Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 12, Number 6
February 9, 2012
Opinion + Analysis
Obama’s coming “flexibility” debacle
3 predictions about the coming ESEA waiver fallout
The Jackson Plan
The Cleveland mayor's brave education reform proposal puts children first.
Choice and Federalism: Defining the Federal Role in Education
Break the ESEA stalemate
Pension-Induced Rigidities in the Labor Market for School Leaders
Complex methodology, simple message
Narrowing the Achievement Gap: Perspectives and Strategies for Challenging Times
Stretching the school dollar goes mainstream
While waiting for the ESEA waiver announcement, Mike and Janie get to look at the week’s more entertaining edu-news, from trials for tardiness to a pot problem in the Rockies. Amber talks pensions and Chris wonders if “walking it off” isn’t always the best idea.
Michael J. Petrilli / February 9, 2012
The feds may need to check their definition of "flexibility"
Photo by Greeblie.
As of this writing, the Administration’s announcement on education waivers is just hours away. The White House is gearing up for a Kumbaya moment, as state officials gleefully accept the leeway bestowed upon them by President Obama. But as the news settles in over the next few days, don’t expect the reactions to be entirely positive, for it appears that the President and his education secretary have reneged on their promise of true “flexibility” for the states. Mostly what they seem to have done is substitute one set of rigid prescriptions for another.
This is a big change in a short period. Through most of 2011, the Obama Administration reaped accolades for its intention to allow states to take a new course vis-à-vis the Elementary and Secondary Education act (a.k.a. NCLB). In September, the President got wall-to-wall coverage of the official announcement of his plan to offer waivers to the states to give them “more flexibility to meet high standards.”
Keep in mind, the change we’re making is not lowering standards; we’re saying we’re going to give you more flexibility to meet high standards. We’re going to let states, schools and teachers come up with innovative ways to give
Terry Ryan / February 9, 2012
The bold move by Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson in unveiling his “Plan for Transforming Schools” is a significant step forward for Cleveland, its schools, and, most importantly, its children. The Jackson Plan has the potential to make Cleveland one of the nation’s school reform leaders.
In time, it would help all of Cleveland’s schools to better provide the high quality education that every child in the city deserves. By focusing laser-like on school performance, regardless of school type (district and charter alike), it would reward and encourage the expansion and replication of great schools while putting much needed pressure on those schools that don’t (district and charter alike) to improve or get lost.
The Jackson Plan’s sense of urgency is well warranted. Despite laudable school reform efforts in Cleveland over the years - including a highly touted transformation plan in early 2010 put forth by then superintendent Eugene Sanders, and largely crafted by current district head Eric Gordon – the city has struggled to educate its children to a high standard. In fact, student achievement in Cleveland is still painfully low (only 30 percent of fifth graders are proficient in math,
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / February 9, 2012
Earlier this week, the Koret Task Force of Stanford’s Hoover Institution, which I have the privilege of chairing, issued a bold proposal (primarily crafted by Russ Whitehurst) for totally rebooting the federal role in primary-secondary education.
Washington insiders will, of course, dismiss it as “politically unrealistic” precisely because it is so sweeping and radical. Maybe it will turn out to be. But with ESEA reauthorization in stalemate, the parties at loggerheads, and a total breakdown of the former “consensus” painfully visible, perhaps a sweeping, radical reboot is precisely what is most needed. States that find this reboot appealing can follow the Task Force’s proposal. States that prefer some version of the status quo may stick with it.
The Task Force begins by explaining why neither top-down accountability (à la NCLB) nor total devolution of authority to states and districts can rekindle American education and boost student achievement. Both have been tried—and both have been found sorely wanting.
What to do instead? The Task Force offers a very different approach grounded on two time-honored (and well-proven) American principles: federalism and choice.
But federalism doesn’t mean traditional “local control,” because so many school districts are captives of special interests. Rather, “vibrant, open competition among the providers of education services for students and the funds that accompany them must go hand in hand with federalism.”
And parents must have quality education choices for their children, choices about which they’re well informed. They also must be able to afford these choices, possible
Long overshadowed by sexier education-reform topics, pension reform has gained allure in recent months. This paper—written by University of Missouri economist Mike Podgursky and colleagues—adds yet more intrigue to the pension-reform debate: It examines the impact of “pension borders” (lines dividing districts or states with variant pension benefits) on the mobility of school leaders. In other words, does leaving one pension system for another—and thus incurring substantial pension loss—discourage principals from swapping posts? In a word, yes. Using simulation techniques, analysts examine eighteen years of panel data from Missouri (1992 to 2010) and find that pension borders represent a substantial impediment to principal mobility. (Missouri was chosen as the case study because the state has three distinct pension systems: for Kansas City, for St. Louis, and for the rest of the state. With no reciprocity among these systems, they are as distinctly different as systems are across state lines.) Removing a pension border between two groups of schools, the analysts found, would roughly double leadership flows among them. This paper offers both valuable insight into this budding issue and a smart warning to states and districts: How retirement benefits are structured is at odds with making the principal labor market more fluid. It’s high time we fix that.
Cory Koedel, Jason A. Grissom, Shawn Ni, and Michael Podgursky, “Pension-Induced Rigidities in the Labor Market for School Leaders” (Washington, D.C.: National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research, January 2012.)
Layla Bonnot / February 9, 2012
Since the 1966 Coleman report, pundits and policymakers have thrown theories, programs, and umpteen dollars at the wall separating black and white student achievement. Yet the divide between the two (as well as those we find between other key demographic groups) remains just as firm as ever. This edited volume from Harvard Education Press offers an overview of the societal and educational factors that have created the achievement gap—and some tepid potential solutions. Much of what the book presents is old hat to the weathered edu-reformer: Schools are not solely to blame and no single solution exists, for example. Still, the volume offers a few refreshing ideas. One chapter, for example, expends much ink dispelling the unyielding belief that more money pumped into education coffers leads to better student outcomes. Instead, W. Norton Grubb offers cost-cutting strategies meant simultaneously to narrow the achievement gap, eliminate waste, improve resource allocation, and identify and replicate successful state policies. While not profound, this is a worthy message, indeed.
Thomas Timar and Julie Maxwell-Jolly, Narrowing the Achievement Gap: Perspectives and Strategies for Challenging Times (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press, 2012).