Eva Myrick Chiang

Imagine reading this job advertisement:

WANTED: Credentialed professional with at least a master’s degree to run a school. Will work on average fourteen hours per day or more, six days per week, and be on call twenty-four hours a day most days of the year. Must handle pressure and stress well—oh, and the pay isn’t that great, either.

In many places across the United States, this is the type of workload we demand of our school leaders. Each and every one of our schools desperately needs a talented, competent leader, but what intelligent person would sign up for that job?

It’s time for us to have an extreme makeover in what we expect from our school principals. Traditionally, principals were seen as building managers and disciplinarians. They made sure that the lights were on and that everyone was following the rules. But the role has changed, and the needs of our students demand that we now have visionary instructional leaders running our schools.

This change of roles can be problematic for districts because, well, the lights still need to be turned on, payroll still has to be processed, and buildings still have maintenance issues. That is why we now have to shift our thinking about who is doing what in districts. We have to make the principal’s job more doable, more protected, and more supported so that the job appeals to our most talented professionals. We have to create the district conditions that support effective school leaders so that...

Because of inadequate capacity in public schools, Mayor Bill de Blasio is asking New York's religious schools and community organizations to host his expanded government-funded pre-K—leading to church-state issues. (New York Times)

The Hechinger Report argues that teacher-training programs need to focus more on getting their trainees in-classroom experience. (Hechinger Report)

A recent federal study found that fourth graders had trouble with some of the basic functions of a computerized writing assessment. (Curriculum Matters)

A task force studied chronic absenteeism in Chicago and issued recommendations, including upgrading data systems that track absentee students and bringing back truancy officers. (Inside School Research)

Yahoo News: "What If Everyone Went to College?"
U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation: "6 Ways to Recruit Great Leaders as Principals"...

North Carolina’s Republican-controlled senate has voted in favor of a budget that would increase teacher salaries. Democratic leaders claim the budget is “smoke and mirrors.” (Teacher Beat and New York Times)
A D.C. charter school is enrolling parents and young children in the same school, in an effort to help disadvantaged kids by building up the skills of the adults surrounding them. (Washington Post)
Kids at Detroit schools run by the Education Achievement Authority are adjusting to increased class time and other strategies to catch up kids hailing from the troubled Detroit Public Schools. (Hechinger Report)
According to a new study, students in Langley Park, MD, are four times more likely than their peers nationwide to leave school early in order to help pay the bills at home. (NPR)
The Newark Charter School Fund has granted $259,000 to improve services for Newark’s charter school students with disabilities. (Charters & Choice)
New research delves into how to get at-risk students across the high school finish line. (Inside School Research)
Politics K–12 puts together a snapshot of teacher-union spending on national political campaigns. (Politics K–12)
Christian Science Monitor: “Common Core education standards: why they're contested left and right

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Shaun Dougherty and Michael Gottfried

The discourse around college and career readiness has focused primarily on implementation of the Common Core. Notably absent is much consideration of how those programs might serve the needs of students with less direction or discernment about what career paths may be most productive or in demand. But with the Perkins block grants (with its focus on career and technical education or “CTE”) being among the few programs with hope of being reauthorized by the feds, it’s time to starting paying attention to CTE and the students it could serve. In fact, reauthorization could prove to be critical, as approximately 20 percent of both students with disabilities and students receiving free and reduced-price lunches enroll in three or more CTE courses in high school.

The bill put forth by Senators Portman of Ohio and Kaine and Warner from Virginia seeks to increase the flexibility states have in using funds allocated through block grants to improve CTE programs. This increased autonomy can certainly be a good thing: it allows states to use funds to establish career academies and allows them to expand traditional CTE models to fit specific needs, rather than having to rely on a federally mandated set of guidelines.

While state flexibility is important, so is implementation based on evidence of what works. States will benefit from being able to expand their pool of potential CTE-related investments, but fidelity of implementation remains a key factor. A randomized experiment, for example, has shown that implementation of career academies...

Monday’s Politico story on the messaging battle over the Common Core has kicked up another round of recriminations, particularly on the Right. What particularly caught my eye was my good friend Rick Hess’s allegation that supporters of the Core (myself among them) were expressing hubris and vanity because we’ve decided that we need our arguments to be more “emotional.”

Ugh. Those are two qualities I certainly don’t want to be associated with. This might be a good time to step back—sans emotion—and take stock of where we’re at.

Get another cup of coffee; this is going to be a long one. I plan to tackle three big topics:

  1. Who’s winning?
  2. Which concerns about the Common Core do I see as legitimate?
  3. How can we supporters of the Core respond constructively to those concerns?

Who’s winning?

The current narrative—pushed by Politico and other media outlets—is that the anti–Common Core forces have momentum on their side. Glenn Beck is making money from movie-ticket and book sales. Republican governors are running scared. Red states are starting to topple.

This is all true, and there’s little doubt that in the “air war” over the Common Core—especially in the conservative media—we’re getting our butts kicked. Furthermore, when it comes to grassroots organizing, the tea-party groups (like FreedomWorks) are much more effective. They have the energy, the passion, and the ground troops.

Which makes it all the more remarkable...

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...