Scholarly impacts, brief notes

Today is the start of the semester at ASU, and short-term projects are following me around this month like lost puppies, so time to respond to Rick Hess’s list from last week has been short. A few brief notes:

  • In the “nice to be mentioned” category: For some reason, I have not yet dropped off the list, after almost two years where I have been moving, starting a new administrative job, and then taking on some extra duties. While I was interviewed last year a few times about Jeb Bush’s time as governor in Florida, I thought his remarkable run at president has essentially killed the chances for future interviews. Either Hess’s list has a lag time for changes or those few interviews (plus a column on Arne Duncan) were enough. But for now, I suppose I can say, “I’m Number One Hundred Eightysomething!”
  • At ASU, others on the list are David Berliner, Gene Glass, and David Garcia. I can point out a number of others who could and should be listed. Perhaps the most important aspect of this spottiness is that everyone from ASU who has been on the list in the last few years are in ed policy, roughly speaking. I don’t think this is a blind spot of the list, necessarily, but there a few quirks in how Hess’s team has classified people: Larry Cuban has written primarily as an historian of education, for example, though that’s not how he’s classified, and while David Berliner’s degree is in psychology, his public speaking and writing is far closer to policy.
  • I take lists like this with a grain of salt. Rick Hess does, too, from everything he says (including today’s column in Ed Week). There are organizations that try to help faculty reach out to the general public (Scholars Strategy Network and History News Network, to mention two), but that is not the same thing as acknowledgment of the work in this area that faculty do. Recognizing scholars who conduct outreach beyond their peer circles should be done. I don’t think that’s done best by a ranking using arbitrary measures, and I also know no one has a great way to do this.

Top education news stories of 2015, to an historian

This was a very busy year for education news: twenty major news stories follow, and I am restricting myself to the United States.

  1. The Every Student Succeeds Act passed at the end of the year, ending many of No Child Left Behind’s straightjacket rules and putting limits on the federal Department of Education. This is the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that Lamar Alexander could have signed in 2000 or 2001 in the alternate universe where he became president in 1997, a logical bill for a Republican president and a Democratic Congress. That leads to the next question for some doctoral student: why was the No Child Left Behind Act signed instead, an outlier from the historical trajectory of federal education law since the 1950s?
  2. The opt-out movement had a measurable effect on the numbers of children taking state standardized tests in states from New York to Washington, with many New York school districts having more than half of students refusing to take state tests. While plenty of parents and teachers unions have been critical of high-stakes testing before 2015, and there were a few hints of action before this year (most notably in a 2013 boycott of a district-mandated test in one Seattle high school), the scale of the test boycotts this year was unprecedented. While states wonder what to do on the policy front, the deeper question is whether the opt-out successes in 2015 give license to additional test boycotts, or other parent/student revolts against schooling norms.
  3. Continue reading “Top education news stories of 2015, to an historian”

Gnostic utterings for academics

For a period of years, my friend Gwen Knighton had entries in her blog she called gnostic utterings, which were comments about the world prompted by some-distance-removed events, and to which she appended the warning, “If you think this is about you, you are probably wrong.” Each entry was a collection of statements she did not utter to the people who deserved them. In a different way, Matt Reed is especially good at describing higher-ed issues at some remove, either by time or circumstance, and discussing the general principles at heart. I am far less efficient in time management, and so I will be stealing the privacy-preserving distance of both Knighton and Reed, and the aphorism-length quality of Knighton’s entries.

Warning: If you think your own actions motivated my writing an item, you are probably wrong. But these are still true.

  • Find a time to celebrate before you charge up the next mountain.
  • You are fretting about a process that inevitably invites fretting. You’re normal.
  • You are struggling with what requires struggling.
  • Give yourself a night or two to sleep on the problem. Then move ahead, because you can’t build the rest of your life on facial tissue.
  • Most of your students did not follow your path to the classroom. They probably need something different from what helped you thrive.
  • You are exceeding my 10:1 reality:buzzword limit. Inject more reality or delete buzzwords.
  • Making more foolish decisions will not get you out of your current hole. You are not a small country, and foolish decisions are not a currency.
  • Yes, yes, your enemies are conspiring against you. So what did you do to bring you to this moment?
  • An effective group is not the same thing as an echo chamber.
  • If you successfully put that target on your enemy’s back, no one else competent may want the position.

Charter-school narratives and presidential-election politics

Charter-school expansion advocates have responded quickly and energetically to remarks Hillary Clinton made at last Friday’s televised Democratic candidate forum in South Carolina:

The original idea behind the charter schools… was to learn what worked and apply them in the public schools. And here’s a couple of problems. Most charter schools, I don’t want to say every one, but most charter schools, they don’t take the hardest-to-teach kids. And if they do, they don’t keep them.

The public schools are often in a no-win situation, because they do thankfully take everybody, and they don’t get the resources and help and support they need to take care of every child’s education. I want parents to be able to exercise choice within the public school system. Not outside of it, but within it.

I am still a firm believer that the public school system is one of the real pillars of our democracy, and it is a path for opportunity. But I am also fully aware there are a lot of substandard public schools. But part of the reason for that is policymakers and local politicians will not fund schools in poor areas that take care of poor children to the level they need to be.

As Vox’s Libby Nelson pointed out, this is a shift in tone from the Obama administration rhetoric on charter schools, and was probably a reflection of what Clinton had read or heard about the latest controversy coming from Success Academy charter network in New York.

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Duncan’s legacy: The cold take

The Conversation has just published a short piece on Arne Duncan’s legacy by ASU doctoral student Amanda Potterton and me. Below is the full text and then some comments on the writing process and what we left out:

Arne Duncan’s legacy: growing influence of a network of private actors on public education

Sherman Dorn and Amanda U. Potterton

Arne Duncan is leaving the US Department of Education in December. Reactions to his legacy have been mixed. Some see him as a heroic reformer, and others a well-intentioned but overreaching bureaucrat. He has been called the third secretary of education for George W Bush or the center of stormy education politics.

As researchers of education policy, we see him differently: the hub of a network of policy advocates. As the head of the federal Department of Education, he actively facilitated private actors’ influence on public education policy.

Continue reading “Duncan’s legacy: The cold take”