Flypaper

In the wake of Prince’s untimely death on Thursday, the world marks the passing of a multi-talented performer and musical polymath. Prince Rogers Nelson was one of his generation’s most gifted songwriters; a virtuosic guitarist; a compelling (if somewhat enigmatic) screen presence; and a champion for the sartorial cause of purple. Even his most dedicated fans may not realize, however, that he leaves behind a legacy in the realm of education as well.

The High School for Recording Arts (HSRA), located in St. Paul, Minnesota—essentially Prince’s backyard—is a charter school focused on project-based learning for students interested in music and recording. Among other perks, it boasts a student-operated record label and a weekly timeslot on local radio, all with the goal of leading at-risk kids from idleness and poverty to lives of creative fulfillment. The school released a statement today mourning the musician’s death and discussing his influence on its mission. “The history of the charter school is inextricably connected to the artist known as Prince, and his spirit has always permeated through the music studios, classrooms, and hallways of HSRA,” it begins.

HSRA’s founder, David Ellis, was a troubled student himself. In the 1980s, he toiled fruitlessly at the...

Renée N. Stoeckle

Pope Francis is exhorting church leaders across the globe to join the school choice movement.

Earlier this month, Pope Francis issued the second apostolic exhortation of his papacy, Amoris Laetitia (“The Joy of Love”). The document is not official church doctrine, but rather a public teaching of the pope that calls the faithful to action on a particular subject—in this case, the modern family. Given that this pope has issued only two apostolic exhortations in his three-year papacy, the inclusion of school choice speaks volumes about Francis’s priorities.

In Amoris Laetitia, the pontiff reiterates the church’s teaching that choice in education is a fundamental right of parents “of which no one may claim to deprive them”—meaning the state must not deny parents the right to select their children’s educational path, be it public or private, regardless of their financial means.

Francis calls upon the state to provide educational opportunities for all families, but he emphasizes that “parents themselves enjoy the right to choose freely the kind of education—accessible and of good quality—which they wish to give their children in accordance with their convictions” (paragraph eighty-four).

Amoris Laetitia comes in response to last fall’s “Synod on the Family,” a weeks-long global meeting of Catholic Bishops...

Barbara Clark

Observing what a young person is capable of is always exciting. Many of the limits we thought children had do not seem to be as absolute as we once believed. The more we study children, the more we discover that our beliefs are limited, not the abilities of kids.

Are children born gifted?

The potential for giftedness or a high level of intellectual development begins very early in a child’s life. Studies since the early 1970s consistently show that such development is the result of an interaction between the child’s genetic endowment and a rich and appropriate environment in which the child grows. No child is born gifted—only with the potential for giftedness. Although all children have amazing potential, only those who are fortunate enough to have opportunities to develop their talents in an environment that responds to their particular needs will be able to actualize their abilities to high levels. Research in psychology, neuroscience, linguistics, and early learning can help parents create responsive environments that allow their children to develop their potential to the fullest—that is, to create giftedness.

Giftedness is a changing concept

Giftedness can now be seen as a biologically rooted label for a high level of intelligence, which indicates...

A new study from RAND uses information from teacher polling to examine state implementation of the Common Core State Standards. The data are drawn from two nationally representative surveys of U.S. educators (both K–12 math and ELA teachers) administered in summer and fall 2015. Both had response rates ranging from 57 to 62 percent, with roughly 1,100–1,700 participants responding to each. The questionnaires focus on teachers’ perceptions and practices as they relate to key instructional approaches reflected primarily in the standards. My seven critical takeaways are these:

1) When asked if they ever used particular materials, the majority of math teachers generally report developing materials themselves (97 percent of elementary teachers). Over forty percent of all surveyed elementary teachers claimed that they used the popular and universally available Engage NY.

2) Ninety-eight percent of elementary teachers report using leveled readers, and  those who do so weekly or daily describe various applications for them. For instance, high percentages (68 percent) say they use the readers to support struggling students in place of the grade-level text other students are reading. (Yet Common Core supports the teaching of grade-appropriate texts with the idea that teacher support and explanation, not text difficulty, is...

A new report from the Hope Street Group examines the quality of states’ teacher preparation programs.

The authors, all teachers themselves, conducted in-person focus groups and administered online surveys over six weeks between September and October 2015. Their sample included 1,988 certified educators in forty-nine states and the District of Columbia whose teaching experience ranged from one to thirty-one years across all grades and subjects. Authors conducted qualitative and content analysis to identify, categorize, and present reoccurring themes from the teacher’s responses.

Respondents were asked the same questions: If your state was going to evaluate teacher preparation programs, which measures should be included? Did your preparation program offer any specific courses related to serving in areas of high-need or persistently low-achieving populations? As you reflect on your teacher preparation experiences, what do you wish you’d had more of in terms of pedagogy? How have new college- and career-ready standards changed your instructional practices? And what would you change about teacher preparation for the next generation of teachers?

Over half the teachers reported lacking instruction about serving high-needs or persistently low-achieving populations; they also noted that their only exposure to college- and career-ready standards came through on-the-job experiences or in-service professional...

Every teacher of low-income children and English language learners has had this moment: You're sitting with a student, working line by line through a text, grappling with what should be fairly simple comprehension questions.

"Did you read it?" you ask. "I read it," the child replies. "But I didn't get it."

This is what reading failure often looks like in a struggling school. A child can read the words on a page in front of him, but he can't always make sense of them. The commonsense solution for both teachers and policy makers has been to make more time for reading instruction. That makes sense, but it hasn't worked, because reading comprehension is not a skill that can be practiced and mastered like a basketball free throw. Children's ability to understand what they read is intimately intertwined with their background knowledge and vocabulary. If a child is not broadly educated, he won't be fully literate.

John King made precisely this point last Thursday in a remarkable speech in Las Vegas. The newly minted secretary of education is pushing for schools to take advantage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) to give every child the kind of broad background "that...

Michael Hansen

Are we ready to expand career and technical education offerings as the next frontier in education policy? “College- and career-ready” has been an aspirational label in education for years, though many in the know recognize that the label is generally used as a stand-in for the Common Core State Standards—and the focus there is decidedly tipped toward college readiness and away from career preparation. Yet in recent years, President Obama and the U.S. Department of Education have been promoting the career side of the label more, making the case that technical education is not at odds with academic preparation. With union leadersindustry groups, and researchers joining the list of those backing it, career and technical education appears to be well poised to become the next viable policy lever to help improve the plight of America’s youth.

Last week, the Fordham Institute in Washington, D.C. released a new report on career and technical education that adds some fuel to this fire. In it, author Shaun Dougherty examines high school, college, and labor market outcomes for three cohorts of Arkansas high school students based on their differential participation in career and technical education coursework. The study stands out for its focus on this array of outcomes,...

Lisa Riggs

Over the past year, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute has published numerous articles (including a book) explaining how schools across the country are overlooking high-achieving poor students. In the age of ESSA, the role of the states and districts in serving its high-achievers is more important than ever before. In Texas, where I live and work, nearly 8 percent of children are identified as gifted and talented, but before my arrival in the San Antonio Independent School District (SAISD), only 4.5 percent of students were so identified. That percentage was unacceptable, so the district reinvented its approach. Its current methods—now much improved—ought to be an example of what other districts across the country can do to better serve high-ability boys and girls.

In December 2015, the SAISD board approved a universal screening assessment and matrix for all first and fifth graders for Gifted and Talented Education (GATE). Therefore, every student would have an equal opportunity to be identified for these essential GATE services. (In a district where 92 percent of the students are considered economically disadvantaged and 98 percent of students are Latino or African American, this work is even more critical.)

Identification is just the first step in...

Over the weekend, I attended a performance of the Tony-winning show All the Way, whose title political junkies (or readers of a certain age) will know refers to Lyndon Johnson and his 1964 presidential campaign. The play was entertaining and enlightening, depicting President Johnson as a funnier, more likable Frank Underwood—with the salty language and some of the paranoid tendencies of Richard Nixon.

What I found most fascinating, though, was its treatment of detractors of the 1964 Civil Rights Act—most notably Johnson’s mentor turned political opponent, arch-segregationist Senator Richard Brevard Russell of Georgia. The wise and amiable “Uncle Dick” knew that he and his fellow southern Democrats couldn’t attack civil rights head on. In one scene, he tells a handful of his compatriots that, instead of playing to type as rednecks and defenders of brutal racism, they have to make their argument on Constitutional grounds. The refrain of his speeches became, “This bill is an assault on the states and on our Constitution.”

That came to mind on Monday when I had the chance to ask former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan about the mounting controversy over implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)—a sixth- or seventh-generation descendant of L.B.J.’s...

It strikes me, and several others with whom I’ve spoken in recent months, that education reform is at a turning point. It’s not just the new federal law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, which sends key decisions back to the states. It’s bigger than that—a sense of exhaustion with policy as the primary driver of educational change.

To be sure, there are many policy battles still to fight and win in almost every state: to ensure that school and teacher accountability do not disappear, to defend and expand high-quality charter schools and other forms of parental choice, to do something about chronically low-performing schools, to see that high-achieving poor kids don’t go ignored, and much more.  

It’s as critical as ever that advocacy organizations like the newly merged 50CAN and StudentsFirst attract the funding and talent to ensure that kid-centered laws and regulations are put in place from sea to shining sea. The teachers’ unions—newly energized after their near-death experience in the Friedrichs case and their victory in Vergara—surely have the money and resolve to push hard in the opposite direction. And when it comes to preserving the status quo and not threatening any adult interests, they have plenty of allies. But...

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