Would You Send Your Child to a Washington D.C. School?

(Georgia Public Policy Foundation Senior Fellow Eric Wearne attended the Foundation for Excellence in Education conference in Washington, D.C.  He wrote this article for The Forum.)

Eric Wearne, Senior Fellow, Georgia Public Policy Foundation

By Eric Wearne

Who among us would send our child to a public school in the District of Columbia, chosen at random?  This question may be uncomfortable, but it is one that could be asked about many, many low-performing school systems across the country.  It is a question Joel Klein, former Chancellor of the New York City School system, posed at the recent Excellence in Action Summit.

As noted earlier in another Forum article, the Excellence in Action summit included significant discussion about innovation in education, and included some well-known speakers. I attended both days, and will provide some courtside details here.

In his opening address, and over the course of the summit, Foundation founder and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush asked, “Where’s the outrage?” over school outcomes, and Bush admonished the attendees to “shake the complacency and challenge the orthodoxies of the time.”   He also noted five reforms that he feels are keys to improving student achievement:

·         High, common standards;

·         Robust accountability systems;

·         Professional teacher evaluation systems;

·         School choice; and,

·         Embracing technology.

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush

The summit organizers and speakers were all very, very pro-Common Core.  So much so, in fact, that when a state representative from Utah how states could prevent a federal takeover of local schools if the Common Core were to become more accepted and practiced, he was met with a smattering of boos from the audience and a stony silence from the stage.

That silence only lasted a few seconds though; the panel moderated by Governor Bush agreed that if the federal government began to overstep its bounds regarding Common Core or other issues, they would agree to push back in favor of state control.

Other well-known national faces also made appearances at the summit.

Condoleezza Rice is co-author of a new paper for the Council on Foreign Relations, arguing that education is a national defense issue.  She talked about her own background, including her grandfather’s rise from sharecropper to college graduate, and how that hard work affected his family for generations.  She noted that she had been provost at Stanford University, and that “If you have low expectations for even the best students they will live down to them,” and that “You can’t control your circumstances, but you can control your response to your circumstances.”

Former New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein

Joel Klein gave inspiring remarks about the importance of educational entrepreneurship and school choice.  As noted above, at one point he challenged the audience by bluntly stating that “no one in this room would send their kid to a random school in D.C.”  Echoing Bush’s statement about missing outrage, he warned that without improvement to educational outcomes in the U.S., “The American dream is going to become the American memory.”

Former CNN host Campbell Brown moderated a panel that included some originators of California’s parent trigger law.  In her opening remarks, she stated that “unions own too many New York politicians,” and that they “support a status quo that is doing irreparable harm” to the nation’s children.  She said that as a reporter she tried to represent both sides of every issue.  On school choice, she said there were also two sides: “a right side and a wrong side.”

John Podesta, former Chief of Staff to President Bill Clinton and now president of the Center for American Progress, made remarks that were largely sensible and moderate about education as a bipartisan issue.  He did, however, say at one point that vouchers were “a distraction.”  Bush later challenged him on this (politely).

The state of Indiana made a strong showing at the summit.  Well-known reformer Tony Bennett recently lost his re-election bid for state superintendent.  In two separate general sessions, he was recognized and received a standing ovation each time.  Mitch Daniels closed the summit.  His takeaway advice to education reformers was simple: “Go big or go home.”

Additional Resources:

(Click here to learn more about Common Core in this article by Michael Horn, Education Executive Editor of the Innosight Institute.)

(Click here to watch conference videos on the Foundation for Excellence in Education website.)

Eric Wearne is an Assistant Professor at the Georgia Gwinnett College School of Education.  Previously he was Deputy Director at the Georgia Governor’s Office of Student Achievement.