Opinion and News Analysis
Opinion: One size fits most
step back from day to day vitriol that characterizes the current education-policy
“debate,” and glimpse the larger picture, two worldviews on education reform
emerge. One, articulated by the likes of Linda Darling-Hammond, Marc Tucker,
David Cohen, and others, obsesses about curricular “coherence,” and the lack
thereof in our nation’s schools. The other, envisioned by Rick Hess, Tom Vander
Ark, Paul Hill, and many more, seeks to unleash America’s trademark dynamism
inside our K-12 education system. Though these ideas appear to pull in opposite
directions, they might best work in concert.
start with the Coherence Camp. Its argument, most recently made in David
Cohen’s Teaching and Its Predicaments, is that America’s
teachers are being set up to fail by a system that is fragmented, divided, and
confused about its mission. Teachers are given little clear guidance about
what’s expected of them: Even when goals are clear, these teachers lack the
tools to succeed: Pre-service training is completely disconnected from
classroom expectations, and never ending “reform” pulls up the roots of
promising efforts before they are given time to flower.
Asking people with diverse views to coalesce around one educational model is a little bit like asking all citizens to choose a single religion.
Coherence Camp looks longingly at Europe and Asia, where many (national) systems
offer teachers the opportunity to work as professionals in environments of
trust, clarity, and common purpose. (Japan envy yesterday, Finland envy today?)
The members of this camp praise national standards, a national (or at least
statewide) curriculum that gathers the best thinking about how to reach these
standards and shares this thinking with the teaching corps, authentic
assessments that provide diagnostic information, and professional development
(pre-service and in-service) that is seamlessly woven into all of the rest.
countries can (and do) pour over their latest PISA results, identify areas for
improvement, and get their educators to row in unison toward stronger
performance. And their scores go up and up and up.
bright as that vision may be, however, it carries with it many dark clouds.
First is the temptation to lead by decree, in a very top-down,
highly-bureaucratized manner that squelches the initiative of frontline
educators. The best systems in the world, according to McKinsey, find a way to combine common
standards with lots of local autonomy, but striking that balance is no easy
fundamental concern is that it assumes getting all of a nation’s teachers—and
parents—to buy into one notion of what it means to be well-educated. Asking
people with diverse views to coalesce around one educational model is a little
bit like asking all citizens to choose a single religion. One’s views on
schools are closely related to larger values—what it means to live the “good
life,” the degree to which children should be raised to pursue their own
individual aspirations versus contribute to a larger community, whether
learning “right from wrong” takes precedence over learning to “value
diversity,” and on and on.
restate the cliché, “one size fits all” is a recipe for frustration, if not
social and political warfare, at least in a heterogeneous country like ours.
Devotees, on the other hand, look at America’s private sector (and especially
Silicon Valley) with envy. They envision an education marketplace full of
can-do problem-solvers, myriad options for parents, and lots of customization
for kids. They don’t even want a “system,” per se, but a raucous “sector” that
welcomes new entrepreneurs and washes away legacy operators if they don’t keep
up with the times. To them, the American higher-education sector looks like a
much stronger alternative to our K-12 system, what with its rise of new
competitors (many of them online), flexible, student-centered funding, and
responsiveness to consumer demand.
hear Dynamism Devotees chanting the “every school a charter school” mantra, and
preaching the exciting potential of customized digital learning, the rise of
upstart providers of teacher training, and the imperative of “backpack” funding
With taxpayers footing the bill, don’t they have a right to ask kids to learn certain essential somethings?
all of the excitement, this vision has major holes, too. For one, with our
system already fragmented into 14,000 districts, won’t the “every school a
charter school” idea just lead to even less coordination and fewer benefits of
scale? Yes, charter “networks” might rise up to connect schools with one
another and provide essential services, but will they spread to every nook and
cranny of our country? If NCLB’s free tutoring initiative was any lesson, we
can expect the vast majority of communities to remain unserved. Would we get a
“dynamic marketplace” in the exurbs, small towns, and rural locales, or just
even less support for those schools than they get now?
why should we have any confidence that the result of all of this “creative
destruction” will be a citizenry with essential democratic skills, knowledge,
and habits? The marketplace model in higher education has, along with its
benefits, also led lots of people to get narrow, skill-focused degrees rather
than seek a broad liberal education. Can we afford a K-12 system that does the
same? With taxpayers footing the bill, don’t they have a right to ask kids to learn
certain essential somethings?
to do? The Coherence Camp can plausibly argue that its path is the surer route
to higher student achievement and more consistent classroom practice—but it
risks alienating thousands of teachers who feel hamstrung by a curriculum they
don’t like and millions of parents who want something different for their kids.
It also feeds a stultifying monopoly and tends to empower those interest groups
that know how to bend the monopoly to their will. Dynamism Devotees are better
suited to meet parental demands and to empower autonomy-seeking educators—but
they can’t promise that their “unbundling” of the system won’t lead to lots of
poorly served schools (and kids).
Thankfully, the two visions can
be combined; the resulting approach might be labeled One Size Fits Most. For
the majority of American schools, we follow the Coherence Camp’s cues. We build
national standards (à la Common Core), we develop a handful of national
curricula, we connect pre-service and in-service training to the standards, and
we tie accountability for schools, teachers, and students to them, too. We
continue to minimize the role of the 14,000 school boards (if not eliminate
them outright) by empowering states to take an ever-larger role in all aspects
of educational improvement. And through these mechanisms, we make the “default”
option in American public education—the “typical” public school—much better
than it is today.
same time, we make it easy for educators and parents to opt out of this One Best
System. We grow the charter and digital sectors aggressively and remove the
barriers that are keeping them from achieving their full, dynamic potential.
And we even consider going back to the original charter concept—allowing
schools to negotiate their own unique performance expectations with their
authorizers, rather than being held accountable to the One Best System’s
standards. More specifically, we allow charters and digital providers (or at
least some subset) to opt out of the Common Core framework entirely, and to
proffer their own evidence of educational achievement.
This is a classic call for 'both, and' rather than 'either, or.'
This is a classic call for “both, and” rather than
“either, or.” Done right, it could accelerate the benefits of both the
Coherence and Dynamism approaches—while mitigating their weaknesses. And it
could allow an escape valve for some of the overheated debates in which we’re
stuck. Don’t like the Common Core? Opt out. Don’t think our schools should be
driven by market forces? Opt in. How about we give this option a try?
Opinion: Duncan vs. Perry
E. Finn, Jr.
gloves are off. What vestiges remained of bipartisanship on education in
Washington has been buried. And education may yet turn into a major issue in
the 2012 presidential race.
this in the wake of Rick Perry’s recent entry into that race. Though the
Governor has not (yet) put education on his campaign agenda—it is not, for
example, one of the four issues
highlighted on his new Perry for President website—he has, on multiple
occasions, depicted Texas as an independent-minded model of educational
progress. Everyone knows that he wanted no part of Race to the Top or of the Common
Core standards. Nor
is it any secret that he thinks the federal government should butt out of
just about everything. Or that he has many bones to pick with higher
education in the Lone Star State and beyond.
week Arne Duncan, usually a nonpolitical sort of guy, went after Perry,
six-guns blazing, regarding the Texas
education record. And the retaliation against Duncan’s attack has been swift
folks have already responded to Duncan, as have many others (from within
Texas and without).
More such jousting will continue and probably intensify. But this issue isn’t
just a Perry-Duncan (or even a Perry-Obama) thing. Shrinking the role of
government—every government—in education is one of Michele Bachmann’s favorite
themes. (Though she doesn’t yet have it on her website, either.) And it will
end up being part of the policy arsenal of every GOP candidate.
last week, however, I thought education would itself play a minor role in the
2012 election, as in 2008, partly because other issues loom larger but also
because Duncan and Obama stole so much of the traditional GOP ed-policy thunder
as to leave Republican candidates with little to say that’s fresh or
differentiating on this topic. But I didn’t reckon with Perry and Bachmann. And
I surely never imagined that Duncan himself would cast the first stone.
he was glad to get even with Perry’s denunciations of RTTT. Perhaps Duncan got into stone-hurling mode under White
House orders, or perhaps his pellets of attack just slipped out (twice). Perhaps
the Texas governor has those in the White House worried. Perhaps they should
This piece originally
appeared (in a slightly different format) on Fordham’s Flypaper
blog. To subscribe to Flypaper, click here.
|Click to listen to commentary on Duncan's remarks from the Education Gadfly Show podcast.
News Analysis: The school-to-prison pipeline
Last month, we learned from a
landmark Justice Center/Public Policy Research Institute report that 54
percent of Texas students received in-school suspension and 31 percent received
out-of-school suspension at least once between their seventh- and twelfth-grade
years. (The researchers looked at data from 2000 to 2008). This week, possibly
joining the “gang up on Rick Perry before he becomes a serious threat to the
world as we know it” movement, the Washington
Post explains how this “no excuses” ethos plays out for kids in the Lone
Star State. It seems that children as young as five are receiving “tickets”
that require court appearances and may result in hefty fines, community-service
hours, behavior-modification classes, and criminal records. The tickets (which
connote Class C misdemeanors) come when students use offensive language,
disrupt class, or tussle with another in the schoolyard. Unpaid fines can lead
to an arrest warrant upon a student’s seventeenth birthday. Gadfly is all for effective
school discipline, but please, let’s keep it out of the courts. Grown-ups do
more than enough litigating and misbehaving and judges are not well-suited to
settle playground tussles.
Review: Globally Challenged: Are U.S. Students Ready to Compete?
Last November, Harvard’s Program on Education
Policy and Governance (PEPG) teamed up with Education
Next to assess how well American states fare at getting their students to advanced levels in mathematics compared
to their international peers. (Hint:
not so well.) Continuing this line of work, this new PEPG/Ed Next report analyzes how successful
states are at lifting their students to proficient
levels—this time for both math and reading. To do so, Paul Peterson, Ludgar
Woessman, Eric Hanushek, and Carlos Lastra-Anadon performed a crosswalk between
NAEP and PISA results for math and reading for the Class of 2011 (a
representative sample of which took both the eighth-grade NAEP in 2007 and the
fifteen-year-old PISA in 2009). And the findings aren’t any more promising: In
terms of math proficiency, the U.S. average puts us on par with Iceland, Italy,
and Spain. Our worst states, Alabama and New Mexico, rank below Turkey and just
ahead of Bulgaria and Serbia. Similar results are found with reading. The
report goes on to explain that America’s lackluster results aren’t just about
our achievement gap; even U.S. white students don’t command international
acclaim—they are surpassed (in terms of percent proficient) by students from
sixteen countries in math and eight countries in reading. Going further, the
research team determined that the U.S. could enjoy staggering bumps in its
annual GDP growth per capita by enhancing the math proficiency of its
students—we’re talking $75 trillion over twenty years (which is roughly five
times our current GDP). The debt-ceiling super-commission might want to take a
Review: Grade Inflation for Education Majors and Low Standards for Teachers: When Everyone Makes the Grade
Education schools have long been criticized for accepting
students of middling caliber. This new study by University of Missouri
professor Cory Koedel demonstrates that low standards do not rise once these
students are enrolled. He finds that getting a high GPA as an education major is
easier to accomplish than receiving similar marks from any other department on
campus. In fact, at Koedel’s own university, students in the education
department boast an average 3.7 GPA.
On average, education-department GPAs are 0.5 to 0.8 grade points higher than
in the other departments. These higher grades cannot be explained by higher-quality
students or the smaller class sizes of ed schools. (In general, ed-school
students posted lower college-entrance exams than others in their university
cohorts, and the analysis adjusted for class-size effects.) From this research,
Koedel draws two conclusions: We are training teachers who know less (because
they are forced to work less hard for the “easy A”), and education departments
are contributing to a culture of low standards for educators. (To this point,
Koedel connects lax grading rigor in ed departments to the norm of
overwhelmingly positive teacher evaluations in public schools.) Ed schools
often complain about getting no respect; making it harder to get an A is one
simple thing they could do to help correct that.
|Click to listen to commentary on Cory Koedel's paper from the Education Gadfly Show podcast.
From The Web
The Education Gadfly Show Podcast: Husky, sexy voices
Mike and Rick get punchy this week, asking Arne
Duncan what he was thinking going after Rick Perry, why the cheating scandals
are snowballing (and why people thought it would be otherwise), and if four-day
weeks are as bad as they seem. Amber goes back to ed school to pad her GPA and
Chris reminds a Florida teacher of his first-amendment rights.
Click to listen to the podcast on our website. You can also download the podcast here or subscribe on iTunes here.
Flypaper's Finest: The name game
It’s silly season again, and I’m not referring
to the Republican primaries. No, I’m thinking about the all-out battle for
proponents and opponents of “reform” to stick a nasty label on the other side
and claim the mantle of truth and goodness for themselves. This is nothing new,
of course (Sean Cavanagh had a smart
piece in Ed Week about this in March). But the battle continues apace.…
Click to read the rest on Flypaper.
Flypaper's Finest: Taunting Michelle Rhee
By Peter Meyer
Having been stiffed by many a good (and bad)
source (including a few educators) in my career as a journalist, I was tempted
to advise Michael Winerip to lay off Michelle Rhee for his “Eager
for Spotlight, But Not If It Is on a Testing Scandal” column
in Monday’s New York Times. But
despite some petulant prose (“she preens for the cameras”) and questionable
assessments (has Rhee’s reputation really “rested on her schools’ test scores”?),
Winerip is right: Rhee really should discuss the brewing Washington, D.C.,
public-school-cheating charges that a USA Today reporting team
unearthed last May.…
Click to read the rest on Flypaper.
Gadfly Studios: When reform touches teachers
AFT president Randi Weingarten and AEI education
guru Rick Hess sat down at Fordham this week to hash out their differences on a
variety of teacher policies—in a lively conversation that was more light than
the video here.
Briefly Noted: Shake, rattle, and roll
year, Kansas City supe Wm. John Covington made
headlines when he shuttered close to half of the district’s schools (a
smart right-sizing move for a district whose enrollment dropped by half over
the past decade). Now, he’s
on page one again—this time to announce that his two years at the helm of
Kansas City Schools is ending. Quite a chief to lose.
- Good to
know that, even in times of geological terror, the edu-tweeters
out there stay witty and wry.
Klein may not be grinding away in the NYC DOE anymore, but, when it comes to
smart takes on ed-policy issues, he hasn’t lost his edge. This week, he
reviews Steve Brill’s Class
Warfare and Terry Moe’s Special
Interest—and, in a Reuters
piece, argues that the sharpest
blade of reform is wielded by parents.
be damned: District officials in the Windy City announced
on Tuesday that they would lengthen the city’s school day by ninety minutes
and the school year by two weeks. Guess who’s not happy with the decision?
(Hint: their acronym is CTU.)
all the back-and-forth, Diane Ravitch and Steve Brill sat down to discuss where
to take education policy. (Think they heard about what Rick and Randi had
planned and decided to do the same?) There was even some laughing.
The year of the rabbit, of school choice, and of teacher-tenure
reform. So far, eighteen states have changed their tenure or
budget shortfalls continue to weigh heavily on districts, something’s got to
give. In NYC, that something is 777
school employees, getting dropped thanks to the dual burden of tighter
budgets and inflexible union contracts.
- Curious as to what some
benefits of digital learning might be? Examples
from higher education abound.
Announcement: A position for all seasons and regions
What do Tennessee and
Massachusetts have in common? Solid education-reform organizations in both
states are looking for directors of policy and research. If country music is
more your style, find out more about the position in TN with the State
Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) here. If
you’d prefer to be Beacon Hill-bound, learn more about the opening with the
Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education (MBAE) here.
Featured Fordham Publication: American Achievement in International Perspective
The latest results of the Programme for
International Student Assessment (PISA) garnered all the usual headlines about
America’s lackluster performance and the rise of competitor nations. And to be
sure, the findings—that America’s fifteen-year-olds perform in the middle of
the pack in both reading and math—are disconcerting for a nation that considers
itself an international leader, priding itself on its home-grown innovation,
intellect, and opportunity. But that’s not the entire story. Particularly among
other industrialized and advanced nations, the U.S. still has the upper hand in
one critical measure—size. In this brief analysis, we analyzed the data to
compare the PISA performance of the U.S. and thirty-three other nations in the
Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Read
on to learn more.