Is Uncle Sam Ed Reform’s Biggest Liability?

By 10/22/2014 0 Comments

There’s apprehension in some ed-reform circles that things have gone sideways.

There’s the resistance to Common Core coming from the right and the left. There’s frustration with ESEA waivers. There’s the mess in Newark. There are twelve students demanding Harvard divorce Teach for America.

But each of these is, of course, an anecdote, and “data” is not the plural of “anecdote.” So are these chapters in a larger backlash-to-reform narrative, or are they just well-publicized exceptions to the reform-is-winning rule?

I’ve spent some time going through four recent surveys of the views of the public, educators, parents, and insiders. They offer encouragement to the reform community, though with one important exception. In short, many of today’s most prominent reforms are quite popular, but it looks like folks are perturbed by a meddlesome Uncle Sam. (If you have time, I recommend your taking a gander at the data from Education Next, Phi Delta Kappan, Whiteboard Advisors, and Education Post.)

Consistent with public opinion data going back decades, today’s Americans think their local schools are doing fine, but they think schools in the rest of the nation are seriously troubled. Whether you ask the public or parents, only 1–4 percent believe the nation’s schools deserve an A.

Though people rate their local schools much higher, there’s broad agreement that low-income kids, even in our esteemed local schools, aren’t getting what they need. Only a third of the public (and only one-quarter of African Americans) think their local schools deserve an A or B for their service of economically disadvantaged kids.

Moreover, well over half of the public believes that education is on the “wrong track” and that their students’ schools need to improve. In fact, three-quarters of African American and Hispanic parents worry that their schools won’t prepare their children for success in today’s world.

As a result of the public’s concern, there is broad support for education reform. Education Post actually tested support for the concept “education reform” and found that 77 percent of respondents had a very or somewhat favorable response. Results were even more positive for specific reforms.

Nearly three-quarters of all parents or grandparents of school-age children responded very or somewhat favorably to public charter schools. Similar results were found by Education Next and PDK (Paul Peterson explains the small differences here).

Education Post also found strong support for what many fret is a radioactive subject: standardized tests. More than two-thirds of all respondents were supportive, and higher percentages of African Americans and Latinos responded favorably.

One of the most important findings spanning the surveys is the strong support for recent reforms related to educator effectiveness. According to Education Next, about 60 percent of the public favors making tenure contingent on student learning, and a majority support tying teacher compensation to student learning. Reform of tenure and teacher evaluation is also broadly supported.

It appears that the public either read The Widget Effect or understands from experience the wide variation in educators’ effectiveness. According to Education Next, while the public rates many teachers highly, it would also assign one-fifth of local public school teachers a D or F for the quality of their work. Importantly, the teachers surveyed would give 19 percent of teachers nationwide a D or F.

The biggest caution for reformers relates to its use of the federal government to get things done. The public seems to be pretty fed up with Uncle Sam in its schools.

The Obama administration has cast a larger shadow over K–12 policy and practice than any of its predecessors. The public is responding with a Victorian, “We are not amused.”

According to PDK, only 27 percent give President Obama an A or B for his handling of schools. Similarly, according to Whiteboard, only 27 percent of insiders approve of the administration’s handling of K–12 issues. They give Secretary Duncan a 64 percent disapproval rating. PDK found that 87 percent of parents want their local boards or state leaders (not the feds) to have the greatest influence on what’s taught in schools.

It appears that Common Core’s association with the federal government may explain its modest support in these surveys. Though a strikingly high number of respondents admit knowing very little about CCSS, Peterson notes that the brand is “toxic.” PDK found a majority of respondents opposed (as do some recent state surveys); Education Post and Education Next found slightly better numbers.

In light of the other findings in these surveys, the Common Core/federal government pas de deux should serve as a warning: Beware of Uncle Sam bearing ed-reform gifts. Though Race to the Top seemed successful in the short run, it may have permanently damaged federal competitive grant programs. Though federal incentives (which Fordham’s Mike Petrilli and Checker Finn called “inappropriate”) helped Common Core spread rapidly, they are at the heart of today’s vociferous opposition.

So ed reformers, buck up! Just make sure the ed-reform buck stops at the statehouse and not the White House.

- Andy Smarick

This first appeared on Common Core Watch

Behind the Headline: Taking Sports Out Of School

By 10/22/2014 0 Comments

The New York Times Room for Debate page hosts a variety of pieces today on whether high schools should drop their sports teams.

Behind the Headline: Teachers Unions Are Putting Themselves On November’s Ballot

By 10/20/2014 0 Comments

Teachers unions are spending big in this year’s midterm elections.

Ten Things To Know About The CCSSO-CGCS Testing Plan

By 10/20/2014 0 Comments

The organization of state superintendents and the organization of big urban school districts will work together to audit the number and types of tests administered and develop new systems that are leaner and more integrated.

Let’s Tell the Truth: High-Stakes Tests Damage Reading Instruction

It’s long past time to recognize that reading tests don’t measure what we think they do.

Teachers Would Prefer Cash

By 10/17/2014 0 Comments

A common perception about how we pay public sector workers is fundamentally flawed.

The Twenty-Five Richest Elementary Schools in the Richest Region of the Country

At one elementary school, the average income is almost $250,000 per year. Is this school really more “public” than an inner-city Catholic school serving poor minority children? The public spends $12,000 per child on the former and $0 per child on the latter. Tell me again why that’s fair?

What the 2014 Senate Elections Might Mean for Education

By 10/16/2014 0 Comments

If the Republicans take the Senate, Senator Lamar Alexander would take the helm of the Senate HELP Committee, which is a big deal.

A Bad Idea Whose Time Has Come

By 10/16/2014 6 Comments

Before we retreat to the pre-NCLB era of grade-span testing or revert to some other testing-light position, let’s at least recall some of the benefits of annual testing of all kids.

What’s Right About Common Core

By 10/14/2014 1 Comment

The overheated rhetoric around Common Core elides the fact that it incorporates several fundamentally sound and long-overdue ideas that have gone missing from our schools for decades.

Posts by Authors

  • Mark Bauerlein
  • John Chubb
  • Martha Derthick
  • A. Graham Down
  • Joshua Dunn
  • Education Next
  • Williamson Evers
  • Chester E. Finn, Jr.
  • Jay P. Greene
  • James Guthrie
  • Eric Hanushek
  • Bryan Hassel
  • Emily Ayscue Hassel
  • Frederick Hess
  • Paul Hill
  • Michael Horn
  • William Howell
  • Marci Kanstoroom
  • Peter Meyer
  • George Mitchell
  • Paul E. Peterson
  • Michael Petrilli
  • Michael Podgursky
  • Andy Smarick
  • Bill Tucker
  • Herbert Walberg
  • Martin West
  • Blogs

  • Organizations

    Sponsored Results
    About the Blog

    The Ed Next blog aims to provide lively commentary on education news and research and to bring evidence to bear on current education policy debates.

    Our bloggers include editors at Education Next magazine and others who have written for the magazine. Education Next is a quarterly journal of opinion and research about education policy published by the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, and additionally sponsored by the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University and the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation.

    The opinions expressed by the Ed Next bloggers and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of, Education Next magazine, or its sponsors. is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the bloggers.


    The Hoover Institution at Stanford University - Ideas Defining a Free Society

    Harvard Kennedy School Program on Educational Policy and Governance

    Thomas Fordham Institute - Advancing Educational Excellence and Education Reform