Friday, September 11, 2009

The Change We Need

I hope that other people were as impressed by I was by President Obama's health care speech on Wednesday night. Here was a complex issue explained in direct terms along with proposed solutions. I thought it was an intelligent speech and a real attempt to have a productive discussion about what we want for our nation's health care system. If only that sort of discussion were the norm rather than the exception.

In education, for instance, the debate is too often between "reformers" - which really just means idealocrats - who care deeply about the issues and want all children to succeed and "defenders of the status quo" who don't care whether or not kids are learning. Obviously, the water is a little muddier than that, but when you read about these things, that's pretty much what you get. Especially if you listen to Michael Bloomberg, the New York Times, or Arne Duncan.

That's not to say that Duncan has engaged in the kind of low-blow tactics of Bloomberg and some of the others, but his approach is so firmly in the idealocrat camp that it starts to appear as if there really aren't any other options. Take the Race to the Top Fund. The plan to turn around the worst-performing schools is a great one and is a goal I completely and wholeheartedly agree with. However, defining students achievement solely by test scores and saying that charter schools/school choice is the necessary step to turning around schools is not something I can get on board with. As Diane Ravitch wrote in an excellent posting this week, this approach is limited and unsupported by research. In fact, as we know, research would seem to indicate that nationwide, charter schools tend to be equal to or worse than traditional public schools.

We know now that we have a president who's willing to talk about the big ideas and challenges in an open, direct manner. So let's do it. That's a change we need.

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