The Strangest of Bedfellows on Ed Reform

This morning’s New York Times Opinion page headline says it all — “How to Rescue Education Reform.”  No, this isn’t the first time we have tried to diagnose the ed reform movement nor is this the first (or last) effort to talk through how ed reform can drive the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

What makes the NYT piece so interesting is who shares the byline.  The most recent piece on how to rescue education reform is co-authored by AEI Education Policy Director Rick Hess and Stanford University Professor Linda Darling-Hammond.  While not exactly the Burns and Allen we’d expect to see on education reform, Hess and Darling-Hammond offer an interesting and refreshing perspective on public education’s needs.  The fact that it comes from two individuals who most would believe couldn’t agree that the ed world is round or that it rotates around the sun makes the reccs even more interesting.
And what, exactly, do the dynamic duo offer up?  After agreeing that the federal government “should not micromanage schools, but should focus on the four functions it alone can perform,” Darling-Hammond and Hess point to these four functions:
* Encouraging transparency for school performance and spending, noting that “Without transparency, it’s tough for parents, voters and taxpayers to hold schools and public officials accountable.”
* Ensuring that basic constitutional protections — such as civil rights and special education — are respected.
* Supporting basic research, particularly that which “asks fundamental questions.”
* Providing “voluntary, competitive federal grants that support innovation while providing political cover for school boards, union leaders and others to throw off anachronistic routines.”
On the latter, it is important to note that the authors don’t necessarily see Race to the Top as that innovation, noting that RttT “tried to do some of this, but it ended up demanding that winning states hire consultants to comply with a 19-point federal agenda, rather than truly innovate.”
And what shouldn’t the federal government do?  According to the newest Batman and Robin of education, the feds shouldn’t focus on making schools and teachers improve.  Too much is simply lost in translation as we take it from the Feds down to the schools and districts that need to put it to use.  “The federal government can make states, localities and schools do things — but not necessarily do them well,” Hess and Darling-Hammond write.
So what say you, education community?  Are Linda and Rick onto something?  Have we been over thinking and over planning ESEA reauthorization?  Do we need to focus on a few core principles and not try to be everything for everyone?  Or can we not get beyond the shock of this partnership and thus fail to see the merits of the argument?

2 thoughts on “The Strangest of Bedfellows on Ed Reform

  1. In my opinion making reforms in the educational system is an obligatory permanent process, that should not influence in any negative way the system, but only improve it and adopt it to the everyday changing life!

  2. The Federal government should do one more thing: fund IMPLEMENTATION of research in best instructional methods. The rationale is expressed well in this Scientific American blog: “So—why are we still using these out-dated methods in our schools?The biggest problem I see: once the research is conducted, the data collected, and the conclusions drawn, the researchers move on to the next study and everyone forgets all about that most important part—putting the research to practical use in actual schools with real students, not just subjects in a lab.…Once data has been provided that demonstrates the usefulness of a new educational method, as a society, I feel we are obligated to make sure steps are taken to put it to actual use. Otherwise, why are we funding educational research, anyway? Just because it’s cool or fun to see what kinds of positive change is possible? Don’t we actually want those changes implemented in our own kids’ schools so they can benefit as well? I see lots of talk about the government’s new commitment to funding non-traditional research on education, but what about the next step? As well as funding the research behind these studies, we need to think of some funding to get the methods implemented in practice.” my comment after that blog, which relates it to our work at Arizona State University with high school physics teachers’ professional development (PD) in Modeling Instruction, a highly effective method of teaching science.Teaching method is the most important factor in student learning! Stigler and Hiebert expressed it well in their updated 2009 preface to The Teaching Gap (1999), their TIMSS study of 8th grade math instruction in the U.S.A, Japan, and Germany. I quote: “. . . most policy efforts to improve classroom teaching focus on teachers rather than teaching, attending mostly to who is in the classroom instead of on what they do when they get there. Most policy work aimed at improving teaching has focused on recruiting better teachers: increasing the qualifications of teachers, making the certification processes more rigorous, and improving the salaries and working conditions for teachers. Little attention has been paid to the methods these teachers will use to promote better student learning. The distinction between teachers and teaching is an important one. In fact, we believe that until U.S. educators understand and appreciate the difference, classroom teaching will not change much.”Our research confirms this. A disaster looms. Research points to high school physics as the chief STEM pathway. A student who takes interactive engagement high school physics is 3 times more likely to earn a STEM degree than a student whose last science course was chemistry. Yet Federal funding for physics teacher PD threatens to END in the ESEA reauthorization. See

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