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.

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...

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...

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...

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!


...

THE DRAFT BILL IS HERE...ALMOST
Reporters are gathering details on Senator Lamar Alexander’s much-awaited draft bill for reauthorization of No Child Left Behind. The bill is more than 400 pages long and outlines two roads for standardized testing: A Choose Your Own (Testing) Adventure or “stick with the assessment language we pretty much already have,” note the Politics K–12 duo.

WALKER: TESTING RANGER
Education Week’s excellent State Edwatch blog has an in-depth examination of Wisconsin Republicans’ new state education plan, called for by Governor Scott Walker during last year’s reelection campaign, which would convert persistently failing public schools into charter schools. Also included in the legislation is a proposal to grant broad leeway to public, charter, and private schools to select from a menu of competing standardized tests.

BOARD TO DEATH
American University’s WAMU takes a look at the responsibilities of charter board members in Washington, D.C., a city in which nearly half of all children attend charter schools. Carrie Irvin, head of a nonprofit that seeks to train the volunteer board members, says that the duties of the position can be demanding: "Serving on a public charter school board is not 'I’ll show up...

The president may have stiffed the French at the big solidarity rally that many other world leaders attended over the weekend, but when it comes to domestic policy, he is in love with the universe—and universality.

First, of course, came universal health care. But it was followed in short order by his plea for universal preschool education and, last week, for universal community-college education. All free, of course, at least for the consumer. (Not, obviously, for the taxpayer.)

In health care, there’s at least a rational basis for demanding universal insurance coverage: to apply the “savings” from healthy people who don’t need medical care to subsidize the care of those who need lots of it. (Social Security and Medicare run the same way, except their “do get” and “don’t get” populations are demarcated explicitly by age rather than health status.)

In education, though, the trade-offs tucked into universality are more insidious—and actually harmful to authentic “need lots” people, while conferring taxpayer-financed windfalls on the “don’t need” population.

Most American four-year-olds and many three-year-olds already take part in preschool of some kind, and a great many of their parents have figured out how to pay for it with the help...

Financing public education has historically been the joint responsibility of state and local governments. But while traditional districts have long had access to both state and local sources of revenue, nearly all Ohio charter schools tap state funds alone. The reason: Unlike districts, charters do not have the independent authority to levy taxes on local property. Meanwhile, districts have been loath to share local funding with charters. The only exceptions in Ohio are eleven Cleveland charters, which together received $2.2 million in local revenue for 2012–13 as part of a revenue-sharing plan with the district. As a result, Ohio charters operate on less overall taxpayer support than districts.

Despite the stark fact that charters rarely receive local funds, a few groups are mounting attempts to claim that somehow charters receive proceeds from local taxes. Their claims are false. First, state data contradict any proposition that local funding directly flows to charters. Second, while some charters may receive more state aid than districts, on a per-student basis, this difference in state funding is simply a product of the state funding formula. It is not a result of local funds indirectly going to charters, as some have suggested.

The facts are...

Over the course of 2014, a series of reports from the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) spotlighted some serious issues with education schools in Ohio. The Buckeye State boasts performance reports that analyze teacher preparation programs, but these reports merely show how little is expected of candidates prior to their acceptance into a teacher preparation program. Furthermore, Ohio doesn’t have minimum standards or clear consequences for poor programs. NCTQ is right that our teacher preparation programs need to get better in two key ways: improving candidate selection and strengthening teacher training. Here’s how.

Candidate selection

Right now, Ohio sets a low bar for admission into ed schools. Countries with the highest scores on PISA[1]—like Singapore and Finland—restrict admissions into teacher preparation programs to only their best students. In fact, in Finland, becoming a teacher is such a competitive process that only about one in every ten applicants will be accepted to study to become a primary school teacher. This is similar to what Teach For America does: In 2014, more than 50,000 people applied to join TFA, and only 5,300 were admitted—an 11 percent acceptance rate.

The intense screening...

In the past year, Ohio policymakers have turned their attention to strengthening vocational education. Rightly so; too many non-college-bound students exit high school without the skills to enter the workforce. Blue-collar businesses in Ohio, for example, continue to express concerns about the “skills gap”—the mismatch between the technical abilities they need and the actual skills of their workers. But retrofitting vocational education to meet the demands of today’s employers remains a work in progress. As Ohio schools retool vocational education, they should seek examples of those who have accomplished this very task, and a new paper from the Pioneer Institute provides five case studies of technical high schools in Massachusetts that are well worth reading. A common thread emerges: All of the schools are thriving with the support of their local businesses. These companies have advised the schools on program design (e.g., what skills and jobs merit emphasis), and they have driven fundraising efforts. A couple examples are worth highlighting. One technical school worked closely with advanced manufacturing companies in the area to raise half a million dollars to outfit the school with cutting-edge metal working machines. (Previously, the school had provided technical computer skills, but not actual...

James R. Delisle took aim at differentiated instruction (DI) in his commentary in the latest issue of Education Week, noting the challenge of making this nice-sounding idea work with the reality of many of today’s classrooms.

As our own Mike Petrilli wrote in 2011: “[T]he enormous variation in the academic level of students coming into any given classroom” is the greatest challenge facing America’s schools. The implication is that those teachers seeing success with differentiated instruction—however few they may be—simply have less variation in learning levels among their students and, therefore, have less differentiation to do. (Oh, and that they have the right training, full understanding, endless diligence, and loads of time.)

So what’s the answer? Delisle wants to bring back ability grouping to fully replace DI. It is hard to deny  that America’s classrooms have changed greatly over the last few decades, so perhaps it’s time to toss out “one or the other” thinking and go for something new—a hybrid of sorts.

How about curriculum-based mastery instead? A content sequence with multiple check points along the way (yes, that’s testing). Master it, move on. Don’t master it, remediate until you do. In such a case,...

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