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September 2011 Archives

Why Achievement Gap Mania Undermines Reform

All right, enough of this already. This is the last day on "Our Achievement Gap Mania" (at least for now); I promise. But some folks have wondered how I can be goofy enough to argue that such a popular rhetorical strategy is bad for sustaining reform. My default answer is to encourage folks to read the whole piece. But since many of you are busy, let's highlight a few key points here. The champions of the gap-closing gospel tend to regard themselves as tactical geniuses, and to think of the achievement gap mantra as a brilliant political strategy. The irony ...


Where Achievement Gap Mania Came From

Last week's National Affairs essay "Our Achievement Gap Mania" has raised a little ire. One thing that might be useful is to situate the debate a bit, both in terms of how we got here and why I have the temerity to suggest that the moral philosophy behind gap-closing is less compelling than proponents seem to imagine. In the 1960s, in the famed Coleman Report, sociologist James Coleman examined the first large-scale collection of data on school characteristics and student achievement to conclude that schooling had little effect on students' life outcomes and that parents' involvement in their children's lives ...


Top Ten School Reform Tweets of 2011

Am out in Seattle, where I had the honor last night of emceeing the first inaugural Eddies! Awards for the Policy Innovators in Education Network. It was a terrific time with a bunch of smart and inspiring people. With social media playing an increasingly noteworthy role in the school reform effort, I thought I'd share one of the invaluable contributions from my emceeing gig--my list of the top ten school reform tweets of 2011. 10: @Brilldude- Unions bad. Reformers good. I heart Jon Schnur. Buy my book. 9: @DFERboss- Unions bad. LIFO bad. But not as bad as GOP governors. ...


I'm No Contrarian

Last week, RiShawn Biddle penned an energetic critique of "Our Achievement Gap Mania" for his e-newsletter Dropout Nation. The impassioned attack echoed some of the more visceral reactions that the article has generated. I'm a fan of robust debate, but I do want to make sure that critics understand what I'm arguing and why I'm arguing it. In that light, it seemed useful to elaborate on three particular counts. First, Biddle claims that I argue in National Affairs that "the achievement gap is a matter not worthy of addressing." That's simply false. Any reader of the piece knows I never ...


Why Achievement Gap Mania Isn't Cost-Free

As I noted yesterday, my National Affairs essay "Our Achievement Gap Mania" has stirred some conversation. Let's take a moment to address those who've asked, "Rick, why are you trying to stir up trouble? There are no losers here!" Proponents of the gap-closing gospel cheerfully assure us that everybody wins. Education Trust vice president Amy Wilkins has rejected as a "false choice" the notion "that we have to make a choice as a country between equity and excellence. Our policies need to marry both." That's a swell aspiration. Unfortunately, I think the evidence suggests that focusing our attention and finite ...


Our Achievement Gap Mania

Yesterday, the quarterly journal National Affairs published my essay "Our Achievement Gap Mania." As I'd suspected it might, the piece seems to have angered a number of educators and reformers who I like and respect. So, I thought I'd try over the next couple days to explain what the fuss is about and why I felt compelled to challenge a well-intentioned, deeply ingrained consensus. A decade ago, the No Child Left Behind Act ushered in an era of federal educational accountability marked by relentless focus on closing race- and income-based "achievement gaps" in test scores and graduation rates. The language ...


Indiana's Phased Turnaround Model

Turnarounds are all the rage. Under the guiding hand of its stellar state chief, Tony Bennett, Indiana has recently tried out an interesting spin in its approach to tackling consistently low-performing schools. Due partly to necessity and partly to calculation, the plan includes a wrinkle or two I thought worth noting. Recently, I had the chance to chat with Dale Chu, Bennett's assistant superintendent for innovation and improvement, about what's going on. A few weeks back, the Indiana Department of Ed opted to intervene in seven schools across Indiana. Six of the schools are in Indianapolis and one is in ...


Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa: "Dollars and Cents, & Common Sense"

L.A.'s straight-talking mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, a former teacher union organizer, one of the nation's most influential Hispanic officials, and very likely a future governor of California, visited AEI yesterday to discuss the challenges of urban school reform. I thought it to be exceptionally good stuff; he was vague on key particulars, but I thought he gave admirably honest answers and did a terrific job of modeling how state and local leaders can push past the ideological slogans that soak up most of the oxygen in DC. You can see his remarks here. What most impressed me was the ...


Today: L.A. Mayor Villaraigosa on Urban School Reform

This afternoon, at AEI, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is visiting to discuss the challenges of urban school reform, how to drive school improvement in a time of shrinking revenues, and the lessons he's learned in office. Villaraigosa, a longtime union organizer and former speaker of the California Assembly, was first elected mayor in 2005 and is now midway through his second term. As mayor, he's broken some china and earned some scars--and I'm curious to hear what he has to say about all of it. Villaraigosa has been named the "charter dude of the year" by the National Alliance ...


Obama's College Confusion

President Obama is passionately committed to improving higher education, but seems mightily confused about how he plans to do so. Putting a fine point on his dilemma, just last month, Obama's Justice Department filed a multibillion-dollar fraud suit against the Education Management Corp., the nation's second-largest for-profit college company, charging that it was not eligible for the $11 billion in state and federal aid. For the first time ever, the federal government sued a company based on claims that it violated federal law by paying recruiters based on students enrolled. On the one hand, the president has told Congress, "Every ...


An Alternative NCLB (nee ESEA) Blueprint

Yesterday, several key Senate Republicans announced a five-bill package laying out their vision for overhauling No Child Left Behind (nee ESEA). The proposals offered by Senators Lamar Alexander, Richard Burr, Johnny Isakson, and Mark Kirk sketch a dramatically leaner federal role than does the Obama administration's "ESEA blueprint" (which itself represented a big step back from NCLB circa 2001). The GOP proposals would retain strong federal requirements regarding transparency, annual assessment, and disaggregation of data; that Title I dollars be used to serve low-income children; and that states take steps to address their worst-performing Title I schools. But they would ...


Edu-Funders: Seek Smart Criticism, Even Amidst Cheap Shots

There's been a surge in attention paid to edu-philanthropy of late, especially with Sam Dillon's piece in the New York Times in May and Bill Gates' WSJ interview this summer. The condemnations of "corporate philanthropy" and of philanthropists giving away tens of millions as "MBAs run amok" fly hot and heavy. I think the critics are mistaken and way too quick to hurl accusations here. I don't remember them raising concerns about the pernicious influence of grantors when the Ford Foundation bankrolled litigation to boost edu-spending or when the Annenberg Challenge pumped $500 million into a mash-up of ineffectual mid-1990s ...


Ed School Faculty Handbook: Students Deem Any Grade Below A- a Negative Appraisal...

I didn't really mean for yesterday's quick post on Cory Koedel's paper on grade inflation for education majors to become a multi-post arc. However, after this morning's post, I received a note from a colleague who teaches at one of the nation's top-ranked schools of education. The source was scared of being identified and sanctioned by fellow faculty members, so asked that I leave both them and their institution anonymous. But the source did share with me a PDF of page six from the school of education's faculty handbook, the page on which "grading" is addressed. The guidance is pretty ...


What To Do About Lax Standards for Edu-Majors?

I blogged yesterday on Cory Koedel's eye-opening research regarding the inflated grades awarded to undergraduate education majors. In response, several colleagues from the world of teacher preparation have asked what I'd have them do. Not wanting to seem unhelpful, here are a couple suggestions to get things started. (That said, I trust those involved in teacher ed, if they put their minds to it, can readily come up with many more and better.) First, the American Association for Colleges of Teacher Education could insist that institutions calculate and report average GPA for education majors compared to other undergraduate majors. AACTE ...


Want a 3.8 GPA? Major in Education

There are perennial concerns about the rigor and quality of teacher preparation. These have become so familiar that ed programs have taken to shrugging off the critiques as uninformed or anecdotal. Well, University of Missouri economist Cory Koedel has provided some new, clear, and pretty troubling evidence about the lack of rigor in teacher preparation. In "Grade Inflation for Education Majors and Low Standards for Teachers: When Everyone Makes the Grade," he compares grade distribution in education departments to that in twelve other university departments. Turns out that ed faculty are much more generous when it comes to grading (full ...


That's Really All He's Got

When I heard the makeup of the President's double-secret, anxiously awaited plan to create millions of jobs and make America happy again, I unaccountably found myself flashing on the scene in "Knocked Up" where Seth Rogen meets Katherine Heigl. The overmatched Rogen is on the dance floor, shimmying and pumping his arm in his "rolling the dice" move. Watching the sorry spectacle, one friend notes, "Dude, I think he's doing the dice thing too much." The other thinks for a moment and nods, then notes, "That's really all he's got." What to make of Obama's call for a third round ...


Straight Up Conversation: Texas Chief Robert Scott

Robert Scott has been the commissioner of education in Texas since 2007. Before that, he was interim commissioner from 2003 to 2004 and chief deputy commissioner from 2004 to 2007 until he was appointed commissioner. Of late, Texas has been in the news for any number of high-profile decisions, including passing on Race to the Top, not signing onto the Common Core state standards, and opting out of the Council of Chief State School Officers. Especially with Texas Governor Rick Perry now drawing attention as the newly installed favorite in the Republican presidential field, including some harsh words from the ...


It's Generational Warfare, Now Deal With It

Folks, generational warfare is here. As Congress's "super committee" begins its deliberations with an eye towards its November deadline, and as the debate for 2012 heats up, it's time for those in the education space to pick a side. You're either with the kids or with those rushing to the ramparts to defend retiree entitlements. So, which is it? Consider the President's vague calls last week to spend billions more on school construction and preserving school staffing levels (which would've been more compelling if he had offered any inkling as to how we might pay for it). Obama finds himself ...


Is Anybody Up for Defending the Common Core Math Standards?

I've been executive editor of Education Next for more than a decade. In that role, one of the things I've done is coordinate our "forums" on various topics. Over the years, we've done 40-odd forums, and have usually gotten our first-choice authors. When we haven't gotten them, we've almost invariably gotten our second choice. All of which makes it astonishing that, over the past three months, we've now asked six individuals involved in the Common Core math standards to pen a piece making the case for their rigor and quality, and each has declined in turn. This is, quite literally, ...


Kudos to ED for Gutsy Call on Special Ed

I've long griped that the Obama administration has talked too often about more school spending and not enough about smarter school spending, and I was particularly disenchanted to hear the President go back to talking this week about pumping more borrowed federal funds into school facilities and salaries. So I'm pleased to laud the administration for its recent, smart, and gutsy decision regarding special education spending. Especially given that its decision was sure to annoy the intimidating, self-righteous special education lobby, ED showed admirable courage and common sense. Here's the deal. Education Week's Nirvi Shah yesterday reported that, "Districts that ...


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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