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A core assumption of the education-reform movement is that excellent schools can be engines of upward mobility. But what kind of schools? And to what end?

Please join Michael J. Petrilli and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute for a daylong investigation into the role education can—and must—play in promoting upward mobility on December 2 in Washington, D.C.

In tandem with the release of several papers, this path-breaking conference will consider thorny questions, including: Is “college for all” the right goal? (And what do we mean by “college”?) Do young people mostly need a strong foundation in academics? What can schools do to develop so-called “non-cognitive” skills? Should technical education be a central part of the reform agenda? How about apprenticeships? What can we learn from the military’s success in working with disadvantaged youth?

To view the agenda click here.

To register for Education for Upward Mobility, email Michelle Lerner at mlerner@edexcellence.net.

POWER IN A UNION
The American Federation of Teachers will spend a record-breaking $20 million on this year's elections. Across the states, teachers are going door to door to speak out against Republican governors. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is the AFT’s biggest target this cycle, alongside Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, Florida Governor Rick Scott, and Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, the last of whom is probably already planning his own teaching career following a near-certain election defeat.

TEST QUESTIONS
The College Board, owners of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), plan to make public the number of international students who take the SAT each year. It is generally thought that the majority of international test-takers come from China and South Korea and go on to apply to undergraduate programs at U.S. colleges. 

SPLIT THE DIFFERENCE
The Democrats have historically been the party of the teachers’ unions. However, as this election cycle has shown, that may no longer be the case. In California, two Democrats with very different views on education are vying for the position of state superintendent of public education. While incumbent Tom Torlakson embodies the old-school, pro-union attitude of the party, challenger Marshall Tuck backs charter schools and has voiced his support of the Vergara decision.

BAD NEWS FOR DIPLOMA MILLS
Last week, the Department of Education announced stringent new regulations on the nation’s 3,400 for-profit...

ELECTION CRAMMING
With Election Day fast approaching, there’s only so much time to familiarize yourself with the races, candidates, and issues at play. That’s where Education Week’s election guide comes in: A compendium of state and local races, it’s a one-stop shop for all the education-related angles to the midterms, right down to ballot issues and state education races.

WEEKEND READING
The Washington Post’s T. Rees Shapiro has a lovely look at the life of Ruth T. Bedford, a Standard Oil heiress who left a $40 million bequest to her Virginia high school. Bedford, who died in June, led a colorful life that saw her breed thoroughbred racehorses, work with the Red Cross during World War II, and conquer the skies as an early aviatrix. Administrators at her alma mater, the all-girl’s Foxcroft School, were reportedly stunned at the gift.

VOLUNTEERING INFORMATION
Tennessee’s Department of Education has released its annual report card on local schools, and Chalkbeat Tennessee has a good overview. Among their observation, there’s one thing to celebrate: In keeping with the one and only Michael Brickman’s entreaties, the state has embraced a simple, A-F rating system, rather than a confusing morass of terms like “priority” or “celebration eligible.”

MUST READ
The Answer Sheet blog has a phenomenal guest post by Alexis Wiggins, a fifteen-year teaching veteran who shadowed students around their high...

Joe Portnoy, the king of new media, has been with Fordham for the last four years and is now headed to shake things up at the Department of Education. Arne, now that you have nabbed our new-media manager, we suggest that you take some of our policy advice, too. (See here, here, and here.)

Here are some of our favorite new-media products, thanks to Joe:

A Nation at Risk: 30 years later

Thirty years ago, A Nation at Risk was released to a surprised country. Suddenly, Americans woke up to learn that SAT scores were plummeting and children were learning a lot less than before. Due in large part to this report, education reform today is serious about standards, quality, assessment, accountability, and benchmarking—by school, district, state, and nation. Yet we still have many miles to go before we sleep. Our students still need to learn far more, and our schools need to become far more effective.

Is America Education Coming Apart? A Lunchtime Lecture with Charles Murray

For all the talk of gaps in achievement, opportunity, and funding between ethnic and racial groups in American education, a different divide may also be splitting our schools and our future. In his acclaimed and controversial book, Coming Apart: The State...

BIG APPLE RETHINKING PRESCHOOL
New York City's preschool program is undergoing a year-long assessment to determine the quality of classroom environments and teacher-student interactions, as well as gauge how citywide expansion is going. Currently, about 50,000 students are served by the pre-K programs, with plans to reach 70,000 children by next year.

PARCC LIFE
Results from a poll by George Washington University's Center on Education Policy shows that schools feel unprepared logistically for the administration of new PARCC and Smarter Balanced exams in the spring. The new assessments, which are aligned to Common Core, will be delivered online, allowing for faster scoring and more accurate data collection. Fordham’s own Aaron Churchill chipped in with a sensational article on PARCC implementation earlier this month.

MICHIGAN CONSIDERING STEM CERTIFICATION
Michigan lawmakers are considering two bills that would allow high school seniors to pursue a STEM certification upon graduation. While specific curriculum is still being decided, both policymakers and STEM experts agree that students need theory and practical application if they want to translate their knowledge to the workforce. For more on Michigan's education developments, check out Fordham's instant-classic study on the state's efforts to turn around struggling schools.

EDUCATION SNAPSHOT
Late Bell has been following labor unrest over the last month in Waukegan, Illinois's 17,000-student school district. Today brings the good news that, four weeks after walking...

Morgan Polikoff

Election Day is less than a week away. Given the heat around major education policies—especially Common Core and teacher evaluations—there is increased attention to public attitudes about education. A number of polls from major news organizations, education groups, and universities have been commissioned over the past several months, and education pundits and advocates on all sides of current reform debates have endlessly parsed the results.

Unfortunately these pundits are mostly misguided, and public opinion polls on education don’t mean what people think they mean. What follows are three conclusions, all based on data from these various polls, and a discussion of what they ought to mean for education policy and advocacy going forward.

Conclusion 1: Americans’ views on education are incoherent.

The most straightforward conclusion from existing polling data is that Americans’ views are all over the map and, depending on the issue, either nuanced or contradictory. The clearest example of this is on standardized testing. The 2013 Phi Delta Kappa (PDK)/Gallup poll found that just 22 percent of the public thought that standardized tests have helped local public schools. But when asked about specific test-related policies—some of which are even more ambitious in scope than our current testing regimes—Americans express strong support. An Education Next poll, for example, shows 71 percent of Americans support mandatory high school exit exams. And despite 54 percent of respondents telling PDK/Gallup in 2014 that standardized tests aren’t helpful, between...

Last month, editors of The Youngstown Vindicator, one of Ohio’s most respected newspapers, made an unusual appeal on their op-ed page. They asked the state superintendent of public instruction, Richard Ross, to take over their local school system.

The Youngstown Board of Education had, in their opinion, “failed to provide the needed leadership to prevent the academic meltdown” occurring in their district. They added that Mr. Ross was “overly optimistic” in believing that the community could come together to develop a plan to save the district. Therefore, they pleaded, “[W]e urge state Superintendent Ross to assign the task of restructuring the Youngstown school system to his staff and not wait for community consensus.”

It’s not every day that local citizens ask the state to take charge of educating the children in their community. Such a move illustrates the despair that many Americans feel about their own schools—and their inability to do much to improve them.

That’s why, over three years ago, we at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, along with our friends at the Center for American Progress, began a multi-year initiative designed to draw attention to the elephant in the ed-reform living room: governance. Given its ability to trample any promising education improvement—or clear the way for its implementation—it was high time to put governance at center stage of the policy conversation.

Our “anchor book” for that initiative, Education Governance for the Twenty-First Century: Overcoming the Structural Barriers to...

Jonathan Schleifer

Countries with high school exit exams appear to have higher levels of student achievement, as indicated by PISA and some positive evidence from other countries that have used graduation exams. But have they worked in the United States? A recent Education Next forum failed to ask this essential question.

When fourteen public school teachers came together as part of Educators 4 Excellence-New York Teacher Policy Team on how to improve the use of testing in schools, they were taken aback by the depth of research showing the harmful effects of exit exams, which twenty-six states have adopted in one form or another.

There are two relevant research questions: Do exit exams have beneficial effects on students in terms of achievement or labor-market outcomes? And do exit exams have negative consequences, particularly on historically disadvantaged populations of students? The answers are no and yes, respectively. Here’s a representative, though not comprehensive, review:

Studies that find no benefit

  • In 2008, researchers examined a nationally representative sample of students and found no impact on achievement of high school graduation exams for any subpopulation of students, including low achievers.
  • A 2010 study of California’s exit exams used a regression discontinuity analysis to examine students who had just narrowly failed a tenth-grade exam. The results were disappointing: “The analyses show no evidence of any significant or sizeable effect of failing the exam on high school course-taking, achievement, persistence, or graduation for students with test scores near the exit exam
  • ...

SECOND ACT
Nevada and Missouri are the most recent states to contract with the SAT and ACT to ensure that every eleventh grader has access to a college entry exam. While we can all agree that increasing access to these tests is a good thing, there are also concerns about adding another test to the pile. Some wonder if the test could serve the dual purposes of college admittance and school assessment.

ELECTION SPOTLIGHT: KANSAS
Funding for schools has landed on the political map in Kansas, where Democrat Paul Davis stands an excellent chance of upsetting Republican incumbent Governor Sam Brownback. Democrats claim that Brownback’s primary fiscal agenda item, a series of tax cuts, has led to a revenue shortfall that endangers public education. The governor’s supporters point to nonpartisan analysis indicating that per-pupil funding has, in fact, increased over the last several years.

POLLING ALERT
New numbers are out on Common Core’s approval among teachers. According to today’s Gallup poll, 41 percent view the standards positively and 44 percent negatively. Beyond the top-line polling, there were interesting implications for the initiative’s continuing popularity: Among teachers employed by schools in which the standards have been fully implemented, over 60 percent took a favorable view.

SECURITY FOR STUDENT-ATHLETES
On the heels of UNC’s mushrooming “shadow curriculum” scandal, which has led to NCAA critics demanding changes to...

What happens when policymakers create statewide school districts to turn around their worst-performing public schools? In Louisiana and Tennessee, Recovery School Districts (RSDs) have made modest-to-strong progress for kids and serve as national models for what the future of education governance might hold.

In the Great Lakes State, the story is more complicated.

In Redefining the School District in Michigan, Nelson Smith, senior advisor to the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, examines the progress of the Education Achievement Authority. Unlike the larger RSDs, Michigan’s is a smaller effort with just fifteen schools, all in Detroit, and a big focus on competency-based learning.

As the policy brief attests, the EAA model—direct-run schools with limited reliance on chartering and a high-tech approach—is far from the catastrophe that some critics claim. Yet its detractors aren’t all wrong. There have been many hurdles. The EAA was rolled out on a tight timeline and a shoestring budget, amid urban decline in Detroit. It would have taken a miracle for this to work out well. (Which is something policymakers might have considered before pursuing this path.) Further, its governance arrangement is a Rube Goldberg invention of epic proportions.

The reality of the EAA is not as disastrous as you may have heard. But it’s also not a success like the RSD or ASD—both of which are improving outcomes, albeit slowly, for kids. Which might make its cautionary lessons that much more important for other states thinking of going down this route.

The key takeaway from...

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