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What the Insiders Really Think About K-12 Politics

Have you always wanted to know what people at the U.S. Department of Education, congressional and White House staffers, state education leaders, and other Washington-edu-know-it-alls really think about key K-12 issues, but were afraid to ask (or didn't have the means and connections to do a big survey)?

Well, Andrew Rotherham (of Bellwether Education Partners and the fabulous Eduwonk blog) and John Bailey, who served as a top education aide in President George W. Bush's White House, have got it covered. The two have asked more than 30 inside-the-Beltway and state edu-bigwigs what they think about the political landscape for education after the Republicans' big electoral wins this month.

This work is part of a project for Whiteboard Advisors, a consulting organization that is a non-lobbying subsidiary of Dutko Worldwide. The survey is part of a monthly, subscription-based product. Rotherham wrote about it here.

The survey includes some very interesting take-aways, coupled with absolutely priceless (but anonymous) comments from the insiders.

Here's a sample:

- Nearly 70 percent of the insiders think the midterm election results will slow President Obama's education agenda. Only 4 percent expect it to be accelerated. And 29 percent think the momentum won't change. One person surveyed said: "Next Congress is going to be about cutting spending, repealing Obamacare, and setting the stage for 2012. Noises will be made about how wonderfully bipartisan education can be and Congress will even attempt to make progress, but Harkin [Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the chairman of the Senate education committee] is incapable of making the right deals to get the Senate Republicans on board, and the House won't move forward on anything other than piecemeal bills."

- Sixty-seven percent of the insiders expect to see a scaled-back federal role in education. Only 33 percent expect the feds' role to stay about the same. One commenter: "It seems both D's and R's dislike federal 'intrusion.' Or at least that's what they seem to be saying publicly."

-Early-childhood education could be a big loser. Sixty-seven percent of those responding said they expect it to get less attention in the new Congress. Comment: "Having lost the House, new administration early-childhood initiatives are dead on arrival."

- The insiders are split over the possibility of bipartisan cooperation between the administration and Congress. About 54 percent said it is unlikely, but 45 percent said it is likely. One commenter: "Lots of good feeling with very little result."

- Charter schools may be the big winner. Eighty-three percent expect general agreement between the two parties on charter policy, while 61 percent think there could be general agreement on teacher effectiveness. But just 9 percent see the possibility of agreement around extending the Race to the Top (a key Obama priority), and absolutely no one expects agreement on increasing K-12 funding or regulation of for-profit colleges (a higher education issue that many in the GOP say has poisoned the bipartisan well for agreement on K-12).

- When will the Elementary and Secondary Education Act be reauthorized? Not until after January 2013, say 46 percent of the insiders. That's after the next presidential election.

- For you Congress geeks out there, the insiders think the lawmakers to watch are Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the top Republican on the Senate subcommittee overseeing K-12 education, and Rep. John Kline of Minnesota, who is expected to be chairman of the GOP-controlled House education committee. Note that two Republicans were on top, even in the Senate, which will remain in Democratic hands.

- Rep. George Miller of California, who will likely be the ranking Democrat on the House education committee, is the top Dem to watch. And insiders suggest you keep your eye on Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., the former Denver schools chief who won a tough race to keep the Senate seat he had been appointed to. The new member to watch? Sen.-to-be Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who had some tea party backing. He ranked even higher on the list than Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader.

- Debate over vouchers could be back, insiders guess. The GOP House may want to revive debate over the end of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program, for instance.

- Insiders don't seem to expect that the midterm gubernatorial results will have a big impact on states' Race to the Top plans. Almost 60 percent don't think states that won the grants will submit major changes, and 77 percent think the Education Department wouldn't approve big revisions.

- Most insiders don't see the elections as a boon for the Common Core State Standards Initiative. In particular, some say the Republican wave could hurt the push for common assessments. As one commenter put it: "Something to watch."

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