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Obama's Transition Team Leader and NCLB

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In case you hadn't heard, John Podesta, who was President Clinton's chief of staff, is heading up President-elect Obama's transition team. Obama asked Podesta to begin a full-scale review of the federal government and compile lists of potential hires, according to this Washington Post story. Podesta is now the president of the Center for American Progress, a think tank that he founded back in 2003.

The CAP has weighed in on NCLB in the past, generally on the side of the pro-strong federal accountability folks (think the Education Trust). Back in the summer of 2007, when word leaked that Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, was pondering including "multiple measures" in an NCLB reauthorization bill, the CAP joined the Education Trust, the Citizens' Commission on Civil Rights, and other groups in sending a letter advising Miller to tread carefully. In their view, such alternate assessments could "dilute Title I's clear focus on the literacy and mathematics skills that students need." You can read more about the letter in this blog post, pulled from my colleague David Hoff's, NCLB Act II blog.

In its list of suggestions for Obama's to-do list, the Center for American Progress calls for "labor-law reform" as one way to help spur economic growth. The group isn''t specific about what exactly that would look like, but I bet the folks at NEA and AFT may be trying to find out, given the CAP's high-profile role in the transition and all the talk of pay-for-performance during the campaign.

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I don't know why the CAP joined with the Ed Trust and the Citizens Commission, although the three organizations clearly have much in common. But I took the opportunity to reread CAP studies, and I personally am not alarmed. Mostly I saw research that was heads and sholders above the Ed Trust's reports. (Matt Miller's stuff is just wierd, but as long as he's tilting at so many powerful windmills, he won't do any harm with his musings.) Many reports were brilliant, like the calls for additional time and seeking practical solutions for paying for it. That recent report on Absenteeism was just as good. Although I disagree with many CAP proposals, I'm consistently impressed that they (like the CEP) have a deep understanding of educational and political cultures.

The issue that stumps me is Comparability. Like in the Ed Trust reports, I know enough to understand what they are saying, but not enough to really know what they mean. For instance, Robert Gordon's report made a gratuitous slap at unions, but I didn't see any real animoiity. Perhaps I don't know enough about the personalities, but I saw a realism in the CAP reports on Comparability that I don't see in the Ed Trust studies.

For instance, I doubt I would hear the Ed Trust acknowledging that their opponents are not evil as in the following statement, "despite honest attempts ... urban districts are not generally aware of the inequities." The same applied to me, not knowing about the inequites, before I read my first Ed Trust report on Comparability. I was equally shocked, however, that the Ed Trust would want the Feds to intrude to undercut collective bargaining rights of teachers.

The CAP also notes that high poverty schools are often "lucky to get even two applicants per opening per year." In other words, if they were too ambitious in firing the bottom quarter of teachers (which by the way needs to be done) they would just get empty classrooms.
Podesta, himself, signed a report that made a statement that I doubt the Ed Trust or the Citizens Committee would make, "transferring highly-paid teachers against their will seems nonsensical." And when it comes to performance pay, they support the Denver Plan, which we need in order to fight off extreme plans like Michelle Rhee's.

So, that is just a long way of saying that we shouldn't freak when Obama listens to someone we don't agree with. I don't personally know any of the people who wrote Congessman Miller, so all I know is what they write and that may be misleading. The latest Ed Trust proposals again make it seem like they are more preoccupied with attacking teachers and unions than helping kids. But we all need a chance to present our arguments.

If Obama, Podesta, Emmanuel, or anyone listens with an open mind and decides that they want to stay on the same path as NCLB-type accountability, then that's life. I've been wrong before, and who knows I might look back and say that I'm wrong now. What scares me is true believers who think they have a monopoly on righteousness and the best policies

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