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Thompson: What Obama Will Do, Vs. What He *Should* Do

Obama2In her recent piece, Obama Education Policy: Second Term Still Not Clear, the Huffington Post’s Joy Resmovits cites Alexander's past pattern of retaining the “reluctant allegiance of teachers” while balancing our interest with those of reformers.

Indeed, many teachers were appalled by the President's education policy.  But we had no reluctance in supporting his reelection, and, as the election unfolded, we were pleased when he stopped promoting anti-teacher policies.  

Hechinger's Sarah Butrymowicz Obama Re-Elected: What Four More Years Means for Education cites Jeff Henig's analysis that Race to the Top will remain “not just an education program but a philosophy about how you wield influence from Washington, D.C."

Before continuing the philosophy of using competitive grants to drive school improvement, however, we should ask whether RttT worked.  President Obama should appoint John Q. Easton, or an equally proven scholar, to lead a comprehensive cost benefit analysis of whether his experiment improved schools.  In the meantime, rather than perpetually pitting one Democratic constituency against another, the president should listen to NEA's Dennis Van Roekel and focus on early education and higher education affordability, which do not divide the Administration's base.-JT(@drjohnthompson) Image via.

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This being 2012, it's almost certainly too early to do a cost-benefit analysis to see whether Race to the Top has worked. After reading Steven Brill's "Class Warfare", I am skeptical that the federal Department of Education has the capacity to much improve our nation's schools, in spite of the fact that I have done some work for the department (and would again, if asked). Brill shows that complex federal civil service rules make it difficult to get enough competent reviewers for the grant applications; and running the Department of Education as if it were the Gates Foundation grown large is an approach the propriety of which I am also skeptical about.

In my studies, I have come to believe that nations with federal (not national, but more locally oriented) approaches to education, such as Australia, Canada, and Switzerland, outperform all of the more unitary systems; so, while I do support some federal efforts to better coordinate our disparate state systems and to send extra money to the poor, I am now focusing my efforts at much more local efforts for improvement, and hope to spread educational success by word-of-mouth and the Internet, rather than political fiat (so disappointed have I been in our political process).

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