Last night, in the State of the Union, President Obama played it pretty safe when it came to education. He was for more college affordability, higher expectations and performance for K-12, and more pre-K. Not much that anyone is going to object to. Even his oblique reference to "more challenging curriculums" was pretty darn discreet, so much so that I was a little surprised to see analysis so immediately flag it as a veiled reference to the Common Core.


This week is School Choice Week. I generally hate these designated "weeks," as they're mostly an occasion for p.r. extravaganzas and an opportunity for the faithful to bang the drum. And, for better or worse, that's not really my scene. That said, it turns out that choice week is also the occasion for a cluster of pretty cool things.


On Monday, I penned a column for National Review Online titled "What Ever Happened to 'State-Led'" that seemed to frustrate and puzzle a number of Common Core advocates. I heard from plenty of friends and acquaintances who thought I was unreasonable and unfair.


Three years ago, UC-Irvine's Greg Duncan and Harvard's Dick Murnane published a terrific edited volume titled Whither Opportunity? That volume summarized a slew of evidence on trends in educational outcomes and on how families, schools, and all the rest shape life outcomes for kids. Anyway, that's the backdrop for Duncan and Murnane's new book, Restoring Opportunity: The Crisis of Inequality and the Challenge for American Education, which has just been published by my good friends at Harvard Education Press.


Last week, there was something of a kerfuffle over the proposal from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute to impose new regulations on voucher and tax-credit scholarship programs. Fordham called for requiring all participating students to take state assessments; mandating public disclosure of those results, school by school, except for schools that enroll fewer than ten total students in tested grades; and requiring schools that enroll a substantial number of students to have their eligibility determined by how their students perform on state tests.


Districts like Mooresville, North Carolina, and Danville, Kentucky, have rethought instruction, the teaching job, and classroom culture, and used technology to turbocharge those changes. These districts and networks have clear goals and engaged teachers. Indeed, their teacher satisfaction figures are terrific, as is student attendance and interest. Mooresville has the second-lowest spending among 115 North Carolina school districts and was recently named the best school district in America by Scholastic.


Since the Common Core standards were unveiled in 2010, advocates have insisted that it is a "state-led" effort. President Obama declared in the 2011 State of the Union, "These standards were developed... not by Washington, but by Republican and Democratic governors throughout the country." In truth, there is a studied dishonesty about the "state-led" rhetoric.


I like our earnest Secretary of Education. I think he means well. That said, I've had serious reservations about the way he has approached his office, including his approach to Race to the Top, NCLB waivers, and the Common Core. Secretary Duncan has unapologetically and aggressively extended the federal role in education.


Yesterday, we unveiled the 2014 RHSU Edu-Scholar Public Influence rankings. From years past, though, we've learned that a lot of readers are curious as to how scholars fared when it came to particular fields or disciplines. After all, education researchers work in a wide variety of fields. Today, we will report out the top ten finishers for five disciplinary categories, as well as the top ten ranked junior faculties.


Today, we unveil the 2014 RHSU Edu-Scholar Public Influence rankings. The metrics, as explained yesterday, recognize university-based scholars in the U.S. who are contributing most substantially to public debates about education. The rankings offer a useful, if imperfect, gauge of the public influence edu-scholars had in 2013. The rubric reflects both a scholar's body of academic work--encompassing the breadth and influence of their scholarship--and their footprint on the public discourse last year.


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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