A better way to prod education change


by John Fitzgerald | June 15, 2009 • U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan wants states to unify behind a set of national standards for reading and math.

Hindsight is the official blog of Minnesota 2020. Hindsight gives the run down on the news that jumps out at us on the issues that matter. Often times these stories show us how much further we need to go to have the progressive policy realized in Minnesota.

The federal government’s desire to change what has historically been the role of the states is not new. What is new is the way the Obama administration is going about creating that change.

Duncan has $350 million to spend on this idea. The money is part of the federal Education Department’s $5 billion fund to support Obama administration education innovations.

This stands in contrast to the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind initiative, which punished schools that didn’t meet specific goals by pulling federal Title I money – grants used by schools to teach poor children how to read.

Under NCLB, teachers and schools are bullied into fitting into standards that rise unfairly each year. Teachers and administrators have no choice but to cram information down students’ throats and hope they can expectorate it back up onto the NCLB test. If they don’t, the school and its students suffer.

Clearly, there has to be a better way to drive change in education.

According to the Associated Press, the $350 million Duncan would use to craft assessments would be the largest investment in building a set of common national standards. Duncan said developing the standards themselves would be relatively inexpensive. Developing assessments, by contrast, is a “very heavy lift financially,” Duncan said, expressing concern that the project could stall without federal backing.

“Having real high standards is important, but behind that, I think in this country we have too many bad tests,” Duncan said. “If we’re going to have world-class international standards, we need to have world-class evaluations behind them.”

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