Flypaper

COLLEGE OPT OUT
Only 44 percent of Americans think getting a college education is “very important” compared to 75 percent four years ago, according to the annual PDK-Gallup poll, which also shows “a majority of public school parents want teacher training programs to be more selective.”

SUE BABY SUE
A lawsuit aimed at closing the charter school funding gap on behalf of upstate New York schools “could be a boon for nearly 70 charter schools” in New York City, Chalkbeat reports.  

POSITIVE, BUT SLOW MOVEMENT
The poverty rate for children under 18 declined last year for the first time since 2000, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau cited in the New York Times. But one in five children are still poor.

BLOW MINDS, TEACH STEM
“This story is simple: The future depends on great STEM teachers. We’re recruiting 100,000 more.” Check out Blowminds.org for career advice on how to change the world....

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Many people tune out when education discussions turn to data and statistics. For whatever reason, some folks just don’t like numbers. So a discussion about the development of education data is likely to attract an audience rivaling that of a paint-drying contest.

But if you care about K-12, you should definitely care about the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). This is the government body responsible for collecting and reporting a wealth of data on our schools—data that’s voluminous, comparable across years, and typically above reproach in terms of reliability.

I say “typically” because there is some reason for worry. Late in 2013, I scolded the federal government for massaging NAEP TUDA data, which reports on the performance of large urban districts. In short, we should’ve been deeply alarmed by the results, but the packaging gave the opposite impression.

This would’ve been troubling enough. What bothered me even more was that an advocacy organization that represents and serves large urban districts was an integral part of the release process.

But what happened next truly opened my eyes to the extent of the potential problem. The then-head of NCES quickly responded to my piece. He noted that his organization was only responsible for producing the data, which they do “free of ‘spin’ or partisan/political influence.” The National Assessments Government Board (which is in charge of NAEP), he wrote, is in charge of the public release pursuant to federal law.

He continued: “NAGB has...

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Paul Bruno

photo credit: ChalkbeatNY via photopin cc

With the release last month of the latest round test scores, Success Academy founder and CEO Eva Moskowitz is now a bona fide national-education-reform celebrity. She is also the latest in a line of educator-activists—like Michelle Rhee or Diane Ravitch—who embody, for supporters and opponents alike, one “side” of the education-reform debate. As a result, discussions about the stellar results posted by her schools have generated much more heat than light. Allies are eager to elevate her to exemplar status and critics desperate to prevent her from receiving even a modicum of credit for her students’ success.

The argument breaks down along predictable lines. For advocates of charter schools and education reform more generally, Success Academies demonstrate what can be accomplished when a strong leader with a laser-like focus on student achievement can do when she is free to hire the best teachers for the neediest students.

Critics of charter schools and reform are equally confident that Moskowitz is, in effect, running a scam: skimming the easiest-to-teach students, pushing out the ones who prove difficult later, and claiming all the while to be doing better work than the city’s other educators who are forced to operate without her considerable advantages and educational slight-of-hand.

What neither side is willing or able to admit, however, is how little we really know about why Moskowitz’s students seem to be doing so much better than...

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photo credit: roberthuffstutter via photopin cc

Much of the criticism recently leveled at the College Board’s new framework for its Advanced Placement United States history course and exam is hysterical and undeserved. There’s also reason to suspect that some of the harshest critics may be motivated at least in part by the riches they have reaped by prepping high school kids for the old version of the test.

That’s not to say the new framework has no flaws. Both Rick Hess and Jeremy Stern have responsibly pointed them out. But the College Board has agreed to undertake revisions. And the sample exam they recently released is pretty good. Among its short questions, I spotted a few that were poorly worded and one that I judged unfair to Ronald Reagan’s foreign policy, but the overwhelming majority looked fine and the medium- and long-answer questions are plenty challenging, well-conceived, and unlikely to be answered successfully without a fair command of the essentials of American history.

But AP framework builders are caught between a rock and a hard place. The fundamental concept of Advanced Placement, after all, is to provide able-enough high school students with college-level coursework that, if successfully mastered, can actually yield them credit as they enter the ivy walls.

It works, too, though not nearly as easily as it once did. Back in the late middle ages, I was able to skip...

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We seemed to have welcomed good manners back to the Common Core debate. That doesn’t mean we’ve seen more advocacy either on behalf of the standards or knocking them, only that the tenor appears to have changed for the better. At least for the time being, detractors are no longer paranoid Neanderthals, and supporters have ceased to be communists on the federal or Gates Foundation dole.

Whether this détente will prove to be ephemeral or lasting is anyone’s guess, but some credit should go to one CCSS advocate and one foe. In a Washington Times op-ed, Fordham’s Mike Petrilli and Neal McCluskey of Cato, hoping to tamp down the “raucous debate,” sought to re-ground the conversation in a number of facts.

Their piece argues, among other things, that both sides have good intentions; that much Common Core activity began before President Obama was elected, that much of that activity has been led by non-government bodies; and that federal policy—stretching from 1994 to this administration’s Race to the Top and ESEA waivers—has played a meaningful role in the standards’ adoption and implementation.

There are other clear signs of restraint. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee recently told a crowd that the Common Core fight should be dialed back. Though her union is still frustrated with implementation, AFT head Randi Weingarten penned an op-ed lauding the promise of the standards. Common Core co-author David Coleman recently denounced insulting language directed at opponents, and Glenn Beck scaled back his...

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On September 3, I participated in a launch event for Mike McShane’s new book, Education and Opportunity, a publication of AEI’sValues and Capitalism” initiative. The following are my amended remarks about the book, namely our improved understanding of K12 markets, the downsides of a unitary system of schools, and the intersection of such reform and conservatism.

I want to focus on three elements of this valuable new book. The first two relate to its contributions to our improved thinking about school choice. The third relates to the tension between school choice and conservatism.

First, Education and Opportunity offers a sophisticated view of public school markets, how to understand them, use their strength, and appreciate their limitations.

The book’s thrust is neatly summarized by one of its early sentences: “A vibrant marketplace of education options is the most effective means of developing the schools necessary to meet the needs of students today and in the years to come.”

Many writers on school choice have focused on the importance of options. But note the use of “vibrant” and “developing.” This suggests a portfolio of schools that’s full of energy and dynamism. This is not a minimally diverse set of schools, a collection that exists in perpetuity. In this sentence and throughout the book, Mike describes a portfolio consisting of a wide array of options, a portfolio that continuously improves in quality and evolves to reflect the changing needs of families.

This echoes the great insight from charter...

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UNIONIZING CHARTERS
The California Teachers Association has its sights set on charter school organization,Education Week reports. Nationally, the NEA and AFT have been working to bring unions to charter schools, but the sector remains mostly union-free—a good thing in Fordham's view.

BILL GATES SMILES
The New York Times Magazine profiled Bill Gates and his big idea to rework how history is taught in school, but most of the online fodder is around how photographer Dan Winters got the education philanthropist to smile.

SIGNIFICANT SIG CHANGES?
Draft guidance from the Department of Education could mean more financial flexibility for SIG recipients, reports Education Week. But can SIG even be fixed

HOW TO RATE SCHOOLS WITHOUT TEST SCORES
Jay Mathews at the Washington Post takes a crack at the NCLB-aged conundrum: sure, test scores are flawed metrics, but what else can we use? Classroom grades, not test scores. Though insert "Common Core" and this turns into a strong argument for the standards and its assessments....

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Michael Usdan

There is little that I might add to Checker and Mike's wonderfully fitting tribute to Graham Down. They captured the very essence of a remarkable, multi-faceted, true Renaissance man.

Graham and I were personal and professional friends for better than three decades and crossed paths often in foundation offices as we both constantly sought revenue for our respective organizations: Graham for the Council for Basic Education and me for the Institute for Educational Leadership, which I led for twenty years. Indeed, our tenures as leaders of our respective organizations overlapped for almost two decades.

Despite this ostensible competition and eternal scrambling for scarce funds for our non-profits, we developed a unique and wonderful friendship with good natured, irrepressible humor. I unfailingly would tease Graham about his "Bronx accent" and the decline of his beloved British Empire. He in turn would respond to my taunts (in an infinitely more refined and articulate way) with acerbic comments about the immaturity of the American colonies.

Graham had superb people skills. His leadership of CBE was notable for many reasons. Most importantly, his special ability to bridge and connect diverse individuals and ideologies stands out in stark contrast in the contemporary, polarized education-policy context. Graham's energetic, impeccable persona and commitment to the highest academic standards and liberal arts gave him great credibility in the ranks of reformers and critics of the quality of American education. At the same time, Graham related wonderfully to mainstream educators and their "establishment" organizations.

In other words, he...

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Eflon/Flickr

Judging by the rhetoric of some legislators and wonks, it may come as a shock that public policy is not the stuff of magic whereby just the right regulatory language will, like one of Harry Potter’s spells, instantly reduce a monster of a problem to dust. Instead, policy is about the careful consideration of a series of tradeoffs. Education reformers in particular have been accused of leaping from one panacea to the next, rather than carefully considering practical alternatives. That doesn’t mean, however, there aren’t still a number of critical ingredients that must be a part of any witch’s brew to cure what ails our education system. One of them is the reform of, if not removal of, tenure. 

Everyone has his or her own list of prerequisites to a great education system. For some, it might be small class sizes and wraparound services that reach the “whole child.” In my view, it includes parent-empowering school choice, a reduction of the compliance culture to promote innovation, and strong standards and accountability. The other essential items on the list? Staffing policies that allow us to recruit, retain, and reward the best and brightest would-be educators and leaders.

We have countless teachers who would meet anyone’s definition of “outstanding,” but we are missing a great deal more due to illogical policies that exist in nearly every state, for example, those that protect bad teachers and get rid...

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Tony Fischer/Flickr

[Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series of personal reflections on the current state of education reform and contemporary conservatism by Andy Smarick, a Bernard Lee Schwartz senior policy fellow with the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.  The previous posts in this series can be seen herehere, and here.]

Andy’s odyssey: Part four

The most convincing argument against conservatism is that by defending longstanding institutions it ends up protecting longstanding injustices.

Yes, there is a prima facie case for preservation: It’s sensible to safeguard things that have stood the test of time—libraries, respect for elders, voluntary community associations, the Western canon, charity. But enormous harm is done by protecting old, immoral institutions, like serfdom, honor killings, and the denial of women’s suffrage.

A corollary of the preserve-first approach, that change should occur gradually, promises wise, prudent adjustments. But it too can injure grievously. Ending the military targeting of civilians—once a common wartime practice—needed to happen immediately, not slowly. This understanding is reflected in Gladstone’s adage, “Justice delayed is justice denied;” Goldwater’s admonition, “Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue;” and Dr. King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail rebuke of those advocating patience.

The dark sides of preservation and gradual change have been illuminated by the events of Ferguson and a recent Atlantic article on reparations. They illustrate with agonizing clarity why dramatic change is sometimes required; provide insight into the tragic...

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