NCLB

A study out of Britain’s Institute of Education (IOE) has found that children who read for pleasure made more progress in mathematics, vocabulary, and spelling between the ages of ten and sixteen than their peers who rarely read. In fact, the study found that whether or not a child likes to read is a greater predictor of classroom success than parents’ educational levels.

A Chicago Tribune article follows Jailyn Baker, a teenager in Chicago, on her seven-leg, hour-and-a-half-long commute to the Josephinium Academy, her school of choice and one of the few private schools in the city that her family can afford. Her story illustrates not only the lengths to which folks will go to exercise school choice but also a great irony: Jailyn lives closer to Indiana, a state that has one of the “most liberating” school-voucher programs in the land, than she does to Josephinium; were she living in Indiana, she would be eligible for a voucher worth nearly $6,000, which could allow her to attend a private school that she didn’t have to torture herself to get to.

Kudos of the week go to Jeb Bush, who—in what seemed like a moment of frustration—struck back at Common Core critics: “If you’re comfortable with mediocrity, fine.” He followed his comments, made at an appearance in Washington in support of Louisiana’s school-voucher program, by calling opposition “purely political.” Read more here.

A month after publishing two pieces blasting the National Council on...

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Chuck Edwards

With the passage of the House GOP’s version of the ESEA reauthorization, we have begun to see more public protest against one its key provisions: repeal of Title I’s longstanding maintenance of effort (MOE) requirement, which—in its current form—mandates that school districts each year spend state and local resources equivalent to 90 percent of the previous year’s level or suffer a proportionate cut in their ESEA grants.

Despite House Education and the Workforce Chairman John Kline’s (R-Minnesota) years-long campaign against MOE, I so far have seen only tepid opposition from the left. (The Center for American Progress has been on the issue for a while.) But MOE featured prominently in the Obama administration’s recent veto threat, which warned that elimination of MOE “could reduce overall investment in public education.” Perhaps this will spark more attention—but the game is not worth the candle. MOE’s teeth were pulled in 1981 by Ronald Reagan. In its modern form, MOE simply can’t do what its advocates say it will do—i.e., maintain a consistent level of state and local investment in education. And, at least in the current political climate, there is no real chance of restoring its bite.

The history

Enacted as part of the original ESEA back in 1965, MOE was one of the original Title I provisions designed to ensure equitable funding for poor kids. To see what MOE was actually intended to achieve, it is helpful to step back in time and review the poisonous...

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Few can deny that Washington and many a state capital are gridlocked today by political partisanship, posturing, and peevishness. Tons of problems aren’t getting solved or attended to because elected officials find themselves unable to reach common ground and have forgotten the art of compromise.

Congress
Washington and many a state capital are gridlocked today by political partisanship, posturing, and peevishness.
Photo by VinothChandar

The highest-visibility version of this takes the form of Republicans and Democrats glaring at each other. Sometimes, however, the main friction is within a party, mostly when strong-willed ideologues on either party’s fringe make trouble for its centrists. All this is exacerbated by the twenty-four-hour news cycle, by everybody’s ability to tweet or blog or otherwise scream in unfiltered fashion what’s on their mind, and by recent redistrictings of legislative and Congressional seats, as well as the proclivity of Americans nowadays to move into politically homogeneous communities. When either party locks up a district or Senate seat, all the political action moves into the primaries, hence into duels within parties, erasing all incentive to negotiate across party lines in order to get anything accomplished. “Avoiding a primary challenge” generally translates into “never compromise with the other team.”

Deal making used to be the norm in legislative bodies....

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Add education to a long list of federal policy issues that vex and perplex today’s fractured Republican Party. It’s not so troublesome at the state level, where dozens of GOP governors have, over the years, proven their mettle by promoting higher standards, greater accountability, and wider parental choice. But in Washington, Republican presidents and members of Congress have struggled mightily to find an approach that both embraces reform and respects a limited federal role.

Washington and education
We need to be more humble about what Washington can do.
Photo by The Associated Press

That’s the right needle for Republicans to thread. Though Democrats never admit it, Washington is clumsy at best, and wildly incompetent at worst, when it comes to improving schools from the shores of the Potomac. That should surprise no one—at least three levels of bureaucracy separate the secretary of education from actual classrooms. Federal carrots and sticks, no matter how carefully grown or carved, can’t overcome this fundamental challenge.

Yet abdication isn’t a realistic option for Republicans, either. Partly that’s because of politics. Voters—parents especially—want to hear leaders talk about how they will fix our schools. Most aren’t interested in lectures on the finer points of federalism. Education reform, moreover, is one of the best answers Republicans can offer to tough questions of social mobility at home and competitiveness abroad.

Then there’s the practical...

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In this study on the potential impact of No Child Left Behind on student achievement and education inequality, analysts John Chubb and Connie Clark bite off a big topic that’s perhaps more than they can chew. First they demonstrate that the nationwide gains on the NAEP exams (in math and reading in grades four and eight) in the NCLB era (2003–11) were over twice as large as those during the pre-NCLB era (1992–2000). (By omitting 2000–03, they avoid NCLB’s transition years—which also happened to be a time of explosive progress in achievement.) Black, Hispanic, and low-income students made particularly large gains. Then Chubb and Clark turn to state-by-state differences and note that progress varied widely—ranging from almost fifty-point gains (in Maryland and D.C.) to nearly no growth or a loss (Iowa and West Virginia). Controlling for socioeconomic status and starting test scores, the analysts find a gap of forty-five scale points between the largest and smallest gainers—showcasing an oft-ignored state-to-state achievement gap, according to Chubb and Clark. From there, they take a qualitative look at ESEA waivers from states that have made lots and little progress on NAEP during the NCLB era. They conclude that being serious about reform—such as implementing tough accountability systems and benchmarking assessments against other measures of college readiness—is what makes the difference. (In fact, the authors posit that the historically high achievers have built these smart reforms into their waiver applications while the low achievers have not—a point that worries Chubb and Clark, as they...

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To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.
- Ecclesiastes 3:1

To every thing there is a season
To every thing there is a season.
Photo from the Wikimedia Commons

For more than four years now, we at the Fordham Institute have been arguing for a federal education policy of “Reform Realism”—one that is reform-oriented but also realistic about what Washington can effectively achieve. It’s a compromise position of sorts, putting us between the “Army of the Potomac” (lefty reformers who have never glimpsed a problem that Uncle Sam can’t solve) and the Local Controllers (Tea Party types who want zero federal role in education, thank you ma’am). We further fleshed out our vision two years ago with our ESEA Briefing Book and list of 10 recommendations to imbue that key federal law with Reform Realism.

Halfway through 2013, we find ourselves examining another set of ESEA bills and in the midst of another series of ESEA mark-ups. And after highlighting the ridiculous prescriptiveness of the Senate Democrats’s proposal, I find myself under attack from friends on the left for abandoning Reform Realism and joining the Local Controllers. Have I drunk the Kool-Aid—er, tea?

Granted, it’s harder for me today to find much of...

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Antonio Gramsci
Sometimes, it helps to just laugh.
Photo by Nomadic Lass

The ESEA-reauthorization bill released by Senate HELP committee Chairman Tom Harkin this week is advertised as getting “the federal government out of the business of ‘micromanaging’ schools’” and offering states significant “flexibility.” As I told the New York Times, that claim is laughable. Here are forty policy questions which Chairman Harkin could have let states or local school districts answer, but didn’t. (In contrast, Senator Lamar Alexander’s bill remains silent on all forty, leaving these issues to the states or localities.)

Early Childhood Guidelines and Standards

1.   States must adopt “early learning guidelines” that address “infants, toddlers, and pre-school age children.”
2.   The guidelines must address “language, literacy, mathematics, creative arts, science, social studies, social and emotional development, approaches to learning, and physical and health development” for “each age group.”
3.   The guidelines must “address the cultural and linguistic diversity and the diverse abilities of young children.”
4.   States must also adopt “early grade standards” for Kindergarten through third grade.
5.   The standards must address “language, literacy, mathematics, creative arts, science, social studies, social and emotional development, approaches to learning, and physical and health development.”
6.   The standards must also “address cultural, linguistic, and ability level diversity.”

...

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