Career ed gets kind words, few dollars

The Obama administration is promoting career education, reports Joy Resmovits on the Huffington Post. President Obama called for career education funding on a visit to Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) in New York City, a partnership with IBM.

The president’s push for more college degrees has drawn criticism. There are few pathways to success for career-minded students. Now the rhetoric is shifting.

Mixing career and college courses is “just something I absolutely believe in,” Duncan told the Post. “When young people have a chance to take college-level courses, when they’re thinking of careers as well, that’s just hugely important.”

“For the most part, they’ve been about academic standards,” said Anthony Carnevale, leads Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce. “I’m glad to see them open up another front here.”

“Academic reform has been too much of a good thing and we’ve overdone it, and moving to a point where we have only one pathway to college, which is the high school to Harvard model,” Carnevale said. “That model is only applicable to the 25 percent of college-going students who attend four-year-colleges,” he said. “It’s the only one we understand. … they’ve added another pathway here, and seem to be more and more serious about it.”

Carnevale says he sees education reform floundering on subjects like Algebra II, with Texas’ recent move to drop the course as a high school graduation requirement serving as a sign of things to come.

Duncan has pushed for Common Core  standards, which aim at “college and career readiness.” But all the stress has been on college prep. Only 13 states have defined “what it means for a high school student to be career- or work-ready,” concluded a Center on Education Policy survey.

“College and career readiness” has come to mean that every student has to take three years of university-track math, pass standardized tests and jump through college-prep hoops, writes teacher Mark Gardner on Stories from School. Doing “career ready” right isn’t cheap, he points out. Schools need “a shop, a technology lab, tools, an industrial kitchen, consumable materials, a greenhouse” and a lot more.

The administration has released a blueprint for revising the Perkins Act, which funds vocational education, “but has had little success in increasing its funding,” writes Resmovits.

Here’s the Republican take on reauthorizing Perkins. Everybody wants employers involved — because they want them to foot part of the bill.

Both Democrats and Republicans oppose the administration’s proposal to make school districts compete for the $1.1 billion in Perkins funding, reports Ed Week. Competitions favor large districts that can afford grant writers.

Yesterday, the Department of Labor announced $100 million in YouthCareer Connect grants to high schools. By federal standards, that’s very small potatoes. Schools will compete for career-tech grants. Programs must integrate career and college prep, let high school students earn college credits, provide “work-based learning” and/or partner with employers.

YouthCareerConnect came as a surprise to House leaders, who held a hearing on reauthorizing the Perkins Act yesterday, reports Ed Week. Because the funding comes from H-1B fees, the grants don’t require congressional approval. But legislators like to be consulted.

Even though the competitive career-tech program involves a relatively small pot of money, the administration’s proposal essentially an end-run around Congress, which isn’t really the most helpful way to kick-off a bipartisan reauthorization.

The administration likes models that offer career training and college options. But there are quite a few students who are strongly motivated to learn job skills and turned off by academics. They need pathways too.

The education election

The status quo was a big winner, writes Rick Hess in his election wrap-up.

Those edu-advocates who’ve been telling themselves that an Obama win would mean a big infusion of dollars are going to be disappointed– the size of the deficit, the GOP majority in the House, the need to deal with Pell, the impending costs of the Affordable Care Act, and the rest mean that there won’t be big new dollars for education initiatives, no matter how often the President says nice things about edu-investment and workforce initiatives.

. . . The next few years may be something of a slog for folks at ED, as they have to do the tedious work of trying to monitor Race to the Top and waiver commitments, while figuring out how to be impactful when they don’t have much new money to spend . . .

It will be interesting to see who quits the Education Department, Hess writes.

If Indiana Superintendent Tony Bennett’s re-election campaign was “a referendum on reform,”  as Fordham’s Mike Petrilli put it, reform lost. Bennett, a Republican who championed tougher teacher evaluations and school accountability, was upset by teacher Glenda Ritz, a Democrat.

Bennett was a reform “stud,” writes Hess. Teachers’ union opposition wouldn’t have been enough to defeat Bennett in “deep red” Indiana. He also faced opposition from Tea Party conservatives over his support for Common Core State Standards, which they call “Obamacore.”

Intentionally or not, the Obama administration has politicized the Common Core and, in so doing, is making it dangerous for elected Republicans in red states to support it. And, trust me, a lot of GOP state school board members, education committee members, and state chiefs are aware of what happened to Bennett.

Ed Week looks at Arne Duncan’s five big challenges in the next term. “Duncan will have to walk a fine line between supporting states as they implement common standards and tests, and, in the words of Checker Finn, not “loving them to death.”

The Obama-Duncan education reforms are at risk, writes Rishawn Biddle on Dropout Nation. No ChIld Left Behind waivers are letting traditionalists and suburban districts gut accountability. He hopes Obama and Duncan will work with congressional leaders on both sides to revise No Child and expand accountability. But he’s not holding his breath.

School choice lost in Florida, where voters rejected a measure that would have let parents use school vouchers at religious schools.

However, Georgia approved a special commission to authorize new charters.

After turning down charter schools three times, voters in Washington state narrowly passed a charter school measure which will let 40 charters open statewide in the next five years. A majority of parents or teachers could “trigger” the conversion of a traditional public school into a charter.

In Idaho, where Romney won in a landslide, voters repealed the “Students Come First” laws, agreeing with teachers’ unions. It was “a stunning rebuke” to Republican Gov. Butch Otter and Superintendent Tom Luna, writes the Idaho Statesman.

— 57 percent opposed to restrictions on teachers unions in Prop 1.

— 58 percent voted no on Prop 2, which paid teacher bonuses based on student test scores and other measures.

— 67 percent rejected a mandate for laptops and online credits for every Idaho high school student.

In red-hot South Dakota, two-thirds of voters rejected Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s plan to “give bonuses to top teachers, phase out tenure and recruit candidates for critical teaching jobs,” reports KSFY-ABC.

Michigan voters rejected a union-sponsored measure protecting collective-bargaining rights.

Maryland voters approved in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants.

To my surprise, California voters approved a tax increase billed as the only way to keep schools open. A political contributions initiative aimed at unions failed.

In Arizona, a sales tax extension to fund schools went down to defeat.

Duncan could waive No Child Left Behind

If Congress doesn’t update No Child Left Behind, Education Secretary Arne Duncan says he’ll waive key requirements “in exchange for states agreeing to adopt other efforts he has championed, such as linking teacher evaluations to student achievement, expanding charter schools and overhauling the lowest-performing schools,” reports the Wall Street Journal.

“Principals, superintendents and children cannot wait forever for the legislative process to work itself out,” Mr. Duncan said in a conference call with reporters. “As it exists now, No Child Left Behind is creating a slow-motion train wreck for children, parents and teachers.”

Revising the law, which requires states to test students in math and reading, was supposed to be this year’s bipartisan achievement. But leading Republicans want to reduce the federal government’s growing role in K-12 schools. Progress has been slow.

Both Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin, chairman of the Senate education committee, and Rep. John Kline, Republican chairman of the House education committee, criticized Duncan’s threat to do an end run around Congress.

Update:  Duncan “is not permitted to remake federal law on the fly,” even if he thinks it’s a really good idea, writes Rick Hess.

After barely convincing Congress to keep Race to the Top on life support, Duncan is intent on unilaterally pushing his same pet priorities through the back door? He’s planning to offer regulatory relief only if states adopt reforms that are utterly absent in the relevant legislation? Facing backlash on the right and left over concerns that the administration coerced states to embrace test-driven teacher evaluation and the Common Core through Race to the Top, Duncan’s strategy is to double down?

Republicans won’t go along, Hess predicts. It’s not clear Democrats will either. Duncan’s favored ed reforms aren’t popular with the teachers’ unions, for example.

“Was the Constitution changed over the weekend abolishing the House of Representatives?” asks Charles Barone, director of federal policy for Democrats for Education Reform.

Waive the worst parts of NCLB, but “don’t try to tie this stuff to new, made-up mandates,” advises Mike Petrilli.

Duncan invited staff to Sharpton rally

Education Secretary Arne Duncan invited 4,000 department employees to attend the Rev. Al Sharpton’s “Reclaim the Dream” rally, organized to counter Glenn Beck’s and Sarah Palin’s “Restoring Honor” rally at the Lincoln Memorial, reports the Washington Examiner.

Although the e-mail does not violate the Hatch Act, which forbids federal employees from participating in political campaigns, Education Department workers should feel uneasy, said David Boaz, executive vice president of the libertarian Cato Institute.

“It sends a signal that activity on behalf of one side of a political debate is expected within a department. It’s highly inappropriate … even in the absence of a direct threat,” Boaz said. “If we think of a Bush cabinet official sending an e-mail to civil servants asking them to attend a Glenn Beck rally, there would be a lot of outrage over that.”

Brookings Institution director Russ Whitehurst, a Department of Education program director from 2001 to 2008, said, “Only political appointees would have been made aware of such an event and encouraged to attend.”

Sharpton’s event, held on the 47th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, featured praise of President Obama and jabs at the Tea Party, the Examiner reports.

“[Conservatives] think we showed up [to vote for Barack Obama] in 2008 and that we won’t show up again. But we know how to sucker-punch, and we’re coming out again in 2010,” Sharpton said.

In his remarks, Duncan called education “the civil rights issue of our generation.”

Education Department spokeswoman Sandra Abrevaya defended Duncan’s decision to speak at the rally and ask department employees to attend. “This was a back-to-school event,” she said.


President Obama will give his second annual Back to School speech on Tuesday, Sept. 14. It will be available for broadcast in schools and online. Last year’s speech raised a lot of fuss, culminating in a big fizzle as Obama told students to work hard in school.

Obama hangs tough

Hit by civil rights groups who oppose Race to the Top, President Obama defended his education reforms in a speech to the Urban League.

“If a school isn’t producing graduates with even the most basic skills, year after year after year after year, something needs to be done differently. You know, the definition, somebody once said, of madness is you do the same thing over and over again and keep expecting a different result.”

. . . Even as we applaud teachers for their hard work, we’ve got to make sure that we’re seeing results in the classroom. If they’re not, let’s work with them to help them be more effective. And if that fails, let’s find the right teacher for that classroom.”

Obama deserves credit for hanging tough, writes Rick Hess. But he must beware of  Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s hubris.

Every time our earnest Secretary of Education speaks of late, he seems to unearth new things that Washington can and should do to schools. Earlier this month, he promised the NAACP that the administration would see that NCLB reauthorization required turnaround schools to obtain parent and community input as well as lead an “honest, open discussion.” Of course, Duncan is ardently pushing “state-led” national standards and watching his Department of Education flag 19 (!) states as impressive enough to merit being Race to the Top finalists.

In Duncan’s Urban League speech, which promised an commission on education equity, he pandered to the civil rights community, writes Flypaper’s Mike Petrilli, who agrees that Duncan promises more than he can deliver.

“We will ensure that all schools—public, private and charter—serve the kids most in need,” Duncan said. “That is also something you told us was important. We heard you loud and clear, we are responding and these schools will be held accountable.”

Duncan can’t “ensure” that private schools serve needy kids or hold them “accountable, ” Petrilli writes.

Accountable to whom? Most don’t get public funds. Many are more diverse than traditional public schools. What the heck is he talking about?

Ed Week sees Duncan’s speech as a strong defense of Race to the Top, pointing out he told reform critics, “You’re wrong.”

Obama’s education agenda is stalled in Congress, according to the Washington Post.

Teachers’ unions shun Duncan

Guess who’s not coming to speak at the National Education Association’s convention in New Orleans? President Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan, once welcome at the NEA and the American Federation of Teachers conventions, aren’t on the guest list this year “partly because union officials feared that administration speakers would face heckling,” reports the New York Times.

The largest union’s meeting opened here on Saturday to a drumbeat of heated rhetoric, with several speakers calling for Mr. Duncan’s resignation, hooting delegates voting for a resolution criticizing federal programs for “undermining public education,” and the union’s president summing up 18 months of Obama education policies by saying, “This is not the change I hoped for.”

“Today our members face the most anti-educator, anti-union, anti-student environment I have ever experienced,” Dennis Van Roekel, president of the union, the National Education Association, told thousands of members gathered at the convention center here.

Many teachers feel they are being blamed for problems that are beyond their control. Union leaders are angry that Obama and Duncan aren’t willing to cut Race to the Top reforms to fund a $10 billion education jobs bill.

The  NEA spent $50 million in 2008 to help elect Democrats; the AFT spent millions more.

“If the teachers sit on their hands this fall, it would be a disaster for Obama and the Democrats,” said Richard D. Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation who has studied the teachers’ unions.

Duncan is trying to avoid confrontation. “Some state and local unions are very thoughtful and progressive and are embracing innovation,” Duncan told the Times. “Others are more entrenched in the status quo.”

Duncan’s list and the Chicago Way

As Chicago schools chief, Arne Duncan kept a list of well-connected people who wanted help getting their kids into the city’s top schools. The Chicago way of education — a two-tier system of public schools — starts with Mayor Richard Daley, writes Tribune columnist John Kass.

When first elected in 1989, Daley eagerly reached out to those in the city’s predominantly white professional class. They were edgy and many were considering leaving Chicago.

In response, the mayor built top magnet and college prep high schools, pushing through work-rule changes to attract the best teachers. He produced the schools that nervous white-collar voters demanded.

. . . Daley spent millions upon millions of dollars on new school buildings in low-income neighborhoods. This massive wave of construction endeared him to the predominantly white trade unions: the carpenters, the bricklayers, the electricians who formed his power base on the Far Southwest Side and the southwest suburbs.

Savvy professionals learned how to work the system to get their children into first-tier schools, Kass writes. Low-income, minority students go to second-tier schools where tests scores are low and drop-out rates are high.

Neighborhood activists support the system because they can use local school councils to create “mini-fiefdoms” with “budgets to manage and principals to appoint.”  The public school bureaucracy remains “a patronage base for City Hall and Democratic pols in Springfield, particularly the black legislative caucus.”

So it works great, except for the no-clout kids who are stuck in lousy schools.

Duncan: 40% grad rate for March Madness

Education Secretary Arne Duncan wants to require NCAA basketball teams to graduate at least 40 percent of players or forfeit participation in postseason play.

If the rules were in place for this year, 12 teams including top-ranked Kentucky, which graduated only 31 percent of its players, would not be eligible.

The other teams are Arkansas Pine Bluff, Baylor, California, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Louisville, Maryland, Missouri, New Mexico State, Tennessee and Washington.

Duncan played basketball at Harvard.

Tight and loose

Arne Duncan’s rewrite of No Child Left Behind wins praise from MikePetrilli of Fordham, who says Duncan has kept his promise to be “tight” about results expected while “loose” on means.

The ESEA blueprint released by the Obama Administration yesterday would represent, as Andy wrote, a dramatic change in the federal role in education – one that would be more targeted, less prescriptive, and use a lighter touch on the vast majority of America’s schools.

Adequate Yearly Progress is out along with the requirement to get 100 percent of students to proficiency by 2014. “No more getting labelled a ‘failing school’  because some of your special ed students or English language learners failed the state test,” Petrilli writes.

Except for the very worst schools in the country–which would be subject to serious turnaround efforts–the rest would be freed from federally-mandated accountability. (The fastest-improving schools would actually get cash rewards and extra flexibility.) It does call for 100 percent of students to graduate from high school “college and career ready” by 2020, but that’s purely an aspirational goal; there are no consequences attached whatsoever. (The transparancy of annual testing and reporting would continue.)

The New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal  are focusing on one part to love or hate, the blind men and the elephant, Petrilli writes.

The unions are complaining that the blueprint, in Randi Weingarten’s words, “places 100 percent of the responsibility on teachers and gives them zero percent of the authority.” John Kline, the ranking Republican on the House education committee, warns that the proposal doesn’t square with Obama’s promise of more flexibity for the states.

Petrilli sees it as a “huge victory” for the unions in getting most schools out of the threat of federal intervention. For suburban schools and their often Republican representatives, it’s also a good thing.

It’s a big setback for special ed and ELL advocates, because the failure of their clients would no longer send schools into a buzz saw of sanctions. The civil rights types, who earnestly believe Washington can fix all equity issues from on high, should be apoplectic.

Petrilli is happy about the plan’s reform realism: Common standards, lots more flexibility and ad admission that No Child’s sanctions “were a bust.”

Since I’m still on vacation — having witnessed Ladies’ Steer Undecorating at the wine country rodeo, we’re on our way to the Great Barrier Reef — I haven’t given the plan a close look. But I worry about the kids who weren’t doing well before No Child Left Behind.  They don’t all go to worst-of-the-worst schools.

'Transforming' schools: Too big to succeed?

“At a time when the Tea Party, anti-big-government, pro-Sarah Palin types have the momentum,” can Arne Duncan push through another Washington-knows-best, let’s-fix-our-schools-from-the-shores-of-the-Potomac approach” to education reform, asks Mike Petrilli on Flypaper.

It’s also easy to picture conservative politicians demagoguing the “national testing issue,” like Texas Governor Rick Perry has been doing so effectively.

The “transforming” schools rhetoric may moderate, Petrilli predicts.

I don’t think the rhetoric is the problem. It’s the money.  A lot of Americans think the government is spending too much money. Do they want to spend billions of dollars in hopes of  “transforming” schools?

Update: Senior Democrats and Republicans have announced a bipartisan effort to rewrite No Child Left Behind. Here’s hoping the spirit lasts.