Opinion and News Analysis
Opinion: Republicans for Education Reform
By Michael J. Petrilli
months—no, years—the ESEA discussion has been nothing short of maddening. While
many pundits decry the lack of a “clear route to reauthorization,” an obvious
bipartisan solution has been sitting there, ready for the picking. It goes
something like this: Step away from federal heavy-handedness around states’
accountability and teacher-credentialing systems; keep plenty of transparency
of results in place, especially test scores disaggregated by racial and other
subgroups; offer incentives for embracing promising reforms instead of
mandates; and give school districts a lot more flexibility to move their
federal dollars around as they see fit.
Fordham call this “Reform
Realism”—a pro-school-reform orientation leavened with realism about what
the federal government can and cannot do well in K-12 education. But it also
describes the spirit of the Obama Administration’s ESEA blueprint,
released last year.
These bills could pass both chambers of Congress tomorrow.
now, thanks to a handful of moderately conservative GOP senators, including
former Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander, we have actual legislative
language bringing this commonsense approach to life. In a package of five
separate bills—a “step-by-step” approach rather than one mega-measure—the
senators offer a proposal that would fix all of the onerous provisions of No
Child Left Behind without abandoning its focus on reform.
the legislation can be fairly described as a rollback of NCLB—which is
precisely what vast swaths of Americans have been demanding as the shortcomings
of that mega-measure become more evident, its excesses become more painful, and
its remedies prove themselves ineffectual. The reform package offered by
Alexander et al. would eliminate “adequate yearly progress,” hand
“accountability” back to the states, and undo the law’s “highly qualified
teachers” mandate. But it doesn’t abdicate Uncle Sam’s interest in reform, or
in the country’s neediest students. States would still be required to take
dramatic action to turn around their very worst schools. Title I funding would
continue to flow to the highest-need schools and districts. Students would
continue to be tested in grades three through eight and once in high school,
and the results would continue to be reported widely and by subgroup. The
approach is tight-loose, incentives over mandates, transparency over
accountability. It’s “reform realism” through and through.
particularly impressive about this legislative package is its rare combination
of thoughtfulness and humility. Take the issue of teacher evaluation. Senator
Alexander, for one, believes fervently in the power of rigorous evaluations to
drive educational improvement. His home state of Tennessee—one of the original
Race to the Top victors—is putting one of the country’s most aggressive teacher-evaluation
systems in place. Yet Alexander stopped short of demanding that Uncle Sam
mandate such a system for every state. He understands that he’s no longer a
governor but a senator—and that to mandate a promising reform like teacher
evaluation is to kill it—or render it toothless, just like “HQT” turned out.
This kind of restraint is remarkable—and comes from the hard-earned experience
of watching Washington smother promising reforms through its embrace.
|Click to listen to commentary on this set of bills from the Education Gadfly Show podcast.
bills also find a clear route through the Common Core thicket. They strike the
right balance—requiring states to adopt college-and-career standards but
maintaining a position of neutrality on whether those states should develop
standards together or alone. This is the best possible place for Common Core
and those states that earnestly want to employ it—with no federal government
entanglement at all.
sane world, leaders from both parties would welcome the Alexander approach and
bring these bills to the floor of the House and Senate as soon as possible, and
the Obama Administration would laud the package for its fidelity to its
“blueprint.” (John Kline should certainly appreciate its respect for the Tenth
Amendment.) To be sure, the legislative language could be massaged this way or
that. Debates should be held around the particulars. But the broad contours are
perhaps best of all, these bills could pass both chambers of Congress tomorrow.
Rank and file members of both parties want to undo NCLB’s prescriptiveness
around accountability—but don’t want to “cut and run” either. This points the
that’s why Democrats for Education Reform reacted to the package with such
swift viciousness yesterday. This generally admirable group—so effective at
giving Democrats at the state level the political cover to break with the
teachers unions—has an unfortunate tendency on federal policy to believe that
Washington knows best. (Its policy director was a longtime staffer for
Representative George Miller, one of the key architects of NCLB.) In a widely
statement, the group described the plan as “a stunning retreat on two
decades of reform” and wondered whose “bidding” the senators were doing.
staffers are implying that the Republican Party—the party of Scott Walker, John
Kasich, Mitch Daniels, and Chris Christie—has decided to jump in bed with the
teacher unions, then they’ve really lost their marbles. Sure, GOP principles on
federalism and the unions’ disdain for accountability lead to a similar place
on specific features of ESEA. But for reformers to believe that states will
automatically back away from tough love for schools if given the chance is to
admit weakness at the state policy level. Republican governors and legislators,
the “Chiefs for Change,” and a growing number of DFER-type Democrats have
proven themselves more than capable to carry the mantle of reform without help
from Uncle Sam.
a new slogan going around Washington this week: “Pass this bill.” When it comes
to the GOP ESEA proposal, I say, “Yes we can.”
This piece originally
appeared (in a slightly different format) on Fordham’s Flypaper blog. To subscribe to Flypaper, click here.
News Analysis: Computer-adapting to cheating
Look Mom, no more erasure scandals!
(Photo by David Oliva)
These days, teacher-evaluation systems that
incorporate students’ test scores are spreading like wildfire. And there’s
little sign that these initiatives will be contained to the twenty-six states
that currently have them. Yet checks for potential cheating on these selfsame
assessments haven’t been as vigorously promulgated, a point nattily
made this week by Alexander Russo. According to a USA Today analysis, only half the states either conducted erasure
analyses (to check for cheating) or used computer-based assessments in
2010-11. (Perhaps there’s lots of overlap between these two groups of
states—but Gadfly wouldn’t bet on it.) Thing is, with strapped budgets and
looming NCLB proficiency requirements, many states see few incentives to spend
beaucoup bucks on erasure analyses. Fortunately, this tempest may soon end.
Both PARCC and SBAC, the two groups working on creating Common Core
assessments, will employ computer-based tests beginning in the 2014-15 school
year. This use of technology will make test erasures a moot point for the
forty-four states plus D.C. that have signed on to one of the consortia and
adopted the CCSS—though it will surely usher in the need for other safeguards
against exam hacking and other malfeasances. But these jurisdictions also
benefit from economy of scale, which can help curb cheating, without breaking
the bank. CCSS adopters: 1; test cheating: 0.
states examine test erasures,” by Marisol Bello and Greg Toppo, USA Today, September 13, 2011.
are put to the test,” by Stephanie Banchero and David Kesmodel, Wall Street Journal, September 13, 2011.
States Don’t Check for Cheating, Despite Scandals,” by Louis Beckett, ProPublica and Education Week, September
News Analysis: Rahm goes long
In the Chicago Public Schools, the average
school day is just five hours and eight minutes, the briefest in Illinois and
one of the shortest in the nation. (A big deal, when you lay this fact next to all
the research on the benefits of added instructional time.) Yet efforts to
extend the day have long been derailed by the obdurate Chicago Teachers Union.
Not even Arne Duncan could alter that reality. Now enters Illinois’s newly
enacted SB7 and Chicago’s newly elected spitfire mayor, Rahm Emanuel. SB7 allows
him to unilaterally lengthen the school day, starting in 2012. Emanuel,
unimpressed with that timeline (or daunted by the CTU’s intransigence), has
embarked on a building-by-building campaign to lengthen the school day in the
Windy City. So far, teachers at six (and counting) CPS elementary schools have
voted to accept Emanuel’s offer of a two-percent raise and $150,000 in
additional school funding in return for waiving this item in their contract and
adding ninety minutes to the school day. In response to these “rogue” teachers,
the CTU has filed
suit against Emanuel and his school board, accusing them of unfair labor
practices. CTU officials should carefully note against whom they fight. It was
not Emanuel who signed the death certificate of Chicago’s abridged school day
but the teachers. Taking up arms against their own ranks? No good can come of
News Analysis: To be or not to be—moral, that is
Earlier this week, David Brooks floored
readers—and vindicated nostalgic old grumps—when he detailed new research out
of Notre Dame showing that young adults lack an ability to discuss, or even
define, morality. That’s the bad news. The good news comes from Paul Tough. In
his NY Times Magazine piece, Tough profiles two disparate school
models—one, an elite Gotham private school; the other, the KIPP network—and how
they are both deliberately (and successfully) infusing lessons on character,
grit, and morality into the veins of their students. Both schools even appraise
their students’ moral fiber using a twenty-four item questionnaire developed by
researchers at UPenn. (The questionnaire assesses students on both
“performance” character and “moral” character—whether you can persevere through
hardship, and whether you can remain compassionate while doing so.) Kudos to
Riverdale Country School and KIPP for tackling these tough issues—and for
giving old grumps a reason for hope.
|Click to listen to commentary on Brooks's column from the Education Gadfly Show podcast.
Review: Evaluation of the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program: Participation, Compliance and Test Scores in 2009-10
Since 2002, the Sunshine State has run a popular
tax-credit scholarship program: At present, over 15,000 low-income students in
grades three through ten access 1,000-plus private schools through it. But how
effective has the program been at promoting their academic success? According
to this annual report (the fourth in the series) from project director and Northwestern U. scholar David Figlio: quite. Florida’s
tax-credit scholarship program (FTC) serves a particularly needy subset of the
state’s students: FTC participants are significantly lower-income and
lower-performing than the average student qualifying for free or reduced-price
lunch. Yet this year’s FTC participants maintained their performance on
norm-referenced tests (like the Stanford Achievement Test or Iowa Test of Basic
Skills) relative to students nationally, regardless of income. Going further,
Figlio compares students who barely missed the income cut-off mark for
participation against those who do make it into the program, finding a small
but substantive positive effect from participation in both reading and math.
These differences are larger than in previous years, suggesting, says Figlio,
“that successive cohorts of participating students may be gaining ground over
time.” These findings are encouraging—though Figlio adds some sobering
qualifications. Comparing scores across a variety of tests (FTC participants
take any of three tests, while public-school students take another) requires
some complex statistical yoga, for example. Likewise, conclusions about
causation are full of caveats, since applicants are not randomly selected for
participation. Still and all, this report offers a solid boost for the
tax-credit crowd—especially important in this “year
of school choice.”
Review: Incomplete: How Middle Class Schools Aren’t Making the Grade
This report from Third Way,
a self-proclaimed “moderate” policy think tank, has garnered much attention
this week, following its Wall
Street Journal profile on
Monday. But should it have? By linking NAEP data to schools’ percentages of
students on free or reduced-price lunch (FRPL), the report comes to three
conclusions: most American students attend middle-class schools; middle-class
schools spend less per student and have a greater student-teacher ratio than wealthy
and lower-income schools; and middle-class schools are underperforming. Thing
is, the report doesn’t actually look at middle-class schools; but, rather, at
those that are economically diverse: The definition used here for “middle
class” is a school with between 26 and 75 percent of its students on FRPL. The
analysts don’t have a clue how many students actually belong to the “middle
class.” (All we can learn from school-level data is the percentage of poor (and
non-poor) kids, as defined by FRPL eligibility.) Further, the report’s focus on
“low” school spending ($10,350 per pupil) and “high” student-teacher ratio
(17.5:1) as ailments of our middle-class schools is also problematic, as it
implies a need to bump school spending and drop class sizes in these
schools—reforms that have already been tried and found wanting. A rigorous
report examining the efficacy of middle-class schools is surely in order (if
someone could figure out a way to access family income data for individual
students); this piece from Third Way is not it.
|Click to listen to commentary on Third Way's report from the Education Gadfly Show podcast.
Review: Common Core State Standards: Progress and Challenges in School Districts’ Implementation
Back during the frosty days of January, the
Center for Education Policy issued
a bleak account of states’ progress toward implementation of the Common
Core State Standards. Reporting on a survey conducted at the end of 2010, CEP
found that, on key implementation issues like curriculum development and
assessment alignment, states had made little progress. This newest piece from
the same shop reports on a spring 2011 district
survey of the same ilk—and the responses are much cheerier. From it, we learn
that two-thirds of districts have already started developing a plan for
implementing the standards this academic year. And fully 80 percent had undertaken at
least one district-initiated implementation activity (including developing or
purchasing new curricular materials or developing new local assessments)—a
figure that would surely be higher today. Still, two-thirds of surveyed
districts cite unclear state guidance as a major challenge of CCSS
implementation. One benefit of the Common Core standards is the potential
collaboration between districts—and among states—on very things like curricular
materials and assessments. While these individual district-led initiatives
should be commended, the states must start owning implementation burdens—and
not hoist them on local education agencies alone.
From The Web
The Education Gadfly Show Podcast: Amber meets the shoe bomber
Before embarking on a moral crusade, Mike and
Rick laugh in the face of ESEA reauth and downplay the statistical importance
of the SAT. Amber makes Third Way’s new report look silly and Chris applies for
medical stress leave.
Click to listen to the podcast on our website. You can also download the podcast here or subscribe on iTunes here.
Flypaper's Finest: Zen and the art of school-board maintenance
By Peter Meyer
about halfway through our four-hour school board “Governance Team Retreat” when
I saw an opening…The board “should not second-guess” the administration’s
recommendations “except in extreme circumstances,” we were told. It should
“trust the professionals”…
exactly what we’ve been doing for ten years,” I blurted, “trusting the
professionals. We were eighty-third out of eighty-six districts in the region
ten years ago and we are eighty-third out of eighty-six today—by letting the professionals do their work.”
There was a slight
silence, but not a heavy one. In fact, our facilitator rather quickly replied,
“That’s the board’s fault.”
It was a revelatory, if head-spinning, moment.…
Click to read the rest on Flypaper.
Flypaper's Finest: For best and worst schools in OH, AYP status seems accurate
AYP, or “adequate yearly progress,”
has become one of the most derided parts of the No Child Left Behind Act and
the accountability requirements it set in motion for states. Simply put, a
school makes AYP if it is progressing adequately enough toward meeting NCLB’s
goal of having 100 percent of children proficient in key tested subjects by
2014, and fails to meet AYP if it’s not…
But how heinously inaccurate is the AYP measure when
you really break it down?...
Click to read the rest on Flypaper.
Gadfly Studios: Rick and Randi on Wisconsin
The American Enterprise Institute’s Rick Hess
and the American Federation of Teacher’s President Randi Weingarten discuss the
negative tone of education debates in Wisconsin and across the country. Watch
the video here.
Briefly Noted: Step away from the edge
- Put down the brown paper bag; breathe normally.
The news this week that SAT scores are lowest since 1995 (and critical reading
scores are the lowest in history) might
not be as bad as you think. More students than ever are sitting for the
exam, drawing from a more ethnically, economically, and academically diverse
pool of youngsters. Truth is, because the test’s population isn’t nationally
representative and changes from year to year, we don’t know what to make of the
trends, whether up, down, or sideways.
college students frequent half.com for their textbooks and consider beef Ramen
to be a balanced meal. At course-selection time, frugal co-eds at Chicago’s
National Louis University have a new way to exercise their miserly tendencies: Sign
up for courses through Groupon.
- No one is against healthy school lunches—but the
at the end of the meal has districts “stress eating.”
- Joseph Hawkins of Westat, via Jay Matthews, challenges
anyone to name one school where a successful parent revolution took place.
Well, can you?
- With overwhelming bipartisan support, the House
passed the Empowering Parents through Quality Charter Schools Act, updating the
charter-school provisions within the current Elementary and Secondary Education
Act. So, does this signal the potential for an imminent reauthorization of
ESEA? Doubtful—but the plan being cooked up in the Senate now might.
- Love Finland and fear China? Or just plain sick
of PISA and want some other international-comparative data to reference in
conversation? The OECD released its annual Education at a Glance
report on Tuesday. Expect more from us on this front next week.
Parents sick of endless school “open houses,” sick of
sipping Hawaiian punch, shaking principals’ hands, and trying desperately to
find the right fit for your child, turn
to the latest Ed Next podcast for
a remedy. In it, Peg Tyre, author of the new book, The Good School explains parents’ concerns and her advice to host
Announcement: School reform in the City of Angels
Tinseltown mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is a
hard-charging and outspoken champion of education reform. Now in his second
term, Villaraigosa heads to the American Enterprise Institute on September 19
at 1:00PM to explain what he’s learned from his efforts—about mayoral
involvement in reform and about urban-school improvement in general. Those
interested in attending the event, click
here to register. (It will also be streaming live.)
Announcement: Explore all Avenues
Avenues: The World School—a new Pre-K-12
private-education venture that will offer students an international curriculum
and access to campuses around the world—is on the hunt for curriculum
specialists and heads of grades for its inaugural campus in Gotham. If you’re
interested in helping to shape the Manhattan campus and scale the program globally,
learn more about the open
Announcement: Analyze this
Education Sector already has a smart blog with a
witty domain name, the Quick and the Ed. But could it also have you? The think
tank is hiring a K-12 senior policy analyst. Candidates should be strong
writers with a demonstrated ability to think through complex policy issues
around K-12 ed reform. For more information, including how to apply, head
Featured Fordham Publication: ESEA Briefing Book
Political leaders (may still) 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 to adopt academic standards tied to
college and career readiness? Should the new 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 “reform realist” solutions for ESEA. Read
on to learn more.