Are There Any National Education Issues Left? – Forbes

Let’s focus on this tree for a second.
When the standards and testing movement peaked under No Child Left Behind and Race To The Top, debates raged about education on a national level. Coalitions of advocates and activists on all sides flourished coast to coast (e.g. all those years everyone spent arguing about Common Core). But in the current educational world, many of the loudest education debates are not really national at all.
Difficulties in filling teaching positions have drawn plenty of education coverage, and there’s no question that some areas are experiencing serious issues. But as Paul Bruno, Assistant Professor of Education Policy, Organization and Leadership at the College of Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, points out, “there is no single ‘teacher supply’ or ‘teacher labor market.’ Even schools in different parts of the same state or district may have different numbers of teachers who are interested in working in them.” Matt Barnum at Chalkbeat notes that vacancies vary by school and by subject area.
The prevalence of “shortages” varies by location and district, within and between states, including districts and certification areas that have struggled to fill positions for many years.
The debate over “critical race theory” and LGBTQ+ policies has also developed regional hot spots. The fact that CRT is actually found in few K-12 schools in the nation may explain why some activists worked to enlarge the definition to include everything from social-emotional learning programs to any study of race in America. But even with that broad umbrella expanding, as activist Christopher Rufo put it, to cover “the entire range of cultural constructions that are unpopular with Americans” has failed to establish CRT as an issue for the entire nation.
Some states have established gag laws, while others have resisted such initiatives. And while the highly publicized trend toward book restrictions is alarming, PEN America shows just 86 districts in the country with such bans in place (so far).
Betsy DeVos tried to make school choice a national issue, but her Education Freedom national voucher proposal never get much traction in DC. Pandemic and post-pandemic policies remain largely a matter of local policy decision.
Arguably none of the educational issues of the moment are national ones. Education policy debates are now being won or lost on the state and local level.
Conservatives have already adjusted to this reality. Moms for Liberty owes its success in large part to its structure as a loose confederation of local chapters, allowing it to expand into areas where it can achieve victories while skipping (for now) those communities where it will have less impact. Parents Defending Education, a more traditional advocacy group operated by seasoned professionals, has adapted by working with local activists rather than pushing for national policies. And many conservatives are running for local school boards, backed by big-money contributors fueling the trend.
This trend affects older issues as well. Issues of race and equity in education could be addressed on a national level, but for the time being, that’s not happening. It’s up to states and local districts to deal with that as well.
Like the abortion debates, education debates are bound now to be argued on state and local stages. And while following news from across the country will help you recognize what’s happening in your own neighborhood, what’s happening in your state or community is likely specific to that locale. Education advocates of all persuasions need to shift focus from the forest and start watching their own local trees.


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