Today the Supreme Court has upheld the Affordable Care Act, which means that what was probably the signature domestic policy priority of the Obama administration will remain in law unless it is changed or repealed by Congress in the future. I’m not a lawyer, or a speed reader, so I won’t comment on the full decision of the Court. But I will share a few quick reactions.
SCOTUS, as it has become fashionable to call the Supreme Court of the United States, is one remarkable institution, fully willing and capable of issuing rulings that surprise even the wisest of constitutional scholars and other pundits. In this case the big surprise was the role of Chief Justice Roberts, who sided with the majority and wrote the main opinion defending the “individual mandate” as a tax allowable by the constitution. Justice Roberts may have longer-term constitutional or political goals, but on the surface his decision may put him in the category of Chief Justices who surprised – and probably annoyed – the Presidents who appointed them. I’m thinking here of Earl Warren, for example, and his role in the landmark Brown v Board of Education case that ended the legality of “separate but equal.” That case had such a huge impact on our national consciousness about the historical stain of discrimination, and set us on a path (which we are still on) to correct social and historical inequities in the provision of education for all children.
I recently returned from an exhilarating faculty mission to Israel aimed at discovering and shaping potential exchange programs and collaborative research ventures with colleagues in various Israeli education and research organizations. We participated in an all-day joint workshop at the Western Galilee College, met with education leaders in various cities including Rahat (a Bedouin village near Beersheva) and Jerusalem, held intensive deliberations with senior staff of the Mandel Leadership Institute, and visited with the President emeritus and senior scholars of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities. While in Jerusalem, I had the good fortune of being invited to speak at a major international education conference. The theme of this meeting, organized by the renowned Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem, was “From Regulation to Trust: Education in the 21st Century,” and featured workshops, working groups, lectures, and sessions that probed the tensions – along with possible remedies — between trust, accountability, and regulation in education.
In my remarks I addressed some of the origins of accountability in democratic societies and some of the risks associated with relying too heavily on testing as the preferred metric by which the public acquires knowledge of the quality of schools, teachers, and learning. I encouraged a more moderate approach to developing a balance between blind trust of teachers and stifling controls that prevent professional excellence in the classroom.
An abridged version of the speech is below. Valerie Strauss, author of the Washington Post blog The Answer Sheet, was kind enough to post this version on her blog, which you can view here.
June 21, 2012
Abridged version of the Van Leer Institute Speech – Jerusalem, June 2012:
The topic of this conference brings back fond memories of my undergraduate years at Queens College (CUNY), where lessons of accountability and trust were a central part of the informal curriculum. The president when I was there, 1969-1973, was a remarkable young man named Joseph Murphy. Joe had come to Queens after writing his PhD under Herbert Marcuse at Brandeis University, drafting speeches for the Kennedys, and directing the Peace Corps in Ethiopia – all by the time he was 38. The name Murphy sounds Irish, but there was more to it.