Opinion Blog

Rick Hess Straight Up

Education policy maven Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute think tank offers straight talk on matters of policy, politics, research, and reform. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Looking Back at 10 Years of RHSU

By Rick Hess — January 30, 2020 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Next month will mark the 10th anniversary of this blog. It’s hard for me to believe it’s been that long. I still remember the wonderful Caroline Hendrie, then an editor at Education Week, reaching out to see if I was open to giving it a shot. I promptly had my first terrible blogging idea, suggesting that we title this new thing, “In the Tank.” Caroline turned me around on that, suggesting the far superior “Rick Hess Straight Up.” And we were off.

Blogging turned out to be a lot more demanding and gratifying than I might’ve anticipated. For her invaluable support and counsel all along the way, I owe huge thanks to Elizabeth Rich, Ed Week’s inimitable Opinion Editor. I’m also profoundly indebted to a decade’s worth of research assistants who researched, critiqued, copy-edited, and coordinated this whole enterprise. And I’m obliged to the thousands who have reached out over the years to offers tips, suggestions, criticisms, and kind words.

A decade ago, in the first RHSU post, I did my best to sketch what would follow:

In due course, I plan to cover a fair bit of ground, touching on the scholarly and the silly, the programmatic and the political, the practical and the philosophical. The common thread will not be the content so much as the dyspeptic, skeptical, and occasionally cynical lens through which I tend to view the world. I have always had an uncanny empathy for P.G. Wodehouse's characterization of his beloved Jeeves in Code of the Woosters: "If not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled." It's my impression that, in most walks of life, impassioned do-gooders are a crucial corrective to cynicism and self-interest. I've long worried that in schooling, however, we've a curious malady—a surfeit of passion, good intentions, and big plans. For what it's worth, I find K-12 schooling to be one of the few places in life where we suffer a shortage of cynics and skeptics. The cost is a dearth of observers willing to deliver some bitter medicine to a sector gorged on saccharine sentiment. . . . I know the conventional wisdom is we can deliver great schools if we just care more, come together, and focus on "the children."

For better or worse, I’ve long found myself inclined to push back on all that. I tend to think, in fact, that our greatest problem is not a failure to care enough; it’s our inclination to allow good intentions to pardon lazy thinking, excuse the failure to make tough choices, and stymie serious debate.

It’s remarkable how much has changed since RHSU debuted. I started blogging in February 2010, when Race to the Top and the Common Core were king and queen of the prom. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was basking in acclaim, Democrats controlled Washington, and Michelle Rhee was a phenom. Diane Ravitch was still a few months away from becoming the voice of the “Resistance,” and it would be nine months before Mark Zuckerberg cut his $100 million check to Newark’s then-Mayor Cory Booker.

A decade on, the landscape is vastly changed. Teacher evaluation has come and gone. Talk of School Improvement Grants and the Common Core has given way to SEL and CTE. Teacher strikes and proposals for a moratorium on charter schooling now garner the adoring spotlight that once shone on self-confident “reformers.” Oh, and Cory Booker has a new job.

In light of all this, I thought it might be interesting to revisit some RHSU favorites from the past decade. Along with my gifted RA’s Hannah Warren, RJ Martin, and Jess Schurz, I sifted through the RHSU archive to see what held up.

Over the next month, we’ll be counting down the top 20, Monday to Friday, reposting one each day (along with a snippet of context or reflection). Much like blogging itself, the whole exercise turned out to be tougher and more rewarding than I’d anticipated. And, since it was tricky to cull favorites from a decade of work, I’ll start by flagging 10 that just missed the cut:

  1. RHSU Faux News: Fake Twitter Debate on Teacher Residency Programs, December 13, 2010
  2. Race to the Top, Wasn’t, July 24, 2014
  3. How Not to Argue for School Choice, April 7, 2017
  4. Why You Should Learn to Love Educational Productivity, October 6, 2016
  5. Why Diane and Duncan Are Making the Same Mistake, March 11, 2010
  6. The Perils of Narrow Training in Education Research, September 17, 2018
  7. Why Do ‘Anti-Corporatists’ Defend Factory-Style School Leadership?, July 28, 2014
  8. How the Common Core Became a Political Football, August 5, 2013
  9. Personality Quiz: Am I a Wannabe Edu-Bureaucrat?, May 28, 2015
  10. What the Gulf Oil Spill Can Teach Us About School Spending, May 25, 2010

I do hope that, over the past decade, RHSU’s litany of analyses, thumb-sucking, satire, commentary, interviews, and all the rest have helped provide a smidge of useful insight, perspective, and wisdom. Well, whether it’s all actually helped or not, thanks for stopping by. I hope that you enjoy February’s little stroll down memory lane, that you’ll keep stopping by, and that you’re as curious as I am about what’s to come in RHSU’s next decade.

The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.