Weighing the waivers

Mike sat down with Fordham’s new school choice czar, Adam Emerson, to question just how flexible ESEA flexibility turned out to be and to ponder Obama’s abandonment of the D.C. voucher program. Amber looks at a new study on how much value principals add while Chris learns that they sometimes need to bob and weave when handing out teacher evaluations.

Amber's Research Minute

Estimating the Effect of Leaders on Public Sector Productivity: The Case of School Principals

Amber's Weekly Poll

Tune in next week to find out the answer!

What's Up With That?

Springfield, MA teacher punches vice principal during evaluation

Online Learning
The potential of K-12 online learning can't be realized unless we change how we govern education.

If policymakers want to see more rapid technological innovation in K-12 education—innovation that works to the clear benefit of students—they will need to take a hard look at how the public education system has managed to forestall innovation for so many years. They will need to consider how that system is structured, governed, and controlled.

It seems inevitable that technology and online learning will play a sizable role in public schools. But without the driving force of competition, this could be a long time coming. At present, online education plays a tiny role in K-12 education. In 2010-11, roughly 250,000 public school students were involved in full-time online education, nearly all through virtual charter schools, not through the regular public school systems.[1] That is 0.45 percent of public school enrollments. Millions more have “computers in their classrooms,” of course, but true “blended” schnoools can be...

Big changes to edugovernance could translate to big progress for Indianapolis.
Photo by Rob Annis.

We started The Mind Trust in 2006 with an ambitious goal: to
create an ecosystem in Indianapolis
where bold ideas to transform K-12 education could thrive. Six years later,
that vision is coming to fruition.

We have recruited well-established programs such as Teach
For America, College Summit and The New Teacher Project to Indianapolis. We also have invested millions
in fellowships for social entrepreneurs who have come up with bold,
outside-the-box initiatives for improving student outcomes. Both efforts have
helped to build a network of talented leaders in Indianapolis who are working to address some
of the most pressing problems in K-12 education.

We also launched a Charter School Incubator last fall to
provide organizational support for leaders to start networks of best-in-class
charter schools. Over the next few years, that effort will spawn dozens of
top-notch schools...

Every time I see a “poverty and education” story I think of
the famous line from the New Testament in which Jesus says, “The poor you will
always have with you, and you can help them any time you want.” 

So, with education. Want a convenient scapegoat for our
problems? Poverty. It’s there, it’s handy. 

Want a convenient scapegoat for our
problems? Poverty. It’s there, it’s handy.

I sat through an hour meeting of our small school district’s
budget committee last week, most of it devoted to bemoaning our fate as a “poor
district” (over 60 percent of our kids qualify for free and reduced-price
lunch, the standard definition of “poor” for schools) in these recessionary
times. State aid has been nearly flat and the Governor punched through a two
percent local property tax cap. Woe is us. There goes sports. Not mentioned was
the fact that we spend over $22,000 per student! 

has been hitting the poverty gong for some time, most recently in Cleveland, where, she
says, “the level of urban decay is alarming.” I was just in Cleveland...


Today, Fordham is releasing the fifth and final paper in its Creating Sound Policy for Digital Learning series, "Overcoming the Governance Challenge in K-12 Online Learning." Online
learning and our current system of local education governance are at odds with
one another, to say the least. In this paper, the Hoover Institute's 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
  • ...

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,...