Flypaper

Peter Sipe

“Ambiguous” is a reliably fun word to teach sixth graders. They quickly grasp its essence and utility. I introduce it by explaining how I was once given a keychain with the legend “I Teach. I Make a Difference.I assure my students that I have never used this keychain, for, in keeping with my unyielding commitment to personal excellence, I would only ever boast of making a positive difference. Then we have a lively discussion about the possible meanings of the keychain’s phrase. This discourse was evidently not forgotten by one student, who in June concluded a speech, "Mr. Sipe, you made a difference." Then she smiled wickedly and added, “A big difference!”

At least she didn’t declare this: “He could not disguise from my hourly notice the poverty and meagreness of his understanding.” That unambiguous teacher evaluation was penned by Thomas DeQuincey almost two hundred years ago in Confessions of an Opium-Eater. He dispatches another master as “a blockhead, who was in a perpetual panic lest I should expose his ignorance.” You don’t have to read far to begin to wonder if his titular waywardness was perhaps due to unrewarding schooling. “It is a bad thing,” DeQuincey observes, “for a boy to be and to know himself far beyond his tutors, whether in knowledge or in power of mind.” I wouldn’t challenge him on this.

The question of how to challenge a young...

DEPARTMENT OF GOOD NEWS
Earlier this fall, Fordham’s inimitable Robert Pondiscio traveled to Reno to check out the breezy and successful Common Core implementation in the Washoe County school district. This week, the county's teachers discuss how their original wariness of the standards gave way to an understanding of how they will benefit students. Teachers are particularly optimistic about how the Common Core ELA standards stress text-based evidence rather than personal connections, an approach that helps disadvantaged kids keep pace with the rest of their class.

DEPARMENT OF BAD NEWS
The U.S. Department of Education announced in September that more than 1.1. million public school students have no permanent homes. Experts say homeless students are nine times more likely to be held back a grade level and four times more likely to drop out of school entirely. Nonprofit mobile tutoring programs often have to supplement the work of local schools, as NPR reports.

COMPETITORS GETTING TEST-Y
There is growing controversy surrounding Common Core-aligned test-development contracts. Bidding in many states has lacked any semblance of competition, with only one company participating in the process, and a lawsuit in New Mexico alleges that the bid requirements were prejudicial, according to the Wall Street Journal.

SHORTCUT TO HIGHER PAY?
A new study found wide variations in wages earned by students graduating from short- or long-term degree programs, concluding that most short-term career certificates yield “minimal to no positive effects.” Today, more than a...

VIEW FROM THE TOP
The U.S. Department of Education is reviewing the process by which teachers are assigned to schools to ensure that highly qualified and experienced teachers are equally staffed at both high-poverty schools and those of greater means. States are being sent OCR data about teacher experience, certification, absenteeism, and salary, and asked to develop plans for their schools to comply with federal law mandating equal access to high-quality instructors. It’s the first time such plans have been solicited in almost a decade.

MEET THE NEW BOSS
In an interview with NPR this morning, Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander described the education policy agenda of the newly Republican-controlled Senate. The former education secretary emphasized the need for more local control and declared that fixing No Child Left Behind is among his highest priorities. 

EDUCATION SNAPSHOT
Students at a Boston Cristo Rey high school gain real-world work experience that boosts confidence and gives them a competitive edge in the workforce. The Catholic school network’s work-study program sends students, who primarily come from low-income families, to local companies for five days a month in exchange for a portion of the student’s tuition. It’s an innovative model that was recently profiled in an exceptional piece in the Atlantic.

TEACH YOUR TEACHERS WELL
Ed schools are rethinking math teacher prep in light of the new Common Core standards: The Mathematics Teacher Education...

ELECTIONS HAVE CONSEQUENCES
Newly elected congressional Republicans have revealed an aggressive education policy agenda that will focus on overhauling No Child Left Behind and the Higher Education Act. Other education priorities include school choice, funding issues, and scaling back the federal government’s involvement in K–12. For more information on the election’s implications on education, read Andy Smarick’s hot take from earlier this week.

TAKE OFF YOUR COAT AND STAY A WHILE
A new study by the Council of Great City Schools found that the average tenure of principals from the largest school districts has slightly decreased since 2010, to 3.2 years. This high turnover makes sustainable change and reform efforts difficult to implement and often stifles “positive academic momentum.” To get a local look at the effects of this kind of churn, turn to Chalkbeat’s look at the revolving door for principals in Denver Public Schools

SIGN O' THE TIMES
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio recently rolled out his three-year initiative for school reform, which centers on reinventing ninety-four of the city’s most troubled schools as “Renewal Schools.” Today, he got the early response from elite consensus: The New York Times op-ed page panned the proposal, saying the mayor “robbed himself of a useful reform tool” by abandoning Michael Bloomberg’s strategy of shutting down failing schools.

FOR-PROFIT SCHOOLS FIGHT REGULATIONS
On the subject of newly-released education proposals, the federal government’s regulations on for-profit...

POVERTY'S FOOTPRINT
Poverty is an established risk factor for poor academic achievement, but it’s critical to remember that poverty is associated with much more than low incomes. A new study by the Center for New York City Affairs identified eighteen factors in a student's school and neighborhood that strongly predicted chronic absenteeism and low state test scores. The research places student achievement in a broader context, allowing school administrators to better understand where their students come from and how to meet their needs.

EXCUSES, EXCUSES
Teachers’ unions are attempting to distance themselves from the Democratic walloping that occurred Tuesday, claiming that the results were “more about the national climate than anything.” Regardless of the accuracy of that judgment (the president's low approval ratings no doubt influenced the outcome of many state-level races), it seems like a convenient way to justify spending millions on failed candidates—something that Andy Smarick writes should have dues-paying members up in arms. 

STILL NEED A DEGREE
A new report finds that short-term college certificates that offer training for specific job skills can lead to students finding temporary work, but don’t help in securing a long career or wage increase. Researchers suggest that for students to see the best return on investment, these certificate programs should be coupled with associate’s or bachelor’s degrees in what they term “stackable certificates.”

THE RISE OF PERSONALIZED LEARNING
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John Chubb

[Editor's note: This post marks the first in a series of blog entries that examines what can be learned from the most promising alternative leadership development programs in the country. John Chubb, president of the National Association of Independent Schools, interviewed leaders in several of these programs to learn more about how to cultivate successful leadership. We’ll roll out the six lessons that he learned over the next week.]

At a time when US education is consumed with the lagging achievement of students, why should we care about school leaders? Compelling evidence indicates that teachers are the key to student achievement.

Yet principals can significantly influence student achievement through their interactions with teachers. They hire teachers directly (or oversee the people who do). They supervise and evaluate teachers. They coach and mentor, or ensure teachers receive those supports. They set school goals, instill a sense of mission, and inspire, coax, and counsel teachers to do their best. They have the hard conversations when teachers require them. (Or at least the successful ones do.)

Leaders also set the tone in schools, the culture and expectations that may motivate students directly. They provide for student safety and well-being, fostering an environment in which students can focus on learning undistracted. Even these influences require work with and through teachers. Great leaders can cultivate great teachers.

Yet we know as little about how to develop great school leaders as we know about developing great teachers. Ninety-eight percent of principals in US public schools are...

There’s a wonderfully apt saying about why debates in the U.S. Senate last so long: “Everything’s been said but not everyone has said it yet.”  In that spirit, I offer my admittedly late thoughts on last night’s results. (It was a late night, so you may want to triangulate the real story by also reading the reactions from Eduwonk, Rick Hess, Eduflack, and Mike Petrilli.)

  1. The Uncertain Edu-meaning of the GOP Triumph: It was obviously a gigantic night for Republicans. They won just about every race imaginable. But it’s not clear what views, if any, all of these new office-holders share. Some are pro-Common Core; some aren’t. Some love choice and charters; some are more traditional. So we’ll have to stay tuned to see how this landslide settles.
  2. End of the Obama-Duncan Era: We’ll have to wait and see what the new reform era holds, but it feels more and more like the heady days of Race to the Top, ARRA, etc., are behind us. Secretary Duncan’s team still has work to do, on waivers in particular, but Maryland Avenue will no longer be the reform world’s center of gravity. The fundamental legacy question will be: How much of the Obama-Duncan reform agenda has become part of the consensus reform agenda?
  3. Lots of Union Spending, Meager Results: Were I a dues-paying teachers’
  4. ...

With a few exceptions, most of the races decided yesterday didn’t hinge on education reform. But the outcome will have big implications for education policy nonetheless.

That was certainly true in 2010, when a voter backlash against Obamacare triggered a wave of Republican victories, especially at the state level, which in turn set the stage for major progress on education reform priorities in 2011 (rightfully dubbed “the year of school choice” by the Wall Street Journal). In fact, as Ty Eberhardt and I have argued, 2010’s Republican surge deserves more credit for the education reforms of the past several years than does Arne Duncan’s Race to the Top:

So here we are again, with Republicans winning stunning victories in races for governor’s mansions and statehouses nationwide. And once again this will be good for education reform, especially reforms of the school-choice variety. Voucher and tax-credit programs in Wisconsin, Florida, and Arizona will continue apace; charter caps may be lifted and bad laws amended in Massachusetts, Maryland, and Illinois; comprehensive reform efforts in New Mexico, Nevada, and Michigan have a new lease on life.

There’s good news for reformers on the Democratic side of the aisle too, what with the teachers unions’ terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day signaling their waning influence. Of particular note is Rhode Island—Rhode Island!—which just elected a pro-education reform, pro-pension reform Democrat as governor and a bona fide charter school hero as lieutenant governor....

DON'T FORGET TO CARE ABOUT ELECTIONS
You’ve got to pick up groceries on the way home. And drop off the kids at a sleepover. And call someone about fixing the cable. But in the midst of your daily grind, be sure to remember that today is the day that Americans decide who will have control over the Senate, the House of Representatives (although, let’s face it, there’s not a chance of that changing hands) and dozens of statehouses around the country. For an eleventh hour look at some of the major races, as well as updates throughout the day, turn to Politics K–12.

HEALTHIER GRUB IN MINNESOTA
School lunches in Minnesota are getting a healthy makeover, thanks to a new program aimed at eliminating seven unwanted ingredients frequently found in processed meals. While there is some concern that revamping the school lunch menu will be costly, an analysis found that removing the seven ingredients (mostly artificial sweeteners and preservatives) will only cost an average of 35 cents more per meal. 

BURNAROUND
“The previous administration had a policy that a school like this was left to fend for itself, and that’s why we’re here today, because we reject the notion of giving up on any of our schools,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio stated at an East Harlem school last night. The brutal burn came in the midst of a...

A core assumption of the education-reform movement is that excellent schools can be engines of upward mobility. But what kind of schools? And to what end?

Please join Michael J. Petrilli and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute for a daylong investigation into the role education can—and must—play in promoting upward mobility on December 2 in Washington, D.C.

In tandem with the release of several papers, this path-breaking conference will consider thorny questions, including: Is “college for all” the right goal? (And what do we mean by “college”?) Do young people mostly need a strong foundation in academics? What can schools do to develop so-called “non-cognitive” skills? Should technical education be a central part of the reform agenda? How about apprenticeships? What can we learn from the military’s success in working with disadvantaged youth?

To view the agenda click here.

To register for Education for Upward Mobility, email Michelle Lerner at mlerner@edexcellence.net.

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