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What If Learning — Not Fighting — Were the Focus?

As accusations fly back and forth over the reported DC cheating scandal – the latest in a series of battles between America’s two dominant Edu-Tribes – I can’t help but wonder what would happen if we stopped spending so much time focusing on what is broken or who is to blame, and started focusing instead on how people learn, and how we can create better learning environments for everyone.

This week, as part of an effort to spur such a conversation, a coalition of individuals and organizations is doing just that — envisioning a movement of adults and young people in search of better places to work and learn, and highlighting powerful learning experiences to make a larger statement about how and when transformational learning occurs.

I am proud to be a part of the campaign, which is called Faces of Learning, and which aspires to help people understand we are all effective learners, with differing strengths and challenges. Kim Carter, executive director of the Q.E.D. Foundation, a non-profit organization that is a member of the coalition, explains: “We want to elevate four essential questions that are, alarmingly, almost completely absent from the current national conversation about school improvement: How do people learn? How do I learn? What does the ideal learning environment look like? And how can we create more of them?”

To help provide the answers people need, Faces of Learning is asking people to share personal stories of their most powerful learning experiences; attend and/or organize public events at which people think together about how to improve the local conditions in which people learn; and use a new interactive tool called the Learner Sketch, which invites users to explore their own strengths and challenges among the various mental processes that influence learning. Rather than just categorize the user as a certain “type” of learner, the Learner Sketch feedback actually suggests strategies users can try to help them become even more effective learners. Users can also explore what research is teaching us about how we learn, and find resources that help improve the overall learning conditions for children (and adults).

Ideally, of course, a campaign like this would be unnecessary. And yet, when one looks back at the last 15 months – a period in which school reform has been at the forefront of American life, from “Race to the Top” to Waiting for Superman to the endless coverage of Michelle Rhee or the union fight in Wisconsin – what becomes clear is that we haven’t been having a national debate about learning; we’ve been having a national debate about labor law. And while that issue is important, it is a dangerous stand-in for the true business of public education – helping young people learn how to use their minds well.

What if our efforts were squarely focused on the true goal of a high-quality education, instead of the hidden goal of a well-funded few?

What if each of us could identify our own strengths and weaknesses as a learner?

What if each of us had the chance to discover – and contribute – our full worth and potential to the world?

What if all of us came to both expect and demand high-quality learning environments throughout our lives?

It’s a great and worthy vision. And before any of those things can happen, we all need to work together to see more clearly what powerful learning actually looks like — and requires.

Join our efforts – and share your voice – at www.facesoflearning.net.

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Education Inception

(This article also appeared on the Huffington Post.)

I just watched Christopher Nolan’s remarkable new movie Inception, a futuristic film about a group of people who, through a variety of means, plant a thought so deeply in the mind of one man that it grows naturally and becomes seen as his own. In the opening scene of the movie, protagonist Peter Cobb rhetorically asks the audience: “What’s the most resilient parasite? A bacteria? A virus? An intestinal worm? No. An idea. Resilient, highly contagious. Once an idea’s taken hold in the brain it’s almost impossible to eradicate. A person can cover it up, or ignore it – but it stays there.”

Cobb’s movie-based challenge is not unlike the reality-based one being faced by today’s advocates for public education reform – how to seed an idea so simple and powerful that it can mobilize public opinion, inspire policymakers, and improve the overall learning conditions for children. And yet after reading Michelle Rhee’s two newest efforts to launch her own form of “inception” – an Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal and her organization’s inaugural policy agenda – I see further evidence of both her well-intentioned vision for massive educational reform, and her fundamental misunderstanding about the power of ideas.

Repeatedly, Ms. Rhee has shown she believes that the best way to mobilize people is through conflict, oppositional language and negative emotion. In the Journal, she speaks encouragingly about the fact that “public support is building for a frontal attack on the educational status quo.” And in the introductory paragraph of her policy agenda, she seems encouraged by the fact that her actions will “trigger controversy.” This sort of language extends the tenor of her brief tenure as DC Schools Chancellor, when Rhee made enough inflammatory statements to become the single most polarizing education figure in country. Love me or hate me, she seemed to be telling us – but pick one you must.

In some respects, Ms. Rhee’s approach to idea-generation, much like her approach to management, is deeply rooted in 20th-century paradigms of mobilization and leadership. Our culture has nurtured numerous shared archetypes of strong, authoritarian leaders – people who can make the tough decisions, go it alone, and refuse to give an inch. To compromise or collaborate is to be soft and exceedingly conciliatory, not to mention a weak-kneed guarantee that nothing will get done. Get with the program or get out. You’re either with us or against us. Don’t tread on me.

Of course, like all archetypes, these characterizations contain partial truths. To be all about compromise and not at all about principle is a poor model for leadership, and we do need leaders who have the fortitude to make tough decisions, hold people accountable, and speak simply and clearly. Similarly, we all should share Ms. Rhee’s sense of outrage. And in the end, several of her policies make good sense. But in terms of the overall effort at inception – at seeding the foundational idea – one thing seems equally clear: a national movement that is based primarily on negative emotion will not deliver us the long-term changes we need in public education.

Christopher Nolan certainly feels this way – it’s the core message of his movie. “How do you translate a strategy into an emotion?” Cobb wonders. A colleague suggests that an idea fueled by negative emotion will work best – something that would grow and fester in the mind of an individual, building both anger and discontent until it could be turned into action. But Cobb disagrees. “Positive emotion trumps negative emotion every time. We yearn for people to be reconciled, for catharsis. We need positive emotional logic.”

I agree, and I wish Michelle Rhee would, too. She has a national platform, a vital issue in need of being addressed, millions of dollars, and hundreds of thousands of followers. Now she just needs the right idea.

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Is Michelle Rhee putting Students First?

Like everyone else who does education for a living, I read that Michelle Rhee is launching a new national advocacy organization, Students First. And after checking out the site and hearing how she articulates its purpose, I see some reasons to feel hopeful — and many more reasons to feel deeply concerned.

First, the good news: It’s hard to argue with Rhee’s four “we believe” statements for the organization. Who doesn’t believe all children deserve great teachers? Who would argue with the idea that students should not need luck to get a good education? Why not start allocating public dollars where they can make the biggest difference? And who would deny the need for more parental involvement and increased efforts to engage the entire community? So let’s all hop on the Rhee express, right? Well, maybe.

Click here to keep reading.

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Questions for the Next Schools Chancellor

Today, presumptive-next-mayor Vincent Gray will meet with presumptive-ex- chancellor Michelle Rhee to discuss the future of DC public schools.

In a way, this is a lose-lose meeting for both. As Rhee has made clear in her typically tin-eared style, she is skeptical Gray shares her commitment to a particular set of reforms. Meanwhile, Gray’s ultimate decision about Rhee is guaranteed to disappoint a significant percentage of his electorate – either those who voted for him to register their disapproval of Fenty’s and Rhee’s style of leadership, or those who voted against him to see her reign continue.

This puts Mr. Gray in a bit of a pickle, but he might as well use the opportunity to think about the essential questions he would want to ask any potential candidate to be the next Schools Chancellor. Here are five he might want to consider:

  1. Thank you for meeting with me this afternoon. Clearly, this most recent election was in part a referendum on leadership in general, and on the different approaches people take to decision-making, community engagement, and working with the forces of change. With that in mind, tell me about your personal philosophy of leadership, about what you believe are the central characteristics a leader must possess, and about how you intend to leverage those characteristics in your work with the many stakeholders of our public school system?
  2. IMPACT, the new teacher evaluation system in DC has received national attention – and both praise and scrutiny – for its increased emphasis on a diverse set of data points to determine teacher effectiveness, a more frequent use of third-party observations, and a commitment to link student test scores to individual teacher evaluations. Tell me, when you imagine your ideal system for evaluating teacher effectiveness, which aspects of IMPACT would you stop using, which would you keep using, and which new features would you want to start using, and why?
  3. In any system, a leader has to identify in which areas of the system s/he wants to seek traditional changes, transitional changes, and transformational changes. Based on what we know about systems change, it’s often wise to pursue all three types of change at the same time, and in different parts of the system, so that the pace of change is neither too slow nor too fast, and so people will experience both the up-close significance of short-term wins and the galvanizing power of a long-term vision. Knowing that, in which aspects of the system would you pursue the most traditional changes, and why? Where do you think the opportunities exist for a transitional set of reforms in DCPS, and why? And how do you feel those changes will help prepare our city for a more transformational set of changes that will help our current 19th and 20th century modes of schooling start preparing children for the unique set of challenges and opportunities posed by the 21st century world they will enter when they graduate?
  4. The past four years have seen DCPS focus relentlessly on improving student results on 3rd and 8th grade standardized exams in reading and math. Banners have been hung in front of schools trumpeting these scores, and for the average parent or community member, schools are still deemed successful or unsuccessful based on these scores alone. When it comes to evaluating the extent to which children are learning, what is your ideal balanced scorecard of indicators, and how would you revise the city’s assessment and accountability system to ensure that future performance data reveal not just who isn’t learning and what isn’t being learned, but also why students are struggling and how DCPS teachers can address their needs?
  5. My final question to you has less to do with any specific changes you hope to make, and more to do with how well you understand the equally important role of communicating those changes to the residents of this city. Let’s imagine it’s four years from now, and we’re looking back to see which central words, ideas and messages the average citizen associates with your tenure as Schools Chancellor. What do you want them to say, why do you want them to say it, and how will you go about executing an outreach strategy that helps ensure the residents of our city feel an alignment between the actions and the aspirations of your administration?
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Why Adrian Fenty Lost The City – and How Vincent Gray Can Win It Back

Now that the dust is beginning to settle from the DC mayoral race, it’s worth examining what outgoing mayor Adrian Fenty failed to understand about leadership and systems change, and what Vincent Gray will need to understand – and do – if he wants a different result.

This is an issue I explore in my most recent book, in which I argue that any organizational leader, whether s/he is an elementary school principal, a Fortune 500 executive, or the mayor of an urban city, needs to develop three foundational skills: self-awareness, systems thinking, and strategically-deployed collaborative decision-making. I also explain, in greater detail than I can here, how each skill is necessary and insufficient by itself, and how, in an organizational context, each functions in a nonlinear fashion. It is only through the combination of these abilities that leaders become more effective, and there is no strict and surefire order one should follow in order to cultivate these skills in himself and in others. As with everything else, human beings refuse to behave so predictably.

There is, however, a general continuum of which we should be aware. At the personal level, we begin by reflecting on who we are, what we value and where we are most likely to thrive and struggle as leaders. At the relational level, we start to become more aware of how our behaviors contribute to the culture around us; gradually we develop the capacity, with the help of others, to “see the whole (chess) board.” And at the organizational (or city-wide) level, we resist the urge to sell “our” ideas, opting instead to consistently invite others to co-construct the ideas – and the responsibilities – we will share.

When these three skills start to take root in individuals and the organizational culture of which they’re a part, a palpable shift takes place. Transformational change, and the collective will and clarity needed to achieve it, becomes possible. This doesn’t mean transformational change will necessarily occur, only that the proper conditions will have been created. At this point, we need a fourth leadership skill: ensuring that people have the understanding, motivation and skills they need to continually work with the forces of change.

Working with the natural forces of change is very different from “managing change,” just as co-creating a common vision is distinct from getting people to “buy in.” In one approach, organizational systems and the individuals who inhabit them are managed like machines, and people are given pre-packaged “solutions” that supersede community input; in the other, people and organizations are seen as complex, living systems, and the inherent creativity and commitment of the people being asked to change is what drives all decisions.

The fact that so many initiatives struggle to change core behaviors or processes is particularly troubling when one considers that, in essence, learning itself is change. But the greater truth is less that people resist change (though they do), and more that they resist being changed.

Knowing what will be easy and what will be difficult when it comes to systems renewal is essential for working with the natural forces of systemic change. And although there is no single way to be successful, there are different stages of the change process that can guide Mr. Gray in his work with us.

The Three Stages of Change – Mind, Heart & Voice

In everything the new mayor does, he should be mindful of how his constituents will experience the changes in three areas – their minds, their hearts and their voices.

Here’s what I mean by that: Before we are willing to change anything about our work or our behavior, we must first understand why the change is necessary and what it will require of us (mind). To actively participate in a major change initiative, we must feel intrinsically motivated in some way to contribute (heart). And to follow through on our individual and shared visions of our future community, we must have the skills and capabilities to not only demonstrate new behaviors, but also ensure greater alignment between our internal passions and our external actions (voice).

Often, what happens in massive change initiatives is we pay attention to some, but not all, of these stages. Teachers are asked to adopt a new teaching style before they fully understand why they should do so. Schools in search of more parent participation fail to explicitly consider what it will take to motivate greater numbers of adults to get involved. And students are invited to play a more active role in school governance before they’ve been equipped with the skills they need to do so effectively and responsibly.

Implicit in all of these scenarios is the recognition that implementing systems-wide change requires an approach that encompasses individual, group, and organizational learning needs. Some of these needs will be simple, visible and straightforward, such as providing basic information; others will be intangible, invisible and elusive, such as addressing basic human emotions.

To me, the most accurate (and damning) criticism of Adrian Fenty and Michelle Rhee was that they failed to understand, or even value, the importance of addressing the human elements of change. Some might say that such a statement is too soft-hearted, old-school and quixotically progressive to have any currency in the modern world. Yet this is what I learned in business school, not education school. For example, in Big Change at Best Buy, their book chronicling a major restructuring initiative at the consumer electronic retailer, authors Elizabeth Gibson and Andy Billings underscore the universality of these distinctly human elements of change. “Getting merchandise out on the shelves at the right time, staffing the service counter with the right number of people and within the labor budgets – these are the ‘hard’ or concrete issues,” they write, “and they are the easiest to assess and change.

“By contrast, the ‘soft’ issues are more difficult  . . . and they are the heart of transformational change. The tangible features may represent the face of change, but the human factors – dealing with uncertainty, motivating and energizing people, and creating behavioral change – are critical to success. When soft issues are not addressed, the organization and its people appear resistant to change. As with any large system, organizations have their own inertia. Resistance, though an inevitable feature of change, becomes the convenient term for failure to address the soft side of change.”

Understanding the forces of change in this way places a unique set of challenges on a mayor, or a schools chancellor, or an organizational leader, because it means they must balance the community’s attention to both hard (visible) and soft (invisible) issues.

Other insights from the private sector underscore this point, and help clarify the optimal role for leaders to play in systemic improvement work. Harvard Business School professors Michael Beer and Russell Eisenstat explain: “The most effective managers [in a multiyear study] recognized their limited power to mandate corporate renewal from the top. Instead, they defined their roles as creating a climate for change, then spreading the lessons of both successes and failures.” Management consultant Jim Collins puts it another way: “True leadership only exists if people follow when they have the freedom not to.”

Because systems change is such a nonlinear experience, and because it requires leaders both to engender a sense of order (as opposed to control) and give people the freedom to co-author the process, it’s easy to imagine Mr. Gray feeling overwhelmed about what to do. I believe the three-stage framework of mind, heart and voice can help him for two reasons: first, it will provide a guide for him and his staff that helps explain human, group and organizational behavior in any major change initiative; and second, it can be used as a framework for outlining a specific set of knowledge, skills and dispositions that our schools and community agencies should strive to cultivate throughout their student, faculty and parent communities.

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Should She Stay or Should She Go? Michelle Rhee and the Upcoming DC Election

(NOTE: This article also appeared in the Washington Post.)

It’s almost election season in DC, which means I need to decide once and for all if Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee – and, by extension, Mayor Adrian Fenty – deserve another four years at the helm.

Here are the arguments as I see them:

On one hand, it’s incontrovertible that Rhee has sparked both local and national conversations that were long overdue. Her decision to show up at a DCPS warehouse, with cameras, and shine a light on a system so dysfunctional and disorganized that it allowed seemingly scarce resources to remain unused was both brilliant and galvanizing. Her determination to confront the fecklessness of our current teacher evaluation system placed the issue front and center in discussions of systemic reform, where it belongs. And her millennial focus on eradicating the generational injustices of our school system has turned the issue into a mainstream conversation-starter. Those are major accomplishments for which she is largely responsible. Shame on the rest of us for not figuring out, much earlier, how to inject this work with a similar, undeniable sense of urgency. And woe is we if she leaves after just four years and the city returns to square one, denying us all the chance to make a more detailed judgment on the viability of her strategies for lasting change.

On the other hand, Rhee’s primary weapon – a fierce, uncompromising rhetoric – has also been her Achilles heel. She has recklessly alienated a majority of the very people she most needs for lasting reform to occur: DC’s public school teachers. Her unwavering reliance on “data” – and a limited definition of data at that – is leading us toward a system where schools and educators are incentivized to relentlessly, and with great discipline, move the needle on a single measure of basic-skills proficiency in math and reading. This is an extremely effective political strategy for it locates a nebulous and Sisyphean effort in a single, easily trackable number. It’s also, I believe, a largely illusory effort that hinders our ability to identify truly aspirational standards for children, and apply the same level of discipline and determination toward the establishment of a school system that is aligned around what young people really need in order to be successful in college, throughout their chosen careers, and as active and responsible citizens in our democracy.

In sum, my chief concern is that Rhee will be unable to generate what noted school reform expert Michael Fullan has described as the single most important resource for bringing about systemic change – collective capacity, or the ability to “generat[e] the emotional commitment and the technical expertise that no amount of individual capacity working alone can come close to matching.”

As I’ve written previously, this does NOT mean Ms. Rhee is merely required to give people more opportunities to collaborate. What is required, though, is disciplined, strategically employed collaboration that fosters a shared vision of how to create the optimal learning environment for children (as opposed to the optimal testing environment). As Fullan writes: “The gist of the strategy is to mobilize and engage large numbers of people who are individually and collectively committed and effective at getting results relative to core outcomes that society values. It works because it is focused, relentless (i.e., stays the course), operates as a partnership between and across layers, and above all uses the collective energy of the whole group. There is no way of achieving whole-system reform if the vast majority of the people are not working on it together.

There are many people I respect who believe this is exactly what Michelle Rhee is bringing about. I have just as many friends and colleagues who are equally convinced that Rhee will be unable to move the city any further on its overall reform efforts.

It may be clear which way I’m leaning, but what do you think? Does Rhee deserve four more years to make a true go of it and see if DC can achieve the impossible? Or is her relentless focus on test score data and an oppositional rhetoric a guarantee that any lasting change that comes about will not be the true change we seek?

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The Testing Carousel Goes Round and Round . . .

Today’s Washington Post reports that the test scores of elementary school kids slipped this year after two successive years of growth, “a setback to Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee as she seeks to overhaul the city’s schools.”

No doubt, this news is being used by Rhee’s critics to point out that her particular brand of reform can’t bring the city the lasting change in its public schools that everyone desires. Meanwhile, Rhee responded to the news with equanimity. “We like to celebrate when we do well, and when we don’t, we have to take responsibility,” she said. “We have to own this and figure out how to move forward.”

Can I please make a wish to the education fairy and ask that this be the last of this sort of story I ever see? For those of us who believe that the best way to assess a school’s overall health involves a balanced scorecard of assessments, we can’t have it both ways — you can’t criticize Rhee for focusing on tests, and then lambaste her when those same scores are poor. It either is or isn’t a viable way to assess the health of a school.

In that same spirit, why aren’t folks like Rhee proactively diffusing these sorts of stories by getting out in front of the curve and releasing their own bundle of assessment measures, as a way to diffuse the potential power of the test scores when viewed in isolation? Rhee could do this immediately, without even getting into the contentious issue of using performance assessments. The city could stitch together an interim scorecard, made up entirely of existing measures (student and faculty absenteeism rates, student disciplinary data, graduation rates, a balanced set of course offerings, school climate surveys, and yes, test scores) and use it to educate the public about the many elements that go into a high-quality learning environment? Depending on what the data tell us, it might even lead to some insights that could drive future policy proposals. So let’s stop bickering over the wrong thing — otherwise, we’ll be stuck interminably on this basic-skills testing carousel, and forced to watch it go round and round while other countries are actively revising their education systems to become more effective at imparting higher-order skills and preparing children for the 21st century.

We can do better.

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Data-Driven Decision Making . . . and Soccer?

Great timing.

A week after I wrote about what the World Cup can teach us about school reform, the New York Times published an article about the growing push for more detailed data in the relatively data-free world of professional soccer.

I am not, for what it’s worth, against the use of more sophisticated data in making decisions about how to improve the learning conditions for kids (or, for that matter, how to make better decisions on the soccer pitch). Who would be? In fact, I’ve written in the past about how a balanced scorecard in schools would help educators do their jobs more effectively.

That being said, I am very much against the glorification of data as a way to make extremely subjective, non-linear things — like learning how to use one’s mind well, or watching a collective burst of creativity and synchronicity that leads to a beautiful soccer goooooooaaaaaaal — into extremely objective, linear things for which we can appropriately plan and script out a desired, predictable response.

I don’t think it’s coincidental that this new push for soccer data is reported the same week as an announcement in my home city that Chancellor Michelle Rhee intends to significantly expand the use of standardized tests so that “every D.C. student from kindergarten through high school is regularly assessed to measure academic progress and the effectiveness of teachers.” What’s afoot in both instances is, on one hand, the (appropriate) desire to take human ingenuity and apply it to situations that in the past have lacked specificity, and, on the other, the (inappropriate) effort to make everything quantifiable, resulting in an overreliance on that which can be measured — at the expense of everything else.

Notably, the push for soccer data seems far more measured than what I see in education. According to Mark Brunkhart, the president of a company that provides soccer data for a fee to clubs and news organizations, he and his staff do not blindly evangelize statistics. Every month or two, he says, he gets a call from a professor or graduate student who is a rabid soccer fan and just finished Moneyball, the book that brought sabermetrics into the mainstream in 2003. (I wrote about Moneyball and its potentially positive implications for school reform in a 2009 column titled “What Would Theo Do?”)

“Every single one comes with the idea that they’re going to solve soccer with the ‘Moneyball’ approach,” Brunkhart said, “and I try to talk them all down.” Similarly, the president of the Society for American Baseball Research pointed to Miroslav Klose’s second goal in Germany’s 4-0 victory against Argentina in the World Cup quarterfinals as an example of how statistics seem to overlook the nuance and elegance of soccer. “A series of three or four absolutely beautiful passes — how do you capture that?” he said. “It’s just the nature of the game.”

Would that I were seeing similar restraint among our education leaders. As longtime educator Ted Sizer once said, “Inspiration, hunger: these are the qualities that drive good schools. The best we educational planners can do is to create the most likely conditions for them to flourish, and then get out of their way.”

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More Tests on the Way in DC?

In yesterday’s Washington Post, reporter Bill Turque wrote that Michelle Rhee is seeking an outside contractor to help dramatically expand DCPS’ use of standardized tests, so that every grade from K through 12 will have some form of assessment to measure student progress and teacher effectiveness.

Is this what happens when we pray too long at the altar of “data-driven decision making?”

Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for what that concept actually means — using information to guide all decisions about how to help children learn more effectively — but the faulty logic here is that adding more standardized tests at the end of every school year will achieve that worthy goal. Wouldn’t it be better to start exploring how to strategically bundle other existing measures that tell us a lot about a school’s overall health (such as attendance, graduation rates, faculty absenteeism, and, yes, attitudinal surveys of the students themselves)? Wouldn’t it be better to start experimenting with ways to have other schools in the District implement student portfolio assessments as effectively as the good people at Thurgood Marshall Academyrecently profiled on CBS News — have done?And wouldn’t it be better to stop pretending that systemic reform, and the impact those changes will have on individual students, can be as easily monitored and measured as these tests suggest?

Bring on the information revolution, I say — and this ain’t it.

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John Wooden, Barack Obama & Why Smart People Are Stoopid

This week’s Frank Rich column may not be about education policy, but it might as well be.

Writing about the president’s handling of the BP oil spill, Rich believes Obama’s “most conspicuous flaw is his unshakeable confidence in the collective management brilliance of the best and the brightest he selected for his White House team — “his abiding faith in the judgment of experts,” as Joshua Green of The Atlantic has put it.

This is the primary issue I have with the leading voices of education reform today. I’ve heard Joel Klein suggest “we know how to do this” — referring to comprehensive education reform — when the truth is all we know how to do is move the needle on student test scores, not transform an apartheid education system that relies on one method of instruction for the poor, and another for the privileged. I’ve heard Michelle Rhee assert that “collaboration and consensus building are quite frankly overrated in my mind.” And I’ve grown weary of the myraid other voices who confidently participate in a groupthinkian rush to the illusory Altar of Certainty, long before we have in place the necessary metrics for a much more finely calibrated understanding of whether our schools are giving children what they really need — a balanced comprehensive education that teaches them to use their minds well over the long haul.

It seems fitting, then, that Rich’s piece would appear in a day the Times’ Sports page offered its paean to the Wizard of Westwood, John Wooden, our country’s greatest-ever coach, an exceedingly humble man who always considered himself a teacher first — and a molder of men first, and basketball players second.

Coach Wooden was known for many memorable maxims, many of which — like “Be quick, but don’t hurry” — could helpfully guide our current reform efforts if heeded. But it’s another Woodenism I thought of as I finished Rich’s piece about Obama’s Best and Brightest: “Talent is God given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful.”

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