Flypaper

My colleague Julie Squire and I recently published a report on reforming state departments of education. We argue most state-level reforms ought to be driven by entities other than the SEA, which should focus on a narrower, but still important set of responsibilities.

Our report was intended to challenge the dominant view (i.e., state reform requires a more muscular SEA) and explain how a new approach might be implemented.

We recognized that our take was sufficiently different so as to require not just a strong theoretical base and plenty of evidence but also measured recommendations and explicit cautions. We aimed to produce a sober assessment of current conditions and guarded optimism about a new tack. This is why we dedicate an entire section to the problem and another to the risks of our argument.

We’re fortunate our paper has been taken seriously by a number of serious people, including those who largely agree, those open to a discussion, and those with reservations.

In the last category fall two sharp observers who’ve produced responses warranting attention. Not coincidentally, both are affiliated with CRPE, which has studied systemic reform for ages and dedicated significant recent bandwidth to SEA reform. To cut to the chase, I enthusiastically agree with most of what both have written.

The first is a smart piece by Paul Hill, CRPE’s founder and a researcher who’s thought deeply about the theory underpinning our piece and that theory’s application to...

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On the surface, the story of the US Department of Education’s recent letter to Indiana about its ESEA-waiver noncompliance writes itself. According to the feds, the Hoosier state promised a bunch of stuff, isn’t delivering, and deserves to be called into the principal’s office.

But I encourage you to read the letter—my gut tells me this is the K–12-policy version of a Rorschach test.

In short, the Department has placed conditions on IN’s flexibility request and is requiring the state to submit a plan for how it will implement high-quality standards and assessments in the next school year.

On the first score, ED determined the state hadn’t implemented sufficient interventions for troubled schools and wasn’t adequately monitoring implementation of content standards and educator evaluations.

On the second, ED is seriously holding IN’s feet to the fire regarding its recent legislative action related to Common Core and PARCC. Both were part of the state’s waiver request, and now both have been put aside via state law. Given this, Uncle Sam is demanding a new plan for how the state intends to meet the standards-and-assessments conditions of ESEA flexibility.

I bet lots of folks will read ED’s letter, and think, “Hooray! The Department is serious about its new accountability rules!” Indeed, the ESEA waiver application had clear requirements, and the state made promises, got the flexibility, isn’t meeting its obligations, and is now being held accountable. (Fans of Common Core and PARCC specifically, and tough standards...

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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 Cultures; the early American civilizations; Ancient Greece; Ancient RomeNative American culturesChristopher Columbus and the Age of DiscoveryColonial America and the Revolutionary Warthe American founders;  movie adaptations of classic children’s booksAmerican folk heroesdinosaursaquatic lifeinsectsfrogs and other amphibiansreptilesbirds; and mammals.

We’ve made it this far into our Netflix Academy series without much controversy, save for a few folks on Twitter who had some choice words for Christopher Columbus. Something tells me that the topic of “human evolution” will put that lucky streak to an end. Nonetheless, it’s a crucial part of any curriculum, as it’s a cornerstone of modern biology. Plus, in my humble opinion, it’s totally fascinating. I’m particularly enamored with the BBC’s “Walking with Cavemen” production, which just might be my favorite educational video on Netflix. Creationists will surely disagree. Everyone else: enjoy!

Special thanks to research interns Andrew McDonnell, Elisabeth Hoyson, and Liz McInerney for helping to compile these lists.

Best videos on human evolution

1. Walking with Cavemen

Walking with Cavemen

...
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Apart from Pulitzer Prizes and such, reporters seldom get much credit.

In general, those they cover in a positive light still think the journalist didn’t tell the full story. Of course, those on the receiving end of a tough article, forever accuse the reporter of all types of malfeasance. And then there are those of us in the chattering class who always seem to think the reporter should’ve taken a different approach, ferreted out other issues, and included other voices (typically ours).

I guess this is the price journalists pay for having such significant power (and, in the eyes of detractors, too little accountability). As Mark Twain said, never pick a fight with those who buy ink by the barrel (yes, it’s dated, but you get the gist!).

I like the work of lots of education reporters, and I should probably praise some of them more. But it always feels a bit icky to say nice things about folks who might want to use you as a source. Reporters’ credibility could be challenged if they rely on those who butter them up.

But I’d like to take this chance to express my appreciation for the great work over many years by Michele McNeil of Education Week and Politics K–12. Michele has covered some of the most interesting issues, and she’s always done it smartly and thoroughly.

Some ambitious journalists view it as their duty to comfort the afflicted...

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As legislatures wind down their spring sessions nationwide, Oklahoma is one of the few remaining states with an ongoing, unresolved debate over the Common Core State Standards. Unfortunately, it appears that the Sooner State may follow Indiana’s route and repeal the standards. As the Oklahoman points out in a powerful editorial today, that won’t solve any political problems for Oklahoma Republicans; the Tea Party opponents of the Common Core in Indiana are madder than ever.

But those political considerations are far from the best reasons for Oklahoma to stand strong and not revert back to its old standards (which is what local Common Core opponents are suggesting). The most important factor is that those old standards, while relatively solid, had significant shortcomings—shortcomings that make them incompatible with college and career readiness:

  1. Few objectives were devoted to informational texts. This is a problem for two reasons. First, informational texts—otherwise known as nonfiction—allow students to gain important content knowledge that will allow them to become proficient readers. It’s this focus on content knowledge that is one reason we at the Fordham Institute (and Core Knowledge founder E.D. Hirsch, Jr.) are such strong supporters of the Common Core. Second, research demonstrates that many students struggle in college because they have not had enough exposure to informational texts in the K–12 system; addressing that preparation gap is a major goal (and positive feature) of the Common Core. What’s more, Oklahoma’s old standards were neither detailed enough about the literary genres students should
  2. ...
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As anyone in education knows, the Common Core debate has become heavily politicized over the past year. What that means is that the true education issues at stake—for instance, whether the standards for English and math are challenging enough or, conversely, age appropriate—are taking a backseat to arguments over macropolitics and ideology.

Opponents on the right like to label the Common Core as “ObamaCore” and joke that schools were promised, “If you like your curriculum, you can keep your curriculum.”

As a conservative supporter of the Common Core who has racked up thousands of frequent-flier miles traveling to legislative hearings in state capitals nationwide, I find this fear of centralized control a misplaced, even willful false alarm sounded by people with other political agendas. To be sure, I don’t want the federal government meddling in curriculum issues and can point to many examples where Washington regulations—on matters of spending, “highly-qualified teachers,” and student discipline—have done more harm than good. I’m relieved the federal role in the Common Core has been relatively small.

Yet the history of education reform in the United States makes clear that efforts to foist top-down changes on the nation’s schools never get anywhere quickly and never produce real uniformity. Invariably, they’re met, for better or worse, with resistance and confusion—or, to say it more positively, with adaptation and customization.

The Common Core issue will prove no different. It won’t lead to...

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It looks to me as if one of the most acclaimed reforms of today’s education profession—not just in the U.S. but also all over the planet—is one of the least examined in terms of actual implementation and effectiveness. How often and how well do instructors, whose administrators and gurus revere the concept of differentiated instruction, actually carry it out? How well does it work and for which kids under what circumstances? So far as I can tell, nobody really knows.

I’ve been roaming the globe in search of effective strategies for educating high-ability youngsters, particularly kids from disadvantaged circumstances who rarely have parents with the knowledge and means to steer them through the education maze and obtain the kind of schooling (and/or supplementation or acceleration) that will make the most of their above-average capacity to learn.

As expected, I’ve found a wide array of programs and policies intended for “gifted education,” “talent development,” and so forth, each with pluses and minuses.

But almost everywhere, I’ve also encountered some version of this assertion: “We don’t really need to provide special programs, classrooms, or schools for gifted children because we expect every school and teacher to differentiate their instruction so as to meet the unique educational needs of all children within an inclusive, heterogeneous classroom.”

A thoroughly laudable goal, say I, but how realistic is it? How well is it being done? And does it really meet...

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Michael Brickman appeared on Fox News’ “Happening Now” to talk about standards and the Common Core with Joy Pullmann. Michael calls out anti–Common Core groups who offer false choices on standards vs. school choice, have no plan for the day after Common Core, and want standards that don’t require our students to read Shakespeare or our founding documents. Watch the segment to see Michael set the record straight.

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Mike McShane and Andrew Kelly of AEI have written a terrific new study commissioned by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. Everyone interested in the changing ecosystem of K–12 schooling in urban America ought to give it a look. It investigates Catholic schools that converted to charter status in several cities. The authors compared changes in the converting schools to demographically similar private schools that didn’t convert. By comparison, in post-conversion schools, student enrollment grew substantially, particularly among minority students, though the influence on staffing was less clear. Interestingly, Catholic schools that didn’t convert benefitted financially by other schools’ conversion—the diocese had more funding to spread across fewer schools, and leasing buildings to the converted charter schools generated revenue. The study has other interesting findings related to branding and how conversions influence the market of options available to low-income urban families.

An interesting, important, and underreported Common Core story is that while political types have been debating issues of “whether,” countless others have been consumed with issues of “how.” That is, lots of educators and leaders at the district and state levels have been doing their utmost to ensure the standards are properly implemented. The Southern Regional Education Board has produced a thorough study of how 15 states are bringing the Common Core to life—through professional development, assessments, classroom resources, accountability measures, and more. You’ll probably be impressed by the work that’s being done, and if you’re a CCSS advocate, you’re likely to be frustrated that...

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Like a dog that finally catches the bus he'd been chasing forever, what happens when opponents of the Common Core State Standards finally succeed in getting a state's policymakers to "repeal" the education initiative? Early signs from Indiana and elsewhere suggest that the opponents' stated goals are likely to get run over.

We acknowledge, of course, that Common Core critics aren't monolithic, even on the right. Libertarians want states to reject standards, testing and accountability overall; conservative opponents urge states to move to what they see as "higher" standards. Both factions would like to remove the taint of federal influence from state-based reform. (On that point, we concur.) On the left, the National Education Association sees an opportunity to push back against a policy it never liked in the first place. The union is using the standards as an excise to call for a moratorium on teacher evaluations as states move to Common Core–aligned tests. Still others worry about the standards being "too hard." (On these points, we do not concur).

So how's it going? Indiana has hit the reverse button hardest, enacting a bill that requires the state board of education to adopt revised standards. Oklahoma seems on the brink of doing much the same thing. No state is rejecting standards and testing entirely. That is partially because they would lose hundreds of millions of dollars of federal education funding and partially because few lawmakers trust the education system to do right by all kids once it's free from external...

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