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To the Presidential Candidates: I Will Steal Your Car

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ED in '08 has come out with an in-your-face public-service announcement in these days before the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses.

The ad, which ED in '08 says will start running soon in key battleground states, portrays several teenagers who declare that they are the future. But the future is bleak: "I will steal your car," one student says. "I will use drugs to escape," another says. "You will support me because I can't get a job." You get the idea.

ED in '08, whose goal is to make education a top priority in the presidential campaign, still has a long road ahead of it. And not everyone agrees with the group's tactics. The most recent Washington Post national poll from Dec. 9 shows that just 1 percent of the 1,136 adults asked identified education as the single most important issue in their choice for president. That's down from 2 percent in November.

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All of the Democratic presidential candidates have made thoughtful statements while opposing NCLB. As far as Ed in 08, I don't know whether we'll see the old technocratic accountability hawks that supported NCLB. Or will we get the approach of Mass Insight's report, The Turnaround Challenge, which was funded by the Gates. The new study like so much of the recent research, explains why NCLB failed.

I'm an Obama supporter anyway. His plan, however seems to have an exceptional level of wisdom. Firstly, it invests the majority of its $18 billion dollars in early childhood.

Under NCLB, we MAY have seen marginal gains in student performance. What if we had followed the Obama approach and the result had been comparable improvements in chlorestral numbers, or blood pressure or obesity rates?

Plus, I’m convinced that his holistic approach would have produced better test scores. Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care. Demonstrate a concern for students as human beings, though, and they’ll respond.

Next, Obama’s plan is very consistent with recent studies such as the Center for Educational Progress, the John Hopkins Talent Development High Schools, as well as The Turnaround Challenge. I suspect that Obama’s history as a community organizer made him sensitive to the stark differences between school reforms for high and low poverty schools.

Obama stresses the recruitment of teachers for high poverty schools while the Mass Insight report says, the “highest priority” for high poverty schools must be “recruiting the best staff possible and enabling them to do their best work.” Obama stresses community buy-in. The Turnaround Challenge says that “No Buy in. No Reform,” and that schools must engage with parents and social service providers to “provide counterweights to the effects of poverty on families and children.” Obama cites the example of Denver’s performance pay system, which is lead by one of the teachers unions’ most foresighted thinkers. The Turnaround Challenge argues for differintiatated pay. Obama addresses discipline, an issue that had been ignored by previous Gates studies. The new Gates-funded study stresses the importance of discipline.

I could go on, but frankly the other Democrats will have plenty of good characteristics to their plans. Obama got it right the first time, while so many of the establishment Democrats were awfully slow in recognizing the flaws inherent in NCLB. Even now, the Edusphere is full of predictions by Democrats that when NCLB is reauthorized it will not look dramatically different than the law that will be seven or eight years old by then. Back then, I’d never even seen a cell phone in a school or seen a student text messaging. How in the world could we just assume that the old NCLB model is not obsolete?

I have a two theories why Democrats were so slow in recognizing the flaws inherent single measure accountability to, of all things, improve poor schools. The current Mass Insight argument that “Turnaround (of poor schools) is at its core a people strategy” seems so obvious. Most of our party’s reformers are just as good-hearted as Obama. They just haven’t had the same real-world experiences.

Secondly, I’m always struck by the historical nature of Democrats’ arguments. Bobby Kennedy supported standardized tests to help poor children. Old Southern segregationists opposed federal mandates and numbers-driven accountability. Doctors opposed Medicare. Or, the reform of 1998, or 1992, or whatever, was evaded ...

We need to look at education within the context of today’s, and tomorrow’s, economic and cultural challenges, not through the prism of 1990s politics.

Paraphrasing another great Chicagoan, Steve Goodman, we need to realize that:

“The 20th century is already over, already over, already over. The 20th century is already over, all over this world.”

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