Flypaper

Monday afternoon, a Washington, D.C., metro rail train stopped in a tunnel not far from a major station, and the car began filling with smoke. Soon the lights went off and, though many passengers were struggling to breathe, they were told by metro employees to stay put. A spokesman for first responders disputes the timeline, but the Washington Post spoke with passengers who said they were waiting as much as an hour before help arrived. The paper also quotes a fire department spokesman who admitted that, even once they arrived on the scene, "firefighters did not immediately enter the tunnel to help the riders because they were not sure whether the subway’s electrified third rail had been deactivated."

All told, one woman lost her life and eighty-four were hospitalized. In the coming weeks and months we will learn more about how this happened, whether the response was adequate, and whether the accident and subsequent loss of life could have been prevented.

To many riders, accidents like this are not surprising. A 2009 train collision killed nine people. There are also years’ worth of examples documented by bloggers, everyday riders, and journalists of seldom-enforced rules, sloppy workmanship, and bafflingly onerous collectively bargained work rules that sacrifice quality and safety in the interest of other union priorities.

To top it off, system leadership will often downplay the problems to make it seem like everything is under control. A post from Cato's Walter Olson after...

Last week, I explained the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (a.k.a. No Child Left Behind) in a single table:

Now that Senator Alexander, chairman of the HELP Committee, has released a draft bill, let’s take a look at where it stands on these various issues (items that moved are in bold):

In brief, most of my “yellow” items went to red—as in, they got left on the cutting room floor. Just testing in science and a version of School Improvement Grants made it to the “green” territory.[1] And most intriguingly, annual testing—the star of the current debate—stays in yellow thanks to Alexander’s equivocation on the issue. (He included two options in his bill—either keep the current annual testing requirements or let states propose something that is similar in spirit.)

To be sure, this is just the opening bid. Conservatives will aim to shrink the green list, and liberals will aim to grow it. What’s still not known is where the president’s “red line” may fall. Stay tuned!




[1] As several readers noted, the School Improvement Grants program is officially gone, though the bill does include a large state set-aside for school improvement activities. 

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THE DRAFT BILL IS HERE...ALMOST
Reporters are gathering details on Senator Lamar Alexander’s much-awaited draft bill for reauthorization of No Child Left Behind. The bill is more than 400 pages long and outlines two roads for standardized testing: A Choose Your Own (Testing) Adventure or “stick with the assessment language we pretty much already have,” note the Politics K–12 duo.

WALKER: TESTING RANGER
Education Week’s excellent State Edwatch blog has an in-depth examination of Wisconsin Republicans’ new state education plan, called for by Governor Scott Walker during last year’s reelection campaign, which would convert persistently failing public schools into charter schools. Also included in the legislation is a proposal to grant broad leeway to public, charter, and private schools to select from a menu of competing standardized tests.

BOARD TO DEATH
American University’s WAMU takes a look at the responsibilities of charter board members in Washington, D.C., a city in which nearly half of all children attend charter schools. Carrie Irvin, head of a nonprofit that seeks to train the volunteer board members, says that the duties of the position can be demanding: "Serving on a public charter school board is not 'I’ll show up twice a year, vote like the guy next to me because he looks smart and put it on my resume.’ It’s a serious leadership responsibility."

INTEGRATION AND THE ACHIEVEMENT GAP
The Supreme Court will be hearing a case next week concerning disparate impact of housing policies on racial...

The president may have stiffed the French at the big solidarity rally that many other world leaders attended over the weekend, but when it comes to domestic policy, he is in love with the universe—and universality.

First, of course, came universal health care. But it was followed in short order by his plea for universal preschool education and, last week, for universal community-college education. All free, of course, at least for the consumer. (Not, obviously, for the taxpayer.)

In health care, there’s at least a rational basis for demanding universal insurance coverage: to apply the “savings” from healthy people who don’t need medical care to subsidize the care of those who need lots of it. (Social Security and Medicare run the same way, except their “do get” and “don’t get” populations are demarcated explicitly by age rather than health status.)

In education, though, the trade-offs tucked into universality are more insidious—and actually harmful to authentic “need lots” people, while conferring taxpayer-financed windfalls on the “don’t need” population.

Most American four-year-olds and many three-year-olds already take part in preschool of some kind, and a great many of their parents have figured out how to pay for it with the help of employers, local school systems, private philanthropy, and others. Many other little kids are satisfactorily looked after by family members and caregivers in their own homes. And lots of them enter kindergarten ready to succeed there. Children like these do not need a “universal” program. For their families, it’s just...

BLENDED LEARNING UPDATE
Schools across the country are experimenting with the blended learning model in which classrooms feature a mix of human capital and online tools to deliver lessons. This NPR profile of a Coney Island middle school is a revealing examination of the approach. While the integration of technology can ease the “administrative” duties of teachers, such as tracking student progress, researchers say that there is still no concrete evidence for academic or developmental gains. The key takeaway is that blended learning is not a silver bullet.

UNTRUE GRIT
The New York Times wades into the character-education debate with an overview of different views and voices. While some research (and a host of different schooling models, most notably that of the KIPP schools) emphasizes the value of skills like grit, curiosity, and self-control, other experts argue that obsessive perseverance can be stifling and that overweening focus on character growth will obscure the debate over school quality. No less an eminence than friend-of-Fordham Laurence Steinberg took to Flypaper last year to air his misgivings about the practice.

CHANGING THE CHARTER NARRATIVE
The conventional wisdom on charter schools, Forbes’s Adam Ozimek observes, is that their performance essentially mirrors that of public schools, barring a few outstanding exceptions. After reviewing the most recent studies conducted by CREDO and Mathematica, however, he concludes that charters’ value to poor and minority students and English language learners is actually greater than their district equivalents....

Overachieving Andy already beat me to the punch with ten thoughts about the secretary’s speech today. Rather than try to compete, I’m going to keep it simple and stick to three. Anyway, who has time for ten of anything?

  1. Secretary Duncan deserves kudos for the respectful tone he struck today. Unlike, say, Jonah Edelman, who just last week likened critics of today’s heavy-handed federal role in education to the states-rights segregationists of the 1950s, Duncan found a way to disagree with Republicans without being disagreeable. (I should add that Jonah is a friend whom I like and respect very much; his comments were uncharacteristically harsh.)
     
  2. Amen for focusing on the progress that public schools are making. My favorite line of the speech was this one: “It is striking that black and Latino nine-year-olds are doing math today at about the level that their thirteen-year-old counterparts did in the 1970s.” That’s incredible—and true. He went on to celebrate other markers of progress: “A young Hispanic person is now half as likely to drop out of high school, and twice as likely to be enrolled in college. The number of black and Hispanic students taking AP exams increased nearly fivefold. For the first time, four out of five students are completing high school on time.” I wouldn’t give Uncle Sam the credit for all of this (and neither did Duncan), but I’m glad he reminded the country that education reform is working. We
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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 “
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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...

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