Federal Education Innovation—Getting It Right
When the Bush administration set out six years ago to create an office of education innovation, it did not envision spending millions of dollars on a museum dedicated to highlighting the importance of New Bedford, Mass., in the 19th-century whaling industry.
As they tout educational innovation on the campaign trail, Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain should take sharp note of how a “nimble, entrepreneurial arm of the U.S. Department of Education” ended up spending hundreds of millions of dollars on not-so-cutting-edge ideas, ranging from the Old Dartmouth Historical Society’s whaling museum to a program promoting “the teaching of traditional American history.” Reaching agreement on the importance of a muscular federal role in driving education innovation is easier than avoiding the mistakes that have sunk such efforts in the past. If the next president aims to do innovation smarter, there are key steps he must take.
Both McCain and Obama have espoused the increasingly widespread view that entrepreneurial organizations, working outside government but in partnership with it, can bring life to new ideas that will get results. ( "McCain and Obama Tussle on Education," Oct. 22, 2008.) In a major education address in Ohio last month, Obama called for a massive expansion of funding for innovative and entrepreneurial efforts, and for more and better charter schools. He cited America’s slipping economic competitiveness and called for “a new vision for a 21st-century education—one where we aren’t just supporting existing...
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