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“Over the Top” Campaign

Op-ed:

“Over the Top” Campaign

By Gov. Bob Wise

The Alliance for Excellent Education has consistently recommended changes in federal policies that will improve the accountability system for middle and high schools, drive improved student outcomes, slash high school dropout rates and boost the country’s economic standing. In ordinary times, it would be considered a success to achieve any one of these goals. But these are not ordinary times. In fact, the stars are currently aligned to deliver victories in each of these areas. So what makes this year and the next so critical—and so ripe—for finally enacting reforms that the Alliance and others have worked toward over the past several decades?

The convergence of economic, political, legislative, and social forces offers the greatest opportunity for enacting far-reaching education reform in fifty years. President Obama, Education Secretary Duncan, and the congressional leadership have already demonstrated through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act—both in stimulus dollars and directives—their determination to dramatically change education outcomes. Yet, this window of opportunity will be open only briefly; it could be slammed shut by the negative inertia of soaring budget deficits and congressional reelection worries.

Congress and the administration, while sharing our enthusiasm for sweeping education reform, face a crowded agenda—health care, energy, and the economy—that will compete for the media’s attention and committee time. All of us must join to assure that real education reform receives the same energy. As Education Secretary Duncan’s bold “Race to the Top” initiative intends to push states and school districts to bring innovation, the Alliance is working to build public support for, enact, and implement a comprehensive federal education reform agenda through an “Over the Top” campaign over the next two years.

The campaign seeks to have the federal government push through the legislation, regulations, and funding that make true reform and innovation the norm. To do so, the Alliance will work to immediately embed reform-oriented policies in federal law by working directly with the Congress, the White House, and the U.S. Department of Education. We want to ensure that the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is reauthorized and continues down the path of developing and adopting common standards while providing significant and sustainable support to reforming the country’s lowest-performing secondary schools. The Alliance will strive to push these goals “over the top” before the end of 2010.

Specifically, the Over the Top campaign will include strategic and focused efforts to build public and policymaker support for:

1) developing and adopting common state standards, assessments and aligned instructional tools, and ensuring federal support for this effort;

2) driving secondary school reform through improving federal accountability, requiring data-driven school improvement efforts, and targeting federal dollars to help transform the nation’s lowest-performing high schools; and

3) sustaining this reform agenda in legislation, implementation, and funding beyond the next two years.

During the past eight years, the Alliance for Excellent Education has aggressively made the case that America’s secondary schools are failing far too many of their students. The Over the Top campaign is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to remedy this through a relentless push for enactment of legislation and administration policies that will move the nation from the idea of “no child left behind” to the reality of “every child a graduate.”

If successful, this could be the most memorable federal period for education since the Great Society. By pushing legislative and administrative reform “over the top” in the next two years, we can genuinely improve student outcomes for generations.

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Every Child a Graduate. Every Child Prepared for Life.