Weekend Reading

There were many important releases and developments this week—invaluable new SIG information from IES, Race to the Top audits, new Brookings “choice index”—and I couldn’t keep up! Those subjects and others will get fuller treatments from me next week. But until then, here are some worthwhile things to read over the weekend.

There has been much talk about the 50-year anniversary of The War on Poverty. Here’s the best stuff I’ve seen:This Gerson column smartly points out the federal government’s successes and failures (and though this superb Brooks column on evolving conservative policy thinking isn’t about The War on Poverty per se, it should be read in conjunction with Gerson’s). This short blurb by Checker Finn is terrific; the first-person narrative is compelling, and for history buffs and those fascinated by the intersection of politics and policy, it offers something special. This very good piece by my old high school friend (now at AEI) Josh Good echoes family-related arguments made by Finn’s mentor a half century ago.

If you care at all about Common Core, this Stephanie Simon article about conservative backlash is an absolute must read. There are several different strands in the piece worth thinking about (including the CCSS-as-a-stepping-stone strategy), but these two sentences speak volumes: “Still, (Common Core) supporters have struggled to counter the critics. They have had trouble even understanding the contours of the smoldering opposition.” As I told TNTP (see fifth paragraph), if our leading reform organizations lack conservatives in their senior ranks, is it any wonder that our field doesn’t understand—much less appreciate—the conservative opposition? (Incidentally, Common Core advocates should be sending Mike Petrilli gifts; he’s been a road warrior, shuttling from state to state, trying to convince conservative legislators to embrace the new standards.) Until our leading groups become more politically diverse, this left-right schism in ed reform is going to widen.

There’s a good new report on choice programs from the Friedman Foundation. It explores which types of programs are most popular with the public and why. Surprisingly, the public is likelier to support choice policies when they are billed as helping families exercise educational freedom, while framing the programs as serving equity or as generating competition is less successful. Tax credit programs are the most popular and, again surprisingly, voucher programs for low-income families (as opposed to universal vouchers) were the least popular. Give it a look, and check out Michael Brickman’s review in this week’s Education Gadfly.

Those interested in education policy and politics, especially at the state level, would be wise to read this very short committee statement on legislation in New Jersey. It typifies the massive inherent challenges of trying to drive reform, especially innovations, via state law and state departments of education. In short, the department wanted to create an innovation fund to spur new practices. But after making its way through the blue-state legislature, the bill prohibited differentiated pay for teachers, required union representatives on all state and local committees, barred charters from participating, banned fully online programs, cut the SEA’s implementation budget, and more. This is a great example of why I now believe that state-level reform needs to be generated and led by the nonprofit sector.

—Andy Smarick

This post originally appeared on the Fordham Institute’s Flypaper blog.

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