Additional Topics

This post originally appeared as an op-ed column in the Columbus Dispatch.

Recent news
that White Hat Management, the big, Ohio-based, profit-seeking
charter-school operator, faces financial problems surely was received as
an early Christmas present by many longtime charter opponents,
particularly within the Buckeye State.

The company’s founder and leader, Akron industrialist David Brennan,
has been a larger-than-life target for school-choice foes since Gov.
George V. Voinovich appointed him in 1992 to head a commission intended
to advance choice in Ohio kindergarten-through-12th grade education.

That commission’s work led to the Cleveland Scholarship Program, the
nation’s first publicly funded voucher program. Its constitutionality
would be debated and litigated until being upheld by the U.S. Supreme
Court in 2002, a decision that has reverberated across the country.

Brennan’s vision, doggedness and political connectedness in the
education-policy sector have not been limited to vouchers. Without him,
Ohio’s charter-school program might have been stillborn, or strangled in
its crib by the outraged forces of the public-school establishment.
From Day One, the teachers unions teamed up with the League of Women
Voters, the PTA, the Ohio School Boards Association, the Ohio AFL-CIO
and others to savage charters at the Statehouse, to challenge them in
the courthouse and to denounce them in every sort of public forum.

The vitriol of these attacks was illustrated in 2003 by
then-Cleveland Teachers Union president Richard DeColibus, who announced
...

Categories: 

The
central problem besetting K-12 education in the United States today is still—as
for almost thirty years now—that far too few of our kids are learning nearly
enough for their own or the nation’s good. And the gains we’ve made, though
well worth making, have been meager (and largely confined to math), are trumped
by gains in other countries, and evaporate by the end of high school.

This
much everybody knows. But unless we want to live out the classic definition of
insanity (“doing the same thing over again with the expectation that it will
produce a different result”), we need to focus laser-like on the barriers that
keep us from making major-league gains. If we don’t break through (or
circumnavigate) these barriers, academic achievement will remain stagnant.

The
barriers-to-gains that I’m talking about here are not cultural issues,
parenting issues, demographic issues, or other macro-influences on educational
achievement. Those are all plenty real, but largely beyond the reach of public
policy. No, here I refer to obstacles that competent leaders and bold policymakers
could reduce or eradicate if they were serious.

How much
difference would that really make? It’s possible, of course, that we’re
pursuing the wrong core strategies. Maybe standards-based reform has exhausted
its potential (more on this next week from Fordham). Perhaps choice and
competition really cannot lift all boats. Possibly technology is overrated,
alternate certification...

Categories: 

Perhaps it’s in the air, like the flu bug.  But I’ve noticed a rash
of hacking statements of late, made by adults, that makes me wonder who
among our edu-cators and -crats need a refresher course in critical
thinking skills.

Here’s one from Michael Powell in the New York Times,
rebutting Michael Bloomberg’s suggestion that we cut the number of
teachers in half and pay the remaining ones twice the salary:

In fact, studies show class size makes a substantial
difference in lower grades. Studies are more ambiguous about higher
grades. Prof. Aaron M. Pallas of Teachers College at Columbia University
says no academic study has explored the effects of doubling the size of
a public school classroom.

Is that a string of non-sequitors or what?  Powell goes on
to tell stories about his sons and a friend who teaches in Brooklyn
Technical High School. But the subject of “studies” that do and don’t
show something  — anything! — is dropped.

Here’s one from Tom Ash,
legislative director for the Buckeye [Ohio] Association of School
Administrators, speaking about international test results and what makes
some countries more successful:

It’s not just the number of facts you can regurgitate, it’s whether you have developed the ability to learn.”

Why does vomiting facts suggest an inability to learn?  What if we
merely wrote the facts?  Slowly spoke them?  What is...

Categories: 

A couple months back, a friendly
event
at Fordham catalyzed a heated debate over the merits of narrowly focusing
on the achievement gap
. (Isn’t it possible that all the hullabaloo over the
achievement gap detracts from the teaching
of high flyers
, we asked?) Still, we are not blind to the issue, nor are
other conservatives. This piece from the National
Review
argues that, if we don’t bring up the bottom, we stand to lose
trillions of dollars in economic growth by 2050. Demographic shifts (especially
the surging Latino population) are mushrooming the ranks of traditionally
under-performing populations. And our labor markets aren’t ready to absorb them
all. As the authors observe, “The achievement gap is not new, but its impact on
U.S. economic performance is growing.” We’d better start doing something about
it.

Closing
the Achievement Gap
,” by Reihan Salam and Tino
Sanandaji, National Review, November
14, 2011.

Categories: 
American Outlook

Most of the time,
Congressional hearings on federal education research are just an opportunity
for various interested parties to plead for more money. A couple of weeks back,
however, Rep. Duncan Hunter and the House Subcommittee on Early Childhood,
Elementary, and Secondary Education held an unusually candid and (I hope)
fruitful review of this crucial but not-very-sexy policy domain. Terrific
witness list—ISUSand an outstanding testimony by former IES director Russ Whitehurst,
now of Brookings, who did more than defend his own solid track record in that
role. He pulled no punches regarding research quality (needs to be raised, not
lowered), the American Educational Research Association (another
self-interested and greedy lobby), the (complex but crucial) relationship
between IES and the rest of the Education Department, and the hopelessness of
the regional education laboratories. He also urged Congress not to “try to
dictate how states and LEAs should use findings from research,” about which he’s
mostly right. What he might not be right about are the late, lamented Reading
First program and the future relationship between IES and the National Center
for Education Statistics. Have a look for yourself.

Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst, Testimony
on the Federal Role in Education Research: Providing Relevant Information to
Students, Parents, and Educators
(Washington, D.C.: Brookings, November
16, 2011).

Categories: 


hammer photo

If I had a hammer...
Photo by TheFixer

Newt Gingrich has issued some crazy statements
since he first took public office in 1979. Yet his latest claim—that we shouldn’t
be “entrapping kids in…child labor laws, which are truly stupid”—isn’t one of
them. In a speech at Harvard’s Kennedy School, Gingrich suggested a “work
study” program for K-12 education: Students could provide low-cost alternatives
to unionized janitors, giving these youngsters work experience, money, and
pride in their schools. This proposal to slacken child-labor laws has drawn
plenty of headlines, and even
more scorn
. But there’s something to his logic. Nonprofits like YouthBuild and the ISUS charters in Dayton, OH, in
which students work to complete high school while learning construction skills, already
offer successful models of dual academic/job-training programs. The Cristo Rey network
of Catholic schools allows their low-income students to offset tuition
costs—and gain practical job skills—through once-a-week corporate internships. These
models provide more than a paycheck and some on-the-job carpentry or accounting
skills: They give students a better sense of the working world than any personal-finance
or economics course ever could. Gadfly isn’t advocating for eight-year-olds to
don hard hats on Alaska’s oil pipeline—and...

Categories: 

Though I would much prefer to write about “democracy,” which is the
hot topic these days, or even mention our pilgrims progress, those
pioneers who survived rough winters and stopped to appreciate their
bounty, I must interrupt this program to urge Flypaper fans to cozy up to ednext.org and be thankful for the new issue of Education Next.  Cover-to-cover, it’s a blessing.

Okay, I’m a dying breed. I carried the print version of the Winter
2012 issue around most of the last several days – scribbling in the
margins, spilling coffee on the pictures, throwing pages on the
passenger seat, breaking the binding back and perching the salt shaker
on it at breakfast – I guarantee you this is a  Thanksgiving feast. 
Even online! (Full disclosure, I am a contributing editor at the
magazine, have a story in the issue (see below), and am biased.)

But I guarantee you, you won’t leave this issue hungry:

Play Ball!
This June Kronholz cover story takes us curriculum afficianados to a
new playing field. “There’s not a straight line between the crochet club
and the Ivy League,” writes Kronholz, “[b]ut a growing body of research
says there is a link between afterschool activities and graduating from
high school, going to college and becoming a responsible citizen.”

This story sets us on a trajectory of common sense that is much
needed in our polarized and partisan education policy...

Categories: 
The Education Gadfly

Who knew democracy could be such a sensitive subject? When Mike wondered
whether union clout has corrupted the progressive ideals of school
boards and local control on Monday, he touched off a flurry of posts in
the ed reform blogosphere over the interplay of politics and education.
Here’s a quick recap:

Local control, teacher unions

Photo by Justin Mitchell

Randi Weingarten asked whether Mike’s real agenda was “getting rid of democratic principles” and Diane Ravitch warned
that “it’s pretty radical to go to the extreme of eliminating 15,000
school boards and centralizing everything in the big state bureaucracies
in the hope that this will suffice to silence the teachers’ unions.”
Mike responded that it was actually union-controlled school boards that were a “perversion of democracy,” and the debate was on.

On Flypaper, Choice Media founder Bob Bowdon accused
teacher unions of corrupting the democratic process through hefty
campaign contributions and serial legal challenges to popular reforms,
although Rutgers professor Bruce Baker questioned his logic and choice of examples. Over at Dropout Nation, Rishawn Biddle took issue with Ravitch’s depiction of NYC’s school reform, and Neal McCluskey of the Cato Institute concluded that democracy really doesn’t belong in education governance. In the latest...

Categories: 
The Education Gadfly

Would you like to work at the forefront of national education policy? Are you passionate about school choice and knowledgeable about education reform? A brilliant writer? Energetic, organized, imaginative, and outgoing? A leader as well as a team player? If so, you might be perfect as the director of Fordham's new program on parental choice. Visit our careers page to learn more about the position and apply.

-The Education Gadfly

Categories: 

Pages