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Inside the State Chiefs' Confab

notebookpic.jpg From my notebook:

I've got a few leftovers from my day with the state school chiefs' legislative meeting in Washington that didn't make my Ed Week story.

First, let me just say how much I appreciate the candor of the chiefs. They don't speak in scripted sound bites or repeat the same talking points. They talk real world stuff. How refreshing.

Now to the good stuff, most of which comes from the chiefs' roundtable with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

Best hint of the day that Louisiana will be a round one winner in Race to the Top: Sec. Duncan praising the state for its data system. Too bad Paul Pastorek, Louisiana's chief, wasn't at the roundtable to gloat as his colleagues looked on in envy.

Best laugh line from the chiefs' roundtable: Mike Flanagan, the chief in Michigan, told a story about when Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm asked him for advice on what to do, as she prepared to meet with Sec. Duncan at last month's National Governors Association meeting.

"You sit next to him and you suck up," Flanagan said he told the governor, to uproarious laughter. Of course, Flanagan quipped, "it didn't work," referring to Michigan's failure to make the list of 16 finalists for round one of Race to the Top.

Best attempt to put Sec. Duncan on the spot: Joseph Morton, Alabama's state superintendent. I blogged about this yesterday, too, but didn't fully capture just how astute Mr. Morton was at trying to force the secretary to state—unequivocally—his position on charter schools and, specifically, how important it is for states to have charters to be competitive for Race to the Top. As you may recall, this charter school issue has caused the normally unflappable secretary to be a wee bit prickly.

Best 'real world' example to counter Sec. Duncan's enthusiasm that his required methods for school turnaround will work: Denise Juneau, Montana's schools chief, outlined the duties of one of her superintendents, who is also the high school principal in his district, the coach, and the guy who cuts the grass.

Best question for Arne Duncan that didn't get asked: Mark McQuillan, Connecticut's education commissioner had some not so flattering comments to make about Race to the Top during an earlier session the chiefs had with top Obama administration officials. I wonder if he opted not to ask the secretary about it, or was convinced not to by his colleagues.

Best suck-up of the day: Came from the secretary himself, who was effusive in his praise for CCSSO Executive Director (and former Kentucky chief) Gene Wilhoit. I couldn't even write down all the superlatives that Duncan was heaping on him about his leadership on the Common Core State Standards Initiative.

Best gratuitous basketball reference: From Terry Holliday, Kentucky's commissioner, who reminded the secretary that Kentucky is in two "Sweet Sixteen" brackets: as a Race to the Top finalist and, of course, as one of the 16 college teams left standing in the NCAA basketball tournament. Holliday told Duncan, probably best known by the non-education public for being a basketball-playing companion of President Obama's, that he could personally arrange for the secretary and the president to play with John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins, two stars of the University of Kentucky team.

Best 'aha' moment of the day for a state policy reporter: Spotting former Rhode Island chief Peter McWalters in the crowd and learning that he now works for CCSSO, as an interim strategic initiative director on education workforce issues.

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