The Education Gadfly The Education Gadfly A Bulletin of Weekly News and Analysis from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute
Volume 11, Number 10. March 10, 2011.
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Opinion and Analysis

The rebirth of the education governor
Welcome the largest crop of ed-reform governors in thirty years
Opinion | Chester E. Finn, Jr.

Standards don’t mean a thing without that curriculum-swing
The case for a voluntary national curriculum
News Analysis

The newspaper that cried wolf
Another take on the USA Today data
News Analysis

Leaders no longer in limbo?
School leadership challenges in the post-collective bargaining era
News Analysis

Short Reviews

A Smarter Teacher Layoff System: How Quality-Based Layoffs Can Help Schools Keep Great Teachers
The New Teacher Project nails it again
Review | Chris Irvine

The MetLife Survey of the American Teacher: Preparing Students for College and Careers
Favoring both the Common Core and 21st century skills?
Review | Daniela Fairchild

Arts Education in America: What the Declines Mean for Arts Education
The newest racial gap: exposure to arts education
Review | Gerilyn Slicker

From The Web

Mike throws rock, Rick throws paper
Introducing a common curriculum and shedding no tears for TFA
Education Gadfly Show Podcast | Hosts: Mike Petrilli and Rick Hess

Hey schools: Don’t charge extra for extra-curriculars
The hidden key to American competitiveness
Flypaper's Finest | March 8, 2011 | Mike Petrilli

Ohio superintendents: Yearning to break free—but after you go first
Be careful what you wish for
Flypaper's Finest | March 7, 2011 | Terry Ryan

What’s Up With That?: The Ultimate Game of Rock, Paper, Scissors
Chris laments the lunacy of last-in, first-out
Gadfly Studios | March 10, 2011


Delivering the goods
The goods being a robust curriculum and federal-stimulus funding
Briefly Noted

Three cheers for Columbus Collegiate
Fordham’s own Columbus Collegiate one of four NLNS EPIC Gold Gain Schools

Striking gold at Goldwater
Apply to be the education-policy director at Goldwater Institute

Discussing the traction of tracking with AEI
Join AEI March 17 for a heavyweight debate on student tracking

EWA wants you--for public editor

The Education Writers Association is looking for a new coach for education reporters and editors

Golden Peaks and Perilous Cliffs: Rethinking Ohio’s Teacher Pension System
The system’s not just broke. It’s bad for teachers, too
Fordham featured publication

Opinion and News Analysis

Opinion: The rebirth of the education governor
By Chester E. Finn, Jr. 

Thirty years ago, Saturn started its current revolution around the Sun, Mt. St. Helens erupted, and Americans began to understand that governors are the most important people in U.S. K-12 education. They control, on average, about half of schools’ budgets. They propose, lobby, and ultimately sign legislation that spans the spectrum from teacher evaluations and collective bargaining to textbook adoption. Today, with bold gubernatorial leadership on display once again, we do well to recall some of the pioneering “education governors” of the 1980s, men and women who set about to reform their states’ public schools—indeed, to overhaul their states’ entire K-12 system.

Most of them were considered political “moderates”—mind you, that was neither a slur nor an endangered species in the ‘80s—and they definitely came from both parties. Prominent among them were Dick Riley (D-SC), Tom Kean (R-NJ), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Jim Hunt (D-NC), John Engler (R-MI), Bill Clinton (D-AR), Tommy Thompson (R-WI), Ann Richards (D-TX), and Rudy Perpich (DFL-MN)—to name a few.

These leaders ushered in statewide academic standards, new tests, the concept of results-based accountability, some fresh thinking about teachers and principals, charter schools, and plenty more. Teamed up (in 1989) with the first President Bush in Charlottesville, they also produced a set of “national education goals” such as this land never had before, and they helped to comprise a new panel in Washington to monitor the country’s progress toward those goals.

What charged them up at the time was the need for economic development and competitiveness for their states, complaints from their employers and universities about the unreadiness of local high school graduates, and mounting costs, coupled with the frustration that education consumed huge chunks of their budgets, yet they had relatively minimal control over what those funds purchased. (They were also fired up by A Nation at Risk.) So they exerted themselves as never before.

Today...a new crop of reform-minded governors is reclaiming its territory in an efflorescence of leadership and state-level initiatives.


Their organizations and affiliates revved up, too. Most notable was the National Governors Association (NGA), which had not historically had a great deal to do with K-12 education but, beginning in 1986 with a five year Alexander-prompted project called “Time for Results,” bestirred itself both to push for education reform across the states and to monitor progress made by them.

With the 1990s came increased federal involvement in education reform, as governors of that time helped to activate and animate the feds. Though Bush 41 and Lamar Alexander (as his second secretary of education) didn’t get much through the Democratic Congress, President Bill Clinton signed major legislation in 1994 on which George W. Bush—Texas’s education-reform-minded governor of the late 1990s—built when he reached the White House a few years later. The result, of course, was No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

As Washington pushed harder, however, some governors backed off. By and large, the first decade of this century was not a time of huge gubernatorial initiative on the K-12 front. Reforming education seemed for a while to be Uncle Sam’s job. (Massachusetts under Bill Weld and his successors and Florida under Jeb Bush are notable exceptions.)

Today, however, Saturn has completed a full revolution and a new crop of reform-minded governors is reclaiming its territory in an efflorescence of leadership and state-level initiatives. Some of this shift back was triggered by discontent with NCLB and some was stimulated by Race to the Top. Either way, many have perceived that the nation is still at risk—and so are its states; that looking to Washington to solve problems is mostly futile and sometimes damaging; and that, in the end, states bear primary constitutional and financial responsibility for K-12 education. What’s more, with states running out of money and education consuming so many billions, eking greater bang from the available bucks is both irresistible and unavoidable.

The NGA is back in action, too, with the Common Core State Standards Initiative (co-created with the CCSSO and a bunch of foundation dollars). That happened before the 2010 election, which swept into office a bunch of new governors who have set out to reform public education while cutting its budget, something more or less unprecedented. They haven’t all been Republicans (consider Phil Bredesen in Tennessee and Jack Markell in Delaware, for example—both of their states round one winners of Race to the Top, also before the 2010 election) but most are. Prominent among them are Mitch Daniels (R-IN), John Kasich (R-OH), Scott Walker (R-WI) and Chris Christie (R-NJ). This time, however, few of them would be described as “moderates” and their states are awash in vivid partisan clashes.

That’s mostly due to budget cuts and related policy changes. Austerity defines the era and the leadership and reform strategies of these chief executives. Yes, they want to boost achievement and to foster more school choices. Some of them murmur about governance changes and technology. But what really seems to kindle their fires is saving money while rewriting the ground rules by which teachers in their schools are employed, rewriting them in ways that (a) economize in response to diminished revenues, (b) purge the ranks of incompetents, (c) reward merit, (d) open up both the pathways by which new teachers enter and those by which veteran teachers exit, and (e) weaken the public sector unions that have been stalwart supporters of the status quo (and of their political opponents).

Two of the “education governors” from the 80s and 90s went on to become president; two others became secretary of education. Will today’s crop of state leaders ascend to those heights? Time will tell. But we already know this: Like Saturn, the governors are back. And if they are able to implement their reform agendas, preferably without totally alienating their teachers, America’s kids will be the better for it. So will our taxpayers and our competitiveness.


News Analysis: Standards don't mean a thing without that curriculum swing

In case you hadn’t heard, a group of 140 (and rising) education leaders—including Fordham President Chester Finn and some unlikely confederates (Randi Weingarten and Linda Darling-Hammond, for two)—have proposed the creation of voluntary common curricular materials. Federalist eyebrows rise in unison because, inevitably, this sort of thing gets dubbed a “national curriculum” even though there could be many of them and they’d all be voluntary for states, districts, schools, and teachers to use as they see fit. (In fact, our friends at Common Core have already produced a terrific specimen of such materials for ELA.) As Finn told Catherine Gewertz of Education Week, providing quality curriculum materials that states, schools, and teachers may choose to utilize, augment, or ignore shouldn’t rile people up. The fact that too many of our nation’s students attend schools teaching content-deficient curricula should. So should the fact that many teachers have been pleading for sound curricular materials to accompany the standards they’re charged with bringing to students.

Click to play

Click to listen to commentary on common curricula from the Education Gadfly Show podcast

A Call for Common Content: Core Curriculum Must Build a Bridge from Standards to Achievement,” by The Albert Shanker Institute, March 7, 2011.

Bipartisan Group Backs Common School Curriculum,” by Sam Dillon, The New York Times, March 7, 2011.

Shared Curriculum: Great Goal or Bogeyman?,” by Catherine Gewertz, Education Week, March 7, 2011.


News Analysis: The newspaper that cried wolf

The L.A. Times had its exposé on teacher performance; now USA Today has its own, this one analyzing high-stakes testing and the “cheating scandals” that go with it. The analysis examined test-score data in six states and found 1,610 schools with unusually large grade-level performance gains from one year to the next (the analysis included anywhere from three to seven years of data for each state). In some cases, these gains disappeared as students moved to the next grade, implying that the sudden boost was not only temporary but also probably fabricated. That’s disconcerting, for sure, but the instances of potential cheating were exceedingly rare: As Chad Aldeman points out, just 304 schools out of 22,039 were flagged in 2008-09, or less than 1.4 percent. By all means, states and districts should work at test security, guard against cheating, and prosecute any bad actors. But this analysis hardly indicates that standardized testing is forcing unethical behavior at large scale.

Click to play

Click to listen to commentary on the USA Today findings from the Education Gadfly Show podcast

When test scores seem too good to believe,” by Greg Toppo, Denise Amos, Jack Gillum, and Jodi Upton, USA Today, March 6, 2011.

Schools across the country show unreal gains on tests but stand by results,” by Greg Toppo, Denise Amos, Jack Gillum, and Jodi Upton, Detroit Free Press, March 6, 2011.


News Analysis: Leaders no longer in limbo?

Once again, the Hechinger Report has dived into the waters of education-policy reporting and emerged with a pearl. Its latest package of articles addresses the need for—and dearth of—strong school and district leaders. (Gadfly has treaded these waters in the recent past as well.) As Hechinger articulates, excellent leaders are essential in the formation and maintenance of a positive and effective school environment. According to a 2009 New Leaders for New Schools study, principals account for 25 percent of a school’s impact on student gains. Yet we face a critical shortage of strong leaders, despite the factory-like efficiency with which education schools pump out certified (but unprepared) principals. As Hechinger reports, this break in the supply-demand curve requires a rethink of how we prepare school leaders and where we recruit them from. Luckily, with collective bargaining on the ropes in states across the country, school and district leaders might finally have authority commensurate with their responsibility. And, if nothing else, that should be very good for recruiting better candidates.

Why School Leadership Matters,” by Staff, Hechinger Report, March 3, 2011.

Supply vs. demand: Rock-star superintendents,” by Justin Snider, Hechinger Report, March 3, 2011.

Leadership crisis: Issues of quality, not quantity?,” by Staff, Hechinger Report, March 3, 2011.


Short Reviews

Review: A Smarter Teacher Layoff System: How Quality-Based Layoffs Can Help Schools Keep Great Teachers
By Chris Irvine

A Smarter Teacher Layoff System coverMoving from quality-blind to quality-based layoffs is integral to today’s education-reform agenda. Yet figuring out how best to pull this off in a productive, teacher-friendly manner has been a whopping challenge. Enter this New Teacher Project (TNTP) brief, which offers a novel method for districts engaging in quality-based layoffs. Based on a survey of 9,000 teachers from two large, urban districts, TNTP presents a “scorecard” of weighted factors that the organization (as well as the teachers it surveyed) believes should be considered in layoff decisions. This scorecard includes teacher performance ratings, classroom-management skills, attendance, and support for extra-curricular activities—along with years with the district. (Conspicuously lacking is credit for graduate credit hours and advanced degrees: Only one-third of surveyed teachers supported including this factor in layoff decisions.) TNTP’s brief offers a method for handling layoffs that is both tangible enough to be implemented and flexible enough to be adapted for district need. The one caveat: While the brief’s workable model for making layoff decisions is an excellent first step, it does not go further to address how teachers’ performance and classroom-management skills should be judged—probably because their surveyed teachers counted principal opinion as the least appropriate factor for making layoff decisions.

The New Teacher Project, “A Smarter Teacher Layoff System: How Quality-Based Layoffs Can Help Schools Keep Great Teachers,” (Brooklyn, NY: The New Teacher Project, March 2011).


Review: The MetLife Survey of the American Teacher: Preparing Students for College and Careers
By Daniela Fairchild

Yesterday marked the release of findings from Part I of MetLife’s twenty-seventh annual education survey, which focuses on what it means to be “college- and career-ready.” In this poll of middle and high school teachers, students, public-education parents, and executives of Fortune 100 companies, the organization investigates how stakeholder groups feel about the college- and career-ready goal and what students need to do to reach it. Many of the findings are interesting if unsurprising: Only 17 percent of teachers give high priority to more school choice, compared to 43 percent of parents and 46 percent of executives. When asked about the need to graduate all students college- and career-ready, 73 percent of parents said it needed to be done, compared to only 43 percent of executives. Then puzzle over this: All groups of surveyed adults find that “higher-order, cross-disciplinary skills”—such as problem solving, self motivation, and relationship building—are more important for college preparation than higher-level math and science content. (Executives place greatest emphasis on the capacity for team work.) Yet, nearly 90 percent of middle and high school teachers support implementation of the Common Core standards in math, ELA, and (when available) science—standards that largely rejected the “twenty-first century skills” agenda. An interesting read, this year’s MetLife survey further articulates the fogginess of “career- and college-ready.” Part II of the survey, “Teaching Diverse Learners,” is set to release March 23.

Harris Interactive, “The MetLife Survey of the American Teacher: Preparing Students for College and Careers: Part 1: Clearing the Path (New York, NY: Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, March 2011).


Review: Arts Education in America: What the Declines Mean for Arts Participation
By Gerilyn Slicker

Participation in arts education has declined steadily since the 1980s—long before our current recession and before NCLB, according to this National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) report, and minority children have been hit hardest: In 2008, only 26 percent of African American students reported receiving any arts education (down from 51 percent in 1982); Hispanic youngsters were at 28 percent (down from 47 percent in 1982). These figures take on greater magnitude when linked to the growing body of research that shows arts education as an effective pathway to deeper engagement and success in school—and with higher levels of student achievement, positive social and emotional development, and successful transition to adulthood. The most recent NAEP arts assessment (which assessed eighth graders in 2008) adds more depth to these findings. While the NAEP saw no differences in opportunities for arts instruction among racial groups, it did find that only 57 percent of schools offered music instruction three times a week, and 47 percent offered visual arts instruction with the same frequency. Neither methodology is perfect (the NEA uses a retrospective student survey and the NAEP only gathered data on school offerings—not on student participation). But both remind us of one key point: Especially in our era of austerity and testing, arts education is at risk and needs protecting.

Nick Rabkin and E.C. Hedberg, “Arts Education In America: What the Declines Mean for Arts Participation” (Washington, D.C.: National Endowment for the Arts, February 2011).


From The Web

The Education Gadfly Show Podcast: Mike throws rock, Rick throws paper

Mike and Rick get a verbal boxing workout as they discuss a potential national curriculum. To cool down, they talk about cheating teachers and the de-earmarked TFA. Amber explains the findings from Fordham’s most recent study—Yearning to Break Free—and Chris goes after the fine art of RIFing.

The Education Gadfly
Click to listen to the podcast on our website. You can also download the podcast here or subscribe on iTunes here.


Flypaper's Finest: Hey schools, don't charge extra for extra-curriculars
By Mike Petrilli

Of the many dumb ways to close budget holes, perhaps the one most worthy of the title “self-inflicted wound” is the move to reduce the number of extra-curricular activities offered to students (or to pass along the costs to families in the form of fees).

I can’t prove it, but I strongly suspect that one of the reasons American kids do so well in life (starting entrepreneurial companies, embracing a spirit of optimism, creating wealth, etc.)—even though they score poorly on international tests—is because of what they pick up from sports, theater, band, student council, and the like.…

The Education Gadfly
Click to read the rest on Flypaper.


Flypaper's Finest: Ohio superintendents: Yearning to break free--but after you go first
By Terry Ryan

…Since the Senate’s passage of SB 5, superintendents have been inundated with phone calls and emails from local union representatives and teachers expressing their dismay and anger with the bill. Superintendents expressed serious concerns that the heat that came down on lawmakers—(e.g. thousand protesting at the statehouse and a group of union activists confronting lawmakers in a restaurant)—will pale in comparison to what they will face in their local communities as they work to implement the reforms in SB5.…

The Education Gadfly
Click to read the rest on Flypaper.



Gadfly Studios: What's Up With That?: The Ultimate Game of Rock, Paper, Scissors

What's Up With That screengrab

How do districts determine “seniority” in case of a tie? Chris offers some insights.



Briefly Noted: Delivering the goods

  • Lynne Munson of Common Core offers a worthwhile perspective on how to ramp up America’s international competitiveness in the recent Educational Leadership—the key: stop harping on structure and bring focus back to a well-rounded, rigorous curriculum.
  • There’s been much moving and shaking in the states this week: Minnesota loosened its teacher-certification law, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is preparing to revamp the state’s teacher- and principal-evaluation systems, Wisconsin Democrats have been found in contempt, and Pennsylvania’s budget pushed the state in a whole new direction.
  • In the UK, they call it “deliverology”; in Louisiana, they call it “common sense.” Whatever the name, Michael Barber’s education-delivery plan is gaining steam across the U.S.
  • Even with recent clashes in the states, President Obama is still bent on pushing education as a bipartisan issue. Now he’s recruited Jeb Bush to help prove the point.
  • To accept or not to accept? Texas is waging an internal battle as its Democrats and Republicans spar over how to use the state’s $830 million in federal education-stimulus funding, thus far unclaimed.


Announcement: Three cheers for Columbus Collegiate

The Columbus Collegiate Academy, a high-need urban charter middle school authorized by Fordham, has been named one of only four New Leaders for New Schools EPIC Gold Gain Schools for 2011. Congratulations to Principal Andy Boy and the staff and students of Columbus Collegiate! Read more here.


Announcement: Striking gold at Goldwater

The Goldwater Institute—a government-watchdog organization with a focus on market-oriented education reform—is hiring an education-policy director. If you have strong writing, analytic, and interpersonal skills, as well as an interest in writing policy briefs and organizing panels and symposia—and you don’t mind dry heat—find out more about the position here.


Announcement: Discussing the traction of tracking with AEI

Interested in watching four education heavyweights throw down on tracking? Head to AEI on Saint Patty’s Day (March 17) from 3:30 to 5:00PM for a thought-provoking debate. For more information, or to RSVP, click here. If you can’t attend the event in person, it will be live webcast here.


Announcement: EWA wants you--for public editor

After three years with the National Education Writers Association, Linda Perlstein is moving on. As such, EWA is on the lookout for a new public editor. If you're a team player, with excellent writing and editing skills, who's interested in providing one-on-one coaching for education writers and editors across the country, then send a resume and cover letter here. Full job description is here.



Fordham's featured publication: Golden Peaks and Perilous Cliffs: Rethinking Ohio's Teacher Pension System

Golden Peaks and Perilous Cliffs cover

Dating to 1920, Ohio's State Teacher Retirement System (STRS) now covers close to half a million members—active, inactive, and retired teachers—or one member for every ten Ohio households. This 2007 report raises serious questions about the system's long-term health and sustainability, noting that the system’s unfunded liability is up past $19.4 billion. Instead of saddling Buckeye residents with more debt, we need a transparent and efficient system, accountable to the public. Read more here.


The Education Gadfly is published weekly (ordinarily on Thursdays), with occasional breaks, by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Regular contributors include Amy Fagan, Daniela Fairchild, Chester E. Finn, Jr., Chris Irvine, Amanda Olberg, Jamie Davies O’Leary, Emmy Partin, Marena Perkins, Michael J. Petrilli, Terry Ryan, Janie Scull, Gerilyn Slicker, Chris Tessone, and Amber Winkler. Have something to say? Email us at Find archived issues or other reviews of reports and books here.

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute is the nation’s leader in advancing educational excellence for every child through quality research, analysis, and commentary, as well as on-the-ground action and advocacy in Ohio. (For Ohio news, check out our Ohio Education Gadfly, published bi-weekly, ordinarily on Wednesdays.) The Institute is neither connected with nor sponsored by Fordham University.

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