ED’s Back in the Game

In the hit baseball movie “Major League,” the Indians’ supposed slugger — Pedro Serrano — has a problem.  He “hit straight ball very much,” but he just can’t seem to hit a curveball.  The problem comes to a climax in the bottom of the eighth inning of a one-game playoff to decide whether the Indians or Yankees win the division.  The Tribe is down by two runs, Pedro is up with a runner on first.

All season, the slugger had been praying to his voodoo god — Joboo — to help him hit the curve.  Nothing works.  Finally, with two strikes, Pedro steps out of the batters box, and speaks to Joboo for a final time.  “I go to you, I stick up for you,” Pedro says.  “If you no help me now, then [forget] you Joboo.  I do it myself.”   He then goes on to tie the game with a rocket home run, and the Indians win in the bottom of the ninth.  All because of Pedro.

Anyone who knows Eduflack knows he is a die-hard baseball fan (Go, Mets!) and an education reform advocate.  The two share a great number of characteristics.  We usually swing for the fences, and we often fail.  And we are considered an all-start if we can manage to succeed a third of the time.

These commonalities were even more clear yesterday, when Education Secretary Margaret Spellings announced her proposed regulations to strengthen NCLB.  Essentially, Spellings has assumed the role of Pedro Serrano (which is not so bad since he goes on to become U.S. President David Palmer on “24”).  For years, the field has been throwing a number of NCLB curveballs at Spellings.  She’s fouled many off.  She’s swung and missed on quite a few.  And up until her last at bat, she hasn’t made good contact on any pitch that wasn’t straight and easy down the plate.

Yes, she’s embraced NCLB.  She’s defended the law.  She’s believed in it.  But she left it to others to improve.  The Miller/McKeon draft was a deep fly ball that landed foul.  Kennedy’s revision of NCLB still hasn’t made it into the game.  And there’s Spellings insisting the NCLB was going to win it come the end of the game.

She started making contact earlier this spring, when she announced her flexibility measures in Minnesota.  This week, she finally parked one of those curveballs over the leftfield wall.  Just as everyone had written NCLB off as dead, just as we had declared that the status quo would win at the end, Spellings has tied up the game and left NCLB in a position to win in the final inning.

Some of her proposed regulations look remarkably similar to ideas floated by Buck McKeon and others.  That’s a good thing.  She’s learned from both her friends and opponents, and has demonstrated she is listening.  Her performance yesterday focused on the issues we wanted to hear.  Flexibility on AYP.  Strengthening school restructuring.  Establishing the NGA’s universal high school graduation rate.  Strengthening parental engagement.  All individuals hits.  Combined, they can win the game.

Of course, Spellings is now playing in a hostile park.  She’s not only facing tough critics from legislators and the education blob, she’s also hearing it from the crowd as many hope for a swing and a miss.  But she’s now showing she has the potential to knock in the winning run. 

How?  She needs to build public support for these administrative changes.  She needs to demonstrate a commitment to improving the law, not just protect it.  She needs to show that she is collaborating, both with her friends and enemies, to make the law better.  And she needs to communicate, communicate, communicate with any and all who may be involved in the implementation.

“Major League” is but a movie. Spellings is playing in real life.  And this isn’t just a one-game playoff.  These changes are for her legacy and for the domestic policy legacy of this Administration.  But that doesn’t mean she can’t have that Hollywood ending, and leave ED with a new, stronger NCLB.

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