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Thompson: The Petrilli - Ravitch Solution

Petrilli  Mike Petrilli sees "one way to reauthorize NCLB in 2010 and it’s precisely to throw the baby out with the bathwater. That’s what many reformers fear most ... The next phase of education reform doesn’t need a federal law that’s even more prescriptive, more punitive, and more far-reaching than the current one. It needs three things instead. First, some humility that Washington isn’t great at making change happen, especially via sticks. Second, it needs transparency—data about school performance that we can trust. And third, it needs incentives (i.e., competitive grants) for schools/districts/innovators to continue experimenting and to scale up successes.

If the effort to create common national standards and tests succeeds, and is adopted by a majority of the states, within a few years we could have credible, transparent information about how most schools in the country are truly performing. That would enable us to switch the federal role to a "tight-loose" approach that Secretary Duncan (and yes, those of us at Fordham) advocate, "

Similarly, Diane Ravitch proposes "national testing (à la NAEP), based on coherent curriculum standards, but without stakes

Ravitch  or sanctions. ... It should be left to states and districts to devise sanctions and reforms." She notes "if states and localities don't want to improve their schools, then we are in deeper trouble as a nation than any law passed by Congress can fix."

Ravitch further explains "Michael Petrilli ... is one of the few Beltway think-tankers who have begun to realize that NCLB is not working" ... (and) his recommendations "to get rid of Washington's heavy-handed micromanagement" were met with scorn by so-called "reformers." "Petrilli said that ‘Washington is at least three or four steps removed from the operation of local schools.’" Ravitch "would amend that to say, ‘Washington is at least 300 to 400 steps removed from the operation of local schools ...’"

"People who do not live inside the Beltway cannot imagine how strongly entrenched are the forces that demand reauthorization of NCLB, more or less in its present form, explains Ravitch, "Many of the Beltway think tanks—more so Democrats than Republicans—seem to have a proprietary interest in NCLB and they jeer at anyone who wants to change it. The Republican think tanks are uneasy with the extent of federal interference and control of education that NCLB has legitimized. The Democratic think tanks think that any complaints about NCLB are the work of lazy, selfish interest groups who just don't want to do the hard work of making 100 percent of our kids "proficient" by 2014.

Ravitch describes the most common reaction by teachers to her indictment of NCLB, which is asking "’how do we express our views about this law without being characterized as just another selfish interest group?’" She recognizes "when you have a debate in which those who are in the trenches are labeled as selfish "adult" interests ... (and) the views of the people who are actually supposed to do the work of educating children—the teachers, principals, and superintendents—are dismissed out of hand by NCLB's defenders" little progress will occur. Moreover, Ravitch is one of the few policy experts with the temerity to ask of the liberal authors of NCLB "how many of their staff and advisers have ever led or turned around a failing school? How many years did any of them serve as teachers or principals? How many schools have they personally reformed? By what logic or evidence did they decide that turning "failing" schools over to state control or private managers or charters would make them high-performing schools?"

Petrilli expresses the same tough-mindedness, concluding "editorial boards and sundry reformers will scream that this amounts to a 'rollback' of NCLB's tough-love approach.  Let them scream, Mr. President -- and use some of your remaining capital to explain why this more measured approach is actually the one more likely to succeed in getting our schools to the next level.  Plus, it's also the one approach that could pass Congress in a bipartisan fashion, uniting educators on the Left with conservatives on the Right."


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