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All-Star Education Reform Lineup Speaks at Harvard
posted by: Alix | November 23, 2010, 04:32 PM   

Last week some of the best-known names in education reform converged for a round-table discussion at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. The moderator, former Secretary of Education under President George W. Bush, Margaret Spellings told the crowd, "It's like we have Mick Jagger, Bruce Springsteen, and Tina Turner together on the same stage," referring to the panel. Former Washington, D.C., chancellor of schools Michelle Rhee, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, and former Clinton White House chief of staff John Podesta called for teacher accountability and school reform in their discussion entitled, "Strange Bedfellows: The Politics of Education and the Future of Reform".

The panel advocated for "business- style" reform and influence in the country's highest-need schools. Among the many lofty reform goals, merit pay, more control to principals, and the total elimination of state's teacher certifications as a means to attract career professionals to the classroom were all discussed.

Rhee highlighted the roadblock of union double-speak in holding teachers accountable: "We don't want to differentiate among teachers, If you tell a teacher they're not doing a good job, it's like you're attacking the entire profession."

Certainly this is a significant problem to administrators trying to come up with a system that works, but admittedly it spelled political death for Michelle Rhee's boss, former D.C. mayor, Adrian Fenty. Jeb Bush also conceded that education reform can be difficult politically. He argued that he needed to win over the people politically before achieving policy success. "I made education the chief political issue before I made it the chief policy issue," he stressed.

All panelists argued that the recent trends toward education reform need to be leveraged to obtain any education policy successes in the future. Rhee concluded, "The problem is there is no organized interest group in this country that defends and promotes what's right for kids."

The panel also mentioned budget shortfalls effecting school districts across the country. Most agreed that at this point in our country were are uniquely poised to ride the reform wave with low-cost, high-impact reforms.

"Budget cuts could be used as an opportunity ... to push some significant changes in these age-old, dinosaurish policies," said Rhee, cited hiring, salary, and layoff practices that favor teachers with seniority despite a lack of evidence that shows teachers who have taught longer produce for successful students.

"The answer isn't always money," Bush added. Might it be time for President Obama and a divided Congress to sell education reform to the American people? Traditionally education has been an issue that brings strong bi-partisan support.

What do you think of this meeting? Will their ideas come to fruition?
Comment below.

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