Flypaper

Social Impact Bonds (SIB), also known as “pay for success” loans, are a novel form of financing social service interventions, including education initiatives. First piloted six years ago in the United Kingdom and now making their way to the United States, SIBs aim to leverage private funding to start new programs or scale proven ones. Broadly speaking, the instrument works like this: Private lenders and philanthropists deliver dollars—the bond—to a nonprofit provider that, in turn, implements the intervention. A government agency pays back the bond principal with interest, but only if the program achieves pre-specified results.

In its ideal form, an SIB has the potential to be a triple win: Governments receive risk-free funding to test or expand social programs that could help them save money; investors reap a financial return if the program works; and providers gain access to new sources of funding. To ensure that the deal will benefit all parties, due diligence occurs on the front end, including selecting a program provider, estimating government savings, and developing an evaluation method. 

To date, the discussion on SIBs has been largely conceptual, engaging both supporters and skeptics alike. But a fascinating new report written by MDRC President Gordon Berlin provides a first-hand...

In recent years, a few early childhood advocates have blasted the Common Core State Standards for their “harmful” effects on kindergarteners, particularly in reading. While a careful examination of the standards reveals this claim to be overstated—and overheated—the notion that we are killing kindergarten was gaining traction long before Common Core came onto the scene. Until now, this narrative has been informed largely by anecdotal evidenceidealism, and good old-fashioned nostalgia. Noting that “surprisingly little empirical evidence” has been gathered on the changing nature of kindergarten classrooms, this paper attempts to fill the void by comparing kindergarten and first-grade classrooms in 1998 and 2010—capturing the changes in teachers’ perceptions of kindergarten over time.

Using the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, researchers compared survey response data from public school kindergarten teachers in 1998 and 2010 to investigate changes across five dimensions: teachers’ beliefs about school readiness, curricular focus and use of time, classroom materials, pedagogical approach, and assessment practices.

Overall, researchers found that kindergarten has indeed become more like first grade. When asked to rate the importance of thirteen school readiness skills, 2010 teachers tended to rate all of them as more important than their 1998 counterparts had. This was true for academic skills (identifying letters,...

A recent study released by NCES compares the competencies and skill levels of U.S. adults to their counterparts in foreign countries. The study relies heavily on the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), which tests three “domains”: literacy, numeracy, and problem solving.

Researchers looked at data from 2012 and 2014 on a representative sample of 8,670 U.S. households—including PIAAC test scores, educational attainment, employment status, and more. They split the sample into three subgroups: unemployed adults (ages 16–65), employed young adults (ages 16–34), and employed older adults (ages 66–74).

Analysts found that, compared to people in other participating countries, U.S. adults between the ages of 16 and 65 have lower average PIAAC scale scores in numeracy and problem solving. American young people are less ready for college and career, and larger percentages of them scored in PIAAC’s lowest level in literacy, numeracy, and problem solving.

Moreover, compared to the international average, U.S. students who graduate high school typically only possess reading, math, and problem solving skills needed to complete brief and simple tasks in the workplace. And 69 percent of unemployed young adults in the United States scored at PIAAC’s lowest level in problem solving. That’s far...

Allow me to let you in on a little secret from deep inside the nation's policy making machinery: Policy elites view the rise of Donald Trump—the candidate and everything he stands for—with equal parts alarm and revulsion. That's probably not much of a secret. A campaign that draws its oxygen from anti-elite sentiments probably doesn't expect much attention or affection from think tanks and serious people in education reform. Not surprisingly, there hasn't been much.

But it's well past time to start thinking seriously about education reform in the Trump era. Even if 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue becomes the one piece of real estate destined never to be festooned with the candidate's surname, the restive 2016 campaign should serve as a wake-up call. Broad swaths of Americans feel disconnected from public institutions and are convinced that policy makers don't understand or much care about them.

Education policy has done little to bridge that divide. When downwardly mobile white, working-class Americans hear us talking about education reform, it's a fair bet they don't think we're talking about them and their children. And they're not mistaken. The priorities and language of reformers—achievement gaps, no-excuses schools, social justice, and the "civil rights issue of our...

Policy wonks and political prognosticators have begun to forecast the collateral damage that is apt to follow if Donald Trump manages—in spite of himself, and notwithstanding his Wisconsin setback—to win the Republican nomination, damaging not only GOP prospects for retrieving the White House but also the party’s odds of prevailing in innumerable races for Congress and for state (and even local) leadership. Following in the wake of those generally dire prognostications are early conjectures about the policy shifts that may ensue in sundry realms both international and domestic if Democrats are positioned to chart the future course.

For education reformers parsing this prospect, it’s useful first to recall the many worthy changes that followed the GOP’s 2010 sweep of a galaxy of state and federal offices (obviously omitting the one that’s ovular). Though nothing in the list below is (from my perspective) perfect, it’s hard to picture many—perhaps any—of these things happening had Republicans not been in positions of influence:

  • New assessments in most states, geared to higher academic standards and featuring higher “cut scores” that correspond more accurately and honestly to the actual demands of college, career, and international competitiveness
  • Accelerating the spread of school choice, both the public version (typically
  • ...
M. René Islas

How often have you heard, “Gifted students will do fine on their own?” This is just one of the many myths that become barriers to properly educating millions of high-potential students. The following is a list of the most prevalent myths in gifted education, accompanied by evidence rebutting each of them. (For a student’s perspective, watch The Top 10 Myths in Gifted Education, produced by teens in the Baltimore County Public Schools for the Maryland State Department of Education.)

Myth 1: Gifted students don’t need help; they’ll do fine on their own

Would you send a star athlete to train for the Olympics without a coach? Gifted students need guidance from well-trained teachers who challenge and support them in order to fully develop their abilities. Many gifted students may be so far ahead of their same-age peers that they know more than half of the grade-level curriculum before the school year begins. Their resulting boredom and frustration can lead to low achievement, despondency, or unhealthy work habits. The role of the teacher is crucial for spotting and nurturing talents in school.

Myth 2: Teachers challenge all the students, so gifted kids will be fine in the regular classroom

Although teachers...

Katherine Kersten

It should be great news: Graduation rates for Minnesota’s black and Hispanic students—which have long lagged the rate for white students—are on the rise.

But how much do these new graduates actually know? What skills have they mastered? In other words, what is their high school diploma really worth?

MinnPost.com recently profiled a new “Spanish Heritage” program at Roosevelt High School that Principal Michael Bradley credits with helping to boost the school’s Hispanic graduation rate by about fifteen percentage points in 2015. The program features “culturally relevant pedagogy” and focuses on developing Hispanic students’ sense of “cultural identity.”

What precisely do students learn in the Spanish Heritage program? The article explained that students “see themselves in the curriculum,” “find their voice,” and “become their own advocates.” But it says little about whether they acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to become well-informed, productive citizens.

Why is this important? In searching the Minnesota Department of Education’s website, I discovered a disconcerting fact: Though Roosevelt’s Hispanic graduation rate increased to almost 75 percent in 2015, only 6 percent of the school’s Hispanic students were proficient in reading and only 10 percent in math, as measured by state tests.

MinnPost’s profile concluded with ...

Myles Mendoza

As a parent of three young children in Chicago Public Schools, I’m starting to get nervous.

Luckily, my family can afford to live in a neighborhood with one of the city’s few higher-performing elementary schools that aren’t governed by selective enrollment. But in the upper grades, even Chicago’s best neighborhoods have almost no high-quality options unless you can afford a private school.

So we’ve begun the effort to get our kids tested to see if they can be among the lucky few to gain entry into Chicago’s selective enrollment schools. Because the system is point-based, families strategize on how to get their kids into these coveted programs. Parents in the know find tutorials online. Some even spend hundreds of dollars for test preparation.

Recently, as I sat in a testing center waiting for my son to finish his exam, I looked around and saw a lot of affluent parents like me. I wondered, what about the children without parents to advocate for them? What about those families without social capital or financial means—do they even know these gifted programs exist?

Gifted schools and programs are supposed to be for all students with unique abilities, but as I sat in the...

Despite the continued controversy surrounding Common Core, the vast majority of states that originally adopted the standards have chosen to stick with them. But the same can’t be said of several new standards-aligned assessments.

Developed by two state consortia, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, these new tests offered member states shared ownership over common assessments, significant cost savings, and the ability to compare student performance across states. Despite this initial promise, however, membership in PARCC (and, to a lesser degree, Smarter Balanced) has been dwindling for some time now. But is this attrition due to the quality of the tests, as some claim?

To inform states about the quality and content of PARCC and Smarter Balanced, Fordham conducted the first comprehensive evaluation of three “next-generation” tests this past summer, recruiting reviewers who examined operational test items from PARCC, Smarter Balanced, and ACT Aspire. We also evaluated one highly regarded existing state test, the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS). Our team of rock star reviewers, comprising educators and experts on content and assessment, judged these tests against benchmarks based on the Council of Chief State School Officers’ (CCSSO’s) “...

Even a careful observer of education policy could wonder, “Who’s actually in charge of public schooling?” That is, at which level of government does the buck stop?

The long shadow cast by NCLB and all of the attention paid to ESSA might convince you that the feds are in control. We also know from experience, though, that local school boards and superintendents make the lion’s share of key decisions. And aren’t state departments and boards of education also important?

It gets even more confusing when there are public disagreements between these different government entities. States and districts routinely quarrel about funding levels. There’s a battle now in Illinois about local and state oversight of charters. In Michigan, there’s a clash over a new state body that could exert control over Detroit’s schools. Uncle Sam infamously got involved in Common Core, which raised state and local hackles galore. Thanks to Pierce, there are also the constitutional rights of parents limiting the authority of all levels of government. The list goes on and on.

The simple (if messy) answer to the basic question of who’s in charge is this: no one and everyone. Like much else in our constitutional system, powers are distributed in a layer-cake or marble-cake...

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