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In Los Angeles, An Expensive School-Reform Fight

Joy Resmovits   |   February 13, 2013   11:05 AM ET

School board races in Los Angeles are heating up -- and they're getting expensive.

The nation's second-largest school district is at the center of a broader battle over the future over education reform. Since 2010, Superintendent John Deasy has run the district, implementing policies consistent with the national "education reform" movement, which pushes things such as test-based teacher evaluations and charter schools. But if the composition of the school board changes significantly, Deasy could be fired.

That's why outside interests are pumping money into the race. Earlier this week, LA School Report reported that a super PAC associated with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg spent $1 million on a group known as the Coalition for School Reform. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who has supported Deasy's efforts, released a statement calling Bloomberg "the most important voice in education reform today," LA School Report wrote.

The Coalition for School Reform, according to KCET, is an independent expenditure group that has also received money from reform-minded philanthropist Eli Broad. The group has endorsed school board candidates Kate Anderson, Monica Garcia, and Antonio Sanchez, LA School Report wrote last month. The Coalition is sitting on $1.2 million.

The counterweight to the reform block is, naturally, the teachers union. United Teachers of Los Angeles has about $670,000 in its war-chest, according to LA School Report. "We know we're going to be outspent five-gazillion-to-one," UTLA veep Gregg Solkovits told the site.

Earlier in February, Solkovits told LA School report that he wanted to boost UTLA's coffers with help from the national and state union bodies. But as far as we know, at least one of these avenues is ruled out.

Earlier this week, when I interviewed National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel about the State of the Union address, I also asked him about this. Can UTLA expect to receive money from the largest teachers union?

Probably not, he said.

"There aren't any plans to be involved with the school board elections in LA," Van Roekel said. "That would be unusual, since it's a local issue. We usually don't get involved in school board races."

Obama Signals Shift By Zeroing In On Educational Margins

Joy Resmovits   |   February 12, 2013   11:47 PM ET

During Tuesday night's State of the Union address, President Barack Obama proposed several major education initiatives, including a big push to expand pre-kindergarten and a potential revamp of the federal aid system for college students.

"Tonight, I propose working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America," Obama said. "Every dollar we invest in high-quality early education can save more than seven dollars later on.”

Instead of focusing on the bulk of American public school students, the president's proposals zeroed in on the margins, targeting the oldest and youngest members of the country's education system.

The speech marks an inflection point on education between Obama's two terms: His first term focused on drastic changes to K-12 public schools, while his second term will likely emphasize higher education and early education. It's a strategy the White House described to advocates before the State of the Union speech as "bookending" Obama's earlier policies.

It's not just a structural shift. It's political. Many of Obama's and Education Secretary Arne Duncan's K-12 fights alienated one of their party's core constituents, the teachers unions. The administration publicly sparred with the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers over issues concerning teacher quality and the use of standardized tests.

"It's intellectual McCarthyism," said Andy Rotherham, a consultant at Bellwether Education Partners who previously worked as an education advisor to President Bill Clinton. (Rotherham generally supports the speech's new proposals.) "You're not allowed to talk about this because you're bashing teachers."

Those teacher quality measures have all but dropped off the administration's billboard agenda for the president's second term, and after Tuesday's speech, both teachers' unions issued effusive statements.

But in the eyes of Amy Wilkins, a vice president of the Education Trust, Obama's next four years will likely have something in common with his first term: "The equity agenda was missing from the first term and it's also missing from the second term," Wilkins said, based on the speech. "A rising tide does not lift all boats."

The broader outlines of the pre-K plan, Wilkins said, don't necessarily address underprivileged students. "All of these are laudable and noble things to do, but the thing for me that's missing is the recognition that some schools, some families, some kids need more help than others," Wilkins said. "When we have a tight budget ... poor kids need pre-K first."

While the speech's pre-school proposal lacked specifics, insiders expect it to mirror a recent Center for American Progress report that proposed providing every child with two years of pre-kindergarten paid for with federal funds matched by state spending, to the tune of $10,000 per child. CAP estimated that the pre-K component could cost up to $100 billion. The Huffington Post first reported in January that the Obama administration was considering such a plan.

It is unclear how the president would pay for the program while not increasing the deficit, as he promised Tuesday.

"We're supportive of high-quality early childhood education," said Yasmina Vinci, who oversees the National Head Start Association. "But I think that the devil will be in the details."

Pre-K for all is no sure bet. While the president is scheduled to make a speech at an early education center in Georgia on Thursday, perhaps to bolster his plan, many of the education proposals he promised in his 2012 State of the Union address have yet to gain any momentum.

Obama Offers Aid To The Littlest Students

Joy Resmovits   |   February 12, 2013    9:10 PM ET

President Barack Obama proposes a major initiative to expand preschool opportunities for 4-year-olds in Tuesday's State of the Union address.

The Huffington Post reported last month the White House was considering such a plan. A fact sheet circulated Tuesday by the White House as a supplement to the State of the Union outlines the proposal:

The President is proposing to work with Congress to provide all low- and moderate-income 4-year-old children with high-quality preschool, while also expanding these programs to reach hundreds of thousands of additional middle class children, while also incentivizing full-day kindergarten policies, so that all children enter kindergarten prepared for academic success.

The initiative comes after states have cut preschool budgets by an average of $700 per child over the last decade and as mounting evidence shows the importance of quality preschool in closing the achievement gap for low-income students.

Though the president's proposal is short on details, several education advocates expect it will ultimately look something like a suggestion floated in the Center for American Progress' recent report that the federal government create a new pre-kindergarten program partly paid for with state matching funds of $10,000 per student. Children in families with incomes under 200 percent of the poverty line would be eligible. That plan would also double the slots in Early Head Start programs.

"Asking people to compete when they start off the race behind -- they're not prepared for first grade," CAP President Neera Tanden told HuffPost on Tuesday. "In a time of scarce resources ... [preschool is] a smart investment."

It is unclear how the Obama administration would find the money for such a program, which the Center for American Progress estimated could cost $98.4 billion for the preschool portion and $11.5 billion for the Early Head Start expansion over 10 years. The idea might receive a warm welcome in the Senate, where it would go through the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. The committee's chairman, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), expressed interest in expanding pre-K access in a hearing last week.

But as HuffPost reported in January:

The American public on the whole is not so emphatic in its support for increased preschool access. Although 40 percent of Americans do not "think that most parents of young children have access to affordable pre-kindergarten," according to a HuffPost/YouGov poll, there are 33 percent who believe they do, and 27 percent who weren't sure. Thirty-seven percent of respondents indicated they thought the feds should spend more on early childhood education, but 23 percent thought they should spend less, and 24 percent thought spending levels should remain the same.

Ed Today: 'House Of Cards' Goes Where No Congress Has Gone In Recent Years; SOTU And Early Education

Joy Resmovits   |   February 12, 2013    8:38 AM ET

Netflix Reauthorizes No Child Left Behind? Or so quips this EdWeek headline. Real-life Congress hasn't yet reauthorized NCLB (since 2007!), but characters on the Netflix series "House of Cards" do. "[Writer Beau] Willimon noted on Twitter that he hinged the plot on education because it affects us all directly and indirectly, and because of the contention that often revolves around education reform," EdWeek writes. Read the full story for a taste of which education fights the show covers. My take: Obviously TV isn't reality, but there are a few major inaccuracies. The most glaring one in my eyes is that teachers unions can't legally hold a national strike over some federal legislation they dislike!

Pre-K Push In The State Of The Union? While the State of the Union is a very fluid speech until the president delivers it, and it's impossible to know what, exactly, will be in it until then, we're hearing that tonight's version will be heavy on the early education content, as we reported earlier this morning. And now, the Wall Street Journal is reporting that GOP official responder Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) plans to counter the speech with his own school funding plan.

Rahm-Level Problems In France? In France, teachers and parents are protesting the lengthening of an already long school day, according to the New York Times. President Francois Hollande announced a decree that would create a half-day of school on Wednesday for the first time, while reducing 45 minutes from every other (long) school day. And the unions are not happy! "The difficulties facing our students and our schools need pedagogical responses," Sébastien Sihr, general secretary of France's national union of primary schoolteachers, told the Times. "We have to put an end to this magical thinking that just stretching the school week over four and a half days will improve students' performance."

Idaho School Reform? Idaho's state senate education committee advanced a plan that would give school boards more authority over things like teacher pay, reports the Associated Press. "The bills, being pushed by the Idaho School Boards Association, would change the nature of negotiations that occur each year on so-called master contracts -- the broad agreements that cover salaries and benefits, as well as issues such as length of school year and teacher duties outside the classroom," the AP reports.

Wyoming School Accountability? Now that the Wyoming state legislature has stripped Tea Partier Cindy Hill of her powers as states schools chief, lawmakers say they can continue with the state's plans to bring more accountability to its schools, lawmakers say. "House Bill 91 restarts certain education reform functions and removes a piece of current law that threatened districts with the loss of state funding if underperforming schools are not making improvement," reports the AP. "The proposed measure also removes a requirement that high school seniors take a college placement test, leaving no way to measure the performance of seniors."

State Of The Union Likely To Focus On Littlest Learners

Joy Resmovits   |   February 12, 2013    7:10 AM ET

President Barack Obama made K-12 education a major component of his 2012 State of the Union Address -- so much so that the topic garnered the most traffic on sites like Twitter. But this year, education advocates are expecting something entirely different.

The White House mostly has been tight-lipped about its State of the Union plans, but to the extent that the administration is saying anything, they're looking at Tuesday night's speech as an opportunity to "bookend" their K-12 plans, sources say. Instead of focusing on the compulsive, public kindergarten through high school school system, advocates are expecting the president to offer more of a focus on early education, with a little bit of higher education thrown in.

That might be because the Education Department is already in implementation mode on K-12. Obama campaigned in 2008 on rewriting the No Child Left Behind Act, the 2002 law that expired in 2007. Since Congress failed to revamp it, upon Obama's urging, the administration offered states a way to sidestep the law's punitive regulations: They could get waivers in exchange for agreeing to parts of Obama's education reform agenda. Now, more than 30 states have had their waiver applications approved, and the administration is busy making sure states don't renege on their promises -- hardly the bold rhetorical fodder for speeches like the State of the Union.

In January, The Huffington Post first reported that the White House was weighing a major, long-term plan to boost early education slots for low and middle-income families. At the time, a senior official told HuffPost that she didn't want to get out in front of Obama on the issue. But since then, Education Secretary Arne Duncan has said new investments in early education will be a second-term priority -- and many expect this new emphasis to feature in the State of the Union address.

"We're expecting to hear that one of the areas he's hoping to do some investment in will be in early learning," said Kris Perry, who heads the First Five Years Fund, an early education advocacy group. The Obama administration previously had states compete in an early education version of its Race to the Top challenge, which Perry said helped states develop the capacity to serve more students. She hopes any new program would build on that growth.

"I hope he [Obama] connects economic growth and jobs to the importance of investing in early learning for families that are low-income and have very young children," Perry said. "There are many two-parent working families that would benefit immensely from having support for their young children."

Steering away from K-12 also would be a smart political choice -- the administration has sparred with its key constituents, the teachers unions, on education reform in that realm.

Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, the nation's largest such union, said he would be "elated if he [Obama] talked about early education," adding that pre-school is an important support to any learning that happens later in a student's life.

But even the administration's best-laid plans for early childhood education might not come to fruition. As sequestration looms, the government isn't exactly handing out money for expensive new programs. And a quick look at the fate of Obama's 2012 State of the Union education proposals casts doubt on the feasibility of implementation.

Last year, Obama proposed things like a Race to the Top competition for higher education funding and an increase in Perkins college aid that would connect funding levels to outcomes. But Congress didn't fund either of these initiatives, and Obama has done little for them since last year's speech.

"Some things they moved quite boldly on, and others haven't gotten the same focus," said Kate Tromble, legislative director of the Education Trust. "Presidents can't get funding for everything they want, but it's still incumbent upon them to push the policy envelope."

Tromble added that on the higher education front, she expects to hear more about college affordability, and "some endorsement of MOOCs," or massive open online courses. "We're hoping he talks about the importance of affordability for lower- and middle-income families," she said. But one question remains: "How is the administration going to define the middle class?"

Of course, Obama also is expected to focus his speech on immigration reform and gun control, both broader issues that relate to what happens inside America's schools. In the wake of the Newtown, Conn., elementary school shooting, Obama proposed a set of safety recommendations that would give schools money for more armed guards and social workers.

"I would be shocked if the president doesn't do a paragraph or two on school safety and call out Arne Duncan by name," said Andy Smarick, a former Education Department official who now works for Bellwether Education, a consulting group. "Duncan feels this in his bones from his experience [as schools chief] in Chicago, and he's going to work on this project with the vice president."

Ed Today: Bobby Jindal Shills For Virginia Education Reform; Warriors Vs. Worriors

Joy Resmovits   |   February 11, 2013    8:12 AM ET

McDonnell Gets By With A Little Help From His Friend As Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) continued his push for education reforms in Virginia, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) stopped by for a little nudge in the right direction, reports the Associated Press. "Jindal was in Richmond for U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's fundraiser, so Gov. Bob McDonnell took the opportunity to have his fellow Republican talk about grading schools on an A-to-F scale and allowing the state to take over chronically failing schools," AP writes.

Are You A Warrior Or A Worrior? This week's New York Times Magazine features a fascinating look at children's tendencies when it comes to stress and competition, and its conclusions have profound consequences for education -- particularly standardized testing. I can't do the story justice in this quick paragraph, so I recommend you read it. But in brief, there's a genetic lever ("COMT") that regulates how slowly or quickly the body releases the enzyme that absorbs dopamine. The presence or absence of this gene affects how kids manage stress -- but the best fix for the set of kids that crumbles is to inoculate them with more (beneficial) stress. And here's how it affects testing:

Taking a standardized test is a competition in which the only thing anyone cares about is the final score. No one says, "I didn't do that well, but it was still worth doing, because I learned so much math from all the months of studying." Nobody has ever come out of an SAT test saying, "Well, I won't get into the college I wanted, but that's O.K. because I made a lot of new friends at the Kaplan center." Standardized tests lack the side benefits of competing that normally buffer children's anxiety. When you sign your child up for the swim team, he may really want to finish first, but there are many other reasons to be in the pool, even if he finishes last.

Texas School Funding? This week, the Lone Star State's legislature turns to education funding, fresh off the heels of a legal decision confirming that the state needs to spend more money more equitably on schools, reports the Associated Press. The Democrats plan to make school funding a major focus, and, according to the AP, "hope to set Republicans up for some potentially embarrassing votes that can be used against them in 2014." This should be interesting to watch!

Changes For Law Schools? Due to many factors, including a sudden decrease of law school applications, the legal profession is reconsidering the way it recruits and trains up-and-coming lawyers in and outside of law school, the Times reports. "There is almost universal agreement that the current system is broken," Thomas W. Lyons III, a Rhode Island lawyer and a member of the American Bar Association's Task Force on the Future of Legal Education, told the Times.

Who Runs Our Schools? Education management can be byzantine and tough to understand. The Wall Street Journal's Lisa Fleisher has a great explainer that lays out how everything works in New York. While the mayor is technically in charge, she writes, so is Newton's law -- and mayoral control's "equal and opposite" counterweight is the teachers' union. Meanwhile, that system still answers to the state Board of Regents and parents. What about the federal government?

**Extra Credit** Battling College Costs, One Paycheck At A Time

Ed Today: Arne Duncan Defends NCLB Waivers, Texas Testing Reduction

Joy Resmovits   |   February 8, 2013    9:46 AM ET

Arne Takes The Stand As we reported yesterday, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan faced both praise and skepticism yesterday as he testified before a Senate oversight hearing on his No Child Left Behind waivers. In the spirit of non-jargony brevity, and because it's Friday, we give you some choice quotes from the hearing:

  • "We do have a responsibility to set a high bar to protect the interests of students ... but how to reach that bar, I believe, should be left to states" -- Duncan
  • "The question is, the facts are the facts." -- Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who might be the next education committee chair following Sen. Tom Harkin's (D-Iowa) retirement.
  • "Let's move away from this Washington version of 'Mother May I.'" -- Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who is a former U.S. education chief and now the ranking Republican on the committee.
  • "There's a lot of angst out there, a lot of concern ... We are in regulatory purgatory, sir." -- Sen Pat Roberts (R-Kansas)

Path To Equity In Tucson? Over at the New York Times, former New York City schools reporter Fernanda Santos takes a look at school desegregation in Tucson. "Looking back at the school desegregation case he took as a young lawyer, Rubin Salter Jr. sees a pile of wasted money and squandered opportunities," Santos writes. "After almost four decades in court and nearly $1 billion in public spending, little has changed for the black children whose right to a good education he had labored to defend." Earlier this week, a judge lifted the city's desegregation plan.

More Money For Vermont Childcare? Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin is calling for more money for his state's childcare subsidy. To do so, he would "redirect" $16.7 that is now going to the earned-income tax credit, the Brattleboro Reformer reports.

Less Texas Testing? Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, a Republican state legislator in Texas, has proposed a measure that reduces standardized testing, according to KUT News, an Austin radio station. The bill would decrease the test load from 15 to five required standardized exams before graduation, with the hopes of opening up vocational options, Aycock told KUT. The bill was met with immediate opposition from the local Chamber of Commerce. "The assessment portion of Representative Aycock's bill is going to hurt students," a Chamber person told KUT.

What's In A Name? Nonprofit Quarterly asks a question I often think about: who 'owns' the term education reform, and what does it mean?

**Extra Credit**
Administrative and employee costs of education reform raise questions in Iowa

Senator Tells Schools Chief: 'We Are In Regulatory Purgatory, Sir'

Joy Resmovits   |   February 7, 2013    6:48 PM ET

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan faced an angsty Senate education committee Thursday as he was forced to defend his administration's workaround of the No Child Left Behind Act.

The Health, Education, Labor & Pensions committee chaired by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) held an oversight hearing on the administration's waiver plan, which give states the choice of opting out of No Child Left Behind's strictures in exchange for adopting components of the Obama education agenda. So far, the Education Department has approved the waiver plans for more than 30 states and Washington, D.C.

The No Child Left Behind Act, signed in 2002 by George W. Bush, expired in 2007. However, since the law hasn't been revised, schools are still subject to its regulations -- which require ideals like 100 percent proficiency in math and English by 2014.

After campaigning to dissolve the act entirely and then being unable to pass that initiative or a rewrite of the act through Congress, Obama's administration has found a way to sidestep the issue -- by offering states the waivers in exchange for certain educational standards.

At the Thursday hearing, some expressed doubts over the option.

"Let's move away from this Washington version of 'Mother May I,'" said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who is a former U.S. education chief. Alexander said he thinks the waivers exceed the bounds of Duncan's power as education secretary. Decisions on teacher evaluations and school accountability, he said, "should be made ... by state and local governments," and not by the federal government.

Harkin, on the other hand, called the waivers "fair," and said that Duncan showed courage in pursuing them.

In response to criticisms, Duncan stressed that he met with Congress "repeatedly" to urge legislators to rewrite the law -- to no avail. Duncan called the waivers his "Plan B," and said he didn't want to use the idea.

Duncan said the federal government is committed to staying out of educational issues best negotiated by states. "We don't specify the content of academic standards or negotiate teacher contracts," Duncan said in his testimony. "We do have a responsibility to set a high bar to protect the interests of students … but how to reach that bar, I believe, should be left to states."

The federal No Child Left Behind act connects states' school funding with students' performance standardized tests. While many credit the law with exposing gaps in the performance of underprivileged students, even its writers have said it's due for an update. Many criticize the law for using a broad brush to paint schools as under-performing -- so much so that the designation becomes meaningless.

On Thursday, Harkin and Alexander both called for a renewal of the process to reauthorize No Child Left Behind with more logical standards. Duncan said a rewrite would still be optimal, even as states go ahead with implementing their waivers.

When Alexander pressed Duncan on whether he would offer district-specific waivers within states that have been denied (like to Los Angeles or Houston, both located in states that did not yet receive waivers), Duncan said he'd rather not. However, the secretary didn't rule out the idea.

Senators Al Franken (D-Minn.), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) and Mike Bennet (D-Colo.) all praised the waivers, but Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) were less enthusiastic.

"There's a lot of angst out there, a lot of concern," Roberts said. "We are in regulatory purgatory, sir."

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who might chair the committee after Harkin's retirement depending on Sen. Patty Murray's (D-Wash.) decision on giving up the budget committee chairmanship), went off-topic, criticizing Duncan's support for competitive grant programs.

In a statement issued Thursday, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten expressed the group's dissatisfaction with the waivers.

"The waivers do precious little to build capacity or instill systemic reform," Weingarten said. "For example, school systems need assistance in rolling out their Common Core standards, including bringing educators, parents and the public up to speed on the transition; in providing the curricular supports and professional development for teachers to make the necessary instructional shifts; and in allotting time to teach to the new standards before testing on them."

Ed Today: No Child Left Behind Review, Fountainhead In Idaho

  |   February 7, 2013    9:18 AM ET

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Obama Ally Attacks White House Education Policy

Joy Resmovits   |   February 7, 2013    6:00 AM ET

The Obama administration has been under fire for watering down the No Child Left Behind Act by granting waivers that exempt states from its stringent test-based annual goals. Now, the critique is coming from close quarters.

Kati Haycock, president of the Education Trust -- an influential lobbying and advocacy group that has long backed President Barack Obama -- is coming out against the direction of the waivers, saying some allow states to shortchange underprivileged students, according to the text of remarks she was to make at a congressional hearing on Thursday.

Academic "progress may be reported -- somewhere -- but it doesn’t count as a core part of the accountability system," Haycock will tell a Senate hearing. "This means that, in a state like New Mexico, a school can get an 'A' grade even if it consistently misses goals for, say, its students with disabilities, its Native American students, or its English-language learners."

Haycock worked for the Obama administration reviewing states' waivers. She contends that the process was too lax on states. "This is very definitely a step backward from the civil rights commitment embedded in" No Child Left Behind, Haycock said in her prepared remarks.

The Education Trust, in a report to be presented Thursday, said schools can get good ratings under No Child Left Behind, despite low performance for some groups. "Approaches to improving even the lowest performing schools are too timid," said the report, and the waivers "allowed for a lot of backsliding on our national commitment to close gaps and raise achievement for all students."

Sen. Tom Harkin's (D-Iowa) Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Thursday will hold a hearing on the waivers.

The No Child Left Behind act is a sweeping, George W. Bush federal education law that for the first time tied states' school funding with results of standardized tests. While many credit the law with exposing gaps in the performance of underprivileged students, even its initial cheerleaders have said it's due for an update. The law has been widely criticized as too punitive, using a broad brush to paint schools as underperforming. The law expired in 2005 and Congress has been unable to agree on a rewrite.

In response to that pressure, and to states' cries for help meeting the goals, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced with Obama in fall 2011 that states could seek waivers to the law's requirements in exchange for agreeing to parts of the Obama education agenda. More than 30 states and Washington, D.C., have received waivers.

From the time the waivers were announced, Republicans, including Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), argued that they are illegal. Democrats have had gripes as well. Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) has taken issue with how waivers allow states to use less stringent measures to report graduation rates. "We had these concerns for a long time," Miller, the ranking Democrat on the House Education Committee, told The Huffington Post on Wednesday. "Are the accountability provisions really telling us that the outcomes are better than they were? You worry that they … become fogged."

Education Trust now says the Education Department constructed parts of the waivers wrong. The changes, according to the advocacy group, allow states to receive federal money without actually making academic progress for all groups of students.

Haycock said she initially thought the waivers a good idea. But she said she opposes aspects of the execution. "Our support for the secretary’s decision to grant waivers should not, however, be conflated with enthusiasm about either the final waiver guidelines or the waiver plans that were actually approved," she said in the testimony. "There were ... decisions that should trouble all those who understand ... that our future as a nation depends on developing the minds of all our children."

Overall, according to the Education Trust report, it will be hard for parents, schools and students to understand the new accountability systems under the waivers. "The waiver guidelines themselves … essentially invite incoherence," Haycock said in an interview. "When it comes to making ... goals meaningful, they said to states, you don't have to." In some cases, she said, the goals are "meaningless."

Even under the states' accountability systems, which focus on 15 percent of the lowest-performing schools, there is sometimes no plan for improvement. "Many state plans don’t spell out a clear course of action for priority schools that, even after receiving resources and support, prove unwilling or unable to improve," Haycock said. "In Maryland and Georgia, for example, not meeting priority exit criteria only brings more improvement planning."

The waiver guidelines, Haycock will note, don't require states to provide options for kids in the lowest-performing schools -- unlike the much-maligned No Child Left Behind. "Regardless of where you sit on the importance of school choice for students in general, it is hard to conclude that this decision shouldn’t be revisited," Haycock plans to say. Ideas for strengthening school accountability "failed to go viral" in the same way that plans that let states get by with doing less.

Kentucky state schools chief Terry Holliday plans to be more positive, according to his prepared testimony. "With our first assessment of the common core standards, we saw drops in proficiency rates of between 20 percent to 30 percent in language arts and math," he said in prepared remarks. "We are not shying away from these results."

John King, New York's schools chief, will also be more eager. King and Holliday plan to stress that a reauthorization of the law is still necessary. "There are larger issues that have not been addressed, particularly with regard to how funds are allocated and spent,” King plans to say. “The waiver should be used as the starting point for full reauthorization.”

Ed Today: Bill Gates's Education Philanthropy Over Time; New York City Parents Sue Over School Funding

Joy Resmovits   |   February 6, 2013   12:22 AM ET

Gates's Gigantic Growth? Michigan State University Professor Sarah Reckhow takes a look at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's funding patterns over on Alexander Russo's blog. "The decade from 2000 to 2010 was a time of enormous growth and evolution for the Gates Foundation," Reckhow writes. "Warren Buffett's pledge of more than $30 billion substantially increased the Gates Foundation's resources, and grant-making more than doubled from 2005 to 2009. Even more marked are the Foundation's dramatically shifted priorities." Over the years, Gates has shifted its money from directly funding schools to instead subsidizing research, advocacy and activism.

New York Sued? Parents in New York City are suing Governor Andrew Cuomo and state schools chief John King for withholding money to the city's schools over a teacher evaluation standoff, reports the Wall Street Journal's Lisa Fleisher. The parents are represented by Michael Rebell, an attorney who previously got the state to spend more money on its schools through a case known as the Campaign for Fiscal Equity. "The fact that plaintiffs are being held hostage to a political battle between the state, the city and the UFT, in which they have no involvement or responsibility whatsoever, plainly tilts the balance of the equities strongly in plaintiffs' favor," the suit said (as quoted by WSJ).

Cheating Bill Hits D.C.? Washington, D.C. Councilmember David Catania introduced a bill that's supposed to "make it all but impossible to cheat" on standardized exams, reports the Associated Press. D.C. is the scene of several testing investigations following a USA Today story that found an abnormally high wrong-to-write erasure ratio on students' answer sheets -- usually a tell-tale sign of cheating. Catania's bill would make standardized tests "beyond reproach" in his own words, elevating the criminality of facilitating cheating. It also mandates more intense training on test security.

Superintendent Certification Shrinkage? Over in Indiana, the state legislature is advancing a bill that would deregulate the district superintendent positions: the Indiana "House bill would no longer superintendents to have teachers' or superintendents' licenses. Republican Rep. Todd Huston of Fishers said school boards could still require their superintendents to hold a state license, but the bill would give them the option of hiring an experienced nonprofit or business leader," reports the Indiana Business Journal.

Sequestration Is A-Coming President Barack Obama urged lawmakers to prevent the automatic cuts to federal spending -- including education. More via Politics K-12.

**EXTRA CREDIT** Common Core ban advances in Alabama Republican party? And also, they say they're not going to accept money from the state, local, or national teachers union.

How Are Schools Harnessing Technology?

  |   February 5, 2013    5:20 PM ET

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WATCH: Jon Stewart Puts Michelle Rhee On Defense

Joy Resmovits   |   February 5, 2013   11:58 AM ET

Last night, former Washington, D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee stopped by The Daily Show to promote her memoir, "Radical."

"Radical" traces Rhee's development from her childhood in Toledo, Ohio to the creation of StudentsFirst, the national lobbying group she created in 2010 to spread her policy agenda from coast to coast. Rhee has become the standard bearer of what's known as the "education reform" movement, a group of advocates that push policies such as charter schools and teacher evaluations that rely on students' standardized test scores.

Host Jon Stewart's mother is a teacher, so he pressed Rhee on many of these policies, especially his (and teachers') dissatisfaction with the heavy emphasis on standardized tests. "They have this idea of the test being the almighty word. ... that does not really .. measure the possible teacher's potential or success .. yet it is the thing that they are tied to .. for money," he said. "How do we move [away from this]?"

"It's a balance," Rhee responded. "You can't have no accountability. ... The bottom line is there's no one in the country that I know of that advocates that we evaluate teachers solely on the basis of test scores."

Stewart also engaged Rhee on the role things like poverty and nutrition play in the classroom. Out of all those factors, Stewart said, "teachers are the only ones we look at and go, so that's it, you're fired." Rhee said that within the education realm, the most schools can do and their top goal should be making sure "every kid is in a high-quality school every day taught by a highly-effective teacher."

Charter schools, a prominent item on Rhee's agenda, also confused Stewart. "We've sort of thrown up our hands and said this aint gonna work .. so let's start a charter school or something .. but those often fall prey [to the same issues as traditional public schools]," he said. He then said that charter schools make public schools, which can't choose their students, "a repository for the worst, most difficult, most troublesome cases," so they should be hit with "resources and nutrition and literacy" to close achievement gaps early.

Rhee said she agrees on the importance of addressing poverty, but parents can't wait. "To say to them ... suck it up for a little while and we might be able to improve the school later on is not good enough," she said.

Why, Stewart then asked, do we not target the resources we send to charter schools to fixing lower-performing schools instead of creating an entirely new infrastructure? Rhee's answer: "let's free them up" to make it easier for different types of schools to excel.

"But isn't that the antithesis of the testing regime?" Stewart asked. Rhee said "we have to have measures by which we understand whether or not kids are learning appropriately."

Michelle Rhee Meets Jon Stewart; Texas School Funding Unconstitutional: Ed Today

Joy Resmovits   |   February 5, 2013    8:28 AM ET

Rhee The Radical? Former Washington, D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee continues the book tour for her memoir, "Radical," stopping last night at the Daily Show. She talked to host Jon Stewart about standardized testing, school accountability, and poverty. Stewart's mother was a teacher, so it's always interesting to see him interview education figures. For now, watch the interview here. More on that soon. And stay tuned -- Rhee is slated to appear on HuffPost Live at 1:30 p.m., so set your, er, Google calendars to remind you!

Texas School Funding Unconstitutional? Yet another school funding court case in Texas has come to the conclusion that the Lone Star State's schools aren't adequately financed. A district court judge ruled Monday that Texas's school funding formula is unconstitutional for two reasons: it doesn't spend enough money on schools, and that money isn't allocated fairly between school districts. "It was a great relief," said Wayne Pierce, executive director of the Equity Center, an umbrella group for 675 school districts that sued over the "hopelessly broken" funding system, according to NPR. Over the last two years, Texas has cut school funding by $5.4 billion, and uses a so-called "Robin Hood law" to make school funding more equitable -- but plaintiffs said the law doesn't work that way in practice. NPR called an appeal "all but certain," with the case expected to wind its way into the Texas Supreme Court.

Exploring NYC's T-Val Failure? In this week's Gotham column, the New York Times's Michael Powell gets behind the political theater that was the failure of the school district and union to reach a deal on teacher evaluations by January 17. He calls Mayor Michael Bloomberg's part in it "a courageous act in self-destruction."

School Grades Hit Virginia? On Monday, Virginia's House of Representatives passed a law -- originated by Gov. Bob McDonnell -- that would give schools A-F letter grades, according to the Associated Press. A similar measure passed in the Senate last Tuesday. "It's time for Virginia to adapt this common sense A-F school grading system that has been successfully implemented in other states and will help us continue to make real improvements in the quality of our children's education," McDonnell said in a written statement after the House vote, according to the AP. But opponents contend that the law could ding schools that take on more challenging student populations, such as low-income students. (And such rankings don't always make statistical sense.)

Montana School Fight? According to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, Montana parents spoke to the state's House education committee, advocating for the introduction of charter schools into their state. One mother, Lisa Russell, went up to the lectern and played a voicemail saying that since her child's school did not make annual goals under No Child Left Behind, students qualified for free tutoring. But, the voicemail continued, "Only students that earn free and reduced lunch are eligible to apply for those services." As a parent whose child is not eligible for free lunch, Russell said she feels she lacks viable options -- so she's pushing for charter schools, which are publicly funded and can be privately run. The state is also considering a voucher-like program, which would provide families with a $550 tax credit to be used toward private school tuition (which averages at a few thousand.) A charter bill gained some momentum in Montana last term, but stopped short of passing in the House.

Also on Monday in Montana's Capitol, Superintendent Denise Juneau (whom you might remember from a speech at last year's Democratic National Convention) pressed for increased school funding but did not mention the charter school or voucher measures once.

**Extra Credit**
For insiders, community group UNO's charter schools pay."