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.

Welders, as Marco Rubio recently reminded us, sometimes earn more than philosophers. But neither of them earn as much as students who receive degrees in STEM subjects. So perhaps the most encouraging bit of data to emerge from the ACT’s “The Condition of STEM 2015” report is this: Of the nearly two million high school graduates who took the ACT in 2015, 49 percent had an interest in STEM.

Interest, however, does not necessarily translate into aptitude. For the first time this year, ACT has added a new “STEM score” to their report—an acknowledgement of recent research indicating that college success in science, technology, engineering, and math classes requires a higher level of preparedness than ACT’s previous benchmarks in math and science alone seemed to predict.

Based on this enhanced measure, a paltry 20 percent of the 2015 ACT test takers were deemed ready for first-year STEM college courses. For reference, readiness is defined as either 1) a 50 percent chance of earning a B or higher or 2) a 75 percent chance of earning a C or higher in freshman courses like calculus, biology, chemistry, and physics. Among students who say that they are interested in STEM majors or...

The Achilles’ heel of the West, I read not long ago, is that many people struggle to find spiritual meaning in our secular, affluent society. How can we compete with the messianic messages streaming from the Islamic State and other purveyors of dystopian religious fundamentalism?

It made me reflect on my own life. How do I find meaning? Largely from my role as a father, a role I cherish and for which I feel deep gratitude. But ever since I lost faith in the Roman Catholic Church of my upbringing—not long after I nearly succumbed to cancer at age eighteen—much of my life’s meaning has come from my view of myself as an education reformer.

I suspect that I am not alone. We are drawn as humans to heroic quests, and those of us in education reform like to believe that we are engaged in one. We’re not just trying to improve the institution known as the American school; we see ourselves as literally saving lives, rescuing the American Dream, writing the next chapter of the civil rights movement.

When people speak of Arne Duncan with tears in their eyes—explaining earnestly that he has always put kids first—it...

John Chubb was not only a fine scholar, tireless education reformer, and creative innovator. He was also my friend and colleague for more than two decades. I first came upon him in 1990, when he (then at Brookings) and Terry Moe published their blockbuster school choice book, Politics, Markets and America’s Schools. Two years later, we found ourselves working together at the outset of Chris Whittle’s ambitious Edison Project. We both also served as founding members of the Hoover Institution’s Koret Task Force on K–12 Education, which led to much collaboration over more than fifteen years, as well as more terrific books, articles, and reports written or edited by John. (A good collection can be found here.)

While he was still with Edison (where he lasted a lot longer than I did), we had many dealings over that firm’s stewardship of a pair of charter schools that Fordham authorized in Dayton. He and I also found ourselves together at umpteen conferences, workshops, and board meetings. Quite recently, John surprised many of us by taking the helm of the National Association of Independent Schools. He was off to a terrific start there, fully grasping the challenges of that corner of...

Editor's note: Politics K-12 reports that House and Senate negotiators have reached a preliminary compromise on reauthorization of No Child Left Behind. Many details have yet to emerge, but it sounds like the Senate bill prevailed, with a few key changes. 

We'll have more analysis when the complete bill is released, but preliminary thoughts from Mike and Checker are below.

Mike says:

As the contours of an ESEA deal become clear, the country has much to celebrate. This bill, if enacted, will finally turn the page on the No Child Left Behind act, a law with the right impulses and some clear impacts, but one that badly needed an overhaul. This compromise delivers it.

The bill will turn significant authority back to the states, where, under our Constitution, it belongs. This will take the federal boogeyman off the backs of education reformers nationwide, and will put governors and state legislators back in the driver's seat on accountability, teacher policy, and much else.

Yet the bill also maintains important transparency provisions, especially the requirement for annual testing in grades three through eight, so that parents and the public can continue to get key performance information by which...

Ever since the birth of the modern reform movement, the GOP has faced a dilemma on federal education policy: Should it focus on the party’s federalist principles and push for a limited federal role in the nation’s schools, or use Washington’s authority to empower parents and shake up the system?

That tension was on full display this week as Republican candidates Marco Rubio and Ben Carson sat down with the Seventy Four’s Campbell Brown. The two want everything and nothing to do with education reform, expressing simultaneous desires to be the “education president” (hmm, where have we heard that before?) while also seeking to curtail federal involvement in a system that they maintain can only be redeemed through local efforts.

The discussions offered a rare glimpse at how candidates view the president’s role in American education, a topic that continually fails to surface during primary debates.

The K–12 system fails so many students growing up in poverty, and Carson was almost one of them. But thanks to the heroic intervention of his mother, he learned to read and developed a passion for science. He also took charge of his own schooling by seeking out after-school help when disruptive students prevented teachers from...

Any baseball team finding itself down 3-0 in a seven-game series points to the 2004 Boston Red Sox. Despite the longest of odds—they hadn’t won a World Series in eighty-six years! Their Bronx nemeses had them down!—they staged a miraculous comeback, winning four games straight.

Now, any on-the-brink team getting peppered by reporters’ questions can point to the Sox. “Yes, we’re down big,” they can say. “Sure, things haven’t gone as we wanted. But it can be done! Just give it time! The Red Sox did it!”

Of course, what these teams fail to mention is that the thirty-two other times an MLB team went down 3-0, that team lost the series. Worse, in the 110 instances in which an NBA team went down 3-0, that team always lost the series.

In other words, past poor performance predicts prospective performance.

But Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is undaunted. True to the administration’s messianic approach to policymaking, he sought yesterday to defy history. Presumably wearing a Johnny Damon jersey under his suit, the secretary traveled to the home of the Red Sox to rally-cap the legacy of his signature initiatives.

I tip my own cap to his PR team. The choice of Boston for this...

Editor's note: This post is the final entry of a three-part series on Race to the Top's legacy and the federal role in education. You can read the first two entries here and here.

In two recent posts about Race to the Top (RTTT), I expressed skepticism about a sunny assessment of the program’s influence and critiqued the mindset behind federal efforts to remake complex education systems.

But my M.O. is not to disparage all federal K–12 activity. From Brownthe National Defense Education Act, and Title I to the charter school grant program, NCLB’s disaggregated data, and the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, Uncle Sam has done some serious good for our schools. So I believe that there should be a federal K–12 agenda (for instance), and I hope both parties’ presidential candidates start articulating one.

What I’m interested in is fashioning some rules of the road. The agnosticism/nihilism of insisting on no federal activity ever would’ve amounted to a “Road Closed” sign to high-return investments like NAEP and seed funding for charters. The progressive hubris of believing that the feds can solve everything, on the other hand, is the on-ramp to P.J. O’Rourke’s bon mot about government-induced pileups. I think the...

Success for All specializes in whole-school turnaround for struggling elementary schools. Its 2010 proposal for an Investing in Innovation (i3) grant called for the program, whose primary goal is to ensure that every child learns to read well in elementary school, to grow from one thousand schools to more than two thousand. The Baltimore-based organization was one of only four to grab the shiniest brass ring in the i3 competition—a five-year, $50 million “scale-up” grant. Teach For America, KIPP, and the Reading Recovery program snared the other three.

This third and final report from MDRC looks at SFA’s impacts between kindergarten and second grade in five school districts over a three-year period covered under the i3 grant. A total of thirty-seven schools across five school districts were part of the study—nineteen randomly chosen to implement SFA, along with eighteen control schools that either stuck with their existing reading programs or choose new ones other than SFA.

The report finds that SFA is “an effective vehicle for teaching phonics,” showing statistically significant effects for second graders who were in SFA for all three years. SFA students also performed better than the average in reading fluency and comprehension, though not significantly. The...

Earlier this year, the RAND Corporation surveyed the 3,338 principals with current Teach For America (TFA) corps members at their schools. These principals are, on average, slightly less experienced and more racially diverse than American principals at large—and far more likely to run a charter school (27 percent work at charters).

In general, the survey’s results suggest that most principals who work with TFA corps members view them positively. Eighty percent of respondents said they were satisfied with the corps members at their schools; 86 percent said they would be willing to hire another corps member; and 66 percent would “definitely recommend” doing so. Moreover, a majority of respondents said corps members were at least as proficient as other novice teachers across a range of skills, including developing positive relationships with colleagues and administrators, having high expectations for students, and improving student performance. And 87 percent of respondents said they were satisfied with the support TFA provides, which three-quarters agreed complemented their school’s induction or training.

Despite these generally positive findings, the survey identified two areas of concern: First, half of the respondents identified weak classroom management as a reason not to hire additional TFA corps members. Second, 57 percent...

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