A New Foundation

August 25th, 2010

Category: News

With the announcement of the second round Race to the Top winners, we now have a solid foundation for systemic education reform.

Twenty years ago, charters were born and comprehensive school reform models like Success For All and Expeditionary Learning broke the mold. In the last decade, big cities like New York and Chicago took up the mantle, introducing higher expectations, new approaches to finding and training top talent, and portfolios of new school options, which while including charters simply underscored the need for more great schools. This year, the Obama administration has incorporated the lessons learned at the school and district levels and ushered in a new unit of analysis: states.

Admittedly, no state is fully ready to take on the vast work ahead — the development and design of new standards, data systems, and strategies for finding and keeping great teachers and leaders. And certainly no state is truly ready to face the full political, technical and economic cost of turning around its perennially failing schools. Yet here we sit. Twelve states with plans, some funding and political momentum to get started, along with many more — particularly Louisiana, Colorado and Illinois — that have passed legislation and built strong plans that are ready to go.

This is a powerful moment.

This collective of states needs to recognize this moment and be willing to share our warts and our successes if we are to make the transformative changes in performance we know this country is capable of.  The moral and economic imperatives could not be clearer.

From this moment of challenge and opportunity has come a movement. Across the country there is an unprecedented desire to see past our state borders.  My colleagues and I in DE are in touch regularly with our peers in CO, LA, and IL to talk through turnarounds. A few weeks ago, the Hope Street Group and West Ed put together a great, day-long working session here that included educators from DC, DE, CO, CT, FL, and TN to talk through how best to evaluate teacher performance in ways that make sense.

As this movement grows, there will be increasing power in our numbers.  As a district or state takes a new step, others will feel emboldened to take the next step too.  We need to capitalize on this moment.  If we try to work in isolation with the hope of creating some distance on our peers, we will fail, and fall victim to the political constraints of our states and make incremental gains at best.

We will stumble and have to readjust. States need to build new teams. November will bring transitions in leadership. The trajectory will not be smooth and straight.  But, if we — this growing critical mass of public and private sector folks committed to re-envisioning public education — keep focused, maintain the urgency, and are willing to share what is working, and more importantly, what is not, the proof points in districts and states will come.As a start, here are some early thoughts on Delaware’s first few months of RttT implementation, and I look forward to learning from all of you as we collectively write this new chapter in American education. 


Paul Herdman