Flypaper

Sandi Jacobs

Upon the release of our first comprehensive Yearbook that included state grades in 2009, the headline read: “Taken as a whole, state teacher policies are broken, outdated and inflexible.”

After six more annual encyclopedic reviews of just about every policy states have on their books that impact the teaching profession, the 2015 State Teacher Policy Yearbook reaches a decidedly more positive conclusion. In fact, we think 2015 may just be a tipping point year for teacher effectiveness policy in the United States.

Across the nation, the average state teacher policy grade for 2015 is now a C–. Thirteen states earned grades in the B- to B+ range. Not a single state earned higher than a C in 2009.

While the C- average is a mark that is still far too low to ensure teacher effectiveness nationwide, it is a very real improvement over the D average earned by the states in 2009.  If an increase from a D to a C- doesn’t strike you as overly impressive, bear in mind that we continue to raise the bar on certain topics as we see states exceeding our original expectations.  This year, we scored for the first time states’ alignment...

It’s not difficult to see what parents find so appealing about religious schools. Some put stock in the inherent academic superiority of private academies, but many others prioritize what they see as their character-building edge over traditional district schools: tighter discipline, a unitary culture, and strong ideological foundations. Of the many virtues imparted to students by religious education, though, few would have guessed that one would be religious tolerance. This new white paper suggests that Americans who have attended some form of religious school are less likely to harbor anti-Semitic animus as adults.

The study cleverly combines multiple strands of inquiry from the Understanding America Study, a nationally representative sample of 1,300 American adults conducted by the University of Southern California’s Center for Economic and Social Research. That survey’s administrators queried their subjects on the variety of their K–12 schooling experiences—but also asked them to respond to a series of eleven anti-Semitic stereotypes, which were selected from the Anti-Defamation League’s Global 100 analysis of anti-Semitic attitudes around the world. After striking from the sample those participants who had been homeschooled or received the bulk of their education abroad, the authors were left with a healthy data set of adults...

In light of Hillary Clinton’s charge that charter schools “don’t take the hardest-to-teach kids,” as well the lambasting of one of the nation’s highest-performing charter networks for its discipline practices, this report from the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools is especially timely. It reveals that the worst of the recent allegations fall flat (at least when it comes to students with disabilities). Charter schools do have slightly lower percentages of students with disabilities compared to traditional public schools (we should note that the discrepancy is nothing like the gap that some charter opponents allege), but they also tend to provide more inclusive educational settings for those students. Suspension rates in the two sectors are roughly the same.

The study’s authors investigate whether anecdotes about charter schools failing to serve students with disabilities align with the actual data. They examine enrollment, service provision, and discipline statistics, made possible through a secondary analysis of data from the Department of Education’s biennial Civil Rights Data Collection for the 2011–12 school year (the most recent one for which data is available). Nationwide, students who receive special education support and services made up 10.4 percent of total enrollment...

Based on a national sample of thirty-seven thousand public school teachers, this report from the National Center for Education Statistics’s School and Staffing Survey (SASS) looks at teacher autonomy in the classroom during the 2003–04, 2007–08, and 2011–12 school years. The news in brief: Teachers are somewhat less likely to feel that they have a great deal of autonomy than they have been in the past. But they still report a degree of professional freedom that most of us would surely envy.

To measure autonomy, researchers asked teachers how much “actual control” they have in their classrooms over six areas of planning and teaching: selecting textbooks and other classroom materials; content, topics, and skills to be taught; teaching techniques; evaluating and grading students; disciplining students; and determining the amount of homework to be assigned. Teacher autonomy is “positively associated with teachers’ job satisfaction and teacher retention,” the report notes. Those who perceive that they have less autonomy are “more likely to leave their positions, either by moving from one school to another or leaving the profession altogether.”

With nearly three out of four teachers still reporting a “great deal” of autonomy (down from 82 percent in 2003–04), it hardly seems...

Victory is inevitable. That’s my biggest takeaway from Fordham’s new report on America’s best and worst cities for school choice.

This conclusion may strike some readers as premature, but while profiling the thirty cities included in the study, I was struck by how consistent the dominant narrative was across sites: School choice has grown rapidly in the past decade, and in most cities, that growth seems poised to continue indefinitely.

I don’t mean to advocate complacency or downplay the differences between cities (a central theme of the report). But from a national perspective, it’s increasingly clear that—despite the occasional legislative or judicial setback—school choice is winning and will continue to win. It’s easier to kill a bill than an idea, especially one that has grown into a movement because it works for kids.

Take caps on charter schools, for example: Of the thirty cities in our study, nineteen are located in states with some sort of cap; in some (such as Boston), this constitutes a needless and galling constraint on the growth of the sector. But ask yourself: How many charter caps have been lowered in the last ten years? (Answer: almost none) And how many have been raised?...

Our friend and colleague Mike Petrilli is right about many things, but he’s wrong to dismiss solid interstate comparisons of academic performance as a “nice to have,” not a “must-have.” He acknowledges that the Common Core standards have largely failed to usher in an era of timely, valid, and informative comparisons, but then he says, in effect, never mind, we still have NAEP, PISA, and other measures by which to know how one state is doing academically versus another and in comparison with the country as a whole.

It is indeed a good thing that we have those other measures because it’s true that the Common Core era has failed to deliver on what many of us saw as one of its most valuable and important features: a platinum meter stick to be used to measure, monitor, and compare student achievement, not just between states but also among districts, individual schools, even individual classrooms and children. That’s how the superintendent in Springfield, Illinois, could determine how his schools—even just his fifth-graders—compare with their counterparts in Springfield, Oregon, Springfield, Ohio, and Springfield, Massachusetts, both in absolute achievement and in academic growth trajectories in math and English. That’s how a principal...

Nancy Brynelson, Corley Dennison, Daniel Doerger, Jacqueline E. King, William Moore, and Faith Muirhead

As states have implemented college and career readiness standards, it has sometimes been assumed that most of the work and attention has occurred at the elementary grades. In truth, many states have been working for some time to ensure that grade twelve prepares all students for post-secondary success. Programs like AP, IB, and dual enrollment are the most touted offerings for well-prepared students. But there has also been a great effort to create courses for students who are not yet college-ready and who can use senior year to close academic gaps and avoid the remedial instruction that so often acts as a drain on the time, finances, and morale of ascending college students. Just last month, the Fordham Institute held an event called “Pre-medial Education” that discussed ways to bring high school-based college readiness programs to scale.

For colleges and universities, “fixing” remediation is a major priority. According to Complete College America, three out of five students entering community colleges and one out of five students entering four-year institutions require remediation. The vast majority of these students (78 percent at community colleges and 63 percent at four-year institutions) do not go on to successfully complete gateway credit-bearing courses....

There’s something about the sight of an abandoned school that tears at your heart. Far more than the caved-in factories, theaters, and hospitals that populate countless online photo galleries, those stacked-up chairs and warped chalkboards represent the decay of a childhood space that all of us recognize. Earlier this week, the Atlantic’s Jacoba Urist wrote about the efforts of artists to commemorate these ruins in faltering metropolises like Chicago, Philadelphia, and Detroit, where recent waves of school closures have displaced thousands of students and stuck in the craws of local voters. The resultant creations, from photo collections to unique off-site installations, are being used to shame and galvanize local policy makers into action. “My work is political,” said one artist, who is working with Philadelphia kids to partially recreate a shuttered elementary school. “But at the same time, I’m interested in the real grief and pain these students feel.”

Work like this has genuine value. It gives a voice to those most affected by the often-harrowing process of closure, and it can also direct attention to the unforgiveable malfunction of major school districts. (Simply as a political act, it’s also a hell of a lot more appealing...

The dominant narrative about the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is that it shifts authority over schools back to state governments. But this belies a key feature of the legislation. Indeed, my biggest complaint about ESSA is that it leapfrogs the state government in important places, creating an unwelcome federal government-school district relationship.

My objections are both legal and practical.

Excepting for issues involving federally protected rights (such as discrimination), state governments are ultimately responsible for K-12. This is a matter of the Tenth Amendment’s reserved powers and its education-related case law, like San Antonio v. Rodriguez.

It’s also explicit in state constitutions, which give state governments authority over primary and secondary schooling and place them squarely on the hook for delivering results. This is why, when plaintiffs sue over school funding or tenure rules, state governments—not districts—are the defendants. It’s also clear from state statutes. State laws create school districts and delegate power to them. State governments can decommission districts, consolidate them, take control of them, create new ones, or authorize other entities to deliver or oversee K-12 education.

When a federal education law does an end-run around the state...

Laura Overdeck

We’ve seen a lot of hand wringing over math achievement in this country. Our students continue to underperform against their peers in other countries, lighting a fire under educators and politicians to push new STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) programming in schools. While these panicked efforts have admirable intentions, they are mostly barking up the wrong tree. Kids spend vastly more time outside school than in it—four or five times as many waking hours—and one-on-one attention during that time is a major unpulled lever for generating change. Sadly, the large majority of our population misses out on that opportunity completely.

It begins with parents, who are their children’s first teachers. Kids respond to the in-person presence of their parents more strongly than to anyone else. Patricia Kuhl at the University of Washington's Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences (I-LABS) has shown that when a baby sees someone touch her mother’s hand, the same region of the baby’s brain lights up as when someone touches the baby’shand. But when the baby instead watches a video of the person touching her mom’s hand, those regions don’t light up. Nor do they light up when a stranger’s hand is touched. Moreover, babies respond more strongly...

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