As states race to meet today’s second Race to the Top deadline, some are complaining the changes wrought by the program have not been sweeping or revolutionary enough. And then there’s David Warsh at Economic Principals.com. On reading Steve Brill’s latest bigfooting exercise into education reportage Warsh heard familiar and disconcerting echoes.
Remember the recipe for a policy disaster? Start with a handful of policy intellectuals confronting a stubborn problem, in love with a Big Idea. Fold in a bunch of ambitious Ivy League kids who don’t speak the local language. Churn up enthusiasm for the program in the gullible national press – and get ready for a decade of really bad news. Take a look at David Halberstam’s Vietnam classic The Best and the Brightest, if you need to refresh your memory. Or just think back on the run-up to the war in Iraq.
He’s just getting started. Warsh, a veteran economics reporter whose column ran in the Boston Globe for the better part of two decades, turns in the most scathing recent take on current education policy by someone not named Diane Ravitch, whose recent book he cites in the piece. Describing the competitive grant program as “a hammer-blow to the basic principles of public education” Warsh suggests a history lesson:
Obama and David Axelrod should take out some old Time and Life magazines, compare them to Brill’s Times Magazine article, and reflect on how the media pranced as Presidents Kennedy and Johnson blundered into Vietnam. They should read and discuss Diane Ravitch’s book. They should think long and hard about whether they are going to let Arne Duncan and his whiz kids put Obama’s presidency in greater peril than the Deepwater Horizon ever could.
Personally, I’m less than sanguine about RTTT, but not necessarily for the reasons Warsh, Ravitch and other cite. “All science is either physics or stamp collecting,” the British scientist Ernest Rutherford famously quipped. With apologies to Rutherford, I’d offer that all education reform is either curriculum or accounting.