Flypaper

In the age of charter schools, Common Core, test-based teacher evaluations, and other hot-button education reform issues, Catholic schools have largely taken a backseat in our public conversations. When we do read about them in the media, it is often bad news: financial struggles, declining enrollment, closures. As recently as last week, headlines have spoken of the “demise” of urban Catholic schools.

As the superintendent of Partnership Schools, a network of six Catholic schools in Harlem and the South Bronx, I know the challenges our schools face. But the mood of gloom and doom misses the bigger story—an unprecedented partnership among parents, teachers, church leaders, and philanthropists that is setting the stage for an urban Catholic school revival.

This week, between his Pope Francis’s visit with world leaders at the United Nations and his audience with tens of thousands at Madison Square Garden, he has chosen to make a quiet stop to visit with students and families at one of the schools in our network, Our Lady Queen of Angels.

This is the first time a pope has ever visited an American parochial school, and his timing couldn’t be better. Francis brings with him a renewed focus on the service and social...

Hannah Putman

When trying to improve educational outcomes, it is hard not to feel the need for urgency. We want to figure out what works now and implement changes immediately—because if we wait, kids who are in schools now will miss out. Unfortunately, this pressure to act quickly may be fundamentally at odds with the ability to measure what really works, since meaningful changes in the trajectory of student achievement are not always apparent until years later. Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach of Northwestern University provides a compelling example of exactly this conundrum.
 
Schanzenbach’s thesis is that too often, education research only assesses an intervention’s immediate or intermediate outcomes without capturing its long-term benefits. This may be particularly relevant, she asserts, when judging the impact of early childhood investments.
 
Schanzenbach offers the example of two studies (both of which she co-authored) on the famous 1990s Project STAR class size experiment in Tennessee. That well-known experiment assigned students randomly to either regularly sized classes or smaller ones. Researchers behind both papers (the first from Dynarski, Hyman, and Schanzenbach and the second from Chetty, Friedman, Hilger, Saez, Schanzenbach, and Yagan) found that the smaller kindergarten classes yielded an immediate bump in student test scores for that year; but both papers report...

In the fall of 1996, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) implemented a new accountability system that placed 20 percent of its schools on “probation.” Poor reading test scores made up the sole criterion for censure, and those scarlet-lettered schools were plastered on the front page of both Chicago newspapers. A new study by Peter Rich and Jennifer Jennings of NYU takes a look at enrollment changes in these “probation schools,” both before and after the imposition of the new accountability system. The authors attempt to determine if the addition of new information (“This school is not performing up to par”) motivated more or different school change decisions among families.

1996 may seem like ancient history to education reformers, but the study illustrates the perennial power of information to motivate school choice decisions. In 1996, CPS had (as it still does) an open enrollment policy that allows any family to choose any school in the district other than their assigned one, provided there is space available. Since the district provided no transportation to students either before or after the policy was imposed, that issue was moot. The number of schools and seats within the district also stayed the same. In other...

Since 2003, Florida has required that schools retain third graders who fail to demonstrate proficiency on the state reading test. A new study by Martin West and colleagues examines the impact of this policy by rigorously comparing the results from students who are just above or below the cutoff for retention. The first cohort to be affected by the new policy entered the third grade in 2002, and West et al. track it through high school graduation. They also track five additional cohorts, the last of which entered third grade in 2008.

Unsurprisingly, they find that the policy increased the number of third graders retained. It started with 4,800 kids in the year prior to the policy introduction (2002) and jumped to nearly twenty-two thousand the next year. The numbers retained have fallen steadily over time, however, as more students have cleared the hurdle. The study’s key finding is that third-grade retention substantially improves students’ reading and math achievement in the short run. Specifically, reading achievement improves for retained students by 23 percent of a standard deviation after one year—and by as much as 47 percent of a standard deviation after two years—when compared to students of the same age....

If KIPP were a geographic school district, it would roughly be the nation’s sixty-fifth largest, somewhere between Boston and El Paso. With 162 schools and nearly sixty-thousand students, it’s also growing like kudzu, courtesy of a five-year, $50 million scale-up grant awarded in 2010 through the U.S. Department of Education’s Investing in Innovation (i3) program. At that time, KIPP’s stated goal was to double in size while maintaining its positive impact on kids.

Taxpayers seem to be getting a solid return on that investment. A new report from Mathematica, which contracted with the KIPP Foundation under the terms of the i3 grant, finds that “network-wide, KIPP schools have positive, statistically significant, and educationally meaningful impacts on student achievement, particularly at the elementary and middle school grades.” The picture is murkier at the high school level, where KIPP had “educationally meaningful impacts” on students who were new to the network. No statistically significant effects were found among students continuing from KIPP middle schools, however. Still, the high schools have positive effects on “several aspects of college preparation, including discussions about college, applying to college, and course taking.”

The study is based on both lottery-based and quasi-experimental designs in eight KIPP elementary...

During his time in the United States, Pope Francis will make a quiet stop at East Harlem’s Our Lady Queen of Angels. His visit to this 120-year-old elementary school, which educates an overwhelmingly low-income and minority student body, underscores the Church’s centuries-long commitment to the disadvantaged. But it will also shine a light on an unreported story in urban education: the budding renaissance of Catholic schools.

For fifty years, inner-city Catholic schools have been shuttering, victims of shifting city demographics, changes in the workforce, the advent of charter schooling, and much more. Impoverished families have too few accessible school options to begin with, so this erosion of parochial schools has been especially painful. A substantial body of evidence shows that Catholic schools have an unusual ability to help underserved kids succeed. Newer research suggests that longstanding urban Catholic schools foster social capital outside their walls, helping to decrease crime and other societal ills.

In the early 1970s, Daniel Patrick Moynihan (a White House adviser at the time) saw a looming crisis and warned President Nixon about the tragic consequences if these schools disappeared. Little was done; as a White House aide thirty-five years later, I was...

There were many routes to the podium at last week’s Republican presidential debate. Even with Rick Perry’s withdrawal from the race, the primary field is the largest in a century, and every candidate has taken his own path to the bright lights. Donald Trump has been carried along by his immense personal charm. Carly Fiorina leveraged her initial success among the mop-up squad to change the inclusion rules and gain a place at the top of the polls. Scott Walker got in…well, for reasons no one can quite remember now, but he’ll be damned if he’s heading back to the Great Madison Brat Fest with anything less than a VP berth in tow.

So with a slate of eleven(!) competitors and a run time that made The English Patient look like a particularly spritely episode of Glee, how was it that education never got an invitation to the party? While Jeb Bush was busily defending his brother’s national security record and Fiorina was helping Trump to a yuge slice of humble pie, we Fordhamites were left waiting for someone to mention the fifty million American kids just starting their school year. And...

This report examines the impact of the Gates Foundation “collaboration grants” in seven cities: Boston, Denver, Hartford, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, and Spring Branch (Texas). In each of these cities, districts and charters have signed a “compact” committing them to closer cooperation (and making them eligible for grants). These compacts have many goals, including the increased sharing of facilities, the creation of common enrollment systems, and other changes in policy; however, this report focuses on activities that “target specific staff participants,” such as school partnerships, cross-sector training, and professional development.

Based on conversations with teachers, principals, and central office administrators, the authors conclude that “overall progress in increasing collaboration has been limited.” In particular, while collaboration between principals has increased as a result of the grants, it is still concentrated among those already “predisposed to cross-sector work.” Moreover, in schools not led by such principals, collaboration between teachers is still “minimal to nonexistent.” More progress is evident at the central office level; but even there, some administrators are skeptical that these efforts can lead to “systematic change.” According to respondents, barriers to collaboration include “limited resources, teachers’ unions, and cross-sector tensions.” However, the report also identifies a few promising...

The possible existence of a gender bias in the classroom is not a new controversy. Research has shown that, consciously or not, some teachers treat students differently according to gender; they may give boys more (or different types of) attention, encourage boys more in certain subjects and girls in others, and otherwise interact with each gender differently.

Economists Victor Lavy and Edith Sand bring us an important continuation of that work with a National Bureau of Economic Research paper that explores whether students are exposed to gender bias during elementary school. It then examines whether that exposure has an impact on students’ later academic achievement.

Their study follows approximately three thousand elementary school students and eighty teachers from twenty-five different elementary schools in Israel. They first ask: Is there gender bias? In other words, do teachers believe one gender is academically stronger than the other when there’s actually no difference (or even if the preferred gender is actually doing worse)? The answer to this question is yes. By comparing a teacher’s assessment of a student’s performance in a variety of subjects to the student’s scores on external exams in the same subject, the researchers find that girls outscore boys on...

A new report by the Fiscal Research Center at Georgia State University seeks to quantify how much families were willing to pay for a greater likelihood of receiving access to a charter school between the years 2004 and 2013.

Author Carlianne Patrick examines thirteen metro Atlanta start-up and conversion charter schools that have priority admission zones within their designated attendance zones. Each school has three “priority zones.” The rules governing when a priority zone comes into play and how it interacts with the lottery are quite complex, but the idea is basically this: You get a higher chance of getting into a particular charter school if you reside in priority zone one.

Patrick limits the analysis to home sales within close proximity of the border between priority-one and priority-two attendance zones because they represent a change in admission probability. She claims that residences close to the border—in this case, less than half a mile—should be similar in both observable and unobservable ways, including access to jobs and amenities, styles of houses, foreclosures in the area, etc.

Patrick measures the effect of being on the priority-one side of the border between zones one and two. She also controls for transaction date,...

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