The Best and Worst of the “Best and Worst of” Lists

The end (of 2010) is upon us, and edu-pundits everywhere are compiling their “best and worst” lists for the Year of the Tiger. Here’s my run-down of the lists themselves:

5. The Hoover Institution’s Koret Task Force on Education. With all due respect to the chair of said Task Force (i.e., my boss, Checker Finn), this list gets it almost all wrong. Waiting for Superman was the best thing to happen to American education in 2010? Really? Even though it painted school reform in a simplistic light, gave voice to the hubristic (and ridiculous) belief that “we know what works, we just have to do it,” and didn’t actually attract many moviegoers? And the L.A. Times‘ release of teacher effective ratings was second-best? Why don’t we just buy bumper stickers that say, “See, education reform really is about demonizing teachers.” Plus, no mention of the Common Core State Standards Initiative? What’s up with that?

4. Dom Giordano of the Philadelphia Daily News. Giordano’s list is rather self-referential, but it’s still fun to read for the local nuggets of lunacy he uncovers. But alas, in the end he falls for the Hollywood Hoopla (a la Waiting for Superman and the L.A. Times), too.

3. Van Schoales, executive director of Education Reform Now. Van identifies people, rather than events, and stays positive with a rundown of heroes instead of villains. But don’t let that dissuade you from reading it! Most of his mentions are quite deserving of kudos, especially Mike Johnston, the Democratic Colorado legislator who pushed a far-reaching tenure reform bill through his legislature; Rhode Island’s “chief for change” Deborah Gist, and my pal Rick Hess for “being a true thought leader.” Three cheers.

2. Alyson Klein of Education Week’s Politics K-12. It’s not easy being funny when you write for a trade publication, but Klein pulls it off with her year-end wrap-up. TFA and KIPP winning I-3 grants was the “biggest unsurprise ever.” The Obama Administration failed to get Congress to bite on its Very Special Limited Time Offer (“Act Now and we’ll let you give us another $1 billion for K-12! Hurry! While supplies last!”). And then, in a more serious tone, “‘Ha! We were just kidding about those memorandums of understanding! We’re not really going to do any of that stuff!’ say districts in some states that won Race to the Top.”

1. Linda Perlstein, a.k.a. The Educated Reporter. She’s witty. She’s hip. And she links to a treasure trove of great education journalism from 2010. (Richard Whitmire was right when he told me not to fear for the state of national education reporting.) And her picks are right on target: lots of well-deserved praise for the Hechinger Report, a nod to Steve Sawchuk for his excellent beat coverage of teacher issues, and, let us not forget, Elizabeth Green’s blockbuster New York Times Magazine cover article, “Building a Better Teacher.”

Yes, 2010 was quite a year for school reform. But no more looking backwards; for a glimpse into the future, read my 7 (predictions) for (two thousand) ’11. And have a very happy new year.

-Mike Petrilli

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