Kudos to the U.S. Department of Education

Hold onto that blog entry title, folks — it’s going to be pretty rare around these parts. Two events this weekend justify the praise:

  1. The Saturday-morning release of institution-level data on loans, paybacks, income, and other data, including some data specific to Pell-grant recipients. Even more to its credit, the department made tools available so that other organizations such as ProPublica could create their own interfaces. This comes two years after announcing that the Administration wanted to create a rating-and-ranking system for colleges and universities. I was against it at the time, and I am delighted that not only did the Obama administration back away from the rating-and-ranking idea, but demonstrated how it didn’t need the “crack cocaine of today’s generation of education reformers” (my language from 2013). As Sara Goldrick-Rab noted, this data release is not a panacea, but it’s a great start.
  2. The clever shifting of FAFSA tax-record information today to a prior-prior-year basis — that is, students entering college in 2016 only need their or their parents’ 2015 taxes (which are already filed) rather than 2016 taxes, which would have been the case without today’s change. Why is it clever? It only required changing the timeline so that those who expect to be students in fall 2016 can start filing the FAFSA next month–previously, FAFSA (and student-need calculations) were only available beginning in January. Again, shifting the tax-year basis for student aid is a big step — and just one step — in addressing the nightmares many students face with financial aid. But it’s still a big step.

Why a state supreme court struck down a charter-school law

A week ago, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled that the use of common-school funds for charter schools violated the state constitution, and that the state’s 2012 charter-school law as a whole was invalidated as a consequence. I think some charter-school supporters are a bit emotional, from Rick Hess to Robin Lake. Lake went further than Hess and suggested that judicial campaign donations from the Washington Education Association essentially rigged the decision: “most of the judges accepted campaign contributions from the Washington Education Association, the state’s biggest teachers’ union—and also the plaintiff.”

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Causation cadge

Note: this post is a sort of mental marker, as I am partway thinking through a particular issue and do not want to lose my place.

One of my colleagues, Micki Chi, has divided causal modeling into two sorts, the type with narrative structures and the type without, which she calls emergent and has some evidence is more difficult for students to learn.

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Is the College Board trolling high schools?

This week, we had a round of news stories about how average SAT scores are at their lowest level in years. In an example of particularly weak reporting, the Washington Post‘s Nick Anderson wrote,

The steady decline in SAT scores and generally stagnant results from high schools on federal tests and other measures reflect a troubling shortcoming of education-reform efforts. The test results show that gains in reading and math in elementary grades haven’t led to broad improvement in high schools, experts say.

All those experts who are saying? Fordham Institute’s Mike Petrilli’s the only one quoted in the article on the (minimal) national average trend, other than the assessment head for the College Board, which owns the SAT.

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Mistakes in brief

So there’s this in response to this, which commented on this, which itself was a response to a whole lot of 10-year retrospectives on Katrina, some of which are full of motivated reasoning and some of which combine a pretty good empirical base and caution about drawing policy conclusions.1 And then the following from this: “reading his post reminded me how much more I enjoy debating within the family rather than debating with folks who will fundamentally oppose [my preferred policy position] regardless of what the data says.”

My impression: when I have my wits about me, I let everyone live down their mistakes du jour because I commit plenty of my own. But it certainly is a mistake to imply to independent observers that you want to work in a bubble or write in a bubble.


  1. At first glance, there is far too little material on the ten years since Katrina that is historically informed, but that can be remedied. []