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May 2011 Archives

What Subjects Does Edu-World Track?

Today's blog is entirely a matter of assuaging edu-geek curiosity. My pal Mike Petrilli and I got into a conversation the other week that only someone trapped in edu-land could love: we started wondering which of the Education Week subject matter blogs drew the most interest. If you don't care, that's completely understandable. Skip on! Now then. In our little world, it's well known that Alyson Klein and Michele McNeil's "Politics K-12" blog is heavily read. But how about after that? How much interest is there in school districts relative to special education, school sports, or school law? Anyway, with ...


I'm Looking for a Little Help Out There

Hey, folks, so I've got an interesting opportunity to announce as we head into the Memorial Day weekend. I just had an unexpected opening emerge, creating a rare and potentially very cool opportunity for a new research assistant to join my little AEI edu-team. I'm looking for someone smart, hard-working, and responsible who's eager to explore the world of edu-policy from the front row. If you're just starting out, are intrigued by the chance to plunge into an array of K-12 and higher education issues, and want to see the world of education policy from a prestigious D.C. address (17th...


NYT's Gates Piece Got My Key Point Wrong

I was disappointed by the page one New York Times story on the Gates Foundation that my friend, NYT reporter Sam Dillon, penned last Sunday. The much-discussed, rather critical account on the Gates Foundation's role in K-12 schooling, is something I would've expected to like, but I found the treatment of my own contribution to reflect a broader problem with the storyline. I went back and forth on whether to address it. But given that the article, by zooming in on Gates, masked larger questions about the dynamics of edu-philanthropy, I figured it might be worth clarifying the larger point. ...


Carrots, Sticks, and the Bully Pulpit

Monday, at AEI, we hosted one of our major conferences, on "Carrots, Sticks, and the Bully Pulpit: Sobering Lessons from a Half Century of Federal Efforts to Improve America's Schools" (you can watch it here). The conference featured eleven new papers by authors including Mike Smith, Checker Finn, Maris Vinovskis, Mark Schneider, Jane Hannaway, Paul Manna, and Mike Casserly (you can find copies of all of the papers here), and reactions from discussants including DC Chancellor Kaya Henderson, L.A. supe John Deasy, ED chief of staff (and former RTT chief) Joanne Weiss, former Congressman Mike Castle, RI state supe ...


How Supes & Principals Should Not Respond to Tight Budgets

I had the privilege of visiting with Rhode Island's superintendents and district business officers the other day, to discuss the fiscal crunch and how to stretch the school dollar. One of the things we touched on was the recent Phi Delta Kappan piece "Leading Through a Fiscal Nightmare." I used it to suggest how not to respond to a budget crunch, and to flag some tics common to superintendents and principals that are misguided and likely to alienate supporters. The winning course, given that families (e.g. taxpayers) across America have lost jobs and homes, and had to tighten their ...


Charter Schooling & Citizenship

I'm an advocate for charter schooling. Regular readers of RHSU know that this is not because I'm convinced they're the answer to the "achievement gap" or to driving up math and reading scores, but because chartering offers an opportunity to rethink how we go about teaching, learning, and schooling. In that context, I've long been concerned that our rethinking is almost entirely focused on reading and math scores and graduation rates and the result can yield a reflexive, frail conception of schooling. If we're going to reinvent schools, I'd like us to do so in a manner that respects the ...


What We've Got Here Is...Failure to Communicate

One of the funniest developments of the past six months has been watching self-confident individuals at the Department of Education and at various advocacy outfits (especially putatively "conservative" ones) explain to newly committed small-government Republicans what Republicans are "supposed" to favor. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is trying to convince the Republicans that they're supposed to embrace a supersized, amped-up version of NCLB. The Fordham Foundation that they should embrace the Common Core, efforts to develop common curricula, and the rest. Reform-minded Dems that they're supposed to embrace federal direction on "highly effective teachers," ED's anti-bullying crusade, federally-mandated school ...


HISD Races Forward on Teacher Eval, While Union Kvetches

Houston superintendent Terry Grier has been making some impressive, controversial moves--albeit mostly out of the spotlight. It's a peculiar truism that giant districts like Houston or Clark County, Nevada, attract far less notice than much smaller districts like Washington, DC, Boston, and Newark. Anyway, last Friday, the Houston Independent School Board endorsed, 7-2, Grier's ambitious new teacher evaluation system for the nation's seventh-largest district. (For a terrific news account, check out Ericka Mellon's Houston Chronicle story here.) The new system replaces HISD's familiar "everybody's-doing-swell" pro forma evaluation system which, one high-ranking HISD insider told me, "rated nearly all teachers satisfactory ...


"Are You Serious?" Yep, They Are

During the health care debate, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was asked in October 2009: "Madam Speaker, where specifically does the Constitution grant Congress the authority to enact an individual health insurance mandate?" Pelosi responded: "Are you serious? Are you serious?" Her press spokesman, Nadeam Elshami, later codified the dismissal, saying, "You can put this on the record. That is not a serious question. That is not a serious question." Pelosi Dems regarded conservative qualms about an expansive federal role as strange and insincere. Well, now here we are again. This time the issue is budding unrest over the federal role ...


Common Core: Giving Happy Lie to the "Reform Consensus"

For several years now, would-be reformers have gotten away with claiming that there's a goopy, groupthink "reform consensus." They depict the edu-debates as a simple-minded morality play between a "reform" phalanx and "adult interests." This line has been sold most assiduously by Democrat for Ed Reform-types and NCLB enthusiasts who think conservatives are supposed to quietly, cheerfully sign on to the grand schemes crafted by their betters. These reformers imagine broad sentiment that anyone who's not a union toadie agrees to a whole host of "reformy" things, including the Common Core, sanctity of value-added measures, race-based accountability metrics, niftiness of ...


Nothing, Absolutely Nothing, to See Here, Folks...

It was almost fifteen years ago now that I was sharing my Harvard dissertation, on the dynamics of school reform in fifty-seven urban districts, with a few potential publishers. The three presses I talked to--Teachers College Press, Harvard University Press, and the Brookings Institution--all sent the manuscript out for review. Brookings sent it to policy and political science professors. TCP and HUP sent it to education professors. The Brookings reviews were broadly positive, with assorted smart criticism and caveats. The policy scholars deemed the research and the argument fresh and interesting, but sensibly noted that the manuscript needed a lot ...


PARCC Chair Chester on the Anti-Common Core Manifesto

The other day, I expressed the hope that Monday's hard-hitting anti-Common Core manifesto would prompt the Common Core-ites to elevate their game and start to more seriously address concerns about their efforts. I hoped that proponents would stop regarding the Common Core as something that "right-thinking" people must reflexively embrace and more diligently seek to make a coherent case for what they are doing and why critics need not fear overreach. Happily, things are already looking up. Within hours of Monday's post, Mitch Chester, board chair of PARCC (one of the two Common Core assessment consortia) and the Massachusetts Commissioner ...


Cry Me a River

Nationally, until just the past couple years, nominal per pupil spending increased every year for three generations. Now, for the first time in memory, public educational leaders are being asked to do what their counterparts in any number of public, non-profit, and for-profit organizations do routinely--cut back and make do with less. A few K-12 leaders seem to accept that public schools, which have added staff at twice the rate they've added students in the past decade, need to shoulder their share of the burden as states confront budget shortfalls. A few even see a bracing opportunity to deliver stern ...


Common Core: Now It Gets Interesting

A few months back, I noted that the impressive early success of the Common Core effort risked breeding overconfidence, complacency, and inattention to how the effort would play out in practice. I warned that many who signed onto common assessments might be alienated by an effort that pushed too far or too fast. Well, as of this morning, the Common Core battle has been officially joined. The notion that something this potentially momentous would unfold with no more than a bit of carping was always unlikely. Today, the anti-Common Core-ites fired their first organized response, in a manifesto titled, "Closing ...


LAUSD's John Deasy: "We Improve Instruction"

In the past month, new superintendents have taken the reins of the nation's three biggest school systems, in New York, L.A., and Chicago. These three friends--Dennis Walcott, John Deasy, and J.C. Brizard--have the chance to become the face of the next half-decade of school reform in the same way that Arne Duncan, Joel Klein, and Michelle Rhee helped shape the past half-decade. What notes they hit, especially in an era of tight budgets and rapidly evolving teacher policies, will have an outsized impact. Yesterday, John Deasy, LAUSD's new supe, visited AEI to deliver an address on his hopes ...


"Many" Teaching Who Shouldn't Be?

On Wednesday, I stirred a bit of a hornet's nest when I wrote, "I think that...many people teaching today probably shouldn't be." Given the charged response from readers demanding that I justify this assertion, I'll say a few more words. First, it strikes me as a banal, unremarkable statement, one that I've uttered regarding attorneys, professors, journalists, salesmen, federal bureaucrats, think tankers, and district administrators. In this context it wasn't intended as an attack on educators, which is what made the heated response so noteworthy. People vary in talent, energy, and performance, and this means there are poor performers ...


Gov. Mitch Daniels, Uber-Wonk, on Indiana's Ed Reforms

Yesterday, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels gave an education speech to a packed house at AEI that included CNN, C-SPAN, and a slew of breathless political press (they were hoping he'd signal whether he's going to run for President). You can watch the speech, and check out an interview by AEI's Nick Schulz, here. I actually had to miss the talk because, after having extended the invitation, turned out I had to be on the road in Jacksonville yesterday. Ah, well. Brief aside: I was intrigued by the opportunities around the 120,000 student Duval County system. Jacksonville finished fifth last ...


Value-Added: Two Things Are True

I got a number of notes regarding yesterday's post, mostly either dinging me for my concerns about value-added systems or asking how I can raise such concerns and still write, "Value-added does tell us something useful and I'm in favor of integrating it into evaluation and pay decisions, accordingly." Let me clarify. I think that two things are both true: First, teachers vary widely in ability and performance, and many people teaching today probably shouldn't be. Second, teaching is complex, and no simple score or algorithm usefully captures that variation in ability and performance, or reveals which teachers shouldn't be ...


Value-Added Evaluation & Those Pesky Collateralized Debt Obligations

Last week, while I was away, Brookings released another of its occasional "consensus" documents; this one's titled, "Passing Muster: Evaluating Teacher Evaluation Systems." The effort was once again led by Brookings' savvy Russ Whitehurst. The aim, more or less, is to tell state and federal officials how to "achieve a uniform standard for dispensing funds to school districts for the recognition of exceptional teachers without imposing a uniform evaluation system." The report offers an impressive seven-step model to help policymakers figure out how many teachers will be misidentified by different evaluation strategies under different sets of assumptions. "Misidentification" is meant ...


Recalling the Spirit of September 2001

Hidy, all. I'm back. I'm sure you'd prefer to be left in the capable hands of Justin, Heather, or Greg a little longer--and I got some emphatic un-fan mail strongly encouraging me to make my blog vacay permanent--but life is full of these little disappointments... Anyway, we were channel-surfing last night when we stumbled across the CNN scroll announcing that Osama bin Laden was dead. While watching the coverage, the President's remarks, and the celebrations, two thoughts struck me that touch directly upon the edu-world. One, I recalled how goodwill and generosity of spirit back in 2001 helped speed through ...


The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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