There is more than one way to skin a cat, and there is more than one way to reform education in this country. Commentary in the press, including editorials in the Washington Post and Chicago Tribune, as well as in David Brooks' column in the New York Times, have entreated President-elect Barack Obama to select a reformer as the secretary of education, not someone from the establishment.
Indeed, major changes are needed. But readers need to look beyond these manufactured labels of reformer and establishment to the vision of reform being proposed. What matters most to improve student achievement is the quality of teaching.
We need a reformer who has a track record of improving the quality of teaching and can lead efforts to achieve this critical goal at a national level. We need a reformer who can discriminate between good and bad tools for holding schools accountable and who will work toward an educational system that assesses the multiplicity of skills and qualities that are needed for success in the 21st century.
We need an education leader in this country who understands the complexity of the education system, and can work productively with the many constituencies that are needed for meaningful reform.
We do not need polemics or polarization or someone who will silence the voices of any group with a different point of view.
Of the names that have been offered, Stanford University Professor Linda Darling-Hammond is the best qualified for such a leadership position. She has three decades of experience working to improve the quality of teaching, has worked with others to launch successful charter schools and innovative school organizations, has worked with leaders of major school districts across the country to implement fundamental district reform, and been the author of major policy pieces that have improved schools where it matters most - improving student learning. And, most important, she is deeply committed to making American education more equitable and successful for all our children.
The recent commentary have not been about education policy. They have been about politics. They are harmful, because they lead the conversation away from learning and onto divisive ideology. If this strategy wins out, we all lose.
The president-elect loses his opportunity to end the factionalized infighting that has hampered education reform for the past eight years. And, unfortunately, America's students lose.