As part of a recent meeting of the Koret Task Force on K–12 Education, the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation 2005 Prizes for Excellence in Education were presented at a dinner on January 13.
Recipients of the prizes, which included a $25,000 award, were Terry M. Moe, Hoover senior fellow, for Distinguished Scholarship; John Brandl, a professor in economics and former Minnesota legislator; and Marion Joseph, an advocate for educational reform in California who shared the Prize for Valor with Brandl.
In his opening remarks at the dinner John Raisian, Hoover director, lauded the Koret Task Force on its successes. The Koret Task Force on K–12 Education is a top-rated team of 11 education experts brought together by the Hoover Institution, with the support of the Koret Foundation, to work on education reform. He added that the task force will pursue "aggressive research on education reform issues."
Chester E. Finn Jr., Fordham Foundation president and a Hoover senior fellow, noted the "happy confluence of events" in the timing of the meeting and the announcement of the prizes. Finn added that he had suggested three questions for the award winners to address in their acceptance speeches: his or her most significant contribution, the greatest challenge in education reform, and his or her best idea to solve the challenge.
In their acceptance speeches, though, the winners focused on the challenges and solutions in education reform; those who introduced them noted their most significant contributions. Eric Hanushek, Hoover senior fellow, who introduced Moe, cited the books he has written and praised his scholarship, noting that Moe is "cautious about his opinion until he's done his research." The award for scholarship, Hanushek said, "was an award highly deserved."
The greatest challenge in education reform, Moe said, "is improving schools." "The difficulty is that for real reforms to happen they must go through political process and politicians want to be reelected," he said. "Efforts to create change have been stifled, but there have been successes," Moe said, citing the No Child Left Behind Act and other accountability programs.
Paul Peterson, Hoover senior fellow, said in his introduction that as a legislator in Minnesota Brandl was a leader in education. "Politics changed," Peterson said, "but Brandl remained committed."
Brandl, who supported school choice in Minnesota during his 12 years in the legislature, said that the "main argument for efficacy of school choice is that it benefits urban disadvantaged minorities." He added that "we must give kids who are trapped this kind of choice."
Williamson Evers, Hoover research fellow, introduced Joseph as "the single most influential person in California on reading." Joseph cited the need for well-prepared teachers. "Teacher training is vital," she said, "we must address inadequate teacher training."
The Fordham Prizes for Excellence in Education were created in 2003 to recognize and reward distinguished scholars, practitioners, and policy makers who champion education reform based on these principles:
- Parents should have the right to select among a variety of high-quality schools for their children.
- All students, teachers, and schools can meet high standards, with the help of results-oriented accountability systems informed by rigorous assessments.
- Every school should deliver a content-rich curriculum taught by knowledgeable teachers.
- Schools must serve first the educational needs of children, not the interests of institutions or adults.
The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, based in Washington, D.C., supports research, publications, and action projects of national significance in elementary/secondary education reform, as well as significant education reform projects in Dayton, Ohio, and vicinity.
About the award winners:
Moe is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, a member of the Institution's Koret Task Force on K–12 Education, and professor of political science at Stanford University. Moe has done groundbreaking research on the interactions of politics and education, studying and explaining a host of issues, especially focused on school choice. Perhaps the best known of these is Politics, Markets, and America's Schools (coauthored with Hoover distinguished visiting fellow John Chubb), his examination of the dynamics of the public school system and the forces that keep if from changing.
Brandl, professor and former dean at the University of Minnesota, served for years as a Democratic member of the Minnesota House of Representatives and Senate. There he was instrumental in enacting many of the state's pathbreaking K–12 reforms, especially those that made Minnesota one of the first places to institute programs of education choice, including statewide open enrollment in public schools and postsecondary options for low-income families. Among colleagues, he is known as Minnesota's "godfather of school choice."
Joseph served as assistant to California's state superintendent of public instruction from 1970 to 1982. Her expertise in what she termed the "politics and policy of education" made it easy for her to recognize early in the 1990s that the state's K–12 curriculum was sorely flawed. Prompted by her grandson's struggles to learn to read using California's whole-language approach, she stepped out of retirement and back into the active education arena in 1997, when Governor Pete Wilson appointed her to the State Board of Education, where she served until 2003. In this position, she spearheaded an overhaul of the statewide reading curriculum and successfully transformed reading instruction in the state.