Alexander Russo nailed it this morning* when he wrote that “old school reforms win big in i3.” Indeed. What hit me when I saw the list of winners–especially the groups that brought home the big bucks–was that this is New American Schools all over again.
Remember that initiative from the 1990s? (If not, read this excellent Jeffrey Mirel history, published by Fordham in 2001.) Here’s what Checker wrote in its foreword:
[Mirel] finds that [New American Schools] showed signs from the outset that it was headed for the education mainstream. Observers noted that the initial request for proposals (RFP) process itself attracted and rewarded established educators and familiar ideas, indeed, that nearly all the winning proposals shared similar ideas and practices rooted in the progressive education movement that has long been the dominant paradigm of American primary/secondary education. “Can you have a revolution via an RFP process?” critics wondered.
Consider that as you ponder the $46 million award granted to Reading Recovery–a “progressive” (and questionable) approach to reading instruction if there ever was one. Or the $50 million soon to flow to Robert Slavin’s “Success for All”–which also received, almost two decades ago, funding from New American Schools! As one friend ruefully commented to me, “Innovation??? I bet there isn’t a chronically low performing elementary school in the country that already hasn’t been around the block at least once with one of these two.” (And it’s hard not to notice that both of these outfits were among the loudest critics of Reading First, which largely shut them out of the winner’s circle.)
To be sure, there are victors on the list that are more to my liking (TFA, TNTP, KIPP, etc.) and a few that can claim to be breaking new ground (like School of One). Maybe funding these worthy outfits is a reasonable use of federal funding. But i3 as a “game changer”? If history is any guide, that seems unlikely.
* About once a year it happens!