Philanthropy, Spring 2013 from Philanthropy RoundtableThe Philanthropy Roundtable publishes a fine magazine for its members, addressing many aspects of philanthropy and often paying special attention to education, a major realm of interest and activity for the organization, as well as (obviously) for U.S. philanthropists. Never, however, in my long relationship with the Roundtable, has this been done more thoroughly and imaginatively than in the Spring 2013 issue of Philanthropy, commencing with a superb lead article by Christopher Levenick on how those who are serious about policy reform in education need to go beyond traditional “C-3” work. Also of value are Naomi Schaeffer Riley on citizenship education, Liam Julian on the philanthropic backdrop of the Common Core, Andy Smarick on badly needed governance changes, Laura Vanderkam on the potential of blended learning, and a swell interview with Betsy Devos. Check it out—and, if by any remote chance you happen to be a philanthropist who doesn’t already belong to the Roundtable, consider joining, too!

SOURCE: Philanthropy Roundtable, Philanthropy, Spring 2013 (Washington, D.C.: Philanthropy Roundtable, Spring 2013).


After decades of fretting over girls’ academic opportunities and achievement, it seems the worm has turned with a vengeance. MIT economists David Autor and Melanie Wasserman, using Census data from 1970 to 2010, studied differences among males and females in educational attainment and economic well being. They emerged with two main findings. First, while girls are gaining ground in high school and college-graduation rates, boys are slipping. Among those aged thirty-five in 2010, the female-male gap in college-going rates was 10 percentage points, while the gap in four-year college-completion rates was 7 percentage points. Second, men’s wages are faltering: Between 1979 and 2010, the real earnings growth for males with less than a four-year degree declined between 5 and 25 percent (the steepest such fall was found among the least-educated and youngest males). And though tough economic times have also taxed women, their earnings did not decline as far; in fact, the earnings of highly educated women have risen sharply since the late 70s, with the gender earnings gap among older workers (ages 40-64) narrowing from 60 percent in 1979 to 20 percent in 2010 for those with a post-college education. The analysts’ search for the root of these trends escorts readers through a review of shifting family structures: Over the last thirty years, the proportion of births accounted for by unmarried women has more than doubled, rising from less than 20 percent in 1980 to over 40 percent in 2009. What’s more, these trends were not driven by teen...

Is College Worth It? by William J. Bennett and David WilezolThis readable, provocative, and exceptionally timely book by former U.S. education secretary Bill Bennett (and his young but astute coauthor) will rock the complacent aspiration of “college for all.” Intended more for students and parents than for policymakers and propeller heads (and equipped with a short, well-chosen list of “colleges worth attending” and a dozen “hypothetical scenarios” by which to make decisions about college enrollment), its fundamental argument is that much of contemporary U.S. higher education is a waste of time and money, that many people emerge from the campus with more in debts than in rewards, that there are plenty of viable and rewarding alternatives (especially to the classic “four-year bachelor’s degree”), and that big changes are afoot in the postsecondary realm—technology above all—that many who inhabit that realm seem all but blind to. He rebuts the contemporary dogma that “returns on higher education are higher than ever” by showing that, for many students (and of course millions of taxpayers), the costs outweigh the benefits. Right on, Mr. Secretary!

SOURCE: William J. Bennett and David Wilezol, Is College Worth It? (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, April 2013)....


GadflySnaps to Gov. Jerry Brown for his fierce defense of a weighted-student-funding plan for California’s schools, one that would reform the state’s questionable financing system by directing more—and much more flexible—funds to districts with high numbers of English learners and low-income families. We only hope that, behind the bluster, he’s willing to talk shop with his state Senate; the kids of California need a win.

A new report out of Rutgers University’s National Institute for Early Education Research heralded an uproar over pre-K financing: We spend $1,100 less per student than we did 2001, blared the headlines. But before you go building an ark and gathering all your pets onto it, note that preschool enrollment increased from 14 percent of four-year-olds to 28 percent during this period. The money increased, too, just not as fast as the headcount, meaning that per pupil funding edged downward even as total pre-school spending rose. What we’re seeing here is dubious policy, not disappearing dollars: Schools should be targeting these dollars at the neediest kids.

The Florida Senate killed a proposed parent trigger for the state just the way it did last year—in a 20–20 vote, this time with six Republicans joining all Democrats in opposition. The bill had been diluted during the legislative session to give school boards the final...


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 two great reforms to have enveloped that system is the setting of explicit academic standards in core subjects, standards that make clear what math youngsters should know by the end of fifth grade, what reading-and-writing skills they must acquire by tenth grade, and so on. (The other great reform: widespread...


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, 2013)....


This new report from the “Broader/Bolder” coalition seeks to topple support for education reform—but, instead, collapses upon itself with straw-man arguments. Authors Elaine Weiss and Don Long lead their sundry mob of anti-reformers against the recent reforms in three urban centers: D.C., NYC, and Chicago. At nearly a hundred pages long and packed with all of the pitchforks and torches it could find, three main points stood out. First, they attack reforms for being more expensive than maintaining the status quo—which is akin to saying a new roof costs more than a leaky roof. Of course it does. Second, the authors try to use NAEP scores to prove that the reforms have been ineffective, reformers’ promises “unfulfilled.” The problem they can’t quite get around, however, is that in many cases, scores have gone up, including both math and reading scores in New York City and Chicago and math scores in D.C. And when scores didn’t go up, they stayed the same. Finally, the authors claim that reforms are bad because they’re “disruptive.” For example, they attack teacher accountability measures for increasing teacher turnover—which, when districts raise expectations, will clearly happen and is, in fact, the point (particularly if the right teachers decide to go elsewhere). The authors’ relentless aversion to disruption, in fact, seems to belie their organization’s purported taste for “boldness”—just as their call for more “patient” reforms contradicts their eagerness to point out reformers’ “unfulfilled promises.” The Broader/Bolder crowd once made a splash by arguing for school reform...


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? We thought April Fools’ Day was over.

After a two-year impasse, Hawaii—the state with the nation’s strongest teacher union—finally has a teacher contract that, among other things, bases half of teachers’ evaluations on student test scores and pay raises on...

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 stage time, breaking into nearly every state and growing to capture larger market shares in America’s cities: 10, 15, 20, 30 percent in some areas.

Then the plot added a new twist, as state departments of education were empowered to take over individual schools and even entire districts.

This didn’t...


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. According to Smith, Tennessee’s RttT application committed the state to turning around the “bottom 5 percent” of schools, and Tennessee allocated $22 million of its $500 million RttT award to launching the Achievement School District. Support for this effort was bipartisan and strong leadership has been key to moving it...