One of the brighter spots in the Obama administration is the country's new secretary of education, Arne Duncan, who may actually be interested in education -- as opposed to educational administration, bureaucracy, grantsmanship and all the other substitutes that have taken the place of actual learning in American schools.
Whatever he may achieve, Mr. Duncan shows a talent for diagnosing the problem, whether he's putting in a good word for charter schools -- even if his boss has just nixed a voucher program for those who most need it in the nation's capital -- or stressing the need for better teachers.
This time he's put his finger on what may be the source of American education's mediocre or worse performance: Our schools and departments of "education." They're the source of so much of the educanto that has covered the whole subject of education in this country with a thick patina of pseudo-scientific malarkey and fad-a-day theories. No wonder an aging bomber but still ideologue like Bill Ayers has thrived in a college faculty of education up there in Chicago. The way mold does in rotten timbers.
Secretary Duncan says he's been talking to hundreds of bright young teachers, who are the nation's real hope in education, and what he's found is that "most of them say they did not get the hands-on teacher training about managing the classroom that they needed, especially for high-needs students."
To fill that need is going to take a lot more than an annual mickeymouse class at some department of education. Or even promising innovations like KIPP academies and Teach For America, hopeful and impressive as such innovations have been. Real, basic, meaningful reform is going to take a revolution in the way American schools train the teachers of the future.
Secretary Duncan talks a good game. For instance, he says the administration is using part of its stimulus package to reward states that connect data on student achievement to the schools of education their teachers attended. Interesting. At least to the kind of researchers who think improving education is just a matter of graphs and numbers.