NCLB

Reagan
Trust, but verify.
Photo by The Official CTBTO Photostream.

A couple months ago, I wrote about the conflict between my conservative philosophy on the role of the feds in K–12 education and states’ inability to sufficiently address (and, in some cases, their near indifference to) the achievement gap.

In short, my default setting is that most major K–12 decisions should be made by states and the entities they create for these purposes.  But evidence since the mid-1960s shows that this formula has led to lots of disadvantaged kids falling and staying behind.

I’m unable to fully embrace a “Therefore-Uncle-Sam-Must-Take-Charge” approach because, ideology aside, experience shows that federal pronouncements and mandates run into a bevy of implementation roadblocks and seldom translate into the results we hope to see.

This tension is front and center in the debate—if you can call virtual inaction “debate”—over ESEA reauthorization. Many on the right simple want USED out of this business entirely. Indeed, I was in a state capital earlier this week, and a long-serving conservative state legislator told me that everything the Department has done since its inception 30 years ago has been a net negative for kids.

Hmm...

I have no reason to believe that ESEA will get reauthorized any time soon, partially because the administration appears to have concluded that its waiver...

In the biggest non-surprise of 2012, the U.S. Department of Education rejected California’s request for an ESEA waiver after the Golden State refused to play by Arne Duncan’s rules (i.e., agreeing to the conditions he demanded) in return for greater flexibility. The next move is California’s—do we smell a lawsuit?

In Italy, where job prospects for the young are few and far between, the possibility of landing a rare teaching gig at a public school set off a frenzied rush of applicants. Their Education Ministry has not held certification exams since 1999 (citing budget concerns), opting instead to fill “vacancies with temporary hires, making aspiring teachers and unions furious.” This certainly puts our own problems in perspective.

Education leaders panicking over the Common Core’s shift to online assessments should print out, highlight, underline, and memorize this recent publication from Digital Learning Now!, the third in a series aimed at preparing schools for the Common Core and personalized digital learning. The paper provides two sets of recommendations: one for state and districts making the shift to Common Core and one for the state testing consortia building the assessments.

In a month characterized by tragedy and loss, the Foundation for Child Development provides us with a breath of fresh air: Child well-being, despite rising poverty, is up more than 5 percent since 2001. The improvements were “driven primarily by the children themselves”: They are less likely to do drugs or become parents themselves, and their educational...

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 Realism in less than four pages.

President Obama will have quite the agenda in his upcoming term—what should he and Arne Duncan tackle first? Will they jump right to Head Start reform? Perhaps crack down on states and districts not living up to promises they made to acquire...

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.

Eisenhower
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?

One.

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 LBJ, the extraordinary The Passage of Power, which focuses on how Johnson shifted from emasculated vice president to briefly omnipotent president in a matter of weeks

Number of references to “education” in the index of this voluminous book?

Two.

LBJ’s “education bill” shows up twice. In the first reference,...

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 participation?

It has appeared for years that public debate and public policy would be unable to solve this problem. But we may have had a breakthrough.

As Ed Week’s Eric Robelen reports in this fascinating article, more and more private schools are choosing to adopt the Common Core...

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.

Ohio is not included in CEP’s review, but the specifics of its waiver are similarly illustrative of the variety of approaches states are taking. The hallmark of Ohio’s waiver application is the creation of a rigorous A-F grading system for schools, the definition of which is still being settled by state...

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 the Washington Post’s Lyndsey Layton, “If you just set an arbitrary target without regard for what’s achievable and where they’re starting from, you’re just shooting in the dark. That was the whole problem with No Child Left Behind. It made no sense to say that by an arbitrary year. . . every...

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 the issue.

RELATED ARTICLE: Republican Education Platform 2012 Emphasizes School Choice, Teacher Accountability,” Huffington Post, August 29, 2012...

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.

DSC_6785
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 teachers, shuttering programs.

This only feeds the country’s palpable apprehensions about “national decline”—and the sense that we’re no longer investing in the future.

Enter President Obama, who went after Mitt Romney over the education implications of Paul Ryan’s budget plan this week, tersely distinguishing himself from his opponent in...

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 is encourage maximum economic growth. Get both of these things right and you avoid Armageddon.

Now hold on, you say, there are other options. You can go after the defense budget. You can raise taxes on the rich. That’s true, and these might help at the margins, at least for...

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