The possibility that the 113th Congress might yet reauthorize the Institute for Education Sciences (IES)—the House has passed H.R. 4366 and the Senate HELP Committee is cogitating—means it’s time once again to consider the status of the jewel in the IES crown, namely the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

Before this topic elicits a yawn, kindly note that everything you may be trying to accomplish, change, or protect in American education hinges more than you might realize on the integrity of our education-data system, and that this is more vulnerable than you might think. Please do not assume that all is well and will inevitably remain that way.

NCES is today’s version of the first federal education agency, created by Congress in 1867 “for the purpose of collecting such statistics and facts as shall show the condition and progress of education in the several States and Territories….” (For more on the history, see Vance Grant’s excellent four-page summary near the beginning of this useful document.) It was also the second federal statistical agency, eleven more of which followed. Today, NCES is the third largest of them, eclipsed only by Census and Labor Statistics.

The centrality of its role in American education can scarcely be exaggerated. It’s where everybody at every level of policy, analysis, and research goes for data. It’s the home of crucial longitudinal studies. It’s the home of NAEP. It’s the home of almost every education trend line that matters.

It’s not perfect (school-finance data,...

The D.C. Association of Chartered Public Schools has filed a federal lawsuit alleging that the District of Columbia funds charters unequally. (Washington Post)
A lawsuit is going to trial today that charges the state of California with failing to provide language instruction to thousands of English-language learners. (Learning the Language)
Senators Edward Markey (a Democrat) and Orrin Hatch (a Republican) introduced the “Protecting Student Privacy Act,” which would, among other things, prohibit the use of personally identifiable student information for advertising and marketing purposes, minimize the amount of data given to private companies, and limit companies’ ability to build and maintain permanent profiles of students. (Digital Education)
A report from Families for Excellent Schools finds that in a quarter of NYC public schools, 90 percent or more of students did not demonstrate proficiency in English language arts or math. (Wall Street Journal)
Hechinger Report: “Huge confusion in Mississippi over Common Core
Roll Call: “Union Rules Vary From State to State

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On August 1, Chester E. “Checker” Finn, Jr., will step down from his role as founding president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, passing the baton to Michael J. Petrilli, Fordham’s longtime executive vice president. Finn will remain on staff as a distinguished senior fellow and president emeritus. Here is his “farewell address” as president.

This short essay cannot begin to say all that deserves to be said about the state of ed-reform in America in 2014, but it gives me an opportunity to do some stocktaking, recount a bit of history, and flag some challenges for the future.

Organizationally, the modern Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the Foundation that birthed it have been around for seventeen years, but the reformist zeal and philosophy that it inherited from the Educational Excellence Network carry us back to 1981. Two years before A Nation at Risk, Diane Ravitch and I—and a handful of fellow travelers—had concluded that American K–12 education needed a kick in the pants, a kick toward greater quality, primarily in the form of stronger student learning. (More of that tale can be found on our website here and here.)

That’s thirty-three years ago, before many of today’s ed reformers were even born, and, while Diane has obviously deviated from that path in recent years, I like to think I’ve continued to trudge down it, along with an ever-growing cadre of fellow reformers and—since 1997—with Fordham’s organizational...

Special-needs students face challenges in the transition to Common Core standards. (Capital)
In response to the filing of the second Vergara-inspired lawsuit, the United Federation of Teachers is fighting back, arguing that current tenure laws both guard against unjust firings and give city officials a way to remove ineffective teachers. (New York Times)
Special-ed administrators are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review an appeals-court ruling that districts must keep paying for students in the middle of special-education disputes to stay in private school while their cases are in court, arguing that these proceedings sometimes take years and place a financial burden on districts. (On Special Education)
The Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has joined a lawsuit against Governor Bobby Jindal’s executive order blocking the state from administering a Common Core–aligned test in 2014–15. (State EdWatch)
Columbus Dispatch: “Common Core supporters ready to defend it

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Andy's odyssey: Part one

This is the first of a collection of posts about a recent self-assigned course of study—essentially a bunch of reading and furrowed-brow thinking about a subject that’s been gnawing at me.

This series will be an adventure. Though I’ve got a solid thesis, the rest is a jumble of idea fragments. I haven’t ironed out all of my arguments, I sure don’t know what they all amount to, and I’m still a country mile from recommendations.

But over the years I’ve learned I need to write about stuff before I really understand it and then write some more before I can assemble the pieces. Rather than scribbling and editing in private and then, hopefully, producing some tidy digest when the pondering is through, I’m going to file dispatches from the field.

Here’s the gist. Over the last year, I’ve found myself growing restive about ed-reform developments. Sometimes the feeling was hard to explain—a general unease during conferences or while listening to presentations. Other times, I could pinpoint it. For example, when leaders would profess anger at current conditions and a sense of urgency about change but then defer to longstanding arrangements and urge collaboration with them, or when organizations would boast of their commitment to diversity but show no interest in building politically diverse teams.

For a while, I chalked up my grumpiness to age or the zeitgeist. I’m getting older and more set in my ways. As our field evolves, perhaps it’s inevitable that I...

An advocacy group led by former news anchor Campbell Brown has filed a second Vergara-inspired lawsuit seeking to overturn New York’s teacher-tenure and laws. (Washington Post, NPR, Teacher Beat)
Principals’ overestimation of student poverty, as reported by an OECD report last week, negatively correlates with student math achievement—and U.S. principals were the worst offenders. (Hechinger Report)
The Atlantic ponders whether MOOCs will eventually replace a college education. (Atlantic)
Education Week: “Indiana teachers worry about revamped ISTEP test
Wall Street Journal: “More Schools Open Their Doors to the Whole Community
Politico: “Moms winning the Common Core war

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Way back in 2000, the United Nations went through an elaborate process of setting “millennium development goals” for the world. To be attained by 2015, these were, of course, entirely laudable—e.g., “eradicate extreme poverty and hunger” and “achieve universal primary education”—and they have definitely influenced the priorities of various UN agencies, other governmental and multilateral aid providers, and private philanthropies.

There’s been progress on several fronts—notably a big reduction in the number of people living in extreme poverty and hunger—but none of these goals will have been achieved in full by next year, any more than the “goals 2000” project for American K–12 education met its targets (e.g., “first in the world in math and science”) by the stated end point.

How useful this kind of goal setting is may be debated, but the UN has never looked back. Rather, it’s busily updating its millennium goals for the period after 2015, and its “open working group on sustainable development goals” just held its thirteenth meeting, where it finalized a new list of goals and dispatched these for consideration by the Secretary General and General Assembly. You can find a description of this process here: You will also see that the United States shared—with Canada and Israel—one of thirty seats on this working group. (Never mind that the U.S. supplies 22 percent of the UN’s budget!)

The proposed new goals number seventeen, more than twice as many as in the last go-round, and 169 “targets” for the...

Soon after winning a drawn-out reimbursement case and the right to private school tuition, a severely disabled young boy passed away—and now, his father is an advocate for creating an independent body to make placement decisions for disabled students. (New York Times)
An NCES study finds that fourth graders are proficient enough in using computers to type, organize, and write to be given computer-based writing tests. (Curriculum Matters)
A study suggests that principals who stay at a school are more likely to feel they can get things done, while those who were headed out the door felt they hadn’t accomplished as much. (Inside School Research)
National Review Online: “Beyond the Common Core
News U: “Common Core: Leading Education Reformer, Fordham President Sees Promise; Greater Accountability for Schools
Indy Star: “New test giving teachers back-to-school jitters
Times Picayune: “Poor principal hiring practices shut out good leaders, research finds

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The Partnership for Inner-City Education announced today that Kathleen Porter-Magee has been named its superintendent and chief academic officer. This is such a terrific match, and I’m completely thrilled for everyone involved.

The Partnership is one of a growing number of organizations that are, collectively, brightening the future of urban Catholic schooling after years of steady decline. For 50 years, inner-city Catholic schools have been shutting their doors, primarily for financial reasons, despite an extensive body of academic research showing how valuable they can be for low-income kids and communities.

To address issues of financial sustainability and academic performance, a handful of organizations are reimagining the governance and operations of Catholic schools, borrowing the highly successful network structure from charter-management organizations. The Partnership, which has supported Catholic schools in New York City for more than 20 years, signed a landmark agreement with the Archdiocese in 2013, giving the organization authority over six schools in Harlem and the South Bronx. They are now, like Cristo Rey, a group of Catholic schools functioning as a unit but outside the traditional diocesan and parish system.

The Partnership couldn’t have found a better leader than Kathleen (who writes about her new gig here). She has a great deal of Catholic schools experience, having started her career as a Catholic school teacher and later working in the office of education at the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. She also served as an executive with...

Yes Prep’s Jason Bernal writes that getting low-income students through college requires more than just creating a culture of high academic expectations. (Hechinger Report)
In the New York Times Magazine, Chalkbeat’s Elizabeth Green delves into the history of math instruction in the U.S. and Japan and asks why Americans do so poorly in the subject. (New York Times)
A state appellate court panel found that the public does not have the right to know individual Los Angeles teachers’ job-performance ratings. (Los Angeles Times)
Soundcloud: “Big Sort, Part 2
The Austin Chronicle: “SBOE: No Scholars Need Apply
Journal Star: “Extra: Science education seen as a top concern

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