Hurricane Sandy temporarily shuttered 198 school districts in New York City and more than 300 in New Jersey last week, amounting to what Education Week called one of the “largest disruptions to schooling in the United States in recent years.” When most Big Apple students returned to school on Monday, they faced gridlock that would make even the most jaded New Yorker balk: packed trains, long lines at bus stops, and persistent gas shortages. Our hats our off to the Gotham teachers, parents, and students who overcame these obstacles and more to keep kids learning this week.

For aspiring education know-it-alls, Goldman Sachs has a simple (and lucrative) challenge: Explain what we should do to create a strong U.S. education system that works for all, improves student outcomes, and enables our country to regain its leadership position in the field of education—in three pages or less. The best entry will garner one lucky person a cool $10,000 (and the ancillary benefit of having mapped out a way to fix education). Gadfly would enter, but just can’t seem to explain Reform...

Here’s something to ponder with furrowed brow as Election Day nears.

In my spare-time reading, I’ve recently been on a twentieth-century-U.S. Presidents kick. This morning, as TV coverage of Tuesday’s election was simmering in the background, I finished a third very good book in the last few months.

And then suddenly it struck me.

In each of these books, international relations loom large. But, for the life of me, I couldn’t remember a meaningful passage from any of the books about K-12 education. So I went to the indexes.

From Eisenhower to Bush, education gets scant attention in presidential bios.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

I just finished the revealing The Presidents Club, which tries to uncover the relationships between current and former presidents. It stretches from Truman to Obama.

Number of references to “education” in the index of this 527-page book?


In a chapter on LBJ’s relationship with Eisenhower, “aid to education” appears among a long list of domestic issues on Johnson’s agenda.

Before that was Robert Caro’s latest on...

A huge part of my educational worldview is “sector agnosticism,” my disinterest in who runs schools as long as those schools are high performing. My new book is built around this philosophy; it argues for a new urban school system that assesses each school based on its performance and then applies strategies to schools based on their performance not on their operators.

Private schools should be part of the urban school system of the future.

Unlike so many others studying urban education, I believe that private schools should be part of this urban school system of the future. Per my axiom above, I don’t much care if an urban school is run by a private or religious organization if it gets great results for underserved kids and adheres to basic democratic, pluralistic principles.

But in the past when the state attempts to fold private schools into the mix via scholarship or tax-credit programs, public accountability is always the major stumbling block. Will participating private schools test students and report results? Will they test just the scholarship kids or all of their students? What test will they use? Will low-performance disqualify a private school from...

The Center on Education Policy at the George Washington University has released a study of the states whose No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waiver requests have been granted by the U.S. Department of Education. As of September 2012, waivers have been approved for 33 states and the District of Columbia. While those seeking waivers were generally looking to avoid the same NCLB requirements (most particularly the one that says 100 percent of students must score proficient in reading and math by 2014), the plans put forward to earn those waivers vary in a number of ways.

States for the most part are able to define for themselves what constitutes progress and achievement for the full student population as well as specific student subgroups based on race and income, among other characteristics. Under NCLB, there is considerably less room for customization of outcome measures while states granted waivers have a number of ways in which they can replace the “100 percent proficient” by 2014 requirement and other NCLB provisions. The conclusion is that there will be a lack of consistency in measuring educational achievement across the waiver states that will make comparison difficult as each state’s plan kicks in.


While I was away on vacation, Andy “Eduwonk” Rotherham took to the pages of the Washington Post to excoriate Virginia for setting “together and unequal” standards as part of its approved ESEA-waiver application. “The state,” Rotherham wrote, “took the stunning step of adopting dramatically different school performance targets based on race, ethnicity and income.” By 2017, Virginia expects 78 percent of white students and 89 percent of Asian students to pass its math tests, “but just 57 percent of black students, 65 percent of Hispanics students, and 59 percent of low-income students.” The solution, Rotherham writes, is for Virginia “to set common targets that assume minority and poor students can pass state tests at the same rate as others.”

Why is it so “stunning” that Virginia wouldn’t expect the achievement gap to evaporate in just five years?

I appreciate the intuitive appeal of Rotherham’s argument; it was a similar concern about backing away from NCLB’s lofty goals that led me to attack an earlier set of tweaks way back in 2005. But on this one, Andy’s got it wrong, and Virginia officials have it right. As David Foster, the president of Virginia’s state board of education told...

A week after President Obama reinserted education into the 2012 presidential campaign by attacking Mitt Romney on spending and class size, Republicans kept schools squarely in the spotlight at their Tampa convention. In his keynote address, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie gleefully recounted his record of taking on the Garden State’s powerful teacher unions, detailing his success at securing meaningful reforms to teacher-retirement benefits and tenure. Jeb Bush speaks this evening, and those in the know say it will mostly be about education reform. And then there’s a refreshingly reasonable GOP education platform, featuring support for expanded school choice, merit pay, and high academic standards (and no mention of hare-brained schemes, like scrapping the Department of Education, which dogged the Republican primary). After a decade spent avoiding education (and the mixed legacy of George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind act) in national politics, Republicans appear poised to position themselves as the education-reform party once again. It remains to be seen whether this will prove an effective political strategy—Obama’s record on education, if not his campaign’s recent statements on the subject, is fairly strong—all Americans stand to win if both parties engage in a spirited, substantive debate on...

It’s not hard to argue that many school-district budgets remain bloated, even after a few tough years of recession. With a major increase in spending since the mid 1990s, and a meteoric rise in the number of adults on the personnel rolls, surely most of our schools still have some cushion to get them through the current malaise. Moreover, the belt-tightening gives innovative leaders a chance to rethink the entire education enterprise in order to get much better results at much lower cost.

Ryan and Romney are right that the Medicare goliath must be slain if we are to avoid a future in which there's no money to pay for education for decades to come. 
Photo by monkeyz_uncle

That’s the theory. In reality, Americans say that lack of money is the greatest challenge facing public education today. And few districts seem to be availing themselves of the opportunity to rethink and restructure. Far more widespread is simply slashing: laying off young...

Mitt Romney’s selection of one-time think-tanker Paul Ryan as his running mate has unleashed a torrent of “wonky mud-slinging,” says the press. It’s about time. The nation faces huge demographic and fiscal challenges—trends that will put ever-growing pressure on the public fisc in general, including the education budget. Yet rather than demonstrate the creative problem-solving skills that educators claim to be imparting to their students, their lobbyists are playing short-term politics with America’s long-term future.

You can either “ration” health care or you can “ration” education (and all other social spending). Take your pick.

The basic challenge—this is hardly news—is that America is aging and, as a result, is spending a lot of money on healthcare and retirement expenses. These expenses will go up and up in coming decades; they’re built into our demography. Unless economic growth can outpace the cost increase, however, that means less money for everything else—education included.

So let’s say you want to protect the education budget and other investments in the young—in the future. The first thing you need to do is constrain public outlays for the old—which mostly means holding the line on healthcare spending. And the second thing you need to do...

Flying squirrels!

After a week’s hiatus, Mike and Rick catch up on the Romney-Ryan merger, creationism in voucher schools, and the ethics of school discipline. Daniela explains teachers’ views on merit pay.

Amber's Research Minute

Trending Toward Reform: Teachers Speak on Unions and the Future of the Profession by Sarah Rosenber and Elena Silva with the FDR Group - Download the PDF

Better late than never. Jeremy Ayers and Isabel Owens of the Center for American Progress have now looked at the twenty-seven second-round waiver applications that states submitted to Secretary Duncan (as Ayers had done with the first round waivers in December 2011), seeking recurrent themes across three of the Department’s four priority areas: standards and assessments, accountability systems, and teaching and leadership. (“Duplication and burden” was not included as few states addressed it in their waiver applications.) Most importantly, they found that “the waiver process itself did not stimulate new innovations aside from accountability.” What’s more, even within this sphere, nine states opted to follow one of the Department’s prescribed options for accountability, and many others set similar goals, slightly tweaked—bringing into question the level of “innovation” that is actually occurring. (This is probably due to the feds’ tight leash on waivers at least as much to lack of imagination in the states.) CAP then uses its own policy priorities to rate the states’ applications and offer recommendations. Among them: The Department of Education should ask for more detail on aspects of state plans and should establish a clearinghouse to document and share tools, strategies, and lessons...