Race to the Top through the gift of new eyes
Let’s have the courageous honesty to acknowledge that Monday’s bold announcement by Education Secretary Arne Duncan of Round One Race to the Top winners–only Delaware and Tennessee–is one of the most important teachable moments in our state’s history of education reform.
Not only did we fail to win anything, of course, we were unable to even get to the starting gate due to our state’s lack of key criteria for the Race to the Top competition. We have been betting everything on Round Two. Today I was on hand as Governor Gregoire signed Senate Bill 6696 to qualify us for Round Two. Is it enough? Looking at today’s results from Round One, the answer seems to be ‘no’.
The Governor took special pains in her remarks to point out that she was uncomfortable with my provision eliminating de facto tenure for future Seattle principals. She nearly vetoed the section but decided to work with me this year to craft new legislation addressing more authority (and likely taking the current legislation statewide) next year. The inside story is that I had to lobby her all week long to maintain this legislation, and it stayed in the bill with the passionate community organzing of Stand for Children, League of Education Voters and many other education reform advocates. Thank you!
The irony of today’s dual events is not lost on anyone. Secretary Duncan rejected conventional wisdom in D.C. by rejecting all of the Round One applications save two. We all essentially failed these tough new standards. Just as so many are failing our children everyday.
At the same time we were on hand in the Governor’s own high school gym in Auburn to sign our state’s Round Two legislation. Still, we learned that now is the time not for congratulations on our recent legislation–despite it’s enormous potential and the hard work to get here–but to look deeper into our larger journey of education reform both before, during and after the Obama Administration. Now is the time to see that we too often battle over inputs, money, process and effort, but rarely do we see graduation rates rise or quality improve.
From a systems level, now is a time for reflection and humility, and to see the wide gap that exists between our romantic image of ourselves as a progressive, entrepreneurial, innovative and evidence-based state to one that is clearly in the middle of the pack in terms of educational quality.
We are so much more than what we’ve become.
We have done so much to build partnerships and coalitions, funding models, data structures and new evaluation tools. We all know the people within education care deeply from teachers and principals to administrators, legislators and governors. And yet, through years of hard work, we continue to slip in terms of outcomes. We continue to see high drop out rates, high under achievement, poor quality results and questionable use of dollars. We continue to struggle to operate the bureaucracy of education in a way that reflects the soul of learning. No one–from principals to teachers to administrators to legislators–ever seems lose their jobs or pay a price of any sort when our kids fail. We seem to rationalize, excuse, explain and justify each failure.
Many of our schools are very good. Most are not. Many are extremely ineffective. But our larger system is not strong. We do not demand greatness for our kids. We don’t seem to look outside the proverbial box for innovation. We have the same basic structure that we’ve had since the 1880s when our state was founded.
We don’t really, truly and genuinely seem to put kids at the center of our systems. We have 296 school districts in our state only because it decentralizes political power. We have superintendents who make large salaries but show little improvement in outcomes. We have part time, citizen school boards easily intimidated by full time bureaucracies. We don’t seems to directly link money and resources to anything that can be measured.
President Obama ran for office embracing a bold, energetic call for change in America. He challenged us to look deeper at ourselves and summon the moral courage to tackle the hard work of change beyond the headlines and slogans. His courage in rejecting so many states in Round One is a heroic act of leadership. It is a challenge for all of us to wake up to the larger systemic challenges of our day.
I honor his willingness to demand more, to push us to think harder, to act with moral conviction about a new type of educational system in America.
Now, with this deeply humbling lesson in hand, I hope the Governor will call a summit of education leaders in the public and private sectors to courageously look at our progress and our efforts to win Race to the Top with the gift of new eyes.
Your partner in service,