Flypaper

A first look at today's most important education news:

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I have been blessed with a few decades worth of work in education policy, and I have never seen a moment with more potential.

While it is possible and valid to reflect on the last twenty years and be disappointed that we didn’t make blistering-fast progress, it’s just as valid to be proud of the accomplishments we have made: reliable information about school performance, better evidence about key factors in school success, and the emergence of a whole new set of education choices that show what is possible.

Teachers have been the engines behind the best of what has transpired in the past two decades, and we rely on their initiative to create the best models of schooling going forward. This is as it should be.

In most professions, those who specialize in their techniques attract clients drawn to their work and success. In short, they can bring their skills to the marketplace and succeed there. In schooling, too, many moons ago, this was the case. It was teachers who created the design of a local school meant to serve the students in a particular area.

In our broader public-education sector, however, we gradually eroded this leadership role for teachers in the early part of the twentieth century. That was a loss. But today, that role is resurging, and we must see our “five-star” teachers and school leaders—not state policies—as those will drive success.

At the end of the day, success in schooling happens at the school, as a function...

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A first look at today's most important education news:

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On the K–12 education front, the president made no news and no big mistakes. He scarcely even mentioned teachers. Save for “Race to the Top,” he mentioned none of his administration’s more controversial (and sometimes worthy) initiatives such as charter schools, teacher evaluations, and state waivers from No Child Left Behind. Unlike last year, he refrained from associating himself with the Common Core academic standards, thereby giving critics of those standards no new ammunition by which to target them as “Obamacore.” His only real policy blunder came in reviving his previous request to Congress to enact “universal” preschool for four-year-olds. Yes, it’s a crowd-pleaser, but it’s also a feckless, wasteful idea that would deliver a costly and unneeded windfall to millions of families that have already made acceptable pre-K arrangements for their children while creating a program too thin to do much good for the acutely disadvantaged youngsters that need it most. (Far better to reform Head Start, which already costs billions, is well-targeted on the “truly needy,” but today does almost nothing to prepare them academically for kindergarten.) Nor could Mr. Obama resist poking one more finger in Congress’s eye by declaring that if they won’t enact his preschool program, he and the governors and philanthropists will just do it on their own.

This article originally appeared on the National Review Online.

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Today, Bellwether released a new report on the promise of charter schooling in rural America—and the very real challenges facing it.

The paper is part the ROCI initiative, a two-year project on rural education reform funded by the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation.

Though I’ve been working on charter issues for more than a decade now, I went into this project knowing relatively little about rural charters. It turns out that this is partially because there are so few of them. There are a mere 785 rural charter schools, and only 111 of them are in the most remote rural areas.

High-performing charters have accomplished great things for many, many inner-city kids, so my colleagues and I wondered whether they could do the same in rural areas. The need is certainly great.

There are 11 million students in rural public schools, and kids in rural America are more likely than their peers in any other geography to live in poverty. Only 27 percent of rural high-school graduates go on to college, and just one in five rural adults has earned a bachelor’s degree.

But bringing chartering to these communities is knottier than I imagined. First, “rural” defies a simple definition. As one scholar put it, the term includes “hollows in the Appalachian Mountains, former sharecroppers’ shacks in the Mississippi Delta, desolate Indian reservations on the Great Plains, and emerging colonia along the Rio Grande.”

Second, since so many of these areas are sparsely populated,...

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Mike Petrilli and Rick Kahlenberg are among my favorite people (I don’t know Sam Chaltain, although I might like him, too), but their piece in Sunday’s Washington Post smacks of nanny-statism rather than school choice and educational effectiveness. (Rick has had such tendencies for a while.)

What they propose—known as “controlled choice”—isn’t all that different from the “forced busing” of yesteryear. It restricts families’ education options and imposes a top-down, government-run, social-engineering scheme based on somebody’s view of the value of racial and socioeconomic integration. It depends on a bureaucrat’s “algorithm” to decide how many left-handed, blue-eyed kids get to go to which schools and how many other kids in those schools will be right handed and brown eyed. (OK, I made up those categories.)

The authors posit that “diversity” per se is an important educational benefit and that integration is good for kids and must therefore be imposed on them, like it or not. And they’re upset that demographic changes underway in various D.C. neighborhoods—gentrification, for the most part—are causing schools in those places to lose their previous ethnic and economic profiles. The inflow of middle- and upper-middle-class families, many of them white, initially “integrates” schools that had previously taught mostly poor, minority youngsters, but eventually squeezes out the latter and “resegregates” the schools with a much paler (and wealthier) complexion. The authors want to brake that second change in order to capture and preserve the “diversity” wrought by the first one.

It’s a fact of life that...

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Checker thinks that Sam Chaltain, Rick Kahlenberg, and I are engaging in “nanny-statism” when we propose a form of “controlled choice” in strategic locations of Washington, D.C., which he likens to “forced busing” and “social engineering.”

Has Checker been watching That 70s Show? (Or maybe American Hustle?) Those are fighting words from the age of Nixon. But they have nothing to do with what we’re suggesting today.

As Checker himself acknowledges, a sizable proportion of parents—rich, poor, white, black, and Hispanic—would like to choose diverse schools for their children. Stress the word “choose.” The question is, without an assist from public policy, will these parents have any diverse schools among which to choose?

Here’s the dilemma: most of the schools in D.C., as elsewhere in the country, are socioeconomically isolated—either uniformly upper middle class (west of Rock Creek Park) or uniformly poor (everywhere else). That’s no surprise—most neighborhoods in Washington are highly segregated, too, and the schools reflect this unfortunate fact.

What’s new, and interesting, is that neighborhoods are starting to change—in some cases, rapidly. Capitol Hill has already gentrified; Columbia Heights, Petworth, Logan Circle/Shaw, and Takoma are on their way. This is great news from a “diverse-schools” perspective, because it means that people of different socioeconomic backgrounds are living close enough to one another that socioeconomically diverse schools are feasible—without busing.

So why not just “let the river run freely,” as Checker proposes? Let schools change naturally, as their neighborhoods are changing naturally,...

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A first look at today's most important education news:

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Last night, President Obama promised to use the stroke of his pen to push forward initiatives upon which Congress refuses to act. In the education realm, this is nothing new (see: conditional ESEA waivers) and generally nothing to cheer. But just this morning, the U.S. Department of Education took an executive action that I support strongly, issuing new guidance for the Public Charter Schools Program that will allow charters to use “weighted lotteries” without forfeiting their chance to receive federal start-up funds.

I’ve been making the case for such an allowance for years; Sam Chaltain, Rick Kahlenberg and I did so again just the other day in the Washington Post. The premise is pretty simple: charter schools that want to be socioeconomically diverse sometimes struggle to maintain a healthy balance if they are forced to use a single random lottery. That’s because the best charters often become so popular with middle-class parents that they flood the lotteries and end up taking most of the available seats.

In fact, some of the most successful diverse charter schools, such as the Denver School of Science and Technology and High Tech High, have decided to pass on federal start-up funds so they can use lotteries that achieve their integration goals. Now they won’t have to.

This will also help charter schools, like Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academies, that seek to enroll more English-language learners or students from other underserved subgroups. (New York charters are required by law to serve a...

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