Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Thoughts on Obama's "Consensus Choice"

Here are links to the two statements representing the opposing “camps” in the current educational policy debate. First, the “Education Equality Project” (the Joe Klein camp):


Second, “A Broader, Bolder Approach to Education” (with signatories well known to educational progressives such as Linda Darling-Hammond, Pedro Noguera, James Comer, and Debbie Meier:


It’s interesting that Obama has chosen Arne Duncan, the Chicago schools superintendent “known for taking tough steps to improve schools while maintaining respectful relations with teachers and their unions.” What we might expect from this “centrist” choice is a focus on improving the educational outcomes of poor students, a goal that virtually all progressives can certainly support. What is especially useful about the “Broader, Bolder” policy statement is the recognition that schools alone can not be held responsible for the achievement gap, and that a broad range of health and social policy commitments must accompany any school reform proposals. I also appreciate the focus on quality early childhood education, in order to eliminate the need for later remediation. And at least the “Broader, Bolder” statement nods to the fact that NCLB is responsible for a “narrowing of the curriculum,” although we need a much broader, deeper , and well-defined public discussion about what this means and what we should do about it.

If Obama and Duncan lean towards the “Broader, Bolder” approach and there is every possibility that they will, we might expect a different kind of conversation about educational reform than we have had in the public sphere to date. The best thing that could happen is that the feds make a broad commitment to policies that will really level the playing field for all students in public schools and work to provide national resources to do this. But let’s not put all our faith in the federal government for the specifics. Too much centralized power over the day to day workings of schools leads inevitably, I respectfully submit, to standardization, homogenization, and further bureaucratization of educational decision-making. States and local communities have historically been the actors most involved with setting more specific educational policies and I believe that in the context of national platforms on equality and justice, and the appropriate federal level of financial commitment to ensure these broad goals, we should return real control over curriculum and instructional practices to those closest to the site of learning: teachers, parents, communities, and - yes - students!


Anonymous said...

While I still have hopes in other areas, this appointment by Obama is very disappointing. I understand the idea that new approaches and solutions ought to be discussed and implemented, but Duncan does not really appear to be interested in democratic educational values. Alfie Kohn has already commented on Duncan in The Nation (hat tip to The Quaker Agitator):

It is interesting to know that while Duncan headed up Chicago's schools, the Obama's chose to send their daughters to Dewey's Lab School at UC.

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