The Education Gadfly

We give a warm welcome to Education Next's new website and blog, which already features a post by our own Mike Petrilli. The redesigned EdNext online has archived journal articles, videos and a podcast. Be sure to check it out.

Writing in the Baltimore Sun earlier this week, the Lexington Institute's Robert Holland and Don Soifer reject the idea of national education standards on three grounds: that they're not truly voluntary, that they'll inevitably lead to a much-feared "national curriculum, and that part of the roadkill will be Maryland having to replace its "rich," "well-organized" English standards with this unproven multi-state model.

It's premature to evaluate the products of the current "common standards" project being led by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers for the subjects of reading/writing and math. The first "public" draft is promised to be available for comment in mid-September. (I saw an earlier version of the reading/writing part a few weeks back??and, within some important limits and caveats, found considerable merit there.)

Yes, those who abhor the thought of national education standards and tests for the United States will find all sorts of reasons to oppose them. I don't know if the forthcoming product, once fully massaged, will be to my liking. But I do know that our present motley array of state-specific standards and assessments is??obsolete and dysfunctional--as well as mediocre or worse in many states....

The Education Gadfly

FUN FACT FRIDAY! You wait all week... and you won't be disappointed. In our FINAL Fun Fact Friday video, we use data from a recent Fordham report, The Accountability Illusion, to show you how some states set the bar high for their students--and some don't. Watch our Play-Doh men do the Twizzler high jump in this first ever education track meet.

Fun Fact Friday! - Setting the standards bar from Education Gadfly on Vimeo.


"The Accountability Illusion : Data Map," John Cronin et al, Thomas B. Fordham Institute, February 2009.

Crowd sounds from??

I finally had a chance to take a look at The New Teacher Project's brief overview of the Race to the Top application, which, among other things, handicaps the states' chances at winning the money. (The key analysis is shown below.)

According to TNTP--a bastion of left-of-center reformers--the Republican states of Florida and Louisiana are the only two "highly competitive" states in the mix. And of the fourteen "competitive" states, five are heavily Republican (Utah, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Georgia),??seven are classic swing states (Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, Indiana, Ohio, Virginia, and North Carolina), and only two are true-blue Democratic bastions (Delaware and New Jersey). So let's see these standings more clearly:

Strong Republican States?????? 7

Swing States?????????????????????????????????????? ???? 7

Strong Democratic States???? ??2

Perhaps progressive education reformers should consider joining the GOP!

School-choice foes in the Buckeye State are getting smarter about the strategies they employ to undermine the choice movement.???? Since the birth of charters here in 1998 and vouchers in 2005, opponents--namely Democrats, teacher unions, and the education establishment--have fought a "districts = good, choice = bad" fight.???? But with Democrats, including the President, across the country embracing choice and some of the state's top districts????employing charter schools themselves, that fight can only take local choice opponents so far.???? Rather than accepting school choice as an important component to improving public education, they've now focused their efforts on driving a wedge in the choice movement itself.

We first saw this tactic during the state budget deliberation process last spring, when Ohio House Democrats proposed????different levels of funding for charter schools based on their affiliation with traditional school districts. Charters were pitted against charters in a way they hadn't been in previous budget battles, and the resulting fight wasn't pretty. For example, some school leaders of high performing charters in Cleveland associated with the district were shunned by other charter advocates who saw them as turncoats for urging closer district-charter collaboration at the expense of charters...

Greg Forster has nice things to say on about our Friday Fun Fact video series. (See the most recent??video here.) Namely: "The creators have been pretty consistently clever in coming up with ways to make obscure facts visually intuitive." He's right; kudos to our interns Shelley, Jack, Will, and Alex, who, along with our New Media Manager Laura Pohl, have turned boring statistics into entertaining tidbits.

But then he goes on to complain that last Friday's installment repeats the same "bogus 'excellence' complaint" that we made in last year's High Achieving Students in the Era of NCLB. Greg writes:

They decided to resurrect Fordham's complaint from last year (dissected here and here) claiming that accountability systems make our schools more "equal" but less "excellent" because they create incentives for schools to increase the amount of attention they pay to low achievers, reducing the amount of attention they pay to high achievers. Never mind the fact that - according to Fordham in the very same report -??the low achievers are benefiting from this diversion and the high achievers don't seem to be losing any ground.

That would seem


Anyone who's been paying attention knows that Diane Ravitch has taken an increasingly contrarian position on education reform, and sees a lot not to like in George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind and Barack Obama's Race to the Top. Arguing against her views is, of course, fair game, such as when Nelson Smith of the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools pushed back against her assertions that charter schools are by and large no better than their traditional public school counterparts. Diane isn't a research methodologist, and her interpretations of the data might be, well, open to interpretation.

But she is a renowned education historian, and so attacking her on historical grounds brings greater risks, as Kevin Carey* of Education Sector just learned. In a post the other day, he criticized Ravitch's opposition to the Race to the Top application, and in particular her call for the federal government to respect??the states' "best ideas" rather than just imposing its own ideas on the states. (This is in line with what I've been writing, too.). Carey responded:

One would think that an education historian might at least acknowledge that throughout the 20th century the "best ideas"

Amy Fagan

(Above) Susan Zelman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting

We had an informative and lively discussion yesterday at our Washington DC event about the future of charters, vouchers, and school choice in general. Missed it? Want to relive the lively debate among our four panelists? You can watch the event video online or watch it on TV: C-SPAN will broadcast our panel discussion at 12:30pm EST today on C-SPAN 2, and will make the video available on the C-SPAN website after that.

(Above) Mike Petrilli (left) of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and Kevin Carey (right) of Education Sector

An editorial in the Dayton Daily News from this Monday argued that Ohio should bring Teach For America (TFA) into the state. The piece rightly outlines the steps necessary to create an Ohio TFA presence--for example, changes to teacher certification rules, funding for TFA training, and buy-in from unions. Not to gloss over the importance of such regulatory changes (TFA's entry here is impossible otherwise), but it is the question of "why TFA?"--rather than "how TFA?"--that I find most compelling and deserving of elaboration.

One commonly-hailed justification for an Ohio-based TFA site is its potential to recruit smart, energetic young people into a state that is suffering from an exodus of talent. Earlier this year, Fordham explored this trend in the Losing Ohio's Future report , which elucidated some of the causes behind Ohio's brain drain. But would the creation of TFA Ohio (say, in Cleveland, Cincinnati or Appalachia) promise to retain young talent? In other words, is Ohio losing talented college graduates to other TFA-friendly states? According to recent data illustrating which national universities and colleges send the most graduating seniors into the 2009 TFA corps, the answer is a resounding "yes."??...