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Just call me Bonnie

Daniela hosts Checker and Kathleen, the Bonnie and Clyde of education reform, for a dynamic discussion of Virginia’s religious-exemption law, whether the Common Core will weather PARCC defections, and what to think about Tony Bennett. Amber gives us a double-dose of instruction on remedial math.

Amber's Research Minute

A Double Dose of Algebra,” by Kalena Cortes, Takako Nomi, and Joshua Goodman, Education Next 13 (1)

RiShawn Biddle, Kevin Carey, Anne Hyslop, Kathleen Porter-Magee, Marc Porter Magee, Mike Petrilli, and Andy Smarick

In light of the news of Tony Bennett’s resignation, Gadfly asked several top education-policy analysts to tell us what it means for school accountability going forward. RiShawn Biddle, Kevin Carey, Anne Hyslop, Kathleen Porter-Magee, Marc Porter Magee, Mike Petrilli, and Andy Smarick responded.

RiShawn Biddle: Four lessons to be learned from the Tony Bennett revelations

RiShawn Biddle
RiShawn Biddle: There are four key lessons reformers should learn from these revelations.

There are four key lessons reformers should learn from revelations that former Indiana Superintendent Tony Bennett made changes to the Hoosier State's A-to-F grading system last year affecting thirteen schools, including Christel House Academy South (whose founder was a donor to Bennett's unsuccessful re-election campaign): 

1) Transparency matters: Accountability systems can only be effective when people can trust it. Bennett and his staff should have publicly revealed the grade changes last year and explained them thoroughly. It’s understandable that Bennett didn't want any of the problems with the system to hinder his other reform efforts (a matter with which he expressed clear concern). But the lack of transparency has put Bennett’s actions in an even worse light than it may deserve.

2) A-to-F grading isn’t ready for prime time. Because it doesn't accurately break out for families, especially from poor and minority backgrounds, how...

The Washington Post profiled Josh Powell, a homeschooled young man, who—having never written an essay or learned that South Africa was a country—had to take several years of remedial classes at a community college to get back on track with his peers. Citing worry for his eleven younger siblings, all still being homeschooled by their parents, young Mr. Powell (now a Georgetown undergrad) urges that homeschooling to be subject to accountability. But just what kind of accountability? That’s a tricky question. This is a fascinating case—and a very touchy subject.

There’s a waiting list of about 1,000 students who want to take part in Louisiana’s new Course Choice program, which currently allows 2,000 youngsters to shop around for courses, virtual and otherwise, that are not offered in their home school. State Superintendent John White says that 100 applications pile in every day and that, to accommodate everybody, he’ll have to scrounge for money. The state Supreme Court has already ruled that a constitutionally protected source of public funding is off limits. White estimates that he’ll need another $1.5 million just to meet the current demand.

After reaching a long-awaited teachers’ contract in April, Hawaii’s $75 million Race to the Top grant, awarded in 2010, has finally been cleared of its “high-risk” label. Essentially, this means that the state will no longer have to endure stricter reporting requirements—and, as noted by Education Week, it is a big confidence boost as the...

By the Company it Keeps: Tim Daly

Derrell Bradford is a fighter for low-income kids, and he has the compelling personal story to back it up. He’s a prized possession of the ed-reform community.

Derrell Bradford Better Education for Kids

Derrell’s been dedicating his many talents to the State of New Jersey for some time now, recently as executive director of Excellent Education for Everyone, the state’s school-choice advocacy group, and now as head of Better Education for Kids, an advocacy outfit focused primarily on educator effectiveness.

But he’s much more than muscle; Derrell is a highly talented communicator. He’s a regular presence on major TV shows, and he’s a regular radio commentator. And he’s a truly gifted writer. When he’s representing the cause, we’re winning.

I’ve known Derrell for years now; we ran in the same school-choice circles for some time. But I got to know him much better during my time working for the New Jersey Department of Education. Not only was he a vocal external supporter of our work (much appreciated!), he also was willing to serve—taking on a tough, thankless task that exposed him to nasty, unwarranted criticism. But his contributions were substantial, and the story has a very happy ending (see below!).

As you’ll also see in his answers, Derrell is...

There’s nothing like a mid-summer “scandal” to get the education press buzzing, and there’s little doubt that the media will continue to have a field day with revelations that Tony Bennett worked to change Indiana’s A–F grading system after learning that a high-performing school started by a wealthy donor would receive a mediocre C.

I don’t know what really went on inside the Indiana Department of Education—and neither do you. And that’s my point: Try to resist the rush to judgment.

As a former government official myself, the episode has triggered a mild form of post-traumatic stress disorder. I know how reasonable and even principled actions of public officials can be spun to look malevolent in the hands of eager journalists and political enemies.

Specifically, the dust-up reminds me of the famous Reading First fracas, starring my friend Chris Doherty, who led the federal reading initiative. Disgruntled vendors filed FOIA requests to get their hands on internal emails, including some memorable (if not family-friendly) missives from Doherty about the “dirtbag” publishers who were pressuring state and local officials to use Reading First funds to pay for their discredited, ineffective whole-language programs. Doherty, who rightly saw research-based reading instruction as akin to the cure for cancer, worked his heart out to keep these (accurately-named) dirtbags from succeeding. And for that he was fired from his job, bullied and berated by Congressman George Miller, and threatened with criminal charges.

Washington moved on, as did Chris, and then a few years...

The Modern Science Edition

Mike and Dara tear themselves away from round-the-clock royal baby coverage to bring you commentary on ESEA renewal, the cost of PARCC’s tests, and special-education vouchers. Amber throws down OECD statistics.

Amber's Research Minute

Education at a Glance 2013: OECD Indicators by Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, (OECD Publishing, 2013)

Few can deny that Washington and many a state capital are gridlocked today by political partisanship, posturing, and peevishness. Tons of problems aren’t getting solved or attended to because elected officials find themselves unable to reach common ground and have forgotten the art of compromise.

Congress
Washington and many a state capital are gridlocked today by political partisanship, posturing, and peevishness.
Photo by VinothChandar

The highest-visibility version of this takes the form of Republicans and Democrats glaring at each other. Sometimes, however, the main friction is within a party, mostly when strong-willed ideologues on either party’s fringe make trouble for its centrists. All this is exacerbated by the twenty-four-hour news cycle, by everybody’s ability to tweet or blog or otherwise scream in unfiltered fashion what’s on their mind, and by recent redistrictings of legislative and Congressional seats, as well as the proclivity of Americans nowadays to move into politically homogeneous communities. When either party locks up a district or Senate seat, all the political action moves into the primaries, hence into duels within parties, erasing all incentive to negotiate across party lines in order to get anything accomplished. “Avoiding a primary challenge” generally translates into “never compromise with the other team.”

Deal making used to be the norm in legislative bodies....

The OECD has released its annual grab bag of international data from thirty-plus developed countries, overflowing with interesting factoids about participation in education, spending, class size, and more. To dive right in: 1) About 70 percent of all OECD students who enter post-secondary education graduate; in Japan, that number is about 90 percent, while Hungary and the U.S. flounder at 52 percent. 2) Between 2009 and 2010, public expenditures on educational institutions fell in one-third of OECD countries (surprise, surprise), including the U.S., Italy, Estonia, and Iceland. 3) Between 2000 and 2011, teacher salaries rose in almost all OECD countries (France and Japan were the exceptions), and then fell between 2009 and 2011. 4) Across all OECD countries, the average age at which mothers have their first child rose from twenty-four in 1970 to twenty-eight in 2009 (though the Duchess of Cambridge is skewing the numbers at age thirty-one). 5) Together, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the U.K., and the U.S. receive over half of all foreign students. 6) On average, OECD countries employ one teacher for every fourteen students in upper-secondary school (Portugal has the richest ratio, one teacher for every eight students, while Mexico breaks the scales at twenty-eight). At 440 pages, there’s plenty more information to dig into. (Cue the traditional wise cracks about the inaptness of the report title—but at least we no longer have to take a nap while it downloads!)

SOURCE: Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development,...

At first blush, this AFT-commissioned survey (which was conducted by Hart Research Associates and determined that parents disapprove of current education-reform initiatives) is a head-scratcher. It “finds,” for example, that just 24 percent of parents support school choice—dramatically fewer than other recent polls report. The latest Phi Delta Kappan/Gallup poll, conducted in August 2012, found that 66 percent of Americans supported charters and 44 percent are warm to private school choice. And the 2012 PEPG/Education Next survey concurred: Sixty-two percent of Americans favor charter schools. So why the disconnect? Could that much have changed in a year? Unlikely. Instead, it’s more a question of semantics. The AFT’s poll asks parents to choose between “good public schools” that offer “safe conditions” and an “enriching curriculum” and private schools paid for “at the public expense.” The former—naturally—won the day. Other AFT questions are riddled with the same problem (see Terry Moe’s excellent book for more on how question framing pre-determines answers). Readers who want a more accurate overview of how Americans feel about school choice, education reform, and the K–12 system writ large: peruse the two surveys linked above or our own look at schools’ belt-tightening strategies from August 2012.

SOURCE: Hart Research Associates, Public School Parents on the Promise of Public Education: Nationwide Survey Among Parents of Children in Public K-12 Schools (Washington, D.C.: American Federation of Teachers, July 2013)....

Paternalism has been a hallmark of Progressive reform movements for over one hundred years, and today’s school-reform movement is no different. Whether it’s Temperance and Prohibition or the effort to shutter popular but ineffective public schools, the principle is the same: Members of an “enlightened elite” believe that they must act to create and enforce rules that will be good for the huddled masses.

Petty Little Dictator Disorder
Finding the line between paternalism and Petty Little Dictator Disorder.

I say that as someone who often finds himself in favor of paternalistic policies. (Jay Greene would accuse me of having Petty Little Dictator Disorder.) I look upon the reign of Mayor Bloomberg, for instance, with considerable respect. I find it hard to argue with his public-health initiatives; Gotham, in my view, is clearly better off now that bars and restaurants are smoke free and donuts don’t contain trans-fats. Let them eat cake—but only if it doesn’t kill them!

I’ve been particularly taken, though, with the Bloomberg-Giuliani approach to crime fighting, including the aggressive use of stop, question, and frisk. As Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and others argue, this tactic is a big reason why New York is now the safest big city in America. And the steep drop in crime is most beneficial to low-income...

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