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Look no further for a progressive education agenda

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[This comment originally appeared on the Rethink Learning blog in response to a post entitled “Where’s Waldo? Searching For the Liberal Education Agenda at The Conference on America’s Future.” The “Broader Bolder Vision” referenced is an Economic Policy Institute statement articulating a set of policy priorities for education reform.]

I cop to being one of those bitter and angry progressives, someone who feels betrayed by Obama (whom I supported ardently) and Duncan, because of their emphasis on more testing and more charters. But I categorically reject your contention that progressives have failed to articulate an alternative scenario. You dismiss EPI’s Broader Bolder vision (which you misname) because, you say, it can’t be boiled down to sound bites and isn’t politically viable. That’s a ridiculous critique. In this fractured country, is ANYTHING politically viable right now that is truly progressive? And do you really want to contend that being “sound bitable” is a worthwhile criterion for judging policies that must respond to incredibly difficult, complex problems?

I also wonder how you live with yourself for deciding to “line up behind the conservative agenda just so you can stay in the game.” Do you not see the damage that rampant cheap testing is doing? Do you not see the way charters distract from improving the systems that serve 97% of our kids? Do you not see the way conservatives ignore the most fundamental problem in the whole “reform” game-that on average we spend far less educating poor kids than we spend educating rich kids? You say you are “center-left” but I don’t think so. I’m not sure what if anything you are.

So what’s core to a progressive education agenda? Here, just to get concrete for a minute, is a partial list:

  • Modest increases in new teachers’ compensation so that they can afford to become teachers
  • Better induction processes to support new teachers in their first few years
  • Significant improvements in teachers’ basic working conditions
  • According teachers more autonomy and authority to do their jobs
  • According district leaders more autonomy and authority to do their jobs (e.g., choosing curricula, allocating state and federal dollars)
  • Educating school boards to do more general oversight and less micromanagement
  • Providing disadvantaged students with the various health, social, and supplemental services described in the Broader Bolder approach
  • More early childhood education (as long as it isn’t of the ditto sheet variety), after-school programming, and summer enrichment programming
  • Greater attention in school to the social, emotional, ethical, and physical development of students
  • Less emphasis on frequent fill-in-the-bubble testing and more emphasis on periodic assessment of real student work and performances
  • A longer timeframe for judging progress than year-to-year
  • Equal funding for all

Here, just for you, is a sound bite that summarizes this: Let’s finally get real about educating our kids.