Michael Petrilli

Michael Petrilli

Mike Petrilli is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, where he specializes in education policy studies. He is also vice president for national programs and policy at the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, where he oversees the foundation's research projects and publications, including The Education Gadfly. He also serves as executive editor of Education Next.

Paul Farhi of the Washington Post created a stir this weekend with an American Journalism Review articleripping mainstream education reporting for being uncritical of school reform. His comments were particularly pointed when it came to television coverage of the subject, especially NBC’s.

NBC has concentrated on initiatives favored by self-styled education reformers. The network has been particularly generous to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into promoting teacher merit pay proposals and privately run charter schools – an agenda strongly opposed by many public school teachers, labor unions and educators.

During its first “Education Nation” summit in 2010, for example, “NBC Nightly News” aired a profile of a Gates Foundation initiative, “Measures of Effective Teaching,” which seeks to create a database of effective teaching methods. The reporter was former NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw. During the second summit last fall, Brokaw showed up on “Today” with Melinda Gates to discuss the same Gates initiative. Turning from reporter to advocate, Brokaw told host Natalie Morales, “So what Bill and Melinda have done, and it’s a great credit to them, and it’s a great gift to this country, is that they have taken the kind of episodic values that we know about teaching and they’ve put them together in a way that everyone can learn from them. So that’s a big, big step.”

And Farhi’s not wrong; the media has indeed been obsessed with the teacher effectiveness agenda. That’s one finding of my own analysis of education reporting that I just published in Education Next. My team and I coded all of the national education stories published in 2011 in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, USA Today, and Associated Press. And sure enough, teacher-related policies were covered more than any other topic.

Continue reading Michael Petrilli…

Two weeks ago, when the House Education and the Workforce committee marked-up two major ESEA reauthorization bills, Democrats and their allies screamed bloody murder. Ranking member (and former chairman) George Miller called the bills “radical” and “highly partisan” and said they would “turn the clock back decades on equity and accountability.” A coalition of civil rights, education reform, and business groupssaid they amounted to a “rollback” of No Child Left Behind.

Miller put forward his own bills, which most of the self-same groups quickly endorsed, and which, Millerargues, “eliminates inflexible and outdated provisions of No Child Left Behind and requires states and [districts] to adopt strong but flexible and achievable standards, assessments, and accountability reforms.”

So let’s see how Miller and company do at “eliminating inflexible and outdated provisions of NCLB” and requiring “strong but flexible” accountability systems. The package…

1. Requires states to expect “all” students to reach college and career readiness eventually. (Didn’t we learn from NCLB that calling for “universal proficiency” merely pushes states to lower the bar?)

2. Tightens the screws on NCLB’s “subgroup accountability,” requiring schools to hit targets on dozens of indicators in order to avoid stigmas and sanctions. (Why not let states develop new ways to ensure that vulnerable kids don’t get overlooked—but without all the complexity?)

3. Makes failure even more likely by adding student growth and graduation rates to the mix (along with proficiency rates).

Continue reading Michael Petrilli…

Everybody in Washington claims they favor more flexibility in federal education policy. They want to be “tight on results” and “loose on how to get there.” They agree that No Child Left Behind “went too far” in putting Uncle Sam in the middle of complicated and nuanced decisions.

Or so they say, until push comes to shove. And then many of the players discover that they don’t like flexibility after all. They want to change federal policy in theory but not in reality.

It’s not just the President’s bizarre State of the Union request that states raise their compulsory attendance age to 18. (Perhaps that would help to trim the dropout rate, though the studies suggesting so rely on 40-year-old data.) I’m assuming that he was merely using the bully pulpit to promote a pet idea, not suggesting a new federal mandate.

No, I’m referring to the Army of the Potomac’s reaction to John Kline’s ESEA proposal and to Chairman Tom Harkin’s and Rep. George Miller’s response to the waiver requests put forward by several states.

In both cases, we hear somber leaders express concern that the moves will “undermine the core American value of equality of opportunity in education” and move away from “the critically important gains for our students’ civil rights and educational equity that NCLB achieved.”

Continue reading Michael Petrilli…

Democrats across and beyond the nation’s capital—in the Administration, on Capitol Hill, in advocacy groups, and in think tanks—are up in arms about the ESEA reauthorization proposals released by House GOP leaders on Friday. Or at least they are pretending to be. While they contained a few surprises, the House bills were pretty much as one would expect: significantly to the right of both the Senate Harkin-Enzi bill and the package put forward by Republican Senator Lamar Alexander and his colleagues. In the parlance that we’ve been using at Fordham for three years now, the House GOP embodies the views of the Local Controllers, Senator Alexander embraced Reform Realism, and Harkin-Enzi represents a mishmash of ideas from the Army of the Potomac and the System Defenders.

But while there are significant differences among the players, a clear path toward a workable, maybe even bipartisan, package is still visible. In short: all roads lead to Lamar. Not only does the Alexander package represent smart policy, it also serves as a sort of mid-point between the Senate bill that passed out of committee and the House GOP bill that is likely to do the same.

Continue reading Michael Petrilli…

President Obama’s remarks on inequality, stoking populist anger at “the rich,” suggest that the theme for his reelection bid will be not hope and change but focus on reducing class disparity with government help. But this effort isn’t limited to economics; it is playing out in our nation’s schools as well.

The issue is whether federal education efforts will compromise opportunities for our highest-achieving students. One might assume that a president determined to “win the future” would make a priority of ensuring that our ablest kids have the chance to excel.

To Obama, however, as for President George W. Bush, such concerns are a distraction at best. Last year the Education Department’s civil rights division announced that it would investigate local school policies that have a “disparate impact” on poor or minority students — signaling a willingness to go to court if department officials think that school systems have too few of such children in gifted programs or Advanced Placement courses. This bit of social engineering ignores the unseemly reality that advantaged children are statistically more likely to be ready to succeed in tough classes than are low-income children raised in households with fewer books and more television.

Continue reading Michael Petrilli and Frederick Hess…

(photo credit: Steve Spinks)

Whether you consider yeserday’s New York Times article on K12.com a “hit piece” (Tom Vander Ark) or a “blockbuster” (Dana Goldstein), there’s little doubt that it will have a long-term impact on the debate around digital learning. Polls show that the public and parents are leery of cyber schools, and this kind of media attention (sure to be mimicked in local papers) will only make them more so.

But just as these criticisms aren’t going away, neither is online learning itself. The genie is out of the bottle. So how can we go about drafting policies that will push digital learning in the direction of quality?

This is something we at Fordham are thinking a lot about, and we’ve published three papers (so far) in our series, Creating Sound Policy for Digital Learning: Rick Hess on quality control; Paul Hill on funding; and Bryan and Emily Hassel on teachers. And in January, we’ll publish an analysis by the Parthenon Group of what high-quality fulltime online learning really costs.

Continue reading Michael Petrilli…

Last week, the Departments of Education and Justice released new guidance for school districts and institutions of higher education on constitutionally-sound ways to encourage racial diversity and avoid racial isolation. As I’ve written before, I’m a fan of well-conceived efforts (like “controlled choice” a la Kahlenberg) to promote school integration, and I think Washington, D.C. is sorely in need of such an approach. (That’s what D.C. parents should be fighting for–not an end to school choice.)

Furthermore, on “local flexibility” grounds, I’m willing to give school districts some leeway if they want to make school integration a high priority.

That said, the guidance for elementary and secondary education includes some odious and potentially damaging suggestions for America’s 150-odd academically-selective public high schools–including powerhouses like New York’s Stuyvesant and Virginia’s Thomas Jefferson:

Continue reading Michael Petrilli…

Parents’ perspectives on education reform are often missing from the education policy debate, with technocrats typically arguing with one another about what parents want or what’s best for them. So I was heartened to see the New York Times publish an op-ed by a bona fide parent from Washington, D.C. — and on the topic of school choice, no less.

Leave it to the Times to get it wrong.

Continue reading Michael Petrilli…