Flypaper

We have many reasons to be troubled by the Left’s push to dramatically reduce the use of suspensions and expulsions by public schools. At the top of the list is the worry that disorder and violence will return to high-poverty schools across the country, putting the safety and learning of poor and minority students at even greater risk. This is hardly hypothetical; it’s already happening, report teachers in New YorkMinnesota, and elsewhere.

But an even more fundamental question is whether school discipline reformers are diagnosing the problem correctly. Many analysts and activists look at national, state, and local data illustrating large disparities in discipline rates between racial subgroups and interpret them as proof of racial discrimination or bias. Why else would African Americans and Latinos be suspended or expelled at much higher rates than whites or Asians?

In a system of fifty million children and one hundred thousand schools, instances of minority children being treated unfairly will undoubtedly occur. A white teenager pulls a fire alarm and gets a slap on the wrist; a black ten-year-old does the same and gets a week’s suspension. That’s wrong and is a legitimate target for civil rights enforcers.

But discrimination isn’t the...

Editor's note: This post was first published on Flypaper on May 5, 2015.

Carly Fiorina announced Monday that she’s running for president, joining five other hopefuls in the race to win the Republican primary. Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett Packard, isn’t entirely new to politics. In 2010, she received 42 percent of the vote in an unsuccessful bid to unseat Barbara Boxer, the junior U.S. senator from California.

Fiorina is neither a popular talking head nor a seasoned politician, so her stances on the issues aren’t as publicized as those of her competitors. Nevertheless, she’s been pretty vocal the last few months, and her senatorial run necessitated some opining. So in this sixth installment of the Eduwatch 2016 series chronicling candidates’ views on today’s biggest education issues, here are Fiorina’s positions:

1. Common Core: “I don't think Common Core is a good idea. I don't support it.” January 2015.

2. No Child Left Behind: “No Child Left Behind helped us set high standards for our students, and many of our students have met and exceeded that bar.” August 2010.

3. School choice: “Parents should be given choice, competition, and accountability in the classroom.” February 2015.

4. Non-cognitive skills: “Teaching entrepreneurship, innovation, risk...

Rob Kimball

Outliers make for great stories and headlines, but they don’t do much for policy discussions—particularly school choice policy. Recently, there has been a flurry of headlines citing tales of “extreme sacrifice” by Detroit students in their efforts to commute great distances to the schools of their choice. The reality is that the majority of Detroit students, charter or traditional, don’t travel farther than four miles or ten minutes to school.

Using 2013–14 data from over one hundred thousand Detroit students’ homes and enrolling schools, Data Driven Detroit conducted a study with the Skillman Foundation and Excellent Schools Detroit to better understand the school commute. They grouped students’ residences into census tracts and measured the driving distance to schools, finding that the average K–8 charter school commute was 3.53 miles. The average high school commute was 4.92 miles.

With Google Maps’ new Direction and Distance APIs, we can estimate commute times and the most direct street routes with updated streetscape data. Using a sample of home addresses from 9,579 Detroit students enrolled in eighteen charter schools authorized by Grand Valley State University, we found that the typical student travels 3.5 miles and 8.9 minutes to school. This trend is consistent with...

Whether the goal is to enhance instruction, create a culture of excellence, or broaden educational options for parents, it’s nearly impossible to improve schools without strong leaders. This is hardly news; for decades, unambiguous evidence has proven the importance of effective principals. Yet reform strategies have largely lacked a coherent plan to upgrade leadership, even though it’s clearly a fundamental piece of the school improvement puzzle. This neglect is likely unintentional. Many states simply don’t know how to strengthen their cadre of leaders.

This is understandable. Most of the action around school leadership takes place at the local level, far from state capitals. It is, after all, districts (and charter schools) that recruit, select, and place school leaders—and develop their expertise (or not). It’s easy for state officials and advocacy groups to prioritize leadership. Knowing which policy levers to pull is a lot harder.

That’s where A Policymaker's Guide to Improving School Leadership comes in. This online resource was designed to help policymakers and advocates focus on what makes a great principal—and how to get more of them in the schools that need them most. We teamed up with our friends at the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) to produce the toolkit and recruited author Eric...

School leadership is one of the keys to making our schools stronger and giving every student the educational opportunities that prepare him to succeed. That’s why the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the Center on Reinventing Public Education recently released A Policymaker’s Guide to Improving School Leadership for state policymakers and advocacy groups interested in improving school leadership policies.

Much attention has been focused on teacher effectiveness, but there has been too little discussion about the role that principals play in ensuring that educators have the support, tools, and working environment they need to provide high-quality instruction. Education advocates need to understand which state policies most impact principal quality and how they can strengthen or alter them to benefit schools.

As with any proposed reform, however, advocates are likely to encounter some pushback from institutions and individuals resistant to change. Yet many of the arguments against changing school leadership policies are not founded on a full understanding of the research and facts. What follows are rebuttals to five common justifications for maintaining the status quo.

1. Improving the principal training pipeline

Argument: It’s not clear that preparation programs are the problem. And even if they are, we can’t fix them by...

In the wake of Prince’s untimely death on Thursday, the world marks the passing of a multi-talented performer and musical polymath. Prince Rogers Nelson was one of his generation’s most gifted songwriters; a virtuosic guitarist; a compelling (if somewhat enigmatic) screen presence; and a champion for the sartorial cause of purple. Even his most dedicated fans may not realize, however, that he leaves behind a legacy in the realm of education as well.

The High School for Recording Arts (HSRA), located in St. Paul, Minnesota—essentially Prince’s backyard—is a charter school focused on project-based learning for students interested in music and recording. Among other perks, it boasts a student-operated record label and a weekly timeslot on local radio, all with the goal of leading at-risk kids from idleness and poverty to lives of creative fulfillment. The school released a statement today mourning the musician’s death and discussing his influence on its mission. “The history of the charter school is inextricably connected to the artist known as Prince, and his spirit has always permeated through the music studios, classrooms, and hallways of HSRA,” it begins.

HSRA’s founder, David Ellis, was a troubled student himself. In the 1980s, he toiled fruitlessly at the...

Renée N. Stoeckle

Pope Francis is exhorting church leaders across the globe to join the school choice movement.

Earlier this month, Pope Francis issued the second apostolic exhortation of his papacy, Amoris Laetitia (“The Joy of Love”). The document is not official church doctrine, but rather a public teaching of the pope that calls the faithful to action on a particular subject—in this case, the modern family. Given that this pope has issued only two apostolic exhortations in his three-year papacy, the inclusion of school choice speaks volumes about Francis’s priorities.

In Amoris Laetitia, the pontiff reiterates the church’s teaching that choice in education is a fundamental right of parents “of which no one may claim to deprive them”—meaning the state must not deny parents the right to select their children’s educational path, be it public or private, regardless of their financial means.

Francis calls upon the state to provide educational opportunities for all families, but he emphasizes that “parents themselves enjoy the right to choose freely the kind of education—accessible and of good quality—which they wish to give their children in accordance with their convictions” (paragraph eighty-four).

Amoris Laetitia comes in response to last fall’s “Synod on the Family,” a weeks-long global meeting of Catholic Bishops...

Barbara Clark

Observing what a young person is capable of is always exciting. Many of the limits we thought children had do not seem to be as absolute as we once believed. The more we study children, the more we discover that our beliefs are limited, not the abilities of kids.

Are children born gifted?

The potential for giftedness or a high level of intellectual development begins very early in a child’s life. Studies since the early 1970s consistently show that such development is the result of an interaction between the child’s genetic endowment and a rich and appropriate environment in which the child grows. No child is born gifted—only with the potential for giftedness. Although all children have amazing potential, only those who are fortunate enough to have opportunities to develop their talents in an environment that responds to their particular needs will be able to actualize their abilities to high levels. Research in psychology, neuroscience, linguistics, and early learning can help parents create responsive environments that allow their children to develop their potential to the fullest—that is, to create giftedness.

Giftedness is a changing concept

Giftedness can now be seen as a biologically rooted label for a high level of intelligence, which indicates...

A new study from RAND uses information from teacher polling to examine state implementation of the Common Core State Standards. The data are drawn from two nationally representative surveys of U.S. educators (both K–12 math and ELA teachers) administered in summer and fall 2015. Both had response rates ranging from 57 to 62 percent, with roughly 1,100–1,700 participants responding to each. The questionnaires focus on teachers’ perceptions and practices as they relate to key instructional approaches reflected primarily in the standards. My seven critical takeaways are these:

1) When asked if they ever used particular materials, the majority of math teachers generally report developing materials themselves (97 percent of elementary teachers). Over forty percent of all surveyed elementary teachers claimed that they used the popular and universally available Engage NY.

2) Ninety-eight percent of elementary teachers report using leveled readers, and  those who do so weekly or daily describe various applications for them. For instance, high percentages (68 percent) say they use the readers to support struggling students in place of the grade-level text other students are reading. (Yet Common Core supports the teaching of grade-appropriate texts with the idea that teacher support and explanation, not text difficulty, is...

A new report from the Hope Street Group examines the quality of states’ teacher preparation programs.

The authors, all teachers themselves, conducted in-person focus groups and administered online surveys over six weeks between September and October 2015. Their sample included 1,988 certified educators in forty-nine states and the District of Columbia whose teaching experience ranged from one to thirty-one years across all grades and subjects. Authors conducted qualitative and content analysis to identify, categorize, and present reoccurring themes from the teacher’s responses.

Respondents were asked the same questions: If your state was going to evaluate teacher preparation programs, which measures should be included? Did your preparation program offer any specific courses related to serving in areas of high-need or persistently low-achieving populations? As you reflect on your teacher preparation experiences, what do you wish you’d had more of in terms of pedagogy? How have new college- and career-ready standards changed your instructional practices? And what would you change about teacher preparation for the next generation of teachers?

Over half the teachers reported lacking instruction about serving high-needs or persistently low-achieving populations; they also noted that their only exposure to college- and career-ready standards came through on-the-job experiences or in-service professional...

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