Driving to the Rim: Can Arne Change the Game? Or, Do We Face More Mindless Accountability?

 

 
A year ago Super Tuesday days away … Hillary was going to be the big winner … and coast to the nomination … Bloomberg’s term was expiring …oh well,  the best laid plans …
 
Now, the question is whether union leaders will have a real role “at the table,” or, be back in the crowd at the bill signing.
 
The unions paid obeisance to the new Ed Secty  … and as the stimulus package moves toward passage it is clear that Arne Duncan has taken his Chicago agenda to DC.
 
The House bill contained a number of items dear to the hearts of the “reform” caucus  … in a phone conference, George Miller,  the Chair of the House Ed Committee explains
 

And he told us that those ed-reformy programmatic choices—including a $200 million boost for the Teacher Incentive Fund, which doles out grants for performance pay, $250 million for state data systems, and a $25 million fund for charter school facilities—were sought by the Obama administration.

Those provisions didn’t make it into the Senate bill, a development Mike Petrilli over at Flypaper bemoaned yesterday.

But Miller seems to think they’ll stay in through conference.

“These are the priorities of President Obama,” Rep. Miller said. “I believe they’ll make it through and I hope they’ll make it through.

In not too many months the House Ed Committee will begin debating the reauthorization of No Child left Behind … and you can bet it’ll get a different name!!

In the waning moments of his first press conference Obama riffed on his ed philosophy … charter schools, performance pay and “firing bad teachers.”

Both Democrats and Republicans are going to have to think differently in order to come together and solve that problem. I think there are areas like education where some in my party have been too resistant to reform, and have argued only money makes a difference. And there have been others on the Republican side or the conservative side who said no matter how much money you spend, nothing makes a difference, so let’s just blow up the public school systems.

And I think that both sides are going to have to acknowledge we’re going to need more money for new science labs, to pay teachers more effectively, but we’re also going to need more reform, which means that we’ve got to train teachers more effectively, bad teachers need to be fired after being given the opportunity to train effectively, that we should experiment with things like charter schools that are innovating in the classroom, that we should have high standards.

So my whole goal over the next four years is to make sure that whatever arguments are persuasive and backed up by evidence and facts and proof that they can work, that we are pulling people together around that kind of pragmatic agenda.

Earlier in the day Ed Secty Duncan, was speaking at the American Council on Education, he hailed the House version of the stimulus bill and spanked the Senate for removing school construction dollars. He went on to sketch policies

We have to start by recognizing that our system of education is not aligned. Every state has different high school standards.

If we accomplish one thing in the coming years—it should be to eliminate the extreme variation in standards across America.

I know that talking about standards can make people nervous—but the notion that we have fifty different goalposts is absolutely ridiculous.

A high school diploma needs to mean something—no matter where it’s from.

And, he continued with a little slap at teacher unions.

He tells unions that with American education in crisis—we can’t be limited by ideology.

We all must honestly acknowledge failed strategies of the past and explore new ones—from charter schools to performance pay—and if they’re not working we must be honest about that also.

I must say the Obama/Duncan ed plan, as little as we have seen, looks a lot more like the Klein/Education Equality Project than the AFT/UFT/Broader, Bolder Coalition.

The hardest lift will be national standards. The accountability aspects of NCLB were an attempt, albeit a failed one, to move the nation’s school to a “proficiency” standard. Unfortunately the path was left to the states, with the feds holding a club over non-performers. In New York City and Chicago the reaction has been the closing of “failing” schools, without any evidence that the successor schools, and especially the students in those “failing” schools have benefited.

“Performance pay” or “performance incentives” are vaguely defined with relatively little research.  The NYC plan  is a bonus plan rather than an individual pay for performance plan. As data improves the research will increase and, in time, we will have firm data on teacher performance. The unanswered question: will pay for performance “incentivize” teaching?

The stimulus bill, hopefully, will pass, TARP 2 will on the agenda, and in the weeks ahead Congress will get down to the mundane tasks of legislating. At the State level huge deficits hover, with possible teacher layoffs still a real possibility.

Will Barack and Arne engage with Randi and Joel and Michelle and Wendy? or, will the economic morass push ed policy into the background? Are we, once again, facing years of mindless accountability, this time with a velvet glove? Will Arne/Barack ignore the impact of poverty on academic achievement?

As the crocuses peek into a February sky we hope that Arne will not be a continuation of Spellings, with a dash of Joel and Michelle.

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