Thursday, July 31, 2014

Education Reform in 2014

This from Chester Finn at Fordham:

On August 1, Chester E. “Checker” Finn, Jr., will step down from his role as founding president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, passing the baton to Michael J. Petrilli, Fordham’s longtime executive vice president. Finn will remain on staff as a distinguished senior fellow and president emeritus. Here is his “farewell address” as president.

This short essay cannot begin to say all that deserves to be said about the state of ed-reform in America in 2014, but it gives me an opportunity to do some stocktaking, recount a bit of history, and flag some challenges for the future.

Organizationally, the modern Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the Foundation that birthed it have been around for seventeen years, but the reformist zeal and philosophy that it inherited from the Educational Excellence Network carry us back to 1981. Two years before A Nation at Risk, Diane Ravitch and I—and a handful of fellow travelers—had concluded that American K–12 education needed a kick in the pants, a kick toward greater quality, primarily in the form of stronger student learning. (More of that tale can be found on our website here and here.)

That’s thirty-three years ago, before many of today’s ed reformers were even born, and, while Diane has obviously deviated from that path in recent years, I like to think I’ve continued to trudge down it, along with an ever-growing cadre of fellow reformers and—since 1997—with Fordham’s organizational and human resources pushing us onward.

What’s been accomplished?

I’ve reviewed some of this history before, citing as many as ten big, positive changes. Here, I’ll mention just the two that seem to me most profound:
  • We now judge schools by their results, not their inputs, intentions, or programs. The results we focus on deal, for the most part, with pupil achievement. And while we continue to struggle with the details, over the years we’ve developed academic standards that set forth the results we seek, we’ve created assessments and other measures to gauge how well they’re being achieved, we’ve built a trove of data that generally makes results (and progress toward them) transparent and comparable, and we’ve constructed accountability systems that reward, intervene in, and sometimes sanction schools, educators, and students according to how well they’re doing.
  • Choice among schools (and other education-delivery systems such as virtual learning, home schooling, and more) has become almost ubiquitous. Though too many choices are still unsatisfactory, and too many kids still don’t have access to enough good ones, we’re a very long way from the education system of 1981, which basically took for granted that children would attend the standard-issue, district-operated public school in their neighborhood unless, perhaps, they were Catholic (or very wealthy).
Plenty more accomplishments could be cited, including the serious entry of technology into classrooms, ambitious teacher-evaluation systems, networks of charter schools—virtual school systems, really—that do a bang-up job of educating poor and minority kids, some rewards for outstanding educators (and some softening of job protections for the other kind), and a host of “alternative” routes by which eager, talented individuals can make their way into classrooms and principals’ offices without passing through the traditional hoops.

The payoff to date is worth lauding: Student outcomes have strengthened, at least in fourth and eighth grades, mostly in math but somewhat in reading. High school graduation rates are starting to edge upward. Other “cultural” indicators are better, too: less teen pregnancy, less smoking, less drug abuse, and more.

We can’t claim that all of that is due to education reform but it has almost surely helped. We can honestly state that reformers have much to be proud of—and millions of American children (and the nation itself) now benefit from the fruits of their labors.

But we have so far still to go. The important changes that we’ve planted haven’t yet yielded enough of an achievement harvest, particularly at the end of high school, when it matters most, and we continue to wrestle with their implementation. We still have too many unforgivable gaps, too many “dropout factories,” too many kids left behind, too many without good options. Other countries continue to make faster gains than the U.S. And we haven’t yet worked our way down the agenda of essential reforms. Let me note (in no particular order) eight of the toughest and most consequential challenges ahead.


The basic structural and governance arrangements of American public education are obsolete. They’re okay at operating yesterday’s schools but almost hopeless when it comes to inventing tomorrow’s. We have too many layers, too many veto points, too much institutional inertia. “Local control” needs to be reinvented—to me it looks more like KIPP-Houston than the Houston Independent School District—and education needs to join the mayor’s (and governor’s) portfolio of other important human services. Alternatives are emerging—mayoral control in a dozen cities, recovery school districts in a few states, charter-management organizations, and more—but the vast majority of U.S. schools remain locked in structures that may have made sense around 1900 but not in 2014.
Finance. I dare you to track, count, and compare the dollars flowing into a given school or a given child’s education. I defy you to compare school budgets across districts or states. I challenge you to equalize and rationalize the financing of a district or state education system—and the accounting system that tracks it—in ways that target resources on places and people that need them and that enable those resources—all those resources—to follow kids to the schools they actually attend. What an unfiltered mess! (But please do watch Fordham try to make some sense out of it, at least in the DC metro area, a few weeks hence.)


We’re beginning to draw principals, superintendents, chancellors, and state chiefs from nontraditional backgrounds, but we haven’t turned the corner on education leadership. We still view principals, for example, as chief teachers—and middle managers—rather than the CEOs they need to become if school-level authority is ever to keep up with school-level responsibility. Think of them—and those above them—as executives; prepare them as executives; empower them as executives; and compensate them as executives. We already hold them accountable as executives, but nothing else about their role has yet caught up.

Curriculum and instruction

“Structural” reformers—I plead guilty to having been one—don’t pay nearly enough attention to what’s happening in the classroom, in particular to what’s being taught (curriculum) and how it’s being taught (pedagogy). The fact is that content matters enormously—Don Hirsch is exactly right about this—and that some instructional methods work better in particular circumstances than others. Both standards-based and choice-based reform have remained largely indifferent about these matters, but that ought not continue. That’s why the folks at KIPP, for example, are finally developing network-wide curricula and why Amplify and the Core Knowledge Foundation have teamed up to build and distribute a Common Core–aligned language arts curriculum.

High-ability students

Smart kids deserve education tailored to their needs and capabilities every bit as much as youngsters with disabilities. (The individualized system of the future should tailor everybody’s education within a framework of common standards.) And the nation’s long-term competitiveness—not to mention the vitality of its culture, the strength of its civic life, and much more—hinges in no small part on educating to the max those girls and boys with “special gifts,” as Rick Hess puts it, who “may be those most likely to one day develop miraculous cures, produce inspiring works, invent technological marvels and improve the lives of all Americans.” But gifted education in America is patchy at best; at worst, our system is downright antagonistic to the needs of high-ability girls and boys.

Preparation of educators

How many times do people like Art Levine and organizations like the National Council on Teacher Quality have to document the failings of hundreds upon hundreds of teacher- and principal-preparation programs before this gets tackled as a top-priority reform? Once again, promising alternatives are emerging, and a smallish number of traditional programs do a fine job. But, once again, the typical case is grossly inadequate. And, once again, our governance system (or lack thereof) makes change hard to effect.


Two forms of complacency alarm me. The old familiar one is the millions of parents who deplore the condition of American schools in general but are convinced that their own child’s school is just fine (“and that nice Ms. Randolph is so helpful to young Mortimer”). The new one, equally worrying, is reformers who think they’ve done their job when they get a law passed, an evaluation system created, a new program launched, then sit back on their haunches, give short shrift to implementation, but defy anyone who might suggest that their proud accomplishment isn’t actually working.


I hail the entry into the ed-reform camp of entrepreneurs with all their energy, imagination, and venture capital, but I’ve seen too many examples of them settling for making their venture profitable for investors or shareholders (or themselves) rather than educationally profitable for the kids it serves. That’s not so very different from traditional adult interests within the public and nonprofit sectors battling to ensure their own jobs, income, and comfort rather than giving their pupils top priority. A firm that’s just in it for the money is as reprehensible as a teacher union that’s in it just to look after its members’ pay, pensions, and job security.

You can count on the Fordham Institute to stay out front on these issues and others that arise, as well as its long-term emphases on standards-based reform (particularly the Common Core at present) and school choice in its myriad forms. We’ll be there with research, analysis, commentary, advocacy— and sometimes a bit of humor. As American ed reform’s leading gadfly, we’ll continue to nip at friends and allies when warranted—and almost always at defenders of the status quo and others who don’t put kids’ interests and the public interest at the top of their priorities. The Institute’s reins are passing into the exceptionally capable hands of Mike Petrilli and a stellar team of colleagues, and the place will inevitably continue to evolve, as it should. I get to move downstairs, cut back a little, and evolve a bit myself, as I should. But I’m not riding off into the sunset. In the months and years ahead, I’ll still be at Fordham (and Hoover), with fewer day-to-day responsibilities and thus more opportunity than ever to make trouble for those who deserve it.

Reformy Policy Library

This from the Pro-Corporate Ed Reform Foundation for Excellence in Education:

The Policy Library provides every education reformer with a wealth of data and information. This searchable database includes reports, research, policy briefs, model legislation, reformer profiles and more.

College and Career Readiness

Rigorous academic standards, such as the Common Core State Standards, will prepare students for college and careers. The Foundation supports policies that set high academic standards and provide rigorous preparatory courses and dual-enrollment options for students.

Digital Learning

Technology can revolutionize education and help ensure no student is bored or left behind. The Foundation supports the use of technology to offer students access to a high-quality, customized education and empower teachers to help their students succeed.

Effective Teachers and Leaders

We need to recruit teachers from all professions, and recognize and reward the effective ones. The Foundation supports ending tenure, the implementation of data-based evaluations and compensation, and alternative paths to certification/licensure.

K-3 Reading

Children who are not proficient readers by fourth grade face bleak futures. The Foundation supports performance-based promotion and rigorous interventions, beginning in kindergarten, but particularly for third-grade students who can’t read.

Outcome-Based Funding

Spending more on education only works when the money targets strategies and programs proven to produce results. The Foundation supports policies that incentivize achievement, invest in proven policies, and recognize and reward student learning instead of just seat-time.

School Choice

Families need the financial freedom to attend schools that meet their needs. The Foundation supports policies that empower families to choose a public, charter, private, virtual or home school.

Standards and Accountability

Students and schools must be held to high academic standards, with their progress measured and results reported in simple, transparent formats. The Foundation supports standardized measurement of student learning, including annual comprehensive end-of-course assessments in elementary, middle and high school, as well as grading schools on an A-F scale – just like students.

How Pearson’s Common Core Tests Are Designed to Fail Your Children

This from Diane Ravitch:

This is a must-read article.

One of the best education writers in New York State is Gary Stern of, which covers the Lower Hudson region. This article shows how the passing marks (“cut scores”) were set for the state’s Common Core tests. It is a story that should have appeared in the New York Times. The State Education Department likes to boast that the cut scores are set by teachers. This is supposed to make them legitimate, on the assumption that the teachers have reasonable expectations and know the students’ capacity. All 95 teachers who participated in the process of setting cut scores were required to sign a confidentiality agreement, but Gary Stern persisted and found 18 who were willing to talk about the process without violating the agreement.
Gary Stern of

What Gary Stern found was that Pearson called the shots, not the teachers.

Here are some quotes.

“How does the state determine the crucial break between a 2, which means that a student is not quite proficient in, say, fifth-grade math, and a 3, which signifies that he or she is on track for college?
“These scoring scales were set last summer by a group of 95 educators that the state gathered at a hotel in Troy for several days. Teachers, administrators and college professors from across New York signed confidentiality agreements and were given the task of setting the cuts between 1 and 2, 2 and 3, and 3 and 4 for the new tests. But the scores would be widely questioned and even ridiculed after one-third of New York students were deemed to be on pace……”

“To most parents, passing a test means earning 65 out of 100 points. Cut and dried.

“The process of setting a scoring “scale” and cut scores for an annual test, based on all-important, predetermined goals, is an entirely different animal that is not easily described. In fact, the panelists met to set the 1-4 cut scores after students took the first new tests in spring 2013 and the raw data was in.

“It’s like you’re jumping over a hurdle that’s 2 feet high, but after you jump they say it was 3 feet and you missed,” said Cary Grimm, another panelist who is math chairman for the Longwood school district on Long Island.

“In brief, panelists were assigned to small groups that looked at several grades’ exams in math or English language arts. They were given detailed descriptions of what students should know in each grade — prepared by state officials and experts from Pearson Inc., the mega-corporation signed to create New York’s tests…..”

“Panelists were told whether various cut scores would jibe with research on what it supposedly takes to succeed in college.

“Jane Arnold, an English professor at SUNY Adirondack, said the Pearson people provided confusing data that didn’t seem to apply to grades 3-5, her group’s focus.

“Then they gave us a chance to change our minds,” she wrote in a statement. “In other words, we all knew that most of the student scores would be substandard…..”

“Maria Baldassarre Hopkins, assistant professor of education at Nazareth College in Rochester, said the process was driven by the introduction of outside research about student success.

“I question how much flexibility and freedom the committee really had,” she said. “The process was based solely on empirical data, on numbers. … There are ways to make the numbers do what you want them to do.”

“Tina Good, coordinator of the Writing Center at Suffolk County Community College, said her group produced the best possible cut scores for ELA tests in grades 3 to 6 — playing by the rules they were given.

“We worked within the paradigm Pearson gave us,” she said. “It’s not like we could go, ‘This is what we think third-graders should know,’ or, ‘This will completely stress out our third-graders.’ Many of us had concerns about the pedagogy behind all of this, but we did reach a consensus about the cut scores.”

“Eva Demyen, superintendent of the Deer Park district on Long Island, said she still doesn’t grasp how the state determined that two-thirds of students were not proficient in English and math.
“How they got the 33 percent (passing) was beyond us,” she wrote. “It just seemed very strange to me … and I’m a mathematician!….”

“Another panelist, Karen DeMoss, a professor of education at Wagner College on Staten Island, said she is increasingly convinced that standardized testing is “scarring” students and not promoting achievement.

“Our process was perfectly fine, and the Common Core standards may be the best thing the country has ever had in education,” DeMoss said. “The problem is the underlying assumption that these tests are helping us. They’re not. Pearson’s tests were unbelievably bad, the worst I’ve seen, and the reality of using tests designed to rank students is something we haven’t gotten our heads around.”

There are at least three lessons are to be learned from this fiasco: one, it was Pearson, not the educators, that decided what students should know; two, Pearson’s standards will cause massive failure wherever they are used; three, as many panelists noted, teachers did not have the training to teach the standards.

And there is one more lesson: if the standards themselves are developmentally inappropriate–if the tests expect fifth-graders to learn material that is appropriate for seventh graders, failure is inevitable. Unless, that is, Pearson and the State Education Department decide to lower the cut scores to give the illusion of progress.

As Gary Stern wrote: “A 2006 primer on cut scores prepared by the Educational Testing Service found that cut scores can be reliable, but are based on a group’s opinions.

“It is impossible to prove that a cut score is correct,” the report said.

Remember that the cut score is NOT an objective measure. It is a judgment call, a matter of group opinion, shaped by assumptions, and it can be manipulated to make scores appear higher or lower, depending on what the state wants. If New York’s scores go up, it means that the State Education Department decided to reduce parent anger by lowering the failure rate.

This is what happened in New York. It is wrong, it is cynical, it is misguided. Thousands of children were falsely labeled as failures. This is not good education. This is not about the needs of children. This is institutional incompetence.

If your state plans to use Pearson and PARCC for Common Core testing, consider this a cautionary tale. As Peter Greene writes in his blog,

“In fact, among the CCSS supporters who spoke (and really– did you think NYS would fill this committee with people who didn’t love the Core), there was a recognition that the implementation is a hash and the tests are a bogus joke. Yes, they haven’t figured out that what we’ve got is exactly what the Core were designed to give us, but at least they recognize some of the suckage, and not simply from a practical political calculus angle (and remember– everyone must take calculus now). This is undoubtedly part of the reason that CCSS enjoys the kind of support in NYS usually reserved for politicians who cannot keep their private parts off the internet.

“It’s an illuminating batch of reportage, well worth your time to read. Because you may not live in New York, but wherever you are in America, you’re still living in the United States of Pearson.”

Bobby Jindal Is Being Sued By His Own School Board Over The Common Core

This from the Huffington Post:
For the last four years, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) has championed the set of learning benchmarks known as the Common Core State Standards -- but a simmering mess of litigation in the state's court system shows that Jindal has moved as far away from his previous position as he can.
Last week, a group of parents, teachers and charter school managers sued Jindal over his recent repudiation of the Common Core. Jindal's decision to cut ties with certain testing vendors who create Common Core materials has left some Louisiana schools lacking critical resources as the beginning of the academic year approaches.

On Tuesday, the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) voted 6-4 to join the lawsuit against Jindal, known as Navis Hill, et al., v. Louisiana State. The litigants are seeking a preliminary injunction that they hope will allow the state to continue its plans to administer Common Core exams in the upcoming school year, which starts in as little as a week in some parishes. A hearing is scheduled for August.

Meanwhile, also on Tuesday, Jindal took some legal action of his own, filing a countersuit with the aim of invalidating the Memorandum of Understanding that Louisiana signed in 2010. That memorandum made the state a member of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), one of two federal consortia that design Common Core tests.

"It's very easy to see what's going on," Jimmy Faircloth, Jindal's legal counsel, told The Huffington Post.

"Governor Jindal now has a much clearer understanding" of the Common Core tests, said Faircloth, who called the tests "a stalking horse for the federalization of education policy."

Although Jindal had previously championed the Common Core, he turned against it this summer, declaring it an unwelcome intrusion on the part of the federal government.

Though the state's legislature has upheld the Common Core, Jindal demanded that the state drop it, and suspended the state's contracts with testing vendors who create Common Core tests.

BESE president Chas Roemer said the current legal battle "is a constitutional question ... that is making sure we preserve our right to make these decisions."

Roemer called Jindal's countersuit a political strategy to distract from the school board vote. "It's called politics 101," he said. "They wanted to make sure you had more than one thing to write about ... They have no interest in a resolution. None."

The Common Core is a set of learning benchmarks in math and English language arts adopted by over 40 states that tell teachers what students need to know by the end of each grade. Recently, the standards have attracted controversy from parties as diverse as mothers concerned by abstract and different homework questions, tea party networks railing against what they see as federal overreach, and teachers' unions decrying hobbled and rushed implementation. Several states have dropped the Common Core, although some, such as Indiana, have replaced them with similar standards by a different name.

A few years ago, Jindal visited a charter school run by one of the Navis litigants to proclaim the Common Core's importance. But after a year of protracted fighting with the federal government over Jindal's expansion of school vouchers in Louisiana, the governor changed his tune.

In May, he compared the Common Core to centralized planning in Russia. In June, he wrote on Twitter that he would "not be bullied" by the feds, and that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's "comments & actions" prove that the Common Core is indeed a "fed takeover." Duncan accused Jindal of playing politics with education.

Jindal's filing includes a section that describes the Common Core as "good intentions co-opted by federal coercion," characterizing the federal government's Race to the Top competition as "effectively compel[ling] states to adopt a single, nationalized, state of standards." (Technically, Race to the Top, which took place during the first term of President Barack Obama, rewarded points to states for adopting college- and career-oriented common academic standards, though it did name the Common Core. Jindal has praised the initiative in the past.)

Despite signing the PARCC agreement in 2010, Jindal now characterizes it in his lawsuit as "effectively subject[ing] citizens of Louisiana to binding education policy developed by a private non-Louisiana entity." Therefore, according to the suit, "the Common Core goal of creating 'voluntary' standards to assist states has been lost." Faircloth said he thinks the suit will "unmask PARCC."

After turning against the Common Core, Jindal sought to pull out of PARCC, but the agreement he signed said the state could not leave the consortium unless its original signers agreed on Louisiana's departure -- which they do not.

Now, Jindal argues in the countersuit that the law prohibits delegating authority to a "non-public person or entity," and that the PARCC agreement is therefore invalid.

State school superintendent John White said Jindal's concerns were unfounded.

"There really is no effect whatsoever of what the administration is seeking here," said White during a call with reporters.

Later, White clarified in an email to HuffPost that while PARCC is a grant that funds test development, that development period is now over, and "there is nothing forcing" Louisiana schools to use those test questions in the future.

"Ending the agreement either prevents something from happening that's already happened, or prevents us from being made to do something no one is making us do," he told HuffPost.

Regardless of the contract technicalities, it's clear the fracas has thrown educators into chaos as they prepare to open their schools for the new academic year.

"This is a war on teachers, and today I sit and instead of getting an answer about what happens on Monday, you guys are going to court and suing the governor," said Candyce Watsey, a teacher in St. Tammany Parish, addressing the school board Tuesday during the meeting where administrators voted to join the suit against Jindal. "What am I going to tell my students?"

Ky. school districts getting insurance bills

School districts owe money in wake of insurance trust failure

This from the Paducah Sun via the Bowling Green Daily News:
Some school districts have started getting bills over the past couple of weeks to help offset insurance claims against the failed Kentucky School Boards Insurance Trust.
The trust announced last year that it would disband due to financial woes and school districts would have to pay off outstanding claims of about $60 million. The trust offered insurance for worker's compensation, property and liability claims.
Johnna DeJarnett, assistant superintendent for McCracken County Public Schools told The Paducah Sun ( that the district has received a bill for $122,032 for worker's comp. Paducah Independent Schools got a bill for $210,834. Neither knows how much it will need to pay for property and liability claims.
Paducah Superintendent Donald Shively
Paducah Superintendent Donald Shively says the bill, on top of a state-mandated pay raise for employees, has the district tightening its belt.
He said the district should be able to absorb the bill, but it is possible that residents could see a tax increase.
"The KSBIT assessment and the annual state-mandated 1 and 2 percent pay raises, as well as our contributions to state retirement, all go into the decisions our board makes in regards to the local tax levies. If there's an adjustment in the local tax levy, I just hope our community understands what's going on economically for our schools at this time," Shively said.
Carlisle County Schools Superintendent Jay Simmons said it won't be easy to deal with and could lead to job cuts.
"Especially for a small district, it's really tough," he said. "We had worst case and best case (estimates), but the numbers were closer to worse case but not as bad."
Carlisle County owes nearly $300,000 for workers' compensation, property and liability claims.
Districts are being asked to pay 25 percent of the workers' compensation claims by Aug. 31. The rest is to be paid in annual payments over six years.

Higher Education Behind On Common Core

This from the Huffington Post:
America’s primary and secondary schools may be busy preparing for the onset of the Common Core standards, meant to better prepare students for college, but one key partner isn’t even close to ready: colleges and universities themselves.

That’s the conclusion of a new report from the New America Foundation, which finds that “there is little evidence to suggest colleges are meaningfully aligning college instruction and teacher preparation programs with the Common Core standards.”

Even though the Common Core was meant largely to improve the college readiness of high school graduates, the report says, “Many of those within higher education were not involved in developing or endorsing the Common Core standards and assessments, and have not considered how they might change their own practices to align with this K–12 initiative. Indeed, many are not even aware of the Common Core.”

The findings follow earlier alarms that the people who run higher education have, for the most part, gotten involved only late in the Common Core process.

Forty-three states and the District of Columbia have adopted the Common Core, a set of standards meant to help improve the preparation of students from primary and secondary schools to go on to--and succeed in--college.

But “there are few coherent approaches being used to join these two systems into a rational shared commitment to the Common Core,” the report found.

One reason, it said, is that it’s hard to come up with a single definition of what makes a student ready for college. Another is the huge variety of colleges and universities. Yet another is that “there is little or no pressure on colleges and universities to change their own academic practices to align with or incorporate these new standards … even among educators who are genuinely invested in making these new standards and assessments work at the K–12 level.

The report recommends that colleges add the results of Common Core assessment tests to the measures by which they gauge students’ eligibility for admission and financial aid; that they help make sure primary and secondary schools teach the things needed to succeed in higher education, and that the Common Core tests measure them; and that schools of education show future teachers how to prepare their students for college and careers.

Only a quarter of high school students who took the ACT test last year were judged ready for college in English, reading, math, and science, according to the company that administers the test. Another national study found that more than half of recent high-school graduates entering community colleges needed remedial courses, a process so demoralizing that only about a quarter of them ever manage to earn degrees.

Providing all of that remedial education costs universities and colleges $7 billion a year, the National Bureau of Economic Research reports.

Not all of higher education is behind. Colleges and universities in Tennessee, California, and some other states are working with their K-12 counterparts to get ready for the Common Core, and more than 200 college and university leaders last month announced a new group to support the Common Core, called Higher Ed for Higher Standards.

Yet a separate survey by the Center on Education Policy at George Washington University found that education commissioners in 35 of the states that have signed onto the Common Core report major or minor challenges in working with higher-education institutions on the transition to the new standards.

Race To The Top Has Been A 'Fiasco'

This from Larry Ferlazzo's Classroom Q&A:

(Today's post is the last of a two-part series on this topic.  You can see Part One here.)

This past week marked the fifth anniversary of the Obama administration's announcing the first Race To The Top competition.  Education Week invited all its opinion bloggers to post about it and you can see all the collected posts here.

The question I posed last week was:

Has Race To The Top been a success, a fiasco, or something in between?

On Friday, educators John Kuhn and Gary Rubinstein provided responses to this question.
Today, several more educators -- Barnett Berry, Ariel Sacks, John Thompson, Alice Mercer and David B. Cohen weigh in with their thoughts...

Response From Barnett Berry
Barnett Berry is the founder of the Center for Teaching Quality, a national nonprofit that's "transforming the teaching profession through the bold ideas and expert practices of teacher leaders." His latest book, written with colleagues Ann Byrd and Alan Wieder, is Teacherpreneurs: Innovative Teachers Who Lead but Don't Leave:
 Race to the Top Has Been a Fiasco

I have a lot to say about President Obama's signature education policy initiative, the $4 billion Race to the Top (R2T) program. A 400-word essay leaves little room. Granted there is a lot that is needed to get done regarding 21st century standards and assessments, data systems that measure student growth and inform educators, and recruiting and retain top teachers for high need schools. Let me list at least five reasons why R2T has been a teaching quality disaster.
1.  Although R2T supposedly promoted the use of teacher evaluation to improve instruction, the USDOE favored states that placed a greater emphasis on states using narrow (and often unreliable) measures of teaching effectiveness;
2.  Although some research has shown how R2T-fueled Teacher Incentive Fund models have resulted in more opportunities for teacher mentoring, there is little evidence of improved student achievement;
researchers-have-shown.jpg3.  Few, if any, of the R2T policies and resources have seriously recognized the conditions that allow teachers to teach effectively and none have been directly designed so teachers can spread their expertise to each other;
4. Although R2T offered a great deal of important rhetoric on attracting and keeping effective teachers, the USODE policies have ignored what research has shown to recruit and retain those most needed for high need schools; and
5. R2T has done little to support serious improvements in teacher education, ignoring the fact that the federal government annually spends $11 billion on medical education.
Imagine if the USDOE shifted its R2T gears, and focused on:
* Drawing on international lessons learned (and exemplary practices close to home) to advance new models for school schedules and leadership configurations;
* Collaborating with unions to support teacherpreneur roles that advance Common Core implementation and reforms in teacher evaluation systems and school redesign.
* Modifying teacher evaluation and pay systems to systematically encourage and reward teachers to lead and share their expertise with their peers;
* Investing in teacher preparation that readies pre-service teachers as action researchers and leaders, much like what is found in Singapore and Finland; and
* Creating incentives for states, universities, and districts to create joint appointments for teachers to lead without leaving the classroom -- even support the bold brand of teacherpreneurs.
Other researchers have shown that the R2T policies drew on very narrow strands of research, and virtually none of them peer-reviewed, scientific evidence. No wonder R2T has been a fiasco.

Response From Ariel Sacks
Ariel Sacks teaches 8th grade English language arts in New York City. She is the author of Whole Novels for the Whole Class: A Student Centered Approach (Jossey-Bass, 2013). She writes the Center for Teaching Quality's featured blog, On the Shoulders of Giants:
If this were a multiple-choice question, the best answer would be b) fiasco.  Using my own words, I might add "irresponsible." For starters, as a professional educator, the name, Race to the Top, gives me great pause. 

Education is not a race.  Racing others is not an effective way to learn or teach.  Think about bike riding.  You do not race others while you learn to ride a bike.  While you teach a child to ride a bike, you are not trying to do so faster than the next guy.  You exercise tremendous patience--every child learns this one at her own pace, in her own way.  And once a child does learn, racing is just one possible application of the skill. 
There are probably some great strategies for teaching a child to ride a bicycle, and these should be shared--but competition inhibits sharing.  "On your marks, get set, go--or else!" is not a model for supporting the learning and development of children, teachers, or schools. 

And what is this "top," toward which we are racing? The Executive Summary for the Race to the Top Program provides a vague picture of a place that includes "substantial gains in student outcomes...closing achievement gaps, improving graduation rates, ensuring student preparation for success in college and careers." 

In practice, RTTT defined "the top" far more narrowly for us, creating a target with no basis in research. Rather than developing a thoughtful plan, generating true buy-in from educators by utilizing their expertise, RTTT coerced states into "racing" toward the prescribed goal in order to receive much needed federal funding. 

"The top," as defined through RTTT, is a place where states hastily implement Common Core Standards (which are themselves untested) without a sound, professional process for schools and teachers to transition. "The top" includes a new crop of standardized tests, which have not been proven to accurately measure student learning, which redefined "rigor" and resulted in a 31% pass rate for New York City students.  "The top" includes new teacher evaluation plans that rely substantially on data from standardized tests to judge, rank, and reward teachers--this, despite a lack of research to prove these methods have any benefits, and much research to the contrary

All of this seems reckless, adding up to a hodgepodge of curriculum shifts and a lot of fear, which is debilitating for teachers and students. Race to the Top funnels federal funds (our tax money) into supporting an accountability movement with no proven value, rather than funding the many educational programs with clear track records of success.  Whether or not this misuse of federal dollars was intentional is not the question.  As teachers know--part of being a leader is accepting both the intended and the unintended consequences of your decisions.

Response From John Thompson

John Thompson was an award-winning historian when crack and gangs hit his neighborhood and he became attached to the kids in the drug houses. He switched careers and taught in the inner city for 19 years:
A Fiasco with a Semi-Happy Ending

Race for the Top gave Oklahoma educators an offer we couldn't refuse. Some Democrats may have suddenly seen the light and bought into its mostly Republican agenda. Some might have converted to the idea that the federal government should coerce diverse districts into expanding TFA, charter schools, performance pay, Common Core testing, mass dismissal of educators in low-performing schools, and value-added teacher evaluations. With Arne Duncan's gun to their heads, teachers unions agreed to change state law and to commit to those dubious policies. Educators couldn't allow ourselves to be blamed for undermining a possible $175 million dollar grant, especially during a recession.

Im-expecting.jpgOklahoma lost the competition but the law still mandated big-ticket gambles, including Common Core and its $17 million dollar down payment, and $23 million dollars to start toward value-added evaluations. Even if the RttT's one-size fits-all experiments made sense, successful implementation would have required a tax increase. Instead, education budgets were cut and incoming State Superintendent Janet Barresi tried to implement the entire Republican/Duncan/RttT agenda.

Four years later, a happy ending may be unfolding, and the entire test and punish agenda may be collapsing. Oklahoma adopted Common Core during a time of austerity, and wasted time and money on its professional development and tests. It then rejected Common Core standards and assessments. The single worst high stakes test policy (mandatory retention of 3rd graders who fail their reading test) has been paused. Chief for Change Barresi was trounced in the Republican primary. The remaining candidates all reject the testing mania, often condemning it as "child abuse." Barresi ally, Republican Governor Mary Fallin, who once was seen as unbeatable, is in a freefall. Her opponent, Joe Dorman, closed to within five points after condemning Common Core as an "Unfunded Nightmare."

Next year, the impossibility of implementing all of the contradictory RttT promises, without the capacity to do so, will become even more obvious. Educators will start the school year without clear guidance regarding the tests they must teach to. Surely, more Oklahomans will reject the denial of high school diplomas to students who haven't been given an opportunity to measure up to those fluctuating standards. Hopefully, the courts will question terminations that result from failure to meet test score growth targets under these circumstances. I'm expecting conservative and liberal Oklahomans will completely repudiate the RttT unfunded fiasco.

Response From Alice Mercer
Alice Mercer teaches sixth grade at an elementary school in Sacramento, CA. She started her career in Oakland, Ca, and moved to Sacramento in 2001. Alice is active in her union doing social media outreach, and is on State Council, the policy setting body of the California Teachers Association. Her blog is Reflections on Teaching:
Race to the Top - A Tale of Two States

We-have-a-lot-of-money.jpgIn my analysis of Race to the Top I'm going to look at two states, California and New York with a focus on technology. One received a Race to the Top grant, the other did not, but even in a state that wouldn't play ball with the US Department of Education, California has felt the effects of this program.

In New York most of the technology that has been implemented has been for teacher evaluation system, the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR). Here  are just a list of some of the problems:
* Large amounts of cash being required by the grant that were not covered by the grant money;
* A system that is not accurate;
* A system that as it is currently implemented, discriminates against many teachers;
Let me sum up:  this results in a lousy system because student test data shouldn't be used that way and all the coding in the world won't make it work. I'll leave you with the words of New York State Teacher of the Year, Kathleen Ferguson, who will NEVER earn a rating of "highly effective" with APPR, "This system does not make sense," Ferguson said.
California, the nation's most populous state, was not able to qualify for RttT grants. Still, the prior governor and state leaders tried. Just for the privilege of applying, they agreed to adopt Common Core State Standards (CCSS), and with that they joined one of the two testing consortia, SBAC (Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium). Since SBAC decided to focus on a computer-based assessment, this required that California make a significant investment in technology;
* The money had to come from somewhere. Some districts opted to use bond funds for long-term infrastructure improvements to buy technology with a shelf life of 3-7 years.
* This was a crash buy of tech with no integration plan;
* The tests are not a transformative use of technology, and there doesn't seem to be a plan to change that.
I'm not the only one who's noticed the lack depth in these assessments, as you can see from this chart  here. We have a lot of money being spent in ways that would seem to enrich vendors, instead of student learning, and that isn't a good thing.

Response From David B. Cohen

David B. Cohen is a high school English teacher from Palo Alto, CA. He blogs at InterACT, and is currently preparing for a leave of absence from teaching, to travel throughout California observing and writing about public education:
I will take the middle ground and say that Race to the Top has been somewhere between success and fiasco. Naturally, the administration has called it a success, and taking a look at the the administration's report "Setting the Pace," I would agree that some good programs and policies have been supported by these federal grants. The caveat is that I haven't studied all these examples myself, but at first glance it seems worthwhile to support new teachers in Rhode Island and improve teacher retention in Delaware. It's probably good to have expanded support for rural students in Florida, and alternative education programs supporting at-risk students in Georgia.

Maybe-enough-good-was.jpgRace to the Top came along at a time when states were desperate for education funding. The administration, for legal and political reasons, has always emphasized that state participation was voluntary. A few years ago, I wrote that Duncan was like the title character in George Bernard Shaw's play "Major Barbara" - whose father says of her missionary efforts, "It is cheap work converting starving men with a Bible in one hand and a slice of bread in the other." Duncan came to the cash-starved states with the Race to the Top grant in one hand and funding in the other, and many states rushed to adopt a variety of policies to win grants, whether or not all those policies were worthy or sensible.

To many of us in the field, it felt more like coercion. We questioned some of the administration's priorities and its assumptions about competition. We debunked their assumptions about teacher evaluations and accountability, and doubted the cost-benefit calculations would work out favorably. In return, we were accused of acting in self-interest. If we review the full effects of Race to the Top, and not just the administration's selected examples, I think the doubters have been vindicated. Hastily adopted policies and rushed commitments to help win grant funding have led to some disappointing results and negative consequences. (a few examples: North Carolina; Georgia; Tennessee; New York).

Maybe enough good was accomplished to say Race to the Top wasn't a total fiasco, but the model leads education policy in the wrong direction. No race was necessary. Rick Hess, quoted in the Wall Street Journal, said the "problem with bribing states to do things that have only shaky political support from the outset" is a "lack of commitment to properly implementing them." Tying Common Core adoption to Race to the Top also turned out poorly, as it certainly contributed to the growing Common Core resistance. Together, these initiatives show the risk having education policy based on money more than merits, and pushed through with insufficient debate before many people even know what's happening.

McCaskill Introduces Legislation to Reduce Sexual Assaults on College Campuses

This from KMOX CBS St Louis:
U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill has introduced legislation aimed at reducing campus sexual assaultsthe result of a massive survey earlier this year that showed a startling number of schools hadn’t investigated a rape claim in years.
The survey also revealed that many schools have little to no services for victims.

Though most of the provisions are reactivethey help students after they’ve been rapedMcCaskill says the next step is trying to change rape culture.

“We need everyone on campus to understand that it doesn’t matter how much you had to drink, or what you wore ,or who you were with, or where you went, you can’t be assaulted,” she says. “That doesn’t give anyone permission to break the law.

If passed, the bill would increase penalties for schools that don’t report sexual assaults and also establish more standards for victim care on campuses.

“What current law is, the only penalty they have is take away all of their federal funding, which is an unrealistic penalty and all the universities know it,” McCaskill says.

Under the new law, the fine could be as much as 1 percent of the school’s general operating budget. So a school like Harvard, that has a $4 billion operating budget, could be threatened with a $40 million fine.

McCaskill says she’s optimistic the legislation could get a vote in September.

Protecting Student Privacy

This from Morning Education via email:
Democrat Ed Markey of Massachusetts
Amid growing concerns about the security of student data, Sens. Ed Markey and Orrin Hatch plan to introduce a bill this morning updating the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974. The bipartisan bill uses federal funding for leverage, declaring that school districts must meet new rules for protecting privacy in order to receive education funds. It prohibits the use of personally identifiable information to target advertising to students, requires districts to minimize distribution of identifiable data and mandates that any company or organization receiving the data have comprehensive security policies in place.

The bill also gives parents the right to see the information that third parties, including for-profit companies, hold on their children. And if the information is inaccurate, misleading or inappropriate for inclusion in the file, parents have the right to demand corrections. The bill also requires companies holding identifiable information about students to destroy it after completing the specific task for which they obtained the data. "This bipartisan legislation ensures that parents, not schools and companies, control personal information about their children and that sensitive student data won't be sold as a product on the open market," Markey told Morning Education.
Republican Orrin Hatch of Utah

But the bill leaves open a huge loophole. The protections in the bill apply only to students' educational records. These days, private companies collect huge amounts of data that is not considered part of the official student file. Children's progress through online tutorials, textbooks, games and apps would not be part of their educational record in most cases. Neither would the vast streams of "metadata" that companies collect as students work online - including intimate information about their learning styles and work habits, such as how long they persevere at challenging tasks or how often they take breaks. Companies also collect information about students' locations, their browsers and the web pages they visit before and after jumping on an educational site. None of that information would be protected under the Markey-Hatch bill.

The Hard Part

Actually we do discuss issues like this at Eastern...

This from The Blog at HuffPo:
They never tell you in teacher school, and it's rarely discussed elsewhere. It is never, ever portrayed in movies and tv shows about teaching. Teachers rarely bring it up around non-teachers for fear it will make us look weak or inadequate.

Valerie Strauss in the Washington Post once put together a series of quotes to answer the question "How hard is teaching?" and asked for more in the comments section. My rant didn't entirely fit there, so I'm putting it here, because it is on the list of Top Ten Things They Never Tell You in Teacher School.

The hard part of teaching is coming to grips with this:

There is never enough.

TEACHER STUDENTThere is never enough time. There are never enough resources. There is never enough you.
As a teacher, you can see what a perfect job in your classroom would look like. You know all the assignments you should be giving. You know all the feedback you should be providing your students. You know all the individual crafting that should provide for each individual's instruction. You know all the material you should be covering. You know all the ways in which, when the teachable moment emerges (unannounced as always), you can greet it with a smile and drop everything to make it grow and blossom.

You know all this, but you can also do the math. 110 papers about the view of death in American Romantic writing times 15 minutes to respond with thoughtful written comments equals -- wait! what?! That CAN'T be right! Plus quizzes to assess where we are in the grammar unit in order to design a new remedial unit before we craft the final test on that unit (five minutes each to grade). And that was before Chris made that comment about Poe that offered us a perfect chance to talk about the gothic influences, and then Alex and Pat started a great discussion of gothic influences today. And I know that if my students are really going to get good at writing, they should be composing something at least once a week. And if I am going to prepare my students for life in the real world, I need to have one of my own to be credible.

If you are going to take any control of your professional life, you have to make some hard, conscious decisions. What is it that I know I should be doing that I am not going to do?

Every year you get better. You get faster, you learn tricks, you learn which corners can more safely be cut, you get better at predicting where the student-based bumps in the road will appear. A good administrative team can provide a great deal of help.

But every day is still educational triage. You will pick and choose your battles, and you will always be at best bothered, at worst haunted, by the things you know you should have done but didn't. Show me a teacher who thinks she's got everything all under control and doesn't need to fix a thing for next year, and I will show you a lousy teacher. The best teachers I've ever known can give you a list of exactly what they don't do well enough yet.

Not everybody can deal with this. I had a colleague years ago who was a great classroom teacher. But she gave every assignment that she knew she should, and so once a grading period, she took a personal day to sit at home and grade papers for 18 hours straight. She was awesome, but she left teaching, because doing triage broke her heart.

So if you show up at my door saying, "Here's a box from Pearson. Open it up, hand out the materials, read the script, and stick to the daily schedule. Do that, and your classroom will work perfectly," I will look you in your beady eyes and ask, "Are you high? Are you stupid?" Because you have to be one of those. Maybe both.

Here's your metaphor for the day.

Teaching is like painting a huge Victorian mansion. And you don't actually have enough paint. And when you get to some sections of the house it turns out the wood is a little rotten or not ready for the paint. And about every hour some supervisor comes around and asks you to get down off the ladder and explain why you aren't making faster progress. And some days the weather is terrible. So it takes all your art and skill and experience to do a job where the house still ends up looking good.

Where are school reformy folks in this metaphor? They're the ones who show up and tell you that having a ladder is making you lazy, and you should work without. They're the ones who take a cup of your paint every day to paint test strips on scrap wood, just to make sure the paint is okay (but now you have less of it). They're the ones who show up after the work is done and tell passersby, "See that one good-looking part? That turned out good because the painters followed my instructions." And they're most especially the ones who turn up after the job is complete to say, "Hey, you missed a spot right there on that one board under the eaves."

There isn't much discussion of the not-enough problem. Movie and tv teachers never have it (high school teachers on television only ever teach one class a day). And teachers hate to bring it up because we know it just sounds like whiny complaining.

But all the other hard parts of teaching -- the technical issues of instruction and planning and individualization and being our own "administrative assistants" and acquiring materials and designing unit plans and assessment -- all of those issues rest solidly on the foundation of Not Enough.

Trust us. We will suck it up. We will make do. We will Find A Way. We will even do that when the state and federal people tasked with helping us do all that instead try to make it harder. Even though we can't get to perfect, we can steer toward it. But if you ask me what the hard part of teaching is, hands down, this wins.

There's not enough.

Online survey available on learning model

Department of Education seeking public feedback
This from the Lane Report:
The Kentucky Department of Education is seeking feedback on its Unbridled Learning College/Career-Readiness for All Accountability Model. The model, which includes multiple measures for determining school success, has been in place since the 2011-12 school year.

Between now and August 20, an online survey will be available for stakeholder input on the various components of the system and how determinations of school and district success are made. The survey may be accessed at
The feedback provided will inform the commissioner and the Kentucky Board of Education on any future action that may be taken regarding the accountability system.

Senate Bill 1 (2009) charged the Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) with creating and implementing a balanced statewide assessment and accountability system that that measures students’, schools’, and districts’ achievement of the goals set forth in KRS 158.645 and 158.6451, ensures compliance with the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, and ensures school accountability. The KBE sought the advice of the Office of Education Accountability; the School Curriculum, Assessment, and Accountability Council; the Education Assessment and Accountability Review Subcommittee, and the National Technical Advisory Panel on Assessment and Accountability in the development of the assessment program and system of accountability.

The Unbridled Learning Accountability Model includes multiple measures of success in three main areas which align to the board’s strategic priorities. Next-Generation Learners is the heart of the model and includes measures of student achievement, gap reduction, student academic growth, college/career-readiness and graduation rate.

Next-Generation Instructional Programs and Support includes Program Reviews in areas such as arts and humanities, practical living/career studies, writing and the K-3 program.

The Next-Generation Professionals component includes the number of effective teachers and principals as measured by Kentucky’s new Professional Growth and Effectiveness System; this element is scheduled to be included in accountability in the 2015-16 school year.

Kentucky’s accountability model also places importance on identifying and closing achievement gaps among groups of students and providing support for low-performing schools.
ultimate goal of college- and career-readiness.”

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Education granted Kentucky flexibility under the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (No Child Left Behind), so the state could use its comprehensive system of accountability for both state and federal purposes to ensure college/career-readiness for all students.

The Unbridled Learning College- and Career-Readiness for All Assessment and Accountability System replaced the Commonwealth Accountability and Testing System, which used student proficiency as the primary determination of schools’ success.

A summary description of the Unbridled Learning Accountability Model and how overall school and district accountability is determined can be found here.

What you can do in a rich school district...

This approach could work with a lot of things. Don't want to force Ky kids to take the federally mandated annual testing? Kentucky could just deny federal funds, and go its own way. Of course, that's very expensive and there's no way our legislature (or citizens) would support the necessary (huge) tax increases.

This from WLWT (Video):
Ft. Thomas superintendent: School lunch rules good idea gone too far

School lunches are very different now than they were a few years ago, and in some districts, they are not as popular either.
New federal guidelines force kids to eat healthy and districts have to follow the rules, or risk losing federal funding.
One district has decided the rules are a good idea that's gone too far, so they're dropping out.
When kids head back to school at Highlands High School, they’re going to see more of their favorites on the school lunch menu, and bigger portions, too. That’s because the district has decided to opt out of the federal school lunch program.
They’ll forgo federal money for free and reduced price lunches, along with federal money for commodities, in order to avoid the menu restrictions that go along with the money.
Over the past few years, fewer kids are buying school lunch at Highlands High School, and the ones who do buy, don’t necessarily eat what’s put on their tray.
“We watch children every day walk past the cash register and then throw away things that we are forced, have forced them to take essentially, as a result of the federal requirements for lunches,” said Gene Kirchner, the superintendent of Fort Thomas Independent Schools.
His district will lose approximately $200,000 this school year and $260,000 in future years by opting out of the federal program, but he believes it’s worth it.
He says kids are packing lunch, skipping lunch, or at the high school level, traveling off-campus to eat.
“There’s no guarantee that the things they bring from home are healthier, or that if they stop by the minute market on the way to school and what they grabbed at that point is a healthier option,” Kirchner said.
The planning is going on now in the Highlands cafeteria for the new school year, and it will bring a different menu that’s still healthy, but not as restrictive as the federal guidelines require.
Kids will see more options on any given day and their favorites will be offered more often. Things like French fries may have only been on the menu once or twice a month because of concerns about fat and salt – that will change.
Fort Thomas Independent Schools may be the only district in Kentucky that has opted out of the federal school lunch program, but the superintendent believes it’s the best move.
“We feel like, based on the way it’s going, we can do a better job locally than the federal
government can in regards to what our kids in Fort Thomas want,” Kirchner said.
The district hopes to make-up money they’ve lost through federal funding by serving more school lunches. Free and reduced price lunches will still be available, with the district now absorbing the cost.
The program is an experiment that will be monitored to make sure it makes financial sense.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

New evaluation aims to create better teachers and students

This from WPSD (West KY) :
A new teacher evaluation system designed in our area to create smarter students by training better teachers is now the standard across the state of Kentucky. The initiative for a new system started five years ago in Carlisle, Fulton, Graves, and Marshall counties. The Professional Growth and Effectiveness System, or PGES, focuses on ideas like self-reflection, student voice, and coaching. Administrators say the tool will keep good teachers in classrooms and weed out the ones who aren't getting through your kids.

Many school districts have been working through the summer to prepare teachers for some big changes that they're going to be held accountable for starting this school year. "It was all about trying to improve teacher quality, teacher effectiveness in the state of Kentucky," said Graves County Secondary Instructional Supervisor Carla Whitis. She's been involved in creating a new system for teachers and principals in Kentucky since day one.

"It's not just filling out an evaluation anymore. We are trying to, with this tool, actually create better teachers... which in turn will create better students," said Alison Gregory. She's the principal at Symsonia Elementary School and in charge of the coaching teachers will get to become more effective in the classroom. It's something not even those with tenure will be able to avoid. Gregory said, "If we want great teachers in the classroom, this will keep them there. But, this will also show if this isn't quite the career for you. You're not going to be able to hide what I would call bad teaching."

Teachers in each Graves County school have already exposed their students to the new standards. Elementary Instructional Supervisor Amanda Henson said, "Our instruction is being carried out like this currently. So,we feel like we are in really good shape for the upcoming school year."

PGES is going state-wide now, holding teachers to higher standards using a system that will also be evaluated itself. Whitis said, "Is it accomplishing what we want it to accomplish? Which is? More effective teachers, which also leads to students learning more and growing over that time period."

The program requires principals to do three in-class observations. Teachers rated as "ineffective" will be required to create a plan to improve. Principals will go through a calibration process every two years to make sure they're using the program correctly.


This from Chester Finn at the Fordham Foundation:
Way back in 2000, the United Nations went through an elaborate process of setting “millennium development goals” for the world. To be attained by 2015, these were, of course, entirely laudable—e.g., “eradicate extreme poverty and hunger” and “achieve universal primary education”—and they have definitely influenced the priorities of various UN agencies, other governmental and multilateral aid providers, and private philanthropies.

There’s been progress on several fronts—notably a big reduction in the number of people living in extreme poverty and hunger—but none of these goals will have been achieved in full by next year, any more than the “goals 2000” project for American K–12 education met its targets (e.g., “first in the world in math and science”) by the stated end point.

How useful this kind of goal setting is may be debated, but the UN has never looked back. Rather, it’s busily updating its millennium goals for the period after 2015, and its “open working group on sustainable development goals” just held its thirteenth meeting, where it finalized a new list of goals and dispatched these for consideration by the Secretary General and General Assembly. You can find a description of this process here: You will also see that the United States shared—with Canada and Israel—one of thirty seats on this working group. (Never mind that the U.S. supplies 22 percent of the UN’s budget!)

The proposed new goals number seventeen, more than twice as many as in the last go-round, and 169 “targets” for the year 2030 accompany them. You can find the document here but I’ll reproduce the education section:
Proposed goal 4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote life-long learning opportunities for all
4.1 by 2030, ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes
4.2 by 2030 ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education
4.3 by 2030 ensure equal access for all women and men to affordable quality technical, vocational and tertiary education, including university
4.4 by 2030, increase by x% [sic] the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship
4.5 by 2030, eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples, and children in vulnerable situations
4.6 by 2030 ensure that all youth and at least x% [sic] of adults, both men and women, achieve literacy and numeracy
4.7 by 2030 ensure all learners acquire knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including among others through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship, and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development
4.a build and upgrade education facilities that are child, disability and gender sensitive and provide safe, non-violent, inclusive and effective learning environments for all
4.b by 2020 expand by x% globally the number of scholarships for developing countries in particular LDCs, SIDS and African countries to enrol in higher education, including vocational training, ICT, technical, engineering and scientific programmes in developed countries and other developing countries
4.c by 2030 increase by x% the supply of qualified teachers, including through international cooperation for teacher training in developing countries, especially LDCs and SIDS
You may gape, as I did, both at the UN speak and at the pie-in-sky aspects of this wish list. You may also find yourself wondering, as I did, just what difference any of this will make in the real world over the next fifteen years. (But what a politically convenient time-span! How many of the people who draft and enact these goals will still occupy “accountable” roles in 2030?)
What launched me on this eccentric inquiry was a major feature in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal by British journalist (and Tory peer) Matt Ridley that sought to advise the UN and others about which of these zillion goals and targets would have the greatest payoff. He wisely noted that even eight was too many, that the seventeen going to the General Assembly are vastly too many, that 169 is “absurdly long,” and that “the new list should have just five discrete, quantitative, achievable goals.”
To whittle the big list down, Ridley turned to an outfit called the Copenhagen Consensus Center, which enlists economists to undertake cost-benefit analyses of various development goals and then rates them from “phenomenal” to “poor” according to their estimated benefit-cost ratio.

When Ridley eyeballed that analysis in search of five targets that promise “phenomenal” returns, the one he came up with in education is “boost preprimary education, which costs little and has lifelong benefits by getting children started on learning.”

Indeed, the Copenhagen group gave its highest rating, among the education targets, to preschool, so I went in search of the evidence that led them to that conclusion. Here’s what I found:
Most evidence, including that of Nobel laureate [James] Heckman, shows that the benefits of acting early are very large, with relatively lower costs. Most of this evidence is from US studies, though there is little reason to believe that it would not also be the case in developing countries.
Think about it. Ridley is relying on the Copenhagen group, which relies mainly on Heckman and on U.S. data to devise development targets for the world. They are, in fact, relying on the same analyses as the universal pre-K crowd in this country cites, and if you reread the actual words of target 4.2, you will see that they are recommending truly universal (er, planetary) pre-K.

Think about it some more. Preschool is not like a polio shot or smallpox vaccination. It does not inoculate anybody against anything. It’s a stage in the education process. Properly done, it can be a valuable stage—readiness for Kindergarten does matter in relation to success in the early grades—and the right kind of preschool program can give a needed leg up to kids who aren’t getting such preparation at home.

But—and it’s a huge but—it’s only preparation for further education. The further education has to be waiting, and it has to be good education that takes advantage of what was accomplished in preschool.
That’s rare enough in the U.S., where Heckman gathered his data (and do keep in mind that he relies mainly on studies of high-cost “boutique” programs such as Perry Preschool, not the mass kind such as several states have mounted.) Most of the time, whatever boost was provided by preschool fades to the vanishing point during the early grades because the schools themselves fail to sustain it.

And that’s in a country with universal elementary education and compulsory school attendance.

Now shift that scenario to a developing land where many kids still lack access to functioning primary schools, the girls aren’t allowed to attend, the poorest kids are kept back to help in the fields or carpet factory, or the school is there and the child is there but the teacher isn’t present or isn’t properly educated herself.

What is the benefit conferred by preschool if there’s no school after the pre?

To which, you may respond, hearken back to target 4.1—which, if attained, would create a plausible argument for target 4.2, and that I do not deny. But how odd and dreamy it seems to single out preschool alone, as Ridley does (and as the Copenhagen group gives him a basis for doing) as having this fantastic benefit-to-cost ratio without considering the education continuum into which it must fit if it’s to make any lasting difference in the lives of kids—or, for that matter, the world.