Have a few beers with education reformers and you’re pretty likely to hear complaints about how difficult it is to get the public to focus on, let alone act on, a school reform agenda. Part of this stems from the heterogeneity of our school “system” and its decentralized nature. But, the root problem is that it’s hard to move most issues in our political system, it was designed that way.
That said though, it could be better. The lack of a common grammar or framework for thinking about educational progress has long been one barrier to greater understanding, consensus, and a more sophisticated politics around education. Most people are surprised to learn, for example, that the nation is only now adopting a common definition for high school graduation rates — and even that is a pretty muddy one.
On Monday, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings is going to try to use the platform of the Aspen Institute’s National Education Summit to put forward her own set of five indicators around achievement, gaps, completion, and post-secondary readiness and attainment. Spellings told me today that she wants these indicators to be viewed with the same seriousness that we look on leading economic indicators. For a variety of reasons I don’t see that happening with these. But, she’s on the right track with at least launching this conversation. The financial industry might be in some trouble right now, but at least they’re not arguing over exactly what a bond or a stock is and have some measures by which to gauge what is happening across a diverse landscape. We need to get there as an industry.
Update: Here are specifics on this.