Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Top 10 education stories in 2007

My idiosyncratic list, previously posted on my professional blog.

USA Today and Eduwonk Andy Rotherham have done year-end reviewlets, it's my turn...

  1. The dog that hasn't barked: Has anyone tracked what happened to the Katrina victims who are minors? Yes, it's a serious problem that this isn't an active news story, except for the reopening of colleges in New Orleans. One might even say it's highly disturbing that no one has focused much either on the breaking up of the New Orleans public schools (to be replaced by... I'm not sure what) or on the children who are part of the Katrina Diaspora. (The Census Bureau special split of the 2005 American Community Survey is probably the best place for researchers to start, if you're quantitatively minded.)
  2. NCLB breaking up? The loss of the Republican majority in the November elections threatens to further fragment the coalition that led to the passage of NCLB in late 2001. As Paul Manna's astute book School's In (2006) points out, AYP was known to be a mess during the legislative process, and the sausage still has visible carcass bits. (What is it about the Bush White House that they can't admit when they were completely wrong on factual matters?) I stand by my earlier prediction that the law is most likely to be extended through appropriations and that the insider game will be over the 20% set-aside provision. Flexibility in return for accountability, right ...
  3. Qualified qualifications: Right on schedule, all of the nation's teachers are now 100% highly qualified. ;-) The biggest empirical squabble on that front right now is over the role of collective bargaining agreements in the distribution of qualified teachers (F. Howard Nelson's study is but the latest salvo, and you can expect the ordnance to continue to fly from various camps), but that begs the question of why worry about that instead of making sure that all teachers have skills.
  4. Kids walk: The spring walkouts of students across the country to join immigration rallies is not really related to education policy (except in a minor way: efforts to dissuade the students often failed), but it is amazing and historic. There have been K-12 student walkouts before—Chicano students who boycotted schools in the late 60s, as my colleague Barbara Cruz reminded me—but not on a national scale before or as part of a national political event, as far as I'm aware. That's an amazing bit of social history, even if transient.
  5. Stupid phoenixes: Risky schemes such as the 65% "Solution" and the Taxpayer Bill of Rights went down to flaming defeat in 2006, though they may continue to rise from the ashes. If my memory is correct, only Georgia and Texas are under 65% strictures as a goal, the first by law and the second by executive order. I suspect they'll eventually be repealed.
  6. No obvious compromise on charter schools: There are several substantive problems with charter-school policies in many states:
    • The funding structure is generally not rational by any stretch of the imagination.
    • There remain serious questions about the accountability for charter schools.
    • There are still massive fraud scandals on occasion (this year, in Ohio).
    • There are all-too-evident problems with anti-union suppression when charter-school teachers try to organize.

    It seems to me to be obvious how to solve all of these problems at one swoop: weighted student funding for local public and charter schools; card-check union recognition; charter schools and local public school authorities work for general increases in student funding; a limit of 5 charter schools that an EMO can manage in any state; the accountability provisions of local public schools apply to charter schools (with some adjustments for school size). One wee problem: weighted student funding would prompt resistance from states such as Illinois that have horrific inequities.
  7. A small voucher program dies: The Florida Supreme Court struck down the failing-schools voucher program that was Governor Jeb Bush's pride. The vast majority of students in voucher programs were and remain in the program for students with disabilities and the corporate tax-credit voucher program. The fate of those programs is still unknown, and no lawsuit has been filed (as of yet).
  8. Commissions fizzle, don't sizzle: The final report of the Commission on the Future of Higher Education had recommendations that are largely doomed, which is still better than the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce debacle, which wasn't helped by their trying to sell it instead of distribute it online.
  9. Pick your cause: Locally, Florida's test-score statistics on its own state exams rose this year, which wouldn't be news except that they rose in middle school for the first time this year. Governor Bush of course said that it was his accountability reform. Others said it might have had something to do with the reading coaches that were finally provided as instructional supports in middle schools. Skeptics such as Walt Haney might suggest that this is the first cohort that experienced dramatic retention in third grade, artificially boosting test scores as the proportion of overage students bumps up and the bulge ages into middle schools and soon high schools. Friends of the late Governor Lawton Chiles might instead point to Chiles's Healthy Start program, which kicked in starting in 1992 and 1993 (so the first babies served would have been in 7th and 8th grade last year). I would point out that my daughter was in 8th grade last year, but no one credits my wife and me for boosting Florida's test scores.
  10. Memory of a non-veto: The death of former President Ford is education news. While recollections of the man focus on his demeanor in office after Nixon's resignation and his pardoning of Nixon, few are remembering his 66 vetoes, a rate of 26.4 vetoes per year. That's right behind Truman's 31.3 vetoes per year, but Truman still had a lower veto rate than FDR at a little under 53 vetoes per year, and that rate is still less than the all-time veto champ, Grover Cleveland (first term), whose 304 vetoes averaged out to one veto every 4.8 days in his first term. A quarter of Ford's regular vetoes were overridden (second in the 20th century behind Nixon), which may have been a factor in why he signed Public Law 94-142 despite his misgivings about federal mandates. We now know P.L. 94-142 as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the basic special-education law in the country. IDEA will be 31 on November 29, and everyone currently receiving services under it was born after the Board v. Rowley decision in 1982 that gave the central interpretation of what a free, appropriate public education is.

I'm sure that there are other highlights you could have, either nationally or locally, but those are my picks.

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