Opinion and News Analysis
Opinion: A new "Washington Consensus" is born
A decade ago, when federal lawmakers on the left and right
came together to design and then enact No Child Left Behind, it solidified what
was already a “Washington Consensus”
in education policy. Its focus was on narrowing racial achievement gaps, its
key strategy was federally enforced accountability, and its mantra was “no
Today, that consensus is in tatters, what with the testing
backlash, the rediscovery of poverty as a major obstacle to achievement, and
the Tea Party’s desire to limit Uncle Sam’s authority over the nation’s
schools. For these reasons and more, most pundits have assumed that, for the
foreseeable future, ESEA reauthorization is impossible. No path to renewal has
been made clear.
Perhaps until now. This week has witnessed the emergence of
a new Washington Consensus, apparent in President Obama’s education-obsessed
State of the Union address, a bipartisan
conference call with key Senate leaders, and a supportive
column by the country’s most widely read conservative.
This reform realism embraces a "tight-loose" approach to federal policymaking.
The seeds of this consensus could be spotted in the
Administration’s ESEA blueprint,
release last spring, and in the outline of “reform
realism” that we at the Fordham Institute released more than two years ago.
This reform realism embraces a “tight-loose” approach to federal policymaking: Let’s
be clearer about what we expect students to know and be able to do (via the Common
Core State Standards Initiative) while showing more flexibility in how states
and districts get there (especially via scaled-back federal oversight of
accountability measures). It trades a “tough love” approach to the nation’s
worst schools for a “trust but verify” attitude toward all the others.
There are downsides to this formulation. It opens the door
to states “leaving children behind,” as they might look the other way when,
say, suburban schools fail to effectively educate their minority kids. (That’s
why Kati Haycock at Education Trust is pressing
against it.) And it doesn’t go far enough to appease some conservatives,
who demand nothing short of a block grant to the states. (That’s the line the
Heritage Foundation continues
Yet between those two extremes is an emerging center that is
both broad and very real, at least along Pennsylvania Avenue, if not totally within
the think tanks and advocacy groups. For the “new members” of Congress (not to
mention the old), here’s some advice from George Will (the aforementioned
influential columnist): You might “decide
that the changes Duncan proposes—on balance, greater state flexibility in
meeting national goals—make him the Obama administration's redeeming feature.”
Opinion: The rope with which we hang ourselves
By Chester E. Finn, Jr.
Photo by Bruce Berrien
or may not have actually declared that “the capitalists will sell us the
rope with which we will hang them,” but something of the sort is occurring
nowadays between American educators and the Communist regime in Beijing.
Consider what happened last week in Chicago.
doubt it was a fine thing for Sino-American relations when the Windy City
rolled out its big red carpet for Chinese President Hu Jintao on Thursday, much
as official Washington had done earlier in the week. But the Obama
administration deserves a bit of credit for engaging in some pointed warnings
and tough talk about problems that the U.S. has with China, ranging from human
rights to the undervalued renminbi to the support that China gives rogue states
like North Korea and Myanmar. For all the glitterati (and rib-eye steaks) at
the White House state dinner in Hu’s honor, his visit to the nation’s capital
was no simple love-in.
then he and his entourage flew to Chicago, which appears
to have staged a love-in pure and simple, reminiscent of the city-wide
swoon and Grant Park soiree that followed Obama’s own election two years back.
Beginning with outgoing mayor Richard Daley, community leaders fell all over
the Chinese as part of their multifaceted effort to transform Chicago from a city
of meat packers and rail yards into the hub of Sino-American commercial
activity of every sort. Chicago, it seems, yearns to be the place that
manufactures and sells today’s version of the rope to which Lenin (maybe)
referred. Included among the goodies assembled by the city was a million dollar
Pritzker Foundation grant to bring Chinese designers to study at the Art
Institute of Chicago.
isn’t just commerce and art at stake here, much less China’s immense stash of
U.S. bonds and growing leverage over our national economy. Chicago also seems
willing to turn its school kids over to Beijing—and Beijing is only too happy
to help cover these costs. It’s not the only place
this is happening, to
Friday, he and his entourage visited
Walter Payton College Prep, a decade-old, high-achieving, selective-admission
public high school that focuses on science, math, and languages and which has
hosted a “Confucius Institute” since 2006. This is one of almost 300 centers
like this now operating worldwide. All are affiliated with and financially
supported by Hanban, the
executive arm of the Chinese Language Council International, which in turn
consists of representatives of a dozen government ministries, including foreign
affairs, commerce and the “State Council Information Office” which is
responsible for, among other things, internet
announced that his government would bring twenty Payton students and teachers
to China this summer, and of course the kids cheered. Who wouldn’t relish such
it’s insane to think this is only about cultural understanding and
international comity. That’s not how China
works—though any number of American educators seem oblivious or uncaring
about this topic. The Chinese regime is advancing its own interests in the
West—including Walter Payton College Prep—by, in effect, bribing school
systems, educators, and students to see the world through Chinese eyes and, of
course, to turn blind eyes and deaf ears toward anyone who might raise concerns
about the innumerable threats that Beijing poses to America’s future.
sure whether senior Chinese government officials have much of a sense of humor,
but I’ll wager that they are at least smiling at the gullibility, pliability,
and naïveté of Western educators—and how cheaply China can buy them off. They
are, one might say, giving us the rope with which they will shackle and bend us
to their will.
This piece originally
appeared (in a slightly different format) on Fordham’s Flypaper blog.
Sign up to receive a daily compilation of Flypaper posts here.
News Analysis: Board to death
The last time Gadfly checked in with Atlanta
Public Schools, the board of education was under question for nepotism,
infighting, a lack
of adequate fiduciary responsibility, and speculation that teachers were
cheating on state tests. Some months have passed, and it seems that each
situation has come to a head. This week, the Southern Association of Colleges
and Schools, the accrediting body for APS, placed it on probation. The
ultimatum to the board reads along the lines of: Shape up, or lose
accreditation (a move that may push Atlanta’s public schools to mayoral
control). In order to keep accredited status (essential for students interested
in receiving the state’s HOPE scholarship, or planning to attend college in
general), the board must comply with a list of six mandates ranging from resolving
their internal squabbles through an external mediator to creating a transparent
process for selecting a new superintendent. (Their long-term supe, Beverly
Hall, will resign in June.) Purportedly, they’ll also have to deal with the
teacher-cheating scandal that continues to raise hackles in the Big Peach—and
the practice of vilifying, ostracizing, and sometimes even firing
whistle-blowing teachers. We tend to think of school board governance as
intrinsically dysfunctional, but Atlanta takes the cake.
teachers targeted,” by Alan Judd and Heather Vogell, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, January 23, 2011.
schools and a disturbing outbreak of common sense,” by Jim Galloway, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, January
“Atlanta schools accept
SACS probation report,” by Dorie Turner, Associated Press, January 24, 2011.
News Analysis: "Bankrupt states": Not just a metaphor?
With some forty-four states and the District of
Columbia projecting budget shortfalls for fiscal year 2012 (which begins in
July of this year), some cash-stricken states are quietly looking into the
possibility of declaring bankruptcy, GM-style. Although sovereign states are
barred from seeking protection in federal bankruptcy court, policymakers are investigating
workarounds that would allow states to get out from under crushing obligations—especially
the Cadillac pensions and healthcare plans promised to retired public workers
(including educators). By no means is bankruptcy the easy way out for
struggling states. Even the conversation of such has reverberating, and
sometimes destabilizing, consequences. (It could rattle the public sector bond
market, for instance.) However, discussions about something as grave as
bankruptcy (and the potential of public-union employees losing at least part of
their pensions) may give state lawmakers an unprecedented amount of leverage at
the bargaining table. Education reformers may no longer be able to buy off
defenders of the status quo with sweet-deal carrots, but they may now have more
power to make needed changes by waving this harsh but necessary stick.
News Analysis: Maryland says: To heck with government
Maryland, America’s wealthiest state, took a
long, hard look at its overstretched budget. It dissected every line of
public-education spending—which accounted for 47
percent of the state’s total outlay in 2009—and searched for places where
it could make the hard cuts needed to save its school system. And what did it
finger? Perhaps its generous teacher pensions and healthcare benefits? Its
onerous rules and regulations? Nope. Instead, on the chopping block is the
state’s recently created American government examination (passage of which was
soon to be a requirement of high school graduation). In reference to the
decision to axe the U.S. government exam, a spokesperson for the governor called
it “one of those difficult cuts [that] became necessary to address the
deficit.” Really, Old Line State? Of all the potential budget tweaks and trims,
the one necessary to address the deficit was a cut that would undermine U.S.
government and history education while saving a measly $1.9 million? Nice
Review: The Nation's Report Card Science 2009: National Assessment of Educational Progress at Grade 4, 8, and 12
By Janie Scull
The National Assessment of Educational Progress
(NAEP) 2009 science results are in, and the snapshot of science education in
the United States is … unremittingly bleak. Across all states, 34 percent of
fourth graders, 30 percent of eighth graders, and just 21 percent of twelfth
graders are considered “proficient” in science. At the “advanced” level, that number
dive-bombs to about one in one hundred. Scores varied dramatically across
states: New Hampshire, home to the highest-performing fourth graders, boasts an
average NAEP science score thirty points (or about two grades) higher than the Mississippi
average score (out of 300 total points). In eighth grade, Montana and North
Dakota beat out the lowest performer, again Mississippi—and again by thirty
points. (State-specific results were not provided for twelfth graders). Data
disaggregated by student groups varied as well, breaking across familiar
lines—whites outperformed all other races, with Asians close behind (Asians, in
fact, surpass whites on the twelfth grade assessment); males slightly edged out
females; higher-income students performed better than their lower-income compatriots;
and urban students trailed those in suburbs, towns, and rural locales. Most
interestingly, though, are the twelfth-grade scores disaggregated by
“coursetaking category.” Here, we see that twelfth graders with three years of
high school science scored
thirty-three points higher than those with only one year of secondary
science instruction (the same discrepancy between the highest- and
lowest-performing states). Typically, NAEP results are used to plot
student-achievement trend lines across the years—from 1996–2005 the assessment
kept the same framework, allowing for comparability. This assessment for the
2009 NAEP, however, is based on a new framework, making longitudinal comparison
impossible. Regardless of where we were five
years ago, though, it is clear where we are now: Our nation’s students can’t
tell their fibulae from their tibiae—and in order to remedy that, they’re going
to need to take more science courses.
Review: Return on Educational Investment: A District-by-District Evaluation of U.S. Educational Productivity
Perilous economic times—and the inevitable
budget cuts that accompany them—beg for solid research on education
productivity. This remarkably comprehensive report from the Center for American
Progress gives states and districts strong quantitative ammunition in the education efficiency debate. In it, CAP
evaluates the productivity of more than 9,000 districts in forty-five states
according to three different return-on-investment (ROI) measures. To determine
these, analysts used two measures: an achievement index (based on average
proficiency scores on state assessments) and spending data (from the 2008
school year reported by NCES). Via the ROI models, CAP identified districts within states with
low, medium, and high productivity levels (e.g., high achieving districts with
low costs are “high ROI”). Each measure of ROI (basic, adjusted, and predicted
efficiency) has its advantages and disadvantages; but all are methodologically
sound. That said, there are important limitations to the study, including
unreported—and potentially arbitrary—productivity-level cut scores and a host
of potential confounding variables which currently cannot be systematically
collected. As for the top-line findings: Analysts found, not surprisingly, that
no clear relationship between spending and achievement existed in more than
half of the studied states, even after adjusting for student and demographic
variables. Further, the least efficient districts were more likely to spend
more, especially on administration. Finally, the study’s author estimates that
low productivity is costing the nation’s school systems up to $175 billion per
year. This would be a fantastic call-to-arms, but this ambitious study stops
short when it comes to fully disclosing results: It identifies by name neither
the most nor the least efficient districts (of the latter, we’re told there are
400). It conducts a supplementary examination of urban districts that
participate in NAEP but then tells us precious little about it. And it includes
a nifty accompanying website but not a summary of the three ROI
measures or a ranking of the districts in it. If we’re going for transparency
around district spending—and looking for ways to improve said spending—shouldn’t
we, at a minimum, call out the exemplars? Texas recently did; others should too.
Review: School Boards in America: A Flawed Exercise in Democracy
Barring a scandal, school boards fly under the
education-media radar. Yet these bodies spend nearly $600 billion in public
funding and employ millions of Americans. This book offers a detailed and
nuanced look at the history, practicality, and future of these darlings of
local control—and asserts that they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. While
they may be outdated—like the mom-and-pop corner store or the local bank that
holds your home’s mortgage—there is still a place for school boards in American
education culture: They represent democracy in our nation’s public schools, and
there’s scant evidence that we’d do a better job governing schools without
them. In reaching this conclusion, author Gene Maeroff spins the reader through
a whirlwind of education-reform debates, from accountability to teacher quality
to funding—all through the eyes of the local school board. He provides
case-study examples of successful school boards (like that of Denver Public
Schools) and those that have been far less so (like that of Clayton
County, GA) as well as scores of interesting data points. (Did you know
that LAUSD’s school-board members who are not otherwise employed make $45,600 per
annum? Or that the average school-board member spends twenty-five hours a month
on board business?) In the end, though Maeroff acknowledges inherent and systemic
flaws in school boards, he offers up reasonably mundane suggestions for
righting them—including having appointed and not elected boards, and increasing
professional development—leaving us still searching for the most viable
governance arrangement for our schools.
Review: More than Measurement: The TAP System's Lessons Learned for Designing Better Teacher Evaluation Systems
Over the past decade, Lowell Milken’s Teacher
Advancement Program (TAP)—designed to boost teacher effectiveness through accountability,
performance pay, and professional development—has ballooned in popularity: It
currently serves 10,000 teachers affecting 100,000 students, and rising. With
this report, the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching, or NIET (the
program’s administrator), offers ten lessons for policymakers and practitioners seeking
to revamp their teacher evaluation system. Interestingly, while use of a
value-added metric (VAM) is central in the TAP evaluation, it receives lower
billing in this report. The majority of the lessons focus on professional
development and staff buy-in: “Provide teachers with targeted follow up” and
“Attend to the ‘human side’ of evaluation” being two examples. Perhaps the most
important lesson pulled from the somewhat self-aggrandizing evaluation, though,
is the need for an “evidence-based evaluation rubric balancing breadth and
depth.” On this score, NIET highlights TAP’s nineteen-point rubric, and promotes
its five-point scale of evaluation (which avoids floor and ceiling effects,
while providing near all teachers with a trajectory for improvement). All in all, if you
want to get beyond the rhetorical battles around teacher evaluation and into
the weeds, this is a great place to start.
From The Web
The Education Gadfly Show Podcast: In defense of Adrian Fenty's afternoon bike rides
Mike jousts (verbally, of course) with Dave
DeSchryver, a Washington insider and Whiteboard Advisors consultant,
on the State of the Union, NAEP science results, and D.C. education politics.
Amber wishes CAP had named names, and Chris plays robo-calling cop.
Click to listen to the podcast on our website. You can also download the podcast here or subscribe to it on iTunes here.
Flypaper's Finest: The Henry Ford model of school choice
By Chris Tessone
Referring to the Model T, Henry Ford famously
said, “A customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it
is black.” It turns out that Dr. Jerry Weast, the superintendent in Montgomery
County, Maryland, where I live, feels the same way about school choice—parents
can send their kids to any school they want, as
long as it’s part of the traditional public school system (or you’re
wealthy enough to send your child to a private school).…
Click to read the rest on Flypaper.
Flypaper's Finest: Randi's wave, part two
By Peter Meyer
There are some subjects that lend themselves to
free association more than others. Tenure, for instance, is not one
of those subjects, for me. Collaboration, however, is. And if I let my
mind wander too far, I’ll end up singing Kumbaya.…
Click to read the rest on Flypaper.
Gadfly Studios: What's up with that?: Stopping out is better than dropping out
Watch Fordham’s newest star-in-the-making Chris Irvine
explain to you the perils of scholarships without college enrollment.
Briefly Noted: And the Oscar goes to...
- The Academy Award
nominations have been announced and, though shortlisted, Waiting for ‘Superman’ didn’t make the cut. Assuredly, this news
comes to the chagrin of the Gates Foundation, who pumped $2 million into WSF advertising. So, who is happy about
the news? Well, Valerie
Strauss for one.
- If you want to learn, stop
studying and start testing. Sounds reasonable enough.
- Gifted students
present a unique dilemma to general—and special—educators. When these students aren’t
simply one or two grades above level, this dilemma takes on greater magnitude. Education Next offers an interesting
look at challenging
- Ohio mother Kelly Williams-Bolar recently finished a ten-day jail term for
the crime of “sending your children to a better
school than your zoned district school.” Yep, it’s true. Williams-Bolar was
caught after a district-hired private investigator traced her true home to the
wrong side of the tracks.
- New Mexico Governor
Susana Martinez attacked a unique
line item when slashing $30 million from her 2011 education budget: School
- In a pandering move to
the unions, D.C. Mayor Vince Gray recently
criticized the District’s teacher evaluation and performance pay plan:
IMPACT. Lest Mayor Gray, and the unions, forget, IMPACT is attached
to gobs of philanthropic funds—funds needed to keep those plush D.C.
teacher salaries alive and well.
- The problems of America’s education situation
are relative. Compared to Britain
Netherlands, we’re sitting pretty. For now.
Announcement: Your honest to goodness last reminder
If you’ve thus far
forgotten to sign up for our event, Are Bad Schools Immortal, on February 2
(Groundhog Day), from 3:30–5:00PM, then rise and shine camper! (And don’t
forget your booties ‘cus it’s coooold out there!) You can still RSVP here,
read more about the event here,
or check out the event’s film trailer here.
And, as always, you can watch the event live online, too.
Announcement: What does the Wizard think of Oz?
What does school-board
governance mean in the era of accountability? Join the National School Boards
Association, Fordham, and the Iowa School Boards Foundation on February 3 from
9:00–10:00AM for the release of a national survey of school-board members and a
discussion of this important topic. Learn more about the event here or
Announcement: Play it bay-ou
Lovers of gumbo and
education reform will find their soul-position in the Louisiana DOE Education
Reform Fellowship. The Fellowship seeks hard-working and organized individuals committed
to improving student outcomes and eliminating achievement gaps through
reform-oriented projects. Read the full fellowship listing here.
Fordham's featured publication:
Many schools have moved away from tracking, or grouping students into separate classes based
on their achievement. In this report,
Brookings scholar Tom Loveless examines tracking and detracking in
Massachusetts middle schools, with particular focus on their implications for
high-achieving students. Turns out, detracked schools have fewer advanced
students in mathematics than tracked schools. Read the full report to find out