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Interview with the Cliche Expert at the U. S. Department of Education

Q. In his State of the Union address President Obama said we need to update our education system by amending the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (commonly known as No Child Left Behind). Is that correct?

A. Yes, NCLB is a toxic brand. But it's the dawn of a new day now and we're committed to stepping up to the plate to give schools a new lease on reform . We know it's going to be a heavy lift, but we're committed to a game-changer here. The President's budget expands his commitment to provide a world-class cradle-to-career education for all children. We are psyched to roll up our sleeves and push the envelope, with no holds barred and no stone unturned to get students moving on the Race to the Top.

Q. Do you anticipate that the Act will be reauthorized this year?

A. We're blue-skying this thing, taking a big-picture approach--looking at the cold, hard truth of working to achieve what puts students on track to achieve an internationally benchmarked world-class education. To reverse the dropout crisis which has reached epidemic proportions, we're going to rethink, redesign, and rebuild, zeroing in on what matters to give every child in America the tools to be college-ready to succeed in the global economy.

Although we bring a greater sense of urgency to this issue, we won't sacrifice quality for speed. Getting off the NCLB roller coaster doesn't mean we won't be moving ahead to level the playing field.

Q. Can you confirm that the new act will be called Every Child Ready to Be a Global Worker?

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that the name of the game is not the crux of the matter. Nothing could be further than the truth. What is critical is to set our sights on raising the bar. Our top priority is to put every child on a winning team. When you have a paradigm shift you need to go outside the box to get to the cutting edge. The American public can rest assured that we will be offering a horse of a different color and we will not miss the bus for this historic opportunity.

Q. What message do you have for states that don't receive funds under Race to the Top?

A. The Department is making an unprecedented investment in our schools, and we have our eye on the light at end of the tunnel. But the truth of the matter is that the bottom line is we must regain our economic competiveness so that our kids can compete with the kids in India and Indonesia. This means we must make tough choices and stop investing in things that aren't working.

Data may not tell us the whole truth, but it certainly doesn't lie. Real-time data must drive real-time decision-making in every classroom, pre-k through graduate school. We are demanding absolute transparency for every tax dollar spent and we will use the power of the purse and the power of the bully pulpit to reward what is working and to reform what is not.

I want to take this opportunity to reiterate what President Obama said in his State of the Union address, "Instead of rewarding failure, we only reward success. Instead of funding the status quo, we only invest in reform --reform that raises student achievement."

Q. What kinds of new features is the Department looking for in its reform package?

A. First and foremost, it will not be business as usual or any port in a storm. Simply investing in the status quo won't put kids on the fast track to international benchmarks. With this unprecedented influx of funds, the Administration is sending a loud message to get our schools to raise the bar for the 21st century economy. Schools can't just give lip service to reform; they have to run the race.

It's time to talk turkey: We've hired 58 superstars to evaluate the Race to the Top applications, making sure we reward schools that can deliver the goods and states that can bring this to scale.

For starters, we're calling for a sea change on how teachers are evaluated. To keep America competitive, and to make the American dream of equal educational opportunity a reality, we need to recruit, reward, train, and learn from a new generation of talented teachers.

This means we must get the monkey off the back of reform and stop ignoring the 800-pound gorilla. And the elephant. We won't be hitting any ground balls, grasping at straws, or settling for half-baked performance any more. We will incentivize all teachers to international benchmarks. Continuous data analysis will deliver the goods on the go-getters, those who are up to snuff. The sky's the limit.

Q. What's the reaction of the Teachers unions?

A. I'm pleased to report that the teacher unions and the Department have joined hands, standing shoulder to shoulder to be on the same page here. The bottom line is we have a meeting of the minds to do what's best for children. It's a whole new ball game and both the AFT and the NEA have assured us that America's teachers are sitting at the table as team players. We will reward the heavy hitters, separating the sheep from the goats. Make no mistake about it, we're all in this for the long haul, determined to go that extra mile to help children. When it comes to the nation's youth, we won't drag our feet or let any grass grow under them.

Q. With Ted Kennedy gone, do you anticipate a slow-down in reauthorization?

A. That's a good question. Our game plan has never been to live and die by the outside shot. We're working closely with a star-power bipartisan group of members of Congress, to develop an accountability system built on greater transparency, incentives and rewards, and a focus on turning around persistently underperforming schools.

The best anti-poverty program around is a world-class education. We can assure the American public that we'll be working smarter and buckling down to get more bang for the buck. The tide has turned and public education is the game changer for the nation's economic viability.

Last but not least, we must not hide our heads in the sand. It's time to stand up and be counted. We're going for a home run here. We no longer accept the fact that our schools have flat-lined student progress for nearly three decades. This means stepping up to the plate and bringing successful educational entrepreneurs to scale. People are barking up the wrong tree if they think we will back down on our commitment to the young people of America. At the end of the game, the President wants the ball. He's eager to take the big shot.

— Susan Ohanian



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