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We Might Be Nearing the End of the Education Reform Wars

There's a growing consensus that learning is about more than test scores.

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Like any sentient political junkie, I was struck in the third Presidential Debate by how much of a point Romney made to agree with President Obama's approach to foreign policy—on intervening in Libya, on leaving Afghanistan, on keeping troops out of Syria. It was Romney who stated, "we can't kill our way out of this mess," delivering a line one would have expected to hear from Obama in 2008. And like any sentient liberal, I was irked, wondering which Romney we'd get were he to be elected.
But then I thought about other debates that aren't really debates, and wondered if we've made a mistake to assume that every issue of importance has two sides.
In a recent op-ed for the New York Times, Thomas Friedman declared the Administration's education policy one of "Obama's best kept secrets." Citing the growing need for high-skilled workers and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's oft-stated line that we must "educate our way to a better economy," Friedman praised the effect that Race to the Top, and its predecessor No Child Left Behind, has had on teacher and principal accountability.
In today's education reform climate, saying as much is an invitation to battle, and this occasion proved no different.
As friend and frequent collaborator Sam Chaltain wrote, "What Friedman seems to have forgotten, and what the Obama administration has repeatedly failed to heed is that systems as dysfunctional as those in American public education require more than a new set of end goals: they require deep and sustained investments in our collective capacity to imagine and sustain something new—and that sort of change requires two main ingredients: technical expertise and emotional commitment.
"Unfortunately, Race to the Top (RTTT) lacks both ingredients: its formulas for technical expertise, such as new teacher evaluation systems (good idea) based significantly on student test scores (bad idea), move the goalposts but ignore the skill levels of the players."
Here's the catch: call me Pollyanna, but I fail to see where the debate is.
The need to prepare high-skilled workers for the high-skill jobs of the future, as Friedman suggests, isn't in dispute: where we differ is simply with regard to our definitions of "highly skilled."

I am one of what I expect to be about a dozen people in the world who gets the daily Google Alert for "Empathy" delivered straight to my inbox. And so I am regularly reminded of the critical role that empathy plays in high-skilled fields, ranging from business to journalism, medicine, and robotics engineering.

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