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For nearly thirty years—at least since Bill Bennett’s tenure as secretary of education and Lamar Alexander’s as governor of Tennessee—education-minded conservatives at both national and state levels have embraced a two-part school reform strategy, focused equally on rigorous standards and parental choice. Recent events have frayed that coalition, but it’s not too late to stitch it back together.

The history of education reform
The 1970s left education in shambles.
Photo by ajari

First, a bit of history: In the 1970s, U.S. education policy was all about “equity,” inclusion, and funding and its reformist zeal came from the left, save for noble but isolated exceptions such as Milton Friedman.

Few deny that the equity agenda did some good, especially for disabled and minority youngsters, but the concomitant neglect of academic achievement proved costly. Though the College Board didn’t acknowledge it until 1975, SAT scores had peaked a decade earlier and were in free fall. Every newspaper seemed to bring word of another teacher strike. Adult authority was in decline, goofy curricular schemes were ascendant—and Jimmy Carter decided that his top education priority would be creation of a new federal agency to reward the NEA for its support in the ‘76 election.

In the blunt words of chronicler Tom Toch (then with U.S. News, now with the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of...

A bunch of very good publications have been released over the last few weeks—so many, in fact, that I’ve had trouble getting to them all (people, you’re killing me; can you coordinate release dates?). But I finally made it, and a number are definitely deserving of attention.

So if your to-read pile has dwindled, here are a few to add to the top of the stack. Actually, there are so many, I’ve broken this post into two. I know it’s a lot to get through, but, c’mon, what else were you going to read at the beach?

  • If you follow NCLB reauthorization or ESEA waivers, you should consider this new Education Sector report a must-read. Authors John Chubb and Constance Clark do three invaluable things. First, they show that during the NCLB era, there were enormous differences in the gains states made in student achievement. Second, the authors show that those states that did well over the last decade have very different waiver applications than the states that lagged far behind. Third, they explain what this means for the Department’s waiver policy and for reauthorization. This is top-notch stuff.
  • A very good companion piece to Ed Sector’s report is this new paper by Thomas Ahn and Jacob L. Vigdor, which argues that NCLB—despite the ritualistic political thrashings it gets today—deserves some credit. It helped raise test scores, showed that tough love for troubled schools has benefits, and more. The paper also argues that the choice/SES provisions (as
  • ...

Student outcomes do matter
Deborah's vision is beautiful—but does it work?
Photo by scottwills

This article originally appeared on Education Week’s Bridging Differences blog, where Mike Petrilli is debating Deborah Meier through mid-June.

Dear Deborah,

Your last post was amazing—one of the most coherent, cogent articulations of a reform alternative that I've ever read.

I was particularly moved by this passage:

We need quiet places and noisy places, places full of books and computers and others full of paint and clay. We need adults with the freedom to make spontaneous decisions—shifting the conversation in response to one of those "wonderful moments" and deviating from any designed curriculum. Teachers need the time to mull over what they have learned from student work (written as well as observed) and collegial time to expand their repertoires. We need feedback from trusted and competent colleagues. We need time for families and teachers to engage in serious conversations. We need settings where it seems reasonable that kids might see the school's adults as powerful and interesting people who are having a good time.

It reminded me why I loved your books when I was studying at the University of Michigan's education school twenty years ago—and why you and your ideas are so beloved today. This is a joyous,...

You call that "flexibility"?

Mike and Dara discuss NCLB reauthorization, NYC’s teacher evaluations, and the relationship between poverty and educational outcomes. Amber revels in the glory of having finally gotten Fordham’s epic pensions report out the door.

Amber's Research Minute

This familiar May visitor to edu-wonks’ desktops looks a bit different in 2013. Typically a bulky digest of all manner of education-related statistics, this year’s Condition of Education is more modern (with a beefed-up report and data website) and more svelte (by over 200 pages). The yearly tome of data now tracks but forty-two indicators across four areas: population statistics, participation in education, elementary and secondary education, and post-secondary education as well as data on four “spotlighted” stages: trends in employment rates by education attainment, Kindergarten entry timing, rural education, and college financing. From it, we learn that Hispanic immigrants are over three times as likely to drop out of high school than non-immigrant Hispanics; that charter school enrollment is still on the upswing, by 11 percent between 2009–10 and 2010–11; that 60 percent of kiddos aged three to five attend full-day preschool; that only 36 percent of female high school dropouts aged twenty to twenty-four are employed (compared to 59 percent of males of the same ilk); that employment rates among young adult males dropped at least 7 percentage points from 2008 and 2010—no matter their education level; and much more. NCES doesn’t attach policy recommendations to its data dump, but that shouldn’t stop the report from furthering some important conversations. Many, including us, have recently been questioning the “college for all” rhetoric, as an example. The dips seen in employment rates are further proof: We need to think hard about what worthy, non-college...

This article originally appeared on Education Week’s Bridging Differences blog, where Mike Petrilli is debating Deborah Meier through mid-June.

Dear Deborah,

Tackling the larger issues of poverty and inequality
Start by clarifying the issue.
Photo by Taylor Dawn Fortune

I want to return to the perennial question of poverty as it relates to educational outcomes. One of the main arguments against education reform is that it misdiagnoses the problem. We have big “achievement gaps” in terms of test scores, graduation rates, college-going, and much else, but that’s primarily because of inequities in our society, not because of the failings of our schools—so goes the thinking.

As I indicated in my first post for Bridging Differences, I’m not opposed to tackling these larger issues of poverty and inequality. (Neither are most reformers.) But we’d better have a good understanding of what we’re tackling. I would argue that clarity is sorely lacking.

Is the issue really poverty, per se? The fact that many families in the U.S. don’t have enough income to provide the advantages that other children enjoy? If so, are we satisfied with delineating the problem with the poverty line (currently about $20,000 for a family of three)? That qualifies 23 percent of all children (as of 2011), up from 18 percent before the...

By the Company it Keeps: Tim Daly

Robin Lake is the Director of the Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) at the University of Washington. I’m personally indebted to her, because for more than a decade, my thinking has been consistently informed, influenced, and improved by CRPE’s work. Robin has been instrumental to CRPE’s most important contributions, including extensive research on charter schooling and hands-on support for districts attempting the groundbreaking “portfolio” concept.

Robin Lake CRPE

She has published on issues as diverse as special education, turnarounds, accountability, innovation, LIFO, SEA reform, and governance. Her counsel is sought by organizations across our field and by policymakers of all stripes.

And she’s just a really good person. Everyone likes and respects Robin, especially those who know her best. I’ve admired her thoughtful, sensible approach to this work and her honest, down-to-earth interactions with friends and colleagues.

Her responses will give you a flavor for her many other strengths. She’s sharp, modest, open, honest, and really funny.

Now she’s TOTALLY wrong about her critiques of my book, which is perfect in every way imaginable. But I won’t hold that against her, especially because her answer to my Slaughter/Sandberg question is hilarious, and her analyses of Ronaldo’s dancing, Messi’s godliness, and Beckham’s tattoos are spot on.

So with no further...

Bianca Speranza

Last week I began my long awaited journey as a 2013 Teach for America Corp member in Southwest Ohio (SWO). Fellow corps members from all over the state, country, and even world convened in Cincinnati for a weeklong induction. The week served as an introduction into the region where we will be working for the next two years, as well as time for us to get to know each other and the motivation behind our reasons for wanting to join TFA.

We spent the week focusing on two major themes: heart and getting started. Heart: Who are the people we are working with, what are we trying to accomplish, and why does this work matter to us and to others? Over the course of five days we dove head first into the history of Cincinnati, Dayton, and Covington, discovering the people that make up these great cities and the unique challenges associated with each of them. The experiences ranged from visiting the Freedom Center to learn about the racial inequalities that have plagued Cincinnati for many years, as well as eating dinner in the home of a single-parent mother and hearing from her first hand what is important to her as a parent in Covington, KY. We also visited high-performing charter schools such as the Dayton Early College Academy (DECA), hearing from their leaders, students, and teachers that the stale status quo of under achievement in a city can be just that and that there are ways to reach above...

The U.S. Supreme Court is poised to announce its decision in the biggest affirmative-action case in years: Fisher v. University of Texas. Before it does, let's consider two important findings about the real world of higher education.

Fisher v. University of Texas
The Supreme Court is set to decide in the biggest affirmative-action case in years.
Photo by Scott* on Flickr

The most recent one is a Brookings Institution study published this month showing that several long-standing federal programs intended to prepare low-income students for college don’t work. These programs send funds to colleges and universities, which run summer schools, counseling programs, and other initiatives to help disadvantaged high schoolers get ready for college. Despite the billion-dollar-a-year investment, they make no apparent difference.

The other finding was in the blockbuster research by Stanford's Caroline Hoxby and Harvard's Christopher Avery released in December. The study identified tens of thousands of qualified low-income students, 30 percent of them racial minorities, who aren’t even applying to elite colleges. If they did, the study concluded, they would almost surely be admitted, receive a lot of financial aid, and have the potential to perform well.

The takeaway from both studies is that higher education is spectacularly bad at “affirmative action,” as originally envisioned: reaching out to disadvantaged students and...

The Academic and the Wonk

Can wonky Mike and data-loving Dara come to an agreement on Texas’s education reforms, Illinois’s rebuff of online learning, and a moratorium on Common Core–related stakes? Amber joins the number-cruncher brigade with a study on the effect of career and technical education on math achievement.

Amber's Research Minute

Balancing Career and Technicial Education with Academic Coursework: The Consequences for Mathematics Achievement in High School,” by Robert Bozick and Benjamin Dalton, Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis