Flypaper

As I wrote last week, with the ESEA reauthorization process heating up, lots of advocates are now trying to influence the congressional deliberations. Secretary Duncan weighed in this morning. Here are ten things you should know about his speech.

  1. It was fifty years ago today. The initial frame of the speech harkens back to the original ESEA (1965) and its raison d’être. Duncan even cited Robert F. Kennedy. This is a civil-rights issue for the secretary; indeed, he repeatedly used words like “equity,” “fairness,” and “justice” in his speech. But to many, LBJ’s Great Society is also synonymous with the excesses of federal activity; it is the voracious, technocratic, disconnected, wasteful, ineffective, inside-the-Beltway bureaucracy. Conjuring up this era will motivate many…but not in the same way.
  2. Civil rights legislation? Given this framing and the news of Duncan’s having been deeply affected by the Garner and Brown cases, I was prepared for the secretary to be explicit that ESEA is civil rights—not just education—legislation aimed at righting longstanding racial wrongs. I also wondered if he would suggest that a vote against strong K–12 federal accountability would be in the same vein as opposing rights-expanding legislation of the 1960s. But he was mostly delicate in this area. He did, however, use President George W. Bush’s famous NCLB line against opponents of federal accountability. Duncan juxtaposed his own position (encapsulated, in his view, by a Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. line) with the “
  3. ...

In AEI’s latest Vision Talks video, Arthur Brooks, its president and the happiest man in the think-tank world, argues that public-policy advocates need to make a better case: one that is moral, about people, and to the point. This talk could not be better suited for conservatives, especially as presidential hopefuls are (sigh) already campaigning. Many acknowledge that conservatives must talk about issues in a better way if they plan on expanding their base to young voters and minorities. But Arthur Brooks would have made a better case for conservatives if he hadn’t used education reform as his example.

Brooks makes some very valid points: Public policy advocates should discuss moral (not a materialistic or economic) goals; public policy is about helping people; and ideas should be communicated quickly. (And he adds in some the nifty fact that communicators have seven seconds to win someone over before the listener’s brain tells him move on.) But this doesn’t work with ed reform because, for the most part, we’re already there. From “A Nation at Risk” to “content, character, and choice” to having the “right to rise,” politicians have made that to-the-point and emotional leap. Blogger Alexander Russo rightly noted that this is “something that pretty much everyone in education advocacy has come to understand at this point.” Some groups, including the PIE Network and Education Cities, have been on that case for years with messaging advice to...

COMMUNITY CHEST
Yesterday, President Obama proposed making two years of community college free for qualifying students. Some see it as a way for more Americans to achieve better-paying jobs, while others see it as potentially stagnating low-income students’ pursuit of a four-year degree. One thing is for certain: A proposal of this scale comes with a hefty price tag. The proposal still awaits congressional approval; we’ll see how that goes.

THE BATTLE OF U.S. HISTORY
Mona Charen at NRO has a useful return to some of the issues in play from last year’s AP U.S. History flap, as well as a look at how Common Core politics might shape the debate in 2015. Quoted in the piece is Fordham’s own charming Chester Finn, who says the Common Core standards are “superior to the standards in 75 percent of the states.”

DEPARTMENT OF BAD NEWS
Success Academy, the New York City charter organization with the AWESOME test scores, recently cancelled its plans to open new schools this year. The new schools were to be part of a negotiation with the city to open or expand ten schools by 2016. This story provides yet another glimpse into the tricky nature of finding space for new charter schools.

WEEKEND PLAYLIST
While driving out to your ski chalet this Saturday, make sure to listen to this all-star Freakonomics podcast featuring former New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, Harvard economist John Friedman, KIPP co-founder...

The ed-policy world is abuzz: ESEA now probably stands a better chance of being reauthorized than at any time since NCLB’s signing, thirteen years ago yesterday.

Given the statute’s scope, today’s debate could include countless issues, such as possible changes to Title II rules on educator effectiveness, the expansion of the charter school grant program, the introduction of a private school choice initiative, reconsideration of competitive grant programs (RTTT, TIF, i3), and much more.

But the question consuming virtually all oxygen is what will become of NCLB’s calling card, namely its tough rules on standards, assessments, and consequences?

Based on reporting as well as whispers, tea-leaf reading, and blind speculation, folks believe federal accountability is in serious jeopardy. In short, the Right wants to eliminate the "federal," and the Left wants to eviscerate the "accountability."

To better understand where things go from here, it’s worth pinpointing where we are in the order of operations. Typically, when the passage of federal legislation is on the docket, there’s a several-month-long window during which the views of the most important stakeholders are put on the potter’s wheel for molding. Advocates’ top targets all reside on Capitol Hill: Most important are the chairs of the relevant committees, committee members, party leaders, and all other members (and, not incidentally, the key staff to all of the above).

But since ESEA reauthorization is now overdue by the age of third grader, with lots of false starts along the...

Ah, January is upon us: The wind is howling, the thermometer is plummeting, and we are greeted by the nineteenth consecutive edition of Quality Counts, Education Week’s compilation of mostly useful data, analysis, rankings and commentaries.

The single best thing about QC is its focus on states, not just because it enables state leaders to view external gauges of their own performance and compare it with other states, but also—especially valuable today—because it reminds everyone that states remain the central players in matters of K–12 education quality. (So many have obsessed for so long about federal stuff and Common Core—itself a state initiative—that it’s easy, especially inside the Beltway, to lose focus.)

The analysts and authors of QC keep fussing with the variables, metrics and weightings by which they grade state performance. This year, once again, those variables are sorted into three buckets, two of which have to do with processes, practices, and inputs. Some of the latter (e.g., parents’ education) is completely beyond state control, and some is based on questionable assumptions about how much is enough (and whether more is better) when it comes to education spending. Only the achievement bucket focuses on outcomes. Along the way, some issues of key interest to education reformers—most conspicuously school accountability, teacher quality, and choice—have vanished from the QC calculus.

One helpful bit: If you don’t like their weightings within the variables, you can fiddle with them yourself and...

SAT WORDS: NOW WITH MORE COOING
Researchers from the Thirty Million Words project are setting out to educate (brand) new mothers on the importance of parent interactions from day one. Pulling from the famous 1995 Hart and Risley study, which found that children from working-class families hear an average of thirty million more words by the age of four than those of “welfare” families, the team is hoping that early interventions will encourage new parents to read and talk to their newborns at every opportunity. Hear, hear, says Robert Pondiscio, who has argued that it pays to increase one’s word power.

MORE ON READING
A new report by Scholastic found that less than one-third of children interviewed between the ages of six and seventeen read for fun on a daily basis. Being read aloud to, restricted digital time, and free time to read at school were all top factors among those who reported regularly reading for pleasure. Literacy experts say parents should continue to read aloud to their children throughout elementary school to build higher-level vocabulary and develop interdisciplinary background knowledge. But Michael Petrilli would argue that as long as kids are gaining knowledge, a little screen time doesn’t hurt.

BABES IN TECHLAND
Digital learning has carved out a permanent place for itself in the classroom. A new piece in Education Week explores how the tools of online education are being...

Debate begins today on H.R. 30, a bill to tweak Obamacare so that large employers need not provide insurance for their staff unless they work forty hours per week, versus thirty hours under current law. The rationale is clear: The thirty-hour rule appears to be encouraging employers to cut workers’ hours, which is driving down income at a time when many part-timers are already struggling to make ends meet.

It got me thinking: How many school districts would be required to provide health insurance to their teachers under the proposed standard? Of course, virtually everywhere, such benefits are already baked into state law and/or local contracts for teachers, so this is just a thought exercise. And yes, most teachers work longer than is contractually required—both on site and at home. But so do professionals in other fields. The current debate made me curious about the mandatory workweek of the nation’s teachers.

To find out, I tapped the National Council on Teacher Quality’s fantastic Teacher Contract Database, which pulls information from collective-bargaining agreements (or their equivalents in non-union states) from more than one hundred districts nationwide. (Most of the data are current as of the 2013–14 school year.)

What did I learn? Most of the districts in the database don’t require a forty-hour workweek, and several don’t even come close. Let’s be honest, some of these workweeks are shockingly short. Sacramento’s barely hits the current Obamacare threshold!

Take a look for yourself at the range from the shortest to longest...

DIFFERENTIATED STROKES FOR HETEROGENEOUSLY GROUPED FOLKS
In a must-read piece in Education Week, James R. Delisle takes aim at one of the biggest trends in education: differentiated instruction. The method is meant to reach students learning at drastically different levels, but Delisle charges that it complicates the work of teachers by forcing them to prepare separate materials and is almost impossible to put into practice. Fordham President Emeritus Chester Finn once asked if differentiated instruction was a hollow promise. Delisle and the Gadfly give a resounding yes.

BUT WHEN WILL WE GET A PLAYOFF SYSTEM?
You know it’s January when Rick Hess reveals his annual RHSU Edu-Scholar Rankings, a rock-’em, sock-’em power poll of the biggest, baddest wonks in academia. Check out the post to discover the biggest risers and hottest newcomers, along with the perennial champions making up the top ten. (And note the presence of peeps who were EEPS.) Of course, any list of influential education voices that doesn’t include a certain winged, anthropomorphized insect is notably incomplete.

GRADE-LEVEL TEXTS
In a dramatic victory for both restive pupils and the Apple Store, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has lifted the citywide prohibition on cell phones in public schools. The oft-defied ban was increasingly seen as unenforceable, with critics arguing that it prevented parents from keeping in touch with their kids and some teachers fretting that mobile devices were already being used...

WHAT TO WATCH
In a new article from Education Week, readers get the low-down on what to expect from the 114th Congress on the education front. First, we’ll see a race to get a reauthorized ESEA bill to the president by mid-February. Next, we can expect to see some debate on two major ed-reform issues: grade-span testing and charters schools. Finally, get ready for what may be the reemergence of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act and an education-research bill.

ESEA AS PIE
The first item on that list is the one that interests us most right now. For the best in-depth take on the GOP’s plans to tinker with No Child Left Behind (the most recent ESEA reauthorization, passed in 2001 and renewed in 2007), read Maggie Severns’s fantastic piece at Politico. Alongside a useful history of the law and a fresh look at the testing debate, the article cites Fordham’s own marvelous Mike Petrilli on the prospects for legislative action. The process, he says, will be “all about Congress taking a red pen and deleting” language in NCLB.

MORE FROM MIKE
Over the New Year, we Fordhamites caught ESEA fever. And the only cure is more Petrilli. For relief from your symptoms, make sure to check out Mike’s piping-hot take on which elements of the law are likely to stay and which will be left behind like so many...

ESEA reauthorization explained in a single table

Once upon a time (OK, it was 2007), we D.C. policy wonks were gearing up for a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education act (a.k.a. No Child Left Behind), and all the buzz was about the new federal requirements that would be added. Checker and I dubbed it “No Idea Left Behind.”

What a difference eight years makes. As Politico reported last week, with Republicans fully in charge of Capitol Hill, the only question this time around is how much Congress will subtract. Call it No Red Pen Left Behind.

Below is my take on the major ESEA provisions that are dead for sure, those that will survive, and the handful of policies that will animate the coming debate. [1]

[1] To be clear, some of the provisions listed here aren't in ESEA proper. Race to the Top and the Investing in Innovation fund were created as part of the 2009 stimulus bill; the administration dreamed up the requirements that states adopt teacher-evaluation systems and "college- and career-ready standards" as part of its conditional ESEA waivers. The administration would, no doubt, like to fold all of these into a new ESEA. I doubt that's going to happen....

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