Dear Arne

Dear Arne,
You’ve been quiet the last few weeks; you’re probably reading RttT proposals. There wasn’t as much improvement between phase 1 and 2 as we had hoped, but it will still be a big win.  RttT is changing the landscape and the conversation. Like I’ve been saying, waiting a year for reauthorization isn’t all bad.
Here’s 5 things for you to think about:
1. The new testing regimes that result from the RttT assessment grants are likely to frame the next decade of American education (the way NCLB did the last).  The three proposals are pretty good (for 2005) but fail to frame the emerging opportunity—content embedded assessment.  None of the proposals build a framework anticipating the flood of keystroke data to come when most kids spend at least part of their day engaged in learning games, simulations, and virtual environments.  Encourage them to leave room for innovation.
2. It still bothers me that your Blueprint gives up on the ‘good school promise’ inherent in the NCLB schools accountability framework.  You’ll remember that no state was doing its job dealing with chronic failure back in the 90s.  I appreciate your focus on low performing schools but there’s a lot of low income kids in the middle 80% of schools that may not be well served by your proposal.
3. The only way we can successful adopt the Core, push STEM, make sure every kid has good teachers, and deal with the fiscal crisis is blended learning.  We’re working on a platform for state policy makers and we’ll need your help pushing it.
4. Your team is short-selling for-profit higher ed. There’s certainly some loan abuse, but most of these folks really care about retention (that’s the only way they make money).  Many of them do a better job than public institutions at meeting the needs of diverse learners and seeing them through to a degree.  You’ll need these folks to hit the president’s goals of regaining the world lead in degree completion.
5. We won’t hit the president’s goals without real innovation—new tools and new schools.  And that won’t happen without more constructive private sector involvement.  The level of opportunity (ie, deal flow and potential investment) is 10X what it was a couple years ago but your team is more a barrier than a partner.
I hope you enjoyed having Margot Rogers serve as your chief of staff during year one—she’s terrific.  Joanne will do a great job too.  See you soon.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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