December 1, 2014; Forbes
Forbes convened what it called the “top leaders from the four key constituent groups” in the arena of fixing or remaking U.S. public education to make it “again…tops in the world.” It might be a little presumptuous to name U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan as the spokesperson for the federal government, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo the articulator of state government concerns, and D.C. schools chancellor Kaya Henderson as the representative of local school boards. The notion of Henderson speaking for school boards—in the Forbes analytical structure, a stand-in for the interests of parents and student—is kind of dubious: Henderson isn’t a school board member, but an employee of the schools’ governing body and the successor to (and, some would say, acolyte of) Michelle Rhee. They all may work for parts of the education establishment, but they all have ideological biases that others among their “constituent groups” might not endorse.
The fourth top leader may be a dubious representative herself. Forbes recruited Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers to speak for the teachers unions. Without suggesting that AFT is better or worse, there is another teachers union of significance in the form of the National Education Association, whose membership of 3 million surpasses the AFT’s 1.6 million members (a total that includes 112,000 health professionals outside the teaching profession). And, though many of our friends in organized labor might not like this question, when it comes to speaking for teachers—as opposed to speaking for teachers unions—is the AFT, with or without the NEA, sufficient? Or do teachers have issues and concerns that may not be reflected in the AFT or NEA agendas? As an example, consider organizations like the Badass Teachers Association, which has 53,000 members, an endorsement by education reform critic Diane Ravitch, and a mission statement that rejects “assessments, tests and evaluations created and imposed by corporate driven entities that have contempt for authentic teaching and learning.”
In any case, these four top leaders—an “all-star lineup,” according to Forbes—participated in a roundtable conversation moderated by hedge fund mogul and Robin Hood Foundation founder Paul Tudor Jones to identify five education policies that merit serious public investment and, if “fully implemented,” could “vault” U.S. public education in each area into the world’s top five and “if undertaken together, would surely take us to number one.”
The five policies selected by the Forbes education all-stars were: “teacher efficacy, universal pre-K, Common Core standards, blended learning (incorporating technology into how students are taught) and school leadership (training and empowering principals).” As Duncan put it, the five policies are or should be “mutually enforcing” and should be tackled “full speed ahead and scale [sic] on all five.”
Even among the all-stars, there were different accent marks placed on the policies. The AFT’s Weingarten suggested that “you need to do them together with a real focus on equity,” a pleasantly obvious concept that seems to evade practical implementation more often than not. Cuomo put the issue of disparities in terms with which the Badass Teachers would agree : “We have two education systems, and it’s not public-private, it’s rich and poor.”
Perhaps it was the presence of a venture philanthropist like Jones moderating the conversation, but the all-stars quickly reached something of a consensus around the necessary role of philanthropy. Henderson, for example, credited $67 million from philanthropy as the “catalytic impact in pushing me to move blended learning across my district, with improving teacher quality,” without necessarily noting that the foundations’ money was keyed to helping D.C. negotiate a union contract, with a pay-for-performance requirement 5 Policies from Forbes Ed “All-Stars” to Make US Public Education “Tops” - NPQ - Nonprofit Quarterly: