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Education Innovation Is Lagging--But Is There Hope?

On the heels of President Obama's speech last week touting the need for radical improvements in U.S. schools, the Center for American Progress (CAP) released "Leaders and Laggards," a state-by-state report on education innovation. CAP assesses states and the District of Columbia in seven key areas, including school management, teacher hiring and evaluation practices, the ability to fire ineffective teachers, and access to technology. It's a great, in-depth report, and you can use an interactive map here to see where each state ranks in the various assessment areas.

Unsurprisingly, though, the findings aren't terribly encouraging. D.C., for instance, gets a B in staff hiring and evaluations, but a D in school management and Fs in both the removal of ineffective teachers and the quality of education data systems. Underscoring my blog post last week about union policies often hindering reform, 61 percent of principals say unions or associations are barriers to removing bad teachers, while another 72 percent say tenure policies are obstacles. Moreover, "[s]tates lack a culture of education advocacy," the report notes. "Innovation-focused reform will require deep reserves of political capital because entrenched interests will fight meaningful changes. But few leaders have stepped forward to create the political conditions for reform."

In other words, the report breaks down piece by piece what we already know: Education innovation isn't happening fast enough. But it also points out that the findings come "at a time when national attention to educational innovation is on the upswing." That's true--Race to the Top applications will roll in soon, and Congress will likely tackle the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind next year. Count the new CAP report as another timely plea for politicians, states, and school districts to summon the will (finally) to institute serious education reform.