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Commentators, including some of my esteemed The Quick and the Ed co-bloggers, often fret that young people in high school are being funneled into traditional academic institutions when they would be better off pursuing practical, career-oriented alternatives such as apprenticeships. The college-for-all movement, according to this line of argument, sets up too many students for failure when a wider array of post-graduation options would help them obtain training more appropriate to their interests and abilities—and more suited for our workforce needs. But this notion that we must choose between college and vocational prep, which dogs discussions about broadening postsecondary access, is really a false dichotomy. The idea that high school students should be offered a range of academic and vocational options, in school and beyond, is not, I think, particularly controversial, though it comes with risks. Like others, I worry that late bloomers, or bright but disengaged students, or teens who school officials just don’t see as college material, will be steered toward vocational tracks that may not offer the long-term promise and flexibility of traditional degrees…

Consider our land-grant institutions, established in the second half of the 19th century with the explicit goal of providing more practical educational options for a fast-growing nation. Today, Iowa State undergrads can major in fields like animal science, among many other agriculturally themed concentrations. Throughout the nation, it’s completely unremarkable for undergrads to specialize in subjects like accounting, forensics, hotel management, and physical education. Plato around a seminar table this ain’t  Yes, these four-year degrees typically require an academic grounding in a range of basic subjects under the heading “general education.” Still, they are often overlooked by critics who imply that going to college will involve some kind of rarefied education that just won’t serve many students. Community colleges, of course, are still more likely to offer practical coursework — in some cases combined with apprenticeships, internships, and the like — of just the kind that college skeptics say ought to be made more widely available because of their practical value. One- and two-year certificates in nursing and other healthcare fields, for example, are particularly valuable on the job market…

Programs like these are very much part of the nation’s postsecondary system. They’re the kind of educational pathways we should keep in mind when we hear ill-advised rhetoric about how too many people go to college. If we define college broadly— and why shouldn’t we? — there’s plenty of room for more Americans to benefit from post-high school education. The idea that anybody is advocating traditional four-year academic degrees for the entire population is a straw man. We shouldn’t let it distract us from the continuing, and vitally important, national discussion about expanding postsecondary opportunity — in all the forms it takes.

Education Sector’s Ben Wildavsky rightfully taking to task those who argue that only some kids deserve strong, comprehensive college-preparatory education.

My heart breaks — and breaks again — every time I read [former slave Annie Davis' letter to President Abraham Lincoln]. I do not know her age. Or how she dressed. Or what she saw outside her window each morning. But my soul tells me that by the time the enslaved woman mustered the courage to dispatch this missive, she had spent every waking moment for a very long time yearning for liberty. Her envelope traveled just 70 miles from Bel Air, Md., to Washington, D.C., but her anguish endures through the ages.

By the spring of 1864, Annie believed she was entitled to freedom. But in truth, Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation applied only to those secessionist Southern states “in rebellion.” As a slave-holding border state loyal to the Union, Maryland was not affected by the document. Annie and its other 87,000 enslaved residents remained in limbo. But the Proclamation had made freedom inevitable…

Now, 150 years later, as we commemorate the sesquicentennial of the Emancipation Proclamation, I can’t help thinking of Annie and all our ancestors. I reflect on how they agitated for their own freedom through protest, revolt, escape, prayer and petition…  This year I’ll spend most of New Year’s Day at the National Archives — where Annie Davis’ letter is housed — watching families waiting in line to see the original five-page Emancipation Proclamation. I’ll be wondering what became of Annie and how she developed her fighting spirit… I’ll wonder … and I’ll be grateful to Annie and all the ancestors whose “desire to be free” was stronger than any force they faced.

A’Lelia Bundles, the great-great granddaughter of the legendary entrepreneur Madame C.J. Walker, on the importance of the Emancipation Proclamation. The words of Annie Davis, the author of the letter Bundles discusses, remains as true now for families of poor and minority families fighting for economic and social freedom through high-quality education as it did for newly-freed slaves after the Civil War.

I don’t want to be the skunk at the national compromising garden party, but as we look back at 2012 and ahead to 2013, when it comes to education reform we should think twice about “compromise” being the watchword. Why? Because when education reformers negotiate with unions or others opposed to fundamental changes in K-12 education, often the only thing compromised is children’s education. Conversely, some of the best, most sustainable results come from those who are called “uncompromising.” A litany of examples demonstrates that intransigence in education reform isn’t a bad thing. Education reformers were heartbroken in November when Indiana’s incumbent Tony Bennett lost his race for Superintendent of Public Instruction. But despite the unions’ successful effort to install a reform opponent, Indiana is likely to remain, as many have termed it, the “reformiest” state in the nation. That’s because Governor Mitch Daniels, Tony Bennett and many other reformers (all of whom were once called “uncompromising”) laid the legal groundwork to allow choice and accountability to flourish in Indiana.

There are good and bad education reform laws. The bad ones — often “compromise solutions” — make people feel good but do little to enhance choice or accountability in a state.  To wit: Pennsylvania, where everyone worshipped at the altar of compromise during their two year battle over school choice. What survived was almost worse than nothing..  Teachers unions and their school district allies oppose fundamental education reforms. They have co-opted the language of reform, leading many observers to wrongly declare that the unions are coming along. But their definition of reform and compromise consists of supporting only toothless, ineffective measures that leave all the power in the hands of the traditional system’s adults. Lawmakers must be clear that when the status quo embraces reform measures, it is reform in name only.

Jeanne Allen of the Center for Education Reform on why being bold, divisive, and uncompromising is key to revolutionizing American public education.

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