Flypaper

The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, best known for its scholarship programs for low-income gifted students in high school and college, has entered into the policy realm by beating the drum on an important issue—closing the excellence gap. Gifted-education expert Jonathan Plucker and his coauthors grade states on how they educate an oft-forgotten class of learners: high-performing, low-income students. (We at Fordham often refer to high-achieving students as high flyers.)

The report assesses states on inputs, which include requiring the identification of gifted students, providing services for them, and establishing pro-acceleration policies. Predictably, but still dishearteningly, not one state earned an A for providing needed support for their low-income high-flyers. On average, states only implement three of nine desirable policies, and no state implements more than six. Only two states require gifted education coursework in teacher or administrator training. The best grade, a B-, went to Minnesota, in part because it requires gifted students to be identified and given services.

Helpfully, the report also grades states on outputs. It reports the number of their students who reached “Advanced” on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) assessments or scored a three or higher on Advanced Placement exams (not necessarily...

Today, the Senate HELP Committee is considering the bipartisan ESEA reauthorization bill crafted by Senators Alexander and Murray.

This legislation represents a very smart compromise on the key issue of accountability. What happens in committee, on the floor, and beyond is anyone’s guess. But the current language is, in my view, the best proposal we’ve seen for solving the problem that’s held up ESEA reauthorization for ages.

In February, I created a graphic showing how the various proposals on the table handled the various elements of accountability. The major plans followed one of three approaches. The middle path (between a beefed-up federal role and an emaciated one) was staked out by state-oriented groups including CCSSO, NGA, and NCSL. I called this “Accountability for Results.”

The Alexander-Murray bill is in this mold, though with a couple of notable adjustments.

Like many other plans, it keeps NCLB’s suite of tests. But it makes a very important, very interesting, and very compelling amendment to NCLB’s aspirational target of all students reaching proficiency in each grade by...

Everyone is right to laud the impressive work of Senate HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander and ranking member Patty Murray in producing a strong bipartisan bill to update the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). But it has a significant flaw that needs mending before it becomes law, and it might be up to House Republicans to do the fixing.

The problem, in a nutshell, is that it puts enormous pressure on the states to set utopian goals. That, in turn, will result in most schools being declared failures (and/or create pressure for states to water down their standards), which is exactly what happened under NCLB.

At issue is a true dilemma for policymakers: There seems to be an irresistible urge in education to set aspirational goals. There’s nothing wrong with that, per se—stirring, “shoot for the moon” rhetoric can be motivational and galvanize action. But as Rick Hess and Checker Finn have explained, when it’s time to create accountability systems, policymakers must sober up. If they set unrealistic, unreachable goals, the people working in the system will grow cynical and disillusioned—the opposite of motivated.

Senator Alexander’s discussion draft bill got this balance right. (So does the...

I’m back from a week’s vacation and pleased to find that ESEA reauthorization is still (if just barely) alive. The release of a compromise bill from Senate HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander and ranking member Patty Murray gives me an excuse to bring back my beloved color-coded ESEA table.

The last time we checked, when Chairman Alexander published his discussion draft, it looked like this:

After negotiating with Senator Murray, it now looks like this (items that moved are in bold):

(* These were in the Alexander discussion draft too; I had them in the wrong column last time. My apologies.
** The School Improvement Grants program is officially gone, though the bill [like Alexander’s discussion draft] does include a large state set-aside for school “interventions and supports.”
)

So what’s the big news? First, federally mandated teacher evaluations are dead as a doorknob, as are requirements that states adopt a particular type of standard (read: Common Core). That’s good news on both fronts, as Uncle Sam has become a monkey on the...

The Every Child Achieves Act of 2015, unveiled a few days back by Senators Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray and scheduled for HELP Committee mark-up on April 14, is a remarkable piece of work. The mere fact that it’s bipartisan is remarkable enough, given the polarized state of Capitol Hill nowadays. But it’s also a reasonable, forward-looking compromise among strongly divergent views of the federal role in K–12 education—and between the overreach (and attendant backlash) of NCLB and some people’s conviction that NCLB didn’t reach far enough.

The draft has received much applause—some of it muted, some tentative—from many quarters (including the Obama administration). Indeed, some Washington wags have remarked that if so many different factions are saying nice things about it, either they haven’t actually read it or there must be something wrong with it! I like most of it myself, though I (as with perhaps everyone else who has said anything positive) hope that the refinements to be offered in committee and on the floor will yield something that I like even better.

I’m mindful, though, that the amending process in the Senate alone is where...

Brown Center reports on the state of American education are characteristically lucid and informative as well as scrupulously research-based—and they sometimes venture into unfamiliar but rewarding territory. That's certainly the case with the third section of the latest report, which addresses "the intensity with which students apply themselves to learning in school."

Drawing on PISA data (i.e., fifteen year olds), this is an exceptionally timely probe into one of the key temperamental, attitudinal, behavioral, or characterological traits (take your pick of which category it fits best) that may influence both short-term school performance and long-term success. Many people—perhaps taken with the recent attention that's been lavished on student attributes like "grit"—would say, “Of course there's a powerful influence. Why is the matter even worth restating?” But Loveless shows us why, beginning by noting the highly uncertain link between engagement and achievement, at least as both are gauged by PISA, and demonstrating that some countries that best the United States in achievement lag behind us in engagement.

He explains the importance of the "unit of analysis" in all such studies, then goes on to pull PISA's four-part measure of "intrinsic motivation" into its constituent parts and closely examine each of these....

Part II of the latest Brown Center report is called “Measuring Effects of the Common Core.” Loveless creates two indexes of Common Core State Standards implementation by using data from two surveys of state education agencies. The 2011 index is based on a survey from that year, which reports how many activities—such as conducting professional development or adopting new instructional materials—states had undertaken while implementing the CCSS. “Strong” states are those that pursued at least three implementation strategies. The 2013 index uses survey data asking state officials when they plan to complete CCSS implementation. In this case, “strong” indicates full implementation by 2012–2013.

Analyzing the relationship between survey results and fourth-grade NAEP data for reading, Loveless finds little difference between “strong” states and the four states that never adopted Common Core. According to the 2011 index, strong implementers outscored the four states that didn’t adopt the Common Core by a little more than a scale point between 2009 and 13 (yet the small comparison group makes for less reliable findings). Strong states did a bit better relative to the 2013 index, but still outdid non-implementers by less than two NAEP points.

More interesting than these preliminary correlation studies, however, is...

Here’s a fascinating data point: Did you know that the entire weight of Finnish superiority on international reading tests rests on the shoulders of that country’s girls? The reading scores of Finnish boys on PISA tests is not statistically different than those of American boys, or even the average U.S. student of either sex—that’s how wide the gender gap is in Finland. “Finnish superiority in reading only exists in females,” writes Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Tom Loveless in what is surely the most eyebrow-raising finding in the 2015 Brown Center Report on American Education. “If Finland were only a nation of young men,” he observes, “its PISA ranking would be mediocre.”

That girls outscore boys on reading tests is not news. What is surprising is just how profound and persistent are the gaps. Boys lag girls in every country in the world and at every age, and they have for quite some time. But the gender gap on the 2012 PISA in Finland, the global education superstar, is the widest in the world and twice that of the United States. The sober and precise Loveless can barely restrain himself. “Think of all the commentators who cite Finland to promote particular...

Matthew Levey

Choice and fairness are sometimes cast as values in opposition. This arises from the view that it is unfair to allow some parents to choose their child’s school when others won’t (or can’t). Ultimately, however, choice is the highest form of fairness because it rewards positive behavior and aligns the interests of parents, children, and schools.

This week, I’ll examine the issue from a societal perspective. Next week, I will look at choice from the vantage of the individual family.

Some families can afford private school tuition—often more than $40,000 in New York, and close to that figure in several other major cities. Others move to a suburban district with high property taxes that signify (supposedly) good schools. Some apply to gifted and talented programs. In Brooklyn, we even have a few un-zoned district schools that admit students via lottery. When parents exercise these choices, they are not denounced for acting ‘unfairly.’  The admissions processes of these schools are seldom criticized.

But critics say charter schools that admit kids via lotteries, such as the one my school conducted last week, aren’t fair: We don’t attract enough needy kids, our needy kids aren't needy enough, we don't serve enough special...

For almost a decade, the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees the National Assessment of Educational Progress, studied whether and how NAEP could “plausibly estimate” the percentage of U.S. students who “possess the knowledge, skills, and abilities in reading and mathematics that would make them academically prepared for college.”

After much analysis and deliberation, the board settled on cut scores on NAEP’s twelfth-grade assessments that indicated that students were truly prepared—163 for math (on a three-hundred-point scale) and 302 for reading (on a five-hundred-point point scale). The math cut scores fell between NAEP’s basic (141) and proficient (176) achievement levels; for reading, NAGB set the preparedness bar right at proficient (302).

When the 2013 test results came out last year, NAGB reported the results against these benchmarks for the first time, finding that 39 percent of students in the twelfth-grade assessment sample met the preparedness standard for math and 38 percent did so for reading.

These preparedness levels remain controversial. (Among other concerns is the fact that the NAEP is a zero-stakes test for students, so there’s reason to wonder how many high school seniors do their best on it.) But NAEP might in fact be our...

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