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Federal-Intrusion Talk: A Win-Win?

If you’ve been following the common-standards initiative, you know that the “don’t tread on me” spirit has proved to be a flashpoint. Even now, with three-quarters of the states having already adopted the standards, we’re still hearing states rattle their sabers at the federal government over the common standards.

Race to the Top incentives for common-standards adoption activated those Jungian federal-intrusion archetypes, creating, as Yogi Berra once said, that sense of déjà vu all over again. That put the leaders of the common-standards work in the position of having to disentangle the initiative from the Education Department’s support of it. And having to do it politely enough that they didn’t tick off the wrong people.

The organizers made no secret of their view that the feds’ messaging was complicating their own. They uttered the phrase “state-led” so often that I began to see it bannered, as if dragged by a shoreline advertising plane, in my dreams.

But with 36 states and D.C. having adopted the common standards, it would seem that the feds’ discomfiting embrace has paid off richly for the initiative. There was no mistaking the RTT-induced adoption pattern: Every single state that either won a grant or was still vying for one adopted the standards. —Catherine Gewertz


Brand-New Name, Same Old Fear?

Google CEO Eric Schmidt said in a recent Wall Street Journal interview that young people should be allowed to change their names when they grow older to escape digital records of their youthful mistakes. And I’ve been spending portions of the last week considering whether our youth could be so collectively shamed by their early years that they will seek to rid themselves of all records of them in a Winston Smith-like maneuver.

This refocuses the debate on the Internet’s impact on education.

When our 20-somethings are 70-somethings, how will we teach history to teenage grandchildren who can view images of 9/11, Katrina, the election of Barack Obama as president, and the Red Sox breaking the Curse of the Bambino with a mouse click? Will we ask them to research Grandpa’s war stories from Iraq or Afghanistan by digging up the thoughts of 50-year-old blog entries?

Schmidt’s comments hint that we may be unwilling to explore such a future if we can’t save digital face. And the larger assumption is that, while technology is evolving, our morals and social consciousness about what is acceptable for others to know are not. —Ian Quillen


Why I Feel Sorry for Arne Duncan

Since its inception, I’ve regarded Race to the Top as an important and valuable idea, but I’ve also argued that the program’s design was not equal to the weight it was being asked to bear.

I actually feel more than a little sorry for the education secretary now that his big race has limped to a disheartening close.

Faced with bizarre round-two results that identified New York as the second-most-accomplished reform state and Hawaii as the third—and that found Louisiana and Colorado out of the money altogether—Arne Duncan had two bad choices. He could either take the scores at face value or he could override them and deal with an ensuing firestorm. That lose-lose proposition must have spurred a run on antacid at the Department of Education.

Meanwhile, Duncan’s got a firestorm in New Jersey, which finished out of the money by 3 points due to the inclusion of budget information for the incorrect year. I suspect the folks at the department are fretful that Gov. Chris Christie’s response is ultimately likely to resonate as an indictment of RTT as a triumph of grant-writing style over substance.

It must have been painful for Duncan to tell strong-willed reform leaders in Colorado and Louisiana, “Sorry about that, but go check out Hawaii’s reform agenda.” Word is trickling in from assorted leaders in these and other states that some are furious and feel they’ve been steamrolled by winners that made empty promises and played fast and loose with the facts.

For my money, the most pressing lesson for reform-minded state leaders from all this is that, should there be an RTT round three, they should seek out the consultants and grant-writers who worked their magic in Ohio, Hawaii, and Maryland. —Rick Hess

Vol. 30, Issue 02, Page 9

Published in Print: September 1, 2010, as Blogs of the Week
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