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Gingrich Calls for ‘Tripartisanship’ to Improve Schools

September 02, 2008 3 min read

President Bush isn’t the only Republican who believes in high academic standards and aggressive accountability. That’s the message that came across at today’s event put on by American Solutions for Winning the Future, a nonprofit organization started by Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. The Education Equality Project and ED in 08 were among the co-sponsors of the event.

Gingrich’s group used the issue of global competitiveness to galvanize support for policies, including alternative pay for teachers and rigorous curricula benchmarked against international standards. For education redesign efforts to succeed, they will have to be championed by Republicans, Democrats, and Independents, Gingrich said.

“If you’re going to get this to scale, it’s going to have to be a tripartisan effort,” Gingrich said. “What we’re going to have here today is some people you’ve probably traditionally thought of as Democrats and some you’ve probably thought of as Republicans.”

Gingrich especially seemed to get a kick out of sharing a stage with the Rev. Al Sharpton, the co-chairman of the Education Equality Project and a 2004 Democratic presidential candidate. Gingrich made sure that the two posed for a photo with the other panelists, including Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings; top McCain education adviser Lisa Graham Keegan; and ED in ‘08’s Roy Romer.

“Most of you didn’t come here so that you could go home and tell your friends how much Al Sharpton impressed you,” Gingrich joked. Sharpton and other members of the Education Equality Project had similar criticisms of unions at last week’s Democratic National Convention.

Sharpton’s speech garnered loud applause from the largely Republican crowd, particularly when he emphasized parental responsibility and took teachers’ unions to task for what he perceived as their failure to embrace accountability.

“You cannot say schools must be improved but that we can not judge the performance of teachers,” he said. “We cannot have any sacred cows in the room when our children are behind in math and science.”

In his speech, ED in ‘08’'s Roy Romer subtly urged the more conservative wing of the Republican party to embrace the idea that, early in the next administration state school chiefs, governors, and the new administration should sit down together to craft high standards. He said that presidential candidates are often afraid of talking about education policy because they’re worried about offending proponents of local control.

And Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who until was last week was widely speculated to be McCain’s veep pick, talked about his own record on education redesign, particularly the need for merit pay, something he has championed in Minnesota.

In her speech, Secretary Spellings said that advocates for federal accountability need to do a better job selling their proposals, particularly to suburban voters.

“We haven’t fully made our case to the American people,” she said, adding that some voters have criticized the law for taking resources away from one school’s “gifted flute program” and steering it towards inner city schools. “People don’t get what’s at stake for this country.”

Part of the problem, she said, is educational policy lingo. When officials used terms such as adequate yearly progress and international benchmarking, “parents don’t know what we’re talking about,” she said.

Keegan, who moderated the panel, didn’t give a speech. But she did emphasize McCain’s and her own support for accountability. “I’m proud to be working for [someone] who backs NCLB and its accountability requirements,” she said. Which sounded pretty Spellings-esque, at least to me.

--Alyson Klein

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