“Pragmatism Wins”: What Midterm Exams Mean for Education Policy


So much for the “red wave”. Republicans expected landslide victories in last week’s midterm elections that never materialized. Instead, Democrats have exceeded expectations by keeping control of the Senate and keeping Republicans a slim majority in the House of Representatives.

A group of education researchers met at the American Enterprise Institute a day after the election to make sense of the result. Still cloudy-eyed after a long night watching the results roll in, they predicted what the next two years will hold for education policy.

The panel agreed on one important point. “Pragmatism has won,” said Andy Rotherhamthe co-founder of Bellwether Education Partners. little bethany, a director of EducationCounsel, LLC agrees: “Voters are not into extremism,” regardless of their political knowledge. While partisan debates on Twitter can stir up passions, they don’t seem to push voters to the polls. Candidates who embraced these radical views were defeated across the country.

Derrell Bradford of 50CAN hoped that the Republicans would be chastised for their disappointing performance. Despite their victory in the House, they would still be short of a “mandate-worthy” majority. Bradford wanted Republicans to learn from the mistakes of Democrats, who were pursuing a far-left agenda after winning the White House and Congress in 2020. He predicted Republicans would hold congressional hearings on the policy’s final two years education, but refrain from a more radical agenda.

However, Rick Hess, a senior researcher and director of education policy studies at AEI, predicted that the narrow majority of Republicans would empower its fringe members. Needing every possible vote to pass legislation, the caucus would reach out to far-right politicians like Marjorie Taylor Greene to ensure their support.

The panel was surprised that education issues failed to motivate voters. Earlier this year, the Biden administration’s student loan cancellation plan angered conservatives who saw it as government aid to the middle and upper classes. But the plan failed to trigger a populist uprising on election day.

Similarly, Republican candidates who modeled their campaigns on Glenn Youngkin’s successful run for governor of Virginia have failed. Youngkin placed the reopening of schools, parents’ rights and anti-CRT rhetoric at the heart of his message. This playbook failed other Republicans in 2022.

Another point to remember: the quality of the candidates counts. Many untested candidates, especially those endorsed by former President Donald Trump, have gone down in flames. In Pennsylvania, Doug Mastriano and Mehmet Oz lost winnable seats. In Arizona, Blake Masters failed to beat incumbent Senator Mark Kelly. Kari Lake, the former TV news anchor who has adopted Trump’s style of bombastic rhetoric, could not overcome Katie Hobbs’ somewhat anemic campaign in the race for governor of that same state. Although Hershel Walker has yet to lose in the Georgia Senate race, he couldn’t muster the votes to unseat Raphael Warnock and is set for a runoff in December.

Despite these high-profile losses, Republicans have been successful at the state level. Governor Ron DeSantis fought in Florida, as did Mike DeWine in Ohio. In Texas, Greg Abbott easily managed a well-funded Beto O’Rouke, whose platform included eliminating state testing for K-12 students. Brian Kemp defeated Stacy Abrams, a Democratic celebrity, in Georgia. The large margins of victory for these Republicans suggest that voters see them as effective leaders. DeWine, who garnered 62.8% of the vote, was praised by Democrats and Republicans for his careful handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and for bring a major computer chip factory to the state. And as populations decline in states like New York and California, inland migration blew up Floridathanks in part to DeSantis policies.

Looking forward to the 2024 presidential election, Rotherham hoped both parties would recognize the sophistication of the electorate. He cited the public’s view of gender ideology as an example of this sophistication. Polls show a majority of Americans want classrooms to accommodate all students, but are still not comfortable with explicit teaching of gender ideology in schools, especially at the elementary level . To resolve thorny issues like these, parties will need to moderate and develop more nuanced policies.

That moderation and nuance might be hard to find. A day after the election, a reporter asked President Biden what he could do differently in the next two years. Biden replied: “Nothing.” And just a week after the defeat of many of his hand-picked candidates, Trump announced his third presidential campaign since Mar-a-Lago, ensuring his brand of populism and divisive rhetoric will stay with us. This stubborn adherence to the status quo could hurt both parties in 2024. The party that moves to the center, tones down the rhetoric and convinces voters it will govern well could be poised for a big win.


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