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.

DISTANCE MATTERS
What really matters most to parents when choosing a school for their child? A new study from the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans has found that factors such as distance, extended hours, and extracurricular offerings tend to outweigh a school’s academic record for many parents, particularly those lower on the income spectrum. What parents want out of schools is a topic worthy of further study.

MORE OIL, MORE PROBLEMS
While millions of Americans are currently enjoying the lowest oil prices they have seen in years, state-level petroeconomies like Alaska are experiencing huge revenue shortages. In these states, funding for K–12 and higher education will soon be feeling the crunch. With the added uncertainty regarding the duration of the oil price drop, state lawmakers will likely continue to budget frugally for the foreseeable future.

DOUBLETALK
New York City schools will open forty dual-language programs in September as part of new Chancellor Carmen Farina’s plan to immerse students in bilingualism and biculturalism. The classes will contain half English-language learners and half English-proficient students, who will receive instruction in both English and a targeted language such as Spanish or French.

GRADE-SPAN TESTING IS A BAD IDEA
The Center for American Progress and the AFT say that annual testing should be maintained to help better assess student outcomes, but should not be used for school-level accountability. For that purpose they recommend tests taken once per grade span. Many reformers, including...

Editor's note: This post originally appeared in a slightly different form in the Daily News and City Journal.

Last week, New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña demanded that dozens of New York City’s lowest-performing schools adopt and implement a widely criticized literacy curriculum with which she has long been associated. It was the most recent of a growing list of decisions she has made while running the nation’s largest school system that seem to be based not on empirical evidence, but on the chancellor’s personal preference.

In November, the city unveiled its School Renewal Program, a $150 million plan to turn ninety-four chronically low-performing schools into “community schools.” A concept paper inviting community-based organizations to partner with the New York City Department of Education (DOE) noted the approach “is based on a growing body of evidence” showing that “an integrated focus” on academics, health and social services, and other community supports are “critical to improving student success.”

What growing body of evidence? The paper didn’t say—not even in a footnote. Perhaps because the evidence is scant to nonexistent. New York’s initiative is modeled on a similar program in Cincinnati, but as a 2013 analysis by the New York Times noted, “what has gone largely unsaid is that many of Cincinnati’s community schools are still in dire academic straits despite millions of dollars in investment and years of reform efforts."

It gets worse. Last week, Chalkbeat’s Patrick...

TARHEEL BLUES
North Carolina is the latest state to investigate a new set of standards to replace the Common Core, a move that Michael Petrilli warns won’t be so easy. The state has organized a commission to review and potentially replace the Common Core. As this NPR article explains, the debate is split. The commission is set to reach its decision in December 2015.

STICKER SHOCK
The White House has released the price tag for President Obama’s proposal to make two years of community college free to qualifying students. The initiative is projected to cost the federal government $60 billion over the course of a decade. It will certainly be interesting to see how the administration plans to foot this bill in the president’s budget proposal, which is scheduled for release in early February.

DOUBLE PLUS UNGOOD
The Atlantic’s Alia Wong asks the question we’ve all faced at one time or another: Why is education reporting so boring? The answer, according to Wong, lies in the dense forest of jargon, acronyms, and buzzwords that combine to baffle and anesthetize everyone who comes in contact with education writing. From “holistic mastery” to “the experiential-based learning process,” the piece is an amusing sendup of both educationese and the unfortunate folks who have to become fluent in it.

STEEL STANDING
An unlikely leader in the technological learning revolution is Pittsburgh, according to Education Week. Now decades into its gradual recovery from the industrial...

  • This week, President Obama announced three ways his administration intends to better safeguard student data. The first is new legislation modeled off of a California statute that aims to permit and encourage data-based research while also preventing targeted advertising to students and the selling of student data by third parties. The second is a pledge, signed by seventy-five companies, to educate parents, teachers, and kids about preventing misuse of student information. The third is a sort of toolbox meant to further these ends, including a model terms of service and teacher training. Applauded by the Data Quality Campaign, they’re important steps in an ongoing battle against threats to our privacy. But let us suggest a fourth step, Mr. President: Tell your own agencies to stop collecting intrusive, sensitive information about our children.
  • “ESEA week” has lived up to its promise. We might be on the verge of the law’s first reauthorization since NCLB’s enactment thirteen years ago. On Monday, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan gave a speech in which he criticized NCLB and called for changes, but also urged Congress to keep what he considers to be its important elements, such as annual testing. Yesterday, things heated up even more when Senator Lamar Alexander released a draft bill that proposed lots of cuts. Maligned provisions like Adequate Yearly Progress and Highly Qualified Teachers didn’t survive. Still, it’s hardly a complete evisceration of the law, as it
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A new research paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research examines how New York City’s Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) affects participants’ immediate income, longer-term income, and life outcomes, such as college enrollment, incarceration, and mortality. The program matches enrollees between the ages of fourteen and twenty-one with an entry-level seven-week summer job and pays them New York minimum wage for up to twenty-five hours per week. Jobs are mostly in the private and non-profit sectors, many at summer camps and daycare centers, but also in other fields. It also provides seventeen and a half hours of workshops on job readiness and continuing education. It’s the largest of many similar programs in major cities throughout the country, and demand is high, so participants are randomly selected via a lottery. The authors obtained identifying and demographic information on about 295,000 applicants from 2005 through 2008; 165,000 were accepted and 130,000 weren’t. They combined this with wage data from the IRS, mortality information from the New York City Department of Health, and data on incarceration from the state Department of Corrections. Comparing those accepted to those who weren’t led to three key findings. First, participants enjoyed a net benefit of about $876 in the year they partook in the program compared to non-participants. Second, in the three subsequent years, enrollees saw a decrease in yearly earnings of about $100 compared to non-participants, throwing water on the assumption that these programs make people more “employable.” (After three years, there was no yearly...

The big news in this report from the Education Commission of the States is that fourteen states “require teacher candidates to demonstrate knowledge of the science of reading instruction on a stand-alone assessment” before getting a license to teach. But that overlooks an even bigger story: Thirty-six states license elementary school teachers without making them prove they can teach kids to read. In the immortal words of John McEnroe, you cannot be serious. Let’s try a little thought exercise. Imagine you’re in charge of licensing elementary school teachers in your state. What would be the very first requirement you’d put in place as a barrier to licensure?  Mine would be, “No shirt, no shoes, no certification.” (Pants too. And yes, every day). But number two would definitely be that, if you want to teach elementary school, you have to prove you can teach kids how to read. “Rather than relying entirely on interventions for struggling readers, some states have begun to emphasize the need for all elementary school teachers to possess the necessary skills to effectively teach reading,” the report notes (wait, they’ve just begun doing this?). Access to highly qualified teachers “provides students with the equivalent of a constant specialist” (you mean a teacher?) thereby “ensuring that struggling readers are identified and supported as quickly as possible” (but…but…hasn’t that always been, like, the most important part of the job!?). In fairness, many states may include teacher-candidate assessments that include reading mixed in with other subjects. But given the time and energy that has gone into...

Ah, January is upon us: The wind is howling, the thermometer is plummeting, and we are greeted by the nineteenth consecutive edition of Quality Counts, Education Week’s compilation of mostly useful data, analysis, rankings, and commentaries. The best thing about QC is its focus on states, which both enables state leaders to view external gauges of their own performance and compare it with other states and also—especially valuable today—reminds everyone that states remain the central players in matters of K–12 education quality. The analysts and authors of QC keep fussing with the variables, metrics, and weightings by which they grade state performance. This year, the variables that made the cut are sorted into three buckets, two of them focused on processes, practices, and inputs. Only the achievement bucket focuses on outcomes. Along the way, some issues of key interest to education reformers—most conspicuously school accountability, teacher quality, and choice—have vanished from the QC calculus. The most troubling element of the new QC, however, is the editors’ handling of this year’s focus topic, namely preschool. They’ve climbed onto the “preschool for everybody” bandwagon, which is not a good place to be. This climb-aboard is most obvious in QC’s rankings and ratings of states, where all the metrics deal with participation rates by the state’s children in preschool, Head Start, and kindergarten. To the analysts’ credit, they avoid the input-centric...

Editor's note: This post originally appeared in a slightly different form at National Review Online.

It has taken liberal school reformers almost no time at all to throw the race card into the debate about reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002.

Eager to retain an expansive federal role, but finding it tough to argue this position on the merits, liberal reformers have rushed to charge that the current effort to dial back the federal role is a thinly veiled attack on minority children.

Perhaps the best example of this phenomenon was provided just the other day by a Daily Beast column penned by Jonah Edelman, CEO of the education advocacy group Stand for Children. Edelman is the scion of two liberal icons: Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, and Peter Edelman, a Clinton administration official who famously resigned to protest welfare reform. Jonah is also a friend and a smart guy, and Stand for Children has done some laudable work.

Unfortunately, that’s what makes his column so notable when it denounces any effort to reduce the federal role as a surrender to the forces of “racism, politics, ignorance, [and] indifference.” Edelman perfectly illustrates the problems with liberal-flavored school reform and its hollow calls for “bipartisanship.”

In the piece, Edelman denounces efforts to shed some of No Child Left Behind’s more onerous and unworkable provisions as a “threat” to “your kids’ future.” He then recounts a parade of horribles from the last century. “Linda...

Monday afternoon, a Washington, D.C., metro rail train stopped in a tunnel not far from a major station, and the car began filling with smoke. Soon the lights went off and, though many passengers were struggling to breathe, they were told by metro employees to stay put. A spokesman for first responders disputes the timeline, but the Washington Post spoke with passengers who said they were waiting as much as an hour before help arrived. The paper also quotes a fire department spokesman who admitted that, even once they arrived on the scene, "firefighters did not immediately enter the tunnel to help the riders because they were not sure whether the subway’s electrified third rail had been deactivated."

All told, one woman lost her life and eighty-four were hospitalized. In the coming weeks and months we will learn more about how this happened, whether the response was adequate, and whether the accident and subsequent loss of life could have been prevented.

To many riders, accidents like this are not surprising. A 2009 train collision killed nine people. There are also years’ worth of examples documented by bloggers, everyday riders, and journalists of seldom-enforced rules, sloppy workmanship, and bafflingly onerous collectively bargained work rules that sacrifice quality and safety in the interest of other union priorities.

To top it off, system leadership will often downplay the problems to make it seem like everything is under control. A post from Cato's Walter Olson after...

Last week, I explained the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (a.k.a. No Child Left Behind) in a single table:

Now that Senator Alexander, chairman of the HELP Committee, has released a draft bill, let’s take a look at where it stands on these various issues (items that moved are in bold):

In brief, most of my “yellow” items went to red—as in, they got left on the cutting room floor. Just testing in science and a version of School Improvement Grants made it to the “green” territory.[1] And most intriguingly, annual testing—the star of the current debate—stays in yellow thanks to Alexander’s equivocation on the issue. (He included two options in his bill—either keep the current annual testing requirements or let states propose something that is similar in spirit.)

To be sure, this is just the opening bid. Conservatives will aim to shrink the green list, and liberals will aim to grow it. What’s still not known is where the president’s “red line” may fall. Stay tuned!




[1] As several readers noted, the School Improvement Grants program is officially gone, though the bill does include a large state set-aside for school improvement activities. 

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