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On the K–12 education front, the president made no news and no big mistakes. He scarcely even mentioned teachers. Save for “Race to the Top,” he mentioned none of his administration’s more controversial (and sometimes worthy) initiatives such as charter schools, teacher evaluations, and state waivers from No Child Left Behind. Unlike last year, he refrained from associating himself with the Common Core academic standards, thereby giving critics of those standards no new ammunition by which to target them as “Obamacore.” His only real policy blunder came in reviving his previous request to Congress to enact “universal” preschool for four-year-olds. Yes, it’s a crowd-pleaser, but it’s also a feckless, wasteful idea that would deliver a costly and unneeded windfall to millions of families that have already made acceptable pre-K arrangements for their children while creating a program too thin to do much good for the acutely disadvantaged youngsters that need it most. (Far better to reform Head Start, which already costs billions, is well-targeted on the “truly needy,” but today does almost nothing to prepare them academically for kindergarten.) Nor could Mr. Obama resist poking one more finger in Congress’s eye by declaring that if they won’t enact his preschool...

Sam Chaltain, Richard Kahlenberg, and Michael J. Petrilli

From 2000 to 2010, the white share of the District of Columbia’s population grew from 30.8 percent to38 percent . And from 2000 to 2012, the median household income in the city rose 23.3 percent while the nation saw a 6.6 percent decline, adjusted for inflation. This rapid gentrification provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create racially and socioeconomically integrated public schools. The D.C. Advisory Committee on Student Assignment, which is redrawing school boundary lines and feeder patterns, should seize this opportunity.

Middle-class families have moved into neighborhoods such as Columbia Heights and Petworth in large numbers. And many of these families are staying in the District even after their kids are old enough to attend school.

Meanwhile, more parents in D.C. neighborhoods west of Rock Creek Park are sending their kids to public schools, resulting in fewer spots for “out of boundary” students in the most sought-after neighborhood schools such as Lafayette, Murch and Eaton elementary schools or Deal Middle School.

As a result, more-affluent parents in the transitioning neighborhoods — squeezed out of schools west of the park and unable to afford private schools — are taking a shot at either the elementary school down the...

The Smack-Talk Edition

Kathleen and Mike talk Richard Sherman–level smack in this special video edition of the podcast. They tackle Core Knowledge, Rick Hess’s nasty-gram, and Florida’s Common Core two-step. Amber measures teacher-performance trajectories.

Amber's Research Minute

Teacher Performance Trajectories in High and Lower-Poverty Schools,” by Zeyu Xu, Umet Özek, and Michael Hansen, Working Paper 101 (Washington, D.C.: National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research, American Institutes for Research, July 2013).

While presenting his 2014–15 budget for New York State, Governor Andrew Cuomo outlined his education priorities, proposing (among other things) a $1.5 billion pre-Kindergarten expansion to be funded—without a tax increase (as per his repeated pledges to reduce taxes). That didn’t satisfy New York City’s new super-liberal mayor Bill de Blasio, who said “no dice”; he too wants to expand pre-school, but insists on doing so by raising taxes on the wealthy (as per his own campaign promise). It’s all about the kids, right?

In Texas, opening statements were made on Tuesday in the latest court case over whether the Lone Star State adequately funds its public schools. If this sounds familiar, you’re not crazy: in February 2013, Judge John Dietz ruled that Texas was not spending enough to provide the “general diffusion of knowledge” that it is constitutionally compelled to do, leading the legislature to increase K–12 public-school spending by $3.4 billion, which obviously doesn’t mean the issue was resolved.

A similar case is underway in Kansas, where activists have pressed the state Supreme Court to require the legislature to drop $500 million more per...

Children cannot be truly literate without knowing about history, science, art, music, literature, civics, geography, and more. Indeed, they cannot satisfactorily comprehend what they read unless they possess the background knowledge that makes such comprehension possible. Yet most American primary schools have been marching in the opposite direction: treating reading only as a “skill” and pushing off history, science, art, and music “until later.”

This problem grows more serious with the advent of the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts, which take for granted that children expected to meet those standards are being supplied with a content-rich curriculum. In far too many U.S. schools, however, that is simply not happening.

So what should we do?

Commit to implanting a sequential, content-rich curriculum in the country’s elementary and middle schools.

The essays in Knowledge at the Core: Don Hirsch, Core Knowledge, and the Future of the Common Core restate the case for such a curriculum and chart a course for the future. They also pay tribute to the decades of scholarship, service, and reform commitment of E. D. (Don) Hirsch, Jr., author of Cultural Literacy (and three other prescient books on education reform) and founder of the Core Knowledge...

  • Cleveland Metropolitan School District is in hot water after rehiring three retired district principals without a public hearing. Under state law, a hearing is required when a retiree is rehired into a public position. This they did, five months after giving them the gigs in error. Gadfly wonders if all this public hoop jumping couldn't be easily avoided though: Shouldn’t Ohio altogether cease the practice of “double dipping” (i.e., when public-sector “retirees” receive both a public pension and a public-employee salary)?
  • Fallout from the long-simmering data “scrubbing” scandal continues. Last week, the Ohio Department of Education referred seven school districts (Campbell, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Marion, Northridge, Toledo, and Winton Woods) to the Office of Professional Conduct to investigate whether individual staff members improperly withdrew students from the district’s attendance records. The shoe still remains to drop on Columbus City Schools.
  • Information, information, information: The Cleveland Transformation Alliance will soon launch a new website that includes much-needed school information for parents. The site will have Cleveland schools’ performance index score and its value-added rating, along with space for community ratings and comments.  
  • The state’s new teacher evaluation system is creating headaches for school administrators.
  • ...

The rumor around the water coolers in D.C. is that President Obama plans to mention the Common Core State Standards in his State of the Union Address next week—for the third year running. He should reconsider, for three reasons.

First, it will feed the narrative that Common Core is, in fact, a federal takeover of public education.

Many Common Core opponents I debate on talk-radio shows or speak with in person eventually get around to admitting they have very few problems with the standards themselves and think they are better than what their state had in place before (we think so too). But, as Andy Smarick wrote earlier this week,

They are skeptical of big promises and big government. They are skeptical of centralized solutions. And they are skeptical of enlightened national leaders who pat them on their heads.

Remember, they were told by such enlightened leaders that if they liked their insurance, they could keep it. They are once bitten, twice shy.

Why would an administration that has already insulted Common Core opponents give them another reason to claim that this is true?

Second, the President is deeply unpopular; associating himself with the Common Core is...

A first look at today's most important education news:

One of education reform’s best attributes is its sense of urgency about doing better for kids. This field is not one for the complacent.

But our earnestness can come across as antagonistic. To say “we must do better” implies something unflattering about the ways things are. Since there are lots of people responsible for the way things are, this can sometimes translate into bruised egos and nasty recriminations.

I take responsibility for being among our field’s worst offenders on this score. I am pointed to a fault.

I hope folks—even when they’re frustrated with me—know I write what I do because I detest that disadvantaged kids don’t get a fair shake. I can be an insufferable cuss, but I aspire to do it without bias—hence my heartfelt appreciation for TNTP’s referring to me as an “anti-tribalist.” I try to call them as I see them, regardless of party, ideology, organizational affiliation, or anything else.

But my directness is also attributable to my subscribing to Frederick Douglass’s view that power concedes nothing without a demand. We will never bring about the changes we need if we practice nothing but gauzy, velvet-gloved diplomacy and accommodation. To paraphrase Douglass, that has...

American Girls, the Common Core, and everything in between

Mike and American Girl Michelle tackle accountability in private-school-choice programs, whether people are more likely to favor reform once they know how mediocre their schools are, and how applying “disparate impact theory” to the enforcement of school-discipline rules will lead to nothing but trouble. Amber incentivizes us to learn more about teacher-transfer incentives.

Amber's Research Minute

Transfer Incentives for High-Performing Teachers: Final Results from a Multisite Randomized Experiment by Steven Glazerman, et al., (Washington, D.C.: Mathematica Policy Research and Institute of Education Sciences, November 2013).