Opinion
Education Letter to the Editor

Missing the Revolution

August 30, 2005 4 min read
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To the Editor:

Sometimes a single issue of Education Week provides remarkable insight into an issue.

In “Notes From the Revolution,” (Commentary, July 27, 2005), Eugene W. Hickok, who was then-U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige’s deputy in President Bush’s first term, offers a delightful fiction about the “revolutionary” impact of the Education Leaders Council on American schooling during the past decade.

Of course, Mr. Hickok fails to mention the millions of dollars fed to the ELC by his own department and the ELC’s implosion in 2004, as four ELC leaders quit the council: former U.S. Rep. Bill Goodling, R-Pa.; Colorado Commissioner of Education William J. Moloney; former Minnesota Education Commissioner Cheri Pierson Yecke; and Abigail Thernstrom, a member of the Massachusetts state board of education.

According to reporting in the Jan. 21, 2004, issue of Education Week (“Leaders Group Faces Shortcomings”), Mr. Moloney wrote to his ELC board colleagues that his former deputy schools chief, Richard Elmer, had reviewed the ELC’s management practices and found them to be “appalling.” As reported in a Jan. 12, 2005, Education Week article (“Project Draws Federal Money, Despite Doubts”), Stanford University researcher Margaret E. Raymond began to review the ELC’s Following the Leaders program in 2003, but her evaluation was arrested that December. Ms. Raymond said, “We weren’t convinced the program was actually being implemented.”

Even Chester E. Finn Jr., obviously an ideological ally of the ELC, pulled the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation out of any effort to evaluate Following the Leaders.

This past January, Mr. Goodling complained about another congressional earmark of $9.7 million for Following the Leaders, bringing its total federal funding to $32.7 million since 2001. “What does Congress know about how effective their initial investment was?” he asked.

It’s a peculiar set of “revolutionaries” who suck millions of dollars from taxpayers through the largess of their ideological allies in Congress and cannot even convince their own previous members that they used the funds effectively.

Meanwhile, the same, July 27, 2005, issue of Education Week (“Hickok Joins Lobbying Firm”), informs us that Mr. Hickok has joined Dutko Worldwide, a Washington lobbying firm. Time for this revolutionary to cash in on his government service.

David Marshak

Professor

College of Education

Seattle University

Seattle, Wash.

To the Editor:

Eugene W. Hickok is right to say that the struggle to reform public schools is “a battle over ideas.” He also writes that the “revolution” in education to which he refers must be based on “fundamental principles.” Yet he never mentions what those principles are.

What he does mention, repeatedly, is achievement as the be-all and end-all of educational improvement. But this singular focus on student achievement amounts to smoke and mirrors. In fact, the “revolution” seems based on nothing more than students’ scores on a test.

What does achievement mean, really? Is it a fundamental principle on which to base an entire education reform agenda? What about learning? Equality? Real opportunities? These genuinely fundamental principles are being subverted by achievement-test scores and the emphasis on data-driven accountability, and far too many students are being affected. Some are ignored because they have little hope of passing an exam; others are placed dubiously in special education to avoid their being counted in a school’s scores; still others are receiving more than their share of attention because they are on the cusp of passing the exam. The No Child Left Behind Act’s revolution certainly has reignited a battle of ideas over school reform.

Admittedly, the idea of ending achievement gaps is important. But without also engaging the more fundamental ideas of learning, equality, and real opportunities for students, the battle itself is meaningless and, even worse, unjust.

Michele S. Moses

Associate Professor

School of Education

University of Colorado at Boulder

Boulder, Colo.

To the Editor:

If closing achievement gaps is the goal of the revolution spearheaded by the Education Leaders Council, then the ideas that Eugene W. Hickok enumerates will do little to advance that agenda.

That’s because the council’s paradigm focuses almost exclusively on school accountability. It ignores the communities around the schools. Yet the fates of urban schools and the surrounding neighborhoods are inextricably linked, as Mark R. Warren compellingly explains in “Communities and Schools: A New View of Urban Education Reform” in the Summer 2005 issue of the Harvard Educational Review.

Public schools do not operate in a vacuum. If students go to school malnourished, exhausted, and indifferent, the best schools alone cannot educate them to their full potential. School-community collaboration is indispensable in achieving educational equity. Yet Mr. Hickok is curiously mute in this vital area. Instead, he returns to the unilateral concern with holding schools and teachers accountable. But teachers are not miracle workers, and schools are not Lourdes.

History will show that the real revolution in education took place only when social transformation became part of the solution.

Walt Gardner

Los Angeles, Calif.

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