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THOMPSON: Pride Before the Fall

Hubris One pole of the Obama administration’s commitment to innovation is personified by Van Jones, who seeks neighborhood "solution centers" based upon traditional wisdom. Jones describes the $5 billion Stimulus fund for weatherization as the "hardest working, most humble" of investment dollars. Jones makes a special effort to communicate across lines of race and class

The hubris of other pole is exemplified by a new generation of educational "reformers" that has been manifestly uninterested in the "cultures and institutional norms" of the "status quo." Their pride is illustrated by the Center for American Progress, American Enterprise Institute’s "Stimulating Excellence," which argues for "clearing obstacles that hinder entrepreneurial innovation." The CAP,AEI proposal merely assumes a) that those obstacles serve no valid purposes and b) ignores the wisdom of veteran educators who explain why their innovations are not nearly ready to be replicated.

At one pole, Arne Duncan wants "an earful" from veteran educators about our modest capacity and he says, "I can count on one hand the number of turnaround specialists" doing this "dramatic" work of overhauling the lowest-performing schools. 

Jack Jennings further cautions that states did not receive turnaround funding until 2007.  Jennings worries that Duncan (who frequently articulates the other, more prideful pole) does not understand "Its not going to be like turn on a switch, where they can suddenly produce 100 turnaround specialists in Michigan."

Mike Casserly, Russ Whitehurst, and presumably his successor, John Easton, understand that we need both - innovation and an awareness of the limits of innovation. These exemplars of either "the status quo," or the wisdom of veteran professionals at its best, seek a balance between experimentation and the hard-headed appraisal of effectiveness.

The Center for American Progress has a record of embracing both poles.  I’d say we need the enthusiasm of this new generation of education "reformers," but we do not need their arrogance. Soon, I will use the New Jersey experience to illustrate why humble reforms that are hiding "in plain sight" are more promising than grandiose reform schemes. - John Thompson

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Might be a good time for some of these folks to curl up with a good book - namely Charles Payne's So Much Reform, So Little Change, which is centers on Chicago, though ranges far and wide. Dr. Payne has also collaborated intensively with John Easton...

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