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How to help Arne Duncan spend his new $5 billion innovation fund

showusthemoney1District superintendents around the country – who will be the first port of call for the education stimulus funds – seem to want more than what is already a pretty substantial influx of money.

They have their eyes set on the Education Secretary’s discretionary fund (his “Race to the Top Fund”), money that is supposed to be about innovation.

A D.C.-area superintendent is quoted in the Washington Post today as saying he might ask for money to boost AP placement among Latino kids. That of course, is a good idea, but one that doesn’t need money – it needs great educators pushing kids to succeed.

We’ll be watching for what qualifies as innovation, but for now, we’d humbly suggest a quick read of at least five big ideas that could transform education – ones that might be worthy of some of Duncan’s prize funds…

Mandate for Changea bold agenda for the incoming government

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Viva Viagra! Rambo’s in Town!

headbandAll stimulus—all the time. There is nothing like a raucous action film filled with exploding cars and high-powered weaponry to distract you from your troubles and take your mind off your real obligations back home. Like it or not, this is the net effect of the Stimulus package now furiously hurdling through Congress like some action hero implausibly decimating everything in his way while the world around watches in awe—numb, but invigorated by the spectacle—waiting to be rescued.

Has Obama gone Rambo? Or has Washington become a Hollywood set—a gleaming fasçade, supported by nothing, but intentionally built to allow our superhero to shine?

For those in need of a tonic from so much stimulus—still reeling from the whiplash of the high-speed chase with stolen dollars flying everywhere—read Michael Gerson’s magisterial treatment of how real education reform signaled by the Obama campaign has already been abandoned in exchange for Obama’s empty pragmatism.

No purple pill or action hero bravado for him. Gerson is a real man, a man of principle, who reminds us what is required to effect fundamental reform. Among the remedies are test-based accountability and merit pay to drive improved teacher quality—not payola stolen from children yet born to buy off one’s political supporters.

Gerson writes, “It is still early in the Obama era. But it is already evident that pragmatism without a guiding vision or a fighting faith can become little more than the service of insistent political interests.” It is precisely for this reason that Mandate for Change was recently sent to every state and federal legislator in the land.

Got Mandate?

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James, age 9

cartman_jamesSeemingly always the last question asked in the political arena, President Obama was queried by 9-year-old James earlier during his Elkhart, IN town hall meeting.

James asked how the President planned to help our schools.

His laundry list of solutions:

– Rebuild schools to be state-of-the-art
– Train new teachers (and re-train existing ones)
– Reform how we do business
– High standards
– Better assessment
– NCLB needs to be re-worked in a more effective way

And last, he said, was to engage parents, noting that all the money in the world wouldn’t help education in this country until parents step up to the plate.

Greening our schools, building new facilities where none are needed and bailing out the teaching industry are supposed to lead to educational success?

How much do higher standards and student achievement cost?

How about focusing on what works:

– Federal accountability
– Transparency
– Charter schools
– School choice
– Teacher quality

Got Mandate?

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