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?