A Reform-Driven System

Via this ambitious strand of work, we seek to deepen and strengthen the K–12 system’s capacity to deliver quality education to every child, based on rigorous standards and ample choices, by ensuring that it possesses the requisite talent, technology, policies, practices, structures, and nimble governance arrangements to promote efficiency as well as effectiveness.

Nothing in life is truly free—but don’t tell that to dogmatic liberals and their pandering politicians, who would turn the first two years of college into a new universal entitlement. This idea has the same fatal flaws as universal preschool: a needless windfall for affluent voters and state institutions that does very little to help the needy.

Start with the expense. Today, millions of families save their own pennies and dollars to pay for kids’ college. While they would surely love to slough this burden onto taxpayers, doing so would probably shift billions of dollars every year from programs that help talented poor kids access higher education and improve our schools. In a time of scarce resources, why is this a priority?

Nor would it help disadvantaged students. Most “free college” proposals focus on community colleges, turning them into “grades thirteen and fourteen” of a new public education system. Yet these schools have the worst track record with poor kids, especially those with exceptional academic promise. (They’re also already “free” to poor students today, thanks to federal Pell grants.) We know from a ton of research that these students do best at more challenging state schools and private colleges.

Yes, it...

Education reform has been a specialty of Jeb Bush’s, and his track record on this issue in Florida is unbeatable. He knows the topic up, down, and sideways. But he’s never had to deal directly with federal policy before, so I picked up his “education vision” paper with interest to see how he and his team would approach it.

In my view, it deserves at least two and a half cheers—which is a cheer or two more than any other candidate has earned on this issue, mute as they’ve been on the topic. He has perfect pitch on K–12 issues and the (limited) federal role therein. Here and in the pre-K realm, the quality of what kids end up getting will depend—as it must—on how states manage their newfound authority and how well parents select among the choices before them.

On the post-secondary side, Governor Bush has made some smart and creative suggestions, such as replacing student loans with lines of credit that college-goers pay back over time with a set share of their future income, as well as eliminating defaults and collection agencies by using tax withholding to collect repayments. I applaud his wisdom in looking beyond...

Nearly thirty years ago, a then-obscure University of Virginia professor named E.D. Hirsch, Jr. set off a hot national debate with the publication of Cultural Literacy. The book was an out-of-nowhere hit, spending six months on the New York Times best seller list on the strength of its list of five thousand people, events, books, and phrases that Hirsch declared "every American should know."

Eric Liu, the executive director of the Aspen Institute's Citizenship and American Identity Program, wants to revisit Hirsch's list. Building on his recent essay, "How to Be American," Liu argues that the United States needs such common knowledge more than ever, but that “a twenty-first-century sense of cultural literacy has to be radically more diverse and inclusive.” Liu has launched an intriguing effort to crowd-source a 2016 version of Hirsch's famous list—which, in retrospect, was a double-edged sword: It made Cultural Literacy a best seller, but it also resulted in the book becoming what Dan Willingham has called "the most misunderstood education book of the past fifty years." It also came out the same year as Allan Bloom's Closing of the American Mind, an equally unlikely success. Both were tarred with a "conservative" label. (For his part, Hirsch recently insisted, "I'm...

In a perfect world, all children would have access to an inspiring, well-rounded education, especially in pre-K and elementary school. They need a solid grounding in history, science, art, music, and literature. This is the period when their minds, like little sponges, are most receptive to learning about faraway times and places, hearing the classic stories from cultures around the world, understanding how the universe works, and unleashing their mini-Picassos and Beethovens. Plus, cognitive science tells us, these “extras” help our kiddos become excellent readers to boot—setting them up for a successful academic career from pre-K to college. (That’s because, along with learning to decode the English language, their reading ability is mostly determined by their store of vocabulary and content knowledge.)

Unfortunately, the vast majority of American elementary schools continue to eschew the type of well-rounded education that builds children’s knowledge. They see such an education as prioritizing “mere facts” at the expense of play, “natural learning,” or social and emotional development. That’s wrongheaded thinking. Studying topics like ancient Egypt, the constellations, or Greek myths provides ample opportunity for lessons on feelings, fun, play, and the ethical treatment of others. Lessons in these areas never have to consist only of...

M. René Islas

Editor's note: This is the first in a series of blog posts that will be collaboratively published every Wednesday by the National Association for Gifted Children and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Each post in the series will exist both here on Flypaper and on the NAGC Blog.

President Barack Obama kicked off his final State of the Union address by asking the citizens of our country several important question that ought to frame how our policy makers will lead into the future. His first question was related to education. He asked, “How do we give everyone a fair shot at opportunity and security in this new economy?”

The National Association for Gifted Children agrees that education is a powerful tool to help “give everyone a fair shot.” However, we would be remiss if we didn’t call out the nation’s responsibility to ensure that the education it provides its citizens gives everyone the chance to achieve his or her full human potential. Unfortunately, we know that this is not necessarily the case for children with extraordinary gifts and talents in our schools today; particularly those bright students who are economically disadvantaged, from minority backgrounds, or are learning English as a second...

This year marks the twentieth edition of Education Week’s annual “Quality Counts” report, but not much has changed from the nineteenth—or other editions of recent vintage. Massachusetts is still the tops—with a handsome 86.8 out of a possible hundred points—and the nation’s only B-plus state for education. Maryland, New Jersey, and Vermont are next in line, each earning a B. The nation at large earns a C, as do most states—thirty-two of them registering somewhere from C-minus to C-plus. The biggest gain in the standings was accomplished by the District of Columbia, which jumped from thirty-eighth last year to twenty-eighth this year and earned an overall C.

Perhaps more unpredictable days are ahead. To wit, of particular interest in Education Week’s package is Edie Blad’s piece on California’s so called “CORE districts”—six school systems that received the only local-level waiver from some NCLB requirements. The districts, which include Los Angeles, San Francisco and Fresno, adopted an accountability system that includes “suspension rates; school-climate survey responses from parents; and measures of traits related to students' social development and engagement, like self-management and social awareness,” in addition to traditional test scores to monitor schools. In short, the CORE districts are at the forefront of the...

  • The ink is dry on the bill, the interest groups are mollified, and the lobbyists have made the first payments on their tastefully appointed condominiums. Now that the Every Student Achieves Act has become the law of the land, it’s time to examine its implications for our federal education bureaucracy. Ace Fordham policy fellow Andy Smarick has identified the shrinking classroom influence of Uncle Sam as the top media takeaway from ESSA’s passage, and there’s no denying that Congress acted decisively to roll back the Department of Education’s Obama-era authority. But just how much has the agency—and John King, who will act as its leader regardless of whether he ever gets a confirmation hearing—seen its prerogatives narrowed? This recap from Education Week offers a good primer, consulting aides from both parties along with education superlawyer Reg Leichty. Shockingly, the sources don’t agree on whether future secretaries of education will be “handcuffed” in their dealings with state accountability schemes. But as Leichty happily observes, those differences in opinion will likely be resolved in the courts.
  • Now that it’s the second week of January, you’ve probably received your W-2 tax form. And as the old saying goes, there are
  • ...
Leslie Kan

This week, teachers’ unions continued their battle over mandatory “agency fees” in the Supreme Court case Friedrichs v. California. Union dues cover the costs of lobbying and collective bargaining and are crucial to advocating for employee benefits, including teacher pensions. Add these fees on top of a teacher’s mandatory state pension contributions, though, and it becomes apparent that teachers are spending a substantial chunk of their paychecks on pensions—without receiving much in return.

Take for example, a California teacher’s paycheck. California teachers are required to pay a mandatory state pension contribution of 8.15 percent, soon to rise to either 9.205 or 10.25 percent in the next few years depending on a teacher’s hire date. Alongside pension contributions, teachers contribute a portion of their salary toward union dues. About a third (the amount varies depending on the school district) goes toward political and legislative advocacy. (In 2013, the California Teachers’ Association spent a year of political and legislative action preventing harsher cuts from a recent pension reform law.) The remaining two-thirds of dues, or the mandatory agency fee, covers the cost of collective bargaining. Collective bargaining indirectly impacts pension benefits through negotiations like late-career salary raises that can spike pension benefits for certain teachers. California’s mandatory agency fees make...

Tomorrow in Columbia, South Carolina, the Jack Kemp Foundation will receive a coterie of scholars, policy mavens, and politicos at its Kemp Forum on Expanding Opportunity. The event is hosted by House Speaker Paul Ryan and South Carolina Senator Tim Scott—two rising GOP stars, both notably focused on policy solutions to America’s inequality crisis—and holds great potential as a podium for presidential candidates to exchange ideas. In the midst of a conspicuously policy-light 2016 campaign (especially when it comes to the issue of K–12 schooling, where vowing to eradicate the Department of Education counts as some candidates’ most probing insight), it will be healthy for participants to lay out their opportunity agendas in an important early primary state.

The host organization is just as fitting as the venue. Its namesake, congressman and cabinet secretary (and quarterback!) Jack Kemp, was one of the most energetic policy entrepreneurs of the Reagan era. He was a self-styled “bleeding-heart conservative” who championed novel schemes to conquer poverty through tax and housing policy. His nomination as the Republican vice presidential nominee in 1996 was a credit to the party, and conservative voices are now trumpeting the “Kemp model” as an example for future Republican...

According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, 594,000 children live in poverty throughout the state of Ohio. Assuming a family of four, these Buckeye youngsters come from households with an annual income of less than $25,000—truly disadvantaged families. It’s no secret that children such as these are behind the proverbial eight-ball in life; as recent research demonstrates, it’s a longshot that kids who grow up poor will climb into the upper-middle class as adults—and Ohio’s low-income children face some of the longest odds nationally.

It has long been recognized that the best antidote to this vicious cycle of intergenerational poverty is an extraordinary education. Still, even today, tens of thousands of low-income Buckeye students are way off track in school—in an academic Siberia—and almost certainly not on the path to adult success. In fact, according to early results from last year’s PARCC tests, roughly 15 percent of students from poor urban areas are meeting career- and college-ready benchmarks, while the percentages reach 50 and 60 percent in the suburbs.

What can we do? One possible avenue for advancement is to create public finance policies that devote more dollars to the education of low-income students. In technical...

Pages