Suddenly the British election is being waged over schools. The Times of London carries a column from a soon-to-be first-time Tory voter who is switching to David Cameron’s party because of the schools issue, and the paper’s editors provide an overview of the debate, with the Tories and Liberal Democrats favoring the opening of many new schools by many new organizations as a means of bringing competition to a poor performing set of old institutions. Labor is opposing this sort of competition. British voters get to decide between the two sharply contrasting visions in ten days time.
Republicans in this country preparing for the fall elections are smart to focus on Obamcare and the fiscal emergency confronting the federal and state governments as a result of the profligacy of Democrats in the care and feeding of their special interests.
But that preparation –candidates do prepare, correct, by reading books and thinking through key issues so they don’t get caught flat-footed?– should include a couple of key books about education reform. Just two books can arm every GOP candidate with enough information and background to make themselves into a decent speaker for genuine and effective reform of public schools.
First, read Washington Post reporter Jay Mathews’ Work Hard. Be Nice, which is the story of KIPP –the Knowledge is Power Program, which, along with its sister charter schools movements, is proving that kids from the underclass living in core areas of urban poverty can still achieve and succeed in schools. It is a national scandal that we don’t insist on the widespread implementation of the proven reforms that would allow many if not most of these kids to escape from these circumstances via a quality education. Republicans ought to be praising KIPP and similar programs in every speech, focusing on the issue of school reform as consistently and as effectively as Meg Witman has in her race for governor in California.
Jay Mathews was touting the second book on his Post blog this week: Teach Like A Champion: 49 Techniques That Put Students on the Path to College by Doug Lemov.
Mathews says of this book that “[m]uch-underlined versions of it have been passed around like samizdat literature,” evidence of the sort of grassroots credibility that creates momentum for change in approach.
Together the two books give some specificity to GOP demands for an overhaul of public education in districts that are failing their students. Serious candidates will see the turn the British elections have taken and start to get smart on the debate that ought to be occurring this summer and fall.