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If Jay Matthews of the Washington Post is right, this sounds like a win-win.
The problem I have with the DoE is that, since it's creation, it has spent most of its time on a political agenda rather than an educational one. It's too bad they can't be clearinghouse for best practices and broaden the debate in this country about the role and needs of education and the various ways to achieve it. For example, Fair Test recently wrote this. "During his campaign for the Presidency, Barack Obama said, “We should not be forced to spend the academic year preparing students to fill in bubbles on standardized tests.” Candidate Obama added that the nation needs to use “a broader range of assessments that can evaluate higher-order skills, including students’ abilities to use technology, conduct research, engage in scientific investigation, solve problems, present and defend their ideas.” Just this June, President Obama explained that assessments could include "one standardized test, plus portfolios of work that kids are doing, plus observing the classroom. There can be a whole range of assessments." (Sounds a lot like what Edutopia is trying to promote.)
Unfortunately, many of the "Race to the Top" (RTTT) draft guidelines issued by the Department of Education represent a step backwards from the President’s goals. The proposals would actually make high-stakes testing problems worse without providing sufficient support for "a broader range of assessments." The guidelines are not rooted in evidence of how to improve schools. By focusing on new national standards and tests, they distract attention from necessary reforms, such as overhauling state assessment systems and supporting collaborative efforts to improve schools. They also overemphasize the value of test scores in data systems." (fairtest.org)
As an educator, I lived through the first wave of reforms (state testing) promulgated after the 1983 Nation at Risk report. Now, as a parent I see the continued playing with education by federal, state and local entities. (and many for profit corporations getting rich off of the high stakes testing craze.) Educators are dismissed as politicans manipulate data to serve their agendas.
I believed Candidate Obama and am frustrated now with Arne Duncan and President Obama. With today's announcement of a 10% unemployment rate, we need an education department that focuses on the broader issues and uses it's influence to build a larger conversation.