What if Core scores go down and stay down?

Test scores will drop in Common Core states this year, writes Eduwonk. It’s a harder and unfamiliar test. Reasonable people get that.

The risk for Common Core will come in a few years, if scores remain low, he writes.

A lot of places are “adopting” Common Core but without really doing the instructional shifts or big changes in classroom practice to up the bar for teaching and learning.

. . . in a few years when more ambitious standards collide with inadequate capacity and classroom practice and scores haven’t, overall, moved upwards a lot is when the political bill could come due. Common Core will be declared another “failed” reform idea and something else will come along.  In fact, what Common Core will have in common with a lot of prior reform efforts is a diluted implementation, inadequate support, and half-measures.

Something else is likely to be “a lot more choice,” predicts Eduwonk.

Good students dominate ed debate

Most people debating how to improve education were good students, writes Andrew Rotherham in U.S. News. “The blind spots this creates are enormous.” They have trouble understanding what school is like for those who aren’t good at it.

Diane Ravitch, the school critic turned school defender, has a policy agenda for improving schools that boils down to making classrooms like the ones she liked most as a student. She’s hardly alone in idealizing a system that in practice worked only for a few. As one colleague remarked recently, “everybody likes the race they won.”

For successful students, education is a linear process, he writes. “But most Americans zig and zag.” For example, a majority of college students are part-timers, yet nearly everyone in the education debate attended full-time.

Most fundamentally, this mindset means almost everyone in education is focused on how to make an institution that is not enjoyable for many kids work marginally better. That’s basically what the top-performing public schools, be they charter or traditional schools, do now. . . .

(Among the abundant ironies is that reform critics deride today’s student testing policies as “one size fits all” while fighting against reforming a system that is itself one size fits all).

School is a bad fit for a lot of people, Rotherham concludes.

Homeschooling has freed some kids from traditional classrooms. What would help others? Technology? Career technical education?

Union spin: Don’t say ‘equity,’ ‘reform’ or ‘rich’

Don’t say “education reform,” advises talking points developed for National Education Association leaders. It’s OK to refer to “education improvement or “education excellence.” 

“Providing basic skills and information” is out, according to the PR memo.  “Inspire curiosity, imagination and desire to learn” is in.

It’s Orwellian doublespeak, writes RiShawn Biddle on Dropout Nation. But replacing “inequality” with “living in the right zip code” highlights the fact that “Zip Code Education” keeps lower-income students out of high-quality schools.

NEA leaders will then have to explain why their affiliates, along with that of AFT,  fight . . . against the expansion of public charter schools and other forms of choice that have proven to improve graduation rates for black and Latino children.

. . . (Teachers’ unions) work together with traditional districts to oppose any overall of school finance systems that will lead to dollars following children out of failure mills and warehouses of mediocrity to any high-quality school, public, private or charter, that provides them with teaching and curricula they need.

 Conor Williams also sees the irony in complaining about zip codes while opposing choice and charters. The NEA doesn’t want to talk about “equity,” he notes.

. . . black and Latino children are more than four times as likely to attend high-poverty urban schools than their white peers. . . . Yet the NEA recommends that members instead talk about being “committed to the success of every child.”

Should we use “research driven practices” and “measure what matters” using “meaningful, rigorous evaluations?” No—apparently we should “get serious about what works,” because “love of learning can’t be measured,” and “testing takes time from learning.”

Schools are not supposed to be “effective learning environments” in the fuzzy new world. Schools are “where childhood happens.”

If that’s not completely meaningless, it’s wrong. Childhood happens at home, in the playground, where ever kids happen to be. Schools claim to be places where children learn important skills, knowledge and habits. If they’re just “where childhood happens,” we could save a lot of money.

New tests + new evaluations = chaos

Sheri Lederman

Sheri Lederman

Rolling out new standards, new tests and a new test-based teacher evaluation system — at the same time — is “overwhelming” teachers, writes Amanda Fairbanks in The Atlantic.

New York tied 40 percent of teachers’ scores to their students’ test scores at the same time the state launched new, more difficult tests aligned to Common Core standards.

Sheri Lederman, a veteran fourth-grade teacher in a middle-class New City suburb, was rated “effective” one year and “ineffective” the next.

The state gave her just one out of 20 possible points on the state’s Common Core-test ranking because her new batch of students performed slightly more poorly than her previous class, and teachers’ ratings are based largely on year-to-year progress. Even though these new 18 students far surpassed state averages in both reading and math—and even though Lederman once again achieved high district scores—these strides weren’t enough to overcome the low score on the state portion of the evaluation.

So, Lederman, whose husband is a lawyer, decided to take action: In late October, she filed a lawsuit against the state’s education department alleging that the new evaluations punish teachers rather than award excellence, among other claims. A hearing is scheduled for March 20.

The backlash against both teacher evaluations and the Common Core has gone national, writes Fairbanks.

“A lot of people are saying let’s just throw the whole thing out,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, of the Common Core.

‘College Promise’ isn’t likely

From Whiteboard Advisors, Education Insiders predict the future:

The education of Jeb Bush

In Testing Time, The New Yorker’s Alec MacGillis looks at Jeb Bush’s approach to education reform as governor of Florida.

In 1995, Bush joined the board of the Heritage Foundation, “which was generating papers and proposals to break up what it viewed as the government-run monopoly of the public-school system through free-market competition, with charters and private-school vouchers,” writes MacGillis. He became a fan of school choice.

Bush worked with Willard Fair of the Urban League’s Miami branch to push a state law authorizing charter schools. It passed with bipartisan support in 1996.

Bush and Fair founded Florida’s first charter school in an impoverished, largely African-American section of Miami.

Bush brought his mother in for classroom visits and dropped by unannounced to make sure that things were running smoothly. If he found wastepaper lying around, he’d leave it on the desk of the principal, Katrina Wilson-Davis. The message was clear, she recalls: “Just because kids are poor and at risk doesn’t mean that their environment shouldn’t be clean and orderly.”

When he made a second run for governor, in 1998, he chose Florida’s education commissioner as his running mate and pushed the A+ Plan to hold schools accountable for their students’ performance. He won easily.

(The plan) provided additional funding to schools with good grades and stipulated that students at schools with poor grades would receive taxpayer-funded vouchers to attend private and parochial schools.

. . . By the end of Bush’s second term, fourth-grade reading scores in the state had improved sharply, though eighth- and tenth-grade scores were more middling.

Bush is a strong supporter of the Common Core, which he’s called a “clear and straightforward” path to “high, lofty standards.” That’s hurting him with conservatives, writes MacGillis.

2015’s top education stories

Peering in his crystal ball, Rick Hess predicts the Ten Edu-Stories We’ll Be Reading in 2015. Among the highlights to come:

New Reforms Are Found to Work . . . Until They Don’t. A boatload of new studies will report that X, Y, or Z “works” (e.g., “raises reading and math scores”), though few or none of them will demonstrate similar effects when replicated at new sites. Come next December, we’ll then get fired up for 2016 studies on other exciting new programs that–and I’m going out on a limb here–will go on to post similarly bleak track records.

. . . Proposals for “Smart” Policy Disappoint, Yielding Calls for “Smarter” Policy. We will hear a lot of anguished, thoughtful calls for “smart” regulation and policy. When those regulations and policies are adopted and don’t work as intended, we’ll be told that it’s an “implementation problem.” The solution to this problem will be new proposals for “smarter” regulations and policies.

At number 1, “We Rename an Age-Old Virtue, Rendering It New and Exciting.”  Hess predicts honesty and integrity will be renamed “pervasive, unrelenting truth attachment” (PUTA). “Millions will be spent developing and purchasing PUTA-themed curricula, even as a raft of ed school professors lament PUTA’s unsavory cultural imperialism.”

New Orleans: How to go from C to A

School reform moved New Orleans schools from an “F” to a “C”, writes Matt Candler on the 4.0 blog.

The tools of reform – parent choice, alternative paths to teaching, paying for results, labor reform, and charter schools – were deployed effectively and frequently.

Beyond the bumper-sticker issues were details many miss: high-quality charter school authorizing from state officials, vigilant oversight by charter boards who kicked out low-quality for-profit operators, self-policing by charter operators willing to take responsibility for low quality schools, even if they didn’t start them, and tireless work by parents to navigate a system of choices that remains a work in progress.

Going from “C” to “A” will “require less hubris” and “more listening,” he writes.

Status quo wins in California

Triumph of the Status Quo is Ben Boychuk’s look at the California superintendent’s race.

. . . reformers had high hopes for Marshall Tuck’s insurgent campaign against State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson. The 41-year-old former investment banker and charter school president tried to paint the 65-year-old incumbent, former legislator, and fellow Democrat as a creature of the state’s powerful teachers’ unions. . . . the race did expose a growing fissure between traditional union-aligned Democrats and an emerging faction of pro-business, pro-reform Democrats. But the biggest difference between Torlakson and Tuck—their respective plans for reforming the state’s tenure and dismissal statutes—didn’t galvanize voters.

The California Teachers Association spent $11 million “touting Torlakson and denouncing Tuck,” while the challenger raised nearly $10 million from “well-heeled education reformers, including Los Angeles real estate developer Eli Broad and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg,” writes Boychuk in City Journal.

Tuck attacked Torlakson for supporting the state’s appeal of Vergara v.California, the class-action lawsuit that threw out California’s tenure, seniority, and dismissal rules.

Surveys after the ruling showed strong support for dumping “last hired, first fired” rules, writes Boychuk. But “nearly 60 percent said they didn’t know what the lawsuit was about.”

Tuck also touted his experience as president of the Green Dot chain of charter schools. He voiced his support for California’s landmark parent-trigger law, which lets parents at failing schools petition to force their school district to implement certain reforms, including charter school conversion. Here again, though, voters don’t completely understand charter school reforms.

. . . The teachers’ unions and their surrogates, such as Diane Ravitch, used Tuck’s charter school ties to paint him as a racist, a bigot, and a tool of “the power elite.”

Their attacks worked, concludes Boychuk.

Unions lose big — except for California

Reformer Marshall Tuck failed to unseat California’s union-backed state superintendent, Tom Torlakson. The final vote in the expensive race was 52 to 48 percent.

However, that was one of the few bright spots for teachers’ unions and anti-reformers in yesterday’s election.

It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day for the unions, writes RiShawn Biddle on Dropout Nation.

Governors “who aggressively undertake systemic reform (and smartly challenge NEA and AFT affiliates)” were big winners, he writes.

“Younger, reform-minded teachers who make up the majority of rank-and-file members” are less loyal to the unions, Biddle argues. “This has been made clear in Wisconsin, where the NEA and AFT affiliates are merging after losing, respectively, one-third and 63 percent of membership after Walker successfully ended compulsory dues collections.”

Republican governors’ victories portend “good things for charter schools, possible new efforts to launch or expand voucher programs, and challenging times ahead for teacher unions,” writes Rick Hess.

Governors Scott Walker, John Kasich, and Rick Snyder claimed surprisingly comfortable victories in the industrial Midwest. Meanwhile, “reform-minded” Republicans claimed the governorships in deep-blue Massachusetts, Maryland, and Illinois.

. . . Rhode Island Democrat Gina Raimondo, who’d infuriated the unions by pushing for pension reform as state treasurer, claimed the governor’s mansion. And Thom Tillis, who’d earned bitter union enmity for his role in the North Carolina legislature, eked past Kay Hagan to win a Senate seat.

Conservatives policy wonks will have a chance to influence federal higher education policy, Hess adds.

Most of the education action is in the states, points out Eduwonk. In addition to winning or holding statehouses, Republicans gained seats in state legislatures.

Democratic pension reformers and charter school supporters won in Rhode Island. Coupled with the Massachusetts governor’s race things could get interesting on charters in the northeast. But both those races involved issues beyond education.

Pre-k went down in Hawaii and Nevadans rejected an education tax ballot initiative. A Washington state initiative to cut class sizes — at a cost of $1 billion a year — remains too close to call. 

Real Clear Education has more.