Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Six Impossible Things

The other day I saw the movie Alice in Wonderland and came upon a terrific line spoken by Alice about her father, an innovative capitalist: "Why, everyday I've thought of six impossible things before breakfast!" Near the end of the movie Alice realizes that six things she thought were impossible had all happened! I'm beginning to feel the same way about our national educational landscape. Impossible, or at least, unlikely things are happening that may shape - in a positive way - the re-authorization of the ESEA, also known as the "No Child Left Behind" act as well as The Race To The Top competition. There are obvious political reasons for some of these events and controversy as well, but I think they are signs of a major disruption in the attempt of the federal government, specifically the DOE, to exert more control over local issues.
  1. Governor Crist vetoes Florida's bill to tie teacher evaluation to test scores and eliminate tenure. While it is unclear whether the huge opposition to the bill by teachers, students, parents, teachers, and community leaders swayed him, it is clear that grassroots efforts are gaining momentum.
  2. Kansas, Vermont, Indiana, Texas, and others have pulled out of Race to the Top for a variety of reasons, but in essence they are refusing to adhere to the Feds' control of local issues by attaching strings to the money.
  3. Diane Ravitch, a staunch supporter of charter schools, standards, and accountability using standardized testing, has reversed her point of view based on data showing that these 'innovations' aren't working. Her new book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System is now number 17 on the NYT bestseller list after a little over a month. Her Facebook fan base is growing fast!
  4. Diane is being listened to as she makes her way across the country and it is the grassroots - teachers, administrators, parents - who are coming to hear her. They finally have someone on their side.
  5. Arne Duncan is doing a series of town hall meetings on CNN. He's saying all the right things and admitting that there are serious flaws in NCLB. Could it be he's floating trial balloons for big changes or is this just another politician telling us what we want to hear with no plans to "walk the talk"?
  6. The DOE is funding consortia across several states to create more balanced assessments ($350 million). Hopefully they will look at more than just test scores. The largest consortia has Linda Darling Hammond as their chief advisor. That is reassuring. As Obama's chief education advisor during his campaign, she was the logical choice for Secretary of Education but was pushed out. Maybe now she can have some influence.
In some ways none of these events are impossible...but they may represent a groundswell back to sanity in education policy decision-making...letting the professionals in the field start making some headway in fixing so much of what is wrong.

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