There is something compelling about the need for our educational system to embrace the future. Joanne Weiss, Secretary Arne Duncan’s Chief of Staff used to run Race to the Top. She explains why big money and national educational standards matter. Her explanation is cogent unless you consider the unintended consequences. Or, were they intended? It all depends upon your point of view.
As Congress is closing in on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, it is more than a little curious how the political forces are aligned. There is speculation that President Obama may veto the final legislation. If he does, more of the same may stir even greater resistance, especially to the testing and accountability systems that are in place now. If, however, the new legislation makes it into law, have we lost a great opportunity to reach for the moon once again? As in any serious debate by serious people, there is likely truth on both sides of the issue.
There is a general understanding that schools are always asked to incorporate the latest fad–think new math–and can be resistant to change. After all, if it is not broken, why fix it? For some at risk children, the world changed around them. Those who could leave inner cities did, and those who remained had less of everything. Pockets of poverty became entire cities. Schools reflected their communities. If you can’t change the community; try changing the schools.
Suppose you saw a world where the least of us could have access to the best educational opportunities through technology. It would take a huge amount of money that taxpayers might resist paying. So, you turn to the private sector and open up the possibility of big profits for big ideas.
This is the vision that Joanne Weiss describes. In order to make it happen, we need a common curriculum so that the educational software would have a sufficiently large market to recoup the costs of the investment. You need incentives and consequences to encourage districts to move forward into uncharted territory.
You have to evaluate the impact and effectiveness of the new curriculum, so of course, you test students to see if achievement improves. You must also motivate teachers to embrace the future. Schools that cannot adapt must be closed. Innovation centers are needed to pilot test and scale up new instructional strategies. Parents need options for their children so they too can be part of the future.
Ms. Weiss described the vision. You can read it here. The consequences were not all negative. We will think through this next time. This is worth the effort.