Advice to the President and Arne Duncan

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Round 2 - boxing

In 2009, Pres. Obama effectively used the “bully pulpit” to expand charter schools, changes that were adopted by state legislatures around the country. During the next three years, the administration opted for a “top down” approach, with Race to the Top pushing state compliance with federally defined state reforms. These included not yet field tested Common Core standards, not yet complete national tests and bureaucratic teacher evaluation systems. In a second Obama administration, these efforts are likely to get bogged down in the complexities of implementation; importantly for Massachusetts, they undo key reforms that have driven our remarkable success.

Instead, I’d advise the president to do three things. First, revert to using the bully pulpit, this time to improve the effectiveness of charter schools. In Massachusetts, the state insists on strong accountability for charter schools. That’s not true in enough states.

Second, the Department of Education (DOE) should reward results — not compliance with federal mandates. It should create a Race to the Top that rewards states that improve student achievement — not those adopting bureaucratic reforms with no proven connection to student achievement.

Third, the DOE should use its $3 billion of Title II funds to get professional development right. That means focusing on training master teachers with 10 or more years’ experience to become educational leaders within their schools, who can mentor less-experienced and less-effective colleagues. It means ensuring young teachers have mastery of the subjects they teach. And it means making funds available to states that want to supplement the pay of teachers in math and science, subjects in which there are shortages of knowledgeable teachers.

The federal government can encourage effective state policies to improve teaching and learning, but it should not seek compliance by mandating a “one size fits all” education model.

That’s the summary of the K-12 advice I provided at a recent Open Classroom session hosted by former Governor Dukakis and Barry Bluestone at Northeastern University. It was a fun session with other discussants being Mass. Teachers Association head Paul Toner and early education researcher Tassy Warren.

Crossposted at WBUR’s Cognoscenti. Follow me on twitter at @jimstergios, or visit Pioneer’s website.