During my travels on Interstate 70, I have discovered Union Local School District. The district is located near the Ohio-West Virginia border, right at exit 208. Its high school isn’t hard to spot—a boxy two-story building that sits atop a knoll overlooking truck-stop fast food joints and gas stations.

I’ve learned a bit about Union Local and have come to think of it as a quintessential rural district. It enrolls 1,500 or so students, 99 percent of whom are white. A modest portion of its students are impoverished (42 percent). They play football on Fridays, and last I heard on the radio, a local car dealership donates $20 to the football team, if you test-drive their cars. The school district has a nature trail and an American flag etched into its high school lawn, as a reminder of 9/11.

Union Local is one of Ohio’s 231 rural districts that together serve 280,000 or so K-12 students—roughly equal the student population of Nebraska. But besides serving truck-stop communities and partnering with mom-and-pop car dealerships, what is known about rural schools? Specifically, what about the academics of Union Local and Ohio’s rural schools? Do they effectively prepare their kids to attend college? Can their graduates compete academically with their brethren from Ohio’s (often, high-powered) suburban districts? Is it likely that their graduates will eventually attain jobs in an increasingly competitive labor market?

If we start and finish with the state’s academic rating system, we find that nearly all rural districts perform quite...


Despite the tireless marriage-wrecking efforts of Common Core opponents and their acolytes and funders, few states that initially pledged their troth to these rigorous new standards for English and math are in divorce mode. What’s far more fluid, unpredictable, and—frankly—worrying are the two elements of standards-based reform that make a vastly greater difference in the real world than standards themselves: implementation and assessment.

Don’t get me wrong. Standards are important, because they set forth the desired outcomes of schooling and it’s obviously better to aim for clear, ambitious, and academically worthy goals than at targets that are vague, banal, easy, or trendy. Standards are also supposed to provide the framework that shapes and organizes the rest of the education enterprise: curricula, teacher preparation, promotion and graduation expectations, testing and accountability, and just about everything else. (Kindergarten standards, for example, should affect what happens in preschool just as twelfth-grade standards should synch with what gets taught to college freshmen.)

But standards are not self-actualizing. Indeed, they can be purely symbolic, even illusory. Unless thoroughly implemented and properly assessed, they have scant traction in schools, classrooms, and the lives—and futures—of students.

California is the woeful poster child here, as I was reminded the other day (in connection not with the Common Core but with science). For years, it’s had terrific standards in the core subjects, but it’s also had pathetic achievement on external measures such as NAEP. That’s mainly because—in my interpretation, anyway—the Golden State never really put those solid standards into...


With Common Core State Standards (CCSS) on the tip of everybody’s tongue and Common Core–aligned assessments expected to roll out nationally in less than two years, the release of the Center on Education Policy’s most recent implementation update is particularly relevant. First, thirty states (out of forty) reported that Common Core–aligned curricula in both math and ELA are being taught in at least some districts or grade levels. As for full saturation, nine states began implementing CCSS math curriculum throughout their K–12 systems in 2012 or earlier; in ELA, the same is true of twelve states. Second, thirty states report that they are sponsoring specific initiatives to help low-performing schools make the transition to CCSS. Third, a dozen states with cuts or freezes in education spending report eliminating or reducing the scope of CCSS activities due to strained state budgets. For instance, six states have reduced their technology expenditures related to CCSS assessments. Fourth, thirty-seven states are developing and disseminating PD materials and guides; thirty-three report working with higher-ed institutions to align the academic content of their teacher-preparation programs with CCSS. But finally—and most troubling—twenty-six states conveyed that they were finding it difficult to identify and/or develop curriculum materials necessary to implement the Common Core—and thirty-two said the same of developing teacher- and principal-evaluation systems to hold individuals accountable for student mastery of CCSS. Oddly, twenty-seven states also claimed that they have the staff expertise to support state implementation of the CCSS. That rings an alarm bell: Most states are...


Following the Tony Bennett flap, the A-to-F school-grading systems that Bennett championed are themselves under the gun. Some have argued in favor of increasing the number of measures upon which schools are graded, reflecting the variety of grades that parents see their children bring home from school every year. But at what point will more information become too much information? For a great discussion, check out this week’s Education Gadfly Show.

After announcing its plans to withdraw from both Common Core–assessment consortia, Pennsylvania has clarified that it will in fact remain a member of both PARCC and Smarter Balanced—it just won’t be using either test. “Huh,” you say? The nominal difference means that the Keystone State will retain the right to “participate” in each group’s discussions.

In a Washington Post op-ed, Robert Samuelson argued that the fiscal crisis facing state and local governments can be boiled down to the clash of two interests: schools versus nursing homes. Samuelson characterized the impending pension crisis as a “prolonged squeeze” from retirement commitments to public employees, while we call it the “big squeeze” in our series of reports on retirement costs of teachers....


On Wednesday, New York officials released results from the state’s first administration of the new, more difficult, Common Core–aligned tests. As officials warned—and as everyone knew—the results were low; shockingly low in some instances. Last year, 47 percent of New York students scored at or above proficiency on the state’s old English language arts exam and 60 percent were proficient or better in math. This year, 26 percent were at or above proficiency in ELA and 30 percent in math.

New York Common Core tests
We raise the bar in order to ground the work of our schools in an honest understanding of how our students are actually doing.
Photo by Benjamin Chun

Critics were predictably outraged, accusing state and city leaders of having “unrealistically high” expectations for their students. While New York leaders have certainly made some missteps over the past several years, with absurd commissioned passages, scoring errors, and questionable links between Pearson curricula and statewide assessments, they have been unwavering in their support for more rigorous standards and in their desire to align state tests and proficiency cut scores with those standards.

Yet, reform critics and parents have asked why the state would raise the bar so high that so many students score below proficient?

The purpose is simple: to ground the work of...


When it comes to math, more is more: that’s the take-home message of this study examining the long-term impacts of the Chicago Public Schools’s “double-dose” algebra policy, which requires students who score poorly on an eighth-grade math test to take a double course load of algebra in ninth grade (the second period providing them with extra support and practice). Using data from the 2003 and 2004 cohorts of ninth-grade CPS students, analysts examined the outcomes of those who scored just below and just above the cutoff point for double-dose participation—in this case, those scoring below the fiftieth percentile on the eighth-grade Iowa Test of Basic Skills. (This means that the two groups of students were nearly identical in terms of their academic and demographic makeup.) The study found that the double dosing increased the proportion of students earning at least a B in the ninth-grade algebra course, but paradoxically, it did not decrease the proportion of students earning an F. However, the analysts found that double-dosed students wound up performing better than their comparable peers on a preliminary SAT test taken in tenth grade and on an actual ACT math test taken in eleventh grade. Furthermore, double-dosed students were more likely to enroll in college within five years of starting high school. These results were even more robust for students with weaker reading skills; the analysts conjecture that this may be due to the intervention’s focus on using reading and writing skills to help learn algebra (double-dose students reported frequently...


The Washington Post profiled Josh Powell, a homeschooled young man, who—having never written an essay or learned that South Africa was a country—had to take several years of remedial classes at a community college to get back on track with his peers. Citing worry for his eleven younger siblings, all still being homeschooled by their parents, young Mr. Powell (now a Georgetown undergrad) urges that homeschooling to be subject to accountability. But just what kind of accountability? That’s a tricky question. This is a fascinating case—and a very touchy subject.

There’s a waiting list of about 1,000 students who want to take part in Louisiana’s new Course Choice program, which currently allows 2,000 youngsters to shop around for courses, virtual and otherwise, that are not offered in their home school. State Superintendent John White says that 100 applications pile in every day and that, to accommodate everybody, he’ll have to scrounge for money. The state Supreme Court has already ruled that a constitutionally protected source of public funding is off limits. White estimates that he’ll need another $1.5 million just to meet the current demand.

After reaching a long-awaited teachers’ contract in April, Hawaii’s $75 million Race to the Top grant, awarded in 2010, has finally been cleared of its “high-risk” label. Essentially, this means that the state will no longer have to endure stricter reporting requirements—and, as noted by Education Week, it is a big confidence boost as the...


At first blush, this AFT-commissioned survey (which was conducted by Hart Research Associates and determined that parents disapprove of current education-reform initiatives) is a head-scratcher. It “finds,” for example, that just 24 percent of parents support school choice—dramatically fewer than other recent polls report. The latest Phi Delta Kappan/Gallup poll, conducted in August 2012, found that 66 percent of Americans supported charters and 44 percent are warm to private school choice. And the 2012 PEPG/Education Next survey concurred: Sixty-two percent of Americans favor charter schools. So why the disconnect? Could that much have changed in a year? Unlikely. Instead, it’s more a question of semantics. The AFT’s poll asks parents to choose between “good public schools” that offer “safe conditions” and an “enriching curriculum” and private schools paid for “at the public expense.” The former—naturally—won the day. Other AFT questions are riddled with the same problem (see Terry Moe’s excellent book for more on how question framing pre-determines answers). Readers who want a more accurate overview of how Americans feel about school choice, education reform, and the K–12 system writ large: peruse the two surveys linked above or our own look at schools’ belt-tightening strategies from August 2012.

SOURCE: Hart Research Associates, Public School Parents on the Promise of Public Education: Nationwide Survey Among Parents of Children in Public K-12 Schools (Washington, D.C.: American Federation of Teachers, July 2013)....


The OECD has released its annual grab bag of international data from thirty-plus developed countries, overflowing with interesting factoids about participation in education, spending, class size, and more. To dive right in: 1) About 70 percent of all OECD students who enter post-secondary education graduate; in Japan, that number is about 90 percent, while Hungary and the U.S. flounder at 52 percent. 2) Between 2009 and 2010, public expenditures on educational institutions fell in one-third of OECD countries (surprise, surprise), including the U.S., Italy, Estonia, and Iceland. 3) Between 2000 and 2011, teacher salaries rose in almost all OECD countries (France and Japan were the exceptions), and then fell between 2009 and 2011. 4) Across all OECD countries, the average age at which mothers have their first child rose from twenty-four in 1970 to twenty-eight in 2009 (though the Duchess of Cambridge is skewing the numbers at age thirty-one). 5) Together, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the U.K., and the U.S. receive over half of all foreign students. 6) On average, OECD countries employ one teacher for every fourteen students in upper-secondary school (Portugal has the richest ratio, one teacher for every eight students, while Mexico breaks the scales at twenty-eight). At 440 pages, there’s plenty more information to dig into. (Cue the traditional wise cracks about the inaptness of the report title—but at least we no longer have to take a nap while it downloads!)

SOURCE: Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development,...


North Carolina’s new budget, passed late Wednesday night and headed to Governor McCrory, has carved out dollars for a voucher program for low-income students, phases out teacher tenure, and ends the practice of raising teacher pay based solely on possession of advanced degrees. Earlier this week, Tarheel state’s lawmakers also approved a voucher program that will allot $3,000 per semester for special-education students who wish to attend private school. As in the days of Jim Hunt, it looks like North Carolina is back in the front rank of school-reform states.

In a new Brown Center Chalkboard post, scholars Russ Whitehurst and David Armor contend that advocates of Obama’s Preschool for All proposal have based their support on faulty research. They note that gold-standard studies have, thus far, not shown major impacts from large-scale pre-K programs, and urge Obama to proceed with demonstration projects rather than replicate the failures of vast endeavors like Head Start.