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Fordham's Blueprint for Rewriting No Child Left Behind

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an influential think tank with a couple former top federal education officials on its staff, has issued its preferred blueprint for reauthorizing the No Child Left Behind Act.

Some of the ideas they put forward have been kicking around Capitol Hill for awhile now—like the idea of setting tighter expectations for student learning but giving more flexibility for how states and school districts get there, and establishing more competitive federal funding for school improvement and innovation, rather than across-the-board mandates and formula funds.

Fordham's authors are obviously familiar with Beltway culture. They note that they've structured their document like the briefing books that Capitol Hill and U.S. Department of Education staffers deliver to their bosses.

The report calls for "a radical rethinking of the federal role in education," one that is "much more limited and focused than it is currently, and it should be tailored to Uncle Sam's capacity and expertise."

The recommendations cover a lot of ground. I'll touch on a couple of them, and I'll let you peruse the rest on your own.

Fordham, which has a favorable view of the "Common Core" state academic standards, says states should be required to develop standards at least as rigorous as those guidelines in order to secure federal Title 1 dollars. A external body (possibly a panel with members selected by both states and federal officials) would be review states' standards, to judge whether they're up to snuff.

States should also be required to set tough achievement levels—at least as tough as those set by the Common Core—and tests based on their academic standards, Fordham argues. States that choose not follow the Common Core would have to show a panel that their achievement levels are pegged to "college and career readiness."

Fordham also calls for doing away with No Child Left Behind's mandate that teachers become "highly qualified," saying it's done little to improve the system. They also don't like the idea of the feds imposing mandate on states to develop teacher-evaluation systems. Instead, the envision a competitive program that incentivizes states to develop their own, innovative approaches to evaluating teachers and encouraging them to improve.

One reviewer with a dim view of Fordham's vision is education researcher and blogger Jay Greene, who sees some of their suggestions as too fed-heavy, particularly on standards and tests, and others as too vague, such as judging states and students on "college and career readiness."

"Fordham folks have no idea what that phrase means," Greene writes, "No one knows what college and career ready means."

Greene punctuates his blog post with a photo of noted scholar John Blutarsky—which seems to sum up his skepticism on many levels.

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