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Rick Hess Straight Up

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

The Top Ten 2015 RHSU Columns

By Rick Hess — December 23, 2015 3 min read
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We’re nearing the end of a peculiar year. It’s been filled with things I’d never expected to see—like Donald Trump leading the Republican presidential contest, college faculty calling for “muscle” to help silence student journalists, and the expiration of NCLB. It seems like a propitious time to take a moment and reflect on the year gone by. In that spirit, my whipsmart RAs Jenn Hatfield and Kelsey Hamilton and I took a spin through the 2015 RHSU archives to flag the top ten columns of the past year. Factoring in web hits, reader reaction, Twitter interest, and our own biased personal preferences, here’s the best of RHSU from 2015. Feel free to share your thoughts on the list, and what we might have missed.

10. Reflections on an Extraordinary Decade of New Orleans School Reform, June 22, 2015: Everyone is understandably eager to draw “lessons” from what transpired in New Orleans. The thing is that it can be tough to know just what worked or why it worked. After all, state takeovers had been tried before, typically with disappointing results.

9. 5 Thoughts on Nevada’s Landmark School Choice Law, June 11, 2015: Families will make some bad decisions about how to spend their ESAs. Some sleazy purveyors will crop up. These stories will fascinate the media. But the crucial thing, at least for me, is that these problems will be localized and addressable. This is all frustrating and imperfect, but also much more manageable than efforts to address anachronistic public bureaucracies or “fix” schools plagued by decades of dysfunction.

8. Why It Matters If the Common Core is Less and Less ‘Common,’ January 26, 2015: But the most interesting thing to me in all this has been how Common Core advocates have seemed ready and willing to toss commonality overboard in their quest to get states to make a paper pledge to adopt “higher” standards.

7. Of Head Start and the SAT, September 14, 2015: What’s been less clear to me is whether those results necessarily reflect meaningful learning. The acid test, I’d think, is whether they carry over to what matters: success in high school, college, and beyond. A decade of stagnant high school metrics is not reassuring, and it’s possible that NCLB’s command-and-control effort to improve schooling could be delivering up a false sense of progress.

6. Of K-12 Talkers and Doers, April 7, 2015: Talkers have a role to play, so long as they keep in mind it’s the doers who are actually doing things. In schooling today, however, I’m afraid that way too many well-intentioned talkers have forgotten that they don’t actually do stuff. They seem to confuse talking with doing.

5. What Cage-Busters Believe, March 23, 2015: As folks have heard about the book or read an excerpt, a number have been asking what a cage-busting teacher is—and whether I think this person or that person is a cage-buster. I always tell them that I think cage-busting is more about action than celebrity. I prefer to talk about what cage-busters believe. So, just what do cage-busters believe?

4. Arne Duncan “Really F---in’ Cares” About Kids, September 24, 2015: Duncan’s allegedly superhuman commitment to kids has become a rationale for the Department to ridicule or ignore all manner of disagreement. (One only had to read Duncan’s remarkable interview last week with Alyson Klein of “Politics K-12" to see all of this on display). Indeed, some of us initially sympathetic to Duncan’s aims—and perfectly willing to concede his good intentions—have been struck by his tendency to dismiss concerns and belittle those who raise them.

3. Understanding the Opt-Out Movement: A One-Woman Play (In Five Acts), June 8, 2015: (Actress wears a rueful look.) Geez, it feels like our school has gone a little test-crazy. The school is always giving “formative” tests, telling us how kids are doing on the state tests, and holding rallies to focus kids on the tests. Testing for reading and math makes sense, but this is all a little too much.

2. On “The Martian” and Celebrating Smart, October 19, 2015: After all, in the U.S., we celebrate wealth, fame, athletic prowess, and good looks. We celebrate people who land a reality show, pander in sound bites to the like-minded, or know a Kardashian. As to being savvy, clever, or informed? Not so much.

1. Personality Quiz: Am I a Wannabe Edu-Bureaucrat? May 28, 2015: In the last five years or so, however, some reformers have evinced a growing faith in bureaucratic fixes. How can you tell if you’re one of these aspiring bureaucrats, and whether you should dress accordingly? As a public service, I’ve tapped my old Ph.D. in government skills to provide this quick, easy-to-take quiz.

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.