Flypaper

Full disclosure: I worked briefly (and happily) for Ed Boland, the author of The Battle for Room 314, after leaving my South Bronx classroom. He is a longtime senior executive with Prep for Prep, a heralded nonprofit that seeks out talented students of color in New York City’s public school system, grooms them for placement in elite private schools, and shepherds them into the best colleges in the nation. It’s the closest thing in education to finding a life-changing golden ticket in a Wonka bar.

Beset by a “nagging feeling that the program, as worthy as it was, just wasn’t reaching enough kids or the ones who needed the most help,” Boland starts to wonder if he’d missed his true calling. Raised in a Catholic family of teachers and do-gooders, he sets his mind (and resets his household budget) on becoming a New York City public school teacher. First he works nights and weekends to get his teaching degree. Then he quits his job hobnobbing with the city’s elite and trades his “comfy bourgeois life,” for a job teaching ninth-grade history at “Union Street School.”

To say it didn’t go well would be an understatement. Chantay climbs on her desk and...

  • If you ask a thoughtful question, you may be pleased to receive a smart and germane answer. If you post that question in your widely read newspaper column on education, you’ll sometimes be greeted with such a torrent of spontaneous engagement that you have to write a second column. That’s what happened to the Washington Post’s Jay Matthews, who asked his readers in December to email him their impressions of Common Core and its innovations for math: Was it baffling them, or their kids, when they sat down to tackle an assignment together? He revealed some of the responses last week, and the thrust was definitively in support of the new standards. “My first reaction to a Common Core worksheet was repulsion,” one mother wrote of her first grader’s homework. “I set that aside and learned how to do what [my son] was doing. And something magical happened: I started doing math better in my head.” The testimonials are an illuminating contribution to what has become a sticky subject over the last few months. Common Core advocates would be well advised to let parents know that their kids’ wonky-looking problem sets can be conquered after all.
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report last month from the “Making Caring Common” project at the Harvard Graduate School of Education calls on elite colleges and universities to “send different messages” to high school students and parents about what matters—and, more importantly, what will gain admission—to America’s most hallowed higher education institutions. “Today’s culture sends young people messages that emphasize personal success rather than concern for others and the common good,” laments the report, entitled Turning the Tide. To combat this rising swell of student stress and self-regard, the college admissions process should motivate high schoolers to “contribute to others and their communities in more authentic and meaningful ways.”

Top admissions and financial aid officials at several dozen elite American colleges and universities have eagerly endorsed the report’s recommendations, which include encouraging “collective action that takes on community challenges” and looking for evidence of “authentic, meaningful experiences with diversity” when admissions decisions are made. New York Times columnist Frank Bruni praised the report, which he claims “nails the way in which society in general—and children in particular—are badly served by the status quo.”

It’s a bit much, frankly. I’m not quite convinced by the sudden alarm over the “undue academic performance pressure” placed on our children, nor am...

The eyes of the nation are fixed on a tournament of champions this week. Snacks have been prepared, eager spectators huddle around their screen of preference, and social media is primed to blow up. Veteran commentators have gathered at the scene to observe and pontificate. For the competitors, the event represents the culmination of months of dedicated effort, and sometimes entire careers; everything they’ve worked for, both at the college and professional level, has led up to this moment. The national scrutiny can be as daunting for grizzled journeymen as it is for fresh-faced greenhorns. You know what I’m talking about:

The Fordham Institute’s ESSA Accountability Design Competition.

Okay, you probably know what I’m talking about. If you inhabit the world of education policy, you took notice of Fordham’s January call for accountability system frameworks that would comply with the newly passed Every Student Succeeds Act—and take advantage of the new authority the law grants to states. With the federal influence on local classrooms scaled back so suddenly, it will be up to education agencies in Wisconsin and Mississippi and Alaska to adopt their own methods of setting the agenda for schools and rating their performance in adhering to it.

The purpose of...

M. René Islas

On January 23, the Economist sent a clear warning to world leaders about the ways that “governments are systematically preventing [youth] from reaching their potential.” In the article “Young, gifted and held back,” authors point to many policies, practices, and traditions that limit the ability of individuals under the age of thirty to excel in their adulthood and even lead their communities to prosperity. The piece briefly mentions the importance of investing in education, but I would like to call our attention to an aspect of education that is constricting human and economic flourishing—the neglect of children with extraordinary gifts and talents with high potential for excellence and productivity.

According to the last available data from the OECD PISA in 2012, school systems across the globe only produced 12.6 percent of students that could perform at the highest levels on mathematics. Results are far worse in the United States, where only 8.8 percent of American students achieved at the highest levels. If the Pareto Principle still stands, the U.S. is short 11.2 percent of the 20 percent of the population needed to lead the nation to continued prosperity. Put simply, an education system that values mediocrity over excellence...

On Tuesday afternoon, we at the Fordham Institute will host a competition to present compelling designs for state accountability systems under the Every Student Succeeds Act. (UPDATE: Event details and video here.) The process has already achieved its objective, with more than two dozen teams submitting proposals that are chock-full of suggestions for states and commonsense recommendations for the U.S. Department of Education. They came from all quarters, including academics (such as Ron FergusonMorgan Polikoff, and Sherman Dorn); educators (including the Teach Plus Teaching Policy Fellows); policy wonks from D.C. think tanks (including the Center for American ProgressAmerican Enterprise Institute, and Bellwether Education Partners); and even a group of Kentucky high school students. Selecting just ten to spotlight in Tuesday’s live event was incredibly difficult.

I’ve pulled out some of the best nuggets from across the twenty-six submissions.

Indicators of Academic Achievement

ESSA requires state accountability systems to include an indicator of academic achievement “as measured by proficiency on the annual assessments.” 

Yet not a single one of our proposals suggests using simple proficiency rates as an indicator here. That’s because everyone is aware of NCLB’s unintended consequence: encouraging schools to pay attention only to the “bubble kids” whose performance...

We’ve learned a few lessons about school choice over the past few decades. Key among those lessons are that quantity does not equal quality and that conditions must be right for choice to flourish. Good intentions only take you so far; sturdy plants grow when seeds are planted in fertile ground. 

We learned as much five years ago when we teamed up with Rick Hess on America’s Best (and Worst) Cities for School Reform, a study that explored the ideal conditions for school reform at the city level. We found that too few of our big cities possessed the talent, leadership, infrastructure, culture, and resources to beckon enterprising reformers and then help them succeed.

But we also found some innovators on that list of cities, many of which served as “proof points” and role models for stodgier places. (Especially notable were New Orleans, Washington, D.C., and New York City.)

Now we’re back with a “spinoff,” America’s Best (and Worst) Cities for School Choice, which focuses on school choice specifically and considers many additional questions—but again demonstrates the spectrum of receptivity to fundamental education reform when one looks across cities.

Priscilla (Penny) Wohlstetter, a distinguished research professor at...

One of the big themes in the Star Wars series is the battle between technology and tradition: the Empire with its Death Star, Imperial Starfleet, and other modern marvels versus the Jedi with their ascetic lifestyles and primitive Force.

famous scene in Episode IV captures it perfectly:

Admiral Motti: This station is now the ultimate power in the universe! I suggest we use it! 

Darth Vader: Don't be too proud of this technological terror you've constructed. The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the Force. 

Admiral Motti: Don't try to frighten us with your sorcerer's ways, Lord Vader. Your sad devotion to that ancient religion has not helped you conjure up the stolen data tapes, or given you clairvoyance enough to find the rebels' hidden fort... 

(Vader makes a pinching motion; Motti starts choking.) 

Darth Vader: I find your lack of faith disturbing.

Han Solo, condescending to the lightsaber-wielding Luke, later scoffs, “Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid.” 

The gist is that the advocates of modernity...

Robin Lake and Michael DeArmond

At CRPE, we believe strongly in taking a city-wide view of education. The reality of urban education these days is a complicated mash-up of schools run by districts, charter providers, independent private schools, and sometimes even state agencies. It’s usually the case, however, that research reports (e.g., the NAEP TUDA, the CREDO studies, the Brookings Choice report) focus only on a small portion of that picture. We were therefore happy to see that Fordham’s new study on school choice took a specifically urban view to identify the most “choice-friendly” cities in the country. As Rick Hess described it, the report is basically a gardener’s guide: Through an exhaustive array of indicators, the authors have developed a list of soil components that they believe should make for a healthy choice environment.

We produced our own city-wide indicators a few months ago. In Measuring Up: Educational Improvement and Opportunity in 50 Cities, we assessed all public schools on a variety of outcomes: what share of schools were performing above other schools with similar demographics, how quickly all the cities’ schools (both charter- and district-run) were improving compared to other schools in the state, what percentage of low-income students had access to high-performing schools,...

Editor's note: For a summary of noteworthy content from contenders' proposals, read "Some great ideas from our ESSA Accountability Design Competition."

Under the newly enacted Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), states now face the challenge of creating school accountability systems that can vastly improve upon the model required by No Child Left Behind. To help spur creative thinking about how they might do so, and also to inform the Department of Education as it develops its ESSA regulations, the Fordham Institute is hosting an ESSA Accountability Design Competition. (Details here.)

We were thrilled to receive more than two dozen proposals from policy experts, academics, teachers, and students. On Tuesday, February 2, we’ll see ten of these submissions presented on the Fordham stage. (RSVP here.) Participants will pitch and defend their proposals in front of a live audience and an American Idol-style panel of judges.

So why these ten? I chose candidates that I found to be a) particularly well designed; b) especially creative; and/or c) that raised important issues for the Department to consider in the regulatory process. I also aimed to include a variety of voices, including students and teachers. (Their authors also had to...

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