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(A guest post from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute's Ohio Education Gadfly)

Ohio Governor Ted Strickland's office recently shared his "Roadmap for Academic Reforms," which appears to be the forerunner or prelude to the governor's long-awaited plan for renewing and strengthening K-12 education in Ohio. The present document, regrettably, is not only devoid of specifics but also brimming with catchy buzz phrases and trendy eduspeak nostrums. As a public service to readers, Gadfly has provided the following translation:

Exciting 21st Century Learning Environments:

Governor's proposal: Our schools must become collaborative continuous learning organizations that build a culture of strong relationships, professionalism, collaboration, and common purpose for all students.

Gadfly translates: Our schools will be leaderless, directionless centers of feel-goodism.

Governor's proposal: Our schools must become a place where everyone feels safe, not just through metal detectors, but through high expectations, strong discipline, positive behavior interventions, a nurturing attention to the needs of each person, and a collective sense of responsibility by parents, educators, and community for our students to be competitive in the 21st century.

Gadfly translates: Our schools will not have the intestinal fortitude to rid...

Former Ed Truster Kevin Carey loves Education Trust's trusty new report on graduation rates (timed to coincide with the new NCLB regulations--see, Democrats and Republicans are already working together in Washington!). Said report explores No Child Left Behind's requirement that high schools reach certain graduation rate benchmarks in order to make "adequate yearly progress," and bashes (the many) states that set these grad rate targets low or expect too leisurely a pace of progress. Carey implies that this shows states are gaming the system "in an utterly fraudulent, cynical way."

Well, that may well be true (we've not been shy about blasting states for their low expectations), but Carey leaves out a major factor: the definition of a high school "graduate" is malleable, so aiming to get everyone over that bar might result in the bar itself being lowered. This is not a hypothetical situation; it's exactly the dynamic with NCLB's requirement that 100 percent of students be "proficient" in reading and math by 2014. While this provision hasn't caused a "race to the bottom," it has led to a "walk to the middle" in an environment that discourages...

There's been a lot of debate recently about the degree to which the feds can coerce states or school districts to do things they don't want to do (see here, here, and here, for example). Now there's some new empirical evidence that addresses the question. "Paying for Progress: Conditional Grants and the Desegregation of Southern Schools," written by Fordham Scholar Nora Gordon and her colleagues Elizabeth Cascio, Ethan Lewis, and Sarah Reber, goes back to the desegregation battles of the 1960s and finds, in essence, that the threat of withdrawing federal largesse can motivate districts to change policies. In this case, the more Title I aid a Southern school district received from Uncle Sam, the more likely it was to play ball. But there are some important caveats: first, the amount of desegregation experienced even in these districts was modest. And second, it took a lot of money to get districts to act--on average, $1,000 per pupil, which was 60% of the total per-pupil costs at the time.

What's the take-away for the current conversation around federal education policy? I think it's true that big-time formula funds such as...

Guest Blogger

Fall Intern Molly Kennedy offers up this reading:

Alyson Klein of Education Week details a few tight Congressional races in which battling candidates have different views on education issues and how to deal with NCLB. As we all know, the economy has sucked the life out of most other issues and, as a result, despite the need for reauthorization, most candidates offer little more than "broad, largely critical rhetoric on the law without much policy detail," writes Klein. Read more here.

I don't much cotton to this bloggish practice of holding internal conversations in public view, but this time I think Mike is over the top--and he didn't ask my advice before "publishing". He's right about NCLB's built-in flaws and the need to rethink the law??so as to set them right. A fair amount of that is statutory repair work; some, however,??is regulatory. Insofar as it's possible to repair NCLB unilaterally, i.e. by action of the executive branch alone, most??of what the Education Department announced today strikes me as steps in the right direction. Some of it involves imaginative new interpretations of the statutory language and??some is trying to rectify the Department's own regulation/implementation foul-ups the first time around. But better late than never, I say. Why should??Margaret Spellings leave office with problems undealt with (the more so when they're problems she caused or helped to cause)??

Before the 2004 presidential election, it was obvious what the liberal advocacy group Education Trust thought about President George W. Bush. In short, Ed Trust got what it needed from Bush--advocating, as he did, for the No Child Left Behind act, a law that Ed Trust staff played a large role in crafting--and ??would be happy to see him go. But for Education Trust and other liberal reformers, the Bush Administration is the gift that keeps on giving, as the NCLB regulations announced today illustrate. Simply put, there is nothing "conservative" about them.

There was a time when the Bush Administration talked proudly about four "pillars" of NCLB, including "flexibility." Consider these comments from President Bush on January 23, 2001, in announcing his No Child Left Behind proposal at the White House:

The agents of reform must be schools and school districts, not bureaucracies. Teachers and principals, local and state leaders must have the responsibility to succeed and the flexibility to innovate. One size does not fit all when it comes to educating the children in America. School districts, school officials, educational entrepreneurs should not be hindered by excessive rules and red tape

...

If you're part of an Administration facing epic unpopularity, one that has led 90 percent of Americans to believe the country is on the wrong track--and more than a few to wonder if the nation's best days are behind it--perhaps you should be careful with your imagery. Yet here's Margaret Spellings telling the Associated Press, ??"What's going on right now in our high schools is that kids, lots and lots of minority kids, don't get to the 10th grade. Rome is burning."

And she's going to put out the fire with her new No Child Left Behind regulations, due out by noon today. Stay tuned.

Above: "The burning of Rome" painting by Robert Hubert (1733-1808)

I'm not sure whether his analysis about the McCain campaign is spot-on, but how are we supposed to feel about Rich Lowry's depiction of us Gadflies?

When you're a gadfly, you can flit above the substantive debate, because it's your posture rather than your knowledge of policy that matters most.

Ouch!

Gadflies are loners because they spend so much time offending their own side.

Now that rings true.

Amy Fagan

Fordham's Mike Petrilli is participating in an online discussion where panelists--even as I type this--are attempting to answer the question "Do we need a new deal for teachers?" ??Moderator Steve Farkas, of the Farkas Duffett Research Group, kicked things off by wondering which groups are truly interested in a new deal and who will lead the effort to change the status quo. Will it be teacher unions, new teachers, district administrators or legislators?

Mike took an immediate bite at that apple. He argued that "harsh fiscal realities will be the true impetus" for making a new deal for teachers that looks something like higher pay in return for less job security and more modest retirement benefits. ??With baby-boomers' retirement burdening social security and Medicare, competition for public funds will become fierce, the era of ballooning school budgets will end and policymakers will realize that teachers' retirement benefits are unsustainable, he wrote. Eventually, the conversation will turn, he said, to a new system of teacher pay--"one that relies more on 'front-loading' teacher pay and moving to a 401(k) style retirement system."

The ongoing discussion runs today, tomorrow and Thursday and is hosted at www.NewTalk.org. Other...

Last week, Mike explained (in the Washington Times), that NCLB needs to be "flipped" on its head. What does he mean? Well, "Right now, NCLB micromanages the formula and timelines by which schools are labeled and sanctioned, yet it allows states total discretion over the academic standards and tests used to judge schools (and kids) in the first place." Instead, he explains,

Provide incentives for states to sign up for rigorous nationwide (not federal) standards and tests. Make the results of this testing publicly available, sliced every which way by school and group. But then allow states and districts (or private entities, such as GreatSchools.net) to devise their own school labels and ratings--and let them decide what to do with schools that need help... [R]easonable people on all sides of the issue will see that this approach is better aligned with Uncle Sam's skill set. After all, Washington is at least three or four steps removed from the operation of local schools. There's only so much policy-makers can do from Capitol Hill and the federal Education Department, whatever their intentions.

Diane Ravitch agrees--and elaborates. "In his article, Petrilli said that 'Washington is at least three or four...

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