Opinion and News Analysis
Opinion: 2011: Already a banner year for education reform
Late 2009 and early 2010 saw state legislators virtually
nationwide all aflutter with education-reform excitement. Dangling a $4.35
billion Race to the Top carrot, Arne Duncan’s Department of Education lured policymakers
from both sides of the aisle to support some key reform-style initiatives.
These included adoption of the Common Core State Standards, creation of linked
data systems, implementation of meaningful teacher-evaluation systems, and
expansion of charter-friendly policies. Sure, they’re reforms states should
have embraced on their own, and maybe some would have without federal
inducement, but there’s little doubt that RTT sped things up and in some cases
likely changed the outcome.
What we’ve learned over the past six months, however, is
that education reform at the state level doesn’t necessarily depend on a big
red-velvet triple-decker on Uncle Sam’s cake stand. Maybe all it really needs
is voters willing to throw the establishment’s friends out of office. Aided and
abetted, perhaps, by budget shortfalls.
It’s good to know that when states step back into the driver’s seat, they press the gas rather than slamming the breaks.
For what’s happened since the November 2010 election has
been an intensification rather than a slackening of the pace of education
reform in state capitals across the land—without any evident regard for federal
carrots (or sticks).
Most of the big reform victories can be traced to the resurgence
of education-reform governors (most but not all of them Republicans);
greater, more cohesive, and more urgent advocacy work by groups like the
American Federation for Children, Stand for Children, Democrats for Education
Reform, and the organizations under PIE
Network’s umbrella; and, of course, states’ need to tighten their fiscal
belts and rein in their education budgets.
Let’s take a look at the movement so far this year on three
and Related Issues
According to the National Conference
of State Legislators, over 700 bills targeting collective
bargaining have been introduced in state legislatures this year. At least seven
states (of the thirty that allow collective bargaining) so far have enacted
legislation in 2011 limiting these district-union CBAs (the five noted below,
and the Democratic stronghold of Massachusetts).
Several states also limited the rights of union members to strike, reformed
last in, first out (LIFO) firing policies, and changed teacher pension and
- Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels pushed through SB 0575, which limits teachers’ collective-bargaining rights to wage and
benefits issues. It also forbids them from bargaining on working conditions.
- Illinois’s nationally
lauded SB 7 legislation
(acclaimed for the bipartisan support it garnered) ends LIFO policies, makes it
harder for teachers to strike, and bumps up requirements for tenure. This bill,
dubbed Performance Counts, now sits on Governor Quinn’s desk for signature.
- Wisconsin’s high-profile SB 13 stripped
much off the collective-bargaining table; teachers are limited to bargaining
over base pay—total compensation and wage increases over the level of inflation
are no longer negotiable.
- And in Ohio,
SB 5 has cut collective-bargaining and union rights down dramatically and
has denied public-union members the right to strike (though it conspicuously
did not eliminate the right to bargain outright).
- The Sunshine State
passed SB 736 in March. It eliminates tenure for new teachers and limits the reach
of collective-bargaining rights in the state (taking wages and terms and
conditions of employment largely, if not entirely, off the table).
- Alabama’s SB 310
sits on the governor’s desk. With his signature, state teachers would have less
time to appeal firing decisions and would lose the right to appeal if laid off
because of budget shortfalls.
- In Idaho,
SB 1108 will phase out tenure for new teachers and eliminate seniority as a criterion
bills are moving through the legislative process—keep a particular eye on Tennessee
According to the Foundation for
Educational Choice, at
least fifty-one pieces of legislation tying public funding to
private-education provision (spanning thirty-five states) have been introduced
this year. (NB: Voucher proponents can also add the reinstated D.C.
Opportunity Scholarship Program and Douglas County, CO’s district-wide
program—the first of its ilk—as notches on their belts.) Many of these
legislative bids have focused on expanding or creating voucher or tax credit programs.
While a handful of states have improved their charter-school laws since
January, charter legislation has taken a distinct backseat to the voucher
movement in 2011.
- Indiana’s expansive voucher
1003) opens private-school choice to 60
percent of the state’s schoolchildren. But the Hoosier State
also passed charter legislation (HB
1002), creating a new statewide entity to sponsor these schools as well as
tougher academic standards and accountability requirements for charters.
- And just
this week, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin approved SB 969,
providing tax-credit scholarships to students in families with household incomes
of up to 300 percent of the poverty threshold.
- Special-education students are now eligible for “empowerment scholarships”—a form of tax-credit scholarship—in Arizona.
- In Florida,
HB 1329 expands the state’s special-education voucher program to students
with lesser disabilities like asthma and allergies, while SB 1546 classifies
and rates charter schools, allowing more effective schools more autonomy.
In other states, including Pennsylvania,
Minnesota, and Wisconsin, voucher initiation or expansion
bills are working their way through the legislative process.
In 2009-2010, many states passed RTT-related
legislation allowing for the linkage of student achievement to teacher
evaluations. But these reforms often fell short of ensuring or mandating such
evaluations. Legislation enacted thus far in 2011 has gone further by requiring student achievement gains to
matter for teacher (and, in some cases, principal and superintendent)
evaluations. A few states have also begun to tackle performance-based pay.
- Again from Indiana,
SB 0001 requires districts to figure student-achievement gains when creating
new teacher evaluations. It also requires that educators’ performance, not just
their seniority, factor into decisions about salary increases.
- Idaho’s Students Come
First Package (SB 1110) ties 50 percent of teacher, principal, and superintendent evaluations
to student achievement (as well as offers a performance-pay bonus to the most
- Illinois’s SB 7 mandates that
teacher evaluations be tied to student test scores.
- Wyoming’s SF 146 ties
evaluations—in part—to student achievement; while SF 70 in
the same state sets out to define student achievement, creating a statewide
accountability system to align with the definition.
- Out of Florida,
the Student Success Act (SB 736) counts
student growth as 50 percent of teacher evaluations and requires districts to
let-go low performers.
- Next door, Georgia’s SB 184 awaits
governor signature. The bill would end LIFO (and could equally fit in the
CBA-bucket above) and would evaluate teachers based on performance—though the
Peach State will leave the definition of that word up to districts.
- Other states, like Texas,
Utah, Washington, and New Jersey, have
teacher-evaluation bills on the docket in one or more legislative house.
- Along with these new initiatives, many states are
beginning to flesh out teacher-evaluation systems set up through 2010
legislation (mostly due to RTTT, but sometimes not). Recently, states like Tennessee, Colorado, Ohio, and Rhode
Island released blueprints, recommendations, and
plans of attack for crafting their states’ evaluation systems. And just this
week, the New York Regents approved the state’s new eval plan.
To be sure, not all of these legislative wins are
teacher bill (SB 736), for example, is problematic
in many ways. Still, there’s been solid progress on multiple fronts, and
that’s worth cheering without hesitation.
The Obama Administration had reason to boast about the
remarkable movement we saw on the education-reform front in 2009-2010. But now
it’s time for governors and state legislators to take a bow. And since—for
political and economic reasons—we’re unlikely to see the feds play such a heavy
hand again anytime soon, it’s good to know that when states step back into the
driver’s seat, they press the gas rather than slamming the breaks. The Race to
the Top might be (mostly) over but the race for higher student achievement goes
News Analysis: The long arm of Georgia's law
In a 4-3 decision this week, the Georgia Supreme
Court ruled to disband the Peach
State’s Charter School Commission
(which currently oversees sixteen growing charter schools) on the grounds that
the entity is “palpably unconstitutional.” Why? Because the charters operating
under its direction compete with local school districts for students and dollars.
In an opinion that could be used as precedent in other states, the justices ruled
that, under Georgia’s constitution, no other government entity can “compete
with or duplicate the efforts of local boards of education in establishing and
maintaining general K-12 schools.” Originally, these state-sanctioned charter
schools circumvented this provision by calling themselves “special schools”
(per Art. VIII, Sec. V, Par. VII (a) of the Georgia Constitution). This ruling
judged these commission charters to be “normal” K-12 schools, not “special
schools,” making them illegal. Many other states, of course, allow entities
other than local school boards to authorize charter schools; in at least four
of these states, charter opponents have filed similar judicial attacks (and in Florida, they’ve prevailed). But rulings
aren’t just a blow to the charter sector. They also have further implications
for other forms of state-based or state-wide schools (e.g. virtual schools like
Academy and Georgia Cyber
Academy). It’s no secret
that Gadfly is no admirer of today’s (i.e. yesterday’s) system of school
governance. It’s depressing that the courts are working to cement that
dysfunctional model of “local control” in place.
|Click to listen to commentary on the Georgia Supreme Court decision from the Education Gadfly Show podcast
news: Georgia Supreme Court strikes down Charter Schools Commission in 4-3 vote,”
by Maureen Downey, Atlanta
Journal-Constitution, May 16, 2011.
Georgia, Court Ruling Could Close Some Charter Schools,” by Sam Dillon, New York Times, May 16, 2011.
Court Overturns Charter Schools Law,” By The Associated Press, Wall Street Journal, May 16, 2011.
News Analysis: ESEA reauthorization a little bit at a time
For at least four years now, the enormity of
ESEA/NCLB reauthorization has proven too large for lawmakers to swallow. Now,
however, the House Education Committee is hinting at an alternative approach:
grazing. Instead of tackling all 600-plus pages of ESEA in one sitting, GOP
legislators are addressing specific issues associated with it, introducing
smaller, bite-sized bills instead. The first was introduced in the House this
week by Duncan Hunter (R-CA). It calls for eliminating forty-three K-12
education programs—each of which had either already lost funding, been slated
for consolidation by Obama’s own proposal, or were never funded from the
get-go. Such cuts won’t change the world (or the budget outlook) too much, but they’re
a start. And with House Education and Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline
hinting for months that he’d prefer to attack ESEA in a piecemeal manner, this
new approach has some powerful backers. Despite Secretary Duncan’s clinging to
a comprehensive reauthorization package, until broad consensus can be reached,
legislators will be smart to keep nibbling away.
|Click to listen to commentary on ESEA reauthorization from the Education Gadfly Show podcast
News Analysis: Rigor is not a four-letter word
of Columbia is home to a thriving charter-school
market. Of all American cities, it’s also the one that has experienced the most
rapid gentrification over the past ten years. As these two realities now
converge, upper-middle class D.C. parents are seeking more charter schools for
their kids. The District already boasts several charters serving substantial
numbers of affluent families (sometimes by design, often not); these include
E.L. Haynes, Capital City, Yu Ying, Two Rivers, Latin American Montessori
Bilingual, and Washington Latin. And now there’s BASIS DC, a charter
slated to open in 2012, which follows the successful, and uber-rigorous,
BASIS charter-school program. The school will offer Algebra I in seventh
grade, and require that high schoolers take eight AP courses (and pass six AP
tests) in order to graduate. Rather than applaud such rigor, though, critics are
crying “conspiracy,” wondering whether that kind of model is designed to create
a publically funded school for Washington’s
elite—and to exclude the vast majority of D.C.’s kids, who are poor, black, and
under-achieving. As Skip McKoy of the D.C. Public Charter School Board stated,
“I’m all for high standards…Kids should be pushed. But you have to recognize
the population.” Wryly reading between the lines, Jay Mathews translates: “This
school is too smart and too tough for D.C.” It’s fair game to question whether
BASIS has a plan to “on-ramp” kids who come to the school lagging academically.
And it’s not crazy to worry that the school could wind up serving an exclusively
affluent clientele. But to assume that poor and minority kids in D.C. can’t
learn at high levels is an affront to their potential. And if BASIS can succeed
at creating a school that is challenging for the rich and poor alike, D.C. will
be much the better for it.
Review: Common Core Standards: The New U.S. Intended Curriculum
Into the fracas over the Common Core initiative
dives this Education Researcher paper
by UPenn education dean Andy Porter and several of his colleagues. It explains similarities
and differences between the Common Core and current state and international
standards, using the Surveys of Enacted Curriculum (SEC) as its metric. The SEC
is an analytic framework developed at the Wisconsin Center
for Education Research that categorizes ELA and math content by two variables:
topic (e.g., multistep equations, inequalities) and cognitive demand (e.g.,
memorize, perform procedures, demonstrate understanding). In all, the SEC
identifies nearly 2,000 of these distinct types of “content” (the product of
combined topic and cognitive demand variables). Experts then analyze and match individual
standards with SEC content components and use these metrics to compare various
sets of standards and curricular materials. The paper finds that—of the
twenty-seven states’ standards that are analyzed—state and Common Core
standards differ significantly, with the latter generally demanding a higher
level of cognitive reasoning than the standards of the states. Despite this
rigorous cognitive demand, the Core standards place less emphasis on advanced
mathematical concepts in algebra and geometry than do the average set of state
standards. What’s more, the Common Core standards don’t align all that well
with international standards. For example, Finland,
Japan, and Singapore all place greater
emphasis on “perform[ing] procedures” than does the Common Core. Whether or not
you completely buy into the SEC’s framework model, with its levels of rigor and
definitions of content, these findings raise a cautionary flag about states’
abilities to quickly implement the Common Core standards and leads one to
question whether these common standards are less aligned with the expectations
of other countries than was previously thought.
|Click to listen to commentary on Common Core alignment from the Education Gadfly Show podcast
Review: Election Timing and the Electoral Influence of Interest Groups
By Peter Meyer
fascinating study, Stanford political science doctoral candidate Sarah Anzia offers new reasons
for dropping “off-cycle” elections for school boards and other bodies—unless
you’re part of a special-interest group. As is well-known, such elections (those
that do not occur on a general-election or primary day) have notoriously low
voter turnouts—with a delta between them and on-cycle elections of as much as
20 percent. Anzia explains that this “empowers the largest and best organized
interest groups,” since those groups “make up a greater proportion of the total
vote when that election is held off-cycle.” As evidence, she analyzed
school-board election cycles and teacher salaries in those same districts.
Given teacher unions’ mobilization, common goals, and tight organization, writes
Anzia, “we should expect school board members to be more responsive to teacher
union demands for higher teacher salaries when those teachers exert greater
influence in their elections.” Because of the difficulty of cross-state
comparison, she limits her evaluations to eight states that have “within-state
variation in district election timing.” And her findings are striking: Districts
with off-cycle elections pay their experienced teachers over 3 percent more
than districts (in the same states) that hold on-cycle elections. The pay
differential increased further for the most senior teachers: Those with
more than ten years of experience received 4.2 percent more in districts with
off-cycle elections. In Minnesota
specifically, Anzia finds that a 5 percentage point decrease in voter turnout is associated with a 0.7 percentage point
increase in average teacher pay. This
is a fairly big deal since (as Rick Hess has reported) more than half of our
school-district elections are off-cycle.
version of this review originally appeared on Fordham’s Flypaper blog. Subscribe to our blog to receive
updates from Flypaper.
From The Web
The Education Gadfly Show Podcast: Fordham women lead the way
With Mike and Rick away this week, Janie and
Daniela hold down the fort, discussing college rigor, the future of Georgia’s
charter schools, and a new take on ESEA reauthorization. Amber digs into the
weeds of Common Core and state-standards alignment, and Chris gets mad that no
one asked him to the prom.
Click to listen to the podcast on our website. You can also download the podcast here or subscribe on iTunes here.
Flypaper's Finest: Tony Bennett and David Driscoll speak to Ohio Senate Finance Committee
State is in the midst of its biennial budget debate, and with the budget bill—mangled
areas (and improved
in a few ways) by the Ohio House—now on the Senate table, senators were eager
to hear from two leading education practitioners who have been down the road
before. And the road to reform is rough; neither Indiana state superintendent Tony
Bennett nor former Massachusetts education commissioner David Driscoll, who
spoke to the Finance Committee about reforms in their respective states, minced
words about Ohio’s financial challenges, the pushback lawmakers and
policymakers will receive along the way, and the difficulty in achieving
comprehensive, statewide reform.
The good news for Ohio is that we’re not alone in pursuing the
reforms embedded in HB 153 (or even in SB 5) and Bennett’s and Driscoll’s
testimonies reaffirmed that the state is on the right track.…
Click to read the rest on Flypaper.
Flypaper's Finest: A war of words: "Nationalize" versus "privatize"
By Peter Meyer
One of the more interesting characteristics of
the recent curriculum counter-manifesto
was its lead sentence, which had this lovely turn of phrase: We “oppose the
call for a nationalized curriculum.” Interesting, I thought, since I don’t
believe anyone at the Shanker Institute called for a nationalized curriculum;
they called for a national or common curriculum. Was
this a distinction without a difference? Was Shanker just being “sneaky”? Not
at all—and I’m sure the writers of the counter-manifesto understand all too
well that nationalize is a verb, meaning to do something like Fidel
Castro or Hugo Chavez might do to oil companies or hotels.…
Click to read the rest on Flypaper.
Briefly Noted: Has the Sun risen in the West?
education-leader musical chairs continues, as Paul
Pastorek moves away from Baton Rouge while New York Deputy Commissioner John
King takes David Steiner’s vacated seat.
yourself—you’re not dreaming. NEA leadership, long seen to be immobile on nearly
every facet of education reform, issued
a policy statement calling for, among other things, the use of quality
standardized student tests for teacher evaluations. Note that Randi Weingarten
and the AFT released their own such statement back in February and that this
bit of NEA catch-up still must face member approval in July. The curve of
education reform is long.
- Take it
from KIPP and other “no excuses” charter networks, culture is a very real
component of student success. But how do ethnic cultures fit into this jigsaw
puzzle of achievement? New York Magazine offers a thought-provoking perspective
- With the
unions gunning for the Idaho
state superintendent, Tom Luna is on the counter-offensive. This week, his
office released a cautionary note to teachers: Engage in politicking during
school hours, or from school email accounts, and face potential suspension.
been worried about the watering-down of K-12 student expectations. And, it
seems, the floodgates have opened onto the higher-education circuit as well. As
Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, co-authors of Academically
Adrift, explain: Rigor and critical thinking are
being swept away as students opt for comfort and ease—and as colleges too
Announcement: An enchanting offer from Charm City schools
Andres Alonso and Baltimore City
Public Schools are
seeking leaders in SPED; parent and community engagement; human capital; data
management; school, student, and principal support; and facilities management—yes
all of these. If you are passionate about education reform and possess
great communication skills and the capabilities necessary to move key resources
into the field, send your resume to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Announcement: Uncle Sam and ed policy: A retrospective
From equity and
accountability to urban-school transformations, the federal government has left
a distinct footprint on education policy and practice over the past fifty years.
What have we learned from these experiences? To find out, head to the American
Enterprise Institute on Monday, May 23 for a series of panels exploring the
topic. Fordham’s Checker Finn and Mike Petrilli will be on deck. More
information—including how to register—is here.
Fordham's featured publication: ESEA Briefing Book
Political leaders hope to act this year to renew
and fix the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, also known as No
Child Left Behind). In this important paper, Thomas B. Fordham Institute
President Chester E. Finn, Jr. and Executive Vice President Michael J. Petrilli
identify ten big issues that must be resolved in order to get a bill across the
finish line, and explore the major options under consideration for each one.
Should states be required, for example, to adopt academic standards tied to
college and career readiness? Should the law provide greater flexibility to states
and districts? These are just a few of the areas discussed. Finn and Petrilli
also present their own bold yet “realistic” solutions for ESEA.
on to learn more.