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Rick Hess Straight Up

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.

Federal Opinion

“Frog, I Said Stay in that Wheelbarrow!”

By Rick Hess — July 22, 2010 1 min read

This week, over on the National Journal “education experts” blog, we’re debating our earnest Secretary of Education’s declaration to the NAACP last week that the administration wants a reauthorized NCLB (nee ESEA) to “require parent and community input” in turning around persistently low-performing schools. Joanne Jacobs has another quick take here. My two cents:

Duncan’s sentiment is a fine one. Community and parental involvement are enormously important. And low-performing schools often suffer from a paucity of both. Of course, it’s not like others haven’t tried to previously address this. I especially love Duncan’s pledge that the feds will “require” parent and community input. Not only that, but Uncle Sam will require “honest, open discussion” as well. Man, what a great idea. Here are a few other suggestions, while Duncan’s on a roll.

Let’s require colleges to get meaningful input as to how they can be more cost-effective. Let’s require airlines to make a sincere effort to seek customer input about baggage fees and cabin comfort. Let’s require the Deepwater Horizon cap not to leak. And let’s require frogs not to jump out of wheelbarrows.

Encouraging schools and districts to reach out to parents and communities, providing them with useful tools for doing so, and holding them responsible for student outcomes are all helpful ideas. But writing policies to mandate “input-seeking” and “honest discussion”? Talk about a recipe for symbolic, heart-not-in-it compliance. I thought Duncan had signaled that reauthorization was going to be a pivot away from the micro-management and unhelpfully prescriptive interventions of the Bush administration’s NCLB. But perhaps not.

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