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Liam Kerr: Obama, education reform a Nixon-to-China moment

By Liam Kerr

(From The Berkshire Eagle, December 1st, 2012)

When it comes to education reform, Presi dent Obama has turned the tag "no-drama Obama" on its head. In fact, when it comes to K-12 education, the Obama administration has intentionally rocked the Democratic boat by pushing aggressively for reforms that upset teachers unions -- a major segment of the traditional party power base.

The drama has at times turned ugly -- Secretary Arne Duncan was greeted with hisses at the annual meeting of the nation’s largest teachers union, and the head of the Chicago Teachers Union was forced to apologize for making fun of the secretary’s slight lisp.

The most upheaval has come from the administration’s program Race to the Top, which has significant turnaround influence with its series of competitive grants totaling $4 billion. Through it, dozens of states and hundreds of districts have pushed for changes to the status quo that benefit students. The most recent iteration focuses on school districts, to "support bold, locally directed improvements in learning and teaching that will directly improve student achievement and educator effectiveness."

The original Race To The Top challenge grant, targeting state-level reform, had a direct impact in Massachusetts. It motivated passage of the 2010 Act Relative to the Achieve ment Gap, which was bold enough to make Massachusetts a grant winner to the tune of $250 million.

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