Like Paul Tough, I thought the speech was noteworthy for using the power of rhetoric to elevate the conversation a bit above a zero-sum conflict between teachers and would-be structural reformers. To me, that’s both politically necessary and also actually necessary in practice — we need to change the way schools operate in this country, but you’re not going to recruit the volume of good teachers the country needs by making changes that, in the aggregate, turn teaching into a less attractive career. (...)
The speech was good, I think, at trying to shift the conversation back to the historical norm where progressives are on the side of bold improvements in the education system and conservatives are left, as they are in other areas of social policy, arguing that we should settle for doing less with less. The progressive coalition got kind of wrong-footed by the Bush administration’s education initiatives and has expended an extraordinary amount of energy over the past few years quibbling over exactly how much of the increase in inequality can be attributed to our failure to expand the proportion of college graduates in the country. It’s much better to be having the conversation about how to move the country forward in education terms...
I agree, but I would say we didn't get so much wrong-footed as assaulted by an ascendant Republican Party that pursued an unabashed strategy of seeking to destroy the power bases of the remaining opposition, with enormously wealthy, unaccountable foundations plunging into the resulting power vacuum to further shift conversation and policy onto unfavorable terms for democratic governance of public education.
Here's one thing that's becoming clear to me. If you haven't been paying attention to education reform policy for more than seven years, you really have no perspective. In particular, accountability and standards-based reforms were well underway prior to NCLB. In some cases these reforms were derailed by a shift to more draconian, more corrupt, more rigged, less sensitive NCLB equivalents. In other cases the transition was at least smoother. But those of us who were studying and implementing school reform pre-NCLB remember that it can be done without the exclusive use of slash and burn tactics. Not that everything was smiles and hugs then either, but a lot of people would breathe a big sigh of relief if we could just crawl out of the hedgehog and get back to working on making schools better. I think Obama could accomplish that.