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An Unlikely Duo Pushes For Entrepreneurship In Schools

An "odd couple" of think tanks have combined forces on education reform. This morning, the Center for American Progress (CAP), the organization that spawned numerous Obama administration officials and policy ideas, and the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), considered a leading architect of Bush administration policy, unveiled a joint report on innovation and entrepreneurship in education. Seated on a panel at the swanky Hotel Monaco on F Street, representatives of the two groups shared friendly jabs--literally, they were nudging each other behind the microphones--about how unlikely it had seemed that the two groups would ever find common ground. But they found it, and the fruits of their labors are detailed in the report "Stimulating Excellence: Unleashing the Power of Innovation in Education."

In sum, the report calls for education systems at all levels--national, state, and local--to welcome private, inventive partners as they seek to improve in areas ranging from student achievement to teacher quality, technology procurement to after-school activities. "The minute we stop thinking like entrepreneurs," said D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, who kicked off the event, "we should call it a day."

The panel was heavy on business-speak--"customers," "providers," "capital," "catalyze"-- that's sure to disgruntle traditional Democratic supporters of education, who tend to be wary of what I once heard a teacher describe angrily as a "corporate privatization agenda." But the report presented today is dead-on. It supports, among other things, using better data systems "to create a performance culture" (which I discussed in another blog post this morning); opening public education "to a diverse set of providers" (Teach for America and other alternative teacher certification programs, for instance); loosening procurement restrictions so that schools can spend more flexibly on services provided by private enterprises; and, via new government policy, directing more public funds toward innovative programs.

Admittedly, CAP and AEI don't see eye to eye on everything in education. When asked about the research pipeline and funding behind specific entrepreneurial programs, Frederick Hess, director of education policy studies at AEI, emphasized that the report offers general principles to guide reform, rather than an exact "wish list of policy objectives." In other words, expect that the two groups might disagree on the specifics of which innovative services and providers are best and where the money to support them should come from.

Nonetheless, seeing such opposites on the political spectrum find overarching consensus and, in that, a starting point for pushing reform efforts was heartening. It's yet another indicator that bipartisanship is not only critical, but also completely possible in the ongoing battle to fix U.S. schools.

--Seyward Darby