With barely four months to go until Election Day, we are well within the “zone”—that time period in which every single Administration decision is made through the prism of presidential politics. Particularly in swing states, not a grant gets issued, not a speech gets uttered without someone in the White House weighing its potential electoral impact.

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Arne Duncan's rejection of the Hawkeye State's request for an NCLB waiver was a bold move in an election year.
Photo by US Department of Education.

So I was amazed, befuddled, dumbstruck, bemused (choose your own adjective) to learn that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has rejected a request from Iowa for flexibility under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. What political courage! What political suicide! Did Duncan and the White House politicos not understand that he’s handing Mitt Romney a handy campaign issue in up-for-grabs Iowa?

What’s most remarkable is the reason the Administration is turning down Iowa’s waiver request: Because the state...

Bah humbug

Checker and Mike explain why individual charter schools shouldn’t be expected to educate everyone and divide over Obama’s non-enforcement policies. Amber analyzes where students’ science skills are lacking.

Amber's Research Minute

The Nation’s Report Card: Science in Action: Hands-On and Interactive Computer Tasks from the 2009 Science Assessment - National Center for Education Statistics

Rick fades in the fourth quarter

Mike and Rick ponder the future of teacher unions and the College Board while Amber provides the key points from a recent CDC study and wonders if the kids are alright after all.

Amber's Research Minute

Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance—United States, 2011 by The U.S. Department of Health and Human Service Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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

The U.S. Department of Education recently granted Ohio relief from No Child Left Behind’s (NCLB) most ponderous mandates. (Note, while the USDOE has approved this waiver the Ohio General Assembly has not yet passed the necessary legislation to make this all real). To receive relief from NCLB, Ohio was required to present a school accountability plan that would put its 1.75 million students on a college- and career-ready path. Ohio’s NCLB waiver promises a revamped accountability system based on three indicators of school quality: (1) student achievement, (2) student growth, and (3) achievement gap closure. The three indicator scores (reported as percentages) are summed and averaged—each given equal weight—to determine a school’s overall performance.[1]

The proposed system’s third indicator, gap closure, is a newly-conceived measure of how well nationally-defined student subgroups (e.g., racial, economically disadvantaged, special education, English language learners) perform on standardized tests compared to a state-designated baseline test score—an annual measureable objective (AMO). All school buildings have at least one student subgroup; however, schools are only accountable for subgroup scores if they have 30 or more students in any of the nine NCLB-defined subgroups.[2]

To gauge how well schools would perform under the proposed...

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 Department of Education announced the latest wave of NCLB waivers this week, bringing the grand total of states freed from the law’s most cumbersome strictures to nineteen (counting D.C.). While myriad challenges remain for those winners, Congress is by far the biggest loser; round by round, the Obama Administration is making Washington’s role in education increasingly the product of executive-branch decision-making.

The “digital divide” in access to technology of the 1990s has morphed into a “time-wasting” gap reports the New York Times, with children whose parents lack college degrees exposed to 90 minutes more media daily than their wealthier peers. While the government’s proposed response is misdirected—$200 million to create a “digital literacy corps”?!—this is a useful testament to policymakers that technology is no panacea and to parents that it’s time to turn off the TV and put away the Wii....

As Jay Mathews perceptively observed over the weekend, and as others of us have been pointing out for a while, the Obama-Duncan team didn't leave a heckuva lot of education-reform terrain for Mitt Romney to occupy except for variations on the theme of vouchers. And occupy it he has done. But "voucherizing Title I" is not a new idea. I recall working with Bill Bennett on it—and Reagan then proposed it—a quarter century ago. Getting such a major change enacted would, I think, hinge not only on Governor Romney reaching the Oval Office but also on a GOP sweep in both houses of Congress. But getting it fully considered is well worth doing.

Why not try strapping the money to the backs of needy kids and letting them take it to the schools of their choice?

As America nears the half-century mark with Title I, we can fairly conclude that pumping all this money into districts to boost the budgets of schools serving disadvantaged kids hasn't done those kids much good, though it has surely been welcomed by revenue-hungry districts (and states). Evaluation after evaluation of Title I has shown it to have little or no positive impact, and...

Mitt Romney unveiled his education plan on Wednesday, grabbing headlines and getting the education-policy community buzzing. While noting that Governor Romney’s proposal is a “good start,” Mike Petrilli wrote on Flypaper that the plan risks “replacing federal overreach on accountability with federal overreach.” For more analysis on this issue, watch Mike’s interview:


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