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.

This is the third installment in our Eduwatch 2016 series chronicling the declared presidential candidates’ stances on today’s biggest education issues. I began with editions for Hillary Clinton and Marco Rubio. Next up is Ted Cruz, the junior U.S. senator from Texas.

With a midnight tweet on Monday, March 23, Cruz was the first to officially announce his candidacy. He followed that up a few hours later with a half-hour speech at Liberty University. His campaign has emphasized “restoring” America, which includes education. Here’s what he’s said:

1. Education as a foundation: “Education is foundational to every other challenge you've got. If you're looking at issues of crime or poverty or healthcare, if you have education, if you get the foundation of an education, all of those problems by and large can take care of themselves.” March 2014.

2. The Department of Education: “We need to abolish the U.S. Department of Education.” March 2013...

This is the second in a series of Eduwatch 2016 posts that will chronicle presidential candidates’ stances on today’s biggest education issues. Last week’s inaugural post revealed Hillary Clinton’s views on everything from Common Core to charter schools. Next up is the junior senator from the Sunshine State, Marco Rubio.

Rubio’s been active in his role as a legislator, especially when it comes to school choice. In 2013, for example, he introduced the Educational Opportunities Act—a bill designed to support choice through tax credits—and co-sponsored a bill that would allow billions of Title I dollars to follow kids to whichever school they attend. But those are just pieces of senatorial legislation, and unsuccessful ones at that. Rubio’s dreaming bigger; he wants to jump from lawmaker to leader of the free world, which means a whole lot of talking between now and November 2016. So let’s see what he’s had to say about education:

1. The Department of Education: “If I was president of the United States, I would not have a Department of Education, perhaps at all….We don’t need...

When the history of this era’s urban-education reform movement is written, four big policy innovations are sure to get attention: the nation’s first voucher program, first charter law, first mayor-controlled charter authorizer, and first “extraordinary authority” unit (the RSD).

The people mostly responsible for these have two important things in common.

First, unless you’re an old hand in this business, you may not know of them.

Second—Polly Williams, Ember Reichgott Junge, Teresa Lubbers, Leslie Jacobs—they’re all women.

Unfortunately, those two facts are probably related.

Much has been written recently about the social forces pushing women below the radar in professional settings. In an excellent NYT piece, “Speaking While Female,” Sheryl Sandberg (Lean In) and Adam Grant (a Wharton professor) argue that “speaking up” at work generally helps men but not women.

“When a woman speaks in a professional setting,” they write, “she walks a tightrope. Either she’s barely heard or she’s...

A vast amount of contemporary education policy attention and education reform energy has been lavished on the task of defining and gauging “college readiness” and then taking steps to align K–12 outcomes more closely with it. The ultimate goal is for many more young people to complete high school having been properly prepared for “college-level” work.

The entire Common Core edifice—and the assessments, cut scores, and accountability arrangements built atop it—presupposes that “college-ready” has the same definition that it has long enjoyed: students prepared to succeed, upon arrival at the ivied gates, in credit-bearing college courses that they go right into without needing first to subject themselves to “remediation” (now sometimes euphemized as “developmental education”).

But this goes way beyond Common Core. Advanced Placement courses also rest on the understanding that an “introductory college-level course” in a given subject has a certain set meaning and fixed standards. The people at ACT, the College Board, and NAGB have sweat bullets developing metrics that gauge what a twelfth grader must know and be able to do in order to be truly college-ready—again, in the sense of having solid prospects of succeeding in credit-bearing college courses in one subject or another.

Lying beneath...

The New York Times’s Nicholas Kristof argued in his column yesterday that the “low-hanging fruit” of K–12 education reform has already been picked and that we should shift some of our energy to early interventions instead. He’s not wrong about ed reform, but I’m less convinced that pre-school and other early interventions are “low-hanging fruit.” It’s no easier to ensure quality and effectiveness in the early years than it is in elementary and secondary education. Plus, establishing new, sweeping pre-K programs is expensive, making it a heavy lift politically.

But the least convincing part of the argument for early interventions is the notion that well-designed programs can ameliorate the enormous opportunity gaps that open up between rich and poor children before they are even born.

Regular Flypaper readers know that I’ve spent the last two years digging into the anti-poverty research and working on a book related to our “Education for Upward Mobility” conference. And like many Americans, I’ve been captivated (and sobered) by recent important books on inequality and mobility, including Robert Putnam’s Our Kids, Isabel Sawhill’s Generation Unbound, Kathryn Edin’s Promises I Can Keep and Doing the...

Since its passage in 1974, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) has struck a careful and reasonable balance between the privacy of students and families and the need for timely and accurate information on the state of U.S. schools and school systems. But a provision in the FERPA overhaul “discussion draft” currently being circulated by Republican John Kline and Democrat Robert Scott threatens to upset this balance by giving parents the right to “opt out” of data-sharing agreements with “organizations conducting studies for, or on behalf of, educational agencies or institutions,” which are currently exempt from FERPA’s general prohibition on the sharing of personally identifiable information.

As written, this provision would do serious harm to efforts to evaluate and study existing education programs, because its widespread use would degrade the quality of the data on which many evaluations and studies are based. This would be a huge problem, especially if there were significant differences between students whose families chose to opt out and the broader student population (which there almost certainly would be). Such differences could (and likely would) bias the results of future studies that rely on education data, especially those seeking to understand the...

If you count Democrat Lincoln Chafee, five hopefuls have now declared their candidacy for the 2016 presidential election. The forthcoming nineteen months promise to bring scandals, flip-flops, attack ads, and a whole bunch of memes. So in anticipation of all that fun, I welcome you to Eduwatch 2016, Fordham's coverage of the race as it pertains to education. To start things off, let’s see where the candidates stand on today's biggest issues by looking at what they’ve said in the past.

As each contender throws his or her hat in the ring, I’ll publish a collection of their quotes about education. Some will be recent—but if a candidate hasn’t said anything about an issue in eight years, well, they may be a little more dated. But that has its uses, too; silence can speak volumes.

So without further ado, let’s start with the biggest name in the race: Hillary Rodham Clinton. Earlier this month, Clinton held a sixty-minute education roundtable at which she spoke with a handful of educators and students at an Iowa community college. Due to the format, there wasn’t a...

The Brookings Institution has come to its senses and found a splendid way to retain Russ Whitehurst on its senior research team. Having cut my own policy-research teeth at Brookings (back in the late Middle Ages), I was doubly dismayed—and said so—when I read a few weeks back that they were seeking a replacement to head the Brown Center, which Russ has led with huge distinction and productivity these past six years. What a terrible move it would have been to let him leave. Well, after much clanking of gears, he's not leaving after all. He's switching from one Brookings "department" to another, and will henceforth be a force to be reckoned with in their highly regarded Center on Children and Families, located within the Institution’s "economic studies" section. The education research and policy world benefits hugely from Whitehurst's continuation at Brookings. Hurrah for this happy outcome for all concerned (except the diminished Brown Center).

If you’re an aficionado of the Education Gadfly, there’s a fair chance you’ve read or heard me discussing my new book, The Cage-Busting Teacher.  It’s written wholly for educators and fueled by interviews and discussions with hundreds of teacher-leaders. In it, I observe that even terrific teachers routinely say they feel stymied, offer insights on how teachers can create the schools and systems where they can do their best work, and explain where practitioners tend to stumble on this count.

But what about policymakers and reformers? What does The Cage-Busting Teacher mean for them? How can they create the conditions whereby cage-busting teachers can thrive? Let me offer four suggestions.

First, policymakers and reformers need to keep in mind that they’re not the ones who educate kids. Heck, they’re only occasionally in classrooms—and they’re not the ones held accountable for how students are faring. From the teacher’s perspective, they—we—are backseat drivers. Everybody gets frustrated by backseat drivers, even when they have good advice to offer. Passengers can carefully study the GPS or old-fashioned roadmap while the driver focuses on the road. They can see signs that the driver missed, maybe even the truck out front making an unexpectedly fast stop.  But backseat drivers...

  • A few weeks ago, the Gadfly highlighted the work of the New York Times, which ran a long and deeply reported (some would say tendentious) examination of Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy charter network. The piece vividly detailed the disputes circulating around the schools and led Moskowitz to issue an impassioned response to her employees. More recently, the paper has published testimonials from parents of Success Academy pupils, including both those distraught by the organization’s strict behavioral controls and those elated with their children’s improved grades and newfound zest for learning. The experiences they depict should already be familiar to those who have followed the story—Peerless school culture! Crushing academic expectations! Scary-good test scores! Just-plain-scary disciplinary practices!—but it’s worth celebrating the fact that these parents can choose to either stick with the program or look for a better fit for their kids. The first two lines of one account, from a Manhattan father, are particularly cheering: “I grew up poor, and my parents never had a choice in where to send me to school. So my wife, Mariann, and I knew we wanted to find the very best option for our son Luke.”
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