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On the heels of President Obama's speech last week touting the need for radical improvements in U.S. schools, the Center for American Progress (CAP) released "Leaders and Laggards," a state-by-state report on education innovation. CAP assesses states and the District of Columbia in seven key areas, including school management, teacher hiring and evaluation practices, the ability to fire ineffective teachers, and access to technology.

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The day before President Obama spoke in Madison, Wisconsin, about the pressing need to improve America's teachers, a report was released on the same topic at a conference in Washington's swanky Capitol Hilton. The task force that wrote the report was chaired by Minnesota Governor (and rumored 2012 presidential candidate) Tim Pawlenty and included such education policy heavyweights as New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and D.C. Chancellor Michelle Rhee.

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On Wednesday, exactly a year after he won the White House and a day after the Democrats lost high-profile gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia, Obama will be in Madison, Wisconsin to promote his education agenda. It’s a smart move. The media spent Tuesday speculating about whether the governors’ races were referendums on Obama’s presidency and whether he’s delivered on the change he promised a year ago. It’s easy to point to health care or climate policy, currently mired in congressional partisan wrangling, as areas where change-making isn’t going so smoothly.

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The Race Man

Up from History: The Life of Booker T. Washington By Robert J. Norrell (Harvard University Press, 508 pp., $35)   I. Once the most famous and influential African American in the United States (and probably the world), Booker T. Washington has earned at best mixed reviews in the decades since his death in 1915. Black intellectuals and political activists, from W. E. B.

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Gay Marriage 101

Maine voters will decide on November 3 whether to repeal a law, signed by the governor in May, that legalized gay marriage. A Public Policy Polling survey released Tuesday shows that voters are split evenly on the issue: 48 percent of respondents said they'll vote to keep the law ("No On 1"), while another 48 percent said they'll vote to nix it ("Yes On 1"). Maine's gay marriage opponents recruited Frank Schubert, the p.r.

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Last month, rapper Kanye West interrupted an MTV Video Awards ceremony to protest the selection of Taylor Swift for “Best Female Video.” So widely did the fallout from this episode spread that President Obama soon weighed in against West (“He’s a jackass”). Obama himself would soon become the subject of a similar award-related imbroglio, when he was bizarrely chosen as the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.

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Americans have an almost mystical faith that external controls on political power can produce good government. It is a faith in things like independent counsels, term limits, separation of powers, and Lawrence Lessig’s interest, transparency systems. It approaches faith because, even when these cures continue to fail, we merely ask how they can be improved, not whether the whole approach is wrong. That is why, in his essay, Lessig does not go far enough. Naked transparency isn’t the problem: It is our addiction to miracle cures that, since 1788, have done little for the patient.

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Things Come Together

The Thing Around Your Neck By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Knopf, 218 pp., $24.95)   In “Jumping Monkey Hill,” the most wicked story in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s new collection, a group of young writers selected from all over Africa have gathered for a workshop at a fancy resort outside Cape Town--”the kind of place,” thinks Ujunwa, the representative Nigerian, “where . . .

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Way back in 1980, when the Oscar-winning theme song of the movie Fame declared "I'm gonna live forever," it was easy to believe the lyric was an example of artistic license. Now, it's not so clear. With almost Biblical tenacity, the film begat a television series which begat a stage musical which begat a reality show. When that last iteration was cancelled after a single season in 2003, it was possible to imagine that the longest 15 minutes in show business history had finally ticked to a close.

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Living in Rwanda After the Genocide By Jean Hatzfeld (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 242 pp., $25) The Antelope’s Strategy: Killing Neighbors: Webs of Violence in Rwanda By Lee Ann Fujii (Cornell University Press, 212 pp., $29.95) After Genocide: Transitional Justice, Post- Conflict Reconstruction and Reconciliation in Rwanda and Beyond Edited by Phil Clark and Zachary D.

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