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A new Mathematica study persuasively puts to rest a common charge leveled at KIPP charter schools: that their test score gains are largely attributable to the attrition of their lowest-performing students. The authors compare nineteen KIPP middle schools to district schools and find no meaningful difference among those who walk in the door of each type of school. Nor do they find any difference in student attrition rates on the way out. Students who enter KIPP in later grades do indeed tend to be higher performers, but “a large part of KIPP’s cumulative effect occurs in the first year of enrollment, before attrition and replacement could have any effect.” Thus, high-achieving “backfilled” students can account for no more than one-third of the cumulative KIPP effect. Analysts, however, couldn’t determine whether students and families attracted to KIPP and its intensity are more ambitious or motivated in the first place—a point Richard Kahlenberg highlights in a critique of the study on Education Next’s website. “When children hear about the rigorous regimen,” he notes—the extended school day and copious homework, for example—“particularly motivated families might be excited to sign up, while less motivated families could be scared away.” The careful and sober Mathematica scholars openly acknowledge that this is “a potentially important limitation of this study.” And so it is. Nevertheless, the criticism rankles. Do low-income children not deserve the opportunity to attend school with others who are motivated and whose parents are ambitious for their children? Some will...

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Why do American public schools spend more of their operating budgets on non-teachers than almost every other country in the world, including nations that are as prosperous and humane as ours? We can’t be certain. But we do know this:

  • The number of non-teachers on U.S. school payrolls has soared over the past fifty years, far more rapidly than the rise in teachers. And the amount of money in district budgets consumed by their salaries and benefits has grown apace for at least the last twenty years.
  • Underneath the averages and totals, states and districts vary enormously in how many non-teachers they employ. Why do Illinois taxpayers pay for forty staff per thousand pupils while Connecticut pays for eighty-nine? Why does Orange County (Orlando), Florida, employ eleven teacher aides per thousand students when Miami-Dade gets by with seven?

What accounts for such growth and such differences? We don’t know nearly as much as we’d like on this topic, but it’s not a total mystery. The advent and expansion of special education, for example, led to substantial demand for classroom aides and specialists to address the needs of youngsters with disabilities. Broadening school duties to include more food service, health care, and sundry other responsibilities accounts for still more.

But such additions to the obligations of schools are not peculiar to the United States, and they certainly cannot explain big staffing differences from place to place within our country.

The Hidden Half: School Employees Who Don’t Teach, a new...

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With fewer than one hundred days left until the 2014 election and with control of the U.S. Senate a virtual coin toss, few are focusing on the potential impact a Republican takeover might have. Should Republicans get the keys to the Senate and gain control of both houses, they will still have find common ground with President Obama (and one another) if they are to get anything accomplished.

Regardless of whether congressional Republicans agreed with the President when he said late last year that inequality and economic mobility were the “defining challenge[s] of our time,” he clearly struck a nerve. In the last few months, several groups on the Right have offered proposals designed to put a conservative spin on helping the poor. The latest, a discussion draft from Congressman Paul Ryan titled “Expanding Opportunity in America,” has drawn praise from both ends of the political spectrum and could serve as a blueprint for negotiations over reform next year.  Here are some highlights.

“Opportunity grant”

Fights over debt and deficits aren’t over, but the ideas in Ryan’s “discussion draft” are budget neutral and mostly leave third-rail topics like programs for seniors and the disabled completely alone. Instead, Ryan is proposing combining a huge part of the social safety net—including funds for food stamps, cash assistance, housing assistance, and much more—into a large line item called the “Opportunity Grant.” States that wanted to participate would submit a plan describing how they would these funds, with the results closely tracked.

Taxation

While Ryan certainly...

Andy's odyssey: Part three

This series’ first two posts mostly noodled around with concepts, probably leaving dirty-fingernail types sighing, “What does any of this have to do with our actual work?”

In subsequent posts, I’ll narrow in on applications, but it probably makes sense to spend a little time on this now. Here, I’ll try to explain why a conversation about the intersection of conservatism and ed reform is timely and, hopefully, whet your appetite for further discussions.

It’s probable that Republicans will shortly wield more power. The 2014 midterms are nearing, and President Obama’s approval rating is but 42 percent.

Even if that number were higher, Democratic prospects would still be gloomy. The second midterm for the sitting president’s party almost always produces big losses (see FDR, Ike, GWB, etc.). The GOP already controls the House of Representatives, and it is expected to take the Senate and maintain control of a strong majority of governorships. While it’s too early to forecast the 2016 presidential election, history teaches that seldom does a party hold the Oval Office for three consecutive terms.

So how would an ascendant Right, cognizant of the governing responsibilities of a majority party, approach education reform? I predict a paradoxical blend of modesty and vigor. Channeling Shakespeare and his famous oxymorons, I’ll call it “energized retrenchment.”

Why retrenchment? The sophistry of today’s political “experts”—whose trenchant analysis of the Right consists of sneering, “Tea Party”—has cloaked a...

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CHARTER ACCOUNTABILITY IN MICHIGAN
Michigan’s superintendent of education announced that eleven of the Wolverine State’s charter school authorizers are at risk of being suspended or having their power to open new charters revoked. (Charters & Choice)
 
NEW ORLEANS’S CHARTERS
New Orleans’s first day of school will be an historical moment: for the first time, a major U.S. school district will operate entirely with charter schools. (NPR)
 
AP U.S. HISTORY FRAMEWORK
After the RNC claimed that the College Board “deliberately distorts and/or edits out important historical events” in its new AP U.S. History framework, College Board has released a practice exam and will clarify the criticized aspects of the framework. (Curriculum Matters)
 
TFA DIVERSITY
Half of Teach For America’s 5,300 new recruits self-identify as people of color, compared to 17 percent of the teaching force nationwide. (Teacher Beat, Hechinger Report)
 
FORDHAM IN THE NEWS
American Thinker: “Digital Learning Makes Rewards Fun, Effective

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Education Next

With a 2010 New York Times Magazine cover story, “Building a Better Teacher,” twenty-something journalist Elizabeth Green leapt to national prominence—as did the heroes of her article, Deborah Ball, the dean of the University of Michigan ed school, and Doug Lemov, a founder of Uncommon Schools, a network of high performing charter schools.

Now, four years later, she’s back with a book-length treatment of the subject with the same name. The book examines what great teaching looks like and how many more people can learn its secrets. Along the way, Green tells fascinating stories of teachers and researchers on a quest to create a true science of education—and pushes back against the notion that great teachers are born, not made.

In this edition of the Education Next Book Club podcast, Mike Petrilli talks with Green about her book, what’s she’s learned about great teaching, and her hope that it can become common practice in America.

Listen to the podcast on the Education Next website.

Additional episodes of the Education Next Book Club can be found here.

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ATLANTA’S TEST SCANDAL
Jury selection begins today for the case of twelve former Atlanta Public Schools employees accused of conspiring to alter students’ standardized test scores. (New York Times)
 
BUILDING A BETTER TEACHER
The Hechinger Report spoke with author Elizabeth Green about the challenges of building better teachers. (Hechinger Report)
 
COMMON CORE TESTING
Iowa will withdraw from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. (Curriculum Matters)
 
HOMELESS FAMILIES
Studies find that homeless families need more parent-student education. (Inside School Research)
 
CELEBRITY CAUSE
Celebrities are throwing their hats into the ed-reform ring. (NPR)
 
FORDHAM IN THE NEWS
Orange County Register: “Editorial: Reasons for hope on school choice

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Note: This post is part of our series, "Netflix Academy: The best educational videos available for streaming." Be sure to check out our previous Netflix Academy posts on Ancient Asian Culturesearly American civilizationsAncient GreeceAncient RomeNative American culturesChristopher Columbus and the Age of DiscoveryColonial America and the Revolutionary Warthe American founders; the Lewis and Clark expedition; the Civil War; movie adaptations of classic children’s booksAmerican folk heroesdinosaursaquatic lifeinsectsfrogs and other amphibiansreptilesbirdsmammalshuman evolutionearthquakes and volcanoesouter spaceand the systems of the human body

This post marks an important milestone: The terminus of our Netflix Academy series. We’ve now covered most of the major topics in the early grades of the Core Knowledge Sequence, save for some subjects on which high-quality streaming video options were scant.

We’ve learned over the course of this year that there’s a lot more high-quality science content on Netflix and Amazon than historical videos, at least for kids. But we’ve also come across some fantastic television shows that are content-rich and easily accessible, including the Dear America series featured below. (Others include Liberty’s Kids, The Magic Schoolbus, and Wild Kratts.)

This week’s topic—the wave of immigration in the late 1800s and early 1900s—has special meaning for me, as my Italian ancestors were part of the “huddled masses” that came in droves from...

MOBILITY
A massive longitudinal study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University followed nearly 800 kids in Baltimore, from first grade through their late twenties, to track who got ahead. (NPR)
 
TEACHER PERFORMANCE
A proposal to weaken tenure laws and attach student performance to teacher evaluations will appear on Missouri ballots this November. (Teacher Beat)
 
COMMON CORE MATERIALS
A new organization, launching this winter, will review Common Core–aligned materials. (Curriculum Matters)
 
EVIDENCE ON UNDERMATCHING IS UNDERWHELMING
A new report questions the theory that “undermatching” students—that is, sending students with academic potential, often from low-income backgrounds, to lower-tier colleges—actually leads the students to be less likely to graduate. (Hechinger Report)
 
FREEDOM TO PLAY
As part of a series on how play relates to learning, NPR Ed profiles Adventure Playground in Berkeley, California, a free-range “wild playground” embraces the theory that letting kids play hard and self-organize leads them to become better problem solvers. (NPR)
 
FORDHAM IN THE NEWS
Greenville Online: “Back to school: New rules, new standards
Democrats for Education Reform: “Is there a relationship between state public charter school policies and charter student learning outcomes?

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As Gadfly readers know—from his “farewell address,” if not before—the irreplaceable Checker Finn stepped down as the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s president last week, handing me the reins and the opportunity of a lifetime. As Checker made clear, he’s not retiring, disappearing, or giving up the fight—just letting go of the day-to-day responsibilities of managing an increasingly complex organization. He will, as he wrote, have more time than ever for troublemaking. American education will be the better for it.

So what does this mean for Fordham? Let me assure friends and foes alike that “evolution” is the apt term. Don’t expect any abrupt changes. Checker has been delegating a lot of decisions to our seasoned, superb senior staff for years; that talented team, along with our top-notch board of trustees, will continue to steer a steady course in the years to come, both with our national work and our efforts in Ohio.

***

That’s not to say, however, that “abrupt change” isn’t needed in the education-reform movement. Let’s begin with that great, late philosopher Michael Jackson:

I'm starting with the man in the mirror
I'm asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you wanna make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself, and then make a change

Those of us lucky enough to work every day at improving our schools need to start by looking in the...

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