Additional Topics

The Gadfly’s spring line is out!

Janie and Daniela debate designer Kenneth Cole’s foray into education reform and the Department of Education’s CTE overhaul, while Amber examines turnover among charter school principals.

Amber's Research Minute

The State of the NYC Charter School Sector by New York City Charter School Center

With trivial exceptions, Washington does not run schools, employ teachers, buy textbooks, write curriculum, hand out diplomas, or decide who gets promoted to 5th grade. Historically, it has contributed less than 10 percent of national K-12 spending. So its influence on what happens in U.S. schools is indirect and limited. Yet that influence can be profound, albeit not always in a helpful way.

Uncle Sam is dreadful at micromanaging what actually happens in schools and classrooms. What he's best at is setting agendas and driving priorities. Through a combination of jawboning, incentivizing, regulating, mandating, forbidding, spotlighting, and subsidizing, he can significantly influence the overall direction of the K-12 system and catalyze profound changes in it (though the system is so loosely coupled that these changes occur gradually and incompletely).

The Capitol
Washington's influence on U.S. schools is indirect and limited—but it can also be profound, albeit not always in a helpful way.
 Photo by Joe Portnoy.

It's just as well that such big directional shifts don't happen very often, because the change, however gradual, can be wrenching. And it isn't apt to happen much more often in the future, either, because the "federal government" is no single entity. It is, at minimum, three branches, two political parties, 535 members of Congress, innumerable judges, the White House, the Office of Management and Budget,...


The pineapple and the gadfly

Standardized testing, school closures, and a pineapple: Rick and Janie cover it all this week, while Amber wonders whether weighted-student funding made a difference in Hartford after all.

Amber's Research Minute

Funding a Better Education: conclusions from the first three years of student-based budgeting in hartford

A recent Hewlett Foundation study made the surprising discovery that computers are "capable of producing scores similar to human scores" when grading student essays. While no one's calling for R2D2 to teach freshman composition (even supporters acknowledge that computers can't evaluate high-level writing skills), Common Core English standards include an increased emphasis on persuasive writing that could drown teachers in essays that are time-consuming and costly to score. While critics are quick to dismiss the idea, educators should be eager to refine and advance technology that frees them to spend more time on other aspects of teaching.

President Obama met the 2012 National Teacher of the Year on Tuesday, and the White House highlighted all the State Teachers of the Year in an accompanying press release. These fine educators certainly deserve the spotlight—and the case of Massachusetts teacher champ Jason Breslow deserves particular attention. Only two weeks after learning of his award, Mr. Breslow, who taught math at a South Boston high school, lost his job because of his lack of seniority. As much as Mr. Breslow and his fellow honorees merit praise, the system they work in has earned much worse.

Three hundred U.S. school districts have turned to Disney over the last two years, not to book senior trips to Disney World, but for help running their schools. School districts have proven to be top clients for Disney's growing consulting business;...


Streeeeetching the school dollar

Mike and Adam talk space shuttles, vouchers, and how districts can make the most of tight budgets on this week’s podcast, while Amber explains what special ed looks like in the Bay State.

Amber's Research Minute

Review of Special Education in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts - Download the PDF

The Indianapolis Public Schools struck back this week, countering The Mind Trust’s plan for reforming education in Indy with a school reform report of its own. While it was sad to see the district defend its bureaucracy by blaming poverty and the media, it was a useful reminder that those who govern education can’t be trusted to reform education governance all on their own.

Observers within and without the Hoosier State are closely watching Indiana’s ambitious attempt at tying teacher compensation to performance. While the research on merit pay tied to test scores is far from settled, Indiana’s willingness to innovate merits attention.

Two years after winning their shares of four billion dollars in Race to the Top money, the eleven lucky states (and D.C.) have spent only 14 percent of the loot. While it’s certainly preferable to blowing the cash with little to show for it, it’s also clear (and unfortunate) that states see this as more of a stroll than a sprint....


Fordham's bloggers didn't miss a beat this week, discussing all the week's most interesting education news, from Arizona to Ohio:

  • Adam Emerson took Arizona Governor Jan Brewer to task for her rhetoric on school vouchers. Her explanation for vetoing a vouchers bill, he concluded on Choice Words, “pretends the expansion of private school choice would 'artificially manipulate' the market to the disadvantage of public schools.”
  • “Why do we assume, when it comes to evaluating schools, that we must look at numbers alone?” wondered Mike Petrilli on Flypaper, advocating for the use of inspections in grading schools.
  • “Shining light on the reality of how well our students are doing is the first step to upgrading expectations for students, schools, and the larger community, and ultimately developing the capacities needed to meet the challenge,” argued Emmy Partin on the Ohio Gadfly Daily.
  • “Advocating for common standards and common assessments merely helps give parents the common language they need to understand that information,” argued Kathleen Porter-Magee on Common Core Watch. “In short: it’s a way of helping make parents more informed consumers.”
  • “I confess to deep and continuous agita over the [education] system’s inability to do the right thing,” explained Peter
  • ...

The Education Gadfly Podstagram

Will Mitt take on ed? Is Jindal gutting public schools? The podcast has answers. Plus, Janie provides the inside scoop on state accountability and Amber analyzes school shoppers in Detroit.

Amber's Research Minute

Understanding School Shoppers in Detroit

Colorado Springs superintendent and teacher-compensation-reform pioneer Mike Miles is taking the reins in Dallas. The political and practical challenges of adapting his promising approach to a large urban district are no joke, but it's encouraging to see such a district buying in on a leader with a track record of taking on broken systems.

The Center for Education Reform recently released its annual review of the nation's charter school laws. Even with 2011 victories for charter schools in several states, the U.S. still averaged a "C" by CER's reckoning, a good reminder that choice supporters can't afford to rest on recent successes. (For another thorough look at the state of charter laws, don’t forget NAPCS’s excellent rating system.)

David Brooks neatly framed America’s economic and political divide this week in his description of two distinct U.S. economies, one driven by global competition to improve at all costs, the second insulated from these forces and slow to adapt as a result. Education, as Brooks notes, falls into the latter category, and that’s a shame: Make no mistake, our schools are very much in competition with those in other countries…and we’re not winning.

Getting Americans to sign on to an overhaul of the rules and systems governing our schools takes time, but here’s one reform we should all be able to agree on: In order to succeed, teachers cannot be hamstrung by a...


Passing a set of historic reform bills last week, the Louisiana legislature handed Gov. Bobby Jindal and his new education chief, John White, the keys to reform city. By a healthy majority in both houses, it passed legislation, writes Bill Barrow of the Times-Picayune, which will

Louisiana State Capitol
The Lousiana legislature passed a set of historic reform bills last week.
 Photo by Jim Bowen.
…curtail teacher tenure protection, tie instructors' compensation and superintendents' job security to student performance; shift hiring and firing power from school boards to superintendents; create new paths to open charter schools; and establish a statewide program that uses the public-school financing formula to pay private-school tuition for certain low-income students.

It was anything but a cakewalk for the Jindal reform package, as teachers descended on the Capitol to fight the bills and Democrats charged the second-term Republican governor with strong-arm tactics reminiscent of former political tough guys Huey Long and Edwin Edwards. “I make no apologies for having a sense of urgency,” said Jindal. “I was elected to help lead our state. I was not elected just to hold an office."

Even Diane Ravitch made a trip to Louisiana to cheer-lead the anti-reform troops. As she recounts on her Bridging Differences blog, headlined “Bobby Jindal v. Public Education,” the Louisiana governor is…