In the midst of the waiver
last week—which set many a reformer’s teeth on edge—came a few events
and reports that provide some interesting ringtones for the current debate over
the federal role in education.

the dollars follow the child
was the proposal from the Hoover Institution’s
Koret Task Force, which also makes a compelling case for the federal government’s
“central role” in our nation’s education future. Let
the feds butt out
was the message delivered by Rep. John Kline, Republican
chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, as he explained two
ESEA rewrite bills at an American Enterprise event. And Unconstitional!
was the Pioneer Institute’s conclusion about the federal government’s support
of the Common Core:

Actions taken by the Obama Administration signal an important
policy shift in the nation’s education policy, with the Department placing the
nation on the road to federal direction over elementary and secondary school
curriculum and instruction.
One wonders whether
“states’ rights” are being invoked to cover up the very inequities that NCLB was determined to remedy.

I hesitate to...

Education reform does not suffer from lack of energy or
activity. Everywhere you look—Congress, state legislatures, local school
boards, wherever—scores of eager-beavers are filing bills, proposing solutions,
calling for change, and otherwise trying to “push the ball forward.” Yet for
all the effort, for all the pain, we see little gain. What gives?

all the effort, for all the pain, education reformers see little gain. What gives?

The conventional answer, in most reform circles, comes down
to: “the opposition of special
.” Teachers unions, school administrators, colleges of education,
textbook publishers, and other defenders (and beneficiaries) of the status quo
fight change at every step and guard their selfish prerogatives jealously.

That may all be true, but our challenges are much more
fundamental. It’s not that the wrong people are in charge. It’s that there are
so many cooks in the education kitchen that nobody
is really in charge. And that is a consequence of an antiquated governance
structure that practically forces all those cooks to enter and remain in the

We bow to the mantra of “local control” yet, in fact, nearly

Awaiting waivers

While waiting for the ESEA waiver announcement, Mike and Janie get to look at the week’s more entertaining edu-news, from trials for tardiness to a pot problem in the Rockies. Amber talks pensions and Chris wonders if “walking it off” isn’t always the best idea.

Amber's Research Minute

Pension-Induced Rigidites in the Labor Market for School Leaders

Amber's Weekly Poll

Tune in next week to find out the answer!

What's Up With That?

Suit: Boy falls, teacher says crawl back to Skokie school

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...