Flypaper

In education reform, we like to say that demography isn’t destiny—that, with the right supports, poor children can achieve at high levels despite the many challenges they face. But today, I’d like to discuss demography more literally—namely, the nation’s birth rate. Because it is destined to lead to significant teacher layoffs in the near future.

Much like the Great Depression did, the onset of the Great Recession led to a sharp decline in the U.S. birth rate. This graph illustrates the trend clearly:

More babies were born in the United States in 2007 than any other year in history—even more than at the peak of the Baby Boom. But the numbers started to plummet in 2008; as of 2013 (the most recent data), we’ve seen six straight years of decline. We are now 9 percent below 2007’s high.

So what does this mean for schools? For starters, remember that there’s a five year lag between birth and kindergarten entry. Do the math and you’ll learn that, at least nationally, there are a whole lot of first and second graders (born in 2007). But the kindergarten class is...

  • Because she couldn’t bear to keep Martin O’Malley in suspense any longer, Hillary Clinton revealed this weekend that she would be running for president in 2016. Her well-executed video ginned up an endless amount of free press, but few commentators picked up on a strangely off-key segment: Early on, one participant expresses excitement at the prospect of moving to a new neighborhood so that their child will have access to a decent school. Situated discordantly between announcements of weddings and new business ventures, the line perfectly illustrates the lack of choice most parents face when trying to educate their kids. Several prominent liberal writers have already voiced their frustration with the message. “Having to move in order to enroll in a ‘better" school,’ wrote Jonathan Chait in New York, is “a very strange value system for the left to embrace.”
  • If you haven’t spent the last few months in a cave, you’re probably aware that this spring marks the debut of Common Core-aligned tests in dozens of states across the country. Those tests, expected to be far tougher than those that preceded them, have stirred up enough national controversy to keep education writers busy until
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As part of its College Match Program, MDRC has released an application guide for “counselors, teachers, and advisers who work with high school students from low-income families and students who are the first in their families to pursue a college education.”

A “match” school embodies two important qualities: It is academically suited for the student, and it meets her financial, social, and personal needs. Unfortunately, “undermatching”—enrolling in schools for which one is academically overqualified or not applying to college at all—is all too common for low-income kids, driving down their college completion rates. Myriad factors at the student, secondary, and post-secondary levels can lead to this phenomenon, including lack of information, concerns about leaving home, minimal training for adults working with students, and limited college recruitment practices.

MDRC’s solution is the College Match Program. Between 2010 and 2014, it placed “near-peer” advisers, who are recent college graduates with training in college advising, in low-income high schools (eight in Chicago and two in New York City) to support students as they navigated the school-selection and financial aid application process. Approximately 1,200 students were served. Researchers conclude that students are willing to apply to selective colleges when they (1) have an...

Back in January, the Education Research Alliance (ERA) for New Orleans released a study looking at patterns of parental choice in the highly competitive education marketplace. That report showed that non-academic considerations (bus transportation, sports, afterschool care) are often bigger factors than academic quality when parents choose schools. It also suggested strongly that it was possible for other players in the system (e.g., city officials, charter authorizers, the SEA) to assert the primacy of academic quality by a number of means (e.g., type and style of information available to parents, a central application system). A new report from ERA-New Orleans follows up by examining school-level responses to competition, using interview and survey data from thirty schools of all types across the city.

Nearly all of the surveyed school leaders reported having at least one competitor for students, and most schools reported more than one response to that competition. The most commonly reported response, cited by twenty-five out of thirty schools, was marketing existing school offerings more aggressively. Less common responses to competition included improving academic instruction and making operational changes like budget cuts so that the need to compete for more students (and money) would be less pressing.

These...

The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, best known for its scholarship programs for low-income gifted students in high school and college, has entered into the policy realm by beating the drum on an important issue—closing the excellence gap. Gifted-education expert Jonathan Plucker and his coauthors grade states on how they educate an oft-forgotten class of learners: high-performing, low-income students. (We at Fordham often refer to high-achieving students as high flyers.)

The report assesses states on inputs, which include requiring the identification of gifted students, providing services for them, and establishing pro-acceleration policies. Predictably, but still dishearteningly, not one state earned an A for providing needed support for their low-income high-flyers. On average, states only implement three of nine desirable policies, and no state implements more than six. Only two states require gifted education coursework in teacher or administrator training. The best grade, a B-, went to Minnesota, in part because it requires gifted students to be identified and given services.

Helpfully, the report also grades states on outputs. It reports the number of their students who reached “Advanced” on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) assessments or scored a three or higher on Advanced Placement exams (not necessarily...

Today, the Senate HELP Committee is considering the bipartisan ESEA reauthorization bill crafted by Senators Alexander and Murray.

This legislation represents a very smart compromise on the key issue of accountability. What happens in committee, on the floor, and beyond is anyone’s guess. But the current language is, in my view, the best proposal we’ve seen for solving the problem that’s held up ESEA reauthorization for ages.

In February, I created a graphic showing how the various proposals on the table handled the various elements of accountability. The major plans followed one of three approaches. The middle path (between a beefed-up federal role and an emaciated one) was staked out by state-oriented groups including CCSSO, NGA, and NCSL. I called this “Accountability for Results.”

The Alexander-Murray bill is in this mold, though with a couple of notable adjustments.

Like many other plans, it keeps NCLB’s suite of tests. But it makes a very important, very interesting, and very compelling amendment to NCLB’s aspirational target of all students reaching proficiency in each grade by...

Everyone is right to laud the impressive work of Senate HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander and ranking member Patty Murray in producing a strong bipartisan bill to update the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). But it has a significant flaw that needs mending before it becomes law, and it might be up to House Republicans to do the fixing.

The problem, in a nutshell, is that it puts enormous pressure on the states to set utopian goals. That, in turn, will result in most schools being declared failures (and/or create pressure for states to water down their standards), which is exactly what happened under NCLB.

At issue is a true dilemma for policymakers: There seems to be an irresistible urge in education to set aspirational goals. There’s nothing wrong with that, per se—stirring, “shoot for the moon” rhetoric can be motivational and galvanize action. But as Rick Hess and Checker Finn have explained, when it’s time to create accountability systems, policymakers must sober up. If they set unrealistic, unreachable goals, the people working in the system will grow cynical and disillusioned—the opposite of motivated.

Senator Alexander’s discussion draft bill got this balance right. (So does the...

I’m back from a week’s vacation and pleased to find that ESEA reauthorization is still (if just barely) alive. The release of a compromise bill from Senate HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander and ranking member Patty Murray gives me an excuse to bring back my beloved color-coded ESEA table.

The last time we checked, when Chairman Alexander published his discussion draft, it looked like this:

After negotiating with Senator Murray, it now looks like this (items that moved are in bold):

(* These were in the Alexander discussion draft too; I had them in the wrong column last time. My apologies.
** The School Improvement Grants program is officially gone, though the bill [like Alexander’s discussion draft] does include a large state set-aside for school “interventions and supports.”
)

So what’s the big news? First, federally mandated teacher evaluations are dead as a doorknob, as are requirements that states adopt a particular type of standard (read: Common Core). That’s good news on both fronts, as Uncle Sam has become a monkey on the...

The Every Child Achieves Act of 2015, unveiled a few days back by Senators Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray and scheduled for HELP Committee mark-up on April 14, is a remarkable piece of work. The mere fact that it’s bipartisan is remarkable enough, given the polarized state of Capitol Hill nowadays. But it’s also a reasonable, forward-looking compromise among strongly divergent views of the federal role in K–12 education—and between the overreach (and attendant backlash) of NCLB and some people’s conviction that NCLB didn’t reach far enough.

The draft has received much applause—some of it muted, some tentative—from many quarters (including the Obama administration). Indeed, some Washington wags have remarked that if so many different factions are saying nice things about it, either they haven’t actually read it or there must be something wrong with it! I like most of it myself, though I (as with perhaps everyone else who has said anything positive) hope that the refinements to be offered in committee and on the floor will yield something that I like even better.

I’m mindful, though, that the amending process in the Senate alone is where...

Brown Center reports on the state of American education are characteristically lucid and informative as well as scrupulously research-based—and they sometimes venture into unfamiliar but rewarding territory. That's certainly the case with the third section of the latest report, which addresses "the intensity with which students apply themselves to learning in school."

Drawing on PISA data (i.e., fifteen year olds), this is an exceptionally timely probe into one of the key temperamental, attitudinal, behavioral, or characterological traits (take your pick of which category it fits best) that may influence both short-term school performance and long-term success. Many people—perhaps taken with the recent attention that's been lavished on student attributes like "grit"—would say, “Of course there's a powerful influence. Why is the matter even worth restating?” But Loveless shows us why, beginning by noting the highly uncertain link between engagement and achievement, at least as both are gauged by PISA, and demonstrating that some countries that best the United States in achievement lag behind us in engagement.

He explains the importance of the "unit of analysis" in all such studies, then goes on to pull PISA's four-part measure of "intrinsic motivation" into its constituent parts and closely examine each of these....

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