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A Celebration for Linda Darling-Hammond

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From guest blogger Stephen Sawchuk

The drinks flowed, the sushi rolled, and the head of President-elect Obama's education-policy review team, Linda Darling-Hammond, sparkled in an elegant bronze silk gown for a reception held in her honor tonight at a swank downtown Washington hotel.

Speaking in her honor were representatives of McGraw-Hill and the National Urban Alliance for Effective Education, which helped sponsor the event; Dan Domenech, the executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, and ... New York City schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein.

Klein's appearance WAS a bit of a surprise, given the supposed "split" among Democrats in the education-policy community. During the vetting of potential education secretary candidates, Klein, a signer of the Education Equality Project manifesto, was viewed as belonging to a group that supported stronger accountability for teachers and administrators. Alternatively, a second coalition, "Broader Bolder," argued that districts needed more support for wraparound services in public schools and that schools alone shouldn't be held responsible for closing achievement gaps. Darling-Hammond was viewed as belonging to the latter group.

But Klein debunked this supposed split as a media fabrication. "They say there's one camp here and another camp here," he said. "Well let me tell you, in education sometimes people don't even agree with what they [themselves] are saying."

Darling-Hammond has long said that skin color, zip code, and family income should not determine the quality of a child's education, Klein noted. Working together under Barack Obama, leaders can finally deliver the promises of Brown v. Board of Education for the nation's urban schoolchildren, he concluded.

Klein apparently left soon after speaking, so I didn't have a chance to follow up on these remarks with him. But is the "war" really over? Hard to say: There weren't a whole lot of EEP signers in attendance—no Michelle Rhee, for instance. And a woman just to my right groaned, "Oh, God!" and buried her head in her companion's arms when Klein was announced as a speaker.

But if there are two things that can bring everyone in education policy together, at least for a while, they are arguably Obama and money. The event was as much a pre-party for Obama's inaguration as it was a celebration of Darling-Hammond's work, and there was a palpable feeling of excitement from the crowd.

"It's almost like a breath of fresh air has blown through the capital," said Jan Harp Domene, the president of the National PTA.

And everyone I spoke with credited Darling-Hammond and her education team's advocacy for winning K-12 education the largest share of cash of any policy area in the House's proposed stimulus package ($122 billion, according to my colleague Alyson Klein).

"This is an administration that gets education," Darling-Hammond told me in a brief interview. "It understands how to leverage improvement and reform while dealing with fiscal needs." Examples of that, she said, include the additional funds for teacher performance pay and for improving teacher preparation, both of which were key ideas in the Obama campaign platform (read more about this here at Teacher Beat).

As to the "camps" in the Democratic party, Darling-Hammond agreed with Mr. Klein's assessment. "All of us talk to each other" after stories on the "split" run in the newspapers, she added with a smile.

She wouldn't comment, though, on whether she'll have a place in the administration.

But whether Darling-Hammond gets a formal position or not may not matter, said Bob Wise, the president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, a high-school reform nonprofit organization. "Whether official or not," he said, "she is clearly one of the foremost advisers to the new president."

Other notables in attendance: Michael Casserly, the executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools; Tom Carroll, the president of the National Council on Teaching and America's Future; Anne Bryant, the executive director of the National School Boards Association; and Cindy Brown, the head of the education-policy shop at the Center for American Progress.

2 Comments

i hope all this will work. This structure looks like a working group.

The NCLB-era of educational policy in the US is the evil spawn of the globalization of our economy. That process is at the very foundation of the business model for schools, charters, vouchers, data driven instruction, merit pay, standardized testing, and most perversely of all, paying students to consume the corporate version of knowledge. It was the reason the Business Roundtable, Bill Gates, and the Walton and Bush families were the driving forces behind these absurd and debilitating educational policies. The CEO's wanted a profit making private school system in their race with China and India to lowest possible wage for workers. In their new economy there would be Wal-Mart and plenty of security guard jobs or the military for the kids that used to go to public schools.

These Milton Friedman-inspired Reagan revolutionaries will mark the Bush years as the zenith of their power. This era spit up frauds and charlatans like Rod Paige, Margaret Spellings, Armstrong Williams, Michael Bloomberg, Jack Welch, Jeb Bush, Ruby K. Payne, and more ominously for the future, Arne Duncan. It was certainly the time the attack on public education appeared ready to bear fruit. They had public school system wreckers like Michelle Rhee and Joel Klein in place, kids are dropping out and being pushed out in droves, and teachers are in full flight.

But just as they were breaking out that "Mission Accomplished" banner from the White House basement, just then their rationale for being, their precious global economy, crashed! In recent days they have had to do $326 billion CPR on Citigroup (still the bank will be broken up and the pieces sold off in three months), scrambled to rescue the Big Three, and printed billions in new money. Madoff has made off with about $50 billion and he's just one of many ponzi schemers. Their pride and joy is on fire. It was supposed to be immutable. It was eternal! Now that attitude's all gone. There's only panic on Wall Street and investor flights to safety. Treasuries and negative returns are hot now! The financiers who are not disappeared, under house arrest, killing themselves or faking their deaths have the fingers on both hands crossed that President Obama can save them.

Any talk of NCLB are prayers said over a corpse. Soon it will be every private school and charter school investor for himself. The business model for schools is utterly discredited. Private school students are being moved to the public schools by their debt ridden parents in significant numbers already.

He no longer needs the political prop in Crawford, no need to pretend to be a rancher any more, so from his Dallas retirement mansion (or his land in Paraguay if he should have to leave the country suddenly) George Bush will watch the last vestige of his delusion as the education president, go up in smoke in the not too distant future.

The great transition is upon us. They are going to be the people's schools soon.

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