Scores are down but advocacy’s on the rise

Test scores plummeted on Florida’s eighth-grade writing test, prompting education officials to lower the standard for passing and opponents to crow about the futility of "test madness" this week. That reaction is more troubling than the results: Scores dropped because policymakers had raised the bar and the test got tougher. Still, this episode may foreshadow the discomfort and argumentation that many will experience when Common Core standards start causing proficiency rates to fall.

ALEC delayed (again) a final vote on a resolution opposing the Common Core last Friday; perhaps this reprieve will give its education task force members a chance to realize that requiring states not to join a voluntary program isn’t exactly the best way to protect their right to decide such matters for themselves.

In a Wall Street Journal editorial yesterday, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) revived a bold proposition that he had first aired—to President Reagan!—three decades ago, namely, that Uncle Sam take over full funding of the Medicaid program and leave states (and districts) as sole funders of K-12 education, i.e., Uncle Sam butts out. Alexander shows that this would save states billions while also disentangling two very messy policy domains. It was a good idea back then and it’s a good idea today, albeit one that will predictably elicit howls both from federal budget hawks and from those who don’t trust states to run (and pay for) their own schools. Bravo for the Senator for his persistence and perspicacity!

From Colombia to China, low-cost private education is on the rise. According to a feature in the Stanford Social Innovation Review (and other recent stories and scholarship), poor families, often frustrated by the lack of high-quality in public schools, are bypassing government and digging into their own shallow pockets to educate their children. While U.S. public education remains in far better shape than the countries described—we don’t suffer from 20 percent teacher-absenteeism rates, at least!—this is a fascinating glimpse at markets developing to meet the education needs of the neediest.

Education Week published an important look at the education advocacy landscape on Monday, giving much-merited exposure to organizations working at the state and local level to drive reform (although, where’s the love for 50CAN and PIE-Net?). It’s heartening to see the ongoing efforts to overhaul education outside the Beltway and blogosphere.

Charter school supporters will have reason to celebrate after reading the Department of Education’s new clarification of the ESEA waiver process, which affirms the autonomy of charter schools while maintaining the need for them to be accountable. While the Gadfly remains suspicious of the waiver process’s constitutionality in general, in this instance, at least, the feds are overreaching responsibly.

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