The Education Gadfly The Education Gadfly A Bulletin of Weekly News and Analysis from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute
Volume 11, Number 19. March 19, 2011.
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Opinion and Analysis

2011: Already a banner year for education reform
States take back the baton—as they should
Opinion | Daniela Fairchild

The long arm of Georgia’s law 
One small step for Georgia, one giant step backwards for charter schools
News Analysis

ESEA reauthorization a little bit at a time 
The House GOP gets moving
News Analysis

Rigor is not a four-letter word
The dust-up over BASIS DC
News Analysis

Short Reviews

Common Core Standards: The New U.S. Intended Curriculum
Where states and the Common Core diverge
Review | Marena Perkins

Election Timing and the Electoral Influence of Interest Groups 
When it comes to school-board elections, the date matters a lot
Review | Peter Meyer

From The Web

Fordham women lead the way
A crash course in college rigor, charter constitutionality, and cuts to federal ed programs
Education Gadfly Show Podcast | Hosts: Janie Scull and Daniela Fairchild

Tony Bennett and David Driscoll speak to Ohio Senate Finance Committee
IN and MA lend OH a policy-idea hand
Flypaper's Finest | May 17, 2011 | Jamie Davies O'Leary

A war of words: “Nationalize” versus “privatize”
I-Z-E: Add three little letters for a big shift in meaning
Flypaper's Finest | May 13, 2011 | Peter Meyer


Has the Sun risen in the West?
The NEA leadership changes its stance on teacher evaluations
Briefly Noted

An enchanting offer from Charm City schools
Join Alonso’s leadership team

Uncle Sam and ed policy: A retrospective
Head to AEI next week for some sobering lessons on federal intervention

ESEA Briefing Book
How to fix the law in ten easy steps
Fordham featured publication

Opinion and News Analysis

Opinion: 2011: Already a banner year for education reform
By Daniela Fairchild

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 fronts:

Collective-Bargaining 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, plus Oklahoma 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 benefit structures.

  • 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 when RIFs are unavoidable.
  • Similar bills are moving through the legislative process—keep a particular eye on Tennessee and Colorado.

School Choice
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 bill (HB 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, Tennessee, Ohio, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, voucher initiation or expansion bills are working their way through the legislative process.

Teacher Evaluations
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 effective teachers).
  • 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 praiseworthy; Florida’s 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 on.


News Analysis: The long arm of Georgia's law 


Photo by WalknBoston

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 like Georgia’s 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 Georgia Connections 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 play

Click to listen to commentary on the Georgia Supreme Court decision from the Education Gadfly Show podcast

Breaking news: Georgia Supreme Court strikes down Charter Schools Commission in 4-3 vote,” by Maureen Downey, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, May 16, 2011.

In Georgia, Court Ruling Could Close Some Charter Schools,” by Sam Dillon, New York Times, May 16, 2011.

Ga. 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 play

Click to listen to commentary on ESEA reauthorization from the Education Gadfly Show podcast

House Bill Calls for Eliminating 43 Education Programs,” by Alyson Klein, Education Week: Politics: K-12, May 13, 2011.

Outlines of ESEA’s Future Emerging on Capitol Hill,” by Alyson Klein, Education Week: Politics: K-12, May 13, 2011.


News Analysis: Rigor is not a four-letter word

The District 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.

Some in D.C. wonder if rigorous charter school can meet poor students’ needs,” by Bill Turque, Washington Post, May 11, 2011.


Short Reviews

Review: Common Core Standards: The New U.S. Intended Curriculum
By Marena Perkins

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 play

Click to listen to commentary on Common Core alignment from the Education Gadfly Show podcast

Andrew Porter, Jennifer McMaken, Jun Hwang, and Rui Yang, “Common Core Standards: The New U.S. Intended Curriculum” (Washington, D.C.: Educational Researcher, vol. 40, no. 3, 2011).


Review: Election Timing and the Electoral Influence of Interest Groups
By Peter Meyer

In this 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.

A different version of this review originally appeared on Fordham’s Flypaper blog. Subscribe to our blog to receive updates from Flypaper.

Sarah F. Anzia, “Election Timing and the Electoral Influence of Interest Groups,” (Tucson, AZ: Journal of Politics, forthcoming).


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.

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: Tony Bennett and David Driscoll speak to Ohio Senate Finance Committee
By Jamie Davies O’Leary

The Buckeye State is in the midst of its biennial budget debate, and with the budget bill—mangled in some 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.…

The Education Gadfly
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.…

The Education Gadfly
Click to read the rest on Flypaper.




Briefly Noted: Has the Sun risen in the West?

  • The 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.
  • Pinch 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 on America’s Asian population.
  • 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.
  • We’ve long 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 willingly comply.


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


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

ESEA briefing book cover

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. Read on to learn more.


The Education Gadfly is published weekly (ordinarily on Thursdays), with occasional breaks, by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Regular contributors include Daniela Fairchild, Amy Fagan, Chester E. Finn, Jr., Chris Irvine, 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.

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The Thomas B. Fordham Institute is a nonprofit organization that conducts research, issues publications, and directs action projects in elementary and secondary education reform at the national level and in Ohio, with a special emphasis on our hometown of Dayton. (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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