Education professor and activist Linda Darling-Hammond has formed a think-tank in California to improve education reform and the research that drives it.
Darling-Hammond is professor emeritus of education at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, a former president of the American Educational Research Association, and a long-time adviser to federal and state education officials, will be leading the Learning Policy Institute with the goal of tempering the partisan nature of competing ideologies by supplying policymakers with the latest research in a language they can understand.
Jeffrey Mervis of Science Magazine quotes Darling-Hammond on the need for sober analysis of research:
"Research can't solve deep ideological divides. But if you can provide an honest appraisal of the research, and serve as an honest broker, I think you can make contributions that are viewed as helpful by all the parties involved. [The new institute will] put more boots on the ground, to make sure that the research is getting translated and available at the moment when it is needed."
At 63, she has studied everything from teacher training, professional development and curriculum reform to restructuring educational systems. She has been a vigorous opponent of Teach for America's model and is also against the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers, which is a key element of the No Child Left Behind Act that governs elementary and secondary education and is endorsed by the Obama administration, .
Martin Storksdieck, former director of the National Research Council's Board on Science Education and now a professor at Oregon State University, Corvallis, where he directs the Center for Research on Lifelong STEM Learning, says Darling-Hammond is a major player in education reform. Her positions place her on the liberal end of the political scope, so Storksdieck says the institute, in his opinion, will have liberal underpinnings.
Although Grover Whitehurst, former head of the Institute of Education Studies under George W. Bush, calls her a "polarizing figure" with a "strong political agenda", he admits that she is "very effective at translating research for use by policymakers." Darling-Hammond says the institute will be an independent advocate for policies which are supported by research to improve children's learning.
" It is time to get serious about how to support and enable our education system to respond to the massive changes in learning that some other nation's systems have been addressing more systemically, with much better results, over the last two decades," Darling-Hammond wrote in the Huffington Post on Thursday.
Emma Brown of The Washington Post reports that the Learning Policy Institute will synthesize and communicate the work of others. Its budget is roughly $5 million and Darling-Hammond plans to hire 30 to 50 staff members.
The lead funding partners of the Institute include San Francisco-based Sandler Foundation, along with the Atlantic Philanthropies, the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Stuart Foundation. Support for the Institute comes just as the No Child Left Behind law is being overhauled in Congress, school accountability is being debated, and school choice is growing nationally, writes EdSource's John Fensterwald.
While criticizing the timeline of the implementation of Common Core, Darling-Hammond has championed the standards' focus on deeper learning and problem solving. David Plank, executive director of research center Policy Analysis for California Education, or PACE, noted that the institute's "biggest asset will be Linda."
"We believe that learning opportunities for children, educators, and schools need to evolve to meet the demands of today's society, and that education systems must evolve to meet those needs," Darling-Hammond. "It's become clear to many that fighting old, divisive battles over last century's educational models won't prepare our children for the new world they face."
EdSurge points out that Darling-Hammond's son Sean, just finished his first season of America Ninja Warrior. The Ivy League trained attorney has an excellent motto:
"True strength is not simply conquering obstacles; it is helping others overcome them."
Sean plans to give his Ninja prize money to a variety of education organizations.