Flypaper

Every teacher of low-income children and English language learners has had this moment: You're sitting with a student, working line by line through a text, grappling with what should be fairly simple comprehension questions.

"Did you read it?" you ask. "I read it," the child replies. "But I didn't get it."

This is what reading failure often looks like in a struggling school. A child can read the words on a page in front of him, but he can't always make sense of them. The commonsense solution for both teachers and policy makers has been to make more time for reading instruction. That makes sense, but it hasn't worked, because reading comprehension is not a skill that can be practiced and mastered like a basketball free throw. Children's ability to understand what they read is intimately intertwined with their background knowledge and vocabulary. If a child is not broadly educated, he won't be fully literate.

John King made precisely this point last Thursday in a remarkable speech in Las Vegas. The newly minted secretary of education is pushing for schools to take advantage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) to give every child the kind of broad background "that...

Michael Hansen

Are we ready to expand career and technical education offerings as the next frontier in education policy? “College- and career-ready” has been an aspirational label in education for years, though many in the know recognize that the label is generally used as a stand-in for the Common Core State Standards—and the focus there is decidedly tipped toward college readiness and away from career preparation. Yet in recent years, President Obama and the U.S. Department of Education have been promoting the career side of the label more, making the case that technical education is not at odds with academic preparation. With union leadersindustry groups, and researchers joining the list of those backing it, career and technical education appears to be well poised to become the next viable policy lever to help improve the plight of America’s youth.

Last week, the Fordham Institute in Washington, D.C. released a new report on career and technical education that adds some fuel to this fire. In it, author Shaun Dougherty examines high school, college, and labor market outcomes for three cohorts of Arkansas high school students based on their differential participation in career and technical education coursework. The study stands out for its focus on this array of outcomes,...

Lisa Riggs

Over the past year, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute has published numerous articles (including a book) explaining how schools across the country are overlooking high-achieving poor students. In the age of ESSA, the role of the states and districts in serving its high-achievers is more important than ever before. In Texas, where I live and work, nearly 8 percent of children are identified as gifted and talented, but before my arrival in the San Antonio Independent School District (SAISD), only 4.5 percent of students were so identified. That percentage was unacceptable, so the district reinvented its approach. Its current methods—now much improved—ought to be an example of what other districts across the country can do to better serve high-ability boys and girls.

In December 2015, the SAISD board approved a universal screening assessment and matrix for all first and fifth graders for Gifted and Talented Education (GATE). Therefore, every student would have an equal opportunity to be identified for these essential GATE services. (In a district where 92 percent of the students are considered economically disadvantaged and 98 percent of students are Latino or African American, this work is even more critical.)

Identification is just the first step in...

Over the weekend, I attended a performance of the Tony-winning show All the Way, whose title political junkies (or readers of a certain age) will know refers to Lyndon Johnson and his 1964 presidential campaign. The play was entertaining and enlightening, depicting President Johnson as a funnier, more likable Frank Underwood—with the salty language and some of the paranoid tendencies of Richard Nixon.

What I found most fascinating, though, was its treatment of detractors of the 1964 Civil Rights Act—most notably Johnson’s mentor turned political opponent, arch-segregationist Senator Richard Brevard Russell of Georgia. The wise and amiable “Uncle Dick” knew that he and his fellow southern Democrats couldn’t attack civil rights head on. In one scene, he tells a handful of his compatriots that, instead of playing to type as rednecks and defenders of brutal racism, they have to make their argument on Constitutional grounds. The refrain of his speeches became, “This bill is an assault on the states and on our Constitution.”

That came to mind on Monday when I had the chance to ask former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan about the mounting controversy over implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)—a sixth- or seventh-generation descendant of L.B.J.’s...

It strikes me, and several others with whom I’ve spoken in recent months, that education reform is at a turning point. It’s not just the new federal law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, which sends key decisions back to the states. It’s bigger than that—a sense of exhaustion with policy as the primary driver of educational change.

To be sure, there are many policy battles still to fight and win in almost every state: to ensure that school and teacher accountability do not disappear, to defend and expand high-quality charter schools and other forms of parental choice, to do something about chronically low-performing schools, to see that high-achieving poor kids don’t go ignored, and much more.  

It’s as critical as ever that advocacy organizations like the newly merged 50CAN and StudentsFirst attract the funding and talent to ensure that kid-centered laws and regulations are put in place from sea to shining sea. The teachers’ unions—newly energized after their near-death experience in the Friedrichs case and their victory in Vergara—surely have the money and resolve to push hard in the opposite direction. And when it comes to preserving the status quo and not threatening any adult interests, they have plenty of allies. But...

Career and technical education (CTE) schools and academies are important and impactful, but they’re also scarce and expensive. To develop the skills of the millions of students who want high-quality CTE, we must be more egalitarian in the ways students access it—and the prospects for economic stability and success that it can create.

CTE is not just about the courses students take; it’s also about form: how, when, and where courses are delivered. And this varies depending on the state, district, and even school.

In most cases, the courses a student can take are determined by what’s available at the school site where they are enrolled. Most traditional high schools offer basic CTE classes in addition to academic coursework. Some host school-within-a-school “career academies” where academy students take CTE coursework focused around a single career theme (while taking academic classes at the host school); non-academy students can’t take these classes. There are also fully independent, self-contained career/technical high schools that serve as enrolled students’ home schools. Like academies, CTE schools usually focus on developing students’ skills to prepare them to enter a particular industry.

Some CTE programing is open to more students. Centralized locations called regional technical centers offer a diverse variety of...

The Democratic primary contest between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders has been a fractious one, dividing party loyalists on issues like health care, foreign intervention, financial reform, and corporate influence on politics. Curiously, education hasn’t surfaced as a subject of dispute—until this week, when a few education voices on the Left mistakenly harangued Clinton for going soft on her commitment to testing. Though well-intentioned, these commentators need to cool their jets and take a closer look at her record.

It’s appropriate that this kerfuffle would start now that both candidates have alighted in New York, a bulwark of union strength and bare-fanged hostility to Common Core (some 20 percent of eligible students were opted out of last year’s round of standardized testing). The crux of it is this: Some left-leaning reformers have seized on a few ill-advised comments by Bill Clinton as proof that his wife is selling out school accountability. Liberal tribune Jonathan Chait (or at least his headline writers) accused her of “abandoning education reform”; Shavar Jeffries, president of Democrats for Education Reform, wrote that the former president’s remarks would redound “to the detriment of our students, particularly poor and minority children, children of recent immigrants, and students with...

Shaun M. Dougherty

Recently, there has been increased interest in career and technical education as a mechanism to create pathways to college and employment. This increased interest has occurred despite the fact that, aside from two studies on career academies, there is relatively little high-quality evidence about whether and how CTE provides educational and work-related benefits to students. In my new report with the Fordham Institute, Career and Technical Education in High School: Does It Improve Student Outcomes?, we capitalized on the willingness of state agencies to partner with us and share data as a way to answer these questions. Our ability to produce answers is related to the rich datasets from Arkansas that enabled us to translate this data and available computing power into actionable policy findings.

In the past, roughly one in five students took three or more high school courses in a field classified under career and technical education. But some recent evidence suggests that the number of students taking a larger share of CTE courses may have receded during the expansion of high-stakes, test-based accountability. Very little of the data accumulated in recent years has been examined to explain how major shifts in policy and educational practice may have...

In the midst of Illinois's historic budget stalemate, funding for education and much else remains in dispute. Gov. Bruce Rauner and the legislature haven't been able to agree on major priorities, even as Chicago schools go broke and the Chicago Teachers Union looks more likely to strike every day.

A fundamental issue in these disputes is whether to keep spending money on present priorities, practices, and programs or to instead seize the opportunity to make major reforms.

One set of reforms that belongs on the table is Illinois's shameful neglect of its high-ability students, especially those from poor and minority backgrounds.

According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), just 2 percent of Prairie State 8th graders who are eligible for subsidized lunches reached the Advanced level in math in 2015 (NAEP's designation for high scorers).

The racial gaps are even worse. Not even one percent of black students reached NAEP's highest level, and just 3 percent of Hispanic youngsters did. Nine percent of white students got there—not great, but ten times the ratio for African-Americans.

A major reason for this lamentable performance is Illinois's inattention to high-ability students.

Click here to read the rest of the article...

On Tuesday, April 12, 2016, the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions held a full committee hearing titled “ESSA Implementation in States and School Districts: Perspectives from the U.S. Secretary of Education,” the first of a series of oversight hearings on the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Chairman Lamar Alexander delivered an opening statement to Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr. and asked Secretary King two rounds of questions. What follows is the transcript of these talks.

Of particular interest to those of us at Fordham (besides the very important back-and-forth about the appropriate federal role in education and the balance of power between the legislative and executive branches) is the issue of flexibility around eighth-grade math assessments for advanced students. That is addressed toward the end of the transcript.

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Senator Alexander Opening Statement

Mr. Secretary, as you know, I urged the president to nominate an education secretary because I thought it was important to have a confirmed secretary accountable to the United States Senate when the department was implementing the new law fixing No Child Left Behind.

You have sworn to discharge your duties faithfully. That is your oath of office, and...

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