Everybody in Washington claims they favor more flexibility in federal education policy. They want to be “tight on results” and “loose on how to get there.” They agree that No Child Left Behind “went too far” in putting Uncle Sam in the middle of complicated and nuanced decisions.
Or so they say, until push comes to shove. And then many of the players discover that they don’t like flexibility after all. They want to change federal policy in theory but not in reality.
It’s not just the President’s bizarre State of the Union request that states raise their compulsory attendance age to 18. (Perhaps that would help to trim the dropout rate, though the studies suggesting so rely on 40-year-old data.) I’m assuming that he was merely using the bully pulpit to promote a pet idea, not suggesting a new federal mandate.
Democrats across and beyond the nation’s capital—in the Administration, on Capitol Hill, in advocacy groups, and in think tanks—are up in arms about the ESEA reauthorization proposals released by House GOP leaders on Friday. Or at least they are pretending to be. While they contained a few surprises, the House bills were pretty much as one would expect: significantly to the right of both the Senate Harkin-Enzi bill and the package put forward by Republican Senator Lamar Alexander and his colleagues. In the parlance that we’ve been using at Fordham for three years now, the House GOP embodies the views of the Local Controllers, Senator Alexander embraced Reform Realism, and Harkin-Enzi represents a mishmash of ideas from the Army of the Potomac and the System Defenders.
But while there are significant differences among the players, a clear path toward a workable, maybe even bipartisan, package is still visible. In short: all roads lead to Lamar. Not only does the Alexander package represent smart policy, it also serves as a sort of mid-point between the Senate bill that passed out of committee and the House GOP bill that is likely to do the same. Let’s tackle the five big issues:
for standards and tests. The Administration and the Senate (including
supporters of both the Harkin-Enzi and Alexander measures) want states to adopt
standards that indicate college and career readiness; the House Republicans
don’t. The real issue at stake is not just differing views of big, pushy Uncle
Sam but also the new Common Core standards initiative, and
Tomorrow marks the tenth anniversary of the No Child Left Behind Act, and Fordham’s redesigned website offered plenty of commentary and analysis this week to help make sense of the NCLB decade:
- Mike broke down the highlights—and lowlights—of NCLB here on Flypaper, before offering his thoughts on the next stage of federal involvement in education.
- At Common Core Watch, Kathleen explained why the constantly evolving iPod offers important insights into where NCLB went wrong.
- On Thursday, Fordham hosted Mark Schneider, Eric Hanushek, and Charles Barone for a discussion of the legacy and future of the accountability movement. Get caught up by watching the replay of “Has the Accountability Movement Run Its Course?” in its entirety and reading Schneider’s recent analysis of math performance in the era of accountability-based reform.
In other news…
- Kathleen accepted Diane Ravitch’s challenge to take a standardized test and publish the results, reflecting on why testing is valuable.
- Over at the Ohio Gadfly Daily, Bianca examined the Dayton Public Schools’ latest financial mess.
- Chris made the case for granting principals greater flexibility in setting their teachers’ pay on the Stretching the School Dollar blog, while Peter lauded D.C.’s trailblazing merit pay program on Board’s Eye View.
- Peter also analyzed Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State Address and wondered whether New York has the nation’s next “education governor.”
Be sure to explore all the features and blogs on the new www.edexcellence.net. Happy NCLB Day!
The federal law that everybody loves to hate turns ten on Sunday. Here’s what to think about it:
- It worked! As Mark Schneider shows in his recent paper for Fordham—and as Eric Hanushek and others demonstrated before him—poor, minority, and low-achieving students made huge progress in math, and sizable progress in reading, during the late 1990s and early 2000s. Their most recent scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress indicate all-time highs for most grades and subjects. These students are typically performing two grade levels ahead of where their peers were fifteen years ago in math, and are reading at least one grade-level higher. So how to explain these historic gains? While we can’t draw causal conclusions from NAEP, we can make educated guesses. What’s clear is that states that adopted “consequential accountability” in the nineties saw big test-score jumps, and the late-adopter states saw similar progress once No Child Left Behind kicked into action. So, while other factors could have been in play, too (such as efforts to reduce class size or the cessation of the crack-cocaine epidemic), there’s a pretty good case that testing and accountability succeeded in spurring higher student achievement, at least at the bottom of the performance spectrum.
- But it couldn’t
As Schneider argues, the test-score gains sparked by NCLB-style accountability
appear to have hit a plateau. We’re back to anemic progress in most grades and
subjects, particularly in the states (like Texas) that embraced testing and
accountability first. That
About the Editor
Michael J. Petrilli
Executive Vice President
Mike Petrilli is one of the nation's foremost education analysts. As executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, he oversees the organization's research projects and publications and contributes to the Flypaper blog and weekly Education Gadfly newsletter.
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