Harvard’s strange ‘Strange Bedfellows’ education event
I would expect that a ticketed discussion on education reform at Harvard University's Institute of Politics would include people holding different views on how to improve public schools. I wouldn't expect to find an intellectual echo chamber.
So let’s look at the lineup for the Nov. 18 panel discussion, entitled “Strange Bedfellows: The Politics of Education and the Future of Reform,” scheduled for 6 p.m. in the JFK Forum. Here’s the panel:
Michelle Rhee. Former chancellor of Washington D.C. public schools. A strong supporter of standardized testing, charter schools, the Common Core standards, and the Obama administration’s Race to the Top education initiative, which pitted states against each other in a competition for federal dollars.
John Podesta. President of the Washington D.C.-based Center for American Progress and former chief of staff to President Clinton. A strong supporter of charter schools, standardized testing, the Common Core standards, and Race to the Top. His center is highly influential with the Obama administration.
Jeb Bush. Former Florida Republican governor. A strong supporter of charter schools, standardized testing and the Common Core standards. He has also supported Race to the Top, the biggest federal education initiative since his brother and Obama's predecessor, former president George W. Bush, passed the No Child Left Behind law). Bush is the founder of the Florida-based Foundation for Excellence in Education, which is highly influential in Florida’s education politics and has a national reach.
Yup, all of the panelists are on board with the direction of Obama-style education reform. That not only includes an expansion of charter schools and standardized test regimes for students, but also using test results to assess and pay teachers.
If any of these “reform” efforts were shown to be successful in practice over time or in-depth research, it might be reasonable to limit a reform discussion to the best ways to implement them.
But since none of them have, and, in fact, assessment experts warn that some of these “reforms” are invalid and even harmful, it is at the very least short-sighted of the Institute of Politics to have such a limited discussion.
The only voice not quite in lockstep is the moderator, Margaret Spellings, a former secretary of education under Bush, who helped write and implement No Child Left Behind.
Spellings has called publicly for Congress to leave No Child Left Behind alone. She has been somewhat critical of the way Race to the Top money has been distributed, saying in an interview with the Hechinger Report that she would have spread it out among more states. But she's not a real dissenting voice about reform.
So what’s the harm in a single one-sided discussion?
This event, at such a respected venue, can only serve to reinforce the notion that there is a single way to think about “education reform” when, in fact, there is growing opposition across the country among parents, teachers, principals and even superintendents to the very reform that these three panelists support. But there is no one on the panel to debate them.
This is just the latest "discussion" of education reform that is markedly one-sided. We've had NBC News and its "Education Nation" coverage in September, a series of pro-charter school film documentaries, and now this dscussion.
Harvard should know better than to limit the scope of a public discussion on such an important topic.
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| November 9, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
Categories: Charter schools, National Standards, No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, School turnarounds/reform | Tags: arne duncan, charter schools, education department, harvard, harvard university, institute of politics, iop, jeb bush, john podesta, margaret spellings, michelle rhee, no child left behind, obama education reform, president obama, race to the top, school reform
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