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The Hoover Institution hosted "Education 20/20 Speaker Series: Rod Paige and Peter Wehner" on Wednesday, May 1, 2019 from 4:00-6:00 p.m. EDT.

Our Education 20/20 speaker series continued on May 1, featuring two eminent conservative thinkers: Rod Paige, Secretary of Education under President George W. Bush after distinguished service as Houston school superintendent; and Pete Wehner, senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center after serving in the Reagan Department of Education and Bush 43 White House.

Paige argues that the modern era of education reform was, in fact, a period of stagnation, particularly at the high school level. To change course, education-minded conservatives must champion the principle of individual student responsibility and effort. While reformers focused on the quantity and quality of what schools do, they neglected an essential lever: student effort. International comparisons show that places that draw such effort forth from young people have impressive results. To follow suit, U.S. schools must take two important steps: incentivize individual effort by holding students accountable via real consequences based on clear results, such as end-of-course exams; and foster a culture that emphasizes individual effort over innate abilities and that celebrates academics over ball games and socializing.

Wehner explores America's long history of making character education a central part of schooling. That centrality was taken for granted well into the twentieth century. Indeed, character education was often viewed as the primary objective of public schools, along with civics and citizenship. But the rise in relativism about morality and decline in willingness to distinguish right from wrong have taken a heavy toll. Wehner argues that the abandonment of instilling virtue in young people does them a lasting disservice and notes that self-discipline is twice as important as intelligence in predicting academic achievement.


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