The Education Reform Book is Dead

January 5, 2011

I have a new piece in 10th anniversary edition of Education Next reviewing education reform books of the last decade.  My somewhat over-stated thesis is that the education reform book is dead — that books don’t have nearly as much influence in shaping the education policy agenda as they used to.

Here is a taste:

Why is it so difficult to identify a book that embodies the incentive-based reforms of the decade and relatively easy to list books that argue against them? One reason is that books have lost their place as primary vehicles for shaping education policy. Just like in other realms, books are being displaced by other media.

A film like Waiting for “Superman” can have considerably more influence over education policy than any book. Articles and reports can be released on the Internet as soon as they are written. Even blogs are swaying education policy discussions to a greater extent than books. The power of blogs is especially clear when it comes to debating the merits of the research on various policy questions. There is little point in writing a book that reviews and adjudicates research findings when online articles and blog posts can do the same thing and be available within days or even hours.

The lack of policy influence that is attributable to recent education-reform books is not for lack of sales. Some have even become national best sellers. The problem is that policymakers and other elites are less likely to be among their readers. Instead, the buyers increasingly seem to be those actively participating in education reform debates; the people actually shaping policy appear to be paying relatively little attention.

For example, teachers and others hostile to incentive-based reforms consume works by Diane Ravitch, Linda Darling-Hammond, and Tony Wagner to affirm their worldview. These books are not setting the agenda for policymakers. They are feeding the resentment of practitioners to an education reform agenda that draws its inspiration from nonbook sources and is advancing despite the hostility stirred by such books. These best-selling volumes are, in the words of their intellectual nemesis, “standing athwart history, yelling stop.”


On Hiatus

December 19, 2010

Everything will get very quiet in the education world until the new year, so we’ll be taking a break from blogging for the next week or so.  See you in 2011.


Kirtley and Tuthill launch redefinED blog

December 2, 2010

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Great new blog out of Florida by school choice champions Kirtley and Tuthill (that’s JK in the red tie). Check it out.


JPGB Enters the 21st Century

October 1, 2010

You may have noticed some changes on the Jay P. Greene’s Blog.  We’ve added buttons on each post so that readers can share them easily via Facebook and Twitter.  We’ve also established a page on Facebook so that readers can follow our posts by “liking” the blog’s page.  And we’ve established a Twitter account so that people can follow our posts that way.

Watch out, Tony Wagner!  We’re getting all 21st century-skillsy around here.


The Determined Pessimism of Rick and Mike

September 23, 2010

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

My friends Mike Petrilli and Rick Hess have been either (a) cautioning people about becoming overly optimistic about Waiting for Superman  and our ability to improve K-12 outcomes or (b) ridiculing the idea completely.

Hmmmm…

Let me begin by saying that I am no starry-eyed naif when it comes to the possible impact of the film. I wrote the other day that I am starting to entertain the idea that it might be a big deal. Union reactionaries do find themselves increasingly isolated in K-12 policy discussions, and many of their catspaws will be turned out of office in November.

Let me say in advance however that the unions are not going anywhere. They still control hundreds of millions of dollars, legions of organized activists and all the lobbyists that they care to employ. I’m not claiming that a tipping point has been achieved and it is all downhill from here for them, merely that they are in for what could prove to be a sizeable rough patch.

Where I seem to differ with Mike and Rick is with their seeming determined pessimism regarding the realm of the possible for improvement. Rick and I appeared on a panel together at the State Policy Network a couple of weeks ago, and discussed the same issue.

Readers of this blog find themselves subjected to my battering away with Florida’s NAEP scores on a regular basis. I won’t bother going into the litany because you already know it, so let’s take a couple of other examples where real reform agendas have been instituted, and what has been going on with their NAEP scores.

I pick a couple because, well, only a few exist. You have to be in a position to roll the establishment to do these things, and keep them rolled. Very few have pulled that off. However, the results are encouraging.

I am encouraged that New York City now outscores some statewide averages on NAEP, despite a student body that is 84 percent minority and 85% FRL eligible. NYC kids scored 217 on 4th grade reading in 2009, only 206 in 2002. That’s a meaningful difference, and should embolden Chancellor Klein.

Likewise, DCPS is still an academic blight, but has made substantial progress since the mid 1990s. When my coauthors and I tracked the learning gains of general education low-income students for the 50 states and DC from 2003 to 2009 in all four main NAEP subjects, Florida came in with the biggest gains and DC came in with the second largest gains. Coincidence? I doubt it- both Florida and DC have engaged in far-reaching reforms.

MA is justifiably proud of having the nation’s highest NAEP scores accompanying their standards-led reforms. It has been mentioned before that the usual suspects fiercely opposed their adoption.

Notice that there is no one path up the mountain here-but there are some common threads to the reforms: testing, accountability, choice. So maybe I’m like Ronald Reagan and I just think that there has got to be a pony somewhere in all that manure. It seems to me, however, that there is a pattern here: in the limited number of instances when jurisdictions take control of policy away from the reactionaries, keep it away from them for a sustained period, and implement reforms that they hate, NAEP scores make substantial improvement.

My own experience in interacting with lawmakers, candidates and philanthropists around the country is that they almost all like substantial improvement in NAEP scores. It doesn’t matter whether they are on the right or left or center. The funny thing is that everyone but those directly benefiting from the status-quo seem to not only want improvement, many of them are willing to fight for it.

So have we “cracked the code.” Yes, as a matter of fact, I think a few places have done so. Yes with fantastic difficulty and always imperiled sustainability. The success of reformers is limited and fragile, but very real. If the third largest state in the union doesn’t represent “results at scale” then what pray tell does? 

We have learned a great deal over the past 20 years. Our decisions are being guided less by theory and more by experience. Less and less this is less about “Assume a can opener” and more and more about “You know, they did something like that in X, let’s see what we can learn about the results.”

If throwing money at schools, lowering class sizes, expanding preschool, open classrooms, whole language or <fill in the blank here> had produced these types of results, this blog would not exist. There would be no need for an education reform cottage industry, and no one would donate to it. They failed. It’s too bad, because I would much rather be spending my life an executive at Rhino Records putting together compliation CD’s of punk rock bands covering all of Dean Martin’s greatest hits. The cover would have a guy in a tux holding up a martini above a violent mosh pit.

A’int Love a Kick in the Head? Oi….let me demonstrate! But I digress…

Our ideas have barely been tried, and very rarely in sustained concert with each other. Unless someone is able to demonstrate the Florida NAEP, the DCPS NAEP, and the Trial Urban District Assessment NAEP for NYC and Miami have all been cooked, the only reasonable conclusion to reach is that unions hate policies that succeed in substantially improving the education of children.

There have been and will continue to be misteps. There will be gains and losses along the way. This is a war, and war is hell. The unions are not going away, but neither are we nor the evidence of our successes. As Dino’s pally Frank used to say, the best is yet to come.


The First Education Buzz Carnival is Up

August 4, 2010

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Education Buzz Carnival replaces the Carnival of Education, you can check it out here.


Blogs at Ten Paces!

May 17, 2010

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Over the weekend, ALELR ran the numbers on Technorati and posted the Top 20 Education Blogs on his blog, Intercepts. Coming out on top – Joanne Jacobs. But what do you expect given that she’s married to royalty?

Tied for #10? Jay P. Greene’s Blog and . . .  Intercepts.

I say we settle this like men – on the field of honor. There can be only ten!


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