Academic journal article AEI Paper & Studies

The Successful Failure of ED in '08

Academic journal article AEI Paper & Studies

The Successful Failure of ED in '08

Article excerpt

Today, the school reform firmament includes a wealth of groups working to rethink and reimagine schooling. These include policy actors ranging from the federal Department of Education to state education agencies to local superintendents, as well as parent groups, teachers unions, researchers, and philanthropists. The latter group, in particular, often has an outsized influence by virtue of their ability to use dollars to drive particular school reforms, win votes for legislation, or sponsor new research. As such, large foundations such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, and the Ford Foundation have been in the national spotlight surrounding school reform conversations. Given that, it's important to understand the history and nature of philanthropic investment in K-12 education and lessons that can guide advocacy groups going forward.

In "The Successful Failure of ED in '08," veteran education journalist Alexander Russo attempts to do just that. What I find fascinating about Russo's piece is its hard and thoughtful look at one of the most prominent philanthropic initiatives of the past decade--the Education in 2008 effort by the Gates and Broad Foundations to make education a focal point of the 2008 election. That initiative's successes and stumbles have informed the strategy of future groups like Democrats for Education Reform, 50CAN, and Stand. Russo argues effectively that on the whole, the effort did not have much of an immediate impact, yet it has had a much more significant legacy than is often acknowledged when it comes to current issues like the Common Core State Standards and teacher evaluation.

In particular, Russo pinpoints a few lessons learned from ED in '08 worth paying attention to in the 2012 election year. Among them:

* Acceptable Activity: ED in '08 showed funders and nonprofit grantees that a nonprofit could be involved in serious policy and advocacy work and that such work is worth doing.

* Creating State and Local Networks: Partly in response to the challenges faced by ED in '08, many new advocacy groups are being set up as networks of semi-autonomous state-level organizations with somewhat fluid agendas that can adapt their efforts to suit local dynamics.

* Too Combative, Too Collaborative: If ED in '08 was at times exceedingly cautious in its tactics and messaging, some of the initiatives launched in its aftermath have been overly aggressive, made inaccurate or misleading claims, and chosen particularly controversial priorities regarding teachers and teachers unions. Ultimately there is a balance between the two.

One of my guiding principles in studying education is that much can be learned from policy analysis, history, and field inquiry, as well as by looking at numbers and performance metrics. I think this is a terrific example of making sure we are learning from big, important initiatives and capturing both lessons and insights. For further information on the paper, contact Russo at For additional information on the activities of AEI's Education Policy program, please visit policy/education/ or contact Daniel Lautzenheiser at

--Frederick M. Hess

Director, Education Policy Studies

American Enterprise Institute

On January 15, 2012, veteran education researcher Craig Jerald was feeling a little frustrated by the lack of discussion about education in the Republican primary debates. So he logged into his Twitter account to vent to his four hundred-plus followers: "Presidential debate moderators have mostly ignored education. Anyone miss ED in '08 now???"

ED in '08 (Education in 2008) was an effort to make education a big part of the 2008 presidential campaign--to make the candidates take education seriously and talk about it during debates and on the campaign stump. Jerald had poured his heart into the effort. …

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