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

Governor Mitt Romney’s long-awaited education address happened on Wednesday, but the most telling news broke Tuesday, when we learned that Margaret Spellings is no longer one of his education advisors. She quit on principle, I assume, because Romney decided to turn the page on No Child Left Behind. As his campaign’s education “talking points” read, “Governor Romney’s plan reforms [NCLB] by emphasizing transparency and responsibility for results. Rather than federally-mandated school interventions, states would have incentives to create straightforward public report cards that evaluate each school on its contribution to student learning.” (Read his thirty-four-page education policy white paper here.)

Romney Speaks in Detroit
Gov. Romney wants to make Title I and IDEA dollars portable—a worthy idea, just make it voluntary.
Photo by Austin Hufford

Today, there’s not a single Republican in the House of Representatives, in the Senate, or running for president willing to defend federal accountability mandates. The GOP conversation has shifted to transparency, in line with what...

In fall 2011, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the administration’s decision to allow states to apply for waivers to the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) requirements. To receive consideration for these waivers states had to establish “college and career- ready” expectations, develop and implement differentiated accountability systems, and develop teacher and principal evaluations systems. The U.S. Department of Education granted waivers to eleven states during the first-round application process. Another 27 states currently have an application under consideration in the second round.

A recent report by the Center on Education Policy (CEP) takes a look at the major accountability themes proposed by the 27 states in the second round, focusing on common themes among these states.

CEP found that the waiver applications in general are more complex than the current provisions of NCLB. The following are among the major accountability themes detected in the applications:

  • Adoption of the Common Core State Standards: All but one state (Virginia) has adopted the Common Core standards in math and English language arts.
  • Greater complexity in annual achievement targets: All of the states will continue to have Annual Measureable Objectives (AMOs), but they will become more complex and used
  • ...

The Gadfly’s "grand swap"

Mike and Rick analyze Senator Alexander’s ed-for-Medicaid trade and critique America’s private-public schools. Amber delves into a startling SIG success story.

Amber's Research Minute

School Turnarounds: Evidence from the 2009 Stimulus

In 2009, Fordham fellow Andy Smarick wrote: “School turnaround efforts have consistently fallen short of hopes and expectations.” And we’ve generally agreed. This research from Thomas Dee scuffs up that pristine position, however, at least a little. It examines first-year impacts of the federal School Improvement Grants (SIG) program (background here and here) in California. Dee analyzed data from roughly 2,800 schools situated just above and below the eligibility cut-off for SIG funds (eighty-two of which received SIG awards, averaging roughly $1,500 per pupil)—looking specifically at schools that opted for either of the two most popular models: transformation or turnaround (more on those here). Dee found that SIG reforms raised the scores on California’s Academic Performance Index by an impressive thirty-four scale points over the course of one year (2010-11). Before the interventions, the average SIG-eligible school scored roughly 150 points below the state’s performance target of 800, which implies that SIG closed this gap by 23 percent. (Still, API is a complex metric, and it is not clear what this means for average student-level growth on the California Standards Tests.) Dee found the most improvement in the turnaround schools (where the principal and most of...

Where are the wild things?

Checker joins Mike on the podcast to recount his recent investigation of Asian gifted education and predict the outcome of California’s waiver gambit, while Amber has some issues with a recent report on the Common Core’s potential.

Amber's Research Minute

William Schmidt Common Core State Standards Math: The Relationship Between High Standards, Systemic Implementation and Student Achievement - Download the Powerpoint

Three cheers for California’s governor, state superintendent, and state board chair, for applying for a waiver from the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (aka No Child Left Behind) that doesn’t totally kowtow to Washington. While Jerry Brown, Tom Torlakson, and Mike Kirst deserve plenty of criticism for their indifference to education reform—kicking charter supporters off the state board, cozying up to the teacher unions—on this one they deserve kudos for bravery and federalism. In a nine-page request (still in draft form for another month) they ask Arne Duncan to allow California to use its own accountability system, the Academic Performance Index (API), and to scrap AYP. But they refuse to meet one of Duncan’s conditions for such flexibility: namely, the creation of a statewide teacher evaluation system. As Kirst bluntly put it, "We're saying we just can't pay for it." Moreover, he continued, "We do not see anything in the law about state mandates for teacher evaluation." Finally, a state willing to call out the administration on the dubious legality of its waiver policy. (And a true-blue state at that!) To be clear: California’s request shouldn’t automatically be approved. There are legitimate questions about API and whether it’s demanding...