Last week's fifth anniversary of Race to the Top left me nostalgic for its glorious early days, when everyone kept telling me what an unprecedented game-changer RTT was. I wasn't sold then (a lonely stance), and am even less convinced now (no longer such a lonely stance). Anyway, I thought it might be fun to revisit the RHSU I penned on March 5, 2010, the day after Secretary Duncan giddily named the Round 1 RTT finalists.
I've spent a bunch of time over the last month or two talking about "cage-busting" in a bunch of districts, state gatherings, and university programs. One of the interesting reactions has come from "anti-reformers" who dismiss any call for leaders to think this way as a "corporatist" attack on public education. This comes up now and again when I'm talking to school and system leaders, who nod along with the main points but sometimes wonder whether empowering school or system leaders reflects an attempt to import a "business" mindset into education. A little historical context can help.
We've just marked the fifth anniversary of Race to the Top, the Obama administration's signature education initiative. When launched, the $4.35 billion competition drew bipartisan cheers and was lauded as an example of getting school reform right. Five years on, I see it more as a monument to paper promises, bureaucratic ineptitude, and federal overreach.
Education is filled with jargon, buzzwords, and BS. I've had a lot of fun over the years skewering the inanity that gets bandied about in education research and professional development. Education policy and school reform are rife with their own vapid vocabulary. Here are 10 phrases that, when heard, should cause listeners to ask the speaker to explain what he or she means, using words that actually mean something.
Many of the school and system leaders I teach are frustrated by policy and sense that they're hemmed in by bureaucracy, regulation, and politicians. I find myself trying to explain the insight that motivated Cage-Busting Leadership: caged leadership frustrates policy makers and advocates, leading them to propose new rules and policies as they scramble to force leaders to, well, lead. In this way, caged leadership creates a perverse cycle of growing frustration.
A few weeks back, Mike Petrilli and I hosted another convening of the AEI-Fordham Emerging Educational Policy Scholars (EEPS) programs. The participants once again reminded me of what a dismal job even prestigious institutions do of preparing talented young scholars to consider the implications of their work, contribute to public debates, or even find joy in what they do every day.
Readers may recall that, last summer, Tony Bennett resigned the Florida superintendency when slammed with alleged improprieties from his tenure as Indiana state chief. Well, yesterday, a year after the fact, Indiana's Office of the Inspector General finally released its report. On one hand, you might say that the process played out and worked as it should. But observers have now learned that one way to win education policy debates is to smear their opponents.
Teachers get lots of lip service, misty-eyed declarations of admiration, and cloying tributes. These platitudes are the junk food of speechmaking. But there's a bigger problem. This isn't how we talk to professionals. Cage-busting teachers don't just get this, they do something about it.
Last week, the Detroit Free Press took a long, hard look at charter schooling in Michigan. Hard-nosed education reporting is always welcome. But let me try to respond to the key "findings" pithily and directly.
School reformers explaining why I should be more enthusiastic about Vergara and the copycat lawsuits being filed in New York and elsewhere have repeatedly drawn a parallel to gay marriage. Without wading into the gay marriage debate, I'll just note three big problems with the analogy.