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...

Peter Edelman just had the best line so far: "I go home every night to a household where the term "leave no child behind" originated." (Referring, of course, to his wife Marian Wright Edelman and her work??leading the Children's Defense Fund.)

Edelman: Our society hasn't been living up to our ideals for the past forty years in terms of reaching??out to the neediest.

Edelman: There is NOTHING in this statement that lets schools off the hook. All of us agree about that. The details may differ. Our concepts of school reform may differ, but those are details. He believes in high standards, choice (not vouchers!). His son works with Arne Duncan (small world!) on charter and contract schools.

He would go broader than broader/bolder. 100 percent emphasis on schools but also 100 percent emphasis on ending poverty, and not just poverty, but go up to 200% of poverty line. A huge percentage (did he say 90 percent?) of our families have a hard time making ends meet.

Five percent of our people have incomes below HALF the poverty line...this is a national crisis and national dereliction. We need jobs that pay wages and wage supplements. Health...

It's Gene Hickok's turn. (Nice professorial glasses and sweater vest, Gene!) Of course, he says, there's a relationship between all of these social factors and achievement. That's why we were so focused on No Child Left Behind.

"Disadvantaged kids are at a disadvantage," he admits.??(What's the opposite of hyperbole?)

OK, now??Hickok is wasting precious time restating broader/bolder's case. Attack, attack, attack!

Ah, here it comes. "What their case comes down to is, let's spend a lot more money."

Their view: "The world in which schools exist has changed's a more difficult, troubling world, thus, we need to change the world...Schools can't get the job done unless we end these problems they bring with them."

Hickok: But haven't we as a country tried to do exactly that for decades? Why should we think that adding a few billions more is going to make a difference? It's not broader/bolder, it's going back to arguments we had a generation ago.

If you want a broader/bolder approach, you need to focus on families and children, not systems...stop with the false dichotomy between public and private schools...give poor parents control over their own destiny and that of their...

Mike Smith got it started by asking how many audience members had health insurance, had brought their kids to the pediatrician or the dentist, etc. And he said that just miles from here, kids die "every day" from complications from cavities. (OK, that's hyperbole, but we'll let it pass.)

Low income kids have one-third the vocabulary of middle income kids at the start of school, he said. They are never going to catch up if we give them the same education as other kids. (And he knows; he worked on the Coleman Report!)??

It doesn't mean that schools aren't responsible, or shouldn't be working very hard , or that teachers are going to let down if attention is paid to "these things," he said.

But it??does mean that groups of people, including policy analysts and people in the legislature, should have a broader vision of this. The education groups and new education secretary should be behind S-CHIP (the health insurance program for kids) in a big way. It's also issues around school safety, community safety, the minimum wage.

We are being MORE responsible by thinking about the whole child, protecting them from the kinds of things...

The debate is about to begin. What to watch for?

  • Will Mike Smith and Peter Edelman make it clear that they support test-based accountability? Or will they argue that since "schools alone" can't close the achievement gap, "schools alone" shouldn't be held accountable?
  • Will Smith and Edelman say conservatives are Scrooges for not willing to pay more for social services initiatives?
  • Will Gene Hickok and Doug Besharov point out that pre-k initiatives and other "broader/bolder" approaches don't have a great track record of going to scale at quality?
  • Will this be a real debate or will everyone say we have to focus on school improvement AND rebuild the social safety net?

Stay tuned. It's starting NOW.

This afternoon at 4:30 Fordham is hosting our second "Great Debate," this one on the "Broader/Bolder" manifesto. (Video of our first Great Debate is here.) Combatants (I mean participants) include:

  • ???Mike Smith, former deputy secretary of education in the Clinton Administration

  • ???Peter Edelman, former assistant secretary of health and human services in the Clinton Administration

  • ???Gene Hickok, former deputy secretary of education in the George W. Bush Administration

  • ...

Denver schools superintendent Michael Bennet* is racing ahead of his competitors for the Arne-alternative spot in our pick-the-next-education-secretary daily tracking poll of education insiders. With Arne's numbers down noticeably, it looks like the Blago-scandal is taking its toll, after all.

Jon Schnur is also back on the Big Board; maybe this Associated Press article is the reason why.

* An anonymous reader wrote in to provide more insight into why Jonathan Alter might have been promoting Michael Bennet so eagerly--or at least how he might have come to learn about his work in Denver. We already knew that Michael Bennet is the brother of James Bennet, the editor of the Atlantic. What I didn't know was that James Bennet and Jonathan Alter once worked together at the Washington Monthly. As I said before, small world. (Update: Wait, they didn't actually work together, my little birdie tells me, but they are both alumni of the clubby Washington Monthly.)...