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Mayor and Sharpton are talking education with Obama

Mayor Bloomberg will meet with President Obama this afternoon at the Oval Office to talk about the achievement gap. The meeting, which also includes the Rev. Al Sharpton and Newt Gingrich, the former Republican House majority leader, adds to signs suggesting that Obama is taking the Education Equality Project group’s stance on how to improve public schools seriously.

A spokesman for Chancellor Joel Klein, David Cantor, said that the group will discuss “education reform, in particular how best to address the racial achievement gap.”

The Washington Post reported that Sharpton, who along with Klein is a co-founder of EEP, requested the meeting.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post incorrectly said that Klein attended the meeting at the Oval Office. He did not, though he did appear with the group later outside the White House.

UPDATE: Ben Smith at Politico’s take is that the meeting is “a way for the administration to signal openness to a range of voices on the topic” of education. Seems to me it’s just the opposite, because — believe it or not — at this point Sharpton, Bloomberg, and Gingrich are actually on the same page about education.

All three men are strong supporters of the Education Equality Project, which is one of two dueling manifestos on the subject of how to improve America’s urban public schools. The other group, “Broader, Bolder,” includes a slew of academic researchers, but apparently a weaker relationship with the Obama administration and less political power, with the major exception of teachers unions.

For those who haven’t been following along, there are two basic differences between the groups. One is that Bloomberg’s set argue that schools alone can cure the achievement gap, while the Broader, Bolder group says schools must be improved alongside social services, health care, and anti-poverty programs.

The other difference is each group’s position on the kind of education policy needed to improve schools. While Bloomberg, Sharpton, and Gingrich support No Child Left Behind-style policies of test-based accountability, Broader, Bolder members are skeptical of some elements of the law. A school is failing? The Klein/Bloomberg take is to close it down and fire the staff; their critics say, fine, fire some staff, but don’t just abandon the school. Bring in new programs, better curriculum, and more money first.

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