Shaking things up in the best of ways

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 a negative credit outlook due to the students they’ve lost. But are charters really to blame? Nina Rees of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools says many of these cities were distressed long before charters arrived. She’s right. What’s more, though, putting financial stress on districts is part of the whole idea: If districts can win back their customers to their own schools, they’d be doing fine financially. Maybe Moody’s analysts would feel differently if they had to send their own children to Detroit Public Schools. 

An even-handed New York Times editorial urged Democratic mayoral nominee Bill de Blasio to think rationally about the city’s charter school sector. The Grey Lady makes two main points: First, New York has “one of the nation’s most successful charter school systems.” Second, the next mayor can make the system even better by shutting down poor-quality schools, allowing only groups with proven track records to open new charters, and ensuring that colocations only occur in buildings large enough for all students to fit comfortably. We hope de Blasio takes the Times’s advice, if no one else’s.

Common Sense Media, an advocacy outfit that rates children’s videos and apps for age appropriateness, has issued a challenge to the educational-technology world: Come up with a national safeguard for students’ personal data. Ed tech, from assessment software to learning apps, has the potential to transform education fundamentally, but parents’ concerns for their children’s privacy are also well founded. Now is the time for red lines to be drawn with regards to student data.

The Star-Ledger ran a two-month investigation into New Jersey private schools that specialize in serving severely disabled children using public dollars (via so-called “private placement”). The laundry list of questionable financial practices—from blatant nepotism to the purchasing of expensive cars—while not an uncommon story in government contracting, particularly in the Garden State, was surprisingly widespread and quite sobering. But the question of how to improve these services is thorny. It is telling that the investigation did not even attempt to address whether the children are being provided quality services; while it may not be a stretch to guess that they are not, the issue remains that quality in the SpEd world is a tricky thing to measure. 

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