Things are heating up

August 6th, 2010

Category: News

Things are heating up. Delaware just went through one of the hottest Julys on record, and in the nation’s capital education reform is coming to a head.

On Thursday, USED’s Jim Shelton announced the i3 grants, a $650 million package of commitments that is based on well-tested school improvement programs that will touch almost every state, with considerably more focus, finally, on rural areas. Just 49 of nearly 1700 applicants were successful. The largest “scale up” awards will be $50M, demonstrating reviewers’ confidence in the power of groups like KIPP and Teach For America to transform what’s happening in classrooms, especially for the neediest of our students.

The announcement falls on the heels of last week’s expression of concern by major civil rights organizations about the competitive nature of Secretary Duncan’s and President Obama’s reform agenda, which the groups felt would leave many children in “losing” states behind. Fortunately, everyone seems to be back on generally the same page. It’s clear that the competitive framework of RttT and i3 has spurred enormous changes in policy and practice across the country that will continue to benefit most all children, regardless of which states got the money. A NYT piece, Obama Defends Education Program, summarizes the issue.

Then, of course, there was the National Education Association’s “no confidence” vote on the President’s education agenda in early July. (See Ed Week story here.) So, it’s been hot.

Just last week I was reminded, yet again, why this is so urgent. Several Delawareans had the chance to attend a pre-release screening of the powerful new documentary by Davis Guggenheim that is going shake up this debate even further. Just as An Inconvenient Truth did for global warming, Waiting for Superman will raise the temperature of discussion and debate even further. The film will premier in October and is sure to make a stir.

This flurry of activity reflects what Martin Luther King might have called “creative tension.” When he was sitting in a Birmingham Jail and being told to cool off and slow down, he said he could not and that “creative tension” is needed if we are to move on any major social issue. We often shy away from difficult conversations, but the fact that the union is speaking out, that civil rights groups are talking, the President is standing his ground, and reform-minded artists like Guggenheim are documenting the issue simply says that the president is creating the tension, the space, necessary for fundamental change to take place.

As Secretary Duncan said in remarks a week ago, there is a “quiet revolution” going on in this country. It’s an incredibly important battle to be a part of and I’m glad that Delaware is on the front line.

Paul Herdman