Governance

Editor's note: This post was first published on Flypaper on July 21, 2015.

John Kasich announced today that he’s running for president. The current governor of Ohio is the sixteenth Republican to join the crowded GOP primary, dwarfing the five-person field on the other side of the aisle. He’s also the twenty-first subject of our Eduwatch 2016 series chronicling presidential candidates’ stances on education issues.

Kasich entered politics in the late 1970s, when he was elected to the Ohio Senate. He moved on to the House of Representatives in 1983, representing the state’s Twelfth Congressional District until 2001. After taking a break from public life, he returned to take Ohio’s helm in 2011. During his time as the state’s sixty-ninth governor, Kasich has made education a priority, and his efforts have produced some positive results. Here’s a sampling of his views:

1. Common Core: “[The idea behind the standards was for] students in every state to be given the opportunity to compete with every other student….I want kids to jump higher….I’m going to make sure, at least in my state, that standards are high and local control is maintained….Now, some may call that Common Core. I...

I’ve dedicated a big part of my career to expanding school choice. I think it’s the right thing to do for kids, families, educators, neighborhoods, civil society, and much else. In fact, I’m convinced that years from now, students of history will be scandalized to learn that we used to have a K–12 system defined by one government provider in each geographic area.

“Do you mean,” they’ll ask, “that kids were actually assigned to schools based on home address, even if those schools were persistently underperforming?”

But probably the most important lesson I’ve learned over the last fifteen years—the reason why school choice progress moves so slowly—is this: An education system without school choice makes perfect sense from the point of view of central administrators.

In fact, the district-based system (a single public sector operator of schools) that we’ve had for the last century is extraordinarily rational when viewed from above. A city has lots of kids, and those kids need to be educated. A central schooling authority will take care of it.

The central authority looks at a map and partitions the city into similarly populated sections, each with its own “neighborhood school.” For simplicity’s sake, those schools can be named...

Urban school governance is a moving target, in part because it’s pretty clear that there’s no best way to handle it and in part because no change in a city’s arrangements ever works as well as its promoters hoped. This inevitably leads to a down-the-road push to change it again or change it back or…well, do something different because we’re not getting the results we need and a lot of people are unhappy.

This short issue brief from analysts at the Pew Charitable Trusts is meant to help the powers that be in their home town of Philadelphia consider the governance options ahead by examining those presently in use in fifteen urban districts.

It seems to have been prompted by the fact that Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf and former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter are pushing for an end to the fifteen-year-old state takeover of the School District of Philadelphia and a return to some form of local control. It’s not clear that new Mayor Jim Kenney has staked out a position on this issue yet, but citizens indicated in a (non-binding) referendum vote last year that they generally agree with Messrs. Wolf and Nutter.

The most interesting factoid in the...

Education reform has been a specialty of Jeb Bush’s, and his track record on this issue in Florida is unbeatable. He knows the topic up, down, and sideways. But he’s never had to deal directly with federal policy before, so I picked up his “education vision” paper with interest to see how he and his team would approach it.

In my view, it deserves at least two and a half cheers—which is a cheer or two more than any other candidate has earned on this issue, mute as they’ve been on the topic. He has perfect pitch on K–12 issues and the (limited) federal role therein. Here and in the pre-K realm, the quality of what kids end up getting will depend—as it must—on how states manage their newfound authority and how well parents select among the choices before them.

On the post-secondary side, Governor Bush has made some smart and creative suggestions, such as replacing student loans with lines of credit that college-goers pay back over time with a set share of their future income, as well as eliminating defaults and collection agencies by using tax withholding to collect repayments. I applaud his wisdom in looking beyond...

Ever since the birth of the modern reform movement, the GOP has faced a dilemma on federal education policy: Should it focus on the party’s federalist principles and push for a limited federal role in the nation’s schools, or use Washington’s authority to empower parents and shake up the system?

That tension was on full display this week as Republican candidates Marco Rubio and Ben Carson sat down with the Seventy Four’s Campbell Brown. The two want everything and nothing to do with education reform, expressing simultaneous desires to be the “education president” (hmm, where have we heard that before?) while also seeking to curtail federal involvement in a system that they maintain can only be redeemed through local efforts.

The discussions offered a rare glimpse at how candidates view the president’s role in American education, a topic that continually fails to surface during primary debates.

The K–12 system fails so many students growing up in poverty, and Carson was almost one of them. But thanks to the heroic intervention of his mother, he learned to read and developed a passion for science. He also took charge of his own schooling by seeking out after-school help when disruptive students prevented teachers from...

Editor's note: This post is the final entry of a three-part series on Race to the Top's legacy and the federal role in education. You can read the first two entries here and here.

In two recent posts about Race to the Top (RTTT), I expressed skepticism about a sunny assessment of the program’s influence and critiqued the mindset behind federal efforts to remake complex education systems.

But my M.O. is not to disparage all federal K–12 activity. From Brownthe National Defense Education Act, and Title I to the charter school grant program, NCLB’s disaggregated data, and the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, Uncle Sam has done some serious good for our schools. So I believe that there should be a federal K–12 agenda (for instance), and I hope both parties’ presidential candidates start articulating one.

What I’m interested in is fashioning some rules of the road. The agnosticism/nihilism of insisting on no federal activity ever would’ve amounted to a “Road Closed” sign to high-return investments like NAEP and seed funding for charters. The progressive hubris of believing that the feds can solve everything, on the other hand, is the on-ramp to P.J. O’Rourke’s bon mot about government-induced pileups. I think the...

Editor's note: This post is the second entry of a three-part series on Race to the Top's legacy and the federal role in education. You can read the first entry here and the final entry here.

The super-talented Joanne Weiss, former chief of staff to Secretary Duncan, has convinced me in two recent articles that Race to the Top (RTTT) was a skillfully administered program. Weiss and her colleagues cannily handled public transparency, technical assistance to applicants, and intra-department coordination. They deserve credit for the how of RTTT.

But the articles don’t directly address whether the federal government should’ve undertaken RTTT. Obviously, the administration would say yes. But why? The articles imply an answer, one consistent with progressive ideology and the administration’s approach to health care, environmental regulation, and much more: Expert central administrators can and should solve complex social problems, and the federal government is the logical perch from which to do so.

In Education NextWeiss is transparent about the federal government’s ambitions. “Race to the Top aimed to drive systems-level change,” she acknowledges. The administration wanted “comprehensive and coherent” state agendas aligned with the administration’s preferences on standards, tests, teacher evaluations, and more. RTTT didn’t aspire to influence “discrete silos”; it wanted...

Five years ago, Ohio established an academic distress commission for Youngstown City Schools that was to oversee wide-scale improvement efforts. Youngstown had slipped into “Academic Emergency” (the equivalent of an F on today’s report cards) and failed to make adequate yearly progress for four consecutive years. It was the first district to sink low enough to activate a statute imposing state intervention.

In 2010, I wrote about Youngstown’s “unfocused, expensive, and misdirected” approach to improving schools, which included spending $2 million on reducing student-teacher ratios, “deploying a comprehensive system of outreach and support” for students that included “a community asset map,” and creating leadership teams whose sole purpose was to foster “collaboration, trust, and communication.” The original improvement plan was riddled with vague and meaningless language. Worse, it demanded no reforms that could actually move the needle on student learning: changes to how teachers teach and are evaluated, how principals make decisions affecting day-to-day operations, or how the district might carve out space for innovations typically stifled by collective bargaining agreements.

Predictably, little has changed since 2010. An update on the district’s recovery plan in March 2013 revealed an alarmingly unfocused approach by the commission,...

Over the weekend, President Barack Obama received high praise from parents and teachers for acknowledging that testing is taking too much time away from teaching, learning and fostering creativity in schools, and recommending that standardized tests take up no more than 2 percent of total school instructional time. Frankly, this is arrant nonsense.

From time to time, I'm asked to give a talk about education. If I look at how I spend my time over the course of a year, giving presentations and speeches is a very small part of my job—less than 2 percent. However, if my effectiveness were to be judged on the audience response to the handful of talks I give each year, I'd spend a lot more time writing and practicing speeches. I'd fret endlessly over my PowerPoint slides and leave-behinds. I'd sprinkle in more jokes to be entertaining; I'd probably say whatever I thought would get audiences to like me more, rather than challenging my listeners. I'd definitely spend a lot more on suits and dry cleaning than I do now.

But most critically, I'd spend far less time on all the other things I do—writing, reading,...

President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan deserve credit for acknowledging this weekend that there’s too much testing in our schools today and that “the administration bears some of the responsibility.”

Indeed it does. That’s because its decision to condition ESEA flexibility on state adoption of teacher evaluation systems has not only raised the stakes of reading and math tests (making them less popular and potentially more damaging to the educational enterprise). It’s also led to a proliferation of tests in “non-tested subjects”—everything from P.E. to social studies and beyond—for the sole purpose of collecting data to judge teachers’ effectiveness.

Yet, as Matt Barnum argues persuasively at the Seventy Four, the feds aren't willing to actually fix this problem:

The new report did not capture a precise measure on what proportion of tests were required by teacher evaluation, but it does point out that many states have put in place new assessments “to satisfy state regulations and laws for teacher and principal evaluation driven by and approved by U.S. Department of Education policies.”

But an initial reading of the department’s guidance suggests it is sticking to these policies: “The Department will work with states...

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