As a teacher, I measured professional development on a spectrum from “vaguely aligned” (we played math games!) to “I’d rather be teaching phonics right now” (any session that involved someone reading, verbatim, from a packet I had in hand). The midpoint was “at least it’s free grading time,” which was how I, an early childhood teacher, viewed any session on standardized test reading passages. But while I was frequently frustrated, I thought it was a problem specific to me; somewhere out there, I reasoned, there was PD that could help a teacher improve. And anyway, it was only a couple of days a year—not too significant.

Not exactly, says this new report from TNTP, which dug deep into the efficacy and size of three districts’ (and one charter network’s) investments in teacher professional development; it found the efforts outsized and the payoffs lacking. Researchers looked at three districts and provided low, medium, and high estimates of the annual cost of PD, which were based on which line items one included in the final price tag. On the low end—comprising only teacher time and baseline expenditures to host the PD—districts spent at least $50 million each year. On the high end—when...

A new study by Bellwether Education Partners examines the changes to teacher pension systems over the last thirty years. The report uses an historical data set from the Wisconsin Retirement Research Committee (RRC) and the state legislature that includes data from public employee pension plans in eighty-seven retirement systems across all fifty states. The data span from 1982 to 2012 and are based on annual reports, employee handbooks, statutes, and actuarial reports. Analysts examine defined benefit plans only—and, to facilitate comparisons, only the plans offered to hypothetical newly hired, twenty-five-year-old teachers who remain in those plans in each state. Analysts note several trends that have developed over the last thirty years, including:

  1. The median state offers a much lower vesting period compared to several decades ago, dropping from ten years to five years.
  2. States began lowering the normal retirement age in the 1990s and continued into the 2000s. But in recent years, states have increased the retirement age, which decreases retirement benefits and results in fewer years collecting a pension. In 2012 alone, nineteen plans increased their normal retirement age for new teachers, pushing the average retirement from age fifty-five to fifty-eight.
  3. Average employee contribution rates remained relatively constant throughout
  4. ...

What’s taught to American children is often controversial nowadays, and our schools will forever be buffeted by the cultural waves that roil our universities. But in that storm, the College Board deserves a cheer for trying to stabilize the vessel known as Advanced Placement U.S. History (APUSH).

This particular tempest blew up when a new “framework” for high school instructors who teach the subject turned out to be biased in its treatment of the nation’s past.

History has been part of the AP program since the mid-1950s. Among the thirty-eight subjects now spanned by that program, it’s the second-most-popular with high school pupils seeking the possibility of college credit.

The end-of-course APUSH exam was always plenty rigorous, lasting three hours and scored during the summer by veteran instructors assembled by the College Board. The problem was that those actually teaching the course to tens of thousands of kids had no useful guidance to prepare students for it. They could consult a vague “topic outline” and look at old exams, but teachers complained that racing through so vast a subject in a single year, combined with the dearth of primary and secondary sources that surfaced on the tests themselves, led to...

Rebecca Sibilia

I’ve always appreciated Andy Smarick’s efforts to create a new vision for urban school districts, but his recent piece about the importance of data in education strikes an especially resonant chord. Understanding the context where we preach our policy “scripture” is pivotal if our ultimate goal is to improve children’s opportunities. EdBuild is very much rooted in the notion that student lives play out in this context, not in theory. 

That said, statistics can be dangerous. All of Andy’s examples are relevant, on-target, and interesting. The percentage of school spending on salaries and benefits, the gap between men and women receiving college degrees, and the demographic changes sweeping across our nation’s schools are all critical information for policymakers and advocates alike. But stopping at an average can often lead to overgeneralization. For instance, using numbers from the Department of Education, he states, “State and local governments provide the same amount of funding for schools—gone are the days when local districts were on their own financially. Today, property taxes produce a majority of funding in only a few states…”

While this is true at the aggregate level, it’s misleading. Without further context, the statement distorts a very stark picture of what’s...

This book out of Harvard’s Public Educational Leadership Project (PELP) takes on one of the biggest challenges in managing school districts: the relationship between the central office and schools. In meeting needs that vary from building to building, do certain governance structures work better than others? For example, is it better to centralize and make all the decisions “downtown” or decentralize and give autonomy to schools?

Researchers analyzed five large urban districts in four states with varying approaches to their central office/schools relationships, all of which were selected based on improvements in student achievement. The districts shared other similarities, such as serving a wide range of schools and communities, and each enrolled more than sixty-thousand students (mostly of color). PELP’s methodology is best described as a case study approach that included combing through news sources and research reports and interviewing sixty-three district and school leaders.

Researchers reached a perplexing conclusion: Both styles can be successful if the central office and school coordinate their systems, strategies, and visions. Whether centralized, decentralized, or a blend of both, structure has no bearing on student performance. Instead, all that matters is that both parties openly communicate and readjust in order to figure out what...

Education reformers talk a lot about providing disadvantaged kids access to great schools, and for good reason. Countless institutional barriers exist to thwart students from choosing the best nearby schools, and solutions like open enrollment and private school scholarships are justly lauded as escape routes for families caged by circumstances of class.

But there are also much more literal obstructions to educational choice, and they aren’t arrayed solely against low-income learners trapped in huge, failing urban districts. To choose just one example, children enrolled in rural and remote schools—separated by hundreds of miles from the auxiliary services available in many cities, and usually passed over by the most sought-after teaching talent—are simply subjected to geographic dislocation instead of (or often in addition to) economic deprivation.

This new report by the Foundation for Excellence in Education (which has already released one worthy analysis of the issue) looks at the successful implementation of state-level course access policies by ten districts and charter management organizations across the country. The programs bring outstanding options to students who would otherwise have trouble finding them—typically through online tools that offer academic relief to district budgets, but also by incorporating embedded resources like...

A new study by Dan Goldhaber and colleagues provides loads of descriptive data that document the extent and depth of the teacher quality gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students. Dan and many others have produced research that repeatedly shows that disadvantaged kids get the short end of the stick when it comes to high-quality teachers. But the bottom line of this latest study is that this inequitable distribution of teachers plays out no matter how you define teacher quality (experience, teacher licensure exam score, or value-added estimates) and no matter how you define student disadvantage (free-and-reduced-priced lunch status, underrepresented minority status, or low prior academic performance).

The analysts use grades 3–10 data from Washington State for the 2011–12 school year. They target fourth-grade classrooms in particular, then replicate their analysis for the elementary, middle, and high school levels.

Here’s a summary of their findings: The distribution of prior-year value-added estimates for teachers of students on free and reduced-price lunch is routinely lower than the distribution for fourth graders who aren’t eligible for the lunch program. Low-income fourth graders are also more likely to have teachers who earned lower scores on the teacher licensure exam. Worse, the distribution of low-quality teachers...

For years, I worried that I was auditioning to be the Edward Gibbon of urban Catholic schooling, chronicling the decline and fall of an invaluable, sprawling institution.

Inner-city Catholic schools have long provided an incomparable education to millions of low-income kids. But a confluence of factors have caused fifty years of enrollment losses in the millions and school closures in the thousands.

Trying to draw greater attention to the issue, I’ve written blog postsop-edsmagazine piecesjournal articlescase studiesthink tank reports, and government manifestos. But the hemorrhaging continued. Every spring, another diocese would announce the shuttering of another dozen schools.

I was becoming resigned to the fact that these documents would look in hindsight like period pieces from the bygone era of urban Catholic schooling.

But this fall, two new publications will make the case that we may be on the leading edge of a renaissance of inner-city Catholic schooling. I don’t want to steal the reports’ thunder, but here’s a little foreshadowing.

These documents (I’ve co-authored both) detail a wave of Catholic education innovation and entrepreneurialism that we probably haven’t seen since the 1880s, when the nation’s Catholic bishops mandated the creation of thousands of parish schools...

Earlier this year, Forbes released a celebration of edu-wunderkinds, its “30 under 30” in education. Reading the descriptions of their innovative, tech-focused work made me feel totally old and out of touch. Though we’re separated by only 10–15 years, the gap in worldview felt enormous.

But I refuse to be put out to pasture before my fortieth birthday, so I tracked down some of this year’s selectees (and a previous winner) and asked if they’d be willing to chat. I just wanted to learn from them. The conversations were eye-opening, and I’ve been mulling over the lessons for the last few months.

But AEI recently hosted a terrific confab on K–12 entrepreneurship (short summary podcast here). The papers and panels touched on some of the issues that surfaced during my time with the “30-under-30” crew.

Since so many of us are either involved in K–12 innovations or simply trying to understand what’s going on, I thought I’d share the six biggest takeaways from my discussions with these young overachievers.

(Note: If you’re looking for gossip, a competitive advantage, or investment opportunities, this list will disappoint. I don’t name any organization or individual for three reasons. First, those I talked to were forthcoming, and I’m...

The National Bureau of Economic Research has released a working paper in a series designed to estimate the earnings returns for vocational or technical education students in California community colleges—the nation’s largest such system. While there is a large body of research pertaining to the financial returns of earning a four-year college degree, very little has been conducted on the income of technical program graduates.

Researchers tracked students through their postsecondary institutions and into the labor market between 1992 and 2011. Using administrative records from the California Community College Chancellor’s Office and California’s unemployment insurance system, they were able to match roughly 93 percent of students in the college data to earnings records. The evaluation of certificate and degree holders was divided into four categories: associates of science/arts degrees, 30–60-credit certificates, 18–30-credit certificates, and 6–18-credit certificates. They then analyzed these four groups’ returns in the six largest major employment areas: business and management, information technology, engineering and industrial technologies, healthcare, family and consumer sciences, and public protective services.

The study authors found substantial differences in financial returns for different programs—even among credentials that require the same number of credit hours—and concluded that “all CTE education programs are not equal.” The...