Flypaper

Ashley W. Jochim

We need to take issue with a point in Andy Smarick’s thoughtful review, published in Flypaper, of our new book, A Democratic Constitution for Public Education.

As Andy describes, the book proposes a new local oversight body for public education, the Civic Education Council (CEC). The CEC would have only two powers—annually approve a slate of independently run public schools to operate in the locality and hire a CEO. The CEO would be responsible for conducting the data analysis required to support CEC action and establishing systems to ensure fair treatment of students. The CEC would not have the authority to employ teachers, principals, or administrators other than a small number required to support the CEO.

Andy characterized this arrangement as a continuation of the district and predicted that the transition would never be made, based on the leopard/spots metaphor. But under our plan, the district would be replaced by an entirely new entity, based on new law and established with a totally different set of powers than local school boards now have. It is hard to see how this is the old “district” unless the term is used equivocally (i.e., at one time to describe an organization that operates schools directly and at another time to refer to a geographic area).

Andy also thinks that the role we assign the CEC in overseeing the transition to the new system will preserve the old district. Again, we disagree. 

Though the replacement of school boards with CECs would be complete and instantaneous, schools...

D.C.’s charter school sector stands as a shining example of what urban chartering can accomplish for kids in need.

It has outstanding results and serves a student population that mirrors the District’s. Just as importantly, it refutes the simplistic narrative that a New Orleans-style system is only possible through a natural disaster. The D.C. charter sector has grown methodically for almost two decades, now serving nearly half the city’s public school students.

It is demonstrating that the district can be replaced in a gradual, deliberate fashion.

It could offer America’s cities an invaluable new example of an all-charter approach. NOLA’s pioneering Recovery School District-led system is hugely promising, but D.C.’s Public Charter School Board (PCSB)-led system could potentially show us even better strategies.

Unfortunately—almost unbelievably—that won’t come to pass should PCSB’s current leadership have its way.

In a Washington Post op-ed and Education Next article, the board’s executive director and chair explain that they don’t want high-quality charters to become the system or even to predominate. They want “balance” with the district.

Their justification reflects an unwarranted deference to the status quo, a surprising dearth of vision in tackling emergent challenges, and a lack of appreciation for the half-century failure of America’s urban districts.

They say DCPS is “strong and successful.” But according to 2013 NAEP TUDA, it still has the lowest eighth-grade reading scores of every participating city.

They say DCPS is...

This post has been updated with the full text of "The demise of college is greatly exaggerated."

On a snowy December night in 1981, I packed my clothes and stereo into the back of a battered Ford Capri and drove away from SUNY Oswego. I was midway through a restless sophomore year and decided to “take a semester off.” I didn’t know it at the time, but it turned out to be my last day as a full-time college student.

I finished my degree eventually, after far more years than I ought to admit, through a combination of classes, life-learning credit, CLEP exams, and independent study. Ultimately, my college education was highly personalized, largely self-directed, and only loosely bound to a physical campus. Cheap, too. I ended up spending far more on my daughter’s preschool than my entire bachelor’s degree.

Given all this, I ought to be solidly in agreement with the argument put forth by Kevin Carey in his new book The End of College, which holds that American colleges and universities are operating on a deeply flawed and increasingly unsupportable model. The litany of complaints is familiar: College is too expensive, caters to elites, and saddles young people with crushing debt for a product of dubious value. Universities spend lavishly on football teams and resort-quality dorms. Teaching undergraduates is little more than a tax on the research mission that is the true raison d'etre for our prestigious cathedrals of higher education.

I’m sure this is true, and worse....

Andy delivered a shortened version of the following comments at a PPI launch event for Hill & Jochim’s new book, A Democratic Constitution for Public Education.

Thank you for having me here. I’m thrilled to talk about this great new book, which, incidentally, all of you should go out and buy immediately. I’m a big fan of Ashley’s work at CRPE, and Abby played a crucial role in advancing D.C.’s system of schools during her time as deputy mayor.

Paul’s and David’s contributions over more than two decades have hugely influenced my thinking. I’m honored to be on this panel with them.

There’s so much to like about this book, but I only have ten minutes. So for that reason, and because I’m generally a malcontent, I’m going to focus mostly on the questions and half-concerns I have. But please don’t infer anything other than this: I think Paul and Ashley’s book is terrific.

I’ll focus on three points.

First, the book does an excellent job helping the reader understand the district’s four categories of activities, which need to be disaggregated, repackaged, and reassigned as the district loses its place as the monopoly school provider.

Second, over the last twenty years, American cities have taken two different paths to systemic reform. This book’s recommendations land differently for cities in the different categories.

Third, unlike most books, Paul and Ashley’s could and should have an immediate positive influence in a number of cities.

The book helps us see that when the...

The National Conference of State Legislatures has put together a nice primer on accountability for private school choice programs. Twenty-three states, one Colorado district, and the District of Columbia presently have such programs, including “traditional” tuition vouchers, education savings accounts, scholarship tax credits, and personal tax credits or deductions. Accountability requirements for schools participating in such programs vary widely. Most states require: 1) a measure of school quality (whether via student assessment data or outside accreditation), 2) determination of financial strength and sustainability, and 3) meeting minimum seat-time requirements. Once private schools are permitted to accept voucher students and public dollars begin to flow, the range of accountability measures—and the consequences of failing to meet them—broadens. Programs differ by the tests they require participating students to take (the same state assessments as their public school peers or tests of the schools’ own choosing), how and to whom test results are reported, whether outside accreditation can substitute for testing, and the level and timing of sanctions related to low performance. NCSL’s report provides an overview of the varying ways that these accountability measures function in Louisiana, Indiana, and Wisconsin. As we concluded in Fordham’s private school choice policy toolkit last year, “private schools must maintain their autonomy and the qualities that make them worth choosing,” but a “sound balance” is needed between that autonomy and the need for taxpayers to know that their education dollars are being spent on “bona fide educational achievement.” NCSL’s report provides helpful context for state...

A new study published in the American Education Research Journal asks, “What Works in Gifted Education?” Five gifted education and curriculum researchers assess the impact of differentiated English language arts units on gifted third graders. The units—one on poetry and one on research—“reflect more advanced, complex, and abstract concepts,” as well as concepts normally introduced in the fourth and fifth grades. Analysts explain that “even advanced learners vary in their readiness levels, interests and preferred learning profile and learn best when these differences are accommodated.” (Differentiated instruction can be broadly conceived as modifying at least one of three key elements of curriculum: content, process, and product. The evaluated units primarily focus on the former.)

Researchers randomly assigned gifted classrooms to treatment and comparison conditions such that roughly 1,200 students from eighty-five gifted classrooms across eleven states participated in year one of the study, one thousand in year two, and seven hundred in year three (though the number of classrooms and states changed each year). The three years (2009–2012) comprised the three cohorts. All classes were pre-assessed using the Iowa Test of Basic Skills so that they could control for prior achievement, which is important because schools use different methods to identify gifted children. Authors also measured fidelity of implementation and found it to be moderate to high (teachers had access to webinars to explain how to teach the unit).

The results showed significant increases favoring the treatment group for every cohort/year combination. And whether students were in a pull-out or self-contained gifted...

Here’s the top-line takeaway from the Center for Research on Education Outcomes’s (CREDO) comprehensive Urban Charter Schools Report, which is meant to measure the effectiveness of these schools of choice: For low-income urban families, charter schools are making a significant difference. Period.

CREDO looked at charter schools in forty-one urban areas between school years 2006–07 and 2011–12. Compared to traditional public schools in the same areas, charters collectively provide “significantly higher levels of annual growth in both math and reading”—the equivalent of forty days of additional learning per year in math and twenty-eight additional days in reading. As a group, urban charters have been particularly good for black, Hispanic, and English language learner (ELL) subpopulations. Indeed, putting the word “urban” before the phrase “charter school” is becoming somewhat redundant. As Sara Mead recently pointed out, urban students comprise only a quarter of students nationally, but more than half (56 percent) of those enrolled in charters. Thus, perhaps the most encouraging finding in the study is that the learning gains associated with urban charter schools seem to be accelerating. In the 2008–09 school year, CREDO found charter attendance producing an average of twenty-nine additional days of learning for students in math and twenty-four additional days of learning in reading. By 2011–12, it was fifty-eight additional days of math and forty-one of reading.

Not all that glitters is gold, of course. There’s no inherent magic to the word “charter” on the front door of a school. The relative success of urban...

Unless Grover (Russ) Whitehurst was truly weary of leading the Brookings Institution’s widely respected Brown Center on Education Policy, only demented think-tank hierarchs would have let him exit that role. But the want ads make clear that they’ve done so.

What a shame. Though the Center dates back to 1992 and has always produced one or two valuable studies per year (including the fine series of annual reports authored and orchestrated primarily by Tom Loveless), it didn’t really take off until Russ left government and took its helm in 2009.

Since then, he and Tom and their small team of brainy people have emerged not just as varsity players in the education-policy think-tank league, but also as major contributors to serious scholarship about nearly every consequential issue that roils the K–12 waters. No doubt about it, they have policy preferences and viewpoints, but they’ve also been straight shooters about what is actually known, relentlessly crunching numbers and then translating the research into trenchant, comprehensible, digestible information for policymakers, practitioners, and fellow scholars. They host terrific events, produce an outstanding weekly “chalkboard” report, and have published a shelf of valuable studies. (Sixty-one items turn up on the Center’s “research and commentary” listing for just the past year.)

As everybody in the education world knows, Russ preceded his tenure at the Brown Center by serving—for seven long years—as founding director of the Education Department’s Institute for Education Sciences (IES), a much-improved version of the Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI) that I...

I didn’t see common enrollment systems coming.

When I started writing The Urban School System of the Future in 2009, I didn’t foresee the extent of the complications associated with parental choice in cities with expansive networks of accessible schools. At that point, the vast majority of city kids were still assigned to schools, and the conventional wisdom was that this would be the case for years to come.

My, how things have changed.

New Orleans is now a virtually all-charter system. Detroit and D.C. have about half of their kids in charters; in Indianapolis, Philadelphia, Kansas City, and Cleveland it’s more than 30 percent.

This growth is great. Kids in urban charters learn more in math and reading, and the benefits are being realized most by disadvantaged students. It’s forcing city leaders to rethink the operations, oversight, and governance of public schools (see Camden, Memphis, and Detroit).

But—as explained in a primer by CRPE—if cities simply add more choice schools in the absence of changes to the enrollment process, parents can struggle to find information on schools, be forced to fill out widely varying school applications, and then receive a staggered barrage of acceptance and rejection notices.

Common enrollment systems can help solve this.

They use a single application that allows families to rank their preferences, then match students with schools using an algorithm that takes into account student priorities and school characteristics.

A number of cities are headed...

Was Phil Jackson really a great coach? Despite his reputation as the Zen master of hoops, I’ve never been convinced. After all, Kobe, Shaq, and His Airness would have made any coach look like a genius, and there’s never been a natural experiment quantifying Jackson’s impact.

Inside the classroom, a similar question lingers. In a recent study of district evaluation systems, Grover Whitehurst, Matthew Chingos, and Katharine Lindquist found that teachers with high-performing students were far more likely to be rated highly by observers than those with low-performing students. Moreover, this pattern was not the result of better teachers being matched with better students. Rather, observers were biased towards teachers with higher-performing students—the Phil Jacksons of the teaching world.

As the authors of the study make clear, eliminating this bias by adjusting for student background characteristics is relatively straightforward. So why aren’t we doing this already? A few weeks ago, Luke Kohlmoos of the Tennessee Department of Education argued against such adjustments, suggesting they were a “disservice to students and teachers” that would take us back to the bad old days of lower expectations for black and brown students. According to Kohlmoos, if we “systematize” lower expectations through classroom observations, teachers and students will stoop to meet them.

Obviously, we don’t want “lower expectations” for teachers or students, but when it comes to adjusting observation scores, it’s worth asking how those expectations are communicated and whether they are really “lower” in any meaningful sense.

Start with teachers: Why...

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