at least a basic level of academic proficiency. It has drawn plenty of criticism and was undoubtedly in need of revision. Speaking yesterday at the new Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the US Senate, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell cited the prospects for reauthorization of the law as a positive sign of an easing of partisan tensions.

But Rotherham argues that a reauthorization of the law that unanimously cleared the Senate education committee last month doesn’t provide a necessary course correction so much as it executes a damaging U-turn.

In a nod to civil rights groups and business coalitions, he says, the bill maintains a requirement for annual testing. But it removes most of the accountability that forces districts to take action on chronic low achievement as a condition of receiving federal education dollars.

Pressure to pass this new version of the law is coming from the right and the left. Conservatives want the federal government to butt out of local school policy. Meanwhile, liberals are railing against accountability and new teacher evaluations that have drawn the wrath of teachers’ unions. They say “just leave schools and teachers alone and they’ll do amazing things,” writes Rotherham. “We tried this for much of the second half of the 20th century and it led to widespread inequities and even more pervasive mediocrity, with poor and minority students who need the most being the most likely to get the least.”

The backlash against standards and testing is rippling through many cities and states, finding voice in the “opt-out” movement that has a small number of parents pulling their children from school during standardized testing.

In New York City, many bridled at the approach taken by former mayor Michael Bloomberg and his schools chancellor, Joel Klein, that relied primarily on test score outcomes and growth scores to assign each of the city’s 1,800 schools a letter grade.  A draft of a new policy was released recently by the new regime led by Mayor Bill de Blasio and his chancellor, Carmen Fariña, both of whom are critics of test-based accountability systems.

“Like a driver overcorrecting and losing control,” the proposed new system would “go from focusing almost exclusively on student achievement to making it one of seven areas of reporting,” writes Robert Pondiscio of the Fordham Institute. He says a former city education official complained to him privately that “nearly everyone with data expertise was driven out” of the city education office when Fariña took over. The draft proposal, writes Pondiscio, “says clearly and unambiguously that the days of measuring a school by academic performance in New York City are over.”

Pondiscio is among those who think the era of high-stakes testing has brought with it some negative consequences, including undue focus on test preparation and a narrowing of what should be a broad, rich curriculum. But moves like those contemplated in New York or in Washington with the update of the No Child Left Behind Law seem poised to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

“In practice, for a young person in a city like Baltimore, this compromise [on the No Child law] means the goal of equality of opportunity is moving further away, thanks, perversely enough, to bipartisanship,” writes Rotherham. “We need better policies, yet we’re getting abandonment.”

–MICHAEL JONAS

 

BEACON HILL

A report being released today by the Pioneer Institute says the state misled federal officials and the public about the readiness of the Massachusetts Health Connector website, which had a problem-plagued rollout in 2013 that wound up costing the state millions of dollars. (Boston Globe) The Wall Street Journal weighs in with an editorial.

Senate President Stanley Rosenberg is pushing bulk purchasing of prescription drugs in a budget initiative. (CommonWealth)

The MetroWest Daily News argues for tax breaks for families, not film production companies.

Sen. Brian Joyce gives up his leadership position and consents to an ethics investigation of possible overlap between his business and political activities. (State House News)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

More than 10,000 people took to the streets yesterday in Dorchester for the Mother’s Day Walk for Peace to raise money to assist families of homicide victims. (Boston Globe)

OLYMPICS

The Boston Globe splashed a story reporting a Boston 2024 shake-up across the top of Sunday’s front-page, reporting that Bain Capital honcho and Celtics co-owner Steve Pagliuca will replace John Fish as Boston 2024 chairman and that both Red Sox executive Larry Lucchino and businessman Jack Connors would become “strategic advisers” to the effort. The talk of a shake-up in the leadership of the struggling Olympic effort does not appear to be wowing those skeptical of the bid. Gov. Charlie Baker, who has seemed wary from the start of being identified too closely with the effort, issued a statement yesterday saying he is “more concerned with a transparent planning process and end product of a bid that protects taxpayers, than the personalities involved with Boston 2024.” (Boston Herald) Howie Carr, firmly of the skeptic camp, is less than impressed with the latest development. (Boston Herald)

Peter O’Connor offers up a real-life problem Olympic planners can address. (CommonWealth)

Ryan Olander Ferguson tries to put the debate over a Boston Olympics in perspective (CommonWealth)

MARATHON BOMBINGS

As the penalty phase in the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev nears an end, the New York Times takes a look at the relationships victims have forged with caregivers and each other.

CASINOS

The Enterprise offers a special report looking at the pros and cons of a casino in Brockton as well as an editorial urging residents to vote in favor of the referendum on Tuesday.

The Plainridge slots parlor is busy preparing to receive your money starting next month. (Boston Globe)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Seymour Hersh, writing in the London Review of Books, reports that much of what we know about the killing of Osama bin Laden is false.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy says members will vote next week on a bill that strictly limits abortions after 20 weeks and includes mandated medical treatment and counseling 48 hours before any late-term abortion. (Weekly Standard)

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo orders emergency measures to protect nail salon workers. (New York Times)

US Rep. Joseph Kennedy says President Obama‘s proposed trade bill could hurt the middle class but he stopped short of saying he will vote against it. (Keller@Large)

ELECTIONS

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie spent $360,000 in expense advances over the last five years, with 80 percent going for food, alcohol, and desserts. (NewJerseyWatchdog.org)

Trying to avoid frontrunner complacency, Hillary Clinton‘s campaign is rushing to set-up campaign operations in the home states of potential primary rivals. (Boston Globe)

Presidential candidates are avoiding using the term “middle class,” sparking new concerns about the gradual disappearance of a whole strata of American society.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Some reason to toss those mortar boards with genuine glee: College graduates are facing a brightening job market. (Boston Globe)

The parent companies for Stop & Shop and Hannaford supermarkets are in talks about a merger. (Bloomberg News)

A new study shows the state’s 39 public-use airports generate more than $16.5 billion in economic activity, including more than $6 billion in payrolls. (Herald News)

The online company Airbnb, an app that pairs travelers with homeowners who have a spare room to rent by the night, has reached 1 million rooms but big hotel chains don’t feel threatened — yet. (New York Times)

EDUCATION

An incoming Boston University professor has set off controversy with racially-focused tweets, such as the claim that white college males are a “problem population.” (Boston Herald)

Superintendents are tired of unfunded, mostly federal, mandates. (Berkshire Eagle) An editorial in the Eagle-Tribune focuses on the burden of state mandates.

Clive McFarlane says the Worcester schools may benefit from a thaw in relations with City Hall. (Telegram & Gazette)

Are kids overscheduled? Maybe. (Christian Science Monitor)

HEALTH CARE

Alternative payment systems that reward providers for the quality of care, not the quantity of services they provide, are gaining steam. (Boston Globe)

TRANSPORTATION

Gov. Baker names five to state transportation board. (Associated Press)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

An MIT-based effort is trying to crowdsource solutions to various issues related to climate change. (Boston Globe)

A Greenfield group is gathering signatures to ban plastic bags, single-serve plastic containers, and plastic foam containers. (Lowell Sun)

Piping plovers! There’s an app for that. (Cape Cod Times)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

The New Bedford police chief strongly criticized a judge who sentenced a scrap metal dealer to probation for buying stolen copper in a sting operation, saying the sentence sends the “wrong message” to other dealers and those engaged in thefts. (Standard-Times)

Police arrest eight juveniles after a brawl that involved 300 people at Revere Beach Sunday night. (The Item)

MEDIA

David Olson, the editor of the Salem News, takes on the added title of editor at the Gloucester Times. Both newspapers are owned by North of Boston Media Group.

Toronto Star executives explain their decision to tear down paywalls and say promos on the front page of stories inside the newspaper are a waste of space. (mUmBRELLA)

Dan Shaughnessy has had it with all the hometown fawning and basically declares that the “Patriot way” is to lie and cheat. (Boston Globe)