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HOTSEAT: Former USDE Official Dishes On Spellings, Popular Reforms

51qd4aep1il_ss500_ Former USDE official and current University of Michigan education researcher Susan Neuman has a book out this week that identifies a handful of programs that she says are proven to be effective.

But they're not the ones that you might think.  There's no KIPP, no Harlem Children's Zone.  Instead there are things like the Nurse Family Partnership program (which you may recall from Kate Boo's Swamp Nurse article in the New Yorker a few years back.)

It's a pretty controversial view of things, especially for those coming from the reformy / accountability hawk side of things.  (Earlier this week, David Whitman called her view "defeatist.")

On the HotSeat, Neuman dishes about Margaret Spellings (they're apparently not Facebook friends),  describes how poverty "trumps everything," talks about Minessota's experience using her research as part of a program review, and says she wants to be on Oprah.

Click below for all her answers.  Or go check out the book: Seven Essential Principles of Educational Programs that Break the Cycle of Poverty.

So I hear you're headed back to DC to join the Obama administration -- congratulations!   

 SN: Try to tell my family that!

Tell us again what you did while you were in DC and why you left:

SN: It was time to get back to my real love--research and interventions that work for children of poverty--I'm incredibly lucky to be able to do the work I do.

What was the moment/reason when you realized you couldn't support NCLB any longer, and is there any part of it that you don't regret now?

 SN: What I learned so powerfully throughout my experiences in Washington is that poverty trumps everything.  Schools, as good as they may be, will never be such all-encompassing institutions.   

Now that you're safely away, tell us a couple of things about Margaret Spellings that we might not know -- what's she really like, and what's her real legacy on school reform? Are you guys Facebook friends?

SN: Margaret's one tough lady; focused; committed to her boss, and NCLB.  She can tell pretty outrageous jokes, and is the embodiment of Texas all the way.

How's the reaction to the new book been so far, in terms of press coverage and policymakers' interest?

SN: Policymakers are looking at concrete ideas that don't always ask for more funding; the book focuses on better spending, not more spending; it also highlights programs that have shown sustainable evidence of achievement gains over time; what more could a policymaker want?

Broader Bolder, which you signed -- that's just code for getting rid of tests and going back to long units on the rainforest, right?

SN: You wish. The Broader Bolder statement recognizes some fundamentals I raise in the book. Accountability--good accountability--is the lynchpin of change and program improvement.

Are any of the ideas in your book already being used by districts or states that want to take a more rigorous approach to their education initiatives?

SN: Minnesota--one smart state--reviewed each of their programs against the seven essentials. It was an eye-opening experience.

Which of the ideas in your new book is most likely to turn into reality on the national level, do you think?  Who's got dibs?

SN: The sooner the new team in education gets in gear, they'll need to find programs that work. [Neuman says she’s in touch with a variety of folks on the Hill and in the transition, and that NFP seems the most likely first item.]

Speaking of dibs, what was your role in that whole Reading First program that made everyone used DIBELS?

SN: The newest evaluation shows we have a lot to do in order to make Reading First a more effective program.

Why do you hate Geoffrey Canada and the Harlem Children's Zone so much? That's like hating the Shibu Inu puppies. 

SN: I love the Harlem Children's Zone.  In fact, I'm trying to get some of my students to volunteer there this summer.  But before I buy in to any replication, I need to see data. You know, we used to say 'in God we trust'--all others bring data!

 What's next for you, after you do the Today show and the Colbert Report?

 SN: Oprah, of course. There's no one in this country more passionate about changing the odds for children at risk than this wonderful woman!


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Margaret Spellings is being sued for her part in academic fraud and covering up for two accreditors. Two federal cases have been filed and a third one awaits. Two civil cases have also been filed against the school involved. More can be read on www.educationalfraud.com/

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