“Education is the one issue that can and must bring us together,” said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan at an event co-sponsored by the Center for American Progress, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Frederick M. Hess of the American Enterprise Institute on Monday.
And indeed the education event brought together some curious political bedfellows. As a leader in the progressive community, CAP regularly battles with the U.S Chamber of Commerce over a number of key domestic issues, including climate change and health care. But when it comes to education, the organizations announced today that they were united in addressing a massive education crisis. “The time for defining the problem is already past. We’ve already done that. The time for sounding the alarm is over. Now is the time for reform,” Thomas J. Donohue, President and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, told the audience.
At the event a new state-by-state report card that evaluates educational innovation was released. Titled “Leaders and Laggards: A State-by-State Report Card on Educational Innovation,” the report is a call for action in response to how poorly states measured up on key indicators of educational innovation.
The authors defined innovation as “the process of leveraging new tools, talent, and management strategies to craft solutions that were not possible in an earlier era,” and that seeks to catalyze a flexible, performance-oriented culture that can help drive a system-wide change. This definition was critical to overhauling schools, said John Podesta, President and CEO of the Center for American Progress, because, “reformers have long confused the novel with the effective.”
The report also found that state education systems are broken and ineffective and could do far more to manage their schools in a way that encourages thoughtful and innovative reform. According to the group’s research, 90 percent of teachers say that routine duties and paperwork interfere with their teaching, and only one-third of teachers approve of how their schools are run.
The authors took particular issue with state finance systems, which they say have grown into a chaotic patchwork of spending programs. The authors found, for instance, that 23 states each had more than 40 different funding initiatives, and that only about half of the states make basic finance data readily available on the Internet.
But the authors said that they did not advocate a one-size-fits-all solution for educational reform. Rather, they stressed that smart, purposeful reform entails enabling and incentivizing innovation at the state and local levels, so that educators can work out their own solutions. As report co-author Cynthia G. Brown explains, “what we want are options for kids.”
Based on the group’s research, a detailed list of recommendations was developed to suggest the most effective approach to reforming the nation’s education system. Recommendations include empowering schools and principals, developing student-based funding policies, and reforming teacher pay as well as promoting the development of entrepreneurial educational organizations.
Over the coming weeks and months, CAP, the Chamber, and Frederick M. Hess of AEI will be meeting with policy makers around the county—and from both sides of the aisle—to try to bring their goals into reality. Education reform, said the Chamber’s Donohue, must not be a divisive issue: “It’s not political by party. It’s political by my children and my grandchildren.”
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