The Battle for Education: Obama, the “Bolder” versus the “Reformers,” What Will Be the Direction of Education Policy?

The democratic candidate quest ends with a whimper, Hillary concedes, and vigorously endorses Obama. We would hope that both camps can create a wave of democratic voters and victory in November.
 On the education front the battle for the heart and mind of Obama kicked off this week with two manifestos.  
The Broader, Bolder Approach to Education coalition, that includes Diane Ravich, Debbie Meier, Richard Rothstein, Peter Edelman, Rudy Crew and Pedro Noguera looks to education as well as broader social policy issues.

America has a decision to make. We can continue to pursue education strategies that focus on schools alone and on narrow, test-based accountability—and be content with the modest improvements long associated with this approach. Or we can ratchet up our ambitions and adopt a new and expanded strategy with the capacity to improve student achievement and adult outcomes more effectively and efficiently.

Weakening the link between social and economic disadvantage and low student achievement—leaving no child behind—is an urgent national priority. With our population aging and schools serving a growing number of disproportionately poor immigrant children, the future viability of our Social Security, health, and other social institutions will be affected by how well we educate young people of all backgrounds.

The following day the Education Equality Project, co-chaired by Joel Klein and Al Sharpton, that includes Cory Booker, Geoffrey Canada, Kati Haycock, Ernest Logan and Michelle Rhee, among others.

Despite the urgency of the need and the righteousness of the cause, public education today remains mired in a status quo that not only ill serves most poor children, but shows little prospect of meaningful improvement.

  1. We must have an honest and forthright conversation about the root causes of this national failure. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. That is the trap we must avoid or risk losing another generation of our children.
  2. The sad reality is that these systems are not broken. Rather, they are doing what we have designed them to do over time. The systems were not designed with the goal of student learning first and foremost, so they are ill-equipped to accomplish what is demanded of them today.
  3. Changing the system so that it better meets the needs of students will require not only a shift in our collective thinking, but also a shift in power. As the civil rights movement itself makes clear, such transformations inevitably generate resistance and political conflict. We must no longer shirk from that struggle. The stakes are simply too high.
Obama’s education policy is pretty vanilla, and it is likely he will steer clear of moving toward either “camp.”
New York Times columnist David Brooks muses over the direction of Obama’s ed policy, and seems to lean toward the Klein coalition, calling itself the “Reform” coalition.
Can we create high achieving schools? Kati Haycock of the Education Trust, a signer of the Klein paper points to thousands of examples of effective schools in high poverty neighborhoods and highlights the qualities of those schools, and asks, why can’t we create more highly effective inner city schools?
Richard Rothstein, a signer of the Bolder Coalition paper, and the author of Class and Schools, indicates that unless the issues of poverty are addressed schools can only have narrow successes.
The agendas are not mutually exclusive, and, Arne Duncan, the school superintendent in Chicago signed both papers.
The Klein-Sharpton manifesto poses as a civil rights agenda and is attractive to those who see themselves as the decendents of the giants of the 60’s. They see “powerful forces,” aka teacher unions, as impediments, defending the “rights” of members over the needs of children, negotiating contracts that impede rather than support education.
Rothstein-Meier-Ravitch shun the accountability based No Child Left Behind approach and point to the lack of adequate healthcare, joblessness, inadequate housing, poor nutrition, and the host of pathologies associated with poverty.
New Yorkers who view Klein policies as an aberration are mistaken. For many around the country the “Reform” coalition resonates … and with philanthropist Mike in the background they will be a powerful force in the national debate.
The United Auto Workers (UAW) are a powerful union, once upon a time a million members. They were tough, they called strikes, they lobbied in Washington, and slowly but surely the unionized auto worker disappeared. The “classic” approach to trade unionsim failed.
Teachers face similar obstacles.
Attacks on tenure, seniority, pensions, and so-called “rigid” union rules are growing across the nation. How will the NEA and the AFT respond? Will the “classic” trade union approach fend off the critics?  Are teacher unions agile and nimble enough to both protect their members and improve student achievement, aka, close the achievement gap?
I hear teachers dismiss vouchers … “it’ll never happen …” A look across the pond to Sweden may change some minds.
BIG-STATE, social-democratic Sweden seems an odd place to look for a free-market revolution. Yet that is what is under way in the country’s schools. Reforms that came into force in 1994 allow pretty much anyone who satisfies basic standards to open a new school and take in children at the state’s expense. The local municipality must pay the school what it would have spent educating each child itself …  Children must be admitted on a first-come, first-served basis—there must be no religious requirements or entrance exams. Nothing extra can be charged for, but making a profit is fine.
What are the greater dangers, unrestricted school vouchers or the Klein Reform model? Or, are they Scylla and Charybdis?
And, by the way, where does Barack stand?

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