We Might Be Nearing the End of the Education Reform Wars

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

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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What Happens When a Teacher Walks Into a Burger Joint?

A late-night dinner with an outstanding educator reminds us that teachable moments are everywhere, if we'd only look for them.

A few weeks back, I had the chance to see what extraordinary teaching looks like. I wasn't in a classroom, and the new school year had yet to begin. Though I spend a lot of time talking and thinking about the principles and practices needed to cultivate empathy, in that moment, truthfully, I was thinking about dinner.

I had just come out of a gathering of progressive educators, who had set out to produce able problem-solvers and team players, rather than kids capable of regurgitating facts on multiple-choice tests.

That night, we went to dinner with Jenerra Williams, who teaches first and second grades at the Mission Hill School, a low-income school in inner-city Boston. Jenerra happened to be flying out later than the rest, so the two of us found ourselves at Ray's Hell Burger, one of DC’s greatest burger joints and a favorite of the Obamas. It had been a really long day.

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Why We Need More Than a Fundraising Campaign for the Bullied Bus Monitor

If we want to prevent the next Karen Klein, we need to teach people to understand how bad situations can spin out of control.

It's been just one week since the video of bus monitor Karen Klein being bullied by a group of seventh-graders first made an appearance on YouTube. The video has since been viewed more than seven million times, and the story has made its way to every major news network. A campaign started on IndieGoGo to send Karen on vacation has, as of this writing, raised more than $650,000, offering a powerful testament to what can happen when individuals choose to channel moral outrage into action.

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Project: Send a Valentine to the Women in the World Who Really Need It

Create a home-made valentine for the millions of women around the world who could use a reminder that they matter, today and everyday.

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Haiti One Year Later: Are We Any Better Prepared?

To check in on the reconstruction progress in Haiti, we sat down with scholar and architect Matt Jelacic, an expert in sustainable housing solutions.

To check in on the reconstruction progress in Haiti, we sat down with scholar and architect Matt Jelacic, an expert in sustainable housing solutions for displaced communities at University of Colorado-Boulder.

GOOD: How would you sum up the progress made in the last year?

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