Readers will recall that last time Robert Gordon went wild he produced the closest thing you’re going to see to a dishy tell all piece in education for The New Republic. Now, as part of the Hamilton Project, a new ideas project for Democrats (even though it’s at Brookings I can say that, right?), Gordon is really taking on the teacher quality issue (see the AFTies reax here, they compare him to Rick Hess).
The new paper (pdf) he has produced, along with the duo of Kane and Staiger is important substantively and politically. Substantively it lays out some important teacher quality data and begs some serious questions about teacher preparation, evaluation, and pay. And, it furthers the notion that there is a big federal role in driving change here, in other words more Hamilton than Henry. Politically, the fact that Democrats are now engaging on tough issues like this means that there is some hope after all for a more vigorous ideas debate than we’ve seen for a few years, basically since Clinton was on the scene. Just a few years ago ideas like differential pay or seriously reforming how teachers are licensed were considered heresy. Now the discussion is at least moving forward.
We can quibble about some of the details, and the role of culture relative to policy in creating some of these problems (For instance, I think, and some evidence indicates, that dealing with laggards is more a problem of the culture in education than specific policies. They’re not dealing with low-performing teachers much more readily in states with weak contractual protections than strong union jurisdictions). But, this is the right conversation to be having rather than the previous posture which when you distilled it was essentially: “There is nothing to see here, send more money!”