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Education And The Election: A Conversation With Linda Darling-Hammond

Linda Darling-Hammond, via Alverno College

A lot is changing in education these days.

The United States is implementing a new cornerstone education law. States including Wisconsin are making moves in standardized testing, academic standards and school funding.

But unless you run in education-minded circles, you might not be aware of many of these changes. That’s because it’s all happening in the midst of a turbulent election cycle. And plenty of other topics tend to get discussed before school policy.

But, education policy experts are hopeful about the future – including Linda Darling-Hammond.

Back in 2008, the longtime educator and policy expert was considered one of the most likely candidates for Secretary of Education under President Obama.

She didn’t end up with that job, but has continued her work on educational practice, teacher education and school equity. Now, she leads the national Learning Policy Institute, and serves as a professor emeritus at Stanford University's School of Education

In her many roles, Darling-Hammond has seen firsthand how policies crafted by federal and state government affect what happens everyday in local schools, particularly when it comes to teaching.

"I do think there's been a concerted campaign over the last decade on the part of some political actors to bash teaching, and to blame teachers for all the ills of the public schools," Darling-Hammond says. 

But, she adds, the advent of the Every Student Succeeds Act -- the new national education law that will replace the 15-year-old No Child Left Behind act -- means there is a new opportunity for change. That's because there are provisions in ESSA to loosen accountability measures and standardized testing requirements, both things Darling-Hammond says are generally seen as punitive measures for teachers.

"A lot of the power goes to the states [in ESSA]," Darling-Hammond says. "I think in local communities, parents and teachers are aware of what's needed. And to the extent that they have more voice, we can make a lot of gains with this new law."


The key to making ESSA work, she says, will be finding the right people to implement it. That task will fall to whoever staffs the federal Department of Education under the new president elected in the fall of 2016.


Darling-Hammond's advice to whoever that may be: pick seasoned professionals.


"I would love to see, in the next administration, a Department of Education that is full of people who have experience in the profession, and knowledge about how school systems operate," Darling-Hammond says. "We've become very distant from the field in Washington."

Earlier this month, Alverno College honored Darling-Hammond with the Sister Joel Read Outstanding Educator Award. She is only the second recipient of the recognition, named for Alverno College’s longest-serving president.