Barack Obama hasn’t made it clear yet whether he favors education reform or the status quo, writes David Brooks in the New York Times. The Democrats’ rival education camps “issued dueling strategy statements this week.”
The status quo camp issued a statement organized by the Economic Policy Institute. This report argues that poverty and broad social factors drive high dropout rates and other bad outcomes. Schools alone canâ€™t combat that, so more money should go to health care programs, anti-poverty initiatives and after-school and pre-K programs. When it comes to improving schools, the essential message is that we need to spend more on what weâ€™re already doing: smaller class sizes, better instruction, better teacher training.
The reformists’ statement supported after-school and pre-K initiatives, but also stressed “rigorous accountability and changing the fundamental structure of school systems.”
Todayâ€™s school systems arenâ€™t broken, the reformers argue. They were designed to meet the needs of teachers and adults first, and thatâ€™s exactly what they are doing. Itâ€™s time, though, to put the interests of students first.
The reformers want to change the structure of the system, not just spend more on the same old things. Tough decisions have to be made about who belongs in the classroom and who doesnâ€™t. Parents have to be given more control over education through public charter schools. Teacher contracts and state policies that keep ineffective teachers in the classroom need to be revised. Most importantly, accountability has to be rigorous and relentless. No Child Left Behind has its problems, but it has ushered in a data revolution, and hard data is the prerequisite for change.
Eduwonk, who signed the reformists’ manifesto, has more on the Democratic split.