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 request that states raise their compulsory attendance age to 18. (Perhaps that would help to trim the dropout rate, though the studies suggesting so rely on 40-year-old data.) I’m assuming that he was merely using the bully pulpit to promote a pet idea, not suggesting a new federal mandate....

California Governor Jerry Brown’s State of the State address
last week got the anti-reform crowd all atwitter (and a-Twitter) when he called
for scaling back testing and reducing the federal and state roles in California
education. Diane Ravitch swooned, writing in a blog
that Brown and his Sunshine State compatriots “may provide the spark that ignites a national revolt against the current
tide of bad ideas.” In one respect, both Brown and Ravitch have it right:
Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s Race to the Top and conditional NCLB waivers
mark a high-water mark for federal intrusion in K-12 education and it is
understandable for governors to chafe at such strong-arming from Washington.
But California is hardly the place to look for good ideas. Its student achievement results trail other states’ by
a mile, and its poor and minority students are doing terribly compared to their
peers in other, more reform-minded states. (Texas and Florida come to mind.) We
have no qualms with mid-course adjustments to the reform agenda (getting test
results back in an expedited manner, for example—something Brown championed).
But let’s not just toss all school reform efforts into the Sacramento River,

differs sharply from Obama on education policy
,” by Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times, January 20, 2012


  • It’s no secret that American science education is lagging—and
    Fordham will shed more light on why next week when we release our new
    evaluation of state science standards. Meanwhile, the more than 200 separate and often overlapping federal STEM programs
    that the GAO pointed out this week
    demonstrate the dangers of
    turning to Washington to fix things.
  • A Virginia state legislator is proposing that any parent have
    the right to observe
    his or her child’s classroom
    , given reasonable notice. Gadfly objects…to
    having to give reasonable notice. Let’s welcome parental involvement in
    education, not lock the school doors.
  • Chicago’s longer school day has
    only been implemented in a few schools, but is already stressing the district budget. Meanwhile, the teacher union has submitted demands for its new contract, including rejecting Emanuel’s proposed 2 percent
    raise for the longer
    hours. Budgets may get tight in the Windy City, but this is a cause worth finding
    the cash for..
  • President Obama threw a curveball Tuesday night in his State
    of the Union speech when he called on states to raise
    the compulsory education age to eighteen
    . Reducing dropout rates sounds great but
    the White House has no tools (other than jawbones) by which to make it happen.
    With ESEA reauthorization stalled and Race to the Top struggling, another
    sweeping mandate is the last thing the President needs.
  • Former teacher
  • ...

Who wants to be Tim Tebow now?

Fresh off his South American adventure (seriously!), Rick reunites with Mike to catch up on what he missed: NCLB reauthorization, tough talk in New York, and the fall of Tim Tebow. Amber explains why the latest value-added study really is a big deal and Chris describes a teacher scandal that really will leave you asking, “What’s up with that?”

Amber's Research Minute

The Long-term Impacts of Teachers: Teacher Value Added and Student Outcomes in Adulthood

Amber's Weekly Poll

Tune in next week to find out the answer!

What's Up With That?

Teacher masturbates in classroom over 10 years! via

the discussion about ESEA reauthorization, people on both sides of the aisle
have recognized the importance of setting rigorous standards aligned to
college- and career-readiness expectations. The Obama Administration has, for
instance, required that states adopt college-
and career-ready standards as part of its ESEA waiver process. Similarly,
Republican-sponsored ESEA reauthorization proposals (which Mike wrote
about in a post
yesterday) also ask states to set college- and
career-readiness standards for students.

this focus on setting clear and sufficiently rigorous standards is important,
it is also insufficient. After all, if we’ve learned anything from 10 years of
NCLB implementation, it’s that the act of setting standards doesn’t translate
to increased student achievement unless those standards are meaningfully implemented
in the classroom. And, one of the most important things for states to do to
ensure strong implementation is to hold students accountable for actually
learning the content laid out in the standards.

the focus on setting clear and sufficiently rigorous standards is important,
it is also insufficient.

over the past 10 years, too many states—even those with reasonably rigorous
standards—have asked very little of students on statewide assessments. In fact,
Fordham’s 2007 “Proficiency Illusion” report found that “the central flaw in
NCLB is that it allows each state to set its own definition of what constitutes
‘proficiency.’” And so, as we look towards...

Has the Accountability Movement Run Its Course?

Has the Accountability Movement Run Its Course?

Ten years ago, George W. Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act, the law that has dominated U.S. education—and the education policy debate—for the entire decade. While lawmakers are struggling to update that measure, experts across the political spectrum are struggling to make sense of its impact and legacy. Did NCLB, and the consequential accountability movement it embodied, succeed? And with near-stagnant national test scores of late, is there reason to think that this approach to school reform is exhausted? If not "consequential accountability," what could take the U.S. to the next level of student achievement?

Join three leading experts as they wrestle with these questions. Panelists include Hoover Institute economist Eric Hanushek, DFER's Charles Barone, and former NCES commissioner Mark Schneider, author of a forthcoming Fordham analysis of the effects of consequential accountability. NCLB drafter Sandy Kress, previously identified as a panelist, was unable to attend.

Democrats across and beyond the nation’s capital—in the Administration,
on Capitol
, in advocacy
, and in think
—are up in arms about the ESEA reauthorization
released by House GOP leaders on Friday. Or at least they are pretending to be.
While they contained a few surprises, the House bills were pretty much as one
would expect: significantly to the right of both the Senate Harkin-Enzi bill
and the package put forward by Republican Senator Lamar Alexander and his
colleagues. In the parlance that we’ve been using at Fordham for three
years now
, the House GOP embodies the views of the Local Controllers,
Senator Alexander embraced Reform Realism, and Harkin-Enzi represents a
mishmash of ideas from the Army of the Potomac
and the System Defenders.

But while there are significant differences among the
players, a clear path toward a workable, maybe even bipartisan, package is
still visible. In short: all roads lead to Lamar. Not only does the Alexander
package represent smart policy, it also serves as a sort of mid-point between
the Senate bill that passed out of committee and the House GOP bill that is
likely to do the same. Let’s tackle the five big issues:

  • Requirements
    for standards and tests.
    The Administration and the Senate (including
    supporters of both the Harkin-Enzi and Alexander measures) want states
  • ...

House Republicans have released two more bills in their effort to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary
Education Act piece by piece. The draft legislation proposed last week seeks to
provide superintendents and state departments of education with more
flexibility about how to spend federal dollars, dramatically remaking the
American school finance system in the process.

The first gift the committee wants to give districts is
increased flexibility to transfer categorical funds aimed at one underserved
population into Title I. (You may recall that Mike called for something very
more than a year ago.) This could wind up being a huge plus for
children in these programs, enabling the funding of whole-school programs to
address the needs of underprivileged youngsters without the mountains of red
tape that currently accompany these dollars.

Second, the proposed law would repeal the so-called
"maintenance of effort" requirement, which makes certain federal
grant funds contingent on states and localities continuing to spend the same
amount of their own money on education. This is becoming increasingly difficult
to do in light of other budget pressures, including rising health care costs
(both in Medicaid and on public worker payrolls).

On a whole, the House committee's proposals seem like a step
towards more sensible school finance system.

Maintenance of effort requirements also hold federal grant-giving
hostage to the fallacy that education simply costs what it costs, year in...

The Education Gadfly

Tomorrow marks the tenth anniversary of the No Child Left
Behind Act, and Fordham’s redesigned website offered plenty of commentary and
analysis this week to help make sense of the NCLB decade:

  • Mike broke down the highlights—and
    lowlights—of NCLB here on Flypaper, before offering his thoughts on the next
    stage of federal involvement in education.
  • At Common Core Watch, Kathleen explained why the
    evolving iPod
    offers important insights into where NCLB went wrong.
  • On Thursday, Fordham hosted Mark Schneider, Eric
    Hanushek, and Charles Barone for a discussion of the legacy and future of the
    accountability movement. Get caught up by watching the replay of “Has
    the Accountability Movement Run Its Course?
    ” in its entirety and reading
    Schneider’s recent
    of math performance in the era of accountability-based reform.

In other news…

  • Kathleen accepted Diane Ravitch’s challenge
    to take a standardized test and publish the results, reflecting on why testing
    is valuable.
  • Over at the Ohio Gadfly Daily, Bianca examined
    the Dayton Public Schools’ latest
    financial mess
  • Chris made the case for granting principals greater
    in setting their teachers’ pay on the Stretching the School
    Dollar blog, while Peter lauded D.C.’s trailblazing merit
    pay program
    on Board’s Eye View.
  • Peter also analyzed Andrew Cuomo’s State
    of the State Address
    and wondered whether New York has the nation’s next “education
  • ...
iPod Sad Face
Photo by Joel Washing

Two months ago, Apple celebrated the 10th anniversary of the
release of the iPod. Sunday, we will “celebrate” the 10th birthday of NCLB.

The iPod is universally seen as a game changer—something
that not only transformed the way we listen to music, but that changed the
music industry itself.

Few would say the same about the transformative power of

Yet, what if the iPod hadn’t evolved in the ten years since
its initial release? What if, after Steve Jobs released the 2001 version—the
first-generation iPod—the different divisions at Apple couldn’t come to
agreement about how it should evolve?

As one tech-expert explained:

[The iPod] debuted in the fall of 2001 as a Mac-only,
FireWire-only $399 digital audio player with a tiny black-and-white display and
5 GB hard disk. The iTunes Store didn’t exist until April 2003. The Windows
version of iTunes didn’t appear until October 2003—two years after the iPod
debuted! Two years before it truly supported Windows! Think about that. If
Apple released an iPod today that sold only as many units as the iPod sold in
2002, that product would be considered an enormous flop.

The transformative power of the iPod was unleashed not by