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After pondering the sale of the Washington Post to Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Mike and Dara deliberate New York’s lower test scores, A-to-F school-grading systems, and whether it really is schools versus nursing homes. Amber sees a red flag in Common Core implementation.

Amber's Research Minute

Year 3 of Implementing the Common Core State Standards: An Overview of States’ Progress and Challenges by Diane Stark Rentner, (Center on Education Policy, August 2013).

Following the Tony Bennett flap, the A-to-F school-grading systems that Bennett championed are themselves under the gun. Some have argued in favor of increasing the number of measures upon which schools are graded, reflecting the variety of grades that parents see their children bring home from school every year. But at what point will more information become too much information? For a great discussion, check out this week’s Education Gadfly Show.

After announcing its plans to withdraw from both Common Core–assessment consortia, Pennsylvania has clarified that it will in fact remain a member of both PARCC and Smarter Balanced—it just won’t be using either test. “Huh,” you say? The nominal difference means that the Keystone State will retain the right to “participate” in each group’s discussions.

In a Washington Post op-ed, Robert Samuelson argued that the fiscal crisis facing state and local governments can be boiled down to the clash of two interests: schools versus nursing homes. Samuelson characterized the impending pension crisis as a “prolonged squeeze” from retirement commitments to public employees, while we call it the “big squeeze” in our series of reports on retirement costs of teachers....

By the Company it Keeps: Neerav Kingsland

I met Neerav Kingsland in 2009. I was on my tenth trip to New Orleans post-Katrina, meeting with a foundation newly interested in supporting the local reform effort, and I wanted to spend a little time with New Schools for New Orleans, the organization leading much of the most promising work, to learn more about their efforts. Neerav and I spent a few hours together, and I walked away impressed beyond words.

Neerav Kingsland New Schools for New Orleans

I liked to think my ideas about systemic reform were advanced—heck, I was writing a book about it—but his ability to thoughtfully answer every question I could muster and precisely explain how big concepts were translating into practice demonstrated that he was the real leader in this business.

In the years since, my admiration for Neerav has only grown. On reform philosophy, he’s my intellectual doppelganger; but he’s so much smarter, and his experience helping to bring our shared beliefs to life put him in a class of his own. I learn a great deal every time we’re together—from theoretical issues associated with governance or residential catchment zones to NSNO’s daily activities related to charter incubation and human capital

But his interests extend far beyond K–12 education. His twitter feed is a...

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)

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...