Andy's odyssey: Part three

This series’ first two posts mostly noodled around with concepts, probably leaving dirty-fingernail types sighing, “What does any of this have to do with our actual work?”

In subsequent posts, I’ll narrow in on applications, but it probably makes sense to spend a little time on this now. Here, I’ll try to explain why a conversation about the intersection of conservatism and ed reform is timely and, hopefully, whet your appetite for further discussions.

It’s probable that Republicans will shortly wield more power. The 2014 midterms are nearing, and President Obama’s approval rating is but 42 percent.

Even if that number were higher, Democratic prospects would still be gloomy. The second midterm for the sitting president’s party almost always produces big losses (see FDR, Ike, GWB, etc.). The GOP already controls the House of Representatives, and it is expected to take the Senate and maintain control of a strong majority of governorships. While it’s too early to forecast the 2016 presidential election, history teaches that seldom does a party hold the Oval Office for three consecutive terms.

So how would an ascendant Right, cognizant of the governing responsibilities of a majority party, approach education reform? I predict a paradoxical blend of modesty and vigor. Channeling Shakespeare and his famous oxymorons, I’ll call it “energized retrenchment.”

Why retrenchment? The sophistry of today’s political “experts”—whose trenchant analysis of the Right consists of sneering, “Tea Party”—has cloaked a...

Michigan’s superintendent of education announced that eleven of the Wolverine State’s charter school authorizers are at risk of being suspended or having their power to open new charters revoked. (Charters & Choice)
New Orleans’s first day of school will be an historical moment: for the first time, a major U.S. school district will operate entirely with charter schools. (NPR)
After the RNC claimed that the College Board “deliberately distorts and/or edits out important historical events” in its new AP U.S. History framework, College Board has released a practice exam and will clarify the criticized aspects of the framework. (Curriculum Matters)
Half of Teach For America’s 5,300 new recruits self-identify as people of color, compared to 17 percent of the teaching force nationwide. (Teacher Beat, Hechinger Report)
American Thinker: “Digital Learning Makes Rewards Fun, Effective

Want to receive First Bell in your inbox every morning? Sign up today....

Education Next

With a 2010 New York Times Magazine cover story, “Building a Better Teacher,” twenty-something journalist Elizabeth Green leapt to national prominence—as did the heroes of her article, Deborah Ball, the dean of the University of Michigan ed school, and Doug Lemov, a founder of Uncommon Schools, a network of high performing charter schools.

Now, four years later, she’s back with a book-length treatment of the subject with the same name. The book examines what great teaching looks like and how many more people can learn its secrets. Along the way, Green tells fascinating stories of teachers and researchers on a quest to create a true science of education—and pushes back against the notion that great teachers are born, not made.

In this edition of the Education Next Book Club podcast, Mike Petrilli talks with Green about her book, what’s she’s learned about great teaching, and her hope that it can become common practice in America.

Listen to the podcast on the Education Next website.

Additional episodes of the Education Next Book Club can be found here.

Jury selection begins today for the case of twelve former Atlanta Public Schools employees accused of conspiring to alter students’ standardized test scores. (New York Times)
The Hechinger Report spoke with author Elizabeth Green about the challenges of building better teachers. (Hechinger Report)
Iowa will withdraw from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. (Curriculum Matters)
Studies find that homeless families need more parent-student education. (Inside School Research)
Celebrities are throwing their hats into the ed-reform ring. (NPR)
Orange County Register: “Editorial: Reasons for hope on school choice

Want to receive First Bell in your inbox every morning? Sign up today....

Note: This post is part of our series, "Netflix Academy: The best educational videos available for streaming." Be sure to check out our previous Netflix Academy posts on Ancient Asian Culturesearly American civilizationsAncient GreeceAncient RomeNative American culturesChristopher Columbus and the Age of DiscoveryColonial America and the Revolutionary Warthe American founders; the Lewis and Clark expedition; the Civil War; movie adaptations of classic children’s booksAmerican folk heroesdinosaursaquatic lifeinsectsfrogs and other amphibiansreptilesbirdsmammalshuman evolutionearthquakes and volcanoesouter spaceand the systems of the human body

This post marks an important milestone: The terminus of our Netflix Academy series. We’ve now covered most of the major topics in the early grades of the Core Knowledge Sequence, save for some subjects on which high-quality streaming video options were scant.

We’ve learned over the course of this year that there’s a lot more high-quality science content on Netflix and Amazon than historical videos, at least for kids. But we’ve also come across some fantastic television shows that are content-rich and easily accessible, including the Dear America series featured below. (Others include Liberty’s Kids, The Magic Schoolbus, and Wild Kratts.)

This week’s topic—the wave of immigration in the late 1800s and early 1900s—has special meaning for me, as my Italian ancestors were part of the “huddled masses” that came in droves from...

A massive longitudinal study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University followed nearly 800 kids in Baltimore, from first grade through their late twenties, to track who got ahead. (NPR)
A proposal to weaken tenure laws and attach student performance to teacher evaluations will appear on Missouri ballots this November. (Teacher Beat)
A new organization, launching this winter, will review Common Core–aligned materials. (Curriculum Matters)
A new report questions the theory that “undermatching” students—that is, sending students with academic potential, often from low-income backgrounds, to lower-tier colleges—actually leads the students to be less likely to graduate. (Hechinger Report)
As part of a series on how play relates to learning, NPR Ed profiles Adventure Playground in Berkeley, California, a free-range “wild playground” embraces the theory that letting kids play hard and self-organize leads them to become better problem solvers. (NPR)
Greenville Online: “Back to school: New rules, new standards
Democrats for Education Reform: “Is there a relationship between state public charter school policies and charter student learning outcomes?

Want to receive First Bell in your inbox every morning? Sign up today....

As Gadfly readers know—from his “farewell address,” if not before—the irreplaceable Checker Finn stepped down as the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s president last week, handing me the reins and the opportunity of a lifetime. As Checker made clear, he’s not retiring, disappearing, or giving up the fight—just letting go of the day-to-day responsibilities of managing an increasingly complex organization. He will, as he wrote, have more time than ever for troublemaking. American education will be the better for it.

So what does this mean for Fordham? Let me assure friends and foes alike that “evolution” is the apt term. Don’t expect any abrupt changes. Checker has been delegating a lot of decisions to our seasoned, superb senior staff for years; that talented team, along with our top-notch board of trustees, will continue to steer a steady course in the years to come, both with our national work and our efforts in Ohio.


That’s not to say, however, that “abrupt change” isn’t needed in the education-reform movement. Let’s begin with that great, late philosopher Michael Jackson:

I'm starting with the man in the mirror
I'm asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you wanna make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself, and then make a change

Those of us lucky enough to work every day at improving our schools need to start by looking in the...

Source: Students Matter. Note: NCTQ recently updated their data to reflect Ohio's new seven-year probationary period.

It’s open season on teacher employment protection laws in U.S. state courts. The watershed moment, of course, was June’s Vergara v. California verdict holding California’s laws unconstitutional. Vergara began back in March of 2012, when nine public school students filed suit against the State of California, arguing that California’s laws violated its constitutional guarantee of an effective education. In the seven weeks since, two high-profile copycat cases have been filed in New York State. Have we reached a point of no return? And if so, is that a good thing—even for those who oppose tenure? Don’t be so sure.

It’s important to keep in mind that teacher tenure is a state-law issue. Every state writes its own legislation, so laws are usually different from state to state. Just because teacher tenure is poorly structured in California doesn’t mean tenure is bad everywhere. In fact, the current landscape provides a perfect opportunity to showcase this important lesson. Let’s start with California.

In Vergara (and its copycats), three types of laws were at issue: (1) tenure, which determines under what circumstances the state will grant a teacher employment protections; (2) dismissal, defining the process through which states fire tenured teachers; and (3) seniority, which mandates what


California’s new weighted student funding system has reached the one-year mark—and there are some lessons to be learned. (Hechinger Report)

A federal judge reaffirmed his order that the state of Louisiana must give the federal government student data on its school-voucher program. (School Law)

A study finds that many of Illinois’s teachers lack the proper credentials to teach their subjects. (Chicago Tribune)

As Head Start approaches its fifty-year anniversary, the program will undergo some seismic changes. (Education Week)

Education Week: “U.S. Reviews of Standards, Tests Enter New Phase
Get Schooled: “In DeKalb, millions went to attorneys while students did without. Overspending tab: $32 million

Andy's odyssey: Part two

This series is wrestling with a set of related questions. Is education reform inherently anti-conservative? Are reformers behaving as though it is when it should be informed by conservatism? What have we wrought by stiff-arming conservatism? How might things be better if we sought counsel from conservatism?

One of the most important aspects of this inquiry relates to balancing change and preservation. A National Affairs article by Phillip Wallach and Justus Myers, “The Conservative Governing Disposition,” sheds valuable light on this issue and proves a helpful guide to understanding conservatism’s role in education reform.

The article describes the “conservative governing disposition,” an approach to policymaking that wonks and practitioners alike should understand. It also surfaces three issues that will be a recurring theme in this series.

Conservative governing disposition

The authors distinguish the conservative “disposition” from policy proposals—it’s an approach, not an agenda. It can be seen in the work of giants like Burke, Hume, Madison, Hamilton, Hayek, and de Tocqueville. One scholar described it as more of a “temperament (and) less an articulate philosophy.”

Wallach and Myers write, “Conservatism starts with the premise that social practices, habits, and institutions embody the accumulated wisdom of trial-and-error experience.” So much of what exists is evolutionarily sturdy; it is not here by accident. The authors smartly note, “Dispositional conservatism is sympathetic to complexity.” What progressives might consider messy or byzantine, a conservative would see as full and robust, made so...