RealClearEd Today 05/01/2014: When Common Core Becomes a Punch Line

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Good morning, it's Thursday May 1. At RealClearEducation we have the morning's top headlines in news, commentary, analysis, and reports. Politico takes on Common Core's image problem, leading with actor/producer Louis C.K.'s recent tweet jabbing at the standards. Just this morning, musical artist Regina Spektor took to Twitter to side with C.K. and denounce testing. As we do each weekday, we'll update the site throughout the day with new content - our main page as well as sidebars that focus on specific parts of the education sector in depth.

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On this date 54 years ago in 1960, Central Intelligence Agency pilot Gary Powers was shot down over the Soviet Union while piloting a U-2 spy plane. The incident was a military, intelligence, and diplomatic fiasco - especially because it came just before a major summit of the United States and the Soviet Union along with key European powers.

Operating from a secret base inside Pakistan, successful U-2 flights had already gathered valuable intelligence and had shown that the high altitude aircraft could operate beyond the range of Soviet fighters and missiles. So the idea was obvious; the flights could photograph Soviet ICBM sites, weapon test sites, bomber bases, and other secure infrastructure. The challenge was obvious, too. The Soviets knew about the flights and were alert across Central Asia and Russia - determined to bring the aircraft down at any cost to curtail the American excursions.

On Powers' flight, a Soviet SA-2 surface-to-air missile -- part of a barrage sent his way -- was able to run down the hurtling U-2. Powers had just photographed a plutonium processing facility and was heading for his next target when his aircraft was destroyed. There are contradictory accounts of the altitude at which Powers was flying when he was shot down. It was a chaotic episode that also involved Russian fighters and a friendly-fire incident among the Russians that killed a pilot.

For his part, Powers bailed - a feat considering the altitudes the U-2 operated in and the damage to his plane - and survived on the ground. He was quickly captured, however, complicating U.S. efforts to deny the episode. The Soviets sentenced Powers to prison and hard labor for a decade but traded him back to the United States in a spy swap in 1962.

It was apparent that even though planes could be made to go faster and higher to evade attacks -- the U-2 was a marvel as was its later counterpart the SR-171 Blackbird, and both enjoyed decades of invaluable service - the real grail was a plane radar couldn't see in the first place. Lockheed Martin's "Skunk Works" was behind the U-2 and the SR-171 and also much of the stealth technology that followed. Skunk Works remains legendary in the aerospace industry for its innovation stemming from a culture based on a few rules intended to focus on results, free up its engineers to creatively attack problems, and cut bureaucracy and regulation to just what's essential for success.

It's pretty much the opposite of how innovation is approached in the education sector. When the Department of Education runs an education innovation competition, it cuts out private sector entities from competing because of political concerns. When the Department tries to support innovation in professional development, the association representing local school boards complains that it might take too much free time from teachers who could volunteer to participate. And every aspiring principal and superintendent knows the way to climb the ladder is not to rock the boat, and certainly not to capsize it and help everyone swim to a better one.

Children are different from aerospace. But achieving ambitious goals in both sectors requires freedom to innovate and a spirit focused on achieving bold results while protecting the public interest. And within the bounds of responsibility, progress requires some risk. As Kelly Johnson, the iconic leader of Skunk Works remarked,

"If I didn't get the Hell scared out of me once a year, I would not have the proper balance to design future aircraft."

RealClearEducation May 1, 2014 Headlines:
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