Flypaper

Editor's note: This post originally appeared in slightly different form on the Commentary website.

Given the volatility and sensitivity of “racial profiling” these days, heightened by recent developments in Ferguson, New York, and Cleveland and by brand new law-enforcement “guidelines” from the Justice Department, one could be tempted to thank the National Education Association for its recent effort, in league with a bunch of other organizations, to develop curricular materials by which schools and teachers can instruct their students on this issue.

One should, however, resist that temptation. It turns out that, once again, the NEA and its fellow travelers are presenting a one-sided, propagandistic view of an exceptionally complicated issue that elicits strong, conflicting views among adults; that carries competing values and subtleties beyond the ken of most school kids; and that probably doesn’t belong in the K–12 curriculum at all.

My mind immediately rolled back almost three decades, to the days when the Cold War was very much with us, when nuclear weapons were a passionate concern, when unilateral disarmament was earnestly propounded by some mostly well-meaning but deeply misguided Americans—and when the NEA plunged into the fray with appalling curricular guidance for U.S. schools.

Here’s part of what the late Joseph Adelson and I wrote in COMMENTARY magazine in April 1985:

[T]he much-publicized contribution of the National Education Association (NEA), to give but one example, looks blandly past any differences between the superpowers. Its one-page “fact sheet” on the USSR simply summarizes population, land area, and

...

SANCTUARY CITY
Following the president’’s executive order providing temporary relief for unauthorized immigrant families, the Los Angeles Unified School District has received roughly 16,000 transcript requests. (The information is necessary to apply for the expanded DACA program.) Yesterday, district officials and union leaders agreed that they would help eligible students to access records to complete their applications.

MAYBE THERE'S ROOM IN WESTCHESTER
During an American Enterprise Institute event on Tuesday, Success Academy CEO Eva Moskowitz unveiled her plan to have one hundred charter schools in the Success network within the next ten years. Moskowitz has been dealing with pushback from NYC mayor Bill de Blasio, whose administration has thwarted efforts to obtain space for expansion. She claimed that the schools are besieged by “people who are trying to kill us.

A PEN AND A PHONE AND A BILLION DOLLARS
President Obama announced a billion-dollar public/private early childhood education initiative. $250 million from the Department of Education will be divided between eighteen states to expand preschool programs, the Department of Health and Human Services has allocated an additional $500 million for daycare in forty states, and private groups have raised another $330 million through the “Invest in US” campaign. The initiative could go a long way to realizing the goal of enrolling every American child in preschool, which was announced in the president’s 2013 State of the Union Address. 

BREAKING: CAMPUS ACTIVISTS UPSET ABOUT SOMETHING
Ed-reform rock star and unofficial Friend of Fordham...

To grow up as the child of well-educated parents in an affluent American home is to hit the verbal lottery. From their earliest days, these children reap the benefits of parents who speak in complete sentences, engage them in rich dinner table conversation, and read them to sleep at bedtime. Verbal parents chatter incessantly, offering a running commentary on vegetable options in the produce aisle, pointing out letters and words in storefronts and street signs. Parents proceed, as Ginia Bellafante of the New York Times once put it, “in a near constant mode of annotation.”

In sharp contrast, early disadvantages in language among low-income children—both the low volume of words they hear and the way in which they are employed—establish a verbal inertia that is immensely difficult to address or reverse. Schools will spend every moment trying to make up for the verbal gaps kids come to school with on Day One, which usually grow wider year after year.

When it comes to vocabulary, size matters. E.D. Hirsch, Jr. observed that vocabulary “is a convenient proxy for a whole range of educational attainments and abilities.” It signals competence in reading and writing and correlates with SAT success—which, in turn, predicts the likelihood of college attendance, graduation, and the associated wage premium that has been fetishized by education reformers and driven their agenda for decades.

But vocabulary is important even for kids whose pathway...

Joshua Dunn

On October 1, the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) issued perhaps its most extraordinary “Dear Colleague” letter (DCL). Given the recent competition, this is remarkable. In its letter, OCR announced that any racially identifiable disparities in educational resources could trigger an investigation by the agency. Two weeks ago it followed through on that threat. 

The letter stated that OCR was writing to “call your attention to disparities that persist in access to educational resources, and to help you address those disparities and comply with the legal obligation to provide students with equal access to these resources without regard to race, color, or national origin.” This offer of assistance is, of course, OCR doublespeak for letting states’ school districts know that federal harassment was about to commence. The New York State Department of Education and New York State Board of Regents would be the first to benefit from OCR’s cheerful offer to help. Last December, the Schenectady and Middletown School Districts had filed a complaint with OCR alleging that the state was inequitably distributing $5.5 billion in state Foundation Aid. This pot of money was created by the state’s long-running school finance case CFE v. New York. On November 25, OCR notified the school districts that it would investigate their complaints.

Noticeably absent from the districts’ complaints were any allegations that the state was funding them unequally compared to other school districts. Instead they alleged that...

EVERYTHING’S BIGGER IN TEXAS EXCEPT FOR SOME STUFF IN CALIFORNIA
At a news conference Monday, Greg Abbott, the Governor-elect of Texas, said that he was disturbed by “the fact that five of the top ten public universities in the country are from California, with none being from Texas.” Abbot asserted that improving the state’s public education would be his top priority, specifically pointing to early childhood education and postsecondary opportunities as areas with room for improvement.

THE LAST NCLB WAIVER EXTENSION OF 2014 GOES TO...
Despite the ongoing legal battles between Governor Bobby Jindal and State Superintendent John White over the use of Common Core-aligned tests, the U.S. Department of Education has granted Louisiana a No Child Left Behind waiver extension. It appears that Jindal’s political stand against standards did little to hurt the state’s chances of receiving an extension.

ANIMAL CRACKERS AND QUADRATIC EQUATIONS
It may come as a surprise, but many preschool students receive less than one minute of math instruction each day. In a new $25 million study funded by the Robin Hood Foundation, researchers will set out to see if introducing a new math intervention in preschool will have long-term effects on graduation rates. The study is based on previous research indicating that early math skills may be the single strongest predictor for high school graduation, and they support other development including verbal and meta-cognitive skills.

WONDER WHO SCHEDULED THIS ONE?
In yet another successful melding of...

Editor's note: This post first appeared in a slightly different form on Watchdog.org.

Republicans are still gleeful after their 2014 victories in the U.S. Senate and statehouses across the nation. They should be, but they should also take heed.

A CNN exit poll shows that, despite historic wins, Republicans still lost with women voters, voters under forty, non-white voters, low-income voters, and more.

On top of it, as many commentators have noted, the U.S. Senate map is much tougher for Republicans in 2016 than it was in 2014, and Democratic enthusiasm and turnout are sure to be substantially higher in a presidential election year than they were on Nov. 4.

To win in two years, Republicans simply must develop new coalitions of voters. As Woody Allen said, “Showing up is 80 percent of life,” and the Republican Party is beginning to do just that by starting conversations with traditionally Democratic voters. The efforts have yielded some results, too, with positive signs in Florida, Texas, Colorado, and elsewhere.

Conservatives surely need to continue the getting-to-know-you phase, but they must then move the conversation with persuadable voters to concrete policy proposals that can help reduce poverty and open paths to the American Dream.

As I’ve argued before, one obvious policy on which conservatives already have a degree of credibility is school choice. While conservatives are generally very supportive of these policies (rural Republican state legislators are sometimes an exception), they have not seemed to fully grasp their potential as a way to build new Republican...

If you stop and listen, you can hear it: The country yearning, praying, hoping for some sign that our political leaders can get their acts together and get something done, something constructive that will solve real problems and move the country forward again. In 2001, in the wake of 9/11, that something was the No Child Left Behind Act, which was the umpteenth renewal of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). A reauthorization of the ESEA (on its fiftieth anniversary no less) could play the same role again: showing America that bipartisan governance is possible, even in Washington.

Thankfully, both incoming chairmen of the relevant Senate and House committees—Lamar Alexander and John Kline—have indicated that passing an ESEA reauthorization is job number one. And friends in the Obama administration tell me that Secretary Duncan is ready to roll up his sleeves and get to work on something the president could sign. So far, so good.

So what should a new ESEA entail? And could it both pass Congress and be signed by President Obama? Let me take a crack at something that could.

First, let’s set the context. For at least six years, we at the Fordham Institute have talked about “reform realism” in the context of federal education policy—recommending that Washington’s posture should be reform-minded, but also realistic about what can be accomplished from the shores of the Potomac (and cognizant of how easy it is for good intentions to go awry). While Secretary Duncan gave...

UVA RAPE STORY CONTINUES
In the wake of growing doubt over the authenticity of certain claims lodged in Rolling Stone’s article about campus sexual assault at the University of Virginia, as well as the magazine’s recent acknowledgement that it had “misplaced” its trust in the subject of the piece, national organizations have issued a call for the university to end its sanctions on fraternities and sororities.

PHONING IT IN
Charter authorizers in Washington, D.C. and Massachusetts are using a creative new tactic to test the enrollment strategies of their schools. To ensure that schools are not unfairly turning away special needs students, anonymous callers posing as parents are testing the system. The program is in response to fears that publicly-funded, independently run charters may turn away these students to maintain higher test scores. But the “mystery caller” approach also has its detractors. Last month, Fordham’s own Andy Smarick said that it “could verge on entrapment and/or discourage schools from providing the best advice to families.”

BECAUSE FOUR YEARS OF COLLEGE IS PLENTY
Colleges in North Carolina, Texas, Florida, and Virginia are re-evaluating strategies to ensure students graduate in four years. By capping credit hours at 120 and charging for additional hours taken, students and institutions save money and prevent others from accessing classes needed to graduate. Most students rack up additional courses because they change majors or enroll in “interesting” but not mandatory classes; allowing students to register for multiple semesters at one...

BUILDING A BETTER MATH GEEK
Researchers from the Indiana University School of Education are studying what attracts students to STEM fields and, moreover, what keeps them there. While they haven't found a single compelling factor that will predict whether a student will pursue a STEM route, interest and passion have the most staying power and are more often linked with obtaining a STEM degree.

MIND THE GAP
A new report by the New America Foundation helps policy makers visualize where educational inequities exist in communities across the country. The report highlights the deeply fragmented efforts to bridge opportunity gaps, such as building high-quality child care centers and increasing enrollment in distance-learning education programs.

EDUCATION'S WASTED ON THE YOUNG
The United States Census has released new information on how young adults have changed over the last four decades. The report, which features an interactive mapping tool, found that a higher number of young adults now hold a college degree but are more likely to be unemployed and living in poverty. And while today’s bullish jobs report might come as a relief to observers of the economy, those negative trends will take time and work to turn around.

NUTMEG POWER
Earlier this week, an estimated 6,000 Connecticut parents, educators, and advocates gathered in New Haven to rally for better schools. Led by a number of education advocacy groups, the event was meant as a call to action to improve the state’s public and...

Jack Schneider

Editor's note: This post is the second entry of a multi-part series of interviews featuring Fordham's own Andy Smarick and Jack Schneider, an assistant professor of education at Holy Cross. It originally appeared in a slightly different form at Education Week's K-12 Schools: Beyond the Rhetoric blog. The first entry can be found here.

Schneider: We ended our previous conversation with some skepticism on my part—about whether the charter model itself (rather than particular charter schools) would be any better than district governance. I'm wondering if you can articulate the theory of action there.

Smarick: My theory of action began with a hypothesis about the problem. The more I studied urban districts, the more I became convinced that there must be a systemic explanation for why none of these entities could muster the results we wanted. A number of books helped me piece together an initial answer, including Kolderie's Creating the Capacity for Change; Hill's Reinventing Public Education; Chubb and Moe's Politics, Markets, and America's Schools; and New Schools for a New Century, which Diane Ravitch edited with Joe Viteritti. 

I also looked outside of education, and I was pleasantly surprised to see the same themes surfacing. I found Osborne and Gaebler's Reinventing Government, Christensen's Innovator's Dilemma, and Foster and Kaplan's Creative Destruction to be invaluable.

Here's where I landed: The urban district was designed as a monopoly, the sole public-school provider that assigned kids to schools based not on their needs or interests but their home addresses. Research tells us,...

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