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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Which High School Kids Will Obama Brainwash This Year?

The Commander in Chief will give the commencement speech to one of these six high schools.


High school graduations are just around the corner. Thanks to the Race to the Top Commencement Challenge, for the second year in a row, one outstanding (and lucky) public school will host the Commander in Chief as its commencement speaker. Hundreds of schools across the country entered by answering essay questions and providing data showing how they're "promoting college and career readiness for all students while establishing a culture of student success and academic excellence." Today the White House announced the six finalists:

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Why the Compton Parent Trigger Lawsuit Is a Good Thing

The suit will set precedent for all future parent trigger attempts in both California and the rest of the nation.

With the filing of a class action lawsuit against Compton Unified School District, the legal battle over the first invocation of California's new "parent trigger" law has officially begun.

In a nutshell, the "parent trigger" allows parents who are tired of their local school's chronic academic failure to band together and petition the school district for the right to take control of the campus. The law first came into being in 2010 when California was attempting to prove it was ready for education reform so the state could qualify for some of the $4 billion in money the Obama administration was doling out as part of its Race to the Top competition.

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Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced that nine states, as well as the District of Columbia, would divvy up nearly $3.4 billion as winners in the second round of the Race to the Top competition. The states that are getting the much-coveted cash are: Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Rhode Island.

Sometimes looking at things visually changes your perception, and this illustration from Rob Manwaring over at the Education Sector's Quick and the Ed blog shows a striking phenomenon: Combining the second round winners with first round victors Delaware and Tennessee, there are no states west of the Mississippi (save Hawaii, the huge outlier) that have garnered any Race to the Top grants.

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