The Education Gadfly The Education Gadfly A Bulletin of Weekly News and Analysis from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute
Volume 11, Number 42. October 27, 2011.

In This Edition

The Education Gadfly Show took a break this week to allow Mike and Rick time to prep their Bert and Ernie Halloween costumes. The podcast will return next week.

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Opinion and Analysis

Let the implementation begin!
Next steps for Common Core
Opinion | Kathleen Porter-Magee

Michigan’s ed school is on the Ball
Getting serious about teacher preparation
News Analysis

Better late than never
The Washington PTA finds charters
News Analysis

Up with pencils, up with books
Silicon Valley taps its rustic roots
News Analysis

Lessons from the Land of the Morning Calm
South Korea’s novel problem: Too many college grads
News Analysis

Short Reviews

State of the States: Trends and Early Lessons on Teacher Evaluation and Effectiveness Policies
NCTQ’s two-pronged push for increased teacher effectiveness
Review | Daniela Fairchild

The Effect of Charter Schools on Student Achievement: A Meta-Analysis of the Literature
Add up all the research and charters look good
Review | Laura Johnson

Redefining Teacher Pensions: Strategically Defined Benefits for New Teachers and Fiscal Sustainability for All
Cash benefits have their place
Review | Michael Ishimoto

Odd Man Out: How Government Supports Private Sector Innovation, Except in Education
Supporting the private sector post Solyndra
Review | Tyson Eberhardt

From The Web

Postcard from China: Waking up to the needs of all students
Does rhetoric meet reality?
Flypaper's Finest | October 26, 2011 | Amber Winkler

The Other Achievement Gap
But what about the high flyers?
Gadfly Studios | October 19, 2011


ED giveth and ED taketh away?
And a win-win for students and the unions!
Briefly Noted

Rethinking education governance
A landmark conference: December 1

Internships never seemed so good
Fordham wants YOU for our winter/spring cohort

All in the family
Bridge the classroom-to-living-room divide with YEP-DC

Now What? Imperatives and Options for Common Core Implementation and Governance
Paving the path forward
Featured Fordham Publication

Opinion and News Analysis

Opinion: Let the implementation begin!
By Kathleen Porter-Magee

The adoption of the Common Core State Standards has upped the quality of most states’ English language arts and math expectations. But, for them to positively impact student achievement, we must get implementation right. This is a rare opportunity: States have set the bar higher. Now it’s time to jump.

Unfortunately, effective implementation is hardly inevitable. Consider the lackluster results witnessed in several states that adopted strong standards in the 1990s, only to see them ignored.

In some states, such as California and Indiana, this was because the assessments to which the standards were tied weren’t strong enough, or they weren’t tied to a meaningful state accountability system. In other states, teachers had limited access to high-quality curricular and instructional resources that were properly aligned to their state’s standards. These challenges have caused many to question the potential of standards-driven reforms; to wonder whether we need to focus our attentions elsewhere.

This is a rare opportunity: States have set the bar higher. Now it’s time to jump.


There is, however, evidence that, done right, standards-driven reform holds enormous promise. In Massachusetts, for instance, a combination of rigorous standards and assessments and thoughtful state-level implementation has catapulted its students to the top of national and international assessments. In fact, since Massachusetts adopted its standards in 1993, the state has seen its achievement levels rise precipitously: from a 23 percent fourth-grade proficiency rate on the NAEP math test in 1992 to a 57 percent proficient rate in 2009. That same year, Massachusetts students outperformed every state on the fourth- and eighth-grade reading and math NAEP, with a greater proportion of students performing at both the proficient and advanced levels.

So as states flesh out their plans to implement the Common Core standards over the next several years, what pieces are most essential to put into place? Here are five questions state officials and reform advocates ought to be asking themselves:

1. What is the role of the state in providing curricular and instructional resources for teachers?

Everyone agrees that teachers need access to rigorous materials aligned to the standards. But who is best positioned to provide those resources to teachers? And to what extent should the state coordinate—or even mandate—scope and sequences, curriculum, or instructional resources? States have attacked this question very differently. Some states (such as Connecticut and Illinois) have focused on providing assessment frameworks and/or blueprints that help clarify how each standard will be assessed at each grade level and help teachers set priorities and plan instruction that is aligned to the state assessment. Other states (like Virginia and Massachusetts) have gone a step further and developed “curriculum frameworks” that not only identify priorities but also give teachers models of how they might teach the standards. And still others (thinking Texas and California on this one) have linked a list of approved textbooks or curriculum resources for teachers. As we look towards Common Core implementation, states will need to decide how heavily they’ll want to prescribe—or even recommend—curriculum and instructional resources.

2. What is the role of the state in identifying professional development needs and training teachers?

All states have some role in training new teachers—either in setting certification requirements, mandating a subject-area or other test, or creating guidelines for state schools of education. But to what extent should they get involved with professional development for existing and veteran teachers? Should state departments of education actually provide training to teachers and principals? Should they play a role in “approving” professional-development providers? Or should these decisions be devolved to district and school leaders? It may seem like a no-brainer that states should play some role in professional development—after all, all teachers will need some level of training to implement the new standards effectively. But any state-led or state-approved professional-development activity will necessarily be a blunt instrument that cannot meet the needs of all teachers. How can states ensure that professional development opportunities are sufficiently varied so that they can be tailored to meet the needs of a variety of teachers?

3. What is the role of the state in student assessment?

NCLB ushered in a requirement that states develop or adopt summative assessments for students in key grades (in third through eighth grade and once in high school). But to what extent should the state provide interim or formative assessments that help teachers track student mastery of standards over time? To date, few states have gone beyond developing summative assessments, but both assessment consortia (PARCC and SBAC) will be developing interim and/or formative assessment tools for teachers. Should states mandate their use? And, if they do, what impact will these decisions have on curriculum flexibility and planning for all schools, including charter and other schools of choice?

4. What role should the state play in helping struggling schools?

Even the most thoughtful implementation policies will suffer if implementation practice isn’t done right. Every state has some schools with weak leaders, ineffective teachers, or both. What is the role of the state in helping schools that are struggling to meet achievement targets on their own? Should states mandate curriculum and/or summative and formative assessment tools for struggling schools even when they don’t for others? Or, should state policies focus on turnarounds and takeovers?

5. What role should standards and assessment play in district, school, and teacher evaluation?

Both of the Common Core assessment consortia have committed to developing assessments whose results will be valid for use in teacher and school-leader evaluations. But to what extent should state policies dictate how student achievement should be used in teacher evaluations? How long should teachers be given to adjust to the new standards in these evaluation systems? And what impact do these policies have on the ability of school and district leaders to make hiring and firing decisions independently?

What’s next?

There are undoubtedly a host of additional implementation challenges that states will face over the next year and beyond. But addressing these big-picture questions is the first step towards setting states up for successful standards implementation. It will be a long and bumpy road. But the view at the end will be well worth the voyage.

This piece was originally published (in a slightly different form) as one of a series of policy briefs written for the PIE-Net annual summit. The other briefs are available here.


News Analysis: Michigan's ed school's on the Ball

hammer photo

UMich takes a hammer to the
walls of the ivory tower.
(Photo by The Fixer)

According to Deborah Loewenberg Ball, dean of Michigan’s education school: “Teacher training in this country is in deep trouble.” Gadfly—and myriad other smart policymakers, education shops, and concerned citizens—couldn’t agree more. But Ball goes one further: This week, she’s unveiled TeachingWorks, a wing of the UMich ed school that will focus on “raising the standard for practice as a classroom teacher by transforming how teachers are prepared and supported.” While details of the initiative are still fuzzy, the skills that Ball seems to be pushing into education-school curricula—teaching educators to communicate with parents and manage small group work effectively—are a welcome change from the typical blather about Piaget and Paulo Freire. And the nineteen specific skills distilled by TeachingWorks should help bring some order to the unruly and cacophonous court of teacher preparation. If more education schools sign on to the initiative, we might even be looking at the beginnings of “common core” teaching standards. How novel.

In South Korea, too many college grads, too few jobs,” by Fred Hiatt, The Washington Post, October 24, 2011.

With workplace training, Japan’s Kosen colleges bridge ‘skills gap’,” by Blaine Harden, The Hechinger Report, October 16, 2011.


News Analysis: Better late than never

There’s reason for (cautious) optimism that one of the most obstinate holdouts against school choice may finally be coming around. Washington State’s PTA recently added support of charter schools to its agenda, giving reform advocates an invaluable ally in the marathon struggle to bring charters to the Evergreen State. Having the parents on board, sadly, does not guarantee that students in Seattle and Spokane will enjoy the opportunity to choose from a vibrant array of public education options. Washington is the most populous and intransigent of the nine states that still prohibit charter schools, having resisted attempts at reform for nearing two decades. The unions used the state’s initiative process to defeat pushes for charter schools in 1996 and 2004, the latter time rejecting a bill supported by both the legislature and governor. Still, the growth of organizations in the region committed to changing the status quo (Gates anyone?), combined with pressures for cost-effective solutions during a budget crunch, may give the charters the momentum they need. Parent Teacher Associations have often been leery of charters—perhaps a function of “T” overly influencing “P”—so it’s doubly heartening to see a PTA stepping up for school choice in a state where it’s needed most.

Washington PTA wants charter schools reconsidered,” by Donna Gordon Blankinship, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, October 20, 2011.


News Analysis: Up with pencils, up with books!

early 20th century classroom photo

Silicon Valley is kicking it old school.
(Photo by Caitlyn Willows)

Scorners of digital-learning initiatives have found a few powerful and unlikely allies. At the Waldorf School of the Peninsula, set deep in the heart of Silicon Valley, children of higher-ups from Google, Apple, and eBay learn through creative, hands-on tasks. There is not one computer or smartboard or tablet to be found. And School of the Peninsula isn’t alone in its methods; nationwide, there are over 160 Waldorf schools (most but not all of them private). While digital instruction surely works for some, others find comfort and success in a more holistic and physically engaging classroom. To which Gadfly says: Great! We’d never think to ask all parents to ascribe to the same religion, sign their children up for the same extracurricular activities, or feed them like meals. Prescribing one educational model for all families would be equally as foolish. Different strokes…

A Silicon Valley School That Doesn’t Compute,” by Matt Ritchel, New York Times, October 22, 2011.


News Analysis: Lessons from the Land of the Morning Calm

arm wrestling photo

Too many college graduates?
What a terrible problem to have.
(Photo by John Walker)

An omen of what’s to come in the U.S.? The South Korean government has launched an initiative pushing students away from the traditional four-year college-degree program: With a 60 percent college completion rate—Obama’s target college-completion rate for 2020, remember—South Korea’s economy isn’t able to absorb all degree-bearers into relevant, educationally appropriate positions. Instead of a utopia of educated people, the country lists almost 40 percent of its university grads as unemployed. The government is also rethinking what it would mean to re-up the respect-level of the high school diploma, a certification that carries little weight in the country today. And South Korea isn’t alone: Other countries like Japan have also increased their vocational-school options for students in these tough economic times, and are seeing higher employment rates and happier employers for it. Graduates of Japan’s vocational colleges can expect about twenty job offers each upon graduation, say school officials. These Asian Tigers might be on to something.

In South Korea, too many college grads, too few jobs,” by Fred Hiatt, The Washington Post, October 24, 2011.

With workplace training, Japan’s Kosen colleges bridge ‘skills gap’,” by Blaine Harden, The Hechinger Report, October 16, 2011.


Short Reviews

Review: State of the States: Trends and Early Lessons on Teacher Evaluation and Effectiveness Policies
By Daniela Fairchild

Given recent sea changes to teacher-evaluation-policy—thirty-two states have updated policies in the last three years with much of this movement occurring in 2011—the National Council on Teacher Quality offers up this teaser to its annual State Teacher Policy Yearbook. It offers a comprehensive appraisal of each state’s teacher-evaluation policies, and also explains what eighteen states with the most ambitious evaluation plans (some Race to the Top winners, others not) are up to, ranking each against NCTQ’s ten elements of comprehensive teacher policy. What’s most interesting about the paper are the early lessons it draws from these states’ initiatives. As the authors explain, “teacher effectiveness measures don’t have to be perfect to be useful.” They should, however, include classroom observations, entail third-party evaluations, and incorporate student-growth measures for non-tested subjects. And they don’t need to be the same for teachers of all grades and all subjects. Two words: Read it.

National Council on Teacher Quality. “State of the States: Trends and Early Lessons on Teacher Evaluation and Effectiveness Policies” (Washington, D.C.: National Council on Teacher Quality, October 2011).


Review: The Effect of Charter Schools on Student Achievement: A Meta-Analysis of the Literature
By Laura Johnson

The Effect of Charter Schools on Student Achievement coverThree years ago, Julian Betts and Emily Tang surveyed the charter-effect literature, finding “large-scale heterogeneity in program efficacy”: Some schools outperformed their district peers while others floundered in comparison—though the overall effect of charters was still positive. This updated meta-analysis of charter-effect studies shows that little has changed since 2008. Evaluating all experimental (lottery-comparison) or student-growth studies, the authors find favorable charter-school effects (even when studies of KIPP schools were scrubbed from the dataset) for elementary and middle school math. (The effect on elementary and middle school reading is also positive, but not significantly so; those on high school reading and math are minimal.) And for other factors, like attendance rates and behavior, charter effects are significantly positive. Further delineating the studies, Betts and Tang find urban charters to be more able to lift student achievement than their suburban peers—especially schools in Boston and New York. Yet, even with three years’ more data in hand, the authors caveat their findings: The research landscape is still sparse, they explain, with studies limited by sample size, geographic narrowness, and a disproportionate focus on the KIPP schools. To really understand the variance of charter-school success, it will be imperative to undertake school-level research meant to ID specific successful practices. Still, to those who continue to insist that charter schools “don’t work” we say: “You’re wrong.”

Julian R. Betts and Y. Emily Tang, “The Effect of Charter Schools on Student Achievement: A Meta-Analysis of the Literature.” (Seattle, WA: Center on Reinventing Public Education, October 2011).


Review: Redefining Teacher Pensions: Strategically Defined Benefits for New Teacher and Fiscal Sustainability for All
By Michael Ishimoto

Cast a net into the sea of folks eager to reform teacher-pension plans and you’ll draw up quite an eclectic catch—from those with a goal of increasing the financial stability of state education budgets to those who wish to ensure equity in teacher-workforce distribution. Just as Fordham’s recent “Halting a Runaway Train” report exemplifies the former, this Center for American Progress paper speaks to the latter. In it, author Raegen Miller explains that “teacher pension policy should help attract to teaching especially promising college-graduates and career-changers” and well as “encourage especially effective teachers…to work in the schools with the greatest need.” To reach these ends, Miller offers three recommendations. The first two—amend state constitutions to rigorously scrutinize any benefit-enhancing legislation and amend ESEA to withhold states’ Title I funding if they fail to contribute to their pension systems—are meant to ensure that teachers continue to receive benefits under current defined-benefits plans. The third—implement a cash-balance defined-benefit pension plan—would draw more promising talent to the teaching profession, as it would ensure a steady accrual of pension wealth, distributed evenly over a person’s years of service. It would also allow teachers to move across state lines (perhaps to needier schools) without pension penalty. States fishing for new pension-plan options, but unable to go whole hog for 401(k) style options, would be wise to tap the cash-benefit-plan fishing hole. This paper can show the way.

Raegen T. Miller, “Redefining Teacher Pensions: Strategically Defined Benefits for New Teacher and Fiscal Sustainability for All,” (Washington, D.C.: Center for American Progress, September 2011).


Review: Odd Man Out: How Government Supports Private Sector Innovation, Except in Education
By Tyson Eberhardt

Odd Man Out: Private Enterprise series coverFor too long, the federal government has babied education, shielding it from the wholesome effects of private-sector competition. In fact, John Bailey explains in this AEI brief, if American education is going to improve, a sizeable portion of the funds showered on public and nonprofit education providers should be rerouted to for-profit businesses. American education should be an “ecosystem of various providers and consumers” and should be supported by private-sector-friendly policies like regulation waivers and results-based incentives. To articulate this point, Bailey draws on examples from the energy, space, and healthcare sectors: From turning over the design and construction of space shuttles to paying healthcare providers for switching to electronic records, Bailey showcases smooth-operating public-private partnerships—and casts education as far behind the curve. But his analogies aren’t perfect. Most concerning is the specter of Solyndra and similar examples of waste that lurk in various pages of the paper, surfacing periodically as uncomfortable reminders that the government often struggles to regulate and incentivize without skewing or perverting markets. So while Bailey’s argument is strong and his examples interesting, the devil will be in the details: Check back with AEI in upcoming months as it adds further installments in the Private Enterprise in American Education report series.

John Bailey, “Odd Man Out: How Government Supports Private Sector Innovation, Except in Education,” (Washington, D.C.: American Enterprise Institute, October 2011).


From The Web

Flypaper's Finest: Postcard from China: Waking up to the needs of all students
By Amber Winkler

Amber Winkler, Fordham’s VP for research, is currently traveling around China as a senior fellow with the Global Education Policy Fellowship Program (GEPFP). She’ll be passing along her observations on education in the People’s Republic with periodic “Postcards from China.”

A few days in bustling, smoggy Beijing and one thing is clear: The Chinese appear to have woken up to the needs of all of their students, not just their best and brightest.

We met with officials yesterday from the Beijing Institute of Educational Sciences. Funded by the Chinese government, the Institute operates sixteen research hubs across the country, each with a focus such as basic education, vocational education, curriculum development, etc.…

The Education Gadfly
Click to read the rest on Flypaper.


Gadfly Studios: The Other Achievement Gap

Click to play video

Is “achievement-gap mania,” as Rick Hess calls it, leading to bad policy? Rick and Ulrich Boser of the Center for American Progress offer a point-counterpoint on the issue.



Briefly Noted: ED giveth and ED taketh away?

  • Participants in last week’s Race to the Top panel at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (including our own Mike Petrilli) asked a provocative question: Should ED take back money from RTTT-winning states that fail to deliver on their promises?
  • Crystal Eastman once said, “a good deal of tyranny goes by the name of protection.” In a historical tour de force, Myron Magnet outlines the creeping tyranny of our government—led mostly by the courts—in the name of protection, eminent domain, and school equality. His education example: New Jersey’s Abbott decisions. Chilling, and well worth the read.
  • Think of them as a PTA 2.0: Parent Revolution, Education Reform Now, and Stand for Children are all mobilizing parents against the education establishment—something your grandmother’s parent organization knew nothing about.
  • In a win for the unions, digital education, and the students of Missouri (yes, you read it right, all three), the Show Me State’s governor repealed its knee-jerk ban on Facebook communication between teachers and their students.
  • As various states and districts attempt to mend our tattered teacher-evaluation system, the folks at iNACOL have sewn together their own original set of teaching standards for digital educators. Those looking to revamp teacher-training programs would be wise to take note.
  • Manhattan’s elite private high schools (at least a few of them) are ebbing homework responsibilities for their students; the burnout levels, they say, are just too high. Vicki Abbels would be proud. So would South Korea. Amy Chua, not so much.
  • AP headline reads: “SAT Hires Former FBI Boss to Review Test Scruity.” Cheaters, look alive. College Board isn’t messing around on this one anymore.


Announcement: Rethinking education governance

It’s easy enough to lament our education system’s antiquated and oft counterproductive governance arrangement. But where do we go from here? To think through these thorny issues—and come to some concrete policy conclusions—Fordham has teamed up with the Center for American Progress. Join us—and our bold and forward-thinking cast of panelists—on December 1 for an all-day conference as we tackle the “what next” question. For a full schedule and list of panelists, and to register, click here.


Announcement: Internships never seemed so good

Calling all up-and-coming eduwonks: Fordham is now hiring our winter/spring interns. And we’ve got a menu of options. If you’re a savvy thinker and a witty writer with a background in qualitative or quantitative research, try our research internship. If you’re a creative technophile, let us recommend our new-media internship. We’ve got something for everyone. Check out the job descriptions here.


Announcement: All in the family

The pivotal role that families play in a child’s education is unmistakable. Determining the appropriate federal, state, and local involvement to ensure that engagement is what muddies the waters. To help offer some clarity, YEP-DC is hosting a panel of engaged actors (including Colorado’s Michael Bennett) on November 2, from 6:00 to 8:30PM. The group will explore best practices and evaluate smart policies, while thinking through how to bring them to scale. RSVP here.


Fordham's featured publication: Now What? Imperatives and Options for Common Core Implementation and Governance

Now What? cover

This Fordham Institute publication pushes folks to think about what comes next in the journey to common education standards and tests. Most states have adopted the “Common Core” English language arts and math standards, and most are also working on common assessments. But…now what? The standards won’t implement themselves, but unless they are adopted in the classroom, nothing much will change. What implementation tasks are most urgent? What should be done across state lines? What should be left to individual states, districts, and private markets? Perhaps most perplexing, who will govern and “own” these standards and tests ten or twenty years from now? This report frames three possible models for governing this implementation process. In the end, as you’ll see, the authors recommend a step-by-step approach to coordinate implementation of the Common Core. Read on to find out more.


The Education Gadfly is published weekly (ordinarily on Thursdays), with occasional breaks, by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Regular contributors include Tyson Eberhardt, Daniela Fairchild, Chester E. Finn, Jr., Chris Irvine, Michael Ishimoto, Laura Johnson, Matthew C. Kyle, Jamie Davies O’Leary, Emmy Partin, Michael J. Petrilli, Terry Ryan, Janie Scull, Bianca Speranza, 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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