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The New Ed Consensus: Improve Schools

By Michele McNeil — February 05, 2009 3 min read
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First, there was Broader, Bolder, then there was Education Equality. Now, there’s a new consensus.

At a two-day summit in Washington, a group of 14 education policy leaders, including Linda Darling-Hammond, the NEA’s John I. Wilson, and two former governors, pieced together a set of six recommendations to President Obama. The forum was sponsored by the HOPE Foundation, a Bloomington, Ind.-based organization that works to support education leaders. (A complete roster of the group is pasted at the end of this item. They’re pictured in the photo at left, which is courtesy of the HOPE Foundation. Click to enlarge it.)

The six recommendations, released today, are hard for anyone, no matter what his or her politics, to disagree on:

1. Assure Readiness: Success in the classroom requires that children arrive ready to learn – cognitively, physically, and psychologically.

2. Provide Rich Learning Environments for All Students: All young people in America deserve rich learning environments that challenge their thinking, promote learning by doing and focus on higher-order thinking skills that encourage life-long learning and prepare young people to be engaged, collaborative citizens.

3. Improve Overall Standards, Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment: Standards should be more common, more rigorous, and benchmarked against the top international standards. Curriculum, instruction, and assessment must be aligned with each other and with those international benchmarked standards.

4. Improve Overall Teacher Quality: Policies and systems must be in place to promote best practices in teaching, reward high performers, and provide opportunities for feedback and development for those in need of improvement.

5. Ensure the Development of 21st Century School Leaders: School leadership should be focused on a combination of student learning, progress, and culture-building, while enhancing the quality of teaching.

6. Generate and Use Research Effectively: Ensure the use of existing research and advance new research topics that address issues specific to 21st Century challenges.

The consensus paper doesn’t wade very far into the thornier issues facing K-12, such as how to get rid of ineffective teachers, or what common standards would look like. The group also debated, and decided against, using the words “charter schools” in the consensus document.

Former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise, who now leads the Alliance for Excellent Education, said that “this would be everyone’s wish list...but the power is in the final message.” And, he said the power is in the diverse group of people who got together to come up with this consensus.

In addition, said Alan M. Blankstein, president and founder of the HOPE Foundation, several members of the group will be moving action steps from the consensus forward .

Perhaps most interesting were the folks in the room: Democrats for Education Reform executive director Joe Williams sat nearly elbow-to-elbow with Darling-Hammond, a duo whom many folks consider to be on opposite sides of the education spectrum. Former Colorado Gov. Roy Romer, a proponent of national standards, sat in the same room with leaders of organizations, such as the school boards and school administrators, that are very much about local control. The question is: What will come from this new consensus?

Participants in the HOPE forum:

--Former Colorado Gov. Roy Romer, chairman, Strong American Schools
--Former West Virgina Gov. Bob Wise, president, Alliance for Excellent Education
--Felicia Y. Blasingame, president/CEO of South Central Community Services, Inc.
--Alan M. Blankstein, president and founder of the HOPE Foundation
--Anne L. Bryant, executive director, National School Boards Association
--Linda Darling-Hammond, professor, Stanford University
--Dan Domenech, executive director, American Assoc. of School Administrators
--Sharon Lynn Kagan, professor, Yale University
--Debby Kasak, executive director, National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform
--Michael L. Lomax, president, United Negro College Fund
--Pedro A. Noguera, professor, New York University
--Karen Pittman, executive director, Forum for Youth Investment
--Joe Williams, executive director, Democrats for Education Reform
--John I. Wilson, executive director, National Education Association