Thursday, July 22, 2010

A Narrow Sense of Optimism

By John Glaser

News like this can actually get some people excited about improvements, at least in oversight, in education initiatives and student loan programs:

The Government Accountability Office released a report Wednesday detailing ways for the Department of Education's Office of Federal Student Aid to improve its oversight of lenders and third-party servicers involved in the Federal Family Education Loan Program.

The report urged the department's inspector general to update its FFEL Lender Audit Guide to reflect standards put into place since the guide was last published in 1996. (In a response, Kathleen Tighe, the inspector general, said that a new guide will be out by the end of the year.) It also called for the department to address identified gaps in the policies and procedures used in Federal Student Aid's review of audited financial statements for lender servicers involved in the FFEL program.

But to get optimistic about our education system, and in particular the crippling debt most student are faced with due to rising tuition costs, is to have a very narrow view indeed. I've written before about how Obama's ed-reform agenda really amounts to "tinkering around the edges" and virtually cementing the status quo, as opposed to being an actual reformation of anything. This GAO report is that kind of thing, just tinkering. Never does an administration come in with something sweeping, with a totally new approach that abandons the norms that have dug us in this hole. Administration after administration proposes sweet-sounding, seemingly viable reforms and virtually nothing positive, nothing game-changing comes of it.

Even those who root for Obama's education reform plans foresee bleakness and impotence, mainly because of politics:
I wrote a little while back about how the House bill was largely a matter of pique, but this just gets uglier and uglier. It's also full of bad omens for the administration's efforts on school reform, NCLB reauthorization, RTT, and i3--whatever happens in November. Looks like the administration is hurting for friends and that its reform agenda could be whipsawed by fiscal pressures, Congressional frustration, and disgruntled liberals.
And it's not just a failure to think big and outside the box, when these reform plans are thought up. Its a failure to even address the most glaring problems (like for example, those that are the unintended consequences of previous government plans). So, it's a little hard to get optimistic about the future of education in America.

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