Ex-Harvard Prez Sets Sights on K-12 Reform

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Reporter Elizabeth Green brings us this item:

After shaking up Harvard, Lawrence Summers has his sights on another target: public schools. The former university president and treasury secretary said today he plans to dedicate some of his newfound free time to the project, adding to a chorus of economic-growth-minded voices that have joined the national education debate in the past several years.

Since he resigned as Harvard president last spring, Summers has signed on with at least three major education groups, joining the board of billionaire Eli Broad's self-named foundation a few weeks ago and the board of Teach For America, the teacher corps founded by Wendy Kopp, in February. Yesterday, he sat with civil rights activist Kati Haycock and New York City schools Chancellor Joel Klein on a Brookings Institution panel about how schools can help the economy. The appearance was part of his membership on the advisory council of the Hamilton Project, which he joined in April 2006, just a few months after resigning from the Harvard presidency.

"The Duke of Wellington said that the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton," Summers explained in a phone call today. "Equally, I think the battle for America's future will be won or lost in our classrooms."

Increasing the number of American students who excel in math and science is a main priority, he said. (Presumably, that would include both male and female students, despite Summers's controversial remarks about the innate abilities of women in science.)

Another item on his agenda is to reform the way teachers become certified.

"I've got my strengths and minuses," he said, "but I reckon I ought to be able to teach economics in the United States. But in the vast majority of public high schools, I'm not able to."

He said solutions depend on adopting a new centrism he maintains must borrow from both the left and the right. "Success requires moving beyond traditional formulas," he explained. "We need to find formulas that embrace the best of the ideas on both sides."