Charters & Choice

If you step back from day to day vitriol that characterizes the current education-policy ?debate,? and glimpse the larger picture, two worldviews on education reform emerge. One, articulated by the likes of Linda Darling-Hammond, Marc Tucker, David Cohen, and others, obsesses about curricular ?coherence,? and the lack thereof in our nation's schools. The other, envisioned by Rick Hess, Tom Vander Ark, Paul Hill, and many more, seeks to unleash America's trademark dynamism inside our K-12 education system. Though these ideas appear to pull in opposite directions, they might best work in concert. [quote]

Let's start with the Coherence Camp. Its argument, most recently made in David Cohen's Teaching and Its Predicaments, is that America's teachers are being set up to fail by a system that is fragmented, divided, and confused about its mission. Teachers are given little clear guidance about what's expected of them. Even when goals are clear, these teachers lack the tools to succeed: Pre-service training is completely disconnected from classroom expectations, and never ending ?reform? pulls up the roots of promising efforts before they are given time to flower.

The Coherence Camp looks longingly at Europe and Asia, where many (national) systems offer teachers the...

File this under pieces of news that confuse my emotions. Rev. Stanley Miller, executive director of the Cleveland NAACP, is leaving that post to take on an area charter school ? a very terrible one to be specific (Marcus Garvey Academy). I am equal parts inspired by this move (Rev. Miller is a 63-year old whose heart is undoubtedly in the right place) and cynical.

The school is rated F by the state. Its achievement results are lower than literally any Ohio school I recall looking up data for: across all tested and grades and subjects, 96.6 percent of students tested ?limited? in their knowledge ? the very lowest category one could achieve. Just over three percent of students scored ?basic?; none scored proficient or advanced. Is this for real?

Beyond shameful academic results, the school has been in the news constantly for poor bookkeeping ? to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars. Ohio's auditor temporarily halted funding to the school last April.

And this is the school Rev. Miller wants to take on. (By the way, it seems even more tragic than normal when these kinds of schools are named after prominent African...

Mickey Muldoon

I wrote a blog post here on Flypaper this week in response to what I'd seen as some unnecessary and unproductive personal jabs at actor Matt Damon, after he gave a brief speech at the Save Our Schools rally in D.C. a few weekends ago. One of the offenders I referenced was Whitney Tilson, who called Damon's speech ?hugely dopey and hypocritical.?

Now, I have no interest in defending Matt Damon's comments unilaterally. In fact, I don't think he said anything particularly interesting, newsworthy, or novel?as Tilson wrote, his comments were ?just a bunch of clich?s that could have been (and, in fact, likely were) written by union hacks." I won't disagree.

Moreover, I like Whitney Tilson. I read his email blasts all the time and find most of the content to be extremely informative and effective.

But what I don't like?and I'm pretty passionate about this?is when policy debates turn personal. It happens all the time in Congress?where camaraderie between senators, for example, is a relic of the past, and where even a topic so wonky as paying the bills at the FAA turns into a soap opera of name-calling and finger-pointing. Personal attacks...

It was hardly a surprise that Indiana took home the Education Reform Idol trophy today. Pundits from across the ideological spectrum have lauded the Hoosier State for its comprehensive reforms enacted this spring?including a best-in-the-nation teacher bill, an expansive private school choice program, and a serious effort at collective bargaining and benefits reform.

But why 2011? Mitch Daniels has been in office since 2005; Tony Bennett since 2009. While they haven't been twiddling their thumbs (last year, Bennett enacted new regulations revamping teacher professional development, for instance), legislators didn't get religion on reform until now. How come?

The answer is obvious: The 2010 elections, which gave Indiana Republicans control of the House and a super-majority in the Senate. The same thing happened in Ohio, where the House and governor's office both switched from blue to red. Big GOP victories in Wisconsin, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, and other states led to similar dynamics. Though it's not an ironclad law, it's still generally true that when Republicans take power, reforms take flight.

This point might be obvious, but it bears repeating, because so...

Mickey Muldoon

In case it needs reiterating, Matt Damon is actually a pretty smart guy. He holds a Best Original Screenplay Oscar. He went to Harvard. He produces documentary films. He volunteers and donates to whole host of NGOs and non-profits. Sure, he's no authority of education, but he's probably the kind of person worth at least giving the benefit of the doubt.

So I was pretty disturbed by a couple of vindictive and downright insulting critiques of Damon that I found in my inbox last week, responding to his appearance at the ?Save our Schools? rally in Washington:

  • A New York Daily News headline: ?Matt Damon would deny charter school students education alternatives he had as a child.?
  • Whitney Tilson's blast email: ?Matt Damon gave a hugely dopey and hypocritical speech.?

Now, the Daily News article (all 90 words of it) takes two of Damon's unrelated comments egregiously out of context, with no substantive attribution. Moreover, as far as I can tell, Matt Damon isn't even unilaterally opposed to charters! Here's what he did say: ?It's a big question ? there are great charters and there are lousy charters ? they don't necessarily perform better than...

Guest Blogger

Which of the five states competing to be America's next Education Reform Idol did the most to advance charter schools and private-school choice during the 2011 legislative session? Consider our analysis below, and attend our event Thursday morning (8:30-10:00AM) to see key players in all five states defend their records in front of a panel of ed-reform celebrity judges?Jeanne Allen, Richard Lee Colvin, and Bruno Manno. And click here to cast your vote for Education Reform Idol.


Florida passed three major choice initiatives this year: A charter-school bill that makes it easier for high-performing charters to expand, a pair of voucher programs for students with disabilities and students in low-performing schools, and a digital-learning bill. The digital-learning bill is especially impressive, allowing students to attend publicly funded digital charters as well as requiring districts to offer part- and full-time digital options in grades K-12.


Illinois's Charter School Quality Act allows charter schools to be approved by an independent commission instead of individual school districts. This is expected to be a boon for many rural and...

The debates surrounding Ohio’s biennial budget and other education-related legislation during the first half of 2011 were intense, and it’s no wonder. The state headed into the year facing a historic deficit, federal stimulus money was vanishing, and school districts were preparing for draconian cuts. Meanwhile, despite decades of reform efforts and increases in school funding, Ohio’s academic performance has remained largely stagnant, with barely one-third of the state’s students scoring proficient or better in either math or reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Achievement gaps continued to yawn between black and white students and between disadvantaged youngsters and their better-off peers.

 Revised considerably by the General Assembly, Governor Kasich’s budget plan (House Bill 153), a 5,000-page document that both funded the Buckeye State through fiscal year 2013 and included dozens of education-policy changes, was signed into law on June 30. The Ohio House and Senate were also engaged during the spring in passing other legislation that impacts schools.

It’s time to take stock. To what extent have Ohio’s leaders met the challenges and opportunities before them in K-12 education? What needs to happen next?...