Opinion and News Analysis
Opinion: George Washington would not be happy
By Chester E. Finn, Jr. and Kathleen Porter-Magee
|Click to listen to commentary on the report
“How unpardonable it would be for us,” the eminent historian
David McCullough declared at Hillsdale College in 2005, “with all that we have
been given, all the advantages we have, all the continuing opportunities we
have to enhance and increase our love of learning—to turn out blockheads or to
Unpardonable or not, we have mounting evidence that American
education is doing just that—creating a generation of students who don’t
understand or value our own nation’s history.
On the 2006 National Assessment of Educational Progress
(NAEP), for example, not even half of twelfth graders made it to NAEP’s basic
level in U.S.
history—and barely 13 percent were proficient. What does that really mean?
Here’s an example: When asked to “identify a significant factor that led to
United States involvement in the Korean War” and “explain why this factor was
significant,” only one high school senior in seven was able to supply a
satisfactory answer, such as America’s efforts to curb the spread of communism
after World War II.
scores in 2006 were up a bit from earlier rounds, the overall results were
still appalling. (NAEP tested U.S.
history again in 2010; these scores will be made public in a few months.)
causes this alarming vacuum of basic historical knowledge? There are multiple
explanations, of course, but the most significant is that few states and school
systems take U.S.
history seriously. So why should their teachers and students?
Fordham has a long history of reviewing
state-level academic standards in core subjects. Eight years ago, we examined
those standards for U.S.
history and found that the average grade—this is for the states’ expectations,
mind you, not the kids’ achievement—was a D. This year, helped by a pair of
top-notch historians, we did it again, in an
analysis released yesterday.
the news is no better. While forty-five states have revised their history
standards since 2003, few have improved them. In fact, a majority of states’
standards are still mediocre-to-awful, and the average grade across all states
remains a D. Today, a majority of states—twenty-eight in all—earn Ds or Fs. Eighteen
Only South Carolina has
standards in this subject that deserve a straight A. Our analysts—Drs. Sheldon
Stern and Jeremy Stern—commended the Palmetto State for having brought focus,
rigor, and ample solid content to this essential element of a comprehensive
other states—Alabama, California,
New York, and the District of Columbia—earn A-minuses, and
three more receive grades in the B range. Bravo for them. But this also means
that just ten jurisdictions out of fifty-one get honors marks for grounding
their standards in real history and avoiding the temptations, pitfalls, and
neglect that prevail across most of the land.
NAEP framework—which we also evaluated, as states, districts, teacher prep
programs, and textbook writers look to it for guidance—earns an A-minus,
indicating that the content that informs and undergirds its U.S. history
assessment is superior to what most states are using. But of course that helps
explain why student performance on the U.S. history NAEP is so weak.
What is to be done? In this field, nobody is coming to
rescue individual states from folly, slackness, or neglect. This is different
from reading and math, where states now have the option—which all but a handful
have declared they will use—of substituting the Common Core for their own
standards. It’s also different from science, where “common” standards are
beginning to be constructed and will likely be available for states’ consideration
by year’s end. The reality is that U.S. history standards are entirely
up to each state to set for itself.
But that doesn’t mean those with weak standards must start
from scratch. Instead, they could look to the states with A-range grades—or to
the NAEP framework—and revise their own standards using those as a model.
That’s what the District of Columbia
did. In 2003, its U.S. history standards were abysmal. A few years ago,
however, D.C. officials looked to the best state standards as models, adapted
them, and then adopted them. Now the District’s teachers are guided by some of
the strongest U.S.
history standards to be found anywhere. The twenty-eight states whose standards
earned Ds or Fs would do well to do something similar.
Let us emphasize that great standards alone don’t produce
superior results. Several states with exemplary history standards still aren’t
serious about course requirements, assessments, and accountability. They may
have slipshod curricula (if any), mediocre textbooks, and ill-prepared
teachers. Top-notch expectations don’t get the education job done. But they’re
a mighty important place to start.
Opinion: The President's cynical budget proposal
By Michael Petrilli
|Click to listen to commentary on the budget
Photo by Daniel Borman
we must hand it to them: The folks behind Ed in ’08 were successful
after all. It just appears that they are achieving their goal—making education
a central plank in the presidential election—four years behind schedule. As
reported by Politico this week, the President used “the
issue of education to help frame the budget debate.” Expect to hear a lot about
his support for America’s public schools (versus Republican indifference)
between now and November 2012.
rhetoric—that education is a critical investment that deserves protecting—isn’t
backed up by his own policy. Sure, Mr. Obama called for a few small-scale
programs that Republicans will oppose, like extending Race to the Top (for districts
this time, not states)
and recruiting 100,000 new math and science teachers. But this is “school
uniforms” sort of stuff. Regardless of what happens to the federal education
budget (which will sway a few billion in this direction or a few billion in
that—on an Education Department budget nearing $80 billion), even under the
“draconian” Republican plan for 2011),
education spending in the real world is going to take a huge hit. That’s
because of the “New Normal”—as Arne Duncan
described it—that is playing out in states and local districts, with enormous
budget cuts pending.
Obama is sincere about “protecting education,” he would call for another
massive bailout, on the order of $100 billion or so, to hold the nation’s
schools harmless from the steep drop in state and local revenue. (To be clear,
I’m not advocating for that, for a variety of
That’s what it would take to keep schools level-funded. But he doesn’t have the
political capital to suggest such a thing, so he’s chosen to play presidential
politics instead. (“Democrats in Washington are “for” education. Republicans
credit, Obama’s budget proposal would provide incentives (via the new
Race to the Top program mostly) for districts to find ways to do more with
less. So he’s not tone-deaf to the funding cliff over which localities are
currently tumbling. But by pretending that his policies would address the
problem, he’s participating in the worst kind of cynical politics. It’s a long
way from “the change we can believe in.”
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: Evaluating the stimulus legacy
Two years and one hundred billion dollars later,
what impact did the big federal stimulus package have on education reform?
According to a recent Hechinger-led analysis: not much. Yes, the stimulus funds
slowed teacher firings and kept short-term school budgets level, but we’re
already seeing (thanks to the “funding cliff”) that they merely delayed the
inevitable. Furthermore, skeptics are increasingly calling Race to the Top’s
long-term efficacy into question. Nineteen districts, for instance, have
already dropped out of the program in Massachusetts and the lure of the Bay
State’s $250 million in Race to the Top winnings isn’t keeping the state’s
teacher unions from pushing back against the use of student test scores in evaluating
their members. In Maryland, political and policy hang-ups have stalled
implementation of the state’s promised legislation tying 50 percent of teacher
evaluations to student performance. In other words, even in winning states, the
big policy victories that reformers scored last winter and spring are seeping
News Analysis: The IMPACT of data beyond teacher assessments
D.C.’s classy new teacher-evaluation system,
IMPACT, is just gaining traction (even as the new Mayor is hinting that he
wants it redone). But the data generated through its process are already
finding other uses. The evaluation tool, which grades teachers based on
classroom observations and value-added measurements, has thus far been used to
fire instructors ranked ineffective (seventy got the boot under Michelle Rhee’s
reign) as well as to reward those in the upper echelons (Rhee also doled out
performance-based bonuses to 600 teachers). But District education officials are
beginning to think bigger. Most encouragingly, they’re noodling ways to use
IMPACT data to assess teacher-preparation programs, tracking both stellar and
shoddy teachers back to the source. Never mind about the NCTQ/U.S. News and World Report assessment of
education schools; D.C. is generating a homegrown ranking system all of its
News Analysis: What's in a racial group?
|Click to listen to commentary on the issue
Meet Michelle López-Mullins, a student of
Peruvian, Chinese, Irish, Shawnee, and Cherokee descent. Under new Department
of Education requirements that take effect this year, Ms. López-Mullins—who
acknowledges partial Hispanic ethnicity—will, regardless of her rainbow-hued
heritage, be reported to federal officials only as Hispanic. Multiracial
students with no Latino blood will be labeled with the vague catchall “two or
more races.” As the Times notes,
these new designations for K-12 students will probably “increase the nationwide
student population of Hispanics, and could erase some ‘black’ students who will
now be counted as Hispanic or as multiracial.” This sort of racial
classification, we are told, is necessary: It’s the only way the nation can
judge how a certain race is doing academically, and whether or not its members are
being “left behind.” But in a society where one in seven couplings are now
interracial or interethnic, where these types of categorizations can
whimsically change from year to year, maybe it is time to move away from
outdated classifications and toward a post-racial society.
Review: Hope for America's Children: School Choice Yearbook 2010-2011
By Gerilyn Slicker
Get out your pom-poms. The Alliance for School
Choice has released its 2010-11 yearbook—offering a visually stimulating look
at the nation’s twenty private-school choice programs, as well as some
background on the school-choice movement in general. The report declares that
2010 “showcased the resilience of the school choice movement” after a challenging
2009. A few highlights: Student enrollment in private-school choice
programs—defined by the Alliance as vouchers and tax credit scholarships—grew
by four percent (bringing total participation in these programs to 190,000);
two new choice programs were enacted with bipartisan support in Louisiana and
Oklahoma; and existing programs saw growth (those in Ohio and Louisiana even
exceeded their enrollment caps)—all amidst a troubling economic environment.
The yearbook rounds out with a recap of choice-friendly research from 2010 and
state-specific profiles of the various private-school-choice programs in thirteen
states. Like any yearbook from advocacy groups, this one is slightly
self-aggrandizing. But the fact remains: Private-school-choice programs have
come a long way since their inception twenty years ago.
Review: Location, Location, Location: How Would A High-Performing Charter School Network Fare in Different States?
By Chris Tessone
As it turns out, success in growing
charter-school networks is about three things: location, location, and
location. This report from Bellwether Education Partners speaks to questions of
the scalability and financial stability of charter schools; it examines the
hypothetical financial health of a single charter network, Aspire Public
Schools, if it took up shop in any one of twenty-three states instead of its
current home in California. The analysis indicates that, in eighteen out of
twenty-three jurisdictions studied, Aspire would be more financially
sustainable, enjoying an average of $1,410 in additional surplus funds per
student. In D.C., Aspire would receive $6,383 more per pupil. In only three
states (Idaho, Colorado, and Arizona) would Aspire operate under a deficit. (In
Ohio and North Carolina, the operating costs would be comparable.) Admittedly,
the paper is a thought experiment rather than a full-blown financial
analysis—it relies heavily on the recent Ball
State study of inequitable charter-school financing and on some assumptions
about cost differences between California and other states. Noting the gravity
of these assumptions, the results of this analysis are still powerful. There is
no denying that certain states are much more charter-friendly than others. As
such, expect to see robust expansion of charter-school networks only in states
with favorable financing landscapes, with CMOs in states with weaker financing
just limping along.
Review: A Chance to Make History: What Works and What Doesn't in Providing an Excellent Education for All
By Jamie Davies O’Leary
On the twentieth anniversary of Teach for
America, founder Wendy Kopp (with some help from Teaching As Leadership author Steven
Farr) reflects on lessons from TFA teachers and alums about what it takes to
lift achievement for low-income kids. Despite an over-abundance of TFA lingo
and countless anecdotes that—while inspiring—are redundant, formulaic, and
idealized, the book makes several compelling arguments. Most notably, TFA
teachers and alums have shown that it’s possible to significantly lift
performance of low-income students. Kopp goes on to offer candid perspectives
on funding, school choice, class-size reduction, technology, and even “heroic
teaching”—noting that not one of these education-reform bullets is silver.
Unfortunately, she also leaves some important questions unanswered. Though the
book articulates the need for more effective teachers, it doesn’t address the
supply-side of the talent equation (i.e., how to attract better teachers to the
profession other than through
alternative certification). Sure, the book hails success stories from
high-performing charter management groups (KIPP, YES Prep), whole cities (New
Orleans, NYC, D.C.), and other innovative models (School of One, Rocketship
Education), but for those not living in dynamic hubs of educational innovation
and able to cultivate such talent-dependent reforms, the book’s lack of
tangible policy recommendations is discouraging. Kopp calls for ways to
increase the pace of change—including fostering political leadership and
advocacy infrastructure—but skims over political and policy barriers affecting
these initiatives. While there’s much to like about the book’s inspiring,
can-do attitude, it doesn’t go far enough in providing the real-world advice
that policymakers need.
Review: Inside Charter Schools: Unlocking Doors to Student Success
By Daniela Fairchild
This summative report—compiling much primary-
and secondary-source information—is the culmination of a four-year
charter-school project from the National Charter School Research Project. In
it, Betheny Gross offers an insider’s look at charter-school leaders, teachers,
and academic programs via surveys, case study analyses, and evaluation of
third-party longitudinal data. The report is full of interesting tidbits about charters
(35 percent, for example, operate for an extended school year, though few have
adopted novel instructional models), and well-articulates the benefits and
obstacles for school leaders and teachers who work in the charter-school
sector. The abundance of information presented in this report, while informative,
also somewhat overshadows the main thesis—that charter autonomy
can only create the opportunity for success, not assure it. Based on all of the
information garnered through the four-year Inside Charter Schools project,
Gross comes away with policy recommendations aimed at supporting charter-school
leaders and teachers. Among them: “Authorizers need to look closely for a clear
and achievable mission” and “State laws should allow charter schools to operate
outside traditional teacher contracts.” Those interested in unlocking the door to
the charter-school classroom need look no further.
From The Web
The Education Gadfly Show Podcast: Felting, knitting, and basket-weaving
Mike and Janie hit hard with talk of the
proposed budgets, racial classifications, and Michelle Rhee’s legacy. Amber
taps the minds of school-board members while Chris yells “No one puts baby in a
cage—or a corner!”
Click to listen to the podcast on our website. You can also download the podcast here or subscribe on iTunes here.
Flypaper's Finest: In the thick of Ohio's collective-bargaining debate
By Bianca Speranza
Yesterday Nick and I attended the Ohio Senate
Insurance, Commerce, and Labor Committee hearing on SB 5, which
would eliminate collective bargaining for state employees and greatly scale
back union rights for local public-sector employees.
…After waiting for two and a half hours, being
physically pushed around and asked if I was a journalist—or a member of the
Tea Party (which is staging a demonstration in support of the bill tomorrow),
trying to ignore supporters of the bill who were behaving like petulant five-year-olds, and seeing bomb-sniffing dogs and not-so-happy state-highway patrol
officers roam about, we made it into the Senate hearing room.…
Click to read the rest on Flypaper.
Flypaper's Finest: The race card—where is it?
By Peter Meyer
Though I have never been a big fan of our
obsession with race and poverty as useful tools for improving
academic achievement—what starts as a sociological construct (thank you, James
Coleman) quickly becomes a general principal, which, by the time you get to
the classroom trenches, has become a horribly self-fulfilling and deterministic
pedagogy—Michael Winerip’s thoughtful
profile of Ronald Ferguson in [Monday’s] New York Times offers some hope that we can start focusing
on what counts: what you know and when you know it.…
Click to read the rest on Flypaper.
Gadfly Studios: What's up with that?: Inglorious charters
Chris gets up in arms against tyrants
everywhere—and against those who can’t spell “tyrant” to begin with.
Briefly Noted: The Chinese are coming! The Chinese are coming!
- Afraid that their mantra “A's all around!” won’t pertain to them, teacher-preparation
programs are protesting the NCTQ/U.S News and World Report plan to issue the programs A through F
grades for effectiveness. With ed schools remiss to assign anything less than sub-stellar
grades, someone needed to fill that void.
- Yet potential headway has been made in the Empire State. The founders of
Teacher U will open a new stand-alone graduate school of
fall. Dubbed the Relay School of Education, it will offer education degrees (not
alt certifications) only to those who work full-time in the classroom.
- Education reformers in the state trenches beware. Reports of vandalism and harassment against state-level reformers,
including our friend Tom Luna, Idaho’s state supe, have been coming off the
ticker. (We’re not kidding.)
- Gone are
the days when toddlers learned to play nicely with others or—maybe—the letters
of the alphabet. Chicago parents interested in enrolling their children in one
of CPS’s better Kindergarten programs have started hiring tutors to teach basic geometry, pattern
recognition, and advanced literacy skills.
- A recent
public hearing before the Commission on Civil Rights has landed ED’s Office of
Civil Rights back
on the front pages as OCR begins to define the slippery notion of “disparate impact”—when a policy unintentionally discriminates
against a particular group—and which remedies actually may work. We agree that caution
is in order.
in how your local district spent its education-stimulus funds? Edmoney.org has the information you seek.
year marked a 30 percent increase since the previous year in the number of Chinese students studying
at America’s higher-education institutions. Forget Sputnik, we need a
modern-day Paul Revere.
- The California state board
of education has pulled back the parent trigger—via the guise of “smart implementation
Announcement: The future of educational leadership in Atlanta and beyond
What will the
twenty-first century mean for educational leadership in the Atlanta area—and
for the superintendency writ large? Join Fordham President Chester E. Finn, Jr.,
a swell panel, and the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation for a live webcast on this
issue February 21, from 6:00-7:45PM. The event will be webcast live here.
Fordham's featured publication: Where Did Social Studies Go Wrong?
This report from the Thomas B. Fordham
Foundation, published in August, 2003, includes penetrating critiques by
renegade social studies educators who fault the regnant teaching methods and
curricular ideas of their field and suggest how it can be reformed. While
nearly everyone recognizes that American students don't know much about history
and civics, these analysts probe the causes of this ignorance—and place primary
responsibility at the feet of the social studies "establishment" to
which they belong.