Some Early-Summer Reads, Part I

A bunch of very good publications have been released over the last few weeks—so many, in fact, that I’ve had trouble getting to them all (people, you’re killing me; can you coordinate release dates?). But I finally made it, and a number are definitely deserving of attention.

So if your to-read pile has dwindled, here are a few to add to the top of the stack. Actually, there are so many, I’ve broken this post into two. I know it’s a lot to get through, but, c’mon, what else were you going to read at the beach?

*If you follow NCLB reauthorization or ESEA waivers, you should consider this new Education Sector report a must-read. Authors John Chubb and Constance Clark do three invaluable things. First, they show that during the NCLB era, there were enormous differences in the gains states made in student achievement. Second, the authors show that those states that did well over the last decade have very different waiver applications than the states that lagged far behind. Third, they explain what this means for the Department’s waiver policy and for reauthorization. This is top-notch stuff.

*A very good companion piece to Ed Sector’s report is this new paper by Thomas Ahn and Jacob L. Vigdor, which argues that NCLB—despite the ritualistic political thrashings it gets today—deserves some credit. It helped raise test scores, showed that tough love for troubled schools has benefits, and more. The paper also argues that the choice/SES provisions (as well as “corrective action”) were less successful. Its conclusion about the “bubble-kid effect” is interesting. Overall, the paper’s findings should inform the reauthorization debate and temper some of the exaggerated claims by the law’s many antagonists.

*One of the best compliments a musician can bestow is, “I wish I had written that song.” It’s an admission that someone else conjured up an idea and executed it superbly—before you and maybe better than you could’ve done. That’s how I feel about this tome about revitalizing Milwaukee’s reform landscape (edited by Rick Hess and Carolyn Sattin-Bajaj). It’s a collection of essays by some of the business’s best brains; each tackles one element of the city’s reform environment, analyzing conditions and making recommendations. My favorites are Neerav Kingsland’s on the RSD model, Mike Petrilli’s on quality control, and Ranjit Nair’s on human capital. I have quibbles with each piece and a couple bigger beefs with a few, but taken in total, this is a great contribution. If time’s an issue, you can find the synthesis here.

*Smart, right-thinking young scholar and all-around good dude Mike McShane has been publishing a series of posts under the heading “Dispatches from a Nervous Common Core Observer.” They cover all of the major angles of the new standards—materials, professional development, politics—and are well informed and occasionally provocative. If you want to get up to speed on the state of play or dig into a particular part of the debate, you ought to give these a look.

-Andy Smarick

This blog entry first appeared on the Fordham Institute’s Flypaper blog.

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