Laura Pohl

The Great Education Debate - Resolved: America Needs a 'Broader, Bolder' Education Reform Strategy. Held at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute on Thursday, December 11, 2008. The debate panelists were:

For the positive

Peter Edelman, Professor of Law, Georgetown University Law Center and former Assistant Secretary, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Marshall "Mike" Smith, Senior Advisor, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and former Deputy Secretary, U.S. Department of Education

For the negative

Douglas Besharov, Joseph J. and Violet Jacobs Scholar in Social Welfare Studies, American Enterprise Institute and former Director, U.S. Center on Child Abuse and Neglect

Eugene Hickok, Senior Policy Director, Dutko Worldwide and former Deputy Secretary, U.S. Department of Education...

Kevin Carey spent a whole week writing about the Finns, and never once mentioned Checker Finn. Kevin, what's up with that?

Neither team. By audience applause, and Checker's verdict, it's declared a tie.

Peter Edelman urges us to fight poverty. We're a wealthy nation, after all. Doug Besharov points out that the best way to fight poverty is through better education. And we ought to learn what works best under what conditions. So if there's not enough money for everything, let's spend money wisely, do solid research,??and learn something from it.

And that's a wrap.

Joel Packer of the NEA wants to know if we should expand the idea of accountability under NCLB. For example, should schools and social services agencies be held accountable for making sure kids get their asthma medicine?

Gene Hickok came back with a smack. "It shouldn't take an act of Congress to make sure schools are dealing with their own problems....that's not self-governance, folks."

Mike Smith and Peter Edelman have announced that they are going to be the next education secretary. (They plan to job-share.)

Mike Smith just mentioned that his wife is the principal of a high-poverty charter school. Peter Edelman already mentioned that his son* works on charter school issues for Arne Duncan. Is it just me or is working in a charter school the new badge of a true progressive? Hooray for charter schools!

* Said son previously worked at the SEED charter school, a public boarding school in Washington, DC.

So some friends of mine asked me why we didn't pit the "broader/bolder" folks against the "educational equity" folks. You know, an intra-Democratic party brawl? The real answer was that we were worried that it would turn into a non-debate. Everyone would agree that we should both fight the war on poverty AND work on school reform. We thought by pitching liberals against conservatives we'd get a sharper distinction.

Hmm. So far, not so much.

The "affirmative" team insists that the broader/bolder manifesto signers are completely committed to holding schools accountable. And the "negative" team didn't disagree. Darn. A missed opportunity to argue, as Kevin Carey and others have, that broader/bolder's implicit argument is that we're being unfair to schools by blaming them on poor achievement, and should fight the war on poverty instead.

Doug Besharov is flummoxed. He was going to rebut the broader/bolder manifesto by going left...but Edelman just went SO FAR LEFT that it's going to be tough!

His question: In a stimulus package, or in the federal budget, where does the last dollar go? Should it go to the schools or to these other social services?

Consider pre-school programs, he urges. Head Start, serving 900,000 kids, makes almost no difference in the lives of these children according to serious evaluations. Same with after-school programs. In fact, the evaluations of these show that the after-school programs as implemented do more harm than good.

Let's ask the question: how can we make social service programs at least as effective as the average school?

Besharov: Do we need a broader/bolder approach? Of course we do.

But a program that doesn't address family and race issues head on has a problem.

What about the difference between boys and girls? Girls are doing LOADS better. There must be SOMETHING in the mix that has to do with the experience of low-skilled boys in our society that is a bigger problem than poverty.

If you're going to be bolder...