Friday, March 19, 2010

A Blueprint For…..?

Here are DFER board member Andy Rotherham's comments and concerns:

There is a lot to like in the Obama Administration's blueprint for a new Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The idea of college and career ready standards, a push for innovation, attention to public school choice, and some big changes around programs intended to support better teaching are all good as priorities.   And this proposal clearly tries to weave together the various policy themes the administration has championed to date through its school improvement grants, Race to the Top, and I3. That's good, too.  But there seems to be a four-pronged problem that isn't getting a lot of attention in the generally effusive praise.

First, the document is largely aspirational.   It's hard to argue with the priorities but the action is in the details.   You'd think that at some point the administration would get wise to the problems of leaving the details of major policy priorities to the Congress.  

…But this raises the second problem:  The plan relies on state capacity and will and arguably over-relies on it.   The track record there is not good and that may prove to be an enormous implementation hurdle for this plan.  Ambitions for the states outstrip what they can do right now or what they want to do.  In fact, a close reading of the Race to the Top applications shows that while you've got a few outliers on the high side (less than 16, one can only assume that cut off for finalists was a substantial natural break in the scores) most states were pretty unimpressive even when presented with that opportunity.  And the kind of accountability systems the administration envisions are a long way from reality right now in most states, how will that problem be bridged without creating a (much wanted by many interest groups) hiatus from today's pressure for school improvement.  Finally, absent federal pressure, what evidence is there that all (or even most) states will remain ambitious on accountability, especially for under-served populations?

Third, on the politics, how is this not 2007 all over again?  The teachers unions hate it, the Republicans on the Hill seem to be lying in wait, and so you again have an enthusiastic secretary and a seasoned reform leader in George Miller trying to draw to an inside straight.



A Blueprint For…..?

Andy Rotherham, Eduwonk

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