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Posted at 04:00 AM ET, 03/13/2012

The Joel Klein-Condi Rice ed report: What it will and won’t say

Sometime soon we can expect a report from the Council on Foreign Relations’ Independent Task Force on U.S. Education Reform and National Security, chaired by Joel Klein and Condoleezza Rice.

The panel started its work in April 2011 and was charged, according to the council’s Web site, with “evaluating the U.S. public education system within the context of national security.”

Can you guess what the report — which may be released next week — will say? In fact, knowing who headed the commission means that we can do better than just guess.

We can expect it to conclude that public education is in a crisis that threatens U.S. national security; schools need more and “better” assessments; all students should be able to pick the school they attend and therefore we need a new educational structure, and America trains teachers poorly. And what do you want to bet that it says Teach for America is great?

Don’t however, expect to see much, if anything on the fact that 22 percent of American children live in poverty and the consequences of that affect student achievement enormously.

The folks at the Council of Foreign Relations who assembled the commission knew exactly what they were going to get when they put in charge both Klein, the former New York City schools chancellor who now works for Rupert Murdoch, and Rice, secretary of state under former president George W. Bush.

Klein, believing that public education should be run like a business, launched a flurry of initiatives in his eight-year tenure as tenure as chancellor before he resigned in 2010 after it was revealed that the standardized test scores that he kept pointing to as proof of the success of his reforms were based on increasingly easy exams.

Rice has expressed her admiration for Bush’s key education initiative No Child Left Behind, which ushered in the current era of high-stakes testing that is helping to make an already troubled public education system into a real mess. “I liked the way that he thought about education,” she said late last year on NPR. (At this point, there aren’t many people who like the way Bush thought about education.)

The commission project director is Julia C. Levy, who worked as director of communications for the New York City Department of Education under Klein. What a coincidence.

If you are wondering who is on the commission, well, the Council of Foreign Relations wouldn’t say when asked. It is the council’s policy not to reveal who is on its commissions until the final report is released, according to Anya Schmemann, director of communications at the council and director of the organization’s task force program.

Why? Because each report is supposed to be approved by consensus. If someone on the commission decides he/she can’t agree enough with the report to approve it, the person essentially withdraws from the commission. If the person doesn’t want to be identified publicly as having been involved, his/her name stays secret. There is also another option for dissenters: They can sign on to the report but issue a dissent that gets published along with the report, Schmemann said.

So here’s more of what the report is likely to say:

* Expect that it will declare the state of public education to be in such a state of crisis that U.S. national security is at stake because military might isn’t enough anymore to secure America. (But don’t expect it to note that this was always the case).

*Expect it to mention the terrible scores American students got on the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress in civics (but don’t expect it to note that Americans have always scored poorly on civics and history).

*Expect a call for some system to assess whether schools are teaching the skills deemed necessary to shore up national security, such as languages and critical thinking (but don’t expect it to note that this thought is hardly original with the commission).

*Expect it to mention a 2009 report that says some 75 percent of American military-age youth are unfit to serve (and also expect it to stress the poor academic record of so many students rather than obesity and medical issues, which was the main culprit cited in the report released by U.S. military officials.)

* Expect it to say that America needs more competition in education and more choice — so much choice, in fact, that every student should be able to choose his or her own school. (But don’t expect it to say that the public education system is a civic institution, not a business opportunity, and that the “choice movement” has not been the success its backers have touted.)

* Expect that it will say that America doesn’t train teachers well enough, but that Teach for America, somehow, does. (But don’t expect it to explain the contradiction in this position. Teach for America only gives its recruits — college graduates who aren’t interested in careers in education — five weeks of summer training before sending them into some of the country’s most troubled schools. Talk about poor teacher training!)

*Expect it to lament the performance of American students on international assessments and talk about how places like Finland and Shanghai are doing better than we are. (But don’t expect it to say that Finland does pretty much the opposite of what U.S. school reformers are doing today, or that the Chinese education system is known for producing excellent test-takers to the exclusion of many other things, or that American students have never been at the top of the international ratings.)

There is sure to be more — praise for the Common Core State Standards initiative, for example, (which the Brookings Institution just predicted would have little effect on student achievement) and a call for an expansion of the standards into subjects beyond the current math and English Language Arts, for another example, and even new standardized assessments aligned with the standards, for yet a third example.

I could, of course, be entirely wrong.

But I bet I’m not.

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