Two Romney Reactions

Jim Ryan is bullish on the choice components of Romney’s ed plan. I think there is a lot less there than he hopes. Doesn’t this line from the Romney paper (pdf), “adopt open-enrollment policies that permit eligible students to attend public schools outside of their school district that have the capacity to serve them” have 18-wheeler sized weasel word loopholes that will render it meaningless in practice?  And I don’t see Romney, who these days can’t bring himself to tell states to hold schools accountable for educating these students suddenly deciding to mandate their enrollment elsewhere.

Matt Miller lists his bill of particulars against the teachers unions and then takes Mitt Romney and school reformers to task for simplicity about the unions writing,

[The] reality is this: The top performing school systems in the world have strong teachers unions at the heart of their education establishment. This fact is rarely discussed (or even noted) in reform circles. Yet anyone who’s intellectually honest and cares about improving our schools has to acknowledge it. The United States is an outlier in having such deeply adversarial, dysfunctional labor-management relations in schooling.

The second half of that graf is true, we are an outlier (although in some countries teachers unions have kidnapped those they disagree with so we’re not at the very end of the tail…). But the first half of his point falls into the same trap as most discussions about teachers unions and the same simplicity Miller is objecting to: The issue isn’t unionism per se, it’s the specific policies and elements.  That’s why the nonsense about schools in the south is a fallacy.  And it’s also why “strong” unionism is the wrong measure. What does that even mean, membership size, for instance, or percent of practitioners who are members? Or does it mean political potency? Or school autonomy? It surely doesn’t mean force transfers does it? Point is, depending on which of those elements you decide to look at the comparisons between the U.S. and other countries make more or less sense.  And you can’t disconnect some issues – for instance due process – from a country’s larger labor policies.

Miller’s obviously right that more attention to selection would be good for the profession.  And for Romney’s people the issue is fundamentally the teachers unions per se not any specific policy. But for a broad swath of reformers the issue is policy not the existence of teachers unions. Unfortunately, in our polarized debate there is hardly anywhere to have a conversation about that.

Dropping Out With Debt

Important front page article in today’s Washington Post about students who incur higher education debt but don’t graduate.  I’ve been writing some lately about why college is still worth it (especially for low-income kids) and that although there is a loan problem, it’s being blown out of proportion.  But, the WaPo article gets at an important lens on this, students who start but don’t finish.  Useful report on that from CCA here as well (pdf).

War Is Pell – 5 Ideas To Improve Pell Grants

Pell Grants are booming and at long last a conversation seems to be starting about how to make them more effective.  I discuss 5 ideas in this week’s TIME School of Thought column:

A decade ago I was involved in an effort to rethink federal college aid programs in partnership with the Brookings Institution. We brought together a diverse set of thinkers to brainstorm about how to better target federal dollars to help the neediest students. Sounds pretty mundane, right? But it was a circus. People were so miffed by any suggestion of changing the Federal Pell Grant Program that one advocate even circulated a cowardly anonymous poem insulting the wife of a participant. (Who says education policy is boring?) There was hardly any useful data about who was using various federal aid programs because different federal agencies — including the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Education — wouldn’t talk to each other. In short, I quickly learned that when it comes to higher education reform, war is Pell…

Have an idea on Pell Grants? Send it to me.  Did you know Claiborne Pell was a rugby player in college? You don’t need to worry about roughness if you want to read the entire column at TIME, just click right here.

Mostly Romney-Free Education Links – Plus $52 Billion Under A Mattress?

Here’s my take on today’s Romney education rollout.  Elsewhere Jason Delisle found $52 billion dollars for higher education.  Interesting report on civic engagement and knowledge from ETS.

First big labor-management confab last year produced some “commitments.” The one going now in Ohio produced a shared vision statement!  Rumors flying about a possible memorandum of understanding in 2015…

Mitt Romney Wades Into The Education Debate – There Is A Political Logic To His Proposals, But A Net Win For President Obama

The long rumored Mitt Romney education doomsday weapon was revealed today.  And it’s basically President George W. Bush’s education policy – but without the accountability.

Let’s take the major parts quickly.  The emphasis on school choice is politically smart but unlikely to have a big impact given how much it is fundamentally a state by state issue.  Mostly, this will help Romney draw contrasts with the President, which will help at the margins with independents and certainly help with his base.  In the early 1980s when Nation At Risk was being published someone told President Reagan that the report would outrage the teachers union and other vested interests.  Another presidential aide apparently responded something to the effect of ‘that’s fine, the Democrats can have them, we’ll take the parents.’ This is an extension of the logic of those politics, leave Democrats with the stakeholder adults, take everyone else.

The higher education ideas are more risky.  Pell Grants are certainly due for an overhaul both because the costs are becoming unsustainable and also because structural reforms could improve the effectiveness of the program.  I’m going to write about that for TIME tomorrow.  But while there are problems with the “Gainful Employment” rule intended to improve the regulation of for-profit higher education (in short, there is a potential for perverse consequences because this is a complicated area to regulate and at the same time accountability for poor outcomes should apply more broadly because for-profits are not the only bad actors in higher education) politically it seems unwise for Romney to stand with the for-profits, the lenders and banks, or even the higher education institutions themselves given both the substance of the argument and also the political mood right now.

In other words, on higher education the reverse of the K-12 political logic is true – Obama is getting the students and the parents, Romney is getting the institutions. This year – given how higher education seems like a more salient issue than K-12 – that looks like a much better deal for the President.

Update:  Fritz Edelstein found an interesting tidbit in the Romney paper on this.

Back To The Barricades On Tutoring? Mulder? And, Your Chance To Be A Reviewer

Politics K-12 reports on the Administration’s pushback on tutoring.  I’m not sure how a blanket ban makes any more sense than a blanket requirement to provide tutoring.  Provider quality is very mixed and states generally do a lousy job screening and certifying providers.  Seems like fixing those problems are a better use of effort than fighting over this.

I want to believe!  David Kirp turns in a long op-ed in The Times about the benefits of school integration but then concludes with this:

In theory it’s possible to achieve a fair amount of integration by crossing city and suburban boundaries or opening magnet schools attractive to both minority and white students. But the hostile majority on the Supreme Court and the absence of a vocal pro-integration constituency make integration’s revival a near impossibility.

I’m all for it, but, to put it plainly, it’s as likely to snow Hershey’s Kisses as for this to happen at scale given politics, housing patterns, city and town boundaries, and school boundaries. So doesn’t this make those pursuing other strategies to improve school quality for low-income and minority kids, you know, pragmatists?  Even within jurisdictions with great racial and economic diversity (and liberal voting records) there is a lot of resistance to just changing school boundaries and enrollment patterns. Meanwhile, many schools that are integrated on paper are much less so within classrooms.

More Promise? If you want to be a peer reviewer for the Promise Neighborhood’s competition, here’s your big chance.

Ed Week Looks At Ed Advocacy, Kronholz At A-Net, EP @ 10K, Where Are They Now…You Should Be Taking A Kid Outside

Ed Week takes a multi-pronged look at new education advocacy groups, solid overview of the landscape and more to come.  Pat McGuinn takes a look at the same, a breaks a bit of news.

After yesterday’s important speech by New York Chancellor Dennis Walcott you sure get the sense that resolution of the “absent teacher reserve” issue is now one of when and how, not if.

Where are they now?  Here’s the renegade Ohio school choice mom Kelly Williams-Bolar edition.  No one wants to work in education?  Ed Pioneers hits 10K applicants.  Mark Nadel proposes a ‘rate my teacher’ style online approach – but one with a long view.

And June Kronholz takes a look at A-Net in Ed Next.

In case you missed it, student loans are a problem but there is a lot of hype, too.  And the weather is supposed to be great this weekend, so take a kid fishing.

Want to help raise money for cancer research at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute?  Bill Phillips and I are working on that in our spare time by riding the Pan Mass Challenge and you can help us.

Disc – BW works with A-Net and I’m a board member for EP.