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Claim: Rolling back education reform will improve outcomes for students, especially poor students.

Reality: There is no evidence for this claim.

The most frustrating thing about Diane Ravitch’s new book, Reign of Error, isn’t the way she twists the evidence on school choice and testing, her condescending tone toward leaders trying to improve educational outcomes, or her clever but disingenuous rhetorical arguments. No, what’s most frustrating is that we education reformers have left ourselves exposed and vulnerable to her attacks by overselling, and underthinking, our own ideas.

Truth be told, there are parts of the school-reform agenda today that are easy pickings for our opponents. Chief among these is the move to create prescriptive, top-down, statewide teacher-evaluation systems based largely on classroom-level test-score gains. Akin to Obamacare, it’s an idea that seems appealing at first blush (let’s recognize our best teachers and fire our worst!) but quickly devolves into a Rube Goldberg nightmare, with state officials trying (for example) to figure out how to link gym teachers’ performance to reading scores.

Fixing schools, especially from afar, is difficult, treacherous work, yet those of us in the reform community have tried to turn it into a morality play between good and evil. “We know what works, we just need the political will to do it,” goes the common refrain. Balderdash. We know that some...

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Education Gadfly Weekly

Opinion + Analysis: 
Opinion
Dear Deborah, A healthy debate we've started indeed! I'm not sure we've bridged many differences, though; maybe we should change the blog's name to Bigging Differences . In that spirit, let me float another provocative but commonsensical idea: We need to do everything we can—in our schools and in...
Opinion
As waves of reforms and would-be reforms have washed over American public education these past three decades, high schools have mostly stayed dry. Although test scores have risen slightly in the early grades, especially in math, National Assessment results for twelfth-graders have been flat or down...
Briefly Noted
The introduction of the Common Core standards is shaking up the $7 billion textbook industry, according to this great piece by Sarah Garland . Traditionally monopolized by a few very large publishing Goliaths, such as Pearson and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, the standards shift now favors small start...
Reviews: 
Radio Documentary
It’s well known that graduating from high school is generally insufficient preparation to be competitive in today’s economy. Reformers hope, however, that higher standards through the Common Core might, in time, improve the value of the diploma. But what about those who don’t even graduate? As a...
Book
Across the pond, education wonks plug away at solving problems and enacting reforms that will sound both familiar and not to our U.S. readers. Not least among these English reformers is Andrew Adonis: former Minister of Schools, advisor in the No. 10 Policy Unit under Tony Blair, and the well-known...
Gadfly Studios: 
Podcast
Mirroring their favored baseball teams, Mike and Dara duke it out over Philly school reform, “private placement” in special education, and the pros and cons of tracking. Amber makes old news fresh. Amber's Research Minute High School Benchmarks, National College Progression Rates for High Schools...

Dear Deborah,

A healthy debate we've started indeed! I'm not sure we've bridged many differences, though; maybe we should change the blog's name to Bigging Differences.

In that spirit, let me float another provocative but commonsensical idea: We need to do everything we can—in our schools and in our larger social policies—to empower individuals who are working hard to climb the ladder to success....

As waves of reforms and would-be reforms have washed over American public education these past three decades, high schools have mostly stayed dry. Although test scores have risen slightly in the early grades, especially in math, National Assessment results for twelfth-graders have been flat or down a bit. SAT scores are also flat, and ACT averages much the same.

ACT, the organization that administers the college-...

The introduction of the Common Core standards is shaking up the $7 billion textbook industry, according to this great piece by Sarah Garland. Traditionally monopolized by a few very large publishing Goliaths, such as Pearson and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, the standards shift now favors small start-ups, which are nimbler and more eager to embrace change. Gadfly cheers the possibility that the Common Core could break up the behemoths’ oligopoly and pave the way for the little-but-fierce Davids, like Core Knowledge.

For the last few months, Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett has steadfastly refused to release $45 million of federal funds earmarked for the Philly...

It’s well known that graduating from high school is generally insufficient preparation to be competitive in today’s economy. Reformers hope, however, that higher standards through the Common Core might, in time, improve the value of the diploma. But what about those who don’t even graduate? As a new radio documentary, Yesterday’s Dropouts, from D.C.’s WAMU radio station shows, a GED is far from sufficient to get America’s thirty million high school dropouts back on track. In fact, the piece cites research by James Heckman and Tim Kautz that found that only 1 percent of GED earners went on to complete a bachelor’s degree within six years! The piece is at its best when reminding us just how dire a situation we face, as students continue to drop out of high school and into an economy that simply isn’t creating good...

Across the pond, education wonks plug away at solving problems and enacting reforms that will sound both familiar and not to our U.S. readers. Not least among these English reformers is Andrew Adonis: former Minister of Schools, advisor in the No. 10 Policy Unit under Tony Blair, and the well-known architect of the country’s burgeoning “academy” sector (what we would call “conversion charters”), built in reaction to high failure rates among non-selective public schools (over 50 percent were deemed to be failing in the 1990s). By the time Adonis left office in 2008, 133 academies were open and another 300 were in the pipeline. The book offers up both a history of England’s recent education-reform movement and a compelling personal account—...

Mirroring their favored baseball teams, Mike and Dara duke it out over Philly school reform, “private placement” in special education, and the pros and cons of tracking. Amber makes old news fresh. Amber's Research Minute High School Benchmarks, National College Progression Rates for High Schools...

Across the pond, education wonks plug away at solving problems and enacting reforms that will sound both familiar and not to our U.S. readers. Not least among these English reformers is Andrew Adonis: former Minister of Schools, advisor in the No. 10 Policy Unit under Tony Blair, and the well-known architect of the country’s burgeoning “academy” sector (what we would call “conversion charters”), built in reaction to high failure rates among non-selective public schools (over 50 percent were deemed to be failing in the 1990s). By the time Adonis left office in 2008, 133 academies were open and another 300 were in the pipeline. The book offers up both a history of England’s recent education-reform movement and a compelling personal account—followed by the author’s “Manifesto for Change,” a twelve-point plan for continued ed reform. Among these is a call for every underperforming public school to be replaced by an academy and for programs such as Teach First (the British counterpart of Teach For America) to be expanded.

SOURCE: Andrew Adonis, Education, Education, Education: Reforming England's Schools (London: Biteback, 2012).

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It’s well known that graduating from high school is generally insufficient preparation to be competitive in today’s economy. Reformers hope, however, that higher standards through the Common Core might, in time, improve the value of the diploma. But what about those who don’t even graduate? As a new radio documentary, Yesterday’s Dropouts, from D.C.’s WAMU radio station shows, a GED is far from sufficient to get America’s thirty million high school dropouts back on track. In fact, the piece cites research by James Heckman and Tim Kautz that found that only 1 percent of GED earners went on to complete a bachelor’s degree within six years! The piece is at its best when reminding us just how dire a situation we face, as students continue to drop out of high school and into an economy that simply isn’t creating good-paying jobs for low-skilled workers. Kavitha Cardoza does a fine job narrating the piece and provides some thought-provoking insights into Washington State’s I-BEST program, which helps adult learners earn job skills and is now being emulated elsewhere. Overall, though, the piece borders on outright advocacy at times—and while it is presented as a neutral exploration of the issue, it sure seems to have started with the “right answer” in mind and worked backwards. Still, workforce-development efforts for high school dropouts are vitally important, and the idea of moving to a more diverse set of credentials for these workers is certainly worth the in-depth treatment.

SOURCE: Kavitha Cardoza (host),...

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The introduction of the Common Core standards is shaking up the $7 billion textbook industry, according to this great piece by Sarah Garland. Traditionally monopolized by a few very large publishing Goliaths, such as Pearson and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, the standards shift now favors small start-ups, which are nimbler and more eager to embrace change. Gadfly cheers the possibility that the Common Core could break up the behemoths’ oligopoly and pave the way for the little-but-fierce Davids, like Core Knowledge.

For the last few months, Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett has steadfastly refused to release $45 million of federal funds earmarked for the Philly schools until the teacher union agreed to major concessions, including a pay cut. But on Wednesday afternoon—with the union unwavering and civil-rights groups beginning to circle (and after the tragic death of young girl from asthma at a school that, due to budget cuts, did not have a nurse)—Corbett relented, arguing that he was satisfied with the other reforms made by the district. Which was probably the right call.

We know this much: Moody’s investment analysts don’t much care for parental choice, but they are concerned about the credit-worthiness of school districts. The latest Moody’s report shows that as charter schools gain public school market share in cities such as Detroit, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Washington, D.C., they’re putting financial stress on their local school systems, which have ended up with...

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Over at Education Week’s Bridging Differences blog, our own Mike Petrilli and educator Deborah Meier have been engaged in a spirited back and forth about the role that poverty plays in education. Allow me to chime in, first by suggesting that while poverty matters, we are nowhere close to maximizing our educational potential, even given the current level of poverty.

I'm concerned that many of the same people who seem to be implying that few further gains can be made in educational outcomes without first solving the poverty problem also seem to have near-total faith in the power of the right government program to address any societal problem that comes our way. Education reformers and advocates for the poor ought not to allow for the creation of this sort of vacuum whereby the poverty conversation is dominated by those who believe the only answers to poverty lie in more safety-net programs that may indeed worsen the cycle of poverty and government dependency. Instead, those who believe that education is the primary path to economic opportunity must also fight to ensure that real opportunities exist.

It’s no secret that our current economic recovery is languishing, with cratering workforce-participation rates and the unemployment rate for blacks north of 13 percent. These effects are especially pronounced in poor communities, and when children in those areas are surrounded by near-despair and hopelessness, it’s no surprise that some don't see education as a path to a brighter future. If...

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Dear Deborah,

A healthy debate we've started indeed! I'm not sure we've bridged many differences, though; maybe we should change the blog's name to Bigging Differences.

In that spirit, let me float another provocative but commonsensical idea: We need to do everything we can—in our schools and in our larger social policies—to empower individuals who are working hard to climb the ladder to success. In other words, we need to spur on the strivers.

Let me explain some of my assumptions.

  1. As we've been discussing, I still believe in the promise of upward mobility. I don't buy into the dystopia of some on the left that pictures a future with an eviscerated middle class, opportunities only for the elite, and a vast dependent population. Times are tough now, but economic growth and jobs will return; the American Dream will be back.
  2. But I'm no utopian. Not all children born into poverty are going to make it out by adulthood. Most face powerful disadvantages—dysfunctional families, substance abuse, crime, segregation, broken economies, bad schools, etc.—and not everyone will be able to overcome them. Surely, though, we can do better than our current track record, which is to lift roughly half of all poor children into the working or middle class by the age of 25.
  3. Climbing the ladder of opportunity takes effort—by individuals and by their families.
  4. ...
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As waves of reforms and would-be reforms have washed over American public education these past three decades, high schools have mostly stayed dry. Although test scores have risen slightly in the early grades, especially in math, National Assessment results for twelfth-graders have been flat or down a bit. SAT scores are also flat, and ACT averages much the same.

ACT, the organization that administers the college-entrance test of the same name, judges only one-quarter of its test-takers to be fully ready for college-level academics, and the College Board is not much cheerier. In releasing SAT results for the 1.6 million members of the high school class of 2013 who took the test, the board estimated that just 43 percent met its benchmark for college and career readiness—a score of 1550 or better (out of 2400), which translates to a 65 percent chance of having a B-minus (or better) GPA during the freshman year in college.

And that’s among those who stick it out and graduate from high school. Millions of young people drop out. School discipline remains appalling, with gangs, metal detectors, and violence the norm in many places.

The basic institutional structures for high school that former Harvard president James B. Conant described and recommended in an influential 1959 book remain pretty much unchanged a half-century later. The rest of the world has not...

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Over the past several weeks, Fordham’s Mike Petrilli has been debating Deborah Meier on her Bridging Differences blog about the relationship between poverty and education. One topic that’s come up is the impact of family breakdown. This guest post by Center of the American Experiment president Mitch Pearlstein explores what might be done about it.

Presuming one thinks it’s generally not great for children to live with only one parent, and that it’s not great for the commonweal either, what might you be tempted to say to a young woman or man who was blasé, perhaps even eager, to bring a child into the world in which it was understood, from Day One, that one of his or her parents was essentially out of the family portrait and would remain that way? This is what I might say with as much empathy and grace as I could:

I assure you I know that life can be terribly unpredictable and difficult. In fact, it usually is. This is especially case when it comes to the most personal and treasured things going on in our lives, starting with our children and other people we love. It also can be especially the case when it comes to people we may not love very much anymore at all, if we ever really did. And I very much assure you as well that I’m far from the best or right person in the world to talk to you about these matters, as...

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