Flypaper

A new working paper by researchers Matthew Kraft and Allison Gilmour examines teacher evaluations reform by revisiting The Widget Effect. The widely read TNTP report found that less than 1 percent of teachers in most districts were rated as unsatisfactory—even though 81 percent of principals could identify an ineffective teacher in their school.

Kraft and colleagues looked at the distribution of teacher effectiveness in nineteen states, including fourteen Race To The Top winners. They also conducted a case study in a large urban district in the northeast that adopted new evaluations in 2012–13. The experiment included surveys of evaluators who are responsible for evaluating teachers and interviews of principals. Among the nineteen states, the analysts found that the median percentage of teachers rated below proficient was 2.7 percent. Yet the percentages rated below proficient varied across states, as do those rated above proficient.

They found a wide variation among states from Hawaii (where fewer than 1 percent of teachers were judged below proficient) to New Mexico (where 26 percent of teachers were considered not up to par). Meanwhile, Georgia rated 3 percent of teachers as above proficient, compared to 73 percent in Tennessee. Massachusetts, our highest-performing state, placed 8 percent...

  • Merryl Tisch, who is stepping down as chancellor of New York’s Board of Regents, gave a valedictory interview to the New York Times last week. As head of one of the foremost educational authorities in the state, she will principally be remembered for championing and helping implement the Common Core State Standards and a new teacher evaluation system alongside New York State Education Commissioner John King (confirmed Monday as secretary of education). Her efforts led to some necessary improvements in curriculum and instruction across the state, but they didn’t come without a backlash: Roughly one-fifth of all eligible students were kept out of the new tests by their parents last spring, and unions revolted over the Regents’ recommendation to link teacher evaluations to student scores. Now, with Governor Andrew Cuomo backing slowly away from that notion and an opt-out favorite in line to replace Tisch as chancellor, the movement for high standards looks like it’s undergoing a reset in the Empire State. It’s up to both local leaders and national reformers to make sure that new players don’t change matters for the worse.
  • You may be wondering why, after many months and approximately eight thousand primary
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Dina Brulles, Ph.D.

The goal of gifted programs should reflect that of any other educational program: to engage students with appropriately challenging curricula and instruction on a daily basis and in all relevant content areas so that they can make continual academic growth.

Over the past several years, the Paradise Valley (AZ) Unified School District has continued to expand gifted services in response to identified need. The district provides a continuum of services designed for the specific learning needs of gifted students from preschool through high school.

With a student population that is 30 percent Hispanic and 37 percent eligible for free and reduced-price lunch, Paradise Valley uses a multifaceted identification process and embeds a gifted specialist in each of the district’s elementary schools to train teachers and staff to recognize high potential. The result: 32 percent of the district’s gifted population is non-white, a doubling of this portion since 2007.

Strong gifted programs take time to develop and will change over time. Developing sustainable services requires that we continually modify our programs to respond to many factors. Educational trends, district initiatives, state policies, shifting student demographics and staffing all can significantly influence how programs develop and evolve. Embedding gifted services into what...

Nobody knows how this year’s wild presidential campaign is going to end. But one thing’s for sure: It has exposed some fundamental rifts in American society that won’t easily be resolved.

Donald Trump’s and Bernie Sanders’ populist messages have struck a chord, particularly with working-class voters. That doesn’t surprise scholars and intellectuals on the Right and Left, who have studied these issues for years and sounded the alarm about rising inequality in wages and lifestyle.

As Charles Murray put it in the Wall Street Journal, “During the past half-century of economic growth, virtually none of the benefits have gone to the working class.” Furthermore, “for someone living in a town where the big company has shut the factory and moved the jobs to China, or for a roofer who has watched a contractor hire illegal immigrants because they are cheaper, anger and frustration are rational.”

State and national leaders have warned since at least the 1980s against leaving people behind. Southern governors particularly—think Bill Clinton and Lamar Alexander, Dick Riley and George W. Bush—understood what globalization and the changing economy meant for their citizens, and they grasped the imperative of getting many more of their workers ready...

M. René Islas

Last fall, the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) published a working paper by researchers Thomas S. Dee and Hans Henrik Sieversten titled The Gift of Time? School Starting Age and Mental Health. The well-developed study quantifies the effects of predicating enrollment in formal schooling on the mental health of students. However, parents, educators, and policy makers must be careful not to over-apply these findings for children with extraordinary gifts and talents.

Dee and Sieversten use robust data and a sound statistical methodology to demonstrate that delaying entry into kindergarten results in better mental health among students in later years, particularly when it comes to self-regulation. The researchers note that improved self-regulation may serve as a leading indicator for future academic success. While this is a potentially valuable finding, we must take heed of the numerous caveats and limitations of the study. It is particularly important to be cautious when making real decisions for individual children.

The intellectual foundations for the study come from Danish National Birth Cohort (DNBC) data. The study is therefore more indicative of Danish social and educational environments. While the DNBC provides a robust trove of information, the special characteristics of the Danish setting may not...

Here’s the speech I wish Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser would give:

Our great city has a once-in-a-generation opportunity. We have the nation’s best urban superintendent. We have a very high-performing charter sector—just named the healthiest in the nation!—that now serves nearly half of the city’s kids. Our parents, kids, educators, and citizens should be proud.

But public education in our city is also facing a number of systemic challenges: DCPS asks why it can’t function with the same freedoms as the charter sector. Charters ask why DCPS doesn’t have to get an authorizer’s approval to start new schools—and why district schools aren’t held accountable like charters. DCPS says it’s unfair that it has to serve as the educator of last resort for all city kids, while charters can choose not to backfill or take mid-year transfers. Charters say it’s unfair that DCPS gets to control all of the school facilities and gets more per-pupil funding.

These challenges may seem too many and too daunting. But they’re all components of a single issue: We have two sectors, scores of operators, and hundreds of campuses, but we don’t have a comprehensive, coherent system of schools.

The good news is that we have the...

Following hard on the heels of Fordham’s own reportEvaluating the Content and Quality of Next Generation Assessments, the Center for American Progress looks at the exams offered by the PARCC and Smarter Balanced (SBAC) testing consortia and largely likes what it sees for students with special challenges.

It’s a larger population than many perhaps realize. English language learners (4.4 million) and students with disabilities (6.4 million) constitute more than 20 percent of American school enrollment. “Given these numbers, it is critical that students with disabilities and English language learners have the same opportunities as their peers to demonstrate their knowledge and skills and receive appropriate supports to meet their needs,” the report notes.

Testing “accommodations” have typically meant extra time, questions read out loud or translated into native languages, and so on. While PARCC and SBAC “improve on previous state tests in terms of quality, rigor, and alignment” (Fordham’s report reached the same overarching conclusion) they also represent a significant advance in “universal design”—a principle that considers the user with the greatest physical and cognitive need and makes it a “feature,” not a “fix.” Consider the authors’ example of sidewalk “curb cuts.” Designed to make sidewalks wheelchair accessible, they ended up...

A new report by the National Charter School Resource Center examines the unique position of rural charter schools across America.

Citing a lack of research on the subject, as well as the demand for more examples of successful practice, the authors identify some of the unique difficulties that rural charter schools face: attracting and holding onto diverse local talent, paying to transport students over large distances, and maintaining and securing school facilities.

These challenges are often more acute for rural charter schools than their urban counterparts. There are hidden costs to teachers living and working in rural areas, such as a lack of suitable housing, professional growth opportunities, and good transportation. Providing transportation to students in areas with few alternative options may be prohibitively expensive. Simply locating appropriate buildings in which to operate a charter school is usually easier in an urban environment, where disused structures are more frequently available. When rural charters need to construct their own, costs rise exponentially.

Using examples in five states, the authors showcase a handful of rural charters that have overcome this adversity by using their position to their advantage.

  • Having struggled to retain good staff, the remote Upper Carmen Charter School in Idaho
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Recently, the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) released a list of recommendations for states and local education agencies to use as a guide for designing and reforming teacher support and evaluation systems. The recently passed ESSA removes the federal waiver requirement for teacher evaluations, but most states have remained committed. And CCSSO’s guiding principles offer a solid foundation on which state and local authorities can refine their evaluation structures and teacher support systems to ensure a “productive balance” between support and accountability.

CCSSO worked alongside teachers, principals, state chiefs, expert researchers, and partner organizations to develop three key principles. The first highlights the importance of integrating teacher support and evaluation into more comprehensive efforts to develop teaching practice and improve student learning. This includes regularly communicating the purpose of evaluation and support systems; building systems that are based on clearly articulated standards for effective practice; connecting evaluation and support to talent management and using results to inform decisions related to career advancement, leadership opportunities, and tenure; aligning teacher support and evaluation to student standards, curricula, and assessment; and clarifying the roles and responsibilities of states, districts, and schools. States play the largest role in making the system work because,...

When the history of this era’s urban-education reform movement is written, four big policy innovations are sure to get attention: the nation’s first voucher program, first charter law, first mayor-controlled charter authorizer, and first “extraordinary authority” unit (the RSD).

The people mostly responsible for these have two important things in common.

First, unless you’re an old hand in this business, you may not know of them.

Second—Polly Williams, Ember Reichgott Junge, Teresa Lubbers, Leslie Jacobs—they’re all women.

Unfortunately, those two facts are probably related.

Much has been written recently about the social forces pushing women below the radar in professional settings. In an excellent NYT piece, “Speaking While Female,” Sheryl Sandberg (Lean In) and Adam Grant (a Wharton professor) argue that “speaking up” at work generally helps men but not women.

“When a woman speaks in a professional setting,” they write, “she walks a tightrope. Either she’s barely heard or she’s...

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