President Obama is giving what the White House is calling a “major” speech on education reform on Thursday. Here is the official White House release:
“On Thursday, July 29th at the National Urban League 100th Anniversary Convention in Washington, DC, President Obama will deliver a major education reform speech emphasizing how his signature Race to the Top program and other initiatives are driving education reform across the country and focusing the nation on the goal of preparing students for college and careers. He will highlight the unprecedented support for and adoption of common standards by a majority of states already, and the Administration’s commitment to develop the next generation of high-quality assessments benchmarked to common standards. The President’s speech will focus on the dramatic reforms that states, school districts, schools and teachers unions have undertaken over the past 18 months, including steps to improve teacher effectiveness and transform persistently low-performing schools.”
I thought I’d give it a similar shot at what I would like the President to say about schools:
As many of you know, I was a community organizer before I became President. Two of the chief tenets of successful organizing are that the people who are most affected by a problem are the ones who are probably going to have the best ideas on how to solve them, and that, though many feel most comfortable with dividing the world and its issues into black and white and right and wrong, most issues, in fact, involve much more ambiguity.
I am not afraid to admit, and learn from, my mistakes. And, in terms of my Administration’s policies on education, I believe that I have forgotten these important organizing rules.
We have not done a good job listening to teachers, administrators, parents, and students to hear their ideas on how to best improve our schools. We have not done a good job listening to their ideas on student and teacher assessment. We have not done a good job acknowledging that we need to be creative on responding to the many challenges our schools face- both inside and outside the four walls of their buildings.
Instead, we have been seduced by how much easier it is to see the world through a lens of self-righteousness in acting like we have all the answers. We have allowed ourselves to become enthralled by “data” when, in fact, we should be informed by data and not driven by it. We have let ourselves be seduced by well-heeled “experts,” many of whom have had minimal direct experience in the classroom. We have bought-in to the notion that anyone who opposes our policies does not have the best interests of our children in their heart.
But no more.
This week, I have approached key leaders in the world of education — among teachers, students, administrators and parents — and have asked them to help me re-evaluate my Administration’s education policies over the next two months. These are people who have a genuine base of support and who recognize the importance of finding common ground, and who also recognize the difference between “half a loaf” and “half a baby.” At the end of those two months, I have asked them to provide to me a list of recommendations on how we move forward.
This process will not be easy. It will be messy. But it will be the best way forward for our children, who deserve no less.
Unfortunately, I suspect this wish is as fanciful as the one I had about Secretary Duncan’s speech….