In education reform, we like to say that demography isn’t destiny—that, with the right supports, poor children can achieve at high levels despite the many challenges they face. But today, I’d like to discuss demography more literally—namely, the nation’s birth rate. Because it is destined to lead to significant teacher layoffs in the near future.

Much like the Great Depression did, the onset of the Great Recession led to a sharp decline in the U.S. birth rate. This graph illustrates the trend clearly:

More babies were born in the United States in 2007 than any other year in history—even more than at the peak of the Baby Boom. But the numbers started to plummet in 2008; as of 2013 (the most recent data), we’ve seen six straight years of decline. We are now 9 percent below 2007’s high.

So what does this mean for schools? For starters, remember that there’s a five year lag between birth and kindergarten entry. Do the math and you’ll learn that, at least nationally, there are a whole lot of first and second graders (born in 2007). But the kindergarten class is smaller, and the rising kindergarten class (kids born in 2009 and 2010) is smaller than that. Give it a few years and our national enrollment of elementary school students will be down, well, about 9 percent.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that every elementary school will shrink by that amount (though that is exactly what’s happening at my kids’ school in Montgomery County, Maryland). Schools in popular, gentrifying neighborhoods will continue to grow; successful schools of choice will continue to attract plenty of students (though their waiting lists should shrink); metropolitan areas that weathered the recession in good...

Commonsense solutions to “undermatching.”
Dominique Coote

No state does right by its “high flyers,” and most do an awful lot wrong.
Michelle Lerner

Today, the Senate HELP Committee is considering the bipartisan ESEA reauthorization bill crafted by Senators Alexander and Murray.

This legislation represents a very smart compromise on the key issue of accountability. What happens in committee, on the floor, and beyond is anyone’s guess. But the current language is, in my view, the best proposal we’ve seen for solving the problem that’s held up ESEA reauthorization for ages.

In February, I created a graphic showing how the various proposals on the table handled the various elements of accountability. The major plans followed one of three approaches. The middle path (between a beefed-up federal role and an emaciated one) was staked out by state-oriented groups including CCSSO, NGA, and NCSL. I called this “Accountability for Results.”

The Alexander-Murray bill is in this mold, though with a couple of notable adjustments.

Like many other plans, it keeps NCLB’s suite of tests. But it makes a very important, very interesting, and very compelling amendment to NCLB’s aspirational target of all students reaching proficiency in each grade by a certain date. Instead, it requires states to create accountability plans so that all kids are on track to reach college and career readiness by high school graduation.

This approach ensures that we continue focusing on the needs of all kids. It also maintains a high bar for achievement (postsecondary success). And by putting the ultimate performance target at the end of students’ K–12 careers, the legislation gives states, districts, and schools a full thirteen years to make up the academic gaps students entered school with. In this sense, the bill sets an absolutely reasonable quid pro quo...

No more utopian goals for ESEA.
Michael J. Petrilli

I’m back from a week’s vacation and pleased to find that ESEA reauthorization is still (if just barely) alive. The release of a compromise bill from Senate HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander and ranking member Patty Murray gives me an excuse to bring back my beloved color-coded ESEA table.

The last time we checked, when Chairman Alexander published his discussion draft, it looked like this:

After negotiating with Senator Murray, it now looks like this (items that moved are in bold):

(* These were in the Alexander discussion draft too; I had them in the wrong column last time. My apologies.
** The School Improvement Grants program is officially gone, though the bill [like Alexander’s discussion draft] does include a large state set-aside for school “interventions and supports.”

So what’s the big news? First, federally mandated teacher evaluations are dead as a doorknob, as are requirements that states adopt a particular type of standard (read: Common Core). That’s good news on both fronts, as Uncle Sam has become a monkey on the backs of these reforms. Second, as most of us predicted, annual tests are here to stay. (The House Republicans’ bill keeps them, too.) Third, Senator Murray rescued the “maintenance of effort” requirement, though Republicans succeeded in adding some flexibility for states and districts. She also kept a handful of competitive grant programs alive, including one for magnet schools.

The most significant changes relate to state accountability systems. To be sure, the language in the Alexander-Murray compromise is much less prescriptive than No Child Left Behind’s “adequate yearly progress” concoction. But it’s fairly prescriptive nonetheless, requiring the setting of annual...

The Every Child Achieves Act of 2015, unveiled a few days back by Senators Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray and scheduled for HELP Committee mark-up on April 14, is a remarkable piece of work. The mere fact that it’s bipartisan is remarkable enough, given the polarized state of Capitol Hill nowadays. But it’s also a reasonable, forward-looking compromise among strongly divergent views of the federal role in K–12 education—and between the overreach (and attendant backlash) of NCLB and some people’s conviction that NCLB didn’t reach far enough.

The draft has received much applause—some of it muted, some tentative—from many quarters (including the Obama administration). Indeed, some Washington wags have remarked that if so many different factions are saying nice things about it, either they haven’t actually read it or there must be something wrong with it! I like most of it myself, though I (as with perhaps everyone else who has said anything positive) hope that the refinements to be offered in committee and on the floor will yield something that I like even better.

I’m mindful, though, that the amending process in the Senate alone is where bipartisanship could get unstuck. This is to say nothing of what might happen if and when it gets to conference with the House Republicans’ version of an ESEA reauthorization, currently awaiting floor action.

Sound education policy for American children is more important than bipartisanship, but in today’s divided government, we’re even less likely to get to the former if we can’t sustain some form of the latter. That could mean everybody holding their noses over provisions they don’t like, even while agreeing that the totality is an improvement over current law—and that nothing better is likely to come along anytime...

The weak link between student motivation and achievement.
Chester E. Finn, Jr.