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A Report Card on Education Reform


NOTE: This article appears in the Business Section of the paper. Loving data, the head of the Business Roundtable wants to track education like sports scores. And here's how he sees kids: "All the products of K-12 system."

That's just how school deformers treat kids--as products.

Duncan? He's just on auto-pilot. He has the script memorizes and he delivers it.

Reader Comment: Simply remarkable. 3 non-educators opining about education in the offices of corporate lobbyists, using the same, essentially inaccurate talking points after having shared their education wisdom with a roomful of business executives. This piece would have been a good education-reform piece in The Onion.

Reader Comment: Notice how Mr. Duncan avoids answering the questions while sticking to his talking points.



By David Leonhardt

Mitch Daniels, president of Purdue University, left, and John Engler, president of the Business Roundtable.Danny Moloshok/Reuters (left); Charles V. Tines/Associated Press Mitch Daniels, president of Purdue University, left, and John Engler, president of the Business Roundtable.

I sat down last week in Washington with Arne Duncan, the secretary of education, and Mitch Daniels, the former Indiana governor and current Purdue University president, after they had met with several dozen chief executives of big companies to talk about education. Their meeting was at the office of the Business Roundtable, the corporate lobbying group, and joining us for the conversation was John Engler, the former Michigan governor who runs the Business Roundtable.
Education Secretary Arne DuncanNeilson Barnard/Getty Images, for The New York Time Education Secretary Arne Duncan

Mr. Duncan is a Democrat, of course, and Mr. Daniels and Mr. Engler are Republicans. But they all sympathize with many of the efforts of the so-called education reform movement. I asked them whether the countryâs education system was really in crisis and what mistakes school reformers had made. A lightly edited version of the first part of our conversation follows; the second part will appear on Economix on Thursday.

Leonhardt: You always hear we're in crisis. But what is the bad news, and what is the good news, and are we making any progress?

Duncan: I do think we have a crisis. I do feel tremendous urgency. If you look at any international comparison -- which in a global economy is much more important than 30 or 40 years ago -- on no indicator are we anywhere near where we want to be. Whether it's test scores or college graduation rates, whatever it is, we're not close. So weâve got a long way to go. That's the challenge.

Why I am hopeful is we have seen some real progress. Some things are going the right way. The question is how do we accelerate that progress. College graduations rates are up some. High school graduation rates are up to 30-year highs, which is a big step in the right direction.

The African-American/Latino community is driving much of that improvement, which is very, very important. There is a huge reduction in the number of kids going to dropout factories. We are seeing real progress. The question is how do we get better faster.

Daniels: I am glad that the secretary didnât pull any punches. I don't know any other way to read it. In Indiana, we just had, by far, the best results weâve ever seen in our state. Everything was up. The high-school graduation rate is up 10 percent in just four years. Test scores, advanced-placement scores too. But weâre just nowhere near where we need to be. And the competition is not standing still. So we need many more years of progress at the current rate, and it still maybe too slow. I'm afraid this is a half-empty analysis, but I think it's an honest one.

Engler: The president of Purdue and the president of the Business Roundtable -- we are the consumer groups here at the table. All the products of K-12 system are either going to go to the university or they are going to the work force. The military is not here, but they're not very different.

We need to have a system where everybody who leaves high school can go to college without remediation. We are nowhere close to that. And other nations are spending significantly less, but ramping up their performance significantly faster. We've got a gap to close.

Leonhardt: So you all agree, essentially, that there is a huge problem, and you all agree we are making progress, and you all agree the progress isnât fast enough.

Duncan: Yes.

Engler: Yes.

Daniels: Yeah.

Leonhardt: I think -- whether you like the term or not -- you all identify yourself as sympathetic to the goals of the school-reform movement. Given that, I'd be interested in your thoughts about what has the school reform movement -- the "choice" movement or the accountability movement or whatever it is -- learned? What did it not have quite right initially, and what has it learned?

Duncan: A huge thing: No Child Left Behind was very well-intentioned. It did lots of things to spotlight the achievement gap. What it didn't get was the need for high standards. What actually happened, which is really, really insidious, is that you had almost 20 states, in reaction to the law, dummy-down their standards and lower their standards.

The worst thing that I think can happen to kids and families, and particularly disadvantaged communities, is that people expect less of them, to make politicians look good. What I think the reform movement got wrong fundamentally is it was very loose on goals but very tight on how to get there.

I just fundamentally believe in a different theory of change. I believe in being tight on goals -- having a very high bar -- and loose on how to get there. We should give people a lot more room and flexibility to create and to be innovative.

I think that the reform movement got that wrong in a big way. Not from lack of good intent. And I think that was big. It hurt the country in a way that we're working hard to correct.

Daniels: Yes, I think that was a central policy mistake. The other, I think, is people still, even to this day, underestimate the sometimes violent resistance that the status quo puts up. All the evidence, all the great speeches, all the leadership, even from both sides of the political fence, have proven inadequate to really move the rock as far and as fast as it needs to move.

Leonhardt: A lot of other Democrats and liberals say, "Hey, this stuff hasn't worked nearly as well as the proponents say. Charter schools donât perform any better. A lot of the stuff has been oversold." What is your answer?

Duncan: The truth is that the results are mixed. The truth is also that the highest-performing charters are doing extraordinary things for communities who havenât had those opportunities. For me, there is nothing inherently good or bad about a school with a name charter. We just need many more high-quality schools, and this is why I think in education, we fight all the wrong battles.

The battle is not traditional versus charter. We have one common enemy, and it's academic failure. Where charters are reducing academic failure and increasing graduation rates, and sending kids to college, we need to replicate that and learn from it and support it. Where do we have success? Where are parents and students voting with their feet -- where you have 1,000 to 2,000 kids looking for that kind of option? They are telling us something. We've got to listen. We owe it to them to listen. Take those lessons into traditional schools. And where traditional schools are doing that same thing, weâve got to listen.

Anyone who said that every charter is successful is part of the problem. Anyone who says that charters are all part of the problem is part of the problem.

We all know great teachers and principals matter a lot and make a huge difference in kid outcomes. We have 15,000 school districts in this country. Those should be laboratories for innovation and creativity. We don't have one school district that Iâm aware of in this country, not one out of 15,000, that systematically identifies their highest-performing teachers and principals who get the best results for the kids and puts them with the kids in the communities that need the most help.

What generally happens is exactly the opposite. The kids in the communities who need the most help get the least.

Engler: I think we need to keep data and academic performance the way we keep it on sports. I mean, we know everything about where we stand in the league in football, but we could be last in the league in mathematics for a decade, and we'd never know it. C.E.O.'s talk about the difficulty finding out graduation rates from a local school where they have a facility.

For more on these topics, there is a video of my interview with Mr. Duncan at The Times Center in New York last week.

— David Leonhardt
New York Times

2013-09-26

http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/09/25/a-report-card-on-education-reform/?emc=edit_tnt_20130926&tntemail0=y&_r=0

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