Effect of ESEA Waiver Plans on High School Graduation Rate AccountabilityThis new report from the Alliance for Excellent Education offers a troubling diagnosis: The thirty-five “NCLB flexibility” waivers granted by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) may have had the unfortunate side effect of allowing states to skirt 2008 regulations that standardized the graduation-rate measurements and held schools accountable for raising those rates. Trivial this is not: Prior to these changes, reported graduation rates were often inflated and always difficult to compare (just like proficiency rates). The 2008 regulations set parameters for consistent, common graduation-rate calculations across schools, districts, and states. Through their ESEA waivers, however, eleven states have re-incorporated “alternative” measures of high school completion (e.g., the GED) in their graduation-rate tracking and reporting, possibly incentivizing schools to “push students towards a GED rather than a standard diploma.” The 2008 policy exposed the low graduation rates of pupil subgroups (minorities, English language learners, low-income students, and students with disabilities) that had previously been masked by averaging the student population; but eleven state waivers contain weak or...

Bill Gates just released his foundation’s annual letter, and he summarizes the edu-important parts here. He focuses on the findings of the gigantic MET study. While I’m happy that he is personally publicizing what they learned about teacher effectiveness, this short piece only underscores the concerns I raised here. Implementing the study’s findings is the tough part, but his only reference to that is a glancing blow about budgeting. I really hope they have a detailed, coordinated plan in place.

Check out a smart piece by Checker on the very important issue of cut scores for common assessments. This is one of the issues that, if mishandled, may contribute to the centrifugal force pulling the testing consortia—and Common Core—apart. (Cost may prove to be another.) If you think I’m mother hen-ing this thing, consider Alabama’s recent decision to drop out

According to Politics K–12, a number of House GOP leaders are charging that the Administration is standing in the way of students hoping to participate in the D.C. scholarship program. This program, which allows a small number of D.C. kids to choose...

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...

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,...

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...