Carrots, Sticks, and the Bully Pulpit cover

Earlier this week, the Koret Task
Force of Stanford’s Hoover Institution, which I have the privilege of chairing,
issued a bold proposal (primarily crafted by Russ Whitehurst) for totally
rebooting the federal role in primary-secondary education.

Washington insiders will, of course, dismiss it as “politically
unrealistic” precisely because it is so sweeping and radical. Maybe it will
turn out to be. But with ESEA reauthorization in stalemate, the parties at
loggerheads, and a total breakdown of the former “consensus” painfully visible,
perhaps a sweeping, radical reboot is precisely what is most needed. States
that find this reboot appealing can follow the Task Force’s proposal. States
that prefer some version of the status quo may stick with it.

The Task Force begins by explaining why neither top-down
accountability (à la NCLB) nor total devolution of authority to states and
districts can rekindle American education and boost student achievement. Both
have been tried—and both have been found sorely wanting.

What to do instead? The Task Force
offers a very different approach...

My email crackled early the other morning, a message from a friend who
monitors the Police band on his CB*:

Police and fire department as well as Rescue squad are enroute
to the new Junior Senior school as someone did not want to be late for class
and drove into the building. Police report it as" car vs.

A few minutes later, another email, from a parent:

As I was driving my son to school this morning 3 police cars
were speeding up to the high school doing at least 45 to 50 mph around the
curves up the avenue. Thank God nobody was run over. Nothing is more important
than the safety of the people along that road. So much for the walking school
bus idea.

Ah, yes, the walking school bus. An idea that seems to be sweeping the nation, conquering the
obesity problem, saving gas-guzzling millions—not here. We’ve been discussing
it for a couple of years. I was pulled aside in the bank a couple of weeks ago.
“I heard you’re for the walking school bus,” said the woman,...

I’m not sure what was more disconcerting from the blogosphere last week:
’s comparison of KIPP schools’ “ideology” to that of Nazi Germany or Jay
’ hesitation in suggesting that Washington, D.C., shouldn’t be a
city of charter schools.

Meier writes:

What troubles me most about the KIPPs of the world are not
issues of pedagogy or the public/private issue, but their "no
excuses" ideology implemented by a code that rests on humiliating those
less powerful than oneself and reinforcing a moral code that suggests that
there's a one-to-one connection between being good and not getting caught. It
tries to create certainties in a field where it does not belong.… As we once
reminded colleagues, Nazi Germany had a successful school system—so what? I'd
be fascinated to interview some KIPP graduates to learn how its work plays out
in their lives.

Yikes. That’s quite a leap.

In his Washington Post column Mathews, who wrote a book
about KIPP (Work
Hard, Be Nice
, was describing a new report that suggested that the D.C.
public school system either close 38 struggling schools...

Online learning and our current system of local education governance are at odds with one another, to say the least. In this paper, John Chubb examines how local school district control retards the widespread use of instructional technologies. He argues that the surest way to break down the system’s inherent resistance to technology is to shift control from the local district—and thus the school board—and put it in the hands of states. He then outlines ten steps to get us to this brave new governance system:

  • Set K-12 Online-Learning Policy at the State Level
  • Create a Public Market for K-12 Online Learning
  • Provide Students the Right to Choose Online Learning Full Time
  • Provide Students the Right to Choose Online Learning Part Time
  • Authorize Statewide Online Charter Schools, Overseen by Statewide Charter Authorizers
  • License Supplementary Online Providers
  • Fund All Learning Opportunities Equally Per Pupil
  • Exempt Online and Blended Teaching from Traditional Teacher Requirements Including Certification and Class Size
  • Establish Student Learning as the Foundation of Accountability for Online Schools and Providers
  • Address Market Imperfections by Providing Abundant Information to Students, Families, Schools, and Districts

Download the paper to learn more, and be sure to...

In case you missed them, a few notable events from the last month (or so):

An amazing story from Erik Robelen at Education Week begins…

Overriding the governor’s veto, New Hampshire’s Republican-led legislature has enacted a new law that requires school districts to give parents the opportunity to seek alternatives to any course materials they find objectionable. The measure, approved this month, calls on all districts in the state to establish a policy for such exceptions, but sets two key conditions. First, the district must approve of the substitute materials for the particular child, and second, the parents must pay for them. Although at least a few states, including New Hampshire, already have laws giving parents some explicit recourse in particular subjects, such as sex education, this policy appears to be more expansive in its potential reach.

Robelen quotes Fordham’s curriculum guru, Kathleen Porter-Magee, leaning toward parents:

I don’t think it’s crazy to say parents should have a say in what their kids are learning, especially when it affects issues about their faith and belief system,” Ms. Porter-Magee said. “The problem is that the bill is written so broadly.

This is certainly not the first shot fired...

In a recent New York Times column
about Steve Brill’s Class Warfare: Inside
the Fight to Fix America’s Schools
, Joe
, says

“[Y]ou simply cannot fix America’s schools by `scaling’ charter
schools. It won’t work. Charters schools offer proof of the concept that great
teaching is a huge difference-maker, but charters can only absorb a tiny
fraction of the nation’s 50 million public schoolchildren. Real reform has to
go beyond charters – and it has to include the unions. That’s what Brill
figured out.”
Nocera makes the
mistake of confusing pedagogy and governance.

Wrong. Like many education establishmentarians, Nocera makes the
mistake of confusing pedagogy and governance. The former—e.g. great teaching—is
a hard nut to crack and Nocera is right to suggest, as does Brill, that there perhaps
aren’t enough great teachers in the pipeline (or in charter schools) to educate
all 50 million public school students.

But there is certainly no such impediment to `scaling’ charters. Every
public school in America could be a charter school tomorrow if policymakers
would allow it. Would that “fix” America’s schools? Not necessarily. But it...

Everybody in Washington claims they favor more flexibility in federal education policy. They want to be “tight on results” and “loose on how to get there.” They agree that No Child Left Behind “went too far” in putting Uncle Sam in the middle of complicated and nuanced decisions.

Or so they say, until push comes to shove. And then many of the players discover that they don’t like flexibility after all. They want to change federal policy in theory but not in reality.

It’s not just the President’s bizarre State of the Union...

Sal Khan at Web 2.0 Summit

The front page of Sunday’s New York Times featured a pair of articles, each of which was
informative and alarming in its way but which, taken together, produced (in my
head at least) a winter storm—as did Tuesday evening’s State
of the Union message
by President Obama.

The longer, more informative, and more alarming, of the articles
was an extensive account of why Apple’s iPhones are now
made in China rather than the U.S.
The short version is that “the
flexibility, diligence, and industrial skills of foreign workers have so
outpaced their American counterparts that ‘Made in the U.S.A.’ is no longer a
viable option for most Apple products.”

Flexibility, diligence, and industrial skills. Hold that

put, although the President spoke of restoring millions of manufacturing jobs
to U.S. shores, it’s hard to picture Apple (or similar firms)...

While the arguments about silver bullets and secret sauces for successful schools continue, I confess fealty to Justice Potter Stewart’s observation about the definition of pornography: “I know it when I see it.”

In fact, I would wager (although I’m no Mitt Romney) that I could walk into any school in America and within 30 minutes, without looking at any data, tell you whether the students in that school are performing well – or poorly. And I’m a novice.

There is no secret sauce except what hardworking teachers, administrators, and students create.

During the last month I have been visiting high performing high schools in Ohio – high performing poor students—for an upcoming “needles in a haystack” report for Fordham’s Ohio team* (see 2010’s Needles report for a taste of what’s to come) and can confirm Justice Stewart’s aphorism. Success is in the air, the hallways, the offices, the gyms, the cafeterias. It’s on the walls—and probably in the water.  There is no secret sauce except what hardworking teachers, administrators, and students create.

It was thus not surprising to see Roland Fryer’s latest study of charter schools conclude that the key ingredients of success were “increased time, better...

'Twas the day before the State of the Union, and all through the House, not an educator was stirring, not even a teacher union louse...

We shall see tomorrow night, but this is already looking to be the Year of the Education Governor. With NCLB being pummeled from left and right
and Race to the Top in suspended inanimation, the feds seem unusually quiet, if
not on the run.

In an essay this morning in The
, who is hosting a new video documentary about how Chicago mayor
Rahm Emanuel is “risking his political life by fighting the city’s teachers’
union to improve schools,” says “there is little urgency [about education
reform] in the halls of Congress.”

And New York Times education columnist Michael
, also this morning, calls attention to the incredibly difficult
work of figuring out how to evaluate the 175,000 teachers in New York State,
79 percent of the state's total teacher population, who will be subject to the new RTTT-driven
rules. He points out that the state education department, its budget slashed by
40 percent in the last...