Flypaper

The rumor around the water coolers in D.C. is that President Obama plans to mention the Common Core State Standards in his State of the Union Address next week—for the third year running. He should reconsider, for three reasons.

First, it will feed the narrative that Common Core is, in fact, a federal takeover of public education.

Many Common Core opponents I debate on talk-radio shows or speak with in person eventually get around to admitting they have very few problems with the standards themselves and think they are better than what their state had in place before (we think so too). But, as Andy Smarick wrote earlier this week,

They are skeptical of big promises and big government. They are skeptical of centralized solutions. And they are skeptical of enlightened national leaders who pat them on their heads.

Remember, they were told by such enlightened leaders that if they liked their insurance, they could keep it. They are once bitten, twice shy.

Why would an administration that has already insulted Common Core opponents give them another reason to claim that this is true?

Second, the President is deeply unpopular; associating himself with the Common Core is simply unhelpful. As of writing, Gallup put the President’s approval rating at 39 percent. His approval among Republicans, like those who will be determining the fate of the Common Core in the states where the issue is most contentious, is likely dipping near or into the single digits. Even if...

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A first look at today's most important education news:

  • The Cato Institute launches the “Public Schooling Battle Map,” an attempt to record and categorize the battles that have occurred around public education since 2005. (Cato)
  • Governor Andrew Cuomo outlines his education priorities while presenting his proposed 2014–15 budget for New York State. He wants to allocate an additional $807 million in state school aid, partially to go towards teacher-merit-pay program and expansion of pre-K funding. (Chalkbeat)
  • Mayor Bill de Blasio, however, argues that Cuomo’s proposed $1.5 billion over five years for pre-K with no tax surcharge is not good enough. This highlights the tension between Cuomo, a centrist who has repeatedly pledged to reduce taxes, and de Blasio, a steadfast liberal who made a campaign promise to fund pre-K in the Big Apple by raising taxes on the wealthy. (New York Post and New York Times)
  • Also while outlining his budget proposal, Cuomo announced the creation of a panel that will study the way the state has implemented the Common Core and recommend any “corrective actions.” (Curriculum Matters)
  • The Hechinger Report releases a two-part analysis of the problems associated with Chicago’s longer school day, primarily related to the policy’s “one-size-fits-all” nature.
  • A survey conducted by Common Sense Media finds that nine out of ten American voters are both worried and uninformed about student data privacy. (Digital Education)
  • An Education Week op-ed warns that although
  • ...
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A first look at today's most important education news:

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One of education reform’s best attributes is its sense of urgency about doing better for kids. This field is not one for the complacent.

But our earnestness can come across as antagonistic. To say “we must do better” implies something unflattering about the ways things are. Since there are lots of people responsible for the way things are, this can sometimes translate into bruised egos and nasty recriminations.

I take responsibility for being among our field’s worst offenders on this score. I am pointed to a fault.

I hope folks—even when they’re frustrated with me—know I write what I do because I detest that disadvantaged kids don’t get a fair shake. I can be an insufferable cuss, but I aspire to do it without bias—hence my heartfelt appreciation for TNTP’s referring to me as an “anti-tribalist.” I try to call them as I see them, regardless of party, ideology, organizational affiliation, or anything else.

But my directness is also attributable to my subscribing to Frederick Douglass’s view that power concedes nothing without a demand. We will never bring about the changes we need if we practice nothing but gauzy, velvet-gloved diplomacy and accommodation. To paraphrase Douglass, that has never worked and never will.

I try to leaven my scolding by also drawing attention to great people doing great stuff; this was the purpose of the “By the Company It Keeps” series.

But looking back on 2013, I probably employed the wagging finger more vigorously than the pat...

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A recent study examined whether gifted programs benefit students at the margin: those who barely “made the cut” for admission into a program and those who barely missed it. The study found that students in both subsets performed approximately equally on standardized tests a couple years after demarcation.

Obviously, this study says nothing about those students who easily “made the cut”—those who are the most gifted. (Other research indicates that these highest achievers do benefit from being around similarly gifted peers.) Instead, the research only looked at whether gifted programs are beneficial to students at the margin. And the answer is actually a somewhat-counterintuitive maybe: gifted programs might be beneficial for students on both sides of the margin. (I explain this below.)

Subsequently, a couple news outlets reported that the findings of this study proved that gifted education programs were ineffective:

“If the gifted and talented programs are effective, then the marginal students should end up with higher test scores than the marginal students in regular classes. If they’re not effective, then both sets of students would have around the same scores.” The Atlantic

“A new study has shown that gifted and talented programs have no effect on student learning.” Teach for America Blog

Fortunately for gifted programs, these absolute statements are inaccurate. It implies that a lack of difference in scores proves the ineffectiveness of gifted programs. That the study concluded that students on both...

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In his press conference introducing Carmen Fariña as New York City’s next schools chancellor, Mayor Bill de Blasio suggested that he had picked her over several other candidates because she was on the same page with him in opposing his predecessor Michael Bloomberg’s education reforms. Most of the city’s education reporters took the new mayor’s spin and ran with it, even though Fariña had served loyally from 2004 to 2006 as Bloomberg’s second-highest-ranking education official. Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez predicted that Fariña would now bring “revolutionary” changes to the Department of Education that she left in 2006. A headline in The Hechinger Report claimed that Fariña wanted “dramatic—even joyful—departure from Bloomberg era.” But that depends on which part of the Bloomberg era you’re talking about: during the years that she served in the administration, Fariña was fully on board with its education policies.

In fact, considering Fariña’s pivotal role during the first Bloomberg term in shaping the Department of Education’s radical initiatives, portraying her as a dissident from within seems absurd. Mayor Bloomberg took control of the schools in June 2002, but he knew little about what actually went on in the city’s classrooms. He appointed Joel Klein, a corporate lawyer with no background in instructional issues, as his first schools chancellor. Bloomberg and Klein deferred virtually all decision-making on classroom instruction and curriculum to a cadre of veteran progressive educators led by Diana Lam, Klein’s first deputy chancellor for teaching and learning. Lam and Fariña convinced Klein to introduce the...

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Yesterday’s column by George Will condemning Common Core is a very bad sign for the standards’ advocates.

I suspect that many Common Core backers on the political left either don’t know much about George Will or reflexively dismiss him because he’s a conservative. As a general matter, that’s a shame, but in this particular case they should pay close attention.

And fast.

Will is trusted implicitly by many on the right for two important reasons. First, he is deeply learned. He is the son of a philosophy professor, earned a graduate degree from Oxford and a PhD from Princeton. He was a university professor and U.S. Senate aide. He has authored more than a dozen books, and he’s won a Pulitzer Prize.

Second, his conservatism is rooted firmly in time-tested principles. His are not knee-jerk politics; they are not spontaneously oppositional to any utterance by a Democrat—he reveres the late former Johnson administration official and liberal U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

Nor are his views dependent on Rush Limbaugh’s or Bill O’Reilly’s talking points. He has publicly and harshly criticized prominent Republicans including Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, and Ann Coulter.

Will believes in the virtues of longstanding institutions and the vices of well-meaning but naïve technocrats. He trusts well-regulated markets to more fairly and fluidly distribute capital, goods, and services than government-generated formulas. He is distrustful of an expansive federal government, because its appetite for money and power is voracious and its interventions are too often ineffective and...

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This week, we at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute released a “toolkit” for policymakers working to create or expand private-school-choice programs. In it, we argue that students receiving publicly funded scholarships or vouchers should take state assessments and that the results should be reported publicly. Private schools that consistently fail to improve student achievement in math and reading should become ineligible for public subsidies.

Predictably, some of our friends in the school-choice movement—especially those of a more libertarian persuasion—responded with a resounding “Thanks but no thanks.” Jason Bedrick of the Cato Institute acknowledged that our proposal is “well intentioned” but finds it “unpersuasive” and “likely to do [more] harm than good.” Greg Forster, writing on Jay Greene’s blog, calls our proposal a “straddle.” Robert Enlow, president of the Friedman Foundation, argues that public oversight of (publicly funded) private schools would be “prone to political decisions and special interests.” And even Matt Ladner, our comrade-in-arms in the Common Core fight, thinks it’s risky to subject private schools to state accountability policies, given that the latter are such a mess.

None of these anxieties surprised us; in fact, we mention most of them in our toolkit. We understand why some worry that

  • Private schools could feel pressure to conform to state standards, reducing or eliminating the educational diversity that makes them attractive (and effective) in the first place;
  • Achievement-based accountability policies might kick low-performing schools out of choice programs that parents have selected for rational and
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Because of Kansas City Public Schools’ (KCPS) persistent underperformance, the state is contemplating taking over the district. They engaged CEE-Trust and Public Impact (organizations I admire and have worked with) to produce a plan.

What they’ve come up with is revolutionary. Should the state board of education adopt it, Kansas City will soon rival New Orleans as the most exciting and important city for K–12 education.

I’ve now read the entirety of the nearly 80-page report, and I’m impressed. It’s a document informed by the best thinking on systemic reform over the last two decades. You can see Chubb and Moe, Paul Hill, Ted Kolderie, and Neerav Kingsland in its pages. And that’s a delight.

While the report argues for some traditional interventions—namely, higher teacher salaries, more expansive pre-K, and greater wrap-around services—those pale in comparison to its main thrust.

Over decades, there have been countless state takeovers of districts across the nation, and they’ve all failed to bring about the dramatic improvement needed. That’s because they’ve all kept in place the failed district structure.

The traditional state takeover just installs a new, state-hired superintendent and removes governance authority from a locally elected board. The district’s position as the dominant, default operator of schools is preserved. 

The report’s recommendations address that fundamental problem. In its own words, “Our conclusion is that it’s not the people in the system that’s the problem; it’s the system itself.”

The report makes the case for ending the district.

“Simply put, the traditional urban school...

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Myriad articles have pointed out that the U.S. has had very average mean scores on the recent PISA exam and that our top performers were mediocre compared to those in other countries. And while that’s true, it doesn’t tell the whole story: Size matters.

China and India didn’t participate in PISA as countries. China only submitted tests from select municipalities, and India excused itself entirely. This means that among the countries and regions that took PISA in 2012, the U.S. is the most populous—by a big margin. Below is a list of the ten most populous countries and regions that took PISA in 2012; I’ve included each of their mean scores and where those mean scores rank amongst all sixty-five.

...

Country

Population

Mean Score

Rank

1.     United States

317,000,000

481

36

2.     Indonesia

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