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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

RHSU: Top 10 Columns of 2014

By Rick Hess — December 29, 2014 4 min read
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It’s the time when we reflect on the past year, yada yada. In that spirit, crackerjack RA Jenn Hatfield and I went back to the RHSU vault for 2014 to flag ten of our favorite columns from the past year. With an eye towards reader traffic, Twitter interest, and our own biases, we’ve tagged ten RHSU highlights from 2014. Would welcome your thoughts on these and on columns that we might’ve missed.

10. My Take on the Vergara Verdict, June 11, 2014: There’s lots and lots to be said on Vergara. I don’t feel inclined to join the pile, so I’ll make three points and then call it. The bottom line: I agree with the verdict but am worried about where this leads.

9. Three Practical Questions About PARCC and SBAC Testing, March 26, 2014: Field testing for the Common Core-aligned PARCC and Smarter Balanced is now underway, and dozens of states are preparing to make consequential decisions based on the results come next spring. I keep getting excited e-mails about all this. Me? I’m frustrated (and a little astonished) that, four years after the creation of the testing consortia, I still can’t get meaningful answers to some practical questions about how all this is going to play out.

8. Race to the Top, Wasn’t, July 24, 2014: We’ve just marked the fifth anniversary of Race to the Top, the Obama administration’s signature education initiative. When launched, the $4.35 billion competition drew bipartisan cheers and was lauded as an example of getting school reform right. Five years on, I see it more as a monument to paper promises, bureaucratic ineptitude, and federal overreach.

7. How Teachers Can Best Use Technology, January 17, 2014: Education beats across the country have been speckled with nightmarish headlines about education technology failures in schools: big iPad acquisitions gone awry, melted chargers, broken screens, and students accessing social media on their school-granted devices. It seems like we haven’t had a lot to cheer about when it comes to digital learning. But who is really to blame here?

6. A Better Path Than “Blowing Up” Schools of Education, November 10, 2014: For two decades, I’ve attended conclaves where impassioned reformers have declared that “We’ve got to blow up the ed schools.” Now, given that I graduated from a school of education (and have taught at a few of them), I understand the frustration. Hell, I’ve had more than my share of bruises from ed schools--involving everything from being boycotted to being labeled an “enemy of public education.” But I also think the “blow ‘em up” response has been misguided and counterproductive.

5. Two Schools of “School Reform:" The Conservative and the Progressive, September 2, 2014: I’ve been working to finish The Cage-Busting Teacher and doing my best to reflect a little. One of the things I’ve been reflecting on is that a number of people have been asking me (sometimes in a puzzled tone, sometimes in an annoyed one), “Rick, you’re a reformer. How can you think X?” I think a lot of the confusion is due to the way “reform” gets defined.

4. Why Do “Anti-Corporatists” Defend Factory-Style School Leadership?, July 28, 2014: Amidst the summer lull, I’ve spent a bunch of time over the last month or two talking about “cage-busting” to school and system leaders in a bunch of districts, state gatherings, and university programs. By “cage-busting,” I mean finding ways to rethink the web of rules, regulations, contracts, and routines that have accreted over the past century, and to shrug off the self-imposed cage created by urban myths, professional norms, and a “culture of can’t.” I argue that cage-busting is a necessary (if insufficient) step to escape factory-style bureaucracy and ensure that time, talent, technology, and money are used in ways more likely to promote great teaching and learning.

3. Why TFA Should Tell the “United Students Against Sweatshops” to Shut Up and Sit Down, November 3, 2014: In a peculiar turn, "#resistTFA” has become a rallying cry for a fringe group of college students intent on attacking Teach For America. In a puzzling turn, their sparsely-attended events (which mostly consist of histrionic attacks on TFA) have gained some notable attention. And, in a perverse turn, TFA--an organization filled with earnest liberals who are actually trying to do something--is being cheap-shotted by a bunch of self-impressed, earnest liberal undergraduates (and the professional organizers who are manipulating them).

2. Teachers Should Just Say No to Cheap Talk & Lip Service, July 7, 2014: Teachers get lots of lip service, misty-eyed declarations of admiration, and cloying tributes. These blanket hugs are ritually offered up to three million plus teachers, without qualifiers or challenges. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has insisted, “I believe that [teachers] are absolutely the unsung heroes of our society.” Actor Matt Damon told a Save Our Schools rally, “I flew overnight...and came down here because I really had to tell you all in person that I think you all are awesome.” These platitudes are the junk food of speechmaking.

1. In Which I Debate Federal Ed Policy With a UFO, March 12, 2014: I awoke with a start last night. Hovering above the floor, inches from the bed, was a figure. He wore a nice suit and avidly thumbed his iPhone, before glancing up at me.

“Uh, who are you? What’s going on?” I asked. “And why are you hovering?”

“I’m an unidentified federal official. I’m here to chat.”

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.