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Strong Governors Play Vital Role

By Jeanne Allen
National Journal
October 14, 2011

Race to the Top remains overrated in terms of impact. While there was a flurry of multi-state activity caused, it didn’t result in any real snow.

A cap lift for charters here, a teacher evaluation bill with little teeth there. Many smart people disagree about this. But, the fact is if you look around the country today, there is activity on teacher evaluations, meaningful charter law changes (not just cap lifts), expanded accountability, parent triggers and more without any carrot or stick from Washington.

So, is Washington becoming irrelevant to state policy?

The answer is yes – only when you have strong governors who push and get passage of education policy.

Indiana’s Gov. Mitch Daniels made education a top priority this past legislative session and with it came an avalanche of education reforms, including school choice and an expansion on charter schools. Louisiana’s Gov. Bobby Jindal tied student achievement to teacher evaluations, as many states have as of late, and has applied a whatever-works-as-long-as-children-succeed attitude. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder is succeeding in pushing multiple reforms such as charter expansions and teacher evaluations, not in response to Race to the Top, but because of the poor state of the status quo. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has become a vocal proponent of education reform including the need for multiple authorizers and the introduction of an opportunity scholarship program.

And just this week, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett unveiled a new education reform package that promises greater flexibility for parents and teachers in the education of the state’s children, and accountability at all levels for substantially greater results.

No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top filled voids left by state policy leaders who neglected their state’s education systems, which wallowed in the status quo. Districts and states spent time complaining about needing to comply with new federal mandates.

Today, the result of their delays is more clear than every before. Student achievement is still lagging, educational crises have not subsided EXCEPT where states have adopted a meaningful combination of reforms.

Washington can create a flurry of activity, but only the states can create a blizzard.