Flypaper

It’s fascinating—and telling—how rapidly the zillion issues tucked away in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act have been distilled down to arguments about testing.

There’s been almost no discussion, at least in places where I look, about Titles II through X of the 2002 (NCLB) version, and most of Title I’s myriad provisions seem also to have been set aside while people argue over the future of annual testing.

The new House bill would retain that requirement, and Senate Education Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander, though declaring himself open-minded on the subject, seems to be moving closer toward keeping it.

Testing is of course controversial in its own right. Many people think there’s too much of it and that it’s getting in the way of teaching and learning. I’ve come to view annual testing of kids in reading and math, and the disaggregating and public reporting of their performance at the school (and district) level, as the single best feature of NCLB and the one that most needs preserving. Indeed, I wish the testing requirement extended below third grade and above eighth, and that it was as demanding for science and history as for reading and math. That, I believe, would do a world of good for K–12 education.

But I also know that’s lunacy. Nobody is about to expand the testing requirement. The real-world argument is whether to preserve what’s already there. But the reason it’s controversial is not because of parental upset with...

Over the last couple of months, the ESEA reauthorization discussion has focused on testing. But that’s just one part of the accountability conversation.

As I see it, there are four major components of the federal accountability framework: testing, school and district designations, performance targets, and interventions (more on these below). Whether ESEA is reauthorized this year depends on how these sub-issues get resolved.

Mike, trying to forecast the shape of a final bill, recently created a very helpful table explaining the NCLB policies that he assessed to be totally off the table, certain to survive, or up for debate. I think his table did a solid job of explaining the lay of the land.

But it seems to me that more is needed to help folks with a higher level of involvement, such as those actually crafting the new legislative language, advising members of Congress, hoping to persuade decision-makers from the outside, or trying to understand the inevitable bargains to be made.

I think the shortcoming of Mike’s table is that its entries (like “cascade of sanctions” and “school ratings”) aren’t binary; that is, they can’t be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” Policymaking in general, especially complex congressional negotiations, requires (and has a way of finding) compromises.

Each of the four accountability components listed above encompasses a range of options. On one end of the spectrum is no federal accountability; on the other end is forceful accountability. Between lie an array of possibilities.

I’ve produced a graphic...

Imagine you are a first-year social studies teacher in a low-performing urban high school. You are hired on Thursday and expected to teach three different courses starting Monday. For the first two weeks, you barely eat or sleep, and you lose fifteen pounds you didn’t know were yours to lose. For the first two months, your every waking minute is consumed by lesson prep and the intense anxiety associated with trying to manage students whose conception of “school” is foreign to you. But you survive the first semester (as many have done) because you have to and because these kids depend on you. You think you are through the worst of it. You begin to believe that you can do this. Then, the second semester begins…

Your sixth-period class is a nightmare, full of students with behavior problems that would challenge any teacher. But as hard as sixth period is, your third-period class is the most frustrating and depressing, because (for reasons only they are privy to) the Powers That Be have seen fit to place every type of student imaginable into the same classroom: seniors, juniors, sophomores, freshmen, kids with behavior issues, kids with attention issues, kids with senioritis, kids who have taken the class before and passed it but are taking it again because the registrar’s office is incompetent. And, of course, a few kind, sweet, innocent kids. Who. Cannot. Read.

This is impossible.

Or so you tell the Powers That Be. Your seniors can do...

FILL ‘ER UP
The Wall Street Journal features an op-ed by Princess Lyles and Dan Clark, the executive director and lead organizer of the New York school-choice group Democracy Builders, laying out the case for “backfilling.” The term refers to the practice of filling new vacant charter seats as they become available, rather than at set enrollment periods. Though the authors convincingly depict the challenges faced by thousands of parents fighting over a limited number of spaces, Fordham’s Mike Petrilli retorts that backfilling can hinder the development of a coherent school culture and disrupt the learning of students who stay continuously enrolled in charters.

DEBATE TEAM
In light of the ongoing Senate effort to update the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Room for Debate blog at the New York Times has gathered some prominent voices to give differing interpretations of what it might mean to “fix” the law. Of course, Fordham’s Michael Petrilli has already detailed  what form reauthorization is likely to take.

OHIO UPDATE
Ohio Governor John Kasich has revealed a new education budget proposing a $700 million uptick in statewide funding. Early childhood care and private school vouchers will receive a sizable chunk of the allowance, along with reform efforts for Ohio’s charter sector. Fordham’s Chad Aldis calls the governor’s proposal, which would give charters more facility funding but hold sponsors to a higher level of accountability, an “innovative, bipartisan movement.”

TFA TBD
After thirteen years of rapid expansion, the organizational fabric of Teach for America may be ...

2009 it ain’t.

Back in those heady days, the new president, fresh off a comfortable electoral victory and with congressional majorities as far as the eye could see, had the power to drive the agenda. Though Capitol Hill’s budget process was broken, with the electorate behind him and congressional allies to spare, President Obama’s budget submission had to be taken seriously.

Today, the president possesses platinum-level lame-duck status. He’s in the homestretch of his tenure, his approval rating hasn’t hit 50 percent in nearly two years, and Republicans have significant congressional majorities.

It is through this lens that we should view the Obama administration’s FY2016 budget request, released yesterday. Given today’s political conditions, the education request is actually quite savvy. It retreats where necessary, digs in where possible, and has an eye on history. There are plenty of good summaries of the education request as a whole and descriptions of specific line items. But here’s how I’m seeing the ask:

Concessions

For six years, the Obama administration, breaking with generations of practice, gave every indication that it saw few limits to the role of the federal government in primary and secondary schooling. The chickens have come home to roost.

There’s now widespread resistance to many of its initiatives, especially to ESEA waivers. Per the zeitgeist, Congress is eager to take aim at one of the administration’s favorite budget categories: competitive grant programs. Once broadly seen as a valuable tool...

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Princess Lyles and Dan Clark, the executive director and lead organizer of the school-choice group Democracy Builders, argue that states and/or authorizers should require charter schools to “back-fill” their “empty seats” when they lose students to attrition. This is a terrible idea.

Their argument in favor of requiring charters to backfill is twofold. First, they say it’s unfair to compare schools that backfill to those that don’t, because those that don’t (like Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academies*) almost certainly end up with a more motivated, higher-performing population over time as weaker, less engaged students depart for less challenging environments. It’s especially unfair, they say, if the comparisons are made on proficiency rates—the percentage of students passing state tests—instead of individual student growth. (I agree that such comparisons are unfair. More on that below.)

Second, they argue that, by not backfilling seats, schools like Success Academy are limiting opportunity. As a result of this policy, parents only have a shot at getting their kids into schools at designated entry points (like kindergarten or sixth grade). If families lose the charter school lottery for those specific grades, they are out of luck forever.

It’s a reasonable point, and I respect schools like Democracy Prep that welcome in students at any grade when space opens up. But whether to do this should remain the prerogative of the school, not the state or its regulators.

Why? Because there are strong instructional arguments...

SEVENTH TIME'S THE CHARM?
The New York Post has absolutely maddening coverage of an apparently bulletproof first-grade instructor. At a recent termination hearing, the New York Department of Education declined to fire the Teflon teacher in spite of her six consecutive unsatisfactory ratings. She was reassigned to a pool of substitutes and allowed to keep her generous salary even though she was absent or late sixty-four times in the last school year.

THAT'S A REALLY BIG BUCKET
Much of the recent debate surrounding testing and reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act stems from the belief that states spend too much money issuing standard assessments. However, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution's Brown Center on Education Policy, Matthew Chingos, clarifies that the $1.7 billion price tag on the assessments is a “drop in the bucket” amidst a $600 billion annual education allotment. 

WHILE YOU WERE OUT
You may have missed the news dump out of Louisiana if you left early for Super Bowl weekend: On Friday afternoon, Governor Bobby Jindal issued an executive order authorizing parents to opt their children out of Common Core-aligned PARCC assessments. The move is yet another manifestation of Jindal’s noisy and petulant campaign against the standards, now more than a year in the making. Chas Roemer, chairman of the state’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), claimed that "the executive order has no constitutional binding for BESE. While he can...

Derrell Bradford

This post was originally published in a slightly different form by the CUNY Institute for Education Policy.

There is a great deal of controversy and division around education policy in New York City and state. Few issues highlight the complex nature of these debates more than the enrollment composition of, and entrance requirements to, New York City’s selective high schools.

With one exception (Fiorello H. LaGuardia High, which is also determined by audition and academic record), entrance into eight of the city’s nine specialized schools is determined solely by a student’s results on the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test (SHSAT). Any current eighth-grade student in NYC public schools, and any first-time ninth-grade student in public, private, and parochial schools, may take the SHSAT. Students are ranked by the resulting scores on the SHSAT and then matched against their choice of high school on a space-available basis.

Stuyvestant High School, the Bronx High School of Science, the Brooklyn Technical High School, and Hunter College High School are among the city’s most famous selective schools. The first three use the SHSAT exam. Bronx Science counts eight Nobel Prize winners among its alumni. Stuyvesant counts among its graduates such notables as actress Lucy Liu, former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, and Eva Moskovitz, CEO of the Success Charter School Network. Incidentally, Mayor de Blasio’s son Dante attends Brooklyn Tech. These three schools are not the most selective of the selective high schools— Queens High School for the Sciences at York College and...

GIRLS RULE, BOYS DROOL
In terms of educational performance, girls appear to be on the way to running the world. Seventy percent of the countries surveyed by the Organization for Economic Development Cooperation and Development showed that girls are outpacing boys in math, science, and reading. It remains unclear why boys are falling behind, but potential causes range from harsher disciplinary action against male students to a lack of male teacher role models in schools.

HOW "COMMON" IS COMMON CORE?
The Brookings Institute’s Tom Loveless provides a great look at a thorny question facing parents and students as school districts begin adapting to the Common Core State Standards: Will universal standards force schools to ditch accelerated curricula for high-achievers? As he asks, “Will CCSS serve as a curricular floor, ensuring all students are exposed to a common body of knowledge and skills?  Or will it serve as a ceiling, limiting the progress of bright students so that their achievement looks more like that of their peers?” For more on the topic, see Loveless’s paper for Fordham’s Education for Upward Mobility conference. And stay tuned for more on the topic in an upcoming policy brief from Fordham.

MEMPHIS: A REFORM STORY
Memphis is the site...

AGAINST THE GRAIN
Chalkbeat New York covers New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s controversial plan to evaluate and promote teachers, one that focuses on increasing assessment-based ratings to count for 50 percent of an evaluation and lowers the weight of principal observation and feedback. Fordham’s sensational tag team of Mike Petrilli and Andy Smarick weigh in on the plan, saying that Cuomo is moving in the opposite direction of other state leaders.

WE'VE GOT TO BOOK THIS GUY FOR AN EVENT
It looks like everyone over at Success Academy Harlem East has been eating their Wheaties. On his morning visit to the New York City charter school, Doug Lemov, author of Teach Like a Champion, noted remarkable behavior by both teachers and students. The dedicated instructors and quality curriculum in place at the school challenged students and gave them the opportunity to critically engage with class material and learn from their own mistakes. Perhaps this is the secret behind the charter network’s unparalleled recent test scores.

EDUCATION SPOTLIGHT: OHIO
A new bill in Ohio has many charter school backers optimistic that they will see meaningful reform, specifically in the domains of accountability and transparency. The proposed legislation calls for a number...

Pages