Education news finally reaching the masses

Jonathan Alter of Newsweek recently published a great article, “How Obama is Making Real Progress on Education,” that discusses how RTTT has significantly impacted education reform in the last year, and how the democrats are finally getting on the ed reform train. While the article doesn’t go into tremendous detail about any of the specific issues, it’s about time that the mainstream publications/media are highlighting the truth about our education system. Some excerpts from the article:

In a meeting in Seoul, President Lee Myung-bak confided to Obama that his biggest problem in education was that South Korean parents were pressuring him to import more English teachers so their kids could learn English in first grade instead of having to wait until second grade. This is what we’re up against in global competition, the president said. “And then I sit down with U.S. reporters, and the question they have for me, in Asia, is ‘Have you read Sarah Palin’s book?’?” At that point Obama shook his head and said, “True story. True story.”

The good news, which should in-spire a little hope (though not the usual complacent overconfidence), is that the education-reform movement in the United States—the most critical social movement of our time—has made more progress in the last year than in the previous 10. The push for reform, which began with the 1983 government report “A Nation at Risk,” had been stymied for years by what’s sometimes known as “The Blob”—the collection of bureaucracies, school boards, and teachers’ unions committed to protecting the failed status quo. But Obama is the first Democrat who was elected president without the early support of teachers’ unions (they backed Hillary Clinton), and he has seized the opportunity.

Under pressure from teachers’ unions, many states had shackled charters, which operate outside the archaic contracts that make it nearly impossible to have longer school days, fire bad teachers, or turn around failing schools. It’s true that there are plenty of lousy charter schools that bring down the averages, but today’s renewed attacks on charters ignore the fact that the vast majority of the best-performing schools in at-risk communities are charters.

The key to saving kids and thus the future of the country is to foster good teaching. Perhaps the most important component of Race to the Top is the requirement that student performance be used as a partial factor in teacher evaluation. Instead of comparing schools—the apples-and-oranges centerpiece of President Bush’s unpopular No Child Left Behind program—Duncan aims to find out whether Johnny actually learned anything over the course of the year. It’s hard to believe, but until recently these so-called value-added data hadn’t even been collected.

All this reform has kicked off a family feud within the Democratic Party, and the forces of the status quo are fighting back. When a few House Democrats tried to gut Race to the Top, Obama issued a veto threat. Now Republicans want to prevent White House efforts to replicate the success of Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone. For the first time ever, substantial numbers of Democrats back real reform, though important reformers like Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado and Rep. Tom Perriello of Virginia face tough campaigns this fall.

The two major teachers’ unions have diverged recently. The American Federation of Teachers, headed by Randi Weingarten, even helped enact a teacher- tenure-reform bill in Colorado that’s a national model. By contrast, the hidebound Nation-al Education Association is still bitterly opposed to any accountability. Obama insists that education policy center on what’s good for students, not adult interest groups.”

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