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Education policy maven Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute think tank offers straight talk on matters of policy, politics, research, and reform. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

RHSU: Top Ten Columns of 2013

By Rick Hess — December 23, 2013 6 min read
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It’s the time when we reflect on the past year, yada yada. In that spirit, crackerjack RA Max Eden and I went back to the RHSU vault for the past year to identify ten of the most interesting, discussed, or popular columns. With an eye towards reader traffic, Twitter interest, and our own biases, we’ve tagged ten RHSU’s highlights from 2013. Not surprisingly, there was something of a Common Core overload, so we tried our best to correct for that. Curious to hear your takes on these and on which we might’ve missed.

10. Data’s a Tool, Not a Talisman, February 8, 2013: Have been out at Stanford the past couple days. Gave a talk yesterday at the Ed School about Cage-Busting Leadership, where local heavyweights (Terry Moe, Mike Kirst, Bill Evers, Rick Hanushek, et al.) pushed me to explain how far you can really get with cage-busting. Meanwhile, my old friend and dissertation chair, Harvard’s Paul Peterson, had his own fun. Pointing out that Bill Gates has now suggested that data is the answer to all our myriad problems, he asked, why worry about this cage-busting stuff at all?

9. Don’t Leave Responsible Parents Behind, October 21, 2013: One of the remarkable things about contemporary education reform may be its lack of interest in responsible parenting. In recent years, an intense focus on closing racial and economic achievement gaps has resulted in policies and practices that can sometimes come at the expense of families that work hard and play by the rules.

8. Could the Common Core Be Bad for Schooling? & Four Questions About Common Core Implementation

Bad for Schooling, September 16, 2013: This might seem like a pointless question. Obviously, committed Common Core skeptics fear that the enterprise will be bad on any number of counts. But let’s set those concerns aside for a moment. Let’s instead ask, assuming one accepts the pro-Common Core case: Might the whole thing still be bad for students and schools? The obvious answer from Common Core enthusiasts is “no.” I’ve had this same conversation perhaps a half-dozen times in recent weeks. While some Common Core champions acknowledge that the whole thing might come apart, they’re puzzled by the suggestion that the effort could do any harm.

Four Questions, September 4, 2013: With the Common Core push in full swing, a bunch of intriguing issues are about to start cropping up. While much popular press coverage has justifiably focused on the political debates, and the trade press (especially Ed Week’s invaluable Catherine Gewertz) has considered what this all means for instructional practice in schools, some crucial but less visible rubber-meets-road questions have pretty much gotten lost. Here are four big implementation questions that haven’t yet gotten much attention in state and local papers, and that would benefit from a serious look...

7. In Which I Interview an Insincere Reformer, May 8, 2013: I recently had a fascinating exchange with a smart journalist. He wrote, “I’m looking into the major donors from across the country who tried to influence school board races. Critics have questioned the[ir] motives...To what extent are they sincere in advancing reforms they believe in?”

6. A Few Thoughts on MET, Jan 16, 2013:I’ve been preoccupied the past few weeks while the Gates Foundation issued its big, final Measures of Effective Teaching report. A lot has already been said summarizing and discussing the findings. No need for me rehash all that. Instead, thought I’d just take a moment to offer three thoughts on the whole thing.

5. A Playbook for the Common Core’ites: Parts I & 2:

Part 1, June 18, 2013: I’ve long said that the Common Core strikes me as an intriguing effort that could do much good. So, why am I not on board? Because I think the effort has a good chance of stalling out over the next four or five years. And, because standards and assessments are the backbone of pretty much everything else in K-12 schooling, that could tear down all manner of promising efforts on teacher quality, school improvement, and the rest.

Part 2, June 20, 2013: On Tuesday, I tried to explain how Common Core enthusiasts have gotten themselves into their current fix, where their dazzling, Race to the Top-fueled victories of 2010 and 2011 have given way to a divisive, frustrating slog. Today, the Common Core’ites have some serious challenges. Among these...

4. 7 Reasons I Don’t Care About the PISA Results, December 4, 2013: Yesterday, the triennial PISA results were announced, prompting a paroxysm of spastic pontificating. Hands were wrung, familiar talking points were rehashed, and PISA Overlord Andreas Schleicher once again took the results as his cue to lecture American educators and policymakers on the wonders of common standards and the perniciousness of school choice. (Not that Schleicher has ever seemed an especially strategic operator; I’m curious whether the cheerleading of this international bureaucrat will really help the cause of the Common Core.) Anyway, the funny thing is that all this gnashing of teeth is, quite literally, for nothing. There are at least seven reasons I don’t give a fig about the PISA results.

3. Cage-Busting Leadership & the Halfway School Reform Agenda, February 13, 2013: I’ve little to say on the President’s SOTU last night, or on Sen. Rubio’s response. I found Obama’s remarks predictable and less than compelling (spend more on pre-K, dream up yet another iteration of Race to the Top, blah blah), and thought the same of Rubio’s hat-tip to school choice. The only interesting thing was the president again helping Common Core critics depict the whole endeavor as a federal power grab. Despite prohibitions on the feds getting involved in curricula, and repeated declarations from CCSSO and NGA that the Common Core is a voluntary, state-led exercise, Obama asserted, “Four years ago, we started Race to the Top--a competition that convinced almost every state to develop smarter curricula and higher standards.” Whoops. That sure seems to make those who claim the Common Core’s not a federal exercise look like dimwits, liars, or apologists. Is the administration that tone deaf or arrogant? Or does the president have a soft spot for the Pioneer Institute?

2. The Trouble with Economists, July 24, 2013: Some of my best friends are education economists. That’s right. Economists have added a whole lot to the education discourse in the past decade. They’ve shed light on dubious assumptions and frequently brought a healthy rigor, one that was too often missing in the ‘80s and ‘90s.

1. How the Common Core Became a Political Football, August 5, 2013: The wheels on the Common Core bus have developed a visible rattle of late. Georgia, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Alabama, Oklahoma, and Utah have withdrawn from assessment consortia. With Tony Bennett no longer state chief in Florida, there’s an excellent chance that Florida will bail. The unexpectedly high cost of assessments has sparked complaints. Florida senator and Tea Party icon Marco Rubio has come out against the standards. Jeb Bush is gettingslammed by some Tea Party columnists for backing the standards. (The first rule of coalition politics: It’s not good when supporting your bipartisan cause puts crucial backers at war with their base.) And New Jersey governor Chris Christie has made the Core a new front in his attack on “knee-jerk” Republicans, heaping fuel on the fire.

The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.