Pawlenty's Education Switcheroo

Keep a close eye on my left hand...

At his press conference, the governor allowed that while there might be "some correlation" between money and performance in the schools, he believed that the connection was "fairly fuzzy." Scott Croonquist, the executive director of the Association of Metropolitan School Districts, whose membership is mostly awash in red ink, disagrees. "There is proven research that some programs enhance student achievement and help reduce the gap in student achievement, such as all-day kindergarten, early childhood family education, gifted and talented programs, among others. And we're not funding them."

Behind the lofty rhetoric, the "super schools," and the dime-store seals of honor, the most potentially substantive proposal in Pawlenty's package lies at the bottom of his press release--giving the state the power to "reconstitute underperforming districts." Asked what circumstances might trigger a state takeover of a district from the duly elected representatives of the local school board, and what shape a reconstituted district might take, Yecke said the DOE would come up with "our own definition" that "could have a number of pieces," including changing the structure to emphasize charter schools, imposing more professional development on teachers, and changing the curriculum to be more in line with state education standards. Both Yecke and Pawlenty claimed that such measures were required under the provisions of the Bush administration's No Child Left Behind Act that Yecke helped create during her time in Washington. But a state takeover of districts is merely a suggested corrective, not a mandate, of NCLB.

Pawlenty's takeover proposal lends some unfortunate irony to Croonquist's assertion that "we have a whole new set of expectations under No Child Left Behind coming at the same time funding of education is being cut. Those dynamics are meeting head-on and causing real challenges in our schools." But the Yecke quote in the release handed out at last week's press conference is beyond irony: "I am particularly excited about the degree of flexibility these proposals will give to local schools." Behind his curtain, the Wiz must have chuckled at that canard.

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