Over the last few weeks, we've witnessed the spectacle of “outrage” at learning that two major figures in the school reform wars (Leonie Haimson and Michelle Rhee) send their children to private schools.
I'm not interested in rehashing all of the usual debates. I do want to point out that there's public, and then there's “public.” In other words, some of the people expressing indignation, I suspect, may send their children to “public” schools that are much more “private” than most private schools. And starting in September, I will be one of those parents (as anyone who has read my book knows already).
Yes, it's true: Wood Acres Elementary, in Bethesda, Maryland, is a “private public school”—a term that Janie Scull and I coined in a 2010 report for the Fordham Institute. These are “public” schools that serve virtually no poor students. They are open to anyone—anyone who can afford to live in their catchment zones, that is.
We found 2,800 such schools in America back then; I suspect the numbers haven't changed much since.
But here's what you might want to consider: New York City, where Haimson lives, has exactly zero such schools. Nashville, Tennessee, where Rhee's daughters live, has exactly zero. The greater Washington, D.C., area, where many of us policy wonks live, has about seventy.
So before we “public school parents” cast the first stone, let's get serious. Public schools can be just as exclusive—often more exclusive—than private schools.
Count us as among those surprised and alarmed by the Republican National Committee’s ill-considered decision to adopt a resolution decrying the Common Core standards as a “nationwide straitjacket on academic freedom and achievement.” There’s little doubt that this action will bestow a degree of legitimacy upon the anti-standards coalition—and put pressure on Republican governors and legislators to fall in line.
Which is something approaching tragedy. It was Republicans, even conservatives, who first blazed the trail toward higher standards and rigorous accountability in education—the likes of Ronald Reagan, Bill Bennett, Lamar Alexander, and Jeb Bush. To cede this ground to Democrats is an enormous policy and political mistake.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: The Common Core standards are worth supporting because they’re educationally solid. They are rigorous, they are traditional—one might even say they are “conservative.” They expect students to know their math facts, to read the nation’s founding documents, and to evaluate evidence and come to independent judgments. In all of these ways, they are miles better than three-quarters of the state standards they replaced—standards that hardly deserved the name and that often pushed the left-wing drivel that Common Core haters say they abhor.
No, they’re not perfect. They can be undermined by curriculum directors who assign teeny-bopper romances, sports bios, and car-repair manuals instead of the good stuff.
This prediction will puzzle, upset, and maybe infuriate a great many readers—and, of course, it could turn out to be wrong—but enough clues, tips, tidbits, and intuitions have converged in recent weeks that I feel obligated to make it:
I expect that PARCC and Smarter Balanced (the two federally subsidized consortia of states that are developing new assessments meant to be aligned with Common Core standards) will fade away, eclipsed and supplanted by long-established yet fleet-footed testing firms that already possess the infrastructure, relationships, and durability that give them huge advantages in the competition for state and district business.
In particular, I predict (as does Andy Smarick) that the new ACT-Aspire assessment system, which is supposed to be ready for use in 2014 (a full year earlier than either of the consortium products) and which some states are considering as their new assessment vehicle, will be joined by kindred products to be developed and marketed by the College Board. And the two of them will dominate the market for new Common Core assessments.
One straw in the wind: Alabama’s
A first look at today's most important education news:
"The emperor is mostly naked: Responding to Common Core critics," by Aaron Churchill, Emmy Partin, Jeff Murray, and Terry Ryan, Ohio Gadfly Daily
A coalition of parents is petitioning New York City for more gifted and talented spots. (Insideschools)
A new survey from ACT finds that while 89 percent of high school teachers believed students who completed their courses were well or very well prepared for college, just 26 percent of college instructors said the same. (Washington Post)
A New York parent (and Economist writer) concerned that his daughter will be tested on topics she has hardly encountered when she takes the new Common Core–aligned assessments.
The Labor Department reports that the share of recent U.S. high school graduates enrolling in college dropped to its lowest level since 2006; the researchers suggest that grads are becoming more confident about job prospects outside of college. (Real Time Economics)
A group of legislators question Arne Duncan on his heavy-handed use of competitive grants.
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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