Iron Chef Education

I guess we have our official new education buzz phrase to replace “no child left behind”.

Race to the Top

Does anyone else think that sounds like the title of a game show?

Reading news reports from last week’s reveal of Obama’s new education reform proposal reminded me of one of those television cooking contests.

As near as I can tell, the federal government is going to divvy up a huge pot of money among contestants states who take the same secret ingredients and mix them together into an educational stew, one that will like be only slightly different from one plate to the next.

But the pieces of this new educational recipe really aren’t all that new.

On Friday, Obama will officially announce the “Race to the Top,” a competition for $4.35 billion in grants. He wants states to use funds to ease limits on charter schools, tie teacher pay to student achievement and move for the first time toward common academic standards.

Of course the primary method currently used to assess student learning will continue to be the corporate produced and scored multiple choice test, a vehicle which is cheap and easy but offers little or no real information.

Only now we’re going to have a national version of these “assessments”, with student scores linked to the pay of their teachers.

The Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan calls this plan Education reform’s moon shot.

It sounds more like a low-rent cooking show in which the cooks use third-rate ingredients to make the same minimally-acceptable meal.

Education is All About The Feng Shui

So, what’s the biggest problem with No Child Left Behind?

Exactly, it’s all about the name and a bad image.

The Obama administration has made clear that it is putting its own stamp on education reform. That will mean a new name and image for a law that has grown unpopular with many teachers and suburban parents, even though it was enacted with bipartisan support in Congress.

“It’s like the new Coke. This is a rebranding effort,” said Joe Williams, executive director of Democrats for Education Reform. “The feng shui people believe you need to take the roof off buildings to allow bad chi to escape. Let’s hope this helps.”

Bad feng shui? Really?

Ok, if there was a really crappy product on the shelves of your local store, and you knew it was really crappy, and the manufacturer gave it a new name and put it in different packaging, would that make the contents any less crappy?

NCLB is built on incredibly flawed concepts and the implementation was a mess from day one.

It needs to be torn down and trashed (just like the cheesy school house representing it at the DOE) instead of slapping on a new label.

More of the Same is Not Reform

This week Time Magazine has an interview with Arne Duncan, the secretary of education, calling him an Apostle of Reform.

Nice title. However, you won’t find much “reform” for American schools in what he has to say.

Duncan wants kids to spend more time in class, which makes very little sense without talking about what they will be doing with those extra minutes.

More of the same is not reform.

He likes charter schools and wants to give parents more choice.

Which is fine until you realize that most charters use the identical instructional model, curriculum, and materials as public schools.

More of the same is not reform.

And choice is wonderful as long as the people doing the choosing have a good understanding of their options.

If you plan to ask parents to select a school for their child, they first need understand the different educational philosophies being used by the charters.

As opposed picking the one with the slickest marking campaign.

Then we get to No Child Left Behind.

Duncan thinks the problem with this train-wreck of a law is that we need national goals instead of letting each state set their own.

That goal would be to have “common college-ready international benchmark standards”.

Roughly translated that means one standardized test that continues to focus American education on sending every child to college.

Whether or not that form of post-K12 training is the best fit with the interests and skills of the student.

In other words, more of the same.

Throwing Money

The morning Post tells me that our new Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, gets $5 billion from the newly approved economic stimulus bill to support “educational innovation”.

What the article doesn’t do is offer a clear idea of what anyone in charge means by “innovation”.

However, I have a couple of ideas for where to start.

Kill off No Child Left Behind and go looking for classrooms that don’t look like they did fifty years ago, including those not in the US.

And don’t send a dime to KIPP or anyone pushing AP classes as their one and only solution.

Move Along… Nothing New Here

Arne Duncan, nominee to be Secretary of Education, had his confirmation hearing before a Senate committee yesterday.

So, what did the future leader of American education have to say?

He laid out a thoroughly pragmatic agenda, vowing “to scale up what works” to raise student achievement. He said the Obama administration intended to expand early childhood programs, encourage charter schools, improve teacher training and recruitment, reduce the high school dropout rate and increase college access. He called education a moral obligation, an economic imperative and “the civil rights issue of our generation.”

He also stated.

“We must do dramatically better. We must continue to innovate,” Duncan said. “We must build upon what works. We must stop doing what doesn’t work. And we have to continue to challenge the status quo.”

Sorry, but the agenda he outlined for the panel contains very little innovation and sounds exactly like the status quo.

We are at a point in American education where “pragmatic” is just not good enough.