Flypaper

EIGHTY PERCENT OF LIFE IS JUST SHOWING UP
Chronic absenteeism is a huge and often overlooked problem in America's schools. A new Education Week op-ed finds that students who miss four or more days in their first month are unlikely to keep up with grade-level achievement standards. In one study, only 17 percent of chronically absent kindergartners and first graders achieved reading proficiency by third grade. 

DECLINING TEACHER PREP IN CALIFORNIA
Teacher preparation programs in California have seen a downturn in enrollment recently, particularly in high-need areas such as math and science. Figures released for the 2012–13 school year highlight a decline of nearly three-quarters from a peak of 77,000 in 200102. On the bright side, a growing number of ethnically diverse applicants are entering the profession. 

EDUCATION SNAPSHOT
Teachers in Waukegan, Illinois, are on strike for the seventh day, with no likely end in sight. The work stoppage has shuttered two dozens schools in the cityhometown of science-fiction great Ray Bradbury—which sits on Lake Michigan roughly forty miles north of Chicago. Federal mediators have been participating in the negotiations.

MUST READ
On the heels of Nick Confessore's epic treatment of the federal school lunch program, Chalkbeat has an incredible photo essay chronicling the food offerings at six Colorado charter schools. As the story explains, charters with larger populations eligible for free- or discounted-meals will often rely on district food sources; others emphasize locally sourced meat...

The Education Trust has a proud and distinguished history. When the group got its start in the mid-1990s, achievement for poor and minority children was lagging, and the education policy community largely ignored their needs. Ed Trust changed all that with a single-minded focus on equity, hitched to the relatively new notion of school-level accountability.

By the late 1990s, achievement for poor, minority, and low-performing students started a meteoric rise, particularly in the states first to embrace accountability; by 2001, Congress enacted the No Child Left Behind act, a law Ed Trust largely designed. And in the early 2000s, achievement continued to climb for the children who had been “left behind,” especially in the late-adopter states. (This history is unpacked skillfully by Mark Schneider in this Fordham Institute report.) Low-income, low-achieving, and minority children are now reading and doing math two to three grade levels higher than they were in the mid-1990s, and Ed Trust deserves a ton of credit for that incredible progress.

But we all know that this progress came with some serious unintended consequences: Teaching to the test, narrowing of the curriculum, and benign neglect for children at the middle and top of the performance spectrum. One can argue that those trade-offs were worth it, but it’s hard to dismiss their existence. (As Schneider shows, it’s also clear that the payoff from NCLB-style accountability was dissipating by the late 2000s.)

One of the worst repercussions, in my view, was that this approach to accountability was incredibly...

START SPREADING THE NEWS
Great news for students at underperforming district schools in New York City: On Wednesday, the Empire State approved seventeen new charter schools throughout the city, including fourteen within the Success Academy network. Time will tell if the move leads to a rematch of the de Blasio-Moskowitz title bout from this spring.

CHARTER GROWTH IN D.C.
Elsewhere in the Chartersphere, recently released figures from the D.C. Public Charter School Board indicate a 3 percent increase in the number of children enrolled in Washington, D.C. charters. Overall, 44 percent of D.C. students attend charter schools.

TEACHING TEENS
In an interview at the Mindshift blog, Temple University's brilliant Laurence Steinberg explains the theories behind his new book, Age of Opportunity: Lessons from the New Science of Adolescence. Steinberg discusses peer pressure, the structure of the academic year, and the plasticity of the human brain as it enters adulthood. For more information (as well as the dulcet voice of Fordham's own Mike Petrilli), listen to Steinberg break it down at the Education Next Book Club.

HISTORY BOYS
Colorado Democrats are seeking to take advantage of the recent curriculum controversy in Jefferson County. The party's state-senate campaign fund is running an ad saddling local Republicans with responsibility for the county school board's efforts to change...

NEW PRESIDENT FOR STUDENTSFIRST
Jim Blew of the Walton Foundation will take over the helm of the advocacy group StudentsFirst after the resignation of founder Michelle Rhee, who announced she was stepping down two months ago.

NEVER TOO YOUNG
Early childhood teachers in North Carolina are adopting hands-on formative assessments to evaluate student development. The innovative, "holistic" assessments are designed to track the learning progress of students too young to take paper-and-pencil tests, and have been allotted roughly $10 million in grants from the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge. 

PICK UP THE PACE
Education Week's Catherine Gewertz reports that school districts are falling behind in their efforts to implement Common Core. Still, many district officials have greeted the standards with open arms. “When the Common Core was adopted in Illinois in 2010, there was almost a sense of relief among the instructional leaders in our district," Gewertz quotes one curriculum director as saying. "[T]hey were more in line with what we already believed.”

EDUCATION SNAPSHOT
Over the weekend, the Wall Street Journal ran a terrific profile of Paymon Rouhanifard, the superintendent of the state-operated school system in Camden, New Jersey. Rouhanifard, a 33-year-old Teach for America veteran, is the twelfth district superintendent in the last twenty years. For a great wide-angle examination of the troubled city and its efforts to reform, read the incomparable Andy Smarick's piece from this January....

John Kraman

In a recent EdNext column, Checker Finn proposed what he expected to be a controversial solution to the problem of low levels of college readiness among our high school graduates: namely, “different ways of completing—and being credentialed for completing—one’s primary and secondary education.”

In case Checker is holding his breath, I would like to raise a (quiet) howl of protest—just not for the reason Checker expected. The reality is that differentiated credentials are already here; they are common, diverse and wide-spread. New York State did retire the “Local Diploma” option a few years back for non-special-education students, requiring all students to earn at least a Regents diploma. I say “at least” because there are many different kinds of Regent diplomas (see here for detailed look at the array of designations and endorsements in NYS).

New York is not alone. A decade ago, Achieve reported that twenty states had multi-tiered diplomas, with designations such as “honors,” “advanced academic” and “advanced technical.” To earn a higher diploma, states may require students to earn additional course credits or complete more advanced courses, especially in mathematics, science, foreign languages and/or technical programs. Others may require students to pass more state assessments, pass state assessments at a higher performance level, or pass AP or IB exams. According to the experts at Achieve who continue to track graduation requirements, the level of complexity has only grown since 2004.

Beyond these K–12 policies, the University of California System established “A–G” requirements for high school graduates applying to their...

[Editor’s note: This is the fifth in a series of personal reflections on the current state of education reform and contemporary conservatism by Andy Smarick, a Bernard Lee Schwartz senior policy fellow with the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.  The previous posts in this series can be seen herehere, here, and here.]

Andy’s odyssey: Part five

I’m worried that when the history of today’s era of education reform is written, the most damning critique will be that its progressive leaders had little understanding of social capital.

Social capital describes the “benefits that flow from the trust, reciprocity, information, and cooperation associated with social networks.” When people are connected, they (and even those outside the network) gain, thanks to sharing, interdependence, joint learning, collective action, solidarity, and more.

Key to the development of social capital is longevity. Trust and relationships take time to develop. They mature, evolve, and strengthen over time.

As I wrote in the last installment, progressives’ bent for change is invaluable when longstanding institutions are destructive. But it can also do immeasurable harm when it undermines old valuable institutions, which can serve as wellsprings and keepers of social capital.

It is striking how seldom the reform community discusses preservation. Ed-reform leaders rarely comment on the need to protect our social fabric by insulating some longstanding institution, practice, or relationships from change (though Fordham’s own Robert Pondiscio has shared some worthy thoughts on the subject).

The clearest example of our field’s disregard...

SWING AND A MISS
Bob Herbert's op-ed in Politico Magazine lambasts the pro-charter efforts of Bill Gates and other wealthy donors. Herbert seems to think that the movement is a failure because charter schools have not already succeeded in eliminating the achievement gap and reducing racial inequities. He might be expecting more from charters than even Gates and his compatriots. 

CONTRACT REVOKED
Pennsylvania's School Reform Commission just canceled the contracts of 15,000 Philadelphia teachers, forcing teachers to pay their own health premiums and face other cuts to their benefits. District leaders say there was "nothing else to cut" following years of layoffs and school closures, but teachers are calling it an ambush.

BETTER TOGETHER
D.C. public schools are seeing positive results from including technology in the classroom in blended learning models. The online learning software allows students to work at their own pace and frees up instructional time for teachers. Self-promotion alert: Fordham's own Michael Brickman and John Elkins recently reviewed a study from the indispensible CEE-Trust examining efforts to establish blended learning networks in Chicago and Washington, D.C.

APPETITE FOR DEBATE
The battle over school lunches extends as far back as the 1940s and has been increasingly politicized in recent years, especially with the adoption of Michelle Obama's school nutrition program. This week, the New York Times Magazine's Nick Confessore dives so deep into the issue, your ears will start to hurt....

Welcome to the new-and-improved Late Bell, Fordham's uncanny afternoon newsletter! We're starting off our bold new era with a special Fordham-in-the-news edition.

WHEN YOU’RE AN EDUCATION-POLICY WONK AND A PUBLIC SCHOOL DAD
“Education leaders are often put off by parents who know a lot about schools and won’t shut up. Petrilli is definitely in that category,” notes Jay Mathews of the Washington Post on a recent column in which this education-policy dad asks where’s the beef on curriculum.

THE EDUCATION-REFORM PLAYOFFS
At the National Review Online, Fordham’s Chester E. Finn, Jr. asks whether pushing only a test-based accountability system is the best strategy. But that doesn’t mean he’s giving up on reform: “Major-league education change is still needed, maybe now more than ever, and it’s no time for either complacency or despair.”

YOU SAY SKILLS, WE SAY KNOWLEDGE
Emily Richmond chronicles why Common Core might be more difficult to implement in the higher grades since the standards are based on the idea that kids need knowledge. Case in point? Richmond highlights Robert Pondiscio’s take on close reading.

TO WAIVER OR NOT TO WAIVER?
‘“We’re punishing schools and educators, and arguably kids, because state policy makers don’t want to do what” the Education Department demands. “Talk about friendly fire," said...

Americans are ambivalent about testing, standards, and accountability in their children’s schools. This is clear from survey results that swing wildly depending on how, exactly, the question is phrased—and on whether the practice in question might inconvenience one’s own kid, as apart from fixing those awful schools across town.

The public shows far greater tolerance for tests whose scores may yield things we crave—admission to the college of one’s choice, for example (SAT, ACT), even advance credit for college work (AP)—than for the kind whose foremost purpose is to rank schools or teachers and give distant officials data by which to fine-tune their policies. Indeed, when it comes to statewide standardized testing of the sort that’s become universal in the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) era, a great many parents—and a huge fraction of teachers—appear to have had enough. They grump, with some justice, that

  • Too much school time is given over to test prep—and the pressure to lift scores leads to cheating and other unsavory practices.
  • Subjects and accomplishments that aren’t tested—art, creativity, leadership, independent thinking, etc.—are getting squeezed if not discarded.
  • Teachers are losing their freedom to practice their craft, to make classes interesting and stimulating, to act like professionals.
  • The curricular homogenizing that generally follows from standardized tests and state (or national) standards represents an undesirable usurpation of school autonomy, teacher freedom, and local control by distant authorities.
  • ...

“STOP STEALING KIDS’ FUTURES”
In New York City, pro-charter school parents and kids will march at the Families for Excellent Schools rally. “We need to stop stealing the possible,” says Eva Moskowitz in a New York Post op-ed.

WHEN YOU TRIP AND FALL...
“I'm almost certain it didn't mean to, but OCR may have stumbled into the most significant federal charter policy action since the birth of the charter movement two decades ago,” says Michael Petrilli to Politico Pro’s Morning Education.

WHAT WOULD SMARICK SAY?
The Department of Education announced $20 million “for finding, training, and keeping  good turnaround principals”—a worthy venture to beat the lacking-leaders conundrum. But is SIG even worth saving?

DISCIPLINING ON DISCIPLINE
Oregon's Department of Education is levying a fine against Portland Public Schools for suspending a disproportionate number of African American special-education students. A tricky subject, but on school discipline, Mike Petrilli doesn’t want school to repeat old mistakes

COMMON CORE AND PRIVATE SCHOOLS
“For many schools, [Common Core is] not going to drive any monumental shift in what they’re doing. There are lots of private schools that have rigorous college prep curricula to which Common Core is compatible,” says Kathleen Porter-Magee....

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