The Perfect, The Good, or The Unacceptable?

All week, we have seen the kabuki theater that is the Senate HELP Committee debate the latest version of the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.  From Sen. Harkin (IA) negotiating against himself by weakening teacher accountability provisions before the markup even began to the reams of amendments intended by Sen. Paul (KY) to Sen. Sanders (VT) intending to place scarlet letters on the chests of any educator who didn’t experience four or six years of a traditional education school experience, it was theater to say the least.

This week, Eduflack debuts over at the National Journal’s Education Experts Blog.  The topic?  Harkin’s ESEA draft.  Check out my thoughts on how this is no longer a “perfect being the enemy of the good” deal, particularly when the proposed accountability provisions serve as a significant step back.

ESEA: It’s Finally Here (sorta)

The day has finally come.  This afternoon, Senate HELP Chairman Tom Harkin (IA) officially unveiled his draft of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.  The bill offers the sexy title “Elementary and Secondary Education Reauthorization Act of 2011.”

The highlights: Adequate Yearly Progress is history.  Race to the Top and i3 are woven into the tapestry of ESEA.  HQT is gone, replaced by a plan to better evaluate teachers.  
Alyson Klein over at EdWeek’s Politics K-12 has a great summary of the bill and why we were offered what was released today.
Even in advance of the release, civil rights organizations expressed concern about the ESEA draft, worried that the death of AYP provides the potential for turning back recent accountability measures and expanding some already dreadful achievement gaps.  You can see the full letter sent by six civil rights orgs today to Senator Harkin here.  That drumbeat is likely only going to get louder as the language is further sliced and diced.
One big question remains — Is it necessary?  At this stage of the game, NCLB is known mostly for its testing provisions, and most of those remain in the draft.  Replacing AYP with another tool and funding RttT and i3 on an annual basis are steps the EdSec can take, with or without a new ESEA (as long as he has a congressional checkbook to support the latter).  And we won’t even raise the issue of how this fits with House Education Chairman John Kline (MN)’s piecemeal approach to reauth.
So while this finally puts a flag in the edu-ground for Harkin and Senate Democrats, no one should be rushing to schedule a bill signing any time soon.  And if we truly want to get it on the calendar now, there are probably some lovely openings in the spring of 2013 just waiting to be booked.  That sounds about right for an ESEA reauth signing.
But we have to start somewhere, don’t we?

“Trust”-ing Ed Accountability

At this point in time, only the truly cockeyed optimist believes that ESEA reauthorization will be moving any time soon.  After missed deadlines, political roadblocks, budget showdowns, and the enacting of executive authority, it seems a safe bet that honest to goodness, comprehensive reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act won’t be a reality until 2013.

But that doesn’t mean we cannot focus on some of the key issues embodied in the reauthorization fight.  Chairman John Kline (MN) and the House Education and the Workforce Committee are trying to pick off specific policy topics, one by one, with the most recent action coming on charter schools.
In Getting it Right, Ed Trust reiterates the need for true accountability in K-12 education, whether such efforts are established through congressional reauthorization, administration waivers, telethon or local bake sales.  In refocusing our attentions on accountability at a time when so many states are struggling with meeting AYP, Ed Trust reminds us that good intentions are not enough in public education.  We need to get it right, close the gaps, and do what it takes to have every child succeed (or get out of the way).
Among the reccs coming from Ed Trust:
* Fix what the current law got wrong, including a better balance of federal, state, and local responsibilities.
* Preserve what current law got right, especially its laser-like focus on raising student achievement and closing gaps.
* Build on the real-world lessons of high-improving schools to establish challenging, yet realistic, goals for states.
In her letter releasing Getting it Right, Ed Trust President Kati Haycock noted:
In preparing for our second reauthorization in 2001, Ed
Trust looked hard at lessons learned from leading states and our work in
schools and districts. We also probed the limited data on student achievement
patterns that were available at that time. This research and preparation
suggested that the law’s provisions in two particular areas needed improvement:
accountability, on the one hand, and teacher quality and assignment patterns,
on the other. In the former category, which is the subject of this paper, we
sought to end the widespread practice of sweeping the underperformance of
certain groups of children under the rug of school-wide averages, ensuring to
the extent possible that the law held schools accountable for improving the
performance of all their students.

These are important words from an organization, and an executive, that were instrumental in moving the current ESEA into practice, particularly in historically disadvantaged communities that ESEA had long ignored.  Despite all of the chatter in recent years on the problems with accountability, the call to roll back current accountability provisions and the like, Ed Trust is clear that the debate is not more or less accountability.  The real issue, if we are concerned with our kids and the achievement gaps that separate them, is the quality of our accountability.
Whether the future of ESEA is one governed by congressional reauth or executive edict, accountability must remain front and center.  Federal and state, local and school, classroom and parent, all must be held accountable for the quality and outcomes of our public education system.

The ESEA Doomsday Scenario

After years of “will they/won’t they.” it appears the U.S. Department of Education is finally ready to move forward with its Plan B for reforming No Child Left Behind.  In a release sent out over the weekend for public consumption today, ED announced its intention to “fix” NCLB.  The announcement can be found here, courtesy of Politico.  Also note the Politico story on the matter.

Back in June, when EdSec Arne Duncan first raised the possibility of a regulatory Plan B for reauthorization, Eduflack was one of the few that actually saw it as a possibility/good idea.  Since then, little has changed.  Senate HELP Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (IA) is still primarily focused on the higher ed side of the education coin.  House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (MN) is still looking to break ESEA into small chunks that can be consumed by members of his committee.  And the education space, as a whole, is still demanding real changes to components of the current law, most notably the accountability provisions (the dreaded AYP).
So with Duncan long promising reauthorization before the start of a new school year (and Eduflack still believes such reauthorization can happen, before the start of the 2013 school year), the EdSec had to act.  And he seems to be acting from the best script he could find, using terms like “flexibility, reform at state and local level, bridge.”  And for good measure, Duncan and White House DPC Director Melody Barnes are even tying these moves to “America’s future competitiveness.”
In the public statement, Barnes even makes not of accountability flexibility provisions coming down the pike, with each and every state in the union having the opportunity to “apply” and “succeed” for states seeking “flexibility” with regard to accountability.
Suffice it to say, this morning’s announcement will likely not go over well with Congress.  Many will see this as an end run around our legislative branch, essentially giving the executive branch the power to make law, at least with regard to ESEA.  But we’ve been waiting on congressional reauthorization of ESEA since 2007.  It is now 2011.  If Duncan and company are prepared to live with NCLB as it is mostly written, and make a few changes to address specific issues or concerns from states and localities, it is their prerogative to give it a go.  It will then be Congress’ job to either codify those changes or reverse them.
Duncan is one again declaring “game on,” trying to make education a central focus of the Obama Administration’s domestic policy agenda.  While few can think that weakening the accountability provisions is a sexy issue that will capture the hearts and minds of voters, it is a move that is responsive to a particular constituency, demonstrates a real change from the previous administration, and shows some leadership with regard to education policy.  Only time will tell if such an approach is effective, both in addressing the growing challenges in our schools and as a means of jumpstarting some real K-12 action in Congress.

Saving Our Schools?

Most of those who read the education blogosphere or follow the myriad of edu-tweeters know that this weekend is the “Save Our
Schools” rally
 in Washington, DC.  On Saturday, teachers, parents, and concerned citizens with gather on the Ellipse.  They are encouraged to “arrive early to enjoy performances, art, and more!” and they are slated to hear from Diane Ravitch, Jonathan Kozol, Jose Vilson, Deborah Meier, Monty Neill, and “other speakers, musicians, performance poets, and more.”  This collection “will encourage, educate, and support this movement.”

For weeks now, we’ve seen the media savvy folks in the Save Our Schools clique use their blogs and Twitter feeds to promote the rally.  Ravitch has been touting it since its inception.  Teacher Ken has written about it on multiple blog platforms.  And Nancy Flanagan has used her perch at Education Week to tout the event, its justification, and its potential significance.
As I’ve written about many times before, successful public engagement is about far more than simply “informing” people on an issue.  Sharing information, as the slated speakers intend to do, is the easiest component of public engagement.  The hard work is affecting outcomes.  How do you move from informing at a rally to building measurable commitment to a specific solution?  How do you mobilize around that specific solution?  And ultimately, how do you successful change both thinking and action related to the issue?
To that end, rather than rehash the points and counterpoints that have been going back and forth, Eduflack simply has a few questions to ask:
* What is the expected turnout for the event?  Noting the “RSVP” function, how many actual attendees will be considered a success?  And how many physical bodies would be considered a failure?
* Will Save Our Schools disclose its funders?
* What are the tangible outcomes coming from the principles?  Does equitable funding mean moving more dollars into failing schools, or can it mean a new formula where funding follows the student?  Where do the dollars for all of the “full funding” come from?  What specific “multiple and varied assessments” are “demanded?”  What exactly do you propose for curriculum development (recognizing the bullets under the principle of curriculum seem to have little do do with actual curriculum development)?
* How does a weekend of speeches, music, and art “draw sustained attention to the critical issues?”
* And why are you following the kiss of death for many recent education movements, opening a “Save Our Schools” store?
I’m all for people have a good, fun time during these hot and humid summer days in our nation’s capital.  But if one is serious about school improvement (setting aside whether SOS’ agenda can be considered “improvement”), you need to offer a little more than arts and crafts.  Set an agenda.  Publicly disclose intentions.  Establish clear, measurable goals and report back on progress.  Allow the same public you are appealing to now to hold you accountable a year from now.  Without that, it is just another fun day in the sun, with chants of “go schools!” between games of ultimate frisbee.  And that gets us no closer to improving student achievement and potential for success.

Waivering on NCLB

How do you solve a problem like ESEA?  Last week, Eduflack opined on how ESEA reauthorization didn’t seem to be moving as scheduled, and how EdSec Arne Duncan and company could make due with NCLB with a few changes.  Based on Duncan’s remarks over the weekend, reported superbly (as always) by the Associated Press’ Dorie Turner, it looks like Eduflack was doing a little more than just whistlin’ in the wind.   

On the pages of Politico yesterday, Duncan made one final attempt to jumpstart ESEA reauthorization.  Otherwise, he may be forced to resort to “Plan B,” using his waiver powers to provide school districts and states some relief from those NCLB mandates that many want to see reversed, such as the accountability provisions.
Now folks have been talking about NCLB waivers and executive powers for years now.  Former EdSec Margaret Spellings made some adjustments to the law in 2008 through the powers invested in her, including adopting a common graduation rate formula.  And many have been waiting for Duncan to take similar action, expecting changes and adjustments since his confirmation in early 2009.
Of course, Duncan initiated talk of Plan B without going into specifics on what would be waived and what would be reconsidered.  And why should he?  The EdSec (and the President, for what it’s worth) has made clear he both wanted and needed a reauthorized ESEA by the start of the 2011-12 school year.  Just as he wanted a revised ESEA in 2009.  Just as he needed it in 2010.  And just as he wanted it earlier this year.  
And Duncan has made clear what he wants. More discretionary funding for programs like Race to the Top and i3.  Codifying RttT priorities such as educator quality and school turnaround.  A revised outlook on accountability, with an emphasis on college and career readiness (and those lovely common core standards).  Some flexibility for rural schools.  And a little more this, and a little more that.
He’s offered, time and again, to play Let’s Make a Deal with Congress.  Three years running, he’s had his people ready to work with congressional leaders on a new ESEA.  More than a year ago, he issued his ESEA Blueprint to provide Congress a map to get to the shared destination.  Yet here we are, more than four years after ESEA was supposed to be reauthorized, with the same NCLB and no new whole cloth legislation to consider in its stead.
So why not threaten to take your ball and go home?  At this stage of the game, why not offer Plan B, with details to come at a later date?  
Almost reminds me of the climax of Major League, when Pedro Cerrano is desperate for the game-winning home run, talking to his “spiritual guide, Jobu.  “Look, I go to you.  I stick up for you.  You don’t help me now.  I say *@&#*$ you, Jobu.  I do it myself.”
Duncan and his team have gone to Congress.  They’ve stuck up for Congress and many of the leadership’s priorities.  If Congress isn’t going to help them now, Duncan can just do it himself.
The remaining question now is whether Congress intends to step to the pitcher’s rubber on this one, or just let Duncan hit it off the tee.

Whither ESEA Reauth?

Earlier this year, President Obama and EdSec Arne Duncan made it perfectly clear.  We absolutely, positively needed ESEA reauthorization before the start of the 2011-2012 school year.  As we are now less than three months from that benchmark, how close are we?

Similarly, we heard promises from some in the U.S. Senate that a new ESEA bill would be offered to those on the senior circuit by Easter 2011.  The ears have been eaten off of virtually all the chocolate bunnies, and there is nary a stale jelly bean left.  But still no ESEA.
Unfortunately, it looks like we are no closer to reauthorization than we we last year, or in 2009, or even in 2007 (when it was originally due).  In fact, we may be further away than it seems.  Eduflack has said it before, and he’ll say it again.  In all likelihood, ESEA will be reauthorized in the first half of 2013.  (Yes, that isn’t a typo.  2013.)
Why?  Let’s take a look at things.  Round 3 Race to the Top and Round 2 Investing in innovation details went over like a lead balloon last week.  About a billion dollars in new spending for states and districts was discussed, yet few paid it much attention.  And those that did seemed to criticize it.  Too much money for early childhood education.  Too little money for Round 2 RttT finalists.  Yet another round of proposals, applications, and reviews for those seeking i3.  The ed reform merry-go-round continues, with heavy rhetoric but light financial incentive, at least by most perspectives.
Other than a Labor Day wish, we’ve seen little from the U.S. Department on Education regarding reauthorization.  No updated blueprint.  No new recommendations.  Just proposed program cuts and consolidations in the President’s budget, and the promise of more competitive grantmaking and investments in innovative ideas.  And some are already chattering that the folks on Maryland Avenue are going into “hunkering down” mode, just hoping to make it through the elections a mere 17 months away.
So let’s move to Capitol Hill.  On the House side, we have an Education Committee Chairman following Ohio State’s old “three yards and a cloud of dust” philosophy.  The House is moving incrementally, moving individual bills on individual issues to “fix” or “improve” NCLB.  Chairman John Kline (MN) has made his agenda clear, and the Committee will take things piece by piece.  Assuming the Senate acts on the House bills, we could have a nice little ESEA patchwork quilt by 2013, anchored by the original NCLB and enhanced by the patches and flourishes developed by the House committee.
And on the Senate side?  Chairman Tom Harkin (IA) has been resolute in his intention to bring ESEA reauthorization forward.  But in the absence of a final, complete piece of legislation, gossip has filled the void.  Is there a full piece of ESEA reauth, based on the components that have been floating around for months?  Will the chairman bypass the usual process for moving legislation forward, and instead just move to a multi-day, full committee markup of the NCLB law?  Or will the Senate follow the Kline model and start picking off important issues like special education, ECE, rural ed, and accountability?  
Only time will tell which path we actually head down.  But it begs one important question.  Do we really need ESEA reauthorization right now?  Short of the EdSec acting to address the AYP pitfalls coming in 2014, are there other necessary changes to enact in ESEA?  RttT and i3 can continue without being codified in ESEA.  Tweaks to teacher quality can proceed, as can much of the turnaround efforts.  And we can continue to focus on data systems and assessment models and even common core without making changes to ye olde ESEA.
Assuming Duncan and company can secure the dollars for their agenda in the upcoming budget, 2013 doesn’t seem so bad after all.  Sure, you don’t get the bounce in your step from passing “landmark legislation,” but you have little preventing you from enacting your plans and policies.

Some Chamber Education

For the past two years, the education community has been all abuzz about the role of reform organizations in the process.  What are TFA and NLNS saying?  What are Gates and Broad trying to do?  What about that DFER and 50CAN expansion?  We hang on every word, analyze every check, and scrutinize every action.  Good or bad (depending on your perspective), these reform groups have become our own education reality TV programming.

It gets so intense that we almost forget about those groups that were pushing “reform” before reform was cool.  But many of those organizations have not yet ridden off into the sunset.  Today’s exhibit A — the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
For years, the Chamber has been promoting college and career readiness through its Institute for a Competitive Workforce (which, interestingly, is now championing early childhood education).  Its Leaders and Laggards analysis, particularly 2007’s on school effectiveness, has a been a useful tool.  The Chamber even has former EdSec Margaret Spellings as a senior advisor and president of its U.S. Forum for Policy Innovation. 
But this little history lesson isn’t the focus of Eduflack’s attention.  Instead, I was drawn in by the Chamber’s advertising in this week’s Roll Call newspaper, the back page of the newspaper, no less.
The full-page ad offers the header, “Congress, Don’t Fail on Education Reform.”  Building off of the photo of a confused kindergartner, the Chamber offers some chronological stats.  For 2021, “By the time he reaches the ninth grade, he could be part of the 70% of middle school students who score below grade level in reading and math.”  For 2025, “If he makes it to high school, he may be one of the 1.3 million American students who drop out of high school.  And for 2027, “If he gets to college, he may be among the 40% of students who will be required to enroll in remedial courses.”
The call to action has three components to it.  “Congress, act now to: Hold our nation’s schools accountable; Promote effective teachers; and Provide choices to parents.”
Yes, we’ve heard these statistics before (and often from Spellings and company when they ran Maryland Avenue).  The call to action could be from either the NCLB era or from EdSec Duncan’s own ESEA blueprint.  So let’s go a little deeper into the rhetoric.
The ad closes with two additional sentences of text.  “Now is not the time to retreat from our national commitment to the success of every child.  If we don’t address our broken education system today, then our kids and our nation will pay the price.”
A little old school, a little new school (or a little Texas, a little Chicago, if you prefer).  The first sentence, a clear defense of NCLB and its role in putting us on the path to success.  The latter, borrowed from President Obama and his call for change.  Which leads to the confusion.  So now is not the time to retreat from our broken education system?  If not now, when?  And if not now, why not?
In many ways, the Chamber’s latest advertising campaign is but a microcosm of our current struggles in school improvement.  We need to build on the successes of the past, while casting aside the reforms that didn’t work.  We need to display a sense of urgency for change, but need to do so in a way tips a hat to those doing well.  And we need to do it all in an environment where the average person, even the average congressman, believes the average school district and average school building is doing just fine.
As always, the devil is in the details.  Whose version of accountability should Congress follow?  Which definition of effective teachers?  And what “choices” do we want to provide to parents?  Where Congress (and governors and state legislators) turn for answers is the next great education policy battleground.  Will anyone besides the “reformy” groups step forward and offer some substantive, even if unpopular, policy reccs to address such issues?  Only time will tell …

The CR Ain’t All Bad …

Last week, Eduflack detailed the long and distinguished list of “losers” in the FY2011 Continuing Resolution and the ongoing budget fight between the White House and Congress.  All those billions that both sides had to cut needed to come from somewhere and, unfortunately, education was unable to avoid the knife.

Fortunately, President Obama made it easy for those looking to nip and tuck from the ED budget.  In the previous two budget cycles, Obama offered up lists of programs to either be eliminated or consolidated in the ED budget.  Those programs eliminated were often cited for a lack of efficacy.  Those consolidated into a potential competitive grant program were victims of a new world order when competition is king, and the dollars for a competitive process needed to come from somewhere.  So if the President wasn’t going to protect specific education programs in his own budget, it made them easy pickin’s for an opposition Congress.
But it seems there was a bit of good edu-news in the CR after all.  Yes, we saw increased in Race to the Top ($700 million), Investing in Innovation ($150 million), and Promise Neighborhoods ($20 million more).  But there was also some interesting policy language inserted into the CR.
While campaigning in 2008, Obama often spoke of the importance of early childhood education.  Good ECE and good parenting were the cornerstone to his child development plans.  But that rhetoric never seemed to translate into real policies.  Parental engagement continues to lag, despite both authority and funding under NCLB.  And although ECE offered real promise in 2008, the realities of state budget cuts have stymied expansion plans, with ED and HHS relatively unsure of who should actually take control of moving strong, evidence-based ECE into practice.  At least until last week, say the experts.
Buried in the wording regarding the additional $700 million for RttT is language that adds a new priority to ED’s prized RttT.  ED, along with early childhood education advocates, are touting the addition of “Improving Early Childhood Care and Education” as a RttT priority and something Race dollars can now fund.  (Always the skeptic, Eduflack must admit that I’m still not completely sure how this differs from the original Priority 3: Invitational Priority — Innovations for Improving Early Learning Outcomes, but I must just be hung up on the language of the language.)
This is potentially a major step forward for ECE in two ways.  First, it opens up new funding streams.  While it doesn’t provide specific, dedicated ED funds for ECE, it does confirm that RttT dollars can be spent on early childhood education.  ECE can now be a fundable component of those grants seeking a piece of the $700 million in extra pie.  And one could even make the case of adding ECE efforts to the current RttT winners’ effort.
More importantly, though, the language addition signals a general commitment — from both the Administration and the Congress — that early childhood education is a key component of the educational continuum.  We turn around low-performing schools, in part, by better preparing kids for school in the first place.  We address the dropout and remediation problems by ensuring that kindergartners are not starting the formal learning process a year or two behind some of their classmates.  We make a difference by providing instructional building blocks early and often, finally declaring that ECE, if done correctly, is more than just babysitting on the cream and the clear.
While there is still much work to be done to build up our national commitment to high-quality early childhood education, the new RttT language is definitely a start.  Add some significant dedicated funding, and we might really have something here.
UPDATE: So sometimes a priority just isn’t a priority.  Per my confusion about Priority 3: Invitational Priority versus this new priority in the CR.  As it has been explained to me, the Priority 3 is the “absolute, competitive and invitational priorities” in the original RttT applications.  The new priority, on improving early childhood care and education, added a new priority to the RttT authorization statute.  So early childhood now joins 1) maintenance of effort; 2) achieving equity in teacher distribution; 3) improving collection and use of data; 4) standards and assessment; and 5) supporting struggling schools.    

The Perfect and the Good

For much of the last week, Eduflack has been down in New Orleans, living the edu-life.  First stop was the Education Writers Association (EWA), followed by a multi-day play at the American Educational Research Association (AERA).

(As an aside, EWA has to be my favorite conference of the year.  I have to attend A LOT of education events each year, and I thoroughly enjoy EWA.  It is a fantastic opportunity for me to get to know a lot of the reporters and bloggers I know virtually, and I always get a kick when some of the associates consider me a “journalist” because of this little blog.)
At any rate, there was clearly a catch phrase at EWA this year from the policymakers and talking heads trying to influence reporter-think.  “Let’s not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”  While I would argue that none of us in attendance are exactly a 21st century Voltaire, it was an interesting observation heard over multiple days.
EdSec Arne Duncan used it in reference to ESEA reauthorization.  Again stating his belief that we will have reauth done before the start of the school year (and more importantly, noting that we NEED to have it done be by the end of the summer), Duncan made clear that ESEA won’t be perfect (he didn’t quite make Margaret Spellings’ 99.94% pure remarks).  But real improvements must be made to the current law.  We know what those improvements are.  We have some agreement on those improvements.  So let’s move forward now down the good path, knowing ESEA will never be perfect for all comers.
The battle between the perfect and the good was also made with regard to teachers and value-added evaluation.  In discussing the great siege on Los Angeles teachers in 2010 (the LA Times is releasing version two of its teacher database in the next week or two) and similar pending efforts in NYC, the general sense was that revealing such data is a “good thing,” albeit an imperfect thing. 
And similar remarks made testing and assessment blush, particularly on issues like common standards and adequately and fairly measuring student achievement across the nation and around the world.
It is all a subtle shift in rhetoric, but an important one for the school improvement debate.  For about a decade now, we were certain in what we needed to do.  NCLB was perfect (or 99.94% so).  RF was perfect.  SBR was perfect.  AYP was perfect.  And even now, CCSSI is perfect.  But with all of this perfection, we’ve seen little growth in student achievement and little agreement on the paths we should head, the speed we should take, and the ultimate destination we should seek.
So now we are focusing on common sense progress.  What incremental steps can we take?  What promising practices can we follow?  What gets us half of the way forward?  Instead of throwing that Hail Mary we’ve all sought in education for decades, we have made the decided shift to a “three yards and a cloud of dust” approach lately.  (Sorry, Mr. Duncan, they can’t all be basketball metaphors.)
Such a rhetorical adjustment has both its pluses and its negatives.  It is harder for the opposition to remain strong when they aren’t fighting an “all or nothing” approach.  It is more difficult to stand against forward progress, even if it is slow.  But it is also more difficult rally strong support.  For supporters, who wants to go slow or compromise or wait patiently?
Will the education community’s embrace of Voltaire win the day?  The challenge EdSec Duncan and his supporters in the ed space have is a matter of priority.  Championing the good is a fine strategy if we can identity primary and secondary needs at this point.  But with ESEA, a range of funding issues from RttT to SIG, common core standards, revisions to AYP, teacher performance and incentive issues, and a host of other topics, something has to give.  In the pursuit of the good, we have to recognize that even good can be subjective.  We’ll never be perfect, but we still need to determine those one or two issues on which we can be really good this year.