Teacher evaluations and Common Core implementation can wait. According to this valuable National Affairs compendium, our education system suffers from more basic ailments. In fact, all policies that have been pushed over the last few decades—from those that relate to the tax code to healthcare, social security to monetary policy—are unsustainable. In his introductory chapter, National Affairs editor Yuval Levin argues that, for decades, America has been slowly (and seemingly inevitably) marching toward becoming a “technocratic welfare state.” Yet, thanks to current social and financial circumstances, that social-democratic ideal is no longer viable. According to Levin, we have “perhaps a decade” to fix things before economic catastrophe strikes. Luckily, the nineteen luminaries who contributed to the volume provide an impressive if occasionally contradictory package of solutions to many of these problems, solutions that, properly implemented, would fundamentally overhaul the shape of American policy and save us from fiscal collapse and public dependence on the “welfare” state. While only two chapters (by Fordham’s Chester Finn and AEI’s Rick Hess) explicitly address schools, all approach systemic flaws with a refreshing aversion to bureaucracy...

Robyne Camp

Guest blogger Robyne Camp served three years on her board of education in Irvington, New York, losing a tight race for re-election in May. Her first career was in financial services, specializing in complex lending to insurance companies. Her second career began in her 40s, after she was widowed, when she became a lawyer. She has worked as a pro-bono assistant district attorney in Brooklyn, representing abused and neglected children in appeals cases and prosecuting domestic violence crimes.

Three years ago, in a landslide election six months after the crash, I won a seat on my local school board in Westchester County. This May I lost my bid for re-election in a hotly contested five-person race for two open seats. I learned some lessons.

When I ran, I was a reform candidate in an affluent district where reform candidates rarely run (and don’t win if they do), but the village was then in turmoil, and the rules had been suspended. I was swept into office and assumed responsibility (along with four colleagues) for oversight of a district whose salient demographics can be registered in a glance:


Timothy G. Kremer
Executive director, New York State School Boards Association

Guest blogger Timothy G. Kremer is the executive director of the New York State School Boards Association.

Mark Twain once famously remarked "I'm all for progress, it's change that I can't stand."  Of course, Twain fully understood progress does not happen without changes to the status quo.

What constitutes progress for a school board? Hiring a great new superintendent and forging a harmonious partnership? Often, school board progress is defined in the form of a strategic plan that the entire staff and community rally around. Both are reasons to be proud because they can lead to great accomplishments.

School board members must welcome all rational forms of change that serve the goal of raising student achievement.

Ultimately, though, progress has to be measured in terms of student achievement gains. Unlike Mark Twain, school board members must welcome all rational forms of change that serve the goal of raising student achievement.

School boards have generally been supportive of the New York State Regents Reform Agenda, although it is fair to say that that many boards have a healthy dose of skepticism about grand, top-down initiatives such as Race to the Top,...

Total recall

Mike and Janie discuss the fallout from the Wisconsin recall election and teacher unions’ image problem, while Amber explains what we can learn from the best CMOs.

Amber's Research Minute

Managing Talent for School Coherence: Learning from Charter Management Organizations by CRPE & Mathematica DOWNLOAD PDF

Darrell Allison

Guest blogger Darrell Allison is president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, which supports greater educational choice for all parents and students across the state. For more information, please go to

As president of a statewide organization devoted to ensuring that ALL children—regardless of income or zip code—have access to a quality education, I hear plenty of opposing talking points…that we need to spend more on public education, that education reform measures will lead to the death of public schools, that public tax dollars are being used for private gain.

In spite of tremendous spending, our poorest kids are still missing the mark. And this is totally unacceptable.

When I hear this type of rhetoric I think of how North Carolina has spent over $35 billion on education over the last five years, yet only 50 percent of poor elementary and middle school students passed state tests—compared to nearly 80 percent of their wealthier peers.

In spite of tremendous spending, our poorest kids are still missing the mark. And this is totally unacceptable.

I’m all for “public education,” but I believe “public education” should consist...

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for a Competitive Workforce (ICW) examines school boards in 13 cities to see how the business community has played a role in school governance. The cities profiled were Atlanta, Austin, Bismarck, ND, Denver, Detroit, Duval County, FL, Laramie, WY, Long Beach, CA, Los Angeles, Newark, NJ, Pittsburgh, Seattle and Fordham’s hometown of Dayton, Ohio.

School boards impact education big time. They are involved in everything from setting policies on teacher evaluation systems, to hiring district leadership, to negotiating collective bargaining agreements.

The Chamber report analyzed the challenges and successes of school boards in cities with challenging social, political and fiscal issues. The authors studied cities that are in various stages of growth, or in some cases, decline.

Dayton, the only Ohio city profiled, is as a city with a declining population. The report described the Dayton Public School board as in various stages of disarray. Fordham’s own Terry Ryan was quoted as questioning whether Dayton Public Schools’ board can effectively govern a school district in a city that faces profound challenges, including poverty, diminishing financial resources, a weakened business community, and a collapsed housing infrastructure. “I think it’s fair to ask, Can any...

The Price of the Common Core

The Price of the Common Core

The Common Core State Standards will soon be driving instruction in forty-five states and the District of Columbia.

While the standards are high quality, getting their implementation right is a real challenge—and it won't be free, a serious concern given the tight budgets of many districts and states.
But while critics have warned of a hefty price tag, the reality is more complicated.

Yes, some states may end up spending a lot of money. But there are also opportunities for significant savings if states, districts and schools use this occasion to rethink their approach to test administration, instructional materials and training for teachers. The key is that states have options, and implementation doesn't need to look (or cost) the same everywhere.

States could approach implementation in myriad ways. Here are three:

• One, stick to "Business as usual" and use traditional tools like textbooks, paper tests, and in-person training. These tools are very familiar in today's education system, but they can come with reasonably high price tags.
• Two, go with only the "bare bones" of what's necessary: Experiment with open-source materials, computerized assessments, and online professional development in ways that provide the bare bones of more traditional, in-person approaches. This could save major coin, but could require more technology investment and capacity for some states.
• Or, three, find a middle ground through "balanced implementation" of both strategies, which offers some of the benefits—and downsides—of each model.

But how much money are we talking? Take Florida: 

If Florida sticks to business as usual, it could spend $780 million implementing the Common Core. Under the bare bones approach, the tab could be only $183 million. A blend of the two? $318 million.

But that's the total cost; don't forget states are already spending billions of dollars each year on textbooks, tests, curricula, and other expenses. Look at it that way and the sticker shock wears off: The estimated net cost of putting the Common Core in place in the Sunshine State, for example, ranges from $530 million to roughly $67 million less than what we estimate that they are spending now. 

Each implementation approach has its merits—and drawbacks—but states and districts do have options for smartly adopting the Common Core without breaking the bank. Further, they could use this opportunity to create efficiencies via cross-state collaborations and other innovations.

To learn more, download "Putting a Price Tag on the Common Core: How Much Will Smart Implementation Cost?"

Amercia the Beautiful

Mike and Rick break down the flaws in the latest Race to the Top and explain why Obama and Duncan really aren’t twins when it comes to ed policy. In her Research Minute, Amber analyzes Podgursky’s latest insights on pensions.

Amber's Research Minute

Who Benefits from Pension Enhancements? by Cory Koedel, Shawn Ni, Michael Podgursky

The race is on!

Mike and Education Sector’s John Chubb analyze Mitt Romney’s brand-new education plan and what RTTT will look like for districts. Amber considers whether competition among schools really spurs improvement.

Amber's Research Minute

Heterogeneous Competitive Effects of Charter Schools in Milwaukee

Much will swiftly be written about Arne Duncan's brand-new Race to the Top competition for school districts (and, interestingly, for charter schools and consortia of schools), and it's premature to say much on the basis of early press accounts. But Alyson Klein's invaluable Ed Week blog flags one fascinating tidbit that suggests a welcome new Education Department focus on the failings of today's school-governance arrangements:

Will the NSBA and AASA react angrily to this goring of their own members' oxen?

Just to be eligible, districts by the 2014-15 school year will have to promise to implement evaluation systems that take student outcomes into account—not just for teacher and principal performance, but for district superintendents and school boards. That's a big departure from the state-level Race to the Top competitions, which just looked at educators who actually work in schools, not district-level leaders. [Emphasis added]

How very refreshing, even exhilarating, to see the inclusion of superintendents and boards in a results-based accountability system, rather than the customary focus only on schools and their principals and teachers (and sometimes the kids themselves). Will the NSBA and AASA react angrily to this goring of their own members' oxen? Or will...