Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 12, Number 25
June 28, 2012
Opinion + Analysis
Next Generation Science Standards: Repairs needed
If at first you don't succeed...
Rigorous national standards: necessary but not sufficient
Checker's contribution to a recent Wall Street Journal debate with Jay P. Greene.
Arne scorns Iowa
Political courage or political suicide?
Education gets its day in court
Improving Charter School Accountability: The Challenge of Closing Failing Schools
Charter authorizers: No longer taken for granted
Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World
Koala dads: You’re gonna love this
The Inclusion of Students With Disabilities in School Accountability Systems: Interim Report
A case for super-subgroups
Kathleen Porter-Magee makes her podcast debut, debating reading requirements with Mike and explaining why the new science standards need improvement. Amber wonders whether upper-elementary teachers outshine their K-2 peers.
Commentary & Feedback on Draft I of the Next Generation Science Standards
In May, Achieve unveiled and solicited comments on the first draft of the Next Generation Science Standards, the product of months of work by a team of writers from twenty-six states. This document provides commentary, feedback, and constructive advice that Fordham hopes the NGSS authors will consider as they revise the standards before the release of a second draft later this year.
In July 2011, the National Research Council released its Framework for K-12 Science Education, intended to serve as the basis for a new set of “next generation” science standards (NGSS) for primary-secondary-school science in the United States. Since then, twenty-six states came together, working with Achieve and a vast team of writers, to develop those new standards. They hope to do for science what the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association did for English language arts and math: develop expectations that are at least as clear and rigorous as the best state standards and that many states may adopt in common, presumably then to be joined by common assessments. Unfortunately, a careful review of version 1.0 indicates that this laudable but ambitious goal remains a considerable distance away.
There's still work to be done on the NGSS.
Photo by Andrew Magill.
It’s important for the country that the NGSS endeavor yields a high-quality result, which is why we set out to scrutinize the first draft. (It was released for public comment in May. A revised draft is expected late this year with the final standards due in 2013.) We assume that, like the Common Core State Standards initiative that preceded it, many changes
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / June 25, 2012
Setting a high bar for academic performance is key to international competitiveness.
Photo by EO Kenny.
There is a reason big, modern countries care about education: Decades of experience and heaps of research have shown a close tie between the knowledge and skills of a nation's workforce and the productivity of that nation's economy.
One way to ensure that young people develop the skills they need to compete globally is to set clear standards about what schools should teach and students should learn—and make these standards uniform across the land. Leaving such decisions to individual states, communities, and schools is no longer serving the U.S. well.
We know from multiple sources that today's young Americans are falling behind their peers in other countries when it comes to academic performance. We also know that U.S. businesses are having trouble finding the talent they need within this country and, as a result, are outsourcing more and more of their work.
One major reason for this slipshod performance is the disorderly, dysfunctional way we've been handling academic standards for our primary- and secondary-school students. Yes, an effective education system also requires quality teachers, effective administrators, and a hundred other vital elements. But getting the expectations right, and making them the
Michael J. Petrilli / June 28, 2012
Rejecting Iowa's waiver: political courage or political suicide?
Photo by US Department of Education.
With barely four months to go until Election Day, every single Obama administration decision is inevitably viewed through the prism of presidential politics. Which is why Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s rejection of a request from Iowa for flexibility under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is particularly perplexing. Do Duncan and the White House politicos not understand that he’s handing Mitt Romney a handy campaign issue in an up-for-grabs state? What’s most remarkable is the reason the administration is turning down Iowa’s waiver request: Because the state legislature refuses to enact a statewide teacher-evaluation plan. As you may recall, such evaluations are one of the mandates (er, conditions) placed on states that want flexibility from ESEA’s broken accountability requirements. And as many of us have argued, such conditions are patently illegal. There’s nothing in ESEA that indicates that the Secretary has the authority to demand such conditions be met in order for waiver requests to be approved. Expect Governor Romney to talk up this issue the next time he’s in the Hawkeye State as yet another example of executive overreach and
The Education Gadfly / June 28, 2012
Healthcare stole the show, but don’t forget that the Supreme Court handed down a decision this session with education implications. Knox v. SEIU, which restricted public-employee unions’ ability to extract political contributions from non-members, was a narrow ruling. Here’s hoping it signals that the high court is open to further protections for non-union teachers against onerous union dues and other fees.
Speaking of SCOTUS, yesterday marked the ten-year anniversary of Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, the Supreme Court decision that upheld the constitutionality of school vouchers. Gadfly is glad to see Republicans in Pennsylvania honoring the occasion by pushing a budget that would double funding for the state’s tax-credit-scholarship program, while GOP legislators in Mississippi and New Hampshire commemorated it by passing new private-school-choice programs.
Governor John Kasich signed Ohio’s third-grade reading requirement into law on Monday. Requiring reading proficiency in order to get promoted into fourth grade has paid dividends in Florida; let’s hope youngsters in the Buckeye State reap similar rewards.
New York-based Relay Graduate School of Education is pioneering an innovative approach to educator education, trading in pedagogical theory for a super-practical and practice-based curriculum; other ed schools would do well to take note of this creative reimagining of teacher prep, rather than scrambling to shield their own methods and results from public view.
The Wall Street Journal devoted
Terry Ryan / June 27, 2012
If the mid-2000s—characterized by a shift in charter-school advocacy from quantity to quality—marked the adolescence of the charter movement, today we must shepherd its move into adulthood. The third stage of the charter movement must focus on charter-authorizer quality—the single biggest driver of charter-school quality. This new report from esteemed governance thinker David Osborne explains why this shift in focus is necessary and how we can go about it. Cogent and concise, the report is a valuable resource for those dedicated to improving the performance of the nation’s 5,500-plus charter schools. The hard fact is that most people—and this includes lawmakers, policymakers, and others involved in setting education policy—have no idea what authorizers are, what they do, or why they matter. But if the charter movement is to improve (and competition heightened and taxpayer dollars saved), then authorizers must be supported—and held to account. They are the entities with the authority—as imperfect as it may be—to actually shut down and replace broken charter schools. Osborne’s paper illumines the need for better authorizers, the challenges of getting them, and how states can make progress in this important work. Among his recommendations: Invest in better measures of charter effectiveness, adequately fund authorizers, enforce five-year charter maximums, and truly hold authorizers accountable for schools’ success. May his work on this important topic motivate policymakers and advocates to recognize that the work
Ben Bennett / June 28, 2012
Much of the focus of contemporary education reform is on helping disadvantaged kids overcome the effects of poverty. This new book, by The Global Achievement Gap author Tony Wagner, doesn’t much go there. Instead, it gives advice to parents (presumably mostly affluent ones) about how to encourage their children’s creative juices. The premise is that America needs to foster more innovation and grow more entrepreneurs—both the STEM and social varieties—to remain globally competitive. Drawing on 150 interviews (and ten case studies of young innovators), Wagner argues that play, passion, and purpose must dominate one’s growth (through childhood and into college). The book is a lively read (helped by its companion videos, which can be accessed via QR codes throughout the text). And Wagner does make some valuable points, mostly aimed at higher education as well as parents. (K-12 education acts as an understudy.) He exalts disruptive innovation, calls for abolishing “publish or perish” tenure determinations for professors, concedes that content cannot be drowned in an effort to boost process skills, and posits an interesting charter-like reboot of college education. All worthy. But Wagner sort of skirts the class issues: The majority of young people profiled in his book have prosperous, supportive, and engaged parents. (He does profile two exceptionally gifted underprivileged youth—both also living in supportive homes.) Waldorf parents, Montessori moms, and Koala dads
Kai Filipczak / June 28, 2012
Special-education students, it turns out, may stand to benefit if accountability systems cease to treat them as particularly special. States around the country jumped at the Obama administration’s NCLB waiver offer this year for many reasons, but the opportunity to streamline that law’s accountability requirements by lumping different subgroups together was certainly a draw. The practice raised the ire of many special-education advocates, however, who fear that that the needs of students with disabilities (SWDs) may get lost in the shuffle with the rise of “super subgroups” that lump these youngsters in with ethnic, socioeconomic, and linguistic minorities. The data in a new IES report, however, suggest that viewing SWDs separately may actually do them a serious disservice. The study analyzes how well schools with substantial special-education populations educate their students and assesses whether NCLB’s Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) requirements led schools to adopt improved practices, thus bumping educational outcomes for their SWDs. For the forty states with relevant data (2008-09), 35 percent of schools were accountable for SWD test scores—up ten percentage points since 2005-06—meaning that they had enough disabled pupils to qualify for accountability under NCLB’s Title I and “subgroup” rules. Further, in 2008-09, just 14 percent of schools held accountable for their SWDs missed AYP solely because of the performance of these students. But what of the 65 percent of schools that aren’t held accountable for their special-education students at all, because there aren’t enough of