Flypaper

When it comes to SIG, my mind is obviously made up. So I’d forgive you for skipping anything I write about it; you have every reason to think I’m going to be bearish. That goes double for a post about a new federal study finding different but still discouraging SIG results.

Another opportunity for Smarick to beat up on this federal program? Pass.”

But if you’re still with me, please stay for a few more minutes. Yes, the new federal IES report A Focused Look at Rural Schools Receiving School Improvement Grants offers additional reasons to rue our decision to spend billions on “turnarounds.” But that’s not the big takeaway—at least not for me.

Over the last year or so, as my colleagues at Bellwether and I have worked on a large project related to rural K–12, I’ve become more attuned to the particular needs of rural communities and schools and how these needs differ from those of urban America. (In full disclosure: I have a personal interest in this subject, as one side of my family comes from a small working farm in a rural area.)

This study takes an in-depth look at the experience of nine rural schools that received School Improvement Grants; its goal is to understand how the schools’ rural location influenced efforts to improve student performance. The brief has limitations: it does not look at student achievement, and the nine schools are neither a representative...

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Note: This post is part of our series, "Netflix Academy: The best educational videos available for streaming." Be sure to check out our previous Netflix Academy posts on Ancient Asian Cultures; the early American civilizations; Ancient GreeceAncient RomeNative American culturesChristopher Columbus and the Age of DiscoveryColonial America and the Revolutionary Warthe American founders;  movie adaptations of classic children’s booksAmerican folk heroesdinosaursaquatic lifeinsectsfrogs and other amphibiansreptiles; and birds.

Over the course of this year’s exploration of educational videos available on Netflix and other streaming services, one fact has become clear: science is easier to cover than history. That’s surely true when it comes to videos on mammals; our cup runneth over. Maybe that shouldn’t be surprising, as mammals are fascinating—particularly since we are mammals, and we love to learn about ourselves. What follows barely scratches the surfaces of what’s available, but it’s some of the best. Enjoy!

Special thanks to research interns Andrew McDonnell, Elisabeth Hoyson, and Liz McInerney for helping to compile these lists.

Best videos on mammals

1. The Life of Mammals

Life of Mammals

David Attenborough hosts this in-depth examination of mammals, from the smallest shrew to the biggest whales and the...

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The mainstream media has been hyping bills lately (one passed in Indiana and one pending in Oklahoma) that would demand a review of the Common Core State Standards. The typical story features a headline declaring Common Core “repealed” in Indiana, while the rest of the article details why that’s not necessarily the case. In short, these laws do not prevent the state from adopting the Common Core or something substantially similar. But an amendment slipped into the state budget last night by the Kansas Senate would repeal the Common Core...and replace it with nothing.

First, some background. The Kansas Supreme Court recently ruled that the states funding formula is flawed and disproportionately sends funds to property-rich areas of the state at the expense of the property-poor ones. To remedy that situation, and with its legislative session quickly coming to a close, the legislature is scrambling to find about $129 million to put into aid for schools.

During this process, however, Senator Forrest Knox from Altoona introduced a provision that would prevent the state and local school districts from expending any state funds, “to implement the common core standards or any portion of such standards, including any assessments affiliated with common core standards unless the legislature expressly consents to the use of the common core standards.” The amendment passed 27–12.

Unlike bills in other states that call for review and maybe some tweaks to the standards, this provision is clear: Common Core would be no more in Kansas (at least until the legislature assented). The key provision...

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Today, New Schools for New Orleans (NSNO) announced that longtime CEO Neerav Kingsland will transition out of the organization this summer.

NSNO is one of my favorite organizations in this business, and Neerav is one of my very favorite people. I’m excited for him and his successors—Maggie Runyan-Shefa and Michael Stone will jointly head NSNO—but, selfishly, I’m even more excited for our field.

After eight years of helping make New Orleans the most exciting American city for K–12 education, Neerav is going to focus on bringing NOLA-style reform to other cities. The potential of seeing the urban school system of the future take off in additional locations is thrilling, and Neerav has the brains and experience to get it done.

In case you don’t know much about NSNO, here’s the story in brief. It was founded by Sarah Usdin in April 2006 (the storms hit in 2005), and it initially focused on educator recruitment and charter incubation. Its first cohort of incubated schools started in 2008; more recently, it shifted to investing in CMOs.

NSNO won a federal i3 grant in 2010 and in 2012 began co-managing a $25 million grant from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. It has played a central role in a number of human-capital efforts, such as TeachNOLA, MATCH teacher coaching, the Center for Transformative Teacher Training, and Relay GSE.

In short, NSNO is in the business of growing high-quality seats (its schools...

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Findings from a fascinating new report on school boards are unintuitive for two big reasons. First, the study finds that, among other things, boards can have a meaningful influence on student performance, even enabling district kids’ ability to “beat the odds.” Second, the report is from Fordham(!)—a group that, like me, is generally skeptical of today’s current governance arrangements. The most interesting part is that board-member characteristics (political ideology, prior employment as an educator, level of professional development, when and how elected) can help predict the board’s effectiveness. Score one for interesting research and one for effective school boards.

Speaking of school boards, this proposed legislation in Louisiana would essentially do what Paul Hill recommended 20 years ago: stop school boards from operating schools and give schools lots of autonomy. Here, the district superintendent would function much like an authorizer. This is a step on the way to The Urban School System of the Future. But, in my humble opinion, its basic flaw is it tries to get what we want by changing what we have, instead of starting anew. I don’t trust that school boards, superintendents, and district central offices can fundamentally alter what they’ve done for 100 years. And are most of today’s principals ready to suddenly take control of just about everything the district used to do? I’ll admit to being too critical; if this legislation is adopted, have no doubt, it’ll advance systemic reform of urban school systems...

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With Indiana making changes to the Common Core (and Oklahoma likely to follow), many are turning their attention to Louisiana. While some state legislative sessions began much earlier this year, the Bayou State is just getting started and has long been seen as a potential battleground in the fight over Common Core. Wednesday saw the battle get underway, with a marathon hearing to consider two bills: HB381 threatens to remove the Common Core standards, replace them with the old Louisiana standards, and begin the process of writing new ones, while HB558 would remove PARCC as the state assessment. This comes just days after a memorandum was issued pegging the cost of backing out of Common Core in the tens of millions of dollars. The bills were also probably more extensive than the previously referenced bills in Indiana and Oklahoma, due to the provision in HB381 that would have immediately reverted back to the old standards. After hours of testimony from both sides, including strong support for the standards from the education and business communities and strong opposition from activists and parents, there were two fairly major developments: First, Governor Jindal's office filed in support of the bills. And second, both bills failed by a 12–7 margin. Common Core foes have vowed to fight on, and it is likely we will see hearings on other bills to kill or modify Common Core.

RELATED ARTICLE: Julia O’Donoghue, “Education Department says scrapping Common Core would cost Louisiana,” Times-Picayune, March 28, 2014....

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For two decades now, education reformers have promoted a two-track strategy for improving our schools. The first track is standards-based: Set clear, high expectations in core academic subjects; test students regularly to see which schools and students are clearing the bar; and hold schools (and perhaps also educators and pupils) to account for the results.

The second reform track is school choice: Allow parents to select among a wide array of education providers, encouraging innovation along the way.

We have argued for years that these two tracks are interdependent — even codependent. Let us explain:

Standards-based reform got underway in the late 1980s and early 1990s, in part as a reaction to A Nation at Risk, the 1983 report by President Reagan’s Commission on Excellence in Education. This reform track offered what Lamar Alexander called a “horse trade”: more autonomy for schools in return for stronger academic results. Previous waves of reform had focused on inputs, intentions, and regulation: boost the credentials and pay of teachers; increase course requirements for high-school graduation; mandate lower class sizes; etc. When that yielded paltry success, policymakers flipped the equation: less regulation but more focus on outcomes.

That only works, however, when the desired outcomes are clear. That’s the role of academic standards, which, if well crafted, provide guidance to teachers, parents, textbook writers, and test designers about what students are expected to know and be...

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Sarah Rosenberg

When it comes to education reform, school boards are often the redheaded stepchildren. Over the last two decades, mayors have taken over nearly twenty major urban school systems. “School boards are an aberration, an anachronism, an educational sinkhole,” said Fordham’s own Checker Finn. “Put this dysfunctional arrangement out of its misery.” Even school board members themselves admit that they “throw temper-tantrums, use off-color language, throw things, [and] threaten or insult board members, the superintendent, staff, or the public.” The bigger question then is: Do school boards even matter? Should we even have them? Two researchers tried to answer that question.

In Does School Board Leadership Matter?, Arnold F. Shober and Michael T. Hartney matched school-board-member survey data from 2009 with data about each participant’s district. The goal of their analysis was to determine whether school board members’ characteristics and opinions correlated with their districts’ student achievement and whether their districts “beat the odds” and outperformed what their student demographics predicted. What they found was promising: school board members who believe that improving student learning is their most important priority were more likely to serve in districts that beat the odds.

Considering school boards control the vast majority of the nation’s 14,000 school districts, this is good news. But the research does require a few caveats. First, the survey did not interview entire school boards; instead, they interviewed 900 school board members from 417 school districts. School boards can—and often do—have members with...

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Sonja Brookins Santelises

While the New York State United Teachers and the National Education Association have withdrawn their support for the Common Core State Standards, it’s important to recognize that the teachers’ actions had nothing to do with the standards themselves. This blowback is yet another example of how concerns about implementation are being conflated with the actual merit of the standards.

Even among educators committed to serving children in poverty and kids already performing far below their potential, there is widespread agreement that these rigorous standards will help move more of our young people toward true college and career readiness. The recently released Primary Sources survey found that nearly 75 percent of teachers expressed enthusiasm for the Common Core. Further, more than half said they thought the standards would be positive for most students.

What many object to are the rushed timelines for implementing the standards and tests, a lack of adequate support for teaching the standards, and the simultaneous rollout of new educator evaluation systems based partly on student performance on these brand new tests.

These are valid concerns. Expecting educators and young people to adjust to such sweeping changes within a year or two, as do current federal and state policies, is unrealistic. But our response to these concerns can’t be abandoning the standards themselves, for in doing so we would abandon the best chance we have had in a very long time to focus all of our schools on the things that will...

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All eyes are on the “extraordinary authority districts” in Louisiana (the RSD), Tennessee, (the ASD), and Michigan (the EAA). And for good reason, because as this excellent Hechinger Report article demonstrates, old-style state takeovers almost always disappoint. The article highlights cases in the Magnolia State where districts have improved modestly under state direction but have then fallen back down when returned to local control—a logical outcome when a suite of reforms does not accompany the takeover.

Over the weekend, the Times wrote up the Too Small the Fail initiative, which is working with low-income parents to encourage them to talk to their babies and toddlers more. Hillary Clinton is among its founders. Here’s hoping it works; anything that gets disadvantaged kids off to a stronger start is worth pursuing. But we’d be remiss if we didn’t note that initiatives such as these are explicitly working to change the culture and behavior of low-income communities; Paul Ryan would probably be called a racist if he proposed such an idea.

The headline “Indiana Drops Common Core” has splashed across the national media all week. A more accurate headline might read, “Indiana May or May Not Have Dropped Common Core—We’ll Find Out in a Few Months.” What is certain, though, is that Indiana is in a pickle. Not only are its new draft standards worse than the Common Core standards they replace—but they’re worse than the ...

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