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Even a careful observer of education policy could wonder, “Who’s actually in charge of public schooling?” That is, at which level of government does the buck stop?

The long shadow cast by NCLB and all of the attention paid to ESSA might convince you that the feds are in control. We also know from experience, though, that local school boards and superintendents make the lion’s share of key decisions. And aren’t state departments and boards of education also important?

It gets even more confusing when there are public disagreements between these different government entities. States and districts routinely quarrel about funding levels. There’s a battle now in Illinois about local and state oversight of charters. In Michigan, there’s a clash over a new state body that could exert control over Detroit’s schools. Uncle Sam infamously got involved in Common Core, which raised state and local hackles galore. Thanks to Pierce, there are also the constitutional rights of parents limiting the authority of all levels of government. The list goes on and on.

The simple (if messy) answer to the basic question of who’s in charge is this: no one and everyone. Like much else in our constitutional system, powers are distributed in a layer-cake or marble-cake...

If a Supreme Court case yields an outcome that virtually every observer predicted, it’s tempting to dismiss the underlying legal issues as predetermined. But what if the result also confounds the expectations of those same prognosticators from just six weeks prior? Something extraordinary must have taken place, right?

That’s exactly what happened in the closely watched case of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, which concluded in a 4-4 split on Tuesday after initially dangling over public sector organizers like the sword of Damocles. When oral arguments were heard in January, the battle lines were familiar: four liberal justices clearly in sympathy with public employee unions, five conservatives set to rule against them. Archconservative Justice Antonin Scalia, who had previously been mentioned as a possible swing vote, gave every impression of siding with his ideological confreres. Headlines from that period were getting a lot of mileage out of words like “bleak” and “brutalized.” And “doomsday.”

And then…well, I guess you know what happened then.

It’s difficult to overstate the effect of Scalia’s death on the court’s deadlock—and, indeed, on the future of organized labor in America. A broad ruling on philosophical lines may have functionally transformed...

Ron Burgundy

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Last week, Education Week’s Alyson Klein had the opportunity to sit down with the men and woman who could be responsible for distributing 11 percent of the nation’s K–12 budget according to a fixed formula. What follows is a lightly edited transcript of that conversation…

Klein: Hello everyone, and thank you all for taking some time out of your schoolyard antics to talk about education policy. I’ll get right to the questions, starting with the Republican front-runner. Mr. Trump, critics say you have yet to articulate a coherent position on education. Can you clarify your position for our readers?

Trump: Oh, I’ll clarify it, Alyson. I’ll clarify it so good you won’t even believe it’s been clarified. Because it will be so great. I mean it will be way better than what we’ve had. And people will love it. That I can promise you. They will love it, because it will be great and because it will be successful and America will be great again. I’ve been very successful. I’ve had a lot of success, some of which has been in the educational field. Just look at Trump University, for example,...

Gob Bluth

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In a startling turn of events, the U.S. Senate has announced that John B. King, Jr. is not, as previously thought, the secretary of education. An Oversight Committee review of last month’s confirmation process concluded that the identically named John King of CNN fame is actually the new head of the Department of Education.

Informed of this news, individual GOP senators acknowledged the difference between the two men and demonstrated varying degrees of glee.

“Mitch gets us all together in the cloakroom and says, ‘The president wants John King. We’ll give him John King.’” recalled Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS). “So we confirmed this TV fella instead. Take that, Barack.”

Though his clean-cut looks, strong jaw, and buttery inflection have won the television personality a loyal following among cable news aficionados, King isn’t known to hold any firm policy views on school choice, Common Core, labor organizing, or any of the other issues that have divided the parties on education over the last few decades. And King himself professed surprise at the selection, noting that he has no interest in schools.

According to his CNN colleagues, King’s favored topics of discussion...

Eric Taylor

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On Thursday, Donald Trump surprised an Ohio high school with an unplanned visit to the freshman civics class at Pyrite Academy.

Blake Herbert, who coaches the school’s football team in addition to teaching Pyrite’s Introduction to Civics class, said he wasn’t expecting the Donald’s drop-by, but added that he wasn’t the least bit surprised to find the orangeish sixty-nine-year-old sitting in the back of his third-period class.

“Trump has really galvanized civics education,” declared Coach Herbert, citing the candidate’s call to “loosen up” libel laws, restrict citizenship rights, and impose religious tests on immigrants, as well as his even-greater-than-Arne disregard for the system of checks and balances. “He’s really motivating kids to study civics. We owe him an enormous debt of gratitude.”

Asked what he hoped his students learned from the would-be Republican nominee’s talk, Herbert was momentarily nonplussed. “Oh, no, no, no. He’s not speaking to the class. He’s attending it,” he corrected. 

The two dozen kids in Herbert’s class mostly assumed the man in the back of the room was a school administrator observing the lesson, Herbert said. They seemed unaware that their new classmate has nearly locked up the...

Toby Flenderson

This week’s Democratic debate featured something more surprising than a Lincoln Chafee cameo: twenty-two minutes of dedicated, substantive discussion on education reform policies. Campbell Brown called it “a dream come true.”

Despite the fact that nearly seven minutes were taken up by Senator Bernie Sanders’ incoherent definition of “private charter schools” (“A school that takes the money from the taxpayer, and then they give it to the people, and the people are not the public people, they’re the private people, the rich people! WALL STREET!!”), the rest was a deep exploration of Bernie’s and Hillary’s perspectives on Common Core, teacher pay, school accountability, and the best ways to evaluate—though both found it rather unnecessary—student progress and teacher impact. Both candidates talked pre-K, and the two drew sharp differences between Clinton’s focus on low-income female students and Sanders’s plan for million-dollar teacher pay.

Unfortunately, as time went on, national viewership plummeted from twelve million to seven. (Not seven million. Seven.)

Part of it was poor timing—NCIS: Baton Rouge came on around minute fifteen—but according to focus group guru Frank Luntz, “voters just don’t give a damn about education policy. I couldn’t even assemble a panel. I offered...

Quincy Magoo

Leading education researchers are celebrating a “breakthrough” in the decades-long struggle to close racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps.

It occurred around 1:45 on the second day of the AEFP conference, as the Urban Institute’s Matt Chingos was presenting his working paper, “Dream World: Preparing for the Sanders Economy.” As he flipped to a slide featuring eighth-grade NAEP scores, the Seventy Four’s Matt Barnum entered the room characteristically late, arms overflowing with blueberry muffins that toppled to the floor when he tripped on a laptop cord. Racing against the five-second rule, he leapt suddenly to his feet in an explosion of crumbs and spittle. “It doesn’t look so bad from back here!” He mumbled through a mouthful of muffin.

Barnum was referring to the achievement gaps depicted on Chingos’s slide, which he claimed were smaller when viewed from a distance. This galvanized sundry researchers in attendance, many of whom were playing Candy Crush at the time.

The University of Washington’s Dan Goldhaber claimed that the gap between rich and poor students looked “almost insignificant” when he extended his arm and “crushed it” between his thumb and index finger (a technique he referred to as “Rubio-ing”).

“This...

Vic Dactylic

They may be young, scrappy, hungry, and happy, but does their knowledge astonish (or are they all brains and no polish)? In Partially Prudent: Hamilton's Effects on Students, a researcher at Maine’s Trinity College examines kids’ content knowledge a day or two after viewing Hamilton.

Her findings are alarming: Sixty-eight percent found George Washington “handsome and charming”; 49 percent associated fines with cabinet members’ lack of rhymes; and 84 percent could neither find nor call to mind the number of children (eight) born to this man so great, nor recall the wife of the famous striver (Elizabeth Schuyler).

Worse, their misconceptions appear to have bled over into pop culture, too. Recent performances by rapper Kanye West have been met with boos. One angry student snapped, “Rap’s all about sampling and sound, but don’t rip off the fathers by whom America was found.”

But critics, hold the phone—these negatives don’t stand alone. Students were twice as likely to know democratic principles the very next day, if the night before that same student saw the play. Forty-eight percent saw differences in the North’s and South’s economic cores, as well as their connection to the Civil War. Even those who...

Uli Kunkel

A new study commissioned by the National Institute for Hustling and Inciting the Launch and Implementation of School Mayhem (NIHILISM) reports that efforts by teachers and principals to enforce discipline in their classrooms have a negative impact on children’s education and future prospects.

Analysts A.J. Kaczynski and V. McVeigh found that “discouraging genuine expression will blunt students’ potential for success and happiness. America’s future would brighten if these faux Officer Krupke’s would allow the Jets and Sharks (and Crips and Bloods) to engage in the behaviors they desire. And anyway, who cares? Nothing matters.”

The report includes a laudatory foreword by Office for Civil Rights head Catherine Lemon. She writes that “my colleagues and I are doing everything in our power to root out discrimination against violent students without regard to race, gender, religion, economic status, or family background. Our counterparts at the Justice Department are also examining the ways in which inhibiting pupil expression may violate the First Amendment.”

SOURCE: A.J. Kaczynski & V. McVeigh, “Nothing Matters: Classroom Discipline and Student Achievement,” NIHILISM (March 2016)....

TFA to feds: “We aren’t a cult!”: Teachers’ unions have long criticized Teach For America’s practice of sending teachers into classrooms after just five weeks of training. Now TFA faces new challenges, as the FBI investigates allegations that it’s a cult. Agents have raised questions about “indoctrinating practices” at Institute, TFA’s summer training program for corps members. They cite a number of “telltale signs”: sleep deprivation, ritualized chanting, lack of compensation, and the shunning of quitters. A TFA representative took strong issue with the federal probe: “This is all a misunderstanding. We’re forging bonds. We’re a family. And to succeed, corps members need to be completely devoted to the success of their students. We can’t quit. And if someone does quit, we have to make sure they never again see the inside of a classroom.” Alumni admitted that, yes, some beliefs are common to all TFA corps members, but denied that there’s something in the water. “We never drank any Kool-Aid,” added one alumnus, “plenty of chardonnay, sure, but no Kool-Aid.”

A ghost(writer) in Peter Cunningham’s attic: Have you ever read an Education Post byline and said to yourself, “I wonder if this teacher or...

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