Though few Americans have ever heard of the “Common Core,” it’s causing a ruckus in education circles and turmoil in the Republican Party. Prompted by tea-party activists, a couple of talk-radio hosts and bloggers, a handful of disgruntled academics, and several conservative think tanks, the Republican National Committee recently adopted a resolution blasting the Common Core as “an inappropriate overreach to standardize and control the education of our children.” Several red states that previously adopted it for their schools are on the verge of backing out. Indiana is struggling over exit strategies.

Conservatives and the Common Core
Public education is indisputably the responsibility of states—but that doesn't mean states can't work together
Image by beX out loud.

What, you ask, is this all about?

Thirty years after a blue-ribbon panel declared the United States to be “a nation at risk” due to the weak performance and shoddy results of our public education system, one of the...

Mirroring trends in twelfth-grade NAEP scores in other subjects, this second round of economics assessments shows that U.S. high school seniors are, on the whole, no better versed in the subject than they were in 2006. While those scoring at or above “basic” did rise from 79 percent in 2006 to 82 percent in 2012, there were no gains at or above the “proficient” level; the gender gap remains from '06, with boys outscoring girls by six points on average (on a 300-point scale); and private school pupils still best their public school peers by sixteen points. On the better news front, as we have seen in other subjects, Hispanic students’ scores ticked up: Those at or above “basic” increased from 64 to 71 percent over the six-year period, probably because they’re also reading better. Despite the generally gloomy data presented here, it’s a good thing that NAEP continues to assess kids in subjects beyond English and math. To ensure a comprehensive, content-based curriculum for all, we must recognize that all core subjects matter—and monitor our students’ progress in learning them.

SOURCE: National Center for Education Statistics, The Nation’s Report Card: Economics 2012 (Washington, D.C.: Institute of Education Sciences,...

GadflyThe multinational textbook-publisher-testing conglomerate named Pearson has been a fixture in this week’s education news. Most significantly, an error on its part led 2,700 New York City students to be told, erroneously, that they were ineligible for seats in the city’s gifted and talented programs.

Earlier this year, Mexico’s reform-minded president Enrique Peña-Nieto signed a bill establishing uniform standards for hiring teachers, merit-based promotions, and the infrastructure for a census of the country’s education system. Now, brandishing metal rods and sticks, a group of dissident teachers are busy blocking traffic and teaming up with armed vigilantes. Yikes.

In the latest chapters of the Common Core saga, Alabama lawmakers have tabled a bill to kick the standards out of the Heart of Dixie, while their fate is still up in the air in Indiana and in Michigan. The rhetoric of those opposed to the standards is getting goofy. Extreme leftist ideologies? Biometric technology to read students’ facial expressions?...

Tennessee’s Achievement Schools District (ASD) is the latest character onstage in the most interesting act of contemporary education reform: structural changes in the governance and operation of public schools.

The Achievement Schools District is the latest character onstage
The ASD is the latest character onstage in the most interesting act of contemporary education reform: goverance reform
Image by Alan Cleaver.

For eons, the plot was the same: the district owns and operates all public schools in a geographic area. The subplot, at least in urban America, was that most of those schools weren’t delivering on the promise of public education.

Chartering, which crept on stage in 1991, subtly but importantly showed that entities besides districts could run public schools—and often run them better. Soon thereafter, Michigan and Massachusetts, adding dimension to the character, showed that non-district entities could also authorize (approve, monitor, renew, close) public schools.

The district’s monopoly grip on public education was broken.

Over the past two decades, chartered schools got more and more...

Is it time for Ohio and other states to take bolder steps toward turning around our most troubled schools and districts? There are a growing number of states that say yes, and they are leading the way in launching “recovery school districts.” The oldest and best known of these efforts is the Louisiana Recovery School District (see our Fordham report here), but other states are embracing the idea – Tennessee, Michigan, and most recently Virginia.

Recovery school districts, simply put, are state-created entities that take responsibility for running – and turning around – individual schools that have languished academically for years while under district control. Fordham, as part of its series on school governance alternatives and reforms, is issuing a three-part series focused on recovery school districts. The first report is on the Tennessee Achievement School District (ASD), which was seeded as part of Tennessee’s winning Race to the Top (RttT) application in January 2010.

Nelson Smith, former head of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and long-time school reform leader, was the perfect person to report on the history, challenges and early successes of the Tennessee ASD....

My colleague, Adam Emerson, recently penned a piece on rethinking charter school governance; specifically, how charter school governing entities (i.e., school boards) are structured and the pros and cons associated with different arrangements. It is a good piece, but I would argue that structure means nothing without capacity.

We have an internal saying within our charter school authorizing operation: “As the board goes, so goes the school.”

More often than not this proves to be the case, which is why board capacity – and by that I mean the collective strength of the school’s board to govern a fiscally, organizationally and academically healthy school that is achieving its goals for students - is critical.

Have a high performing charter school? Chances are it’s got a savvy board whose membership consists of mission-aligned individuals with diverse professional expertise and experience that is leveraged to advance a strategic and defined vision, and achieve a specific set of goals.

As the board goes, so goes the school

School not doing so well? Probably the issues start and end with the board, and will fester as long as the board lets them.

Adam touches on this issue by pointing out that education management...

  • Fordham president Chester E. Finn, Jr. sees headwinds ahead for the PARCC and Smarter Balanced consortia, the organizations that are developing assessments aligned to the Common Core.
  • Mike Petrilli urges the Republican National Committee to rescind their draft resolution rejecting the Common Core.
  • Terry Ryan and the rest of the Fordham Ohio gang debunk the fabrications and hyperbole swirling in Ohio from those who oppose the Common Core.
  • Emmy Partin debates the Common Core—in a manner worthy of the setting—with a panel of Ohio elected officials and advocates.
  • Read all this, but still sure what’s going on with the Common Core? See our FAQ on the Common Core here!

Dayton Early College Academy (DECA) earns attention from national media

  • DECA’s principal Dave Taylor joins the Huffington Post to discuss what makes DECA special for its students. Check out the video here. And, be sure to congratulate DECA for its bronze medal awarded by U.S. News and World Report.

How educational policies influence schools’ behavior is of considerable importance for sound policy-making. Policymakers, of course, want to put into place policies that encourage “good” behavior, while not enacting policies that promote “bad” behavior.

In this report, Rajashri Chakrabarti of the New York Federal Reserve Bank examines whether Florida schools, facing sanctions under the state’s A-F accountability system, behaved strategically by over-identifying students as special education (SPED) or English language learning (ELL). This would be an example of “bad” behavior—where schools “game the system” (knowingly misidentifying a student) out of self-interest.

Chakrabarti describes the incentives as this: Under Florida’s 1999 A-F accountability reform, many SPED and ELL students’ test scores were excluded from a school’s rating. As such, low-performing schools (F-rated) were “incentivized” to classify weak students into excluded categories. The incentive was particularly strong for a school trying to escape the sanction of becoming voucher-eligible, if they received a second F rating. But there’s a twist: concurrent with the 1999 A-F reform, Florida enacted a voucher program for all SPED students—the McKay Scholarship—evaporating a school’s incentive to classify its weaker students as SPED.

The key finding: low-performing schools responded in-line with the policy incentives. ELL populations in grades...

In a previous review, I examined The National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) Index of Essential Practices 2012 which discusses how states are doing in accomplishing the “essential practices” for charter school authorizing. Ohio sponsors performed well, even though they met some difficulty reaching higher marks because of Ohio’s charter school law. One of the critiques I had was that these essential practices were self-reported and did not fully unpack the policy implications for these authorizers and the states where they work. Recently, however, NACSA released an accompanying report called The State of Charter School Authorizing 2012 that elaborates on the Index by attaching policy recommendations for both authorizers and states. This report, using authorizer demographics and survey data from authorizers, shows that charter school authorizers and states can better serve their charter schools and hold them to higher accountability standards. NACSA finds that the authorizers are performing well on the index but still suffer challenges in closing schools, hiring experts, and working with state laws. Based on the survey findings, NACSA recommends the following for charter school authorizers and the state lawmakers:

  • Authorizers need to develop strong policies for both replication and closure of charters;
  • ...