February 2010 Archives

Of "Transparency" and Credibility

Word on the street is that 10-15 "finalists" from the first round of Race to the Top (RTT) are going to be announced Monday. The finalists will be feted and invited to D.C. for a chance to prostrate themselves before Department of Education officials and, presumably (though it's not entirely to clear to this semi-informed observer), the 58 reviewers. That's hardly the only thing that's unclear. In fact, for all the overwrought praise for our earnest Secretary of Education's promises of "maximum integrity and transparency," I'd venture to say that RTT is actually quite opaque--and in ways likely to ...


Breaking News: The 77 Percent Effect

Cynics like me have worried that the Department of Education's Race to the Top (RTT) program has, in a time of fiscal crisis, distracted attention from addressing unsustainable state budgets. Such cynicism has been deemed unfashionable by administration allies, cash-starved state and local officials keen to stay in the Department of Education's good graces, and editorial writers eager to say nice things about our earnest Secretary of Education. Much of this enthusiasm has been driven by the fact that RTT has (in theory) changed the way the federal government and the states do business. We are shifting from a model ...


RTT and the Emperor's Pants

Yesterday, I noted the import of creating clear, coherent, credible, and transparent processes for governing the Race to the Top (RTT) and Investing in Innovation (i3) funds. Making this task especially vital are the enormous sums of discretionary dollars in play. The stimulus fund set-aside for RTT and i3 alone is almost five times the $1 billion a year for Reading First which, just a few years ago, was regarded as a giant discretionary program. And Reading First's travails were enough to unwind substantial progress that had been made in reading policy. The Department should be holding itself (and should ...


Tough Love for RTT

I like the intuitions guiding Race to the Top (RTT) and the companion Investing in Innovation (i3) fund. I do. I'm a fan of charter schooling, improved data systems, rewarding effective teachers, and a bunch of the other ideas in play. I believe K-12 schooling spends too much time regarding our $600 billion a year in public funds as an entitlement, and too little time thinking about investing wisely and strategically. And I believe the feds can play a useful role when it comes to promoting transparency, overcoming collective action problems, and providing political cover for state and district leaders ...


Influence Isn't Deference

I spent the weekend in Atlanta at the annual conference of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. In gatherings like that, folks frequently ask me for thoughts about the policy process (which is amusing if you consider that I've never worked in government or, so far as I know, ever actually, you know, impacted policy). Anyway, I wound up in a couple terrific conversations about how researchers and educators could more effectively shape policy. I noticed that my fellow Ed Week blogging newbie Walt Gardner tackled this very subject last week. He expressed frustration that policymakers seem too ...


Bait and Switch: Update

The relentless Robert Pondiscio of the Core Knowledge blog followed up on this morning's post regarding Department of Ed official Kevin Jennings' surprising declaration that the Department's view on Common Core standards is currently "focused on the academic standards" and is "starting" with math and language arts, but that "down the road" the effort will expand to incorporate "school climate" standards. When he contacted the Department, Pondiscio was told by a Department spokesman, "We do not believe in national standards for school climate. Kevin Jennings was taken out of context." Asked if the Department is claiming that Phi Delta Kappan ...


Bait and Switch on Common Standards?

We've been told time and again that the current common standards push is guided by the mantra "fewer, clearer, and higher" standards. That's a good thing, since efforts to craft expansive standards tend to crumble under their own weight. Recall what happened to the national history standards panel back in the 1990s, when disputes over who and what should be in and out led the U.S. Senate to resoundingly reject its handiwork. I've previously written about why it is so tough in the U.S. to craft standards outside of math and language arts that don't devolve into culture ...


Keep It Comin'

Thanks for the warm reception. I've received some terrific feedback, both in posted comments and personal e-mails. I'd like to take a moment to encourage readers to share their thoughts and experiences. After all, one of the shortcomings of being a DC think tanker is the remove from classrooms, schools, and districts. In that spirit, I want to highlight a terrific comment posted earlier today by Skeptic Teacher. First, though, I just want to be sure we're all clear on one thing. I'm actually in favor of educators and advocates caring about kids. What I'm opposed to is them telling ...


Free Weingarten Now

Yesterday I railed that the "it's for the kids" (IFTK) mantra turns substantive disagreements into name-calling. If I'm "for the kids" and you disagree with me on tracking, testing, or whatever, it follows that you're "against the kids." (As an aside, Knowledge Alliance honcho Jim Kohlmoos wryly asked whether it wasn't IFTK that led me into teaching. Straight up: nope. Cold-hearted guy that I am, I just enjoyed the instruction, the kids, and the content. But, it was easy enough to play along and mouth IFTK banalities just like the next guy. And that's the problem.) The IFTK lingo becomes ...


'It's for the Kids' Needs to Go

It's time to banish the phrase, "It's for the kids," (that's "IFTK" for those of you keeping score at home) from the edu-discourse, along with its insipid cousins like "it's all about kids," "just for the kids," and "we're in it for the kids." Actually, it's way past time. Two things recently reminded how much I loathe IFTK. One was a terrific little essay penned by my old mentor, Harvard University's Dick Elmore. The other, which I'll take up tomorrow, was AFT President Randi Weingarten's painful interview recently on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" show. Elmore bracingly terms "We're in it for ...


Greetings and Salutations

Hi there. Or, in the phrasing of Christian Slater's homicidal but quirkily charming high school misfit in 1988's Heathers, "Greetings and salutations." I'm Rick Hess and this is my new blog, "Rick Hess Straight Up." Delighted you've taken a moment to stop by. For those of you who know me, glad to have you here. For those who don't, a quick introduction may be in order. I'm the director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute (one of the DC think tanks), an executive editor at the journal Education Next, author of a few books (if you're interested, ...


The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.
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