If you don’t mind, I feel like patting my colleagues on the back this week–in public. Here are three reasons:
#1. Last week the PBS NewsHour aired our piece about what the federal government is calling the Race to the Top, the $4.35 billion competition for education dollars. It aired the night 40 states and the District of Columbia filed their applications.
#2. We’re rolling out a bonus web video and two podcasts that feature a lot more information about the Race. This bonus video with Race director Joanne Weiss (below) will give you a better sense of the woman Arne Duncan hired to run the huge grant program. In one podcast, you hear Colorado’s Lieutenant Governor Barbara O’Brien try to persuade teachers and other locals that more state and federal involvement is a good thing. Finally, representatives from Maryland and Delaware and Weiss herself talk about one of the elephants in the room, the Gates Foundation and its $250K grants to some—but not all—states competing for Race to the Top dollars.
#3. And we are also releasing parts five and six of our 7-part series about Teach for America. These are short video profiles of rookie teachers in New Orleans, vivid pictures of the highs and lows of what it’s like to be on the front lines in urban education—with barely two months of preparation. (There’s also an 8th part, an interview with TFA founder Wendy Kopp.)
That’s 12 (TWELVE) separate productions in the space of a few weeks. Sounds like the work of a small army, doesn’t it? But there are only nine of us at Learning Matters
Watch the credit roll for a news program or a documentary sometime. If you can, count the names as they scroll by. Quite a few, aren’t there?
Our work continues. We’re planning another segment about the Race to the Top, looking at the judging process and digging into the skepticism coming from right and left. I’m in New Orleans now with two colleagues, working on the next installment of our series about this city’s attempt to rebuild its schools, under the leadership of Paul Vallas.
These are remarkable times in American public education. The federal government’s role grows ever larger, economic pressures on schools seem to increase weekly, and foreign competition is a growing threat. In these circumstances, schools can be forgiven for battening down the hatches in hopes of surviving the storm. It’s perfectly understandable—but it’s probably bad strategy.
Holding onto the old ways almost never works. It hasn’t worked for newspapers, it isn’t working in journalism, and it probably won’t in public education either.
But what will emerge? Is Race to the Top just the breath of new energy that’s required in public education, or is it a last gasp, akin to breeding better, faster horses for the Pony Express?
We’ll do our best to report these stories for you.