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.

No more utopian goals for ESEA.
Michael J. Petrilli

I’m back from a week’s vacation and pleased to find that ESEA reauthorization is still (if just barely) alive. The release of a compromise bill from Senate HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander and ranking member Patty Murray gives me an excuse to bring back my beloved color-coded ESEA table.

The last time we checked, when Chairman Alexander published his discussion draft, it looked like this:

After negotiating with Senator Murray, it now looks like this (items that moved are in bold):

(* These were in the Alexander discussion draft too; I had them in the wrong column last time. My apologies.
** The School Improvement Grants program is officially gone, though the bill [like Alexander’s discussion draft] does include a large state set-aside for school “interventions and supports.”

So what’s the big news? First, federally mandated teacher evaluations are dead as a doorknob, as are requirements that states adopt a particular type of standard (read: Common Core). That’s good news on both fronts, as Uncle Sam has become a monkey on the backs of these reforms. Second, as most of us predicted, annual tests are here to stay. (The House Republicans’ bill keeps them, too.) Third, Senator Murray rescued the “maintenance of effort” requirement, though Republicans succeeded in adding some flexibility for states and districts. She also kept a handful of competitive grant programs alive, including one for magnet schools.

The most significant changes relate to state accountability systems. To be sure, the language in the Alexander-Murray compromise is much less prescriptive than No Child Left Behind’s “adequate yearly progress” concoction. But it’s fairly prescriptive nonetheless, requiring the setting of annual...

The Every Child Achieves Act of 2015, unveiled a few days back by Senators Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray and scheduled for HELP Committee mark-up on April 14, is a remarkable piece of work. The mere fact that it’s bipartisan is remarkable enough, given the polarized state of Capitol Hill nowadays. But it’s also a reasonable, forward-looking compromise among strongly divergent views of the federal role in K–12 education—and between the overreach (and attendant backlash) of NCLB and some people’s conviction that NCLB didn’t reach far enough.

The draft has received much applause—some of it muted, some tentative—from many quarters (including the Obama administration). Indeed, some Washington wags have remarked that if so many different factions are saying nice things about it, either they haven’t actually read it or there must be something wrong with it! I like most of it myself, though I (as with perhaps everyone else who has said anything positive) hope that the refinements to be offered in committee and on the floor will yield something that I like even better.

I’m mindful, though, that the amending process in the Senate alone is where bipartisanship could get unstuck. This is to say nothing of what might happen if and when it gets to conference with the House Republicans’ version of an ESEA reauthorization, currently awaiting floor action.

Sound education policy for American children is more important than bipartisanship, but in today’s divided government, we’re even less likely to get to the former if we can’t sustain some form of the latter. That could mean everybody holding their noses over provisions they don’t like, even while agreeing that the totality is an improvement over current law—and that nothing better is likely to come along anytime...

Does middle school really stink?

The weak link between student motivation and achievement.
Chester E. Finn, Jr.

In reading, Finland’s girls are the real superstars.
Robert Pondiscio

The benefit of different post-diploma paths.
Michael J. Petrilli and Chester E. Finn, Jr.

Pros and cons of mastery-based education

Red tape stifles innovation and dynamism; can it be lessened for high-flying public schools in Ohio?