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Winded

thatgirlIn my junior year of high school, I was caught red handed not signed up for a Fall sports team (we were required to participate in one every season). I was guilty, had no defense, was unceremoniously marched over to the cross-country team and “volunteered”. For the record, this was and remains the harshest punishment ever exacted upon my person.

I showed up every day and did only that which was required, nothing more (sometimes less).

When we competed in a race, though I usually came in last, (I thought) I crossed each finish line in style, sprinting with my last reserves of energy. But it was all for show. Those who stuck around to actually see me finish saw only this explosion of effort and quite rightly wondered why I had not doled it out over the entire course.

It was a sad display of ego and false enthusiasm.

And I am reminded almost daily of this as states rush education legislation through their political machines. One by one, Illinois, Massachusetts, Kentucky, Delaware, Tennessee and their neighbors sprint across the finish line just in time for their ‘Race to the Top’ applications to have a little more content to accompany their creative writing.

What if they had been working on these education efforts over time, with focus and determination? What if they had trained a little harder in order to move beyond the superficial? What if they had made changes to their schools just because it was necessary and right, rather than lucrative?

I was never going to be a cross-country runner, and my finish line sprints proved that. Will the same be true of states in the ‘Race to the Top’?

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Gingrich and Sharpton – An Odd Couple for Education, But Not the First

al-newtTomorrow, on his continuing education tour, Education Secretary Arne Duncan will be joined in Philadelphia by two gentlemen who because of their obvious differences on many levels are called the Odd Couple of education.  I applaud strange bedfellows – when they make things happen for kids. With this one, I’m not so sure.

The first real Odd Couples of education led some of the nation’s most fundamental shifts in education, shifts that had once been considered radical.  Looking back through the past sixteen years, it’s clear that while education reform has changed dramatically, broad, mainstream support for bold changes in education existed then, just as they do now.  It was just much less hip to say so.

Then, policymakers who led the fight for charter schools, merit pay (as it was called in those days), vouchers and the like were accused of being part of the vast right wing conspiracy and generally anti-public education, despite the fact that such nomenclature didn’t fit then, just as it does not now. CER’s first work celebrated legislators like Pennsylvania Democrat Dwight Evans, who joined hands with Republican Tom Ridge to pass that state’s charter bill.  Miami Urban League head T. Willard Fair teamed up with Governor Jeb Bush to bring vouchers to Florida, following in the steps of Representative Polly Williams, a former Black Panther, in league with conservative Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson.

These were the first, real Odd Couples of the modern education reform movement.  They were bold, tenacious, and courageous to cross party lines, incur the wrath of unions together and suffer all sorts of education establishment slurs. (more…)

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Battle Hymn of the Reformers (No Excuses!)

noexcusesA challenge to the NAACP, African-American parents and all Americans…

To rousing applause, the president gave what was perhaps his best education speech to date last night, making it clear that “government programs alone…” won’t solve our problems, instead asking this community in particular to adopt  “a new mind set”, one that doesn’t tolerate failure.

“No excuses,” the president demanded to this audience. “No excuses.”

He has our thanks and our blessing for adopting the Reform Battle Cry.

“No Excuses” he said to the organization that, despite it’s name, has in reality done little in the last 20 years to support the kinds of real reforms that can indeed create a no excuses culture for poor children, children of color, all children in need.

And so the president’s impassioned and bold speech is particularly music to the ears of reformers of all stripes.

“I hope you don’t mind. I want to go on a little detour here about education (to rousing applause). In the 21st century when so many jobs will require a bachelors degree or more… a world class education is a prerequisite for success. You know what I’m taking about. There’s a reason the story of the civil rights movement was written in our schools.

“There is no stronger weapon against inequality and no better path to opportunity than an education that can unlock a child’s God given potential.

“Yet more than half a century after Brown v. Board of Education, the dream of a world class education is still being deferred…” (i.e. Achievement gap, dropouts, corridors of shame…)

“The state of our schools… is an American problem. Because if black and brown children cannot compete, America cannot compete.

“And let me say this, if Al Sharpton, Mike Bloomberg and Newt Gingrich can agree we have to

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Morning news isn't just White House dogs and pirates

morningjoeTwo interesting education conversations on MSNBC’s Morning Joe this morning:

1) Walter Isaacson speaks some truth about NCLB, charter schools, mayoral control and teachers unions, but his argument that deep down Duncan supports the D.C. voucher program coupled with a sunny outlook on the affect $timulus money will have in the classroom raised this viewer’s eyebrows.

2) D.C.’s Mayor Adrian Fenty lays it out for Joe and states unequivocally that real change will come to public schools when principals are given control of a hiring/firing process based on merit. Be sure to watch the Mayor dance around Pat Buchanan’s assertion that what he is endorsing is union busting.

The best note of the morning, however, was hit by Joe when he shook his head in an attempt to understand the BLOB and their efforts to thwart true reform, saying: “It’s like these people are like holdouts, like those Japanese soldiers that kept fighting for 20 years on remote islands. They didn’t realize the world had changed.”

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Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain

wizardofozI have many colleagues who insist that deep down, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is a real education reformer, and is a reflection of an administration that is reform-minded on critical education issues.  Because he hired this or that person, because he talks about charter schools, and because he told the press he thought that children currently in the DC scholarship program should be allowed to finish even if it is discontinued.  There are some who believe he’s “one of us.”

The Denver Post today, like Toto in The Wizard of Oz, pulls back the curtain on the image of Duncan as reformer to reveal some hard truths behind the talking points.  Like many of us, they wanted to know why a Congressionally mandated report on the DC voucher program – providing evidence of success – was released on a Friday, after Congress recessed, and as millions of Americans were leaving for their spring breaks.  Duncan denied knowing about the findings, though senior department officials have had a chance to review them since November.  Even if they deliberately kept it from the Secretary, it still begs the question as to why, knowing the Congress was moving to kill it, did he not ask where the study results were?  As the Denver Post columnist argues, Duncan discards the program as being too small to care about.  He dances around his opposition by advocating that kids already in the program continue — without demanding legislation that would allow that to happen, by the way.  Thus my colleagues’ “hopes” that he’ll come around, that reason will prevail.  They are so blinded by their dreams for this Administration that they find it impossible to believe its people could oppose something so good.

But

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Extreme Makeover: AFT Edition

Folks have been fawning over Randi Weingarten’s seeming embrace of education reform since her National Press Club speech in November, and Dana Goldstein has a must-read profile of the AFT/UFT president in the latest American Prospect.

Weingarten’s media makeover has served her well, leading many to do as Goldstein has and give her credit for talking the talk.

But that’s not the whole story.

For reformers, the real definition of reform – which we helped give life to in 1993 – is much more cut and dry than what is expounded here. Quite simply:

– The status quo embraces the existing system, and while members of the status quo will often advocate for policy or program changes, none of what they endorse will fundamentally change the balance of power between producer and consumer.

– Conversely, real reformers seek to fundamentally replace what is known as the school system with a system of schools that is accountable to those in power at each school, as well as to the parents, in whose hands the ultimate fate of their children depends.

By this definition, Randi Weingarten doesn’t even approach the notion of a reformer. On the continuum between status quo and reform, she has barely passed go.

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Not So Fast (Part 2)

DomeNewsweek’s Jonathan Alter was ahead of the reform curve in media coverage back when it was not a popular thing to do. He’s been an avid fan of great models that provide at least some power to parents, and lots of freedom from bureaucracy. He understands the problems with unions. He even uses the language I put forth four years ago when talking about what was once called “traditional” public education and instead describes it as “conventional,” which is more to the point.

Alter’s column this week puts some heft behind the selection of Denver, CO superintendent Michael Bennet to be Ed Secretary. Could we really have another Bennett in that office? We could have a lot of fun with comparisons, but for now, we’re struck by the uncritical gaze that the otherwise keen Alter has given to both Bennet – and his interviewee of the week – Bill Gates.

Both in Alter’s estimation are reformers. He says Gates told him he believes in merit pay – and yet I’m not fully aware of any policy groups that strongly push for performance based pay changes in law which Gates is throwing money behind. The Gates Foundation is financially and morally supportive of the work of Michelle Rhee and Joel Klein and clearly Michael Bennet. But what superintendents can do is limited unless their state legislatures make it easier for them to free teachers from contract rules that limit pay and operational structures. Put in layman’s terms, it is state law that often dictates what supers do – state laws that teachers’ unions fiercely lobby for and against. We’re all for in-system reform – but one shouldn’t expect every super to be as heroic – or crazy – as reformers

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