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Washington Steps Up on Schools

Ohanian Comment: Has the New York Times ever issued a good editorial on education policy? Here, the writer, who borrows rhetorical style from the disreputable "Nation at Risk," has the audacity to complain about mediocrity. He should look in the mirror.

Slackers, indeed.

Note the call for "common standards and tests." He says the government shouldn't write the standards. No, leave it up to Achieve and other Business Roundtable cohorts.

Would that people calling for such standards and tests knew anything about how children learn and how bogus standardized tests are.


The federal government talks tough about requiring the states to improve schools in exchange for education aid. Then it caves in to political pressure and rewards mediocrity when it's time to enforce the bargain. As a result, the country has yet to achieve many of the desperately needed reforms laid out in the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 and other laws dating back to the 1990's.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan is ready to break with that tradition as he prepares to distribute the $4.3 billion discretionary pot of money known as the Race to the Top Fund. States that have dragged their feet or actively resisted school reform in the past are screaming about the rigorous but as yet preliminary criteria by which their grant applications will be judged.

President Obama gave fair notice of this shift in a speech earlier this year, when he talked about pressuring the states to do better by the countryĂ¢€™s 50 million schoolchildren. But Mr. Duncan will need cover from the White House to weather the storm.

The long and detailed list of criteria just released by the administration includes a fine-grained evaluation process under which states get points for reforms they have made and points for changes they promise to make -- and conditional funding that can be revoked if they don't make them. The process finally allows the federal government to reward states that have made progress and to bypass slackers.

The president and the secretary are rightly interested in replacing a wild patchwork of standards with coherent common standards and tests that would allow parents to compare their schools with others. The government cannot and should not write those standards.

But states that have committed to joining, say, the standards consortium started by the National Governors Association will be favored in the funding competition over states that have not. More consideration will eventually be given to states that develop plans for adopting internationally benchmarked K-through-12 standards that build toward college and career readiness.

Similarly, the process requires states to develop systems that evaluate teacher performance, taking student achievement into account. States must also be required to make sure that poor and minority students finally get a fair share of high-quality teachers. But that requirement will be meaningful only if the states are forced to develop serious teacher-quality measures. In general, the plan needs to be clearer about what states must do for long-neglected minority students.

But over all, it marks an important step forward in the federal stance on education.

— Editorial
New York Times




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