Executive action we can support

The State of the Union was unusually light on education, though President Obama did touch on early-childhood education, ed tech, college access, and (of course) Race to the Top. However, the real action came the next morning, when the U.S. Department of Education issued guidance for its Public Charter Schools Program, giving charters the option of using “weighted lotteries” without surrendering their shot at federal start-up dollars. Mike Petrilli has been making the case for policies like this for years, and argued in this weekend’s Washington Post (along with Sam Chaltain and Rick Kahlenberg) that D.C. should embrace a variety of strategies to integrate its public schools. Checker Finn, however, flipped out at what he deemed “nanny-statism”—and a Flypaper brawl ensued.

Senator Lamar Alexander filed legislation that would consolidate some eighty federal education programs into one giant funding stream, in order to create an optional school-choice program for states. It would take about $24 billion, or 41 percent of current federal spending on elementary and secondary public schools, and let states decide whether to allow low-income families to carry their children’s share of these dollars to the public or private schools of their choice. Senator Tim Scott also has a school-choice bill floating around that would allow families of students with disabilities to gain access to $11 billion in federal dollars for private-school vouchers. Snaps! (Check out this Flypaper post by Michael Brickman for more analysis.)

Vergara v. California, the trial over California’s teacher-protection laws, has commenced. Plaintiffs have taken an equity tack, arguing that the state’s teacher-dismissal process, teacher-tenure laws, and “last hired, first fired” policies “put poor and minority children at a higher risk of receiving subpar instruction than their peers” thereby abrogating a state constitutional guarantee of a quality education for every citizen. Those who oppose the lawsuit, the state itself and teacher unions, retort that these laws are essential for recruiting and retaining teachers. The plaintiffs plan to call as witnesses scholars Raj Chetty, Thomas Kane, and Eric Hanushek, as well as Los Angeles Superintendent John Deasy. The defense has Linda Darling-Hammond, Jesse Rothstein, and Steve Zimmer in the wings. We’ll be keeping an eye on this one!

The Ohio Auditor’s Office released a bombshell report yesterday that accused high-level bureaucrats in Columbus City Schools of deliberately manipulating student records to artificially boost schools’ academic results. Within the district’s “culture of deceit,” administrators improperly erased student absences, changed their grades, and withdrew some pupils from school records. Call it what you will—a train-wreck, system failure, an implosion of the nth degree—but the takeaway is simple: “adults cheated.”

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