Rise of the ‘reform realists’

Arne Duncan is supposed to find common ground between System Defenders, traditionalists who want more money and no accountability, and the Army of the Potomac, who want to hold schools accountable for results, write Checker Finn and Mike Petrilli on Education Gadfly. Local Controllers who “want Uncle Sam to butt out of education policy — but to keep sending money,” are Republicans, and probably ignorable.

Is there another way? Gadfly advocates “Reform Realism.”

We embrace standards, assessment, and accountability; we believe that America’s achievement gaps are morally unacceptable, socially divisive, and politically unsustainable; and we recognize that for the U.S. to remain secure and prosperous in a dangerous, shrinking and flattening world, our education system must become far more effective.

But as Arne Duncan has learned in Chicago, we also believe that federal action too often yields unintended and undesirable consequences. Uncle Sam would be wise to adopt medicine’s maxim of “first do no harm.”

The feds would set common standards and tests, while the states would handle accountability for schools that don’t do well.

Update: National standards isn’t a realistic goal, says Matthew Ladner. And he says it in Pig Latin!

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  1. Homeschooling Granny says:

    And who holds the tests and the test makers accountable and responsible?

    At one time tests were largely written essays, some were oral assessments. The move to multiple choice was in part for objectivity and in great measure for economy. Do these machine gradable tests truly measure what is worth while in education? Or are we like the drunk looking for his car keys under the street light because he can see there even though he lost them in an unlit place.

  2. This moves in a better direction. Centralization works well for information gathering and dissemination, but it is often a disaster for decision making. So letting DC collect data but leaving it up to states what to do is better than the current model, which has bureaucrats in Washington offices making teacher certification rules for 87-student high schools on the Northern Great Plains–a culture that the feds mostly cannot even imagine.

    Still, I think the Constitution should be taken seriously, so my preference would be that the federal government has no right to even talk about education.

  3. I wonder if anyone will take into account what parents and students would like. We’re written off as either affluent helicopter parents who want to monopolize resources for their children or negligent crack heads who don’t feed their children.

  4. MTheads–a big Amen to that one!

    mlu–the feds don’t make certification rules. What they have done is to require states to set a standard for “highly qualified teachers.” For the most part this has been a pretty low standard, designed to ensure that everyone already in a classroom could stay–even in 87 student high schools on the Northern Great Plains, and even if it meant that an English teacher is still teaching math. But now (assuming they filled out the appropriate paperwork showing that they have been to some math workshops) they can say that they are highly qualified to teach math.

  5. Amy in Texas says:

    I am certified and “highly qualified” in three subjects (by Texas rules) but I do not believe that I am very effective teacher! I try to learn and get better every day, here in my second year.

    While I agree on many levels with Mlu that ideally the government would have little control in education, the fact is that our mandated system is the greatest national equalizer and opportunity giver we have for our population. Without the laws we wouldn’t reach the numbers we now educate. We need compulsory education.
    Reform must also come, but not through the myth of the “better teacher”. It will come when school shrink the levels of bureaucracy, relocate special populations to facilities that are not set up as academic competitions…maybe make students buy their textbooks so that they would value them? The schools I see are dying in a idealistic stranglehold. Bring national standards and decrease the bureaucrats and deadweight “facilitators”.