Schooling is a hugely complex endeavor that will prove resistant to heavy-handed policies or grand schemes to duplicate “best practices”—and that, as frustrating as it may be, the best path forward is therefore to remove anachronistic policies, empower educators and entrepreneurs to find smarter ways to use limited dollars and talent, set demanding expectations, and ensure this process proceeds with transparency and a due regard for the public interest.

Read more about Rick’s thoughts on education reform here.

Frederick M. Hess

Hess, the Resident Scholar and Director of Education Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, is an educator, political scientist, and author, who studies a range of K-12 and higher education issues. In addition to his new Education Week blog “Rick Hess Straight Up,” he is the author of many influential books on education including Education Unbound, Common Sense School Reform, Revolution at the Margins, and Spinning Wheels. His work can be seen in scholarly and popular outlets ranging from Teacher College Record, Harvard Education Review, Social Science Quarterly, Urban Affairs Review, and Chronicle of Higher Education, to U.S. News & World Report, The Washington Post, and National Review.

I would like to see state governments do more to actually help schools by sending in experts who can visit schools and districts that are struggling and diagnose what is wrong and what needs to be addressed. It doesn’t mean that educators will simply be able to use the recommendations to implement change. If it were that easy we would be doing a lot better than we are right now.

Learn more about Pedro’s work on education here.

Pedro Noguera

Noguera is the Peter L. Agnew Professor of Education at New York University. Dr. Noguera is a sociologist whose scholarship and research focuses on the ways in which schools are influenced by social and economic conditions, as well as by demographic trends in local, regional and global contexts. Dr. Noguera has published over 150 research articles and his work has appeared in multiple major research journals. Most recently, he is the author of Creating the Opportunity to Learn with A. Wade Boykin (ASCD, 2011).

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Frederick Hess v. Pedro Noguera

Part I

Policy and Politics


Pedro Noguera
Hi Rick, I’ve been hearing a lot about the common core as a “game changer” in education and I think once again, the hype will not match the reality. Let me be clear, I support the Common Core. I support the idea of getting all of the states (well most of them, at least) to adopt a common set of academic standards so that we can begin to eliminate the unevenness that presently characterized educational standards among the states. I also support the idea of using the curriculum to engage students to reason, problem solve, write and process information in ways that challenge their higher order thinking skills. This is a real breakthrough in the way we think about what and how students should learn.

My skepticism is based on my doubts that the new standards will be implemented properly, and already I am seeing clear evidence that my concerns are legitimate. New York implemented the assessments this spring before providing schools with curriculum materials or training to teachers. Several other states have done the same thing. The frustration that results from placing the assessments before the preparation is likely to encourage a backlash. With the exception of Kentucky, which does seem to be taking a more thoughtful approach, I haven’t heard of states doing the work necessary to insure that schools will be ready to deliver the Common Core. Hence, I am doubtful that this change will produce the leap forward that advocates have argued will occur.

Frederick Hess
I did have a great summer, and one highlight was the reception of my Cage-Busting Leadership book and the chance to talk with a slew of terrific school and system leaders about the takeaways. I trust you’re enjoying your labors, per usual.

To the specific issue at hand, I think we’re very much in agreement. One of education’s longtime pathologies has been the search for “game changers” and can’t miss solutions. We remember the ludicrously strong claims made for the No Child Left Behind Act: small high schools, comprehensive school reform, site-based management, detracking, charter schooling, and so many other attractive ideas. Some of these have helped modestly, others have disappointed; but all have also had real costs, and none have delivered on the grandiose promises of their energetic promoters.

What goes wrong? I think it’s one part naivete, one part good intentions, and one part impatience. The Common Core is suffering from all of these. I’m sympathetic to the Common Core project. I get it. I think it is reasonable that states ought to have common standards in reading and math, that it could make it easier to craft terrific instructional materials, improve teacher preparation and professional development, while also facilitating transparency and accountability. But adopting the standards, or even the assessments, doesn’t make any of this happen—it simply creates an opening. Delivering on all this is an enormous, expensive, frustrating lift, one that would require broad political support, careful attention to policy, and a taste for hard work.

Unfortunately, I haven’t seen much that impresses me on these counts. For most of the past four or five years, the advocates have been lethargic when it comes to public engagement and dismissive of their critics. They’ve seemed disinterested in addressing the kinds of practical challenges you flag. More than a few seem to have already grown bored of the Common Core, and are now rushing off to embrace the push for pre-K or some other new enthusiasm. Right now, I don’t see much cause to expect that the Common Core would be “game changing.” I see more likelihood of half-hearted implementation, headline-grabbing glitches with the assessment technology, parental unrest with huge drops in reported school performance, and general discontent. I fear the most likely “game change” will be the need to spend the second half of this decade cleaning up from the disruptions caused by the missteps of the Common Core enthusiasts.

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Philip Marino
2013-08-24 06:00:31
Chrissy Anne
2013-10-08 01:54:27
Public schools are not learning from charter schools and private schools because public schools don't have selective admission. I don't understand how people continually compare charter and public schools as if they are on a level playing field.
Worth a Look 10.10.13 – Trevin Wax
2013-10-10 05:05:59
[…] new site for intelligent debate over important issues. Check out The Repartée. Their first debate is over […]
Rick Hess and Pedro Nogeura debate today’s top ed reform issues: Part 1 | AEIdeas
2013-10-10 14:04:02
[…] their first Repartée debate, Rick Hess and Pedro Noguera discuss how to fix America’s broken education system. Along the way, […]
How can we fix the very broken American education system?Part II: Inequality | The Repartée
2013-10-10 20:07:54
[…] The first part of this three-part series concentrated on the politics and policies surrounding the education debate today: will the Common Core really be a game changer and achieve the results its proponents have long promised? What is the role of policies and policymakers in education reform efforts? Is scaling up best practices a good method of education reform? As we now transition into inequality, Pedro Nogeura and Frederick Hess confront a fundamental disagreement on how to save failing schools and the often poverty-stricken students who attend them. […]
Laura Gates
2013-10-15 17:21:58
I couldn't agree more. You leave these functions thinking you can change the world. But when you get back to the classroom you realize all the questions you should have asked and that really you're not much better off than when you started.
Rick Hess and Pedro Nogeura debate today’s top ed reform issues: Part 2 (Inequality) | AEIdeas
2013-10-15 17:31:54
[…] their first debate on many of the top education reform issues of the day, Hess and Noguera talk about inequality and […]
Alex S. Hyman, Baltimore, MD
2013-10-15 17:34:50
I'm not sure where you are getting this number? According to a source that I could find (, which is admittedly quite old, the high school dropout rate in Tulsa is 25%. Wouldn't that then peg the graduation rate at a higher 75%?
2013-10-16 14:20:23
at last, a site with some actual respectful back and forth between people with opposing views! Unlike FOX and MSNBC bravo- plenty of food for thought here.
2013-10-16 20:39:01
This often happens with debates. You argue - then decide to let the facts decide - and people have different facts. We all have to be careful of cherry picking facts that will support our views.
How can we fix the very broken American education system?Part III: Moving forward | The Repartée
2013-10-17 15:30:26
[…] The first part of this three-part series concentrated on the politics and policies surrounding the education debate today: will the Common Core really be a game changer and achieve the results its proponents have long promised? What is the role of policies and policymakers in education reform efforts? The second part focused on inequality and how to save failing schools and the often poverty-stricken students who attend them. This third and final installment transitions the crux of the debate into the future. How should we move forward? Where do we need to focus our limited efforts and resources if there is to be hope of enacting any real change? […]
2013-10-17 17:13:08
Metaphors are important and I agree with our debaters - who at least on this point - seem to agree that the "game changer" metaphor is the wrong one. It is another way of saying "quick fix" -- and that is a about the last thing we need in education reform
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2014-07-19 13:06:46
[…] 15. Newark and Trenton spends more than $25,000 a year on every single student – Source […]
Rajat Bhageria
2014-07-28 23:05:08
I agree with much of what you write. Additionally, in my book, What High School Didn't Teach Me, I ague that the main thing that schools should be focusing on is increasing intrinsic motivation. Truly, currently, most students are currently working only to fulfill requirements and to score high grades. They don't really care about being creative or innovative. At the end of the day, our students can sit and memorize factoids, but they cannot creatively problem solve. Schools are producing robots. Read more: