A decade after the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act, the GOP stance on education, and particularly federal education policy, is clearly shifting. But in any clear direction? And for the better? To examine those questions, the Fordham Institute will bring together two former GOP education secretaries to debate the Republican Party’s direction on this vital issue. Join the conversation with Senator Lamar Alexander and Margaret Spellings at 9 a.m. EDT on July 26 by tuning into the live webcast.

Move to the head of the class

Mike and Rick reunite to talk social mobility, the NEA’s membership woes, and what sequestration would actually mean for schools. Amber explains where parents stand on digital learning.

Amber's Research Minute

Learning in the 21st Century: A 5 Year Retrospective on the Growth in Online Learning - Project Tomorrow

Since 2010, the Center on Education Policy (CEP) has issued two handfuls of reports on the reborn federal School Improvement Grant (SIG) program. These latest three (1) tackle the challenges related to SIG staffing requirements, (2) tackle the challenges related to increased learning time, and (3) profile the culture changes made in six SIG schools. The first and third reports are worth mentioning. In the first, surveyed state leaders explain that finding and keeping quality principals and teachers is difficult for SIG schools, especially those in rural areas. Yet just 21 percent broke the hiring mold and offered recruiting and appointment assistance to SIG schools and districts looking for qualified staffers. It’s unclear from the survey data how many states and districts are utilizing alternative recruitment pathways like New Leaders or Teach For America. Instead, some state officials interviewed called for the relaxation of SIG schools’ replacement mandates. Indeed, just 55 percent of those in states with schools undergoing the “transformation” model (where the school must replace the principal and implement other programmatic and structural reforms) felt that replacing the school’s leader was a key or “somewhat” key element in upping student achievement. (Of course, there are inherent flaws...

What a difference a decade makes. For all the debate around vouchers and student loans, perhaps the most striking element of Mitt Romney’s education agenda is how much it differs from the approach of No Child Left Behind, the defining policy of the George W. Bush years. That does not mean, however, that other Republicans necessarily agree with it. The GOP stance on education, and particularly federal education policy, is clearly shifting. But in any clear direction? And for the better?

To examine those questions, Fordham is bringing together two former GOP education secretaries for "Ten Years After NCLB: Is the GOP Moving Forward, Backward, or Sideways on Education?" There’s still time to register to join the conversation with Senator Lamar Alexander and Margaret Spellings at 9 a.m. EDT on July 26. See you there!

Mike is from Mars; Kathleen is from Venus

Kathleen and Mike wonder how to hold states accountable in twenty-seven different ways and debate whether gender-specific curricula make sense. Amber dives deep into census data on edu-spending.

Amber's Research Minute

Public Education Finances Report - United States Census

The Obama administration passed the halfway mark last Friday in its ongoing effort to dismantle the most vexing accountability requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act, one waiver at a time. By exempting Wisconsin and Washington from the ever-unattainable goal of reaching near-universal math and reading proficiency by 2014, the Department of Education brings the grand total of liberated states to twenty-six, with ten more (plus D.C.) eagerly awaiting word on their applications from Arne Duncan. Yet despite its importance in reshaping the federal role in education, the waiver program defies easy labels. Forget EduJobs or Race to the Top: ESEA flexibility is likely the Obama administration’s greatest contribution to education policy, but it may also prove to be a political liability in this fall’s election. Despite being driven by a Democratic administration in Washington, it’s welcomed by many Republican governors relieved to escape requirements dictated from D.C. It’s at once a necessity given congressional gridlock but also illegal given its end-run around the legislature. It purports to offer flexibility but in many ways ratchets up federal rulemaking. Unless Congress can make any headway in reauthorization, however, the real legacy of the waiver policy won’t...

Curriculum nerds

Kathleen Porter-Magee makes her podcast debut, debating reading requirements with Mike and explaining why the new science standards need improvement. Amber wonders whether upper-elementary teachers outshine their K-2 peers.

Amber's Research Minute

School Based Accountability and the Distribution of Teacher Quality Among Grades in Elementary School by Sarah C. Fuller & Helen F. Ladd - Download PDF

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Rejecting Iowa's waiver: political courage or political suicide?
Photo by US Department of Education.

With barely four months to go until Election Day, every single Obama administration decision is inevitably viewed through the prism of presidential politics. Which is why Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s rejection of a request from Iowa for flexibility under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is particularly perplexing. Do Duncan and the White House politicos not understand that he’s handing Mitt Romney a handy campaign issue in an up-for-grabs state? What’s most remarkable is the reason the administration is turning down Iowa’s waiver request: Because the state legislature refuses to enact a statewide teacher-evaluation plan. As you may recall, such evaluations are one of the mandates (er, conditions) placed on states that want flexibility from ESEA’s broken accountability requirements. And as many of us have argued, such conditions are patently illegal. There’s nothing in ESEA that indicates that the Secretary has...

Special-education students, it turns out, may stand to benefit if accountability systems cease to treat them as particularly special. States around the country jumped at the Obama administration’s NCLB waiver offer this year for many reasons, but the opportunity to streamline that law’s accountability requirements by lumping different subgroups together was certainly a draw. The practice raised the ire of many special-education advocates, however, who fear that that the needs of students with disabilities (SWDs) may get lost in the shuffle with the rise of “super subgroups” that lump these youngsters in with ethnic, socioeconomic, and linguistic minorities. The data in a new IES report, however, suggest that viewing SWDs separately may actually do them a serious disservice. The study analyzes how well schools with substantial special-education populations educate their students and assesses whether NCLB’s Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) requirements led schools to adopt improved practices, thus bumping educational outcomes for their SWDs. For the forty states with relevant data (2008-09), 35 percent of schools were accountable for SWD test scores—up ten percentage points since 2005-06—meaning that they had enough disabled pupils to qualify for accountability under NCLB’s Title I and “subgroup” rules. Further, in 2008-09, just 14 percent...

In Ohio’s NCLB waiver, the state proposes a new accountability measure—the gap closure indicator—which would hold schools accountable for narrowing achievement gaps. Referring to the well-known disparity in Black/Hispanic and White/Asian test scores, the gap closure indicator would measure how well students from different racial groups perform on its standardized tests.[1] In a data simulation of how Ohio schools would fare under this new accountability measure, the Ohio Department of Education found that 890, or one-quarter of schools, would receive a 100 percent rating.

In a blog earlier this month, we wondered aloud about whether these extremely high ratings (100 percent) for so many schools accurately reflect how well these schools narrow racial achievement gaps. We posed the question: Could some of these schools have an all- or mostly-White student population—with simply no achievement gap to close in the first place? It’s conceivable that, without multiple racial subgroups, all-White schools could receive a 100 percent rating with little or no effort, so long as its White students perform well.

To answer this question, we dig deeper into the racial composition of these 100-percent-rated schools.  Using a random number generator, we randomly sampled 89 of...