Friday, December 12, 2008

David Brooks on Tough and Tender Educational Reform

In an important column in the New York Times on December 5th David Brooks surveys the educational policy frameworks competing for President Elect Obama's sponsorship.

With the Republicans out of the loop on educational policy, the key issues will be decided by Democratic party in-fighting, so it is essential to follow these internal squabbles.

Brooks says,

On the one hand, there are the reformers like Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee, who support merit pay for good teachers, charter schools and tough accountability standards.

On the other hand, there are the teachers’ unions and the members of the Ed School establishment, who emphasize greater funding, smaller class sizes and superficial reforms.

The stakes are huge. For the first time in decades, there is real momentum for reform. It’s not only Rhee and Klein — the celebrities — but also superintendents in cities across America who are getting better teachers into the classrooms and producing measurable results. There is an unprecedented political coalition building, among liberals as well as conservatives, for radical reform.

But the union lobbying efforts are relentless and in the past week prospects for a reforming education secretary are thought to have dimmed. The candidates before Obama apparently include: Joel Klein, the highly successful New York chancellor who has, nonetheless, been blackballed by the unions; Arne Duncan, the reforming Chicago head who is less controversial; Darling-Hammond herself; and some former governor to be named later, with Darling-Hammond as the deputy secretary.

Brooks thinks that Darling-Hammond in the deputy secretary role would be the worst outcome, as she can maneuver against his preferred brand of reform under the radar while a political celebrity secretary of education offers sweet nothings to the press.

What do you think?

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