BEST Education Events of 2010
1. Release of high-profile movies that illuminate America’s education crisis and failure, especially Waiting for Superman, as well as The Lottery and The Cartel.
2. Los Angeles Times publishes teacher evaluations based on test scores.
3. Ratification of the Washington, DC, teachers' union contract.
4. The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) published “Achievement Effects of Four Early Elementary School Math Curricula: Findings for First and Second Graders,” as well as first-year findings of an ongoing study of professional development for middle-school math teachers.
5. “Race to the Top” (see below).
WORST Education Events of 2010
1. Stimulus dollars for education were mainly spent on avoiding layoffs.
2. Adrian Fenty lost the DC mayoral primary, followed by the departure of schools chancellor Michelle Rhee
Rhee had been one of the best superintendents in America, doing much to advance a bold reform agenda and producing solid evidence that such changes can work. The mayor’s loss and her exit are bad for DC and its children; they may also show that the radical changes needed to boost student achievement are politically vulnerable.
3. Governor Charlie Crist’s veto of the Florida tenure reform bill.
4. The demise of the District of Columbia opportunity scholarship program.
5. “Race to the Top” (see below).
BEST and WORST Education Events of 2010
“Race to the Top”
Worst: From the selection of Delaware and Tennessee in round one to the inclusion of undeserving states in round two, as well as rejection of two outstanding applicants (Louisiana and Colorado), the Obama administration disappointed those who believed that the president truly places children ahead of unions and politics. At least three winners were absurd choices (Hawaii, Maryland, Ohio). The selection process rewarded a teachers’ union “buy in,” a recipe for maintaining the status quo. By tying worthy reforms to the lure of federal money, “Race to the Top” may lead to setbacks in states that agreed to make the changes but didn’t get the money.
America’s troubled schools attracted unusual attention during 2010, for both good and ill. How can we sort out the year’s many education developments to determine what truly mattered?
Hoover’s Koret Task Force on K-12 Education pored over the year’s key events, deliberating, arguing, voting, and finally rendering a verdict. The eleven education experts in the task force selected nine notable events; four exclusively in the best-of-year category, four in the worst category, and one—U.S. education secretary Arne Duncan’s high-profile “Race to the Top” competition—clearly in both.
“We considered dozens of people, laws, programs, events, and studies,” explained Hoover Institution research fellow and project director Williamson M. Evers, “and we weren’t always unanimous. But the short lists that emerged illustrate the hits and misses, the glory and the folly of contemporary American school reform.”
Topping the bests are the emotional roller-coaster documentary Waiting for Superman and the Los Angeles Times’s brave and controversial publishing of data on teacher performance.
Leading the worsts are the wasted opportunity for reform in the billions of education dollars lavished on the status quo by President Obama’s stimulus package and the postelection exit of reformer Michelle Rhee from the Washington, DC, public schools.
Runners-up for best are ratification of a performance-linked teachers’ contract in DC (one of Rhee’s signal accomplishments) and a federal study showing that the choice of math curriculum makes as much difference in student achievement as do sexier policy decisions.
Runners-up for worst are outgoing Florida governor Charlie Crist’s veto of a bold teacher-tenure reform measure in the Sunshine State and Congress’s decision (endorsed by the White House) to end the successful DC “opportunity scholarship” program.
“Race to the Top” made it onto both lists. Its tightly focused, competitive nature prompted worthy reforms in a number of states. But it also yielded large grants for several undeserving states and denied grants to at least two states that were worthy applicants.
“This was an amazing year for education,” commented task force chairman Chester E. Finn Jr., “full of thrills and spills, solid achievements and big blunders. We hope that 2011 brings many more of the former and far fewer of the latter.”
Williamson M. Evers
Mobile: (650) 380-1546
evers [at] stanford [dot] edu
Chester E. Finn Jr.
Office: (202) 223-5450
Mobile: (202) 285-6600
cefinnjr [at] aol [dot] com
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