Flypaper

As anyone in education knows, the Common Core debate has become heavily politicized over the past year. What that means is that the true education issues at stake—for instance, whether the standards for English and math are challenging enough or, conversely, age appropriate—are taking a backseat to arguments over macropolitics and ideology.

Opponents on the right like to label the Common Core as “ObamaCore” and joke that schools were promised, “If you like your curriculum, you can keep your curriculum.”

As a conservative supporter of the Common Core who has racked up thousands of frequent-flier miles traveling to legislative hearings in state capitals nationwide, I find this fear of centralized control a misplaced, even willful false alarm sounded by people with other political agendas. To be sure, I don’t want the federal government meddling in curriculum issues and can point to many examples where Washington regulations—on matters of spending, “highly-qualified teachers,” and student discipline—have done more harm than good. I’m relieved the federal role in the Common Core has been relatively small.

Yet the history of education reform in the United States makes clear that efforts to foist top-down changes on the nation’s schools never get anywhere quickly and never produce real uniformity. Invariably, they’re met, for better or worse, with resistance and confusion—or, to say it more positively, with adaptation and customization.

The Common Core issue will prove no different. It won’t lead to...

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It looks to me as if one of the most acclaimed reforms of today’s education profession—not just in the U.S. but also all over the planet—is one of the least examined in terms of actual implementation and effectiveness. How often and how well do instructors, whose administrators and gurus revere the concept of differentiated instruction, actually carry it out? How well does it work and for which kids under what circumstances? So far as I can tell, nobody really knows.

I’ve been roaming the globe in search of effective strategies for educating high-ability youngsters, particularly kids from disadvantaged circumstances who rarely have parents with the knowledge and means to steer them through the education maze and obtain the kind of schooling (and/or supplementation or acceleration) that will make the most of their above-average capacity to learn.

As expected, I’ve found a wide array of programs and policies intended for “gifted education,” “talent development,” and so forth, each with pluses and minuses.

But almost everywhere, I’ve also encountered some version of this assertion: “We don’t really need to provide special programs, classrooms, or schools for gifted children because we expect every school and teacher to differentiate their instruction so as to meet the unique educational needs of all children within an inclusive, heterogeneous classroom.”

A thoroughly laudable goal, say I, but how realistic is it? How well is it being done? And does it really meet...

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Michael Brickman appeared on Fox News’ “Happening Now” to talk about standards and the Common Core with Joy Pullmann. Michael calls out anti–Common Core groups who offer false choices on standards vs. school choice, have no plan for the day after Common Core, and want standards that don’t require our students to read Shakespeare or our founding documents. Watch the segment to see Michael set the record straight.

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Mike McShane and Andrew Kelly of AEI have written a terrific new study commissioned by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. Everyone interested in the changing ecosystem of K–12 schooling in urban America ought to give it a look. It investigates Catholic schools that converted to charter status in several cities. The authors compared changes in the converting schools to demographically similar private schools that didn’t convert. By comparison, in post-conversion schools, student enrollment grew substantially, particularly among minority students, though the influence on staffing was less clear. Interestingly, Catholic schools that didn’t convert benefitted financially by other schools’ conversion—the diocese had more funding to spread across fewer schools, and leasing buildings to the converted charter schools generated revenue. The study has other interesting findings related to branding and how conversions influence the market of options available to low-income urban families.

An interesting, important, and underreported Common Core story is that while political types have been debating issues of “whether,” countless others have been consumed with issues of “how.” That is, lots of educators and leaders at the district and state levels have been doing their utmost to ensure the standards are properly implemented. The Southern Regional Education Board has produced a thorough study of how 15 states are bringing the Common Core to life—through professional development, assessments, classroom resources, accountability measures, and more. You’ll probably be impressed by the work that’s being done, and if you’re a CCSS advocate, you’re likely to be frustrated that...

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Like a dog that finally catches the bus he'd been chasing forever, what happens when opponents of the Common Core State Standards finally succeed in getting a state's policymakers to "repeal" the education initiative? Early signs from Indiana and elsewhere suggest that the opponents' stated goals are likely to get run over.

We acknowledge, of course, that Common Core critics aren't monolithic, even on the right. Libertarians want states to reject standards, testing and accountability overall; conservative opponents urge states to move to what they see as "higher" standards. Both factions would like to remove the taint of federal influence from state-based reform. (On that point, we concur.) On the left, the National Education Association sees an opportunity to push back against a policy it never liked in the first place. The union is using the standards as an excise to call for a moratorium on teacher evaluations as states move to Common Core–aligned tests. Still others worry about the standards being "too hard." (On these points, we do not concur).

So how's it going? Indiana has hit the reverse button hardest, enacting a bill that requires the state board of education to adopt revised standards. Oklahoma seems on the brink of doing much the same thing. No state is rejecting standards and testing entirely. That is partially because they would lose hundreds of millions of dollars of federal education funding and partially because few lawmakers trust the education system to do right by all kids once it's free from external...

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Spring has sprung, and that means lots of great edu-orgs are hiring. Here are some of the most interesting I’ve come across recently. Good luck!

My organization, Bellwether Education Partners, is looking for a chief of staff to join the leadership team and support the managing partner and partner team as we seek to meet our bold organizational objectives.

The Mind Trust, one of the nation’s best city-based reform organizations, is launching a third fellowship, building on the remarkable successes of its charter-incubator and education-entrepreneur program. The new program will help aspiring leaders launch start-up schools via an interesting new state statute.

NISN, an extraordinarily exciting organization, aspires to create new charter schools to serve Native American students. They have several great jobs available.

Zearn, a new nonprofit digital-learning organization led by some of the nation’s most successful teachers and education entrepreneurs, has a bunch of openings.

New School for New Orleans is looking for a managing director of development to oversee the organization’s fundraising strategy and manage the pursuit and execution of major grants influencing schools and organizations across New Orleans.

Seton Education Partners, which aspires to revitalize urban Catholic schooling, is looking for someone to lead and grow the organization’s innovative afterschool faith-formation program in the South Bronx.

The Partnership for Inner-City Education, a cutting-edge Catholic schools network in NYC, is looking to fill a number of positions, including that of chief academic officer....

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Bright and early yesterday morning, Mike Petrilli joined Steven Scully at C-SPAN to talk Common Core. The good news? The conspiracy theorists weren’t watching—or maybe they had their calls screened out. (Though Mike still had to correct the record on curriculum, the federal role, and teacher input.) The best moment? Where Mike says our secretary of education has “some sort of Tourette Syndrome" when he mentions Common Core.

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When it comes to state education agencies (SEAs), ed-reformers have fallen into a sorry rut.

As states have emerged as primary drivers of much-needed changes in K–12 practice and policy, the SEA has become the default agent-of-change for a vast number of initiatives concocted by policymakers in state capitals and Washington alike.

Want a new teacher-evaluation system and more rigorous certification standards? Want to crack down on school violence and bullying? Want better assessments of school performance and improved interventions for low-performers? Want to widen broadband access and encourage blended learning?

Hand it to the SEA.

Given that this agency is the state’s primary (or only) K–12 administrative unit, one can easily see why decision makers have had this impulse.

Yet the SEA was originally designed—and then acculturated over decades—to distribute dollars to local districts and monitor their compliance with a lengthening list of federal and state regulations and categorical funding streams. It was never intended to lead complex, contentious, large-scale reforms that require original thinking, nimble action and constant adaptability. In other words, it wasn’t intended to carry out a huge fraction of the responsibilities that have recently been thrust upon it.

In our new report, The New SEA: At the Helm, Not the Oar, we propose that this plain fact be recognized and alternative arrangements made.

This does not mean we think the SEA has no role in education reform, much less that we...

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In recent years, policymakers and reform advocates have viewed State Education Agencies (SEAs) as the lead organizations for implementing sweeping reforms and initiatives in K–12 education—everything from Race to the Top grants and federal waivers to teacher-evaluation systems and online schools. But SEAs were not built—nor are they really competent—to drive such reforms, argue Andy Smarick and Juliet Squire in The State Education Agency: At the Helm, Not the Oar [link]. And despite the best efforts of talented, energetic leaders, SEAs will never be able to deliver the reform results that their states need. This latest paper from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute suggests a new governance approach, organized around what Smarick and Squire call the “4 Cs”:

Control: Return SEAs to their core functions of channeling federal and state dollars to districts; adopting statewide standards and assessments; creating and maintaining data systems; and monitoring compliance with applicable laws.

Contract: Contract with other organizations that are better equipped to accomplish education work, while ensuring that performance agreements with those organizations delineate outcomes and consequences for poor performance.

Cleave: Leave tasks that are well outside SEAs’ core competencies—such as charter-school authorizing and generating educational innovation—to other government entities or nongovernmental organizations.

Create: Encourage state leaders, both inside and outside government, to create new entities to take on much-needed reform work.

For more on the role of the SEA, tune into “State Education Agencies: The Smaller the Better?”...

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Michele Cahill, Leah Hamilton

The Carnegie Corporation’s Michele Cahill and Leah Hamilton, veterans of Joel Klein’s Department of Education in New York City, responded to a challenge posed by Petrilli with a thoughtful alternative view.

In Mike’s post on Monday, he asks if our schools have “an answer” for students who are unprepared for high school—a group that makes up, as he says, as much as 80–90 percent of students. He also points out, correctly, that all that many districts offer these students is a chance to muddle through four years (or more) in a large, comprehensive high school, in hopes of earning a diploma that by no means signals readiness for college or a career. It is an indictment of our educational system that many do not achieve even that.

Fortunately, there are models out there that show that it is indeed possible to structure high schools to do much more for underprepared students. A recent book by Greg Duncan and Richard Murnane, Restoring Opportunity: The Crisis of Inequality and the Challenge of American Educationfor example, describes what the authors call “high schools that improve life chances,” pointing in particular to small, nonselective high schools created in New York City by the Department of Education and New Visions for Public Schools. Explicitly designed according to a set of design principles that stress academic rigor and personalization, attention to youth development, strong community partnerships, and accountability for results, these schools have produced powerful results for students—many of whom fall squarely within the cohort of the...

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