Economists, whether liberal or conservative, don’t think about education the way most educators do, and that’s healthy. My friend Eric Hanushek is in the conservative camp, as his affiliation with the Hoover Institution at Stanford indicates. Rick has been interested in education–no, strike that–in doing something to improve education, for many years. He’s active on a number of fronts, particularly in Texas and with the Koret Task Force on K-12 Education. Professor Hanushek has a new book out, but, because he manages to sneak in two plugs in our interview, I won’t repeat the title here.
Before we turn to No Child Left Behind, tell me your take on the current so-called “Race to the Top.” Secretary Duncan has an unprecedented amount of discretionary money, $5B, to give away. States seem to be falling all over themselves promising to do what Washington wants. Is this good?
I absolutely think the Secretary is doing the right thing, and I am actually encouraged by the positive reactions of the states. He has chosen particularly important issues to take to the states: developing systems for ensuring that there are effective teachers in every classroom; encouraging more competition in education through expanding charter schools; and developing good data systems that allow for reliable evaluation of programs and teachers. These are central elements of the funding and policy proposals in my recent book (Schoolhouses, Courthouses, and Statehouses), so I am thrilled that the Secretary is putting the force and the funding of the federal government behind these ideas. The essential unifying idea is that we should provide strong incentives to improve student performance – and each of these policy thrusts fits into that overall structure. I applaud the Secretary and the President for their forceful leadership in these substantive matters. Moreover, he has done this in a way that respects the states’ central role in education, while encouraging their movements in productive directions.
The Department says there will be winners and losers, but will that fly politically? Educators are accustomed to getting money based on formulas, not in a competition. Can you imagine the political pressure Arne Duncan is going to be under?
There is no doubt that the Secretary has taken a courageous position, because many resist the idea that policy should intrude on the way we have always done things. And his are not the positions that have been championed by the educational establishment. But, while there are political difficulties with standing firm, I think of the issue more from the viewpoint of what happens if he does not succeed. I frankly worry for the nation. Continue reading