Some Ed Reccs for Senator Obama

Now that he is all but the official Democratic presidential nominee, it is time for Senator Barack Obama to start putting out some real ideas — real policies — that complement his vision for the future.  For most Democrats, that means a clear education policy, one that goes from pre-natal to geriatric.

Unfortunately, Obama’s message of hope and opportunity doesn’t quite jive with the education (particularly K-12) mantras of hopelessness and obstacles.  How do we restore hope for education reform in an industry that has been paralyzed by the fear of change?

More than a year ago, Eduflack offered some recommendations to the Democratic candidates running for president on how they can focus on education.  Since then, we’ve seen Ed in 08 and others try to do the same.  What’s funny is how wrong I was in March of 2007.  I thought it was a gimme that the Democrats would focus on education, seeing it as a great equalizer and a bridge to a stronger economy and better jobs.  How wrong I was!  Even the talking snowman has gotten more media play than the party’s education ideas.

But let’s take a second to look back on Eduflack’s specific recommendations, knowing full well they are just as strong and pertinent today as they were a year ago:

1.  We all must commit to improve our schools.  We cannot and should not simply protect the status quo.  That means having hard conversations with the teachers unions and pushing them and school administrators to make hard decisions.  Sacrifices today can yield improvements tomorrow. 

2. Additional funding does not directly result in improved achievement.  For every carrot, there is a stick.  If we are to increase NCLB spending (and we should, particularly to get effective teachers in the classroom), we need to ensure that such funding increases are focused on proven programs, improved assessments, and effective interventions.  As a nation, we will pay more if we see the results.

3. National standards level the playing field.  Regardless of who controls Congress or the White House, no one should be afraid of national education standards.  Such standards offer a promise of equity in all of our schools.  For those traditional blue states, and the urban centers located in them, national standards ensure that all students, regardless of their hometown, race, or socioeconomic status, are taught and measured compared to every other student in the country.  That equal field only helps when it comes to college, to jobs, and to life.

4. The time has come for Democrats to push the unions.  Can anyone honestly say that our schools wouldn’t benefit from teacher improvement.  HQT provisions in NCLB are fine, but the NCLB Commission got it right — we need to focus on effective teachers, not just qualified ones.  Teaching is one of the most difficult jobs out there, but intellectually and emotionally.  We need to do everything possible to support those teachers on the front lines.  But we also need to recognize that not everyone is cut out for the challenge.  Our schools need an assessment/improvement/mentoring model for all teachers.  Good teachers will thrive.  Those not destined to teach can move on with their professional lives.

5. Education reform is a shared responsibility.  Meaningful change is not just left to the teachers or the national education organizations.  Just as Hillary Clinton wrote about it taking a village to raise a child, it also takes a village to educate one.  Improving our schools requires teamwork.  Teachers and parents, business and community leaders, local, state, and federal officials all play a role in identifying, implementing, and assessing meaningful, results-based reform.  Shared responsibility results in shared success.

I maintain that all of these are still cogent, winning issues for Obama.  Case in point, Obama’s previous endorsement of teacher merit pay.  It is a strong idea, and one that can have an immediate impact on teacher and instructional quality in the schools.  It is an idea that resonates with most parents, and means something to local decisionmakers.  And it is a concept that the unions — particularly the NEA — greatly oppose.  We all recognize that Obama and the teachers unions are allies.  But performance pay can be one of those flag-in-the-sand moments that demonstrates Obama’s independence and the priority of kids in his education policy.

But it all seems to loop back around to national standards.  The National Governors Association and CCSSO have long been champions of a the concept.  This week, the National Association of Secondary School Principals threw its collective weight behind the issue as well.  And Obama endorser Roy Romer has been carrying the banner for it over at Ed in 08. 

Imagine the rhetorical impact national standards could have coming out of Obama’s mouth.  The opportunity that all U.S. students, regardless of their home state, are learning and achieving together.  The belief that the nation is stronger academically, and can measure it, because of national standards.  The elimination of have and have not states, knowing that a kid in Alabama is getting the same education as a kid in Connecticut.  Imagine.

Senator Obama, it is quite easy for you to write off education policy as part of your stump speech this all.  You’ll have the endorsement of the unions.  Education has never been a strong policy concern of Senator McCain’s.  And the anti-NCLB crowds will crow a vote for a Dem is a vote against NCLB.

But as you have all year, you have the opportunity to tell us what you stand for, and not just what you speak against.  If your recent anti-NCLB remarks are coming from the heart, tell us what you will do to fix the law.  If you are concerned about high-stakes testing, let Romer and company develop a national standard that lessens the stress on our student test takers.  But please, please, please, do and stand for something.

We’ve spend far too much time in recent years talking about what’s wrong and what we’re opposed to.  We need more people — particularly our leaders — telling us what they stand for in education reform.

3 thoughts on “Some Ed Reccs for Senator Obama

  1. The thing about positing ideas for eduaction reform is that they’re a dime a dozen. Robert Hess talked about how reform regimes (i.e. politics that gear toward education reform) can end up like spinning wheels, churning policy after policy with no real traction for margins of error or delayed results. While there is certainly a need for reform, I would seem sceptacle about a candidate running on reform ideas because he or she can end up just pandering to the crowd. While an education platform is crucial, I think we need longer term players that make the big decisions, and not a 4 year spinning of wheels. In other words, yes, I’d like to see serious talk about education policy by the big guns, but I really want policies that stick, and not just meet the fancy of the hour. You know what I mean?Cheers,Sina

  2. I have a huge problem with national standards if they are implemented as standards are today. Standards create arbitrary grade level groupings tied to age. There is no evidence that this is effective. Standards become a median goal for a non-existant median child.Standards become cookie cutters that hold back kids ready for more and frustrate kids not ready for them yet.If you have standards decoupled from age/grade/phase of the moon then you’ve got something. A national standard, that perpetuates the arbitrary groupings we have now, would not be productive.

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