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Eric Taylor

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On Thursday, Donald Trump surprised an Ohio high school with an unplanned visit to the freshman civics class at Pyrite Academy.

Blake Herbert, who coaches the school’s football team in addition to teaching Pyrite’s Introduction to Civics class, said he wasn’t expecting the Donald’s drop-by, but added that he wasn’t the least bit surprised to find the orangeish sixty-nine-year-old sitting in the back of his third-period class.

“Trump has really galvanized civics education,” declared Coach Herbert, citing the candidate’s call to “loosen up” libel laws, restrict citizenship rights, and impose religious tests on immigrants, as well as his even-greater-than-Arne disregard for the system of checks and balances. “He’s really motivating kids to study civics. We owe him an enormous debt of gratitude.”

Asked what he hoped his students learned from the would-be Republican nominee’s talk, Herbert was momentarily nonplussed. “Oh, no, no, no. He’s not speaking to the class. He’s attending it,” he corrected. 

The two dozen kids in Herbert’s class mostly assumed the man in the back of the room was a school administrator observing the lesson, Herbert said. They seemed unaware that their new classmate has nearly locked up the...

Toby Flenderson

This week’s Democratic debate featured something more surprising than a Lincoln Chafee cameo: twenty-two minutes of dedicated, substantive discussion on education reform policies. Campbell Brown called it “a dream come true.”

Despite the fact that nearly seven minutes were taken up by Senator Bernie Sanders’ incoherent definition of “private charter schools” (“A school that takes the money from the taxpayer, and then they give it to the people, and the people are not the public people, they’re the private people, the rich people! WALL STREET!!”), the rest was a deep exploration of Bernie’s and Hillary’s perspectives on Common Core, teacher pay, school accountability, and the best ways to evaluate—though both found it rather unnecessary—student progress and teacher impact. Both candidates talked pre-K, and the two drew sharp differences between Clinton’s focus on low-income female students and Sanders’s plan for million-dollar teacher pay.

Unfortunately, as time went on, national viewership plummeted from twelve million to seven. (Not seven million. Seven.)

Part of it was poor timing—NCIS: Baton Rouge came on around minute fifteen—but according to focus group guru Frank Luntz, “voters just don’t give a damn about education policy. I couldn’t even assemble a panel. I offered...

Quincy Magoo

Leading education researchers are celebrating a “breakthrough” in the decades-long struggle to close racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps.

It occurred around 1:45 on the second day of the AEFP conference, as the Urban Institute’s Matt Chingos was presenting his working paper, “Dream World: Preparing for the Sanders Economy.” As he flipped to a slide featuring eighth-grade NAEP scores, the Seventy Four’s Matt Barnum entered the room characteristically late, arms overflowing with blueberry muffins that toppled to the floor when he tripped on a laptop cord. Racing against the five-second rule, he leapt suddenly to his feet in an explosion of crumbs and spittle. “It doesn’t look so bad from back here!” He mumbled through a mouthful of muffin.

Barnum was referring to the achievement gaps depicted on Chingos’s slide, which he claimed were smaller when viewed from a distance. This galvanized sundry researchers in attendance, many of whom were playing Candy Crush at the time.

The University of Washington’s Dan Goldhaber claimed that the gap between rich and poor students looked “almost insignificant” when he extended his arm and “crushed it” between his thumb and index finger (a technique he referred to as “Rubio-ing”).

“This...

Vic Dactylic

They may be young, scrappy, hungry, and happy, but does their knowledge astonish (or are they all brains and no polish)? In Partially Prudent: Hamilton's Effects on Students, a researcher at Maine’s Trinity College examines kids’ content knowledge a day or two after viewing Hamilton.

Her findings are alarming: Sixty-eight percent found George Washington “handsome and charming”; 49 percent associated fines with cabinet members’ lack of rhymes; and 84 percent could neither find nor call to mind the number of children (eight) born to this man so great, nor recall the wife of the famous striver (Elizabeth Schuyler).

Worse, their misconceptions appear to have bled over into pop culture, too. Recent performances by rapper Kanye West have been met with boos. One angry student snapped, “Rap’s all about sampling and sound, but don’t rip off the fathers by whom America was found.”

But critics, hold the phone—these negatives don’t stand alone. Students were twice as likely to know democratic principles the very next day, if the night before that same student saw the play. Forty-eight percent saw differences in the North’s and South’s economic cores, as well as their connection to the Civil War. Even those who...

Uli Kunkel

A new study commissioned by the National Institute for Hustling and Inciting the Launch and Implementation of School Mayhem (NIHILISM) reports that efforts by teachers and principals to enforce discipline in their classrooms have a negative impact on children’s education and future prospects.

Analysts A.J. Kaczynski and V. McVeigh found that “discouraging genuine expression will blunt students’ potential for success and happiness. America’s future would brighten if these faux Officer Krupke’s would allow the Jets and Sharks (and Crips and Bloods) to engage in the behaviors they desire. And anyway, who cares? Nothing matters.”

The report includes a laudatory foreword by Office for Civil Rights head Catherine Lemon. She writes that “my colleagues and I are doing everything in our power to root out discrimination against violent students without regard to race, gender, religion, economic status, or family background. Our counterparts at the Justice Department are also examining the ways in which inhibiting pupil expression may violate the First Amendment.”

SOURCE: A.J. Kaczynski & V. McVeigh, “Nothing Matters: Classroom Discipline and Student Achievement,” NIHILISM (March 2016)....

TFA to feds: “We aren’t a cult!”: Teachers’ unions have long criticized Teach For America’s practice of sending teachers into classrooms after just five weeks of training. Now TFA faces new challenges, as the FBI investigates allegations that it’s a cult. Agents have raised questions about “indoctrinating practices” at Institute, TFA’s summer training program for corps members. They cite a number of “telltale signs”: sleep deprivation, ritualized chanting, lack of compensation, and the shunning of quitters. A TFA representative took strong issue with the federal probe: “This is all a misunderstanding. We’re forging bonds. We’re a family. And to succeed, corps members need to be completely devoted to the success of their students. We can’t quit. And if someone does quit, we have to make sure they never again see the inside of a classroom.” Alumni admitted that, yes, some beliefs are common to all TFA corps members, but denied that there’s something in the water. “We never drank any Kool-Aid,” added one alumnus, “plenty of chardonnay, sure, but no Kool-Aid.”

A ghost(writer) in Peter Cunningham’s attic: Have you ever read an Education Post byline and said to yourself, “I wonder if this teacher or...

This study examines the impact of achievement-based “tracking” in a large school district. The district in question required schools to create a separate class in fourth or fifth grade if they enrolled at least one gifted student (as identified by an IQ test). However, since most schools had only five or six gifted kids per grade, the bulk of the seats in these newly created classes were filled by the non-gifted students with the highest scores on the previous year’s standardized tests. This allowed the authors to estimate the effect of participating in a so-called Gifted and High Achieving (GHA) class using a “regression discontinuity” model.

Based on this approach, the authors arrive at two main findings: First, placement in a GHA class boosts the reading and math scores of high-achieving black and Hispanic students by roughly half of one standard deviation, but has no impact on white students. Second, creating a new GHA class has no impact on the achievement of other students at a school, including those who just miss the cutoff for admission. Importantly, the benefits of GHA admission seem to be driven by race as opposed to socioeconomic status. They are also slightly larger for minority...

A new study examines the effects of disruptive elementary school peers on other students’ high school test scores, college attendance, degree attainment, and early adult earnings.

Analysts link administrative and public records data for children enrolled in grades 3–5 in one large Florida county (Alachua) between the years of 1995–1996 and 2002–2003. The demographic and test score data are linked to domestic violence, which is the part of the study that strikes me as odd.

They define “disruptive peer” not by how many times a child is disciplined in school or the severity of the offense, but rather by a proxy—whether a member of the child’s family petitioned the court for a temporary restraining order against another member of the family. Apparently, the literature shows that children exposed to domestic violence are more likely to display a number of behavioral problems, among them aggression, bullying, and animal cruelty. Another study showed these students negatively affected their peers’ behavior. Nevertheless, calling these students “disruptive peers” is a misleading characterization given the lack of documented school infractions. They are kids exposed to domestic violence, and the findings should be understood within this light.

That said, here are the results: Estimates show that...

If I had to pick just one reason to support Common Core, it would be to address the paucity of nonfiction texts read by students in elementary and middle school reading instruction. Gaps in background knowledge and vocabulary make it stubbornly difficult to raise reading achievement. Conceptualizing reading comprehension as a skill you can apply to any ol’ text broadly misses the point. By encouraging reading in history, science, and other disciplines across the curriculum, Common Core encourages “a foundation of knowledge in these fields that will also give [students] the background to be better readers in all content areas.”

Thus, it is great good news that the 2016 Brown Center Report on American Education finds the dominance of fiction waning in the fourth and eighth grades. The standards call for a 50/50 mix of fiction and non-fiction in fourth grade. In 2011, 63 percent of fourth-grade teachers reported emphasizing fiction in class, while only 38 percent said they emphasized non-fiction. A mere four years later, the gap is down to just eight percentage points (53 percent to 45 percent).

On the math side, CCSS asks for fewer topics or strands, as well as a focus on whole number arithmetic from kindergarten...

Way back in the early days of the accountability movement, Jeb Bush’s Florida developed an innovative approach to evaluating school quality. First, the state looked at individual student progress over time—making it one of the first to do so. Then it put special emphasis on the gains (or lack thereof) of the lowest-performing kids in the state.

Many of us were fans of this approach, including the focus on low-achievers. It was an elegant way to highlight the performance of the children who were most at risk of being “left behind,” without resorting to an explicitly race-based approach like No Child Left Behind’s.

Chad Aldeman of Bellwether Education Partners recently interviewed one of the designers of the Florida system, Christy Hovanetz, who elaborates:

By focusing on the lowest-performing students, we want to create a system that truly focuses on students who need the most help and is equitable across all schools. We strongly support the focus on the lowest-performing students, no matter what group they come from.

That does a number of things. It reduces the number of components…within the accountability system and places the focus on students who truly need the most help….It also reduces the need for...

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