Flypaper

THE DEVIL’S IN THE DETAILS
The Senate Education Committee Wednesday unanimously approved a bill reauthorizing the Institute for Education Sciences. Edweek calls the bill “largely noncontroversial,” but Checker Finn has pointed out that it fails to safeguard the autonomy of critical education data.

AND IN THESE DETAILS
An Annenberg Institute report calls for states to “revisit and tune-up state charter laws and authorizer practices” to “eliminate student inequities” and “achieve complete transparency and accountability.” The AFT issued a statement trumpeting the report. ‘Nuff said.

TWEET LOVE, OR NOT
“Hey Karen Lewis, I can still read your tweets,” writes Natasha Korecki of the Chicago-Sun Times after being blocked by the CTU union president and possibly mayoral candidate. For Lewis’ part, she says she didn’t know that she’d blocked the reporter.

RETHINKING SCHOOL EVALUATIONS
Jeb Bush has inaugurated the Foundation for Excellence in Education’s school report card design competition, offering monetary prizes for the designs that best “reimagine the transparency, presentation and usability of school information.”  ExcelinEd’s emphasis on clarity underscores the widespread concern that existing evaluations poorly convey important information to parents and community members.      

NO EXIT EXAM
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Laurence Steinberg, Ph.D.

photo credit: www.audio-luci-store.it via photopin cc

Over the last few years, there has been a growing awareness of the need to incorporate character development into school curricula, and various efforts to do so have received wide attention. Perhaps the best-known effort is the Knowledge Is Power Program, or KIPP, which has been implemented in close to 150 charter schools across the country.

KIPP is aimed at children and teenagers from low-income families. Its explicit goal is increasing college enrollment by combining an emphasis on factors proven to bolster academic success (high expectations, parental involvement, time spent on instruction) with a novel focus on developing seven character strengths—zest, grit, self-control, optimism, curiosity, gratitude, and social intelligence. These strengths are tracked on a “character growth card” and encouraged through classroom discussions and assignments that incorporate lessons about character into more conventional academic activities. Teachers also go out of their way to both model and praise displays of good character.

KIPP has a long record of impressive accomplishments that have garnered much media attention, including Paul Tough’s bestseller, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character. Students attending KIPP schools have higher rates of high-school graduation, college enrollment, and college completion than students from similarly disadvantaged backgrounds who attend other types of schools. Numerous evaluations of KIPP schools have found that students show larger-than-expected gains on various measures of achievement....

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COLLEGE OPT OUT
Only 44 percent of Americans think getting a college education is “very important” compared to 75 percent four years ago, according to the annual PDK-Gallup poll, which also shows “a majority of public school parents want teacher training programs to be more selective.”

SUE BABY SUE
A lawsuit aimed at closing the charter school funding gap on behalf of upstate New York schools “could be a boon for nearly 70 charter schools” in New York City, Chalkbeat reports.  

POSITIVE, BUT SLOW MOVEMENT
The poverty rate for children under 18 declined last year for the first time since 2000, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau cited in the New York Times. But one in five children are still poor.

BLOW MINDS, TEACH STEM
“This story is simple: The future depends on great STEM teachers. We’re recruiting 100,000 more.” Check out Blowminds.org for career advice on how to change the world....

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Over the last month or so, there’ve been a number of notable stories highlighting the passing of the torch from urban districts to urban chartering. The former continue their long, slow decline while the latter experiences the exhilaration and growing pains of emerging adulthood.

A sobering new study from Brookings, “School Superintendents: Vital or Irrelevant,” finds that district “superintendents are largely indistinguishable” in their ability to improve student achievement. For those who’ve hoped that the half-century struggles of the urban district might finally be remedied by a superhero leader, this has to be deflating. The study finds that district leaders account for an infinitesimal fraction of achievement differences, that hiring a superintendent is not associated with increased learning, and that longevity doesn’t improve a superintendent’s influence.

In recent years, we’ve put an inordinate amount of faith in (and money behind) bold urban district leaders. The continued dispiriting results from NAEP TUDA, the Newark boycott, the LAUSD iPad dust-up, the Atlanta cheating scandal, DC’s “disappointing” 2014 test scores, Chicago’s strike, and much more should force us to take stock. Why exactly do we continue to tell ourselves that these ancient, preternaturally inept institutions are fixable?

It’s probably more than a coincidence that the Broad Prize, designed to call attention to urban-district bright spots, named—for the first time ever—only two finalists this year (instead of the customary four...

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Many people tune out when education discussions turn to data and statistics. For whatever reason, some folks just don’t like numbers. So a discussion about the development of education data is likely to attract an audience rivaling that of a paint-drying contest.

But if you care about K-12, you should definitely care about the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). This is the government body responsible for collecting and reporting a wealth of data on our schools—data that’s voluminous, comparable across years, and typically above reproach in terms of reliability.

I say “typically” because there is some reason for worry. Late in 2013, I scolded the federal government for massaging NAEP TUDA data, which reports on the performance of large urban districts. In short, we should’ve been deeply alarmed by the results, but the packaging gave the opposite impression.

This would’ve been troubling enough. What bothered me even more was that an advocacy organization that represents and serves large urban districts was an integral part of the release process.

But what happened next truly opened my eyes to the extent of the potential problem. The then-head of NCES quickly responded to my piece. He noted that his organization was only responsible for producing the data, which they do “free of ‘spin’ or partisan/political influence.” The National Assessments Government Board (which is in charge of NAEP), he wrote, is in charge of the public release pursuant to federal law.

He continued: “NAGB has...

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Paul Bruno

photo credit: ChalkbeatNY via photopin cc

With the release last month of the latest round test scores, Success Academy founder and CEO Eva Moskowitz is now a bona fide national-education-reform celebrity. She is also the latest in a line of educator-activists—like Michelle Rhee or Diane Ravitch—who embody, for supporters and opponents alike, one “side” of the education-reform debate. As a result, discussions about the stellar results posted by her schools have generated much more heat than light. Allies are eager to elevate her to exemplar status and critics desperate to prevent her from receiving even a modicum of credit for her students’ success.

The argument breaks down along predictable lines. For advocates of charter schools and education reform more generally, Success Academies demonstrate what can be accomplished when a strong leader with a laser-like focus on student achievement can do when she is free to hire the best teachers for the neediest students.

Critics of charter schools and reform are equally confident that Moskowitz is, in effect, running a scam: skimming the easiest-to-teach students, pushing out the ones who prove difficult later, and claiming all the while to be doing better work than the city’s other educators who are forced to operate without her considerable advantages and educational slight-of-hand.

What neither side is willing or able to admit, however, is how little we really know about why Moskowitz’s students seem to be doing so much better than...

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photo credit: roberthuffstutter via photopin cc

Much of the criticism recently leveled at the College Board’s new framework for its Advanced Placement United States history course and exam is hysterical and undeserved. There’s also reason to suspect that some of the harshest critics may be motivated at least in part by the riches they have reaped by prepping high school kids for the old version of the test.

That’s not to say the new framework has no flaws. Both Rick Hess and Jeremy Stern have responsibly pointed them out. But the College Board has agreed to undertake revisions. And the sample exam they recently released is pretty good. Among its short questions, I spotted a few that were poorly worded and one that I judged unfair to Ronald Reagan’s foreign policy, but the overwhelming majority looked fine and the medium- and long-answer questions are plenty challenging, well-conceived, and unlikely to be answered successfully without a fair command of the essentials of American history.

But AP framework builders are caught between a rock and a hard place. The fundamental concept of Advanced Placement, after all, is to provide able-enough high school students with college-level coursework that, if successfully mastered, can actually yield them credit as they enter the ivy walls.

It works, too, though not nearly as easily as it once did. Back in the late middle ages, I was able to skip...

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We seemed to have welcomed good manners back to the Common Core debate. That doesn’t mean we’ve seen more advocacy either on behalf of the standards or knocking them, only that the tenor appears to have changed for the better. At least for the time being, detractors are no longer paranoid Neanderthals, and supporters have ceased to be communists on the federal or Gates Foundation dole.

Whether this détente will prove to be ephemeral or lasting is anyone’s guess, but some credit should go to one CCSS advocate and one foe. In a Washington Times op-ed, Fordham’s Mike Petrilli and Neal McCluskey of Cato, hoping to tamp down the “raucous debate,” sought to re-ground the conversation in a number of facts.

Their piece argues, among other things, that both sides have good intentions; that much Common Core activity began before President Obama was elected, that much of that activity has been led by non-government bodies; and that federal policy—stretching from 1994 to this administration’s Race to the Top and ESEA waivers—has played a meaningful role in the standards’ adoption and implementation.

There are other clear signs of restraint. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee recently told a crowd that the Common Core fight should be dialed back. Though her union is still frustrated with implementation, AFT head Randi Weingarten penned an op-ed lauding the promise of the standards. Common Core co-author David Coleman recently denounced insulting language directed at opponents, and Glenn Beck scaled back his...

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On September 3, I participated in a launch event for Mike McShane’s new book, Education and Opportunity, a publication of AEI’sValues and Capitalism” initiative. The following are my amended remarks about the book, namely our improved understanding of K12 markets, the downsides of a unitary system of schools, and the intersection of such reform and conservatism.

I want to focus on three elements of this valuable new book. The first two relate to its contributions to our improved thinking about school choice. The third relates to the tension between school choice and conservatism.

First, Education and Opportunity offers a sophisticated view of public school markets, how to understand them, use their strength, and appreciate their limitations.

The book’s thrust is neatly summarized by one of its early sentences: “A vibrant marketplace of education options is the most effective means of developing the schools necessary to meet the needs of students today and in the years to come.”

Many writers on school choice have focused on the importance of options. But note the use of “vibrant” and “developing.” This suggests a portfolio of schools that’s full of energy and dynamism. This is not a minimally diverse set of schools, a collection that exists in perpetuity. In this sentence and throughout the book, Mike describes a portfolio consisting of a wide array of options, a portfolio that continuously improves in quality and evolves to reflect the changing needs of families.

This echoes the great insight from charter...

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UNIONIZING CHARTERS
The California Teachers Association has its sights set on charter school organization,Education Week reports. Nationally, the NEA and AFT have been working to bring unions to charter schools, but the sector remains mostly union-free—a good thing in Fordham's view.

BILL GATES SMILES
The New York Times Magazine profiled Bill Gates and his big idea to rework how history is taught in school, but most of the online fodder is around how photographer Dan Winters got the education philanthropist to smile.

SIGNIFICANT SIG CHANGES?
Draft guidance from the Department of Education could mean more financial flexibility for SIG recipients, reports Education Week. But can SIG even be fixed

HOW TO RATE SCHOOLS WITHOUT TEST SCORES
Jay Mathews at the Washington Post takes a crack at the NCLB-aged conundrum: sure, test scores are flawed metrics, but what else can we use? Classroom grades, not test scores. Though insert "Common Core" and this turns into a strong argument for the standards and its assessments....

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