Flypaper

Proposals set forth by the forty-first president have influenced decades of K–12 education policy.

“I want to be the education president. I want to lead a renaissance of quality in our schools.”

George H.W. Bush made that declaration in January 1988, at a high school in Manchester, New Hampshire.

As Americans reflect on his legacy following his death, one thing is clear: This was a promise kept.

Bush’s America 2000:An Education Strategy, unveiled at the White House on April 18, 1991, contained nearly all the key ingredients for what became the mainline, bipartisan K–12 reform legislative agenda for governors and succeeding presidents.

His school choice legislative proposal for a GI Bill for Kids, while controversial and never enacted, was also far-sighted and inspired many of today’s state school choice programs.

Together, the ideas found in these proposals formed a strategy and framework for K–12 policy discussions since then.

I was privileged—and honored—to have a front seat during much of this policy work, especially America 2000 and the GI Bill for Kids. I led a small group working with then-U.S. Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander to develop the framework, strategy, and school choice proposal.

A nation at...

 
 

I attended the open house for eighth graders earlier this week at my local high school in Rhode Island and came away thinking, “what in the fresh hell?” The student tour guides were wonderful, knowledgeable, enthusiastic about academics and teachers, and great ambassadors for the school. Our tour was short because we arrived late, but we still had to time to head over to the wellness center, which was essentially three basketball courts filled with tables, each representing a different athletic team. The gym was buzzing with current students of all ages wearing matching t-shirts, and from what I could tell, coaches were present as well. The path from the main building to the building with the gyms was lit with Christmas lights in the school’s colors—blue and white—and singing and dancing student groups performed throughout the evening. There was a festive feel and a genuine attempt to showcase all that the school has to offer.

But then I bumped into two moms from our parent-teacher organization (PTO). We chatted a bit by the table with offerings of water, snacks, and Hershey kisses. Then things took an ugly turn when I confessed that my son was likely going to a...

 
 

If 2018 marks the end of education policy, whatever comes next has gotten off to an inauspicious start for reformers and stand-patters alike. Recently, both camps have had internal strife made public: the former when it comes to testing, and the latter on school choice. It’s been surprising to see these two policy hallmarks from the last era of reforms being relitigated from unlikely outposts by equally unlikely actors. What should we make of these dueling duels, and what does it portend for the coming year?

On testing, there has been a growing dissension among reformers about the value of doing it annually. These critiques include the amount of time and attention devoted to standardized tests, as well as the crowding out of other content areas outside of reading and math. If these criticisms sound familiar, it’s because anti-testing advocates have been essentially saying the same thing for years. The one additional wrinkle is that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s lukewarm position has further complicated the topic.

The forces of resistance and repeal have never been keen on high-stakes testing and accountability. Their ilk has always argued for resources and societal changes as a...

 
 

The use of standardized tests as a measure of student success and progress in school goes back decades. This practice was formalized by the 2001 passage of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), which established the broader use of test scores as a measure of school quality nationwide. The 2009 Race to the Top federal grant program promoted teacher evaluation reforms that also included the use of standardized tests as a component of a teacher’s evaluation.

But there has been pushback against the use of tests. Some academics and advocates, prominently including the teachers’ unions, have raised various concerns about the consequences of reliance (or overreliance) on test scores for school and teacher accountability purposes. And while there is certainly academic and policy disagreement about the efficacy of using test scores for accountability purposes, there is no doubt that policymakers are scaling back the mandated use of tests. The 2015 passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), for instance, continues NCLB’s requirement that students be tested annually from third to eighth grade, but eliminates much of the federal role in enforcing test-based accountability.

More recently, however,...

 
 

I’m in the middle of a series of posts looking at how we might usher in a “Golden Age of Educational Practice” now that big new policy initiatives appear to be on ice. Last week I claimed that all of the possibilities that might work at scale entail various investments in innovation and R&D. Such efforts will only be successful, though, with exponentially better insight into what’s actually happening in the classroom.

That’s because, right now, key decision-makers are flying blind. Consider just a few examples of questions that have been raised in recent weeks that we simply cannot answer:

  • Is student achievement flat because teachers are implementing Common Core, and it’s not working? Or is it flat because are teachers mostly ignoring Common Core? Or is it neither of the above? We have no idea.
  • Has “balanced literacy” served as a Trojan Horse that allowed whole-language reading instruction to continue unabated in our elementary schools, instead of a scientifically-based approach with a big emphasis on phonics and phonemic awareness? Is this an issue in relatively few schools or lots of schools? We have no idea.
  • Are most high schools teaching a Howard Zinn–inspired version
  • ...
 
 

Last May, Slate ran an eight-part series exploring the rise in online learning for high school students who had failed a course. One of the articles included a screenshot of this tweet with identifying information removed: “If anyone wants to go online and do my chemistry credit recovery, I’d be more than happy to give you my username and password.”

Ouch. Teenage bravado, perhaps, but it illustrates our worst fears about credit recovery.

For the uninitiated, credit recovery is the practice of enabling high-school students to retrieve credits from courses that they either failed or failed to complete. And it’s at the crossroads of two big trends in education.

The first is the desire to move toward “competency based” education. Rather than make all pupils march through a prescribed curriculum on a one-size-fits-all timeline, this approach allows them to move at their own pace, earning a credential by demonstrating what they know and can do, not because they accumulated a fixed number of hours in their classroom seats.

The second trend is the push to dramatically boost graduation rates. That started with a No Child Left Behind regulation under former U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, mandating that states measure...

 
 

College-level courses taken while in high school have never been more popular. Chief among these sources is Advanced Placement (AP), whose five million exams were taken by almost three million students in 2018. AP’s popularity has skyrocketed for a host of reasons: parents seeking a more rigorous curriculum for their kids; principals wanting to drive their school up on competitive national rankings; and students hoping to polish their college applications, propel themselves through the ivy-covered gates, and—if all goes well—skip some vast, lecture-style intro courses when they get there. It’s also widely believed (including by some 58 percent of U.S. teachers) that AP’s expansion owes something to students wanting to save money or graduate early with the help of AP credits.

Yet little is known about how many students do actually earn college credit from taking AP exams, and how this actually benefits them. A new analysis from Vanderbilt University assistant professor Brent J. Evans takes a timely look at who gains college credit via AP and what positive outcomes are associated with that credit.

Evans examined data from a nationally representative survey, following 14,830 students who started college in 2004 and tracking them for six years. He looked...

 
 

Journalists are told to “follow the money,” and it seems only fair the same adage be applied to education. A new report from the School Choice Demonstration Project at the University of Arkansas does just that, comparing the levels and sources of funding between traditional public schools (TPS) and charter schools in some of our nation’s largest metropolitan areas. Faithfully following the money, the authors finding a whopping $5,835 annual advantage for each TPS student.

The researchers—Corey A. DeAngelis, Patrick J. Wolf, Larry D. Maloney, and Jay F. May—collected revenue data for the 2015–16 school year from what they refer to as “a maze” of district, state, and federal websites. Where states did not gather the same depth of data for charters, information came from annual reports, independent audits, and federal 990 forms from individual schools. The authors grade fourteen metropolitan areas by the width of the funding gap between TPS and charters—cities with less than a 5 percent disparity receive an “A,” and those with more than a 25 percent disparity receive an “F.” All the numbers in the report are per pupil, calculated using fall enrollment data.

Notably, the study analyzes yearly revenues, not yearly expenditures. Some charter...

 
 

Editor’s note: On Tuesday, November 27, the Albert Shanker Institute and the American Federation of Teachers co-sponsored an event called “The 2018 Elections: What Do They Mean for American Education?” Moderated by Michelle Ringuette, assistant to the president for labor, government & political affairs at the American Federation of Teachers, the panel featured Domingo Morel, assistant professor of political science at Rutgers University, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers and the Albert Shanker Institute, and Fordham Insitute president Michael Petrilli. Each participant delivered an opening statement. Here is Mike’s.

 
 

American education lost two great leaders last week with the passing of George H.W. Bush and Harold O. Levy.

It’s likely they never even met, as they came from different worlds and moved through the education solar system on different orbits. They belonged to different political parties and hailed from different generations. Yet their contributions to the betterment of K-12 education in the United States were both large and in interesting ways parallel.

Bush was a New England aristocrat turned Texas oilman turned politician and government official. Save for his time as ambassador to the United Nations, he never lived in New York. Levy, on the other hand, was a quintessential New Yorker, the son of Jewish refugees, a Wall Street lawyer who ultimately became the city’s schools chancellor and then head of an important private foundation.

Yet each was, in his way, an education leader, a visionary even, a champion of both excellence and equity, the head of large enterprises, and the source of a durable and influential legacy.

In 1988, campaigning in New Hampshire, Bush declared before a high-school audience that “I want to be the education president.” No U.S. president nor (to my knowledge) serious candidate...

 
 

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