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.

Politics and the Chicago teachers’ strike

Teacher evaluation — what percentage of a teacher’s rating should be based on students’ improvement on tests? — is at the heart of the Chicago strike, writes Marc Tucker, looking at the politics. The city wants a higher number than the one set by state law. And why did Illinois require the use of student test scores in evaluating teachers? It wanted to please Arne Duncan to get Race to the Top money.

The very policy that the teachers are most furiously opposed to is not just Rahm Emanuel’s policy.  It is core Obama administration policy.  The mayor is carrying the water for the Obama administration’s education reform strategy, and, in doing so, may be undermining the very reelection effort to which the mayor is personally very committed.

. . .  The administration has ardently and successfully advocated a reform agenda that teachers and their unions see as anti-teacher.  They have been successful in this advocacy because a tough-minded stance on teacher evaluations is one of only a tiny handful of issues on which the administration can find common ground with Republicans around the country.

President Obama has taken no position on the strike, notes Stephen Sawchuk on Teacher Beat.

“The president has said what’s appropriate to be said, that this is a local issue,” (American Federation of Teachers president Randi) Weingarten said.

. . .  I overheard the president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers telling the striking teachers that he’d removed his “Reelect Obama” lapel pin.

After vehemently endorsing the Wisconsin teachers’ union’s fight with Gov. Scott Walker, Weingarten “has been careful to not embrace her Chicago chapter too closely,” writes Rick Hess in a New York Daily News op-ed. There’s been no fiery rhetoric this time.

What’s different is that this is a bad fight for the teacher unions – most of the public, seeing the facts, will not be on their side – it comes at an awful time, and an ugly defeat could be a crushing blow.

The district is opening more “Children First” centers to provide games, arts and crafts and recreation for children and expanding to normal school hours, reports Sawchuk.

It’s about power, writes Mike Petrilli on Flypaper. “The unions are feeling whipsawed by tectonic shifts that have occured within the Democratic Party in recent years.”

There’s talk the strike could be settled soon — perhaps soon enough to start classes on Monday. Striking teachers are planning what to tell their students, reports the Chicago Tribune.

Christopher Barker, who teaches math and humanities at an elementary school, said he’ll ask students. “Is there anywhere that you go in life when you do have to speak up for yourself when there’s a perceived injustice?”

Donielle Lawson, who teaches special education at an alternative high school at Cook County Jail, also plans to discuss the strike. “They’re all too familiar with bullying and societal injustices, so it would be a very easy conversation with them,” Lawson said.

Dem platform lauds new standards, skips RTTT

The Democratic platform hails Common Core State Standards, allegedly a bipartisan state initiative, as an Obama administration achievement, notes Ed Week’s Politics K-12. Race to the Top, the administration’s signature education initiative, isn’t mentioned by name.

Republican convention-goers already fear “Obama Core” is “being used by the president to take over the nation’s educational system,” writes Andrew Ujufusa.

Not surprisingly, the platform praises teachers.

The party notes that Obama has acted to “save” more than 400,000 educator jobs, and that he wants to prevent even more layoffs while also “rewarding great teachers.” This is an apparent reference to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (known as the stimulus) as well as the Education Jobs Fund.

On the subject of evaluations, it tip-toes around sensitive issues (read: low-performing teachers who get fired) with the following language: “We also believe in carefully crafted evaluation systems that give struggling teachers a chance to succeed and protect due process if another teacher has to be put in the classroom.”

The platform also praises the government takeover of college loans, the increase in Pell Grants for low- and moderate-income students and Obama’s threat to reduce their federal aid to colleges that fail to control costs and double work-study jobs.

Montana Superintendent Denise Juneau, who didn’t apply for a NCLB waiver, was given a speaking slot. Though otherwise obscure, she’s a Native American.

Ed Week rounds up the education talk in the first-night speeches. President Obama is responsible for a low-performing Massachusetts K-8 school lengthening its school day (state funding) and using experiential learning, said Gov. Deval Patrick.

“Today’s Republicans and their nominee for president tell us that those 1st graders are on their own: on their own to deal with poverty, with ill-prepared young parents … with a job market that needs skills they don’t have, with no way to pay for college,” Patrick said.

I’m not surprised they don’t have job skills. They’re in first grade, for pete’s sake!

Teachers’ unions go on the defensive

Teachers’ unions are on the defensive, writes New York Times columnist Frank Bruni. Hollywood’s upcoming Won’t Back Down — heroic mother teams with idealistic teacher to take over a low-performing school — shows how negatively teachers unions are viewed, he writes.

“When did Norma Rae get to be the bad guy?” asks a union leader (Holly Hunter) in the movie. I don’t know, but that’s indeed the state of play when it comes to teachers’ unions, and it’s a dangerous one.

The parents Bruni knows are draining their bank accounts to pay private school tuition, but most families can’t afford it. Ninety percent of children attend public schools.

The teachers’ unions are unhappy with President Obama’s education secretary, Arne Duncan, writes Bruni. They don’t like the policies promoted by Race to the Top. At the local level, top Democrats are bucking the unions.

In Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and other cities, Democratic mayors have feuded bitterly with teachers’ unions and at times come to see them as enemies. And at a meeting of the United States Conference of Mayors in June, Democratic mayors joined Republican ones in a unanimous endorsement of so-called parent trigger legislation, about which unions have serious reservations. These laws, recently passed in only a few states but being considered in more, abet parent takeovers of underperforming schools, which may then be replaced with charter schools run by private entities.

Teachers’ unions have hurt their reputations by defending teachers’ tenure and seniority rights without regard to the welfare of their students, writes Bruni. “We were focused — as unions are — on fairness and not as much on quality,” American Federation of Teachers chief  Randi Weingarten conceded in a phone interview.

 The unions have also run afoul of the grim economic times. “In the private sector, nobody’s got any security about anything,” said Charles Taylor Kerchner, a professor of education at Claremont Graduate University. So the unions’ fights over pay raises and pensions, he said, made previously routine negotiations “look like pigs at the trough.”

When Hollywood steps in, it means the intellectual debate is over, writes Jay Greene.

. . .  the teacher unions are finally being treated as the special interest group they are rather than as credible players in the discussion over the merits of various education policies. When Campbell Brown takes on the unions the game is over.

The unions are still quite powerful and policy battles will continue to rage, Greene writes. But a big political and cultural shift has occurred.

Norma Rae is the bad guy.

Common Core doubts

Will the Common Core Create World-Class Learners?  Yong Zhao, a University of Oregon education professor, has doubts in an Ed Week interview with Anthony Cody.

“Judging from the accomplishment of NCLB and Race to the Top, I would say that five years from now, American education will still be said to be broken and obsolete. We will find out that the Common Core Standards, after billions of dollars, millions of hours of teacher time, and numerous PD sessions, alignment task forces, is not the cure to American’s education ill. Worse yet, we will likely have most of nation’s schools teaching to the common tests aligned with the Common Core. As a result, we will see a further narrowing of the curriculum and educational experiences. Whatever innovative teaching that has not been completely lost in the schools may finally be gone. And then we will have a nation of students, teachers, and schools who are compliant with the Common Core Standards, but we may not have much else left.”

Other than that, he’s a big fan.

Zhao is the author of Catching Up or Leading the Way: American Education in the Age of Globalization.

Conservatives are pushing back against Common Core Standards, writes the Wall Street Journal. Some state legislators who felt rushed into adopting the standards are having second thoughts.

There are rumblings from all sides. The common standards and assessments represent the “antithesis of progressive values,” writes Jack Hassard on The Art of Teaching Science. “The idea of having a single set of standards and associated assessments appears to remove individuality, creativity and innovation from American classrooms.”

Izumi: Obama takes over education

Lance Izumi talks about Obama’s Education Takeover in the Opinion Journal.


In its zeal to push Common Core Standards on all the states, Arne Duncan’s Education Department is “pretending that three laws do not mean what they clearly say,” writes columnist George Will. He cites the Pioneer Institute’s report, The Road to a National Curriculum, by three former department officials.

The 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act – No Child Left Behind is its ninth iteration – said “nothing in this act” shall authorize any federal official to “mandate, direct, or control” a state’s, local educational agency’s or school’s curriculum.

The General Education Provisions Act of 1970 stipulates that “no provision of any applicable program shall be construed to authorize” any federal agency or official “to exercise any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction” or selection of “instructional materials” by “any educational institution or school system.”

The 1979 law establishing the Education Department forbids it from exercising “any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum” or “program of instruction” of any school or school system. The ESEA as amended goes further: No funds provided to the Education Department “may be used…to endorse, approve, or sanction any curriculum designed to be used in” grades K-12.

The department has used Race to the Top funding and No Child Left Behind waivers to pressure states to adopt the new standards, the Pioneer report charges. The effect will be a national curriculum.

“As the regulatory state’s micromanagement of society metastasizes, inconvenient laws are construed — by those the laws are supposed to restrain — as porous and permissive, enabling the executive branch to render them nullities,” Will concludes.

Update: When South Carolina legislators considered rescinding the state’s adoption of Common Core Standards, Duncan blasted the idea. He drew a lot of flak for that. In response to Utah’s threatened withdrawal, he wrote a letter agreeing that it’s the state’s decision.

Obama, the education president

Obama’s Education Record includes some success stories — and soft spots, write Mike Petrilli and Tyson Eberhardt in Education Next.

His Race to the Top (RttT) initiative catalyzed a chain reaction of legislative action at the state level, securing key reforms on issues ranging from charter schools to teacher evaluations to rigorous standards. His stimulus and “edujobs” bills seemed to maintain a critical level of investment in the public schools during a time of difficult budget cuts and financial strain. His administrative action to provide flexibility on No Child Left Behind’s most onerous provisions bypassed a paralyzed Congress and partially fulfilled his campaign promise to lift the law’s yoke off the backs of decent but maligned schools. . . .

. . . both the Common Core State Standards effort and the move toward rigorous teacher evaluations could lead to dramatic increases in student achievement, if implemented faithfully by states and school districts. Neither of these reforms would have been adopted so quickly, in so many places, were it not for the president’s leadership.

But the stimulus wasted a lot of money, they write. Race to the Top states have back-pedaled on reforms.

And Washington keeps tightening the screws on the states, while promising flexibility. Race to the Top required states to “develop plans that complied with federal guidelines set forth in excruciating detail.”  No Child Left Behind waivers required more hoop jumping. Now the Education Department has declared that “a disproportionate percentage of white students in Advanced Placement (AP) classes constitutes evidence of racial discrimination.”

“Obama and Duncan have been good on education reform” compared to their Democratic predecessors, write Petrilli and Eberhardt.  But “the administration deserves to be pressed on the cost-effectiveness of its education system bailouts, on the results of its Race to the Top initiative, and on the wisdom of its approach to federalism and separation of powers.”


‘Race’ states go off reform track

Race to the Top winners are veering off the reform track, reports the Wall Street Journal.

The Obama administration is stepping up pressure on states to make good on their commitments under its Race to the Top competition, after all 12 winners either scaled down plans or pushed back timelines to overhaul their public-education systems.

Hawaii, which has delayed almost every part of its reform plan, could lose its $75 million grant, the Education Department warns.  The state has been unable to reach a deal with the teachers’ union.

The Education Department has approved scores of waiver requests, including allowances for Massachusetts to delay plans to develop online courses for teacher mentors and for Rhode Island to push back plans to open more charter schools. Some states, including Florida, got sidetracked by overly optimistic target dates to hire contractors for developing student data systems or to create mathematical formulas for linking teacher evaluations to student test scores.

Tennessee is pushing ahead with a plan to link teacher evaluations to value-added data on their students’ progress, despite complaints that the system makes no sense for teachers in untested subjects and grades. A few “tweaks” will fix the problems, says Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman.

Hess: Top 10 edu-stories of 2012

Why wait for 2012, when Rick Hess has the top Ten Edu-Stories We’ll Be Reading in the new year?

Among his headlines of the future: “GOP presidential nominee abandons primary season attacks on Department of Education; talks up education reform in push for moderates.” Meanwhile, Republicans will feud over Common Core standards, he predicts.

Despite doubts about Race to the Top’s implementation, “Obama campaign makes Race to the Top, push on college affordability a centerpiece in effort to woo suburban swing voters.”

Hess also foresees a backlash against aggressive anti-bullying campaigns after elementary school boys are suspended for tussling and name-calling. (Think zero tolerance.)

Rewriting No Child Left Behind will be left till 2013, he predicts.

Finally: “Mixed results for the Khan Academy‘s ‘flipped’ classroom lead some educators and policymakers to worry that the model doesn’t work for kids who don’t do the requisite work at home. One expert notes, ‘The kids who didn’t do their reading or homework before are the same kids who aren’t viewing their lessons and lectures now.'”