Jim Kohlmoos is President and CEO of the Knowledge Alliance.
In the Washington world of overworked hyperbole, just about every year is a “watershed” for something. But in looking at the political and policy terrain in front of us in 2009, I think we are destined for one in education policy. The year ahead has the converging dynamics of “a perfect storm.”
Judging from the policy focus of the current primary season -regardless of party affiliation, a new administration and a new Congress will take the helm next year with a clear mandate, if not ringing demand, for dramatic change. The changeover will bring new staff, new power brokers and new relationships to the policy making apparatus that will challenge the status quo. The pressures of a recessionary economy will amplify the calls for aggressively sharpening America’s competitiveness in a global market place and stir a renewed focus on education as driver of innovation and productivity. Mixed into this swirling dynamic will be the continuing debate about the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the ongoing search for the best ways to ignite and sustain the transformation of American education.
It is my sense that in this tumultuous environment, the demand for change will be far grander than just tweaking accountability provisions in federal statute. We will see escalating political pressures to quickly and effectively deliver big, sustainable solutions to low performing schools, broken school systems and tired policies. The pressure for school improvement solutions will be urgently exerted from several angles: from the increasing number of communities with schools not making Adequate Yearly Progress; populations that have been seriously underserved to this point; and recession-weary business communities seeking long term revitalization.
In conversations with education staffers on Capitol Hill I am now hearing more and more calls for taking the No Child Left Behind Act “to the next level” and focusing on solutions. The theme of last week’s presentation by the Department of Education on the President’s FY 2009 was to “build the capacity of states and localities for turning around low performing schools.”
What all of this means for the school improvement industry is a deep impatience with the past and an even greater sense of urgency for the future. In essence, there will be dramatic challenges and great opportunities in the marketplace. The biggest challenge is that demand will far outstrip supply. The industry will be facing a capacity crisis of great portions at the national, state and local levels to deliver meaningful solutions to schools in quick and effective ways. And without sufficient capital investments in the research and development infrastructure in education this crisis could persist for years to come.
Opportunities will flow from the aforementioned disruption in the political and policy environment in education. By focusing on big solutions rather than technical sanctions, policy makers may be ready to break the paralyzing policy stalemates and finally move to the next level of standards-based reform and school improvement. The winners in the industry will be those with the knowledge base and expertise to expeditiously mobilize and scale up innovative school improvement operations.
From my perspective, 2009 just may be that watershed year when American ingenuity is unleashed and a vibrant and robust knowledge-driven school improvement movement is launched.
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