Flypaper

After roughly a year of presidential politicking during which education has been given short shrift, two primary debates over the past few days have restored the issue to news cycle relevance. Both were held in troubled Michigan cities in advance of today’s crucial primary. It’s not clear what about the state suddenly brought public focus back to K–12 schooling, but there’s undeniably something in the water.

During last Thursday night’s Republican conclave in Detroit, Fox moderator Megyn Kelly asked John Kasich the first substantive question on education posed to any GOP candidate in over half a year. (Jeb Bush was queried on Common Core at the very first debate, held in August.) The Motor City’s schools are burdened with billions in debt, Kelly said, and kids are often forced to study in filthy, unsafe classrooms. Should the next president intervene with a windfall of federal cash, as the present one did with the auto industry?

It’s to Kasich’s credit that he gave a reasonably germane and detailed answer, especially given the rhetorical bloodbath being waged to his right. The governor drew a comparison between Detroit’s public schools and those in Cleveland, a similarly blighted district that has made some strides during his time...

I have no idea if Lin-Manuel Miranda has read Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me; nor am I aware if Coates has seen Miranda’s Hamilton on Broadway. But it would be fascinating to listen to the two of them discuss each other’s work and their views on what it means to be young, brown, and American today.

All of us who work in classrooms with children of color would be richer if we could eavesdrop on such an exchange.

The parallels are striking. Both are young men of color who have created two of the most praised and dissected cultural works of the moment. Both were recent and richly deserving Macarthur Foundation “Genius Grant” recipients. Each turns his creative lens on our nation. But their respective visions of America, signaled through their work, could scarcely be more different.

We can be a bit promiscuous in our use of the word “genius,” but if it applies to anyone, it’s Lin-Manuel Miranda. Anyone who can read, as he did, Ron Chernow’s seven-hundred-page doorstop biography of Alexander Hamilton and think “Hip hop musical!” has a mind like few others.

But where Miranda’s genius burns bright, Coates’s burns hot. He is, by a...

Editor’s note: This is the last in a series of blog posts that takes a closer look at the findings and implications of Evaluating the Content and Quality of Next Generation Assessments, Fordham’s new first-of-its-kind report. The prior five posts can be read here, here, herehere, and here.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been twenty-two months (!) since I first talked with folks at Fordham about doing a study of several new “Common Core-aligned” assessments. I believed then, and I still believe now, that this is incredibly important work. State policy makers need good evidence about the content and quality of these new tests, and to date, that evidence has been lacking. While our study is not perfect, it provides the most comprehensive and complete look yet available. It is my fervent hope that policy makers will heed these results. My ideal would be for states to simply adopt multi-state tests that save them effort (and probably money) and promote higher-quality standards implementation. The alternative, as many states have done, is to go it alone. Regardless of the approach, states should at least use the results of this study and other recent and forthcoming investigations of test quality...

Editor’s note: This is the fifth in a series of blog posts that takes a closer look at the findings and implications of Evaluating the Content and Quality of Next Generation Assessments, Fordham’s new first-of-its-kind report. The prior four posts can be read here, here, here, and here.

When one of us was enrolled in a teacher education program umpteen years ago, one of the first things we were taught was how to use Bloom’s taxonomy. Originally developed in 1956, it is a well-known framework that delineates six increasingly complex levels of understanding: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. More recently—and to the consternation of some—Bloom’s taxonomy has been updated. But the idea that suitably addressing various queries and tasks requires more or less brainpower is an enduring truth (well sort of).  

So it is no surprise that educators care about the “depth of knowledge” (DOK) (also called “cognitive demand”) required of students. Commonly defined as the “type of thinking required by students to solve a task,” DOK has become a proxy for rigor even though it concerns content complexity rather than difficulty. A clarifying example: A student may not have seen a...

A new joint study from the University of Kentucky and Indiana University examines the potential effects of exclusionary school discipline polices—particularly school suspensions—on racial differences in reading and math achievement.

They use a hierarchical and longitudinal dataset drawn from the Kentucky School Discipline Study (KSDS) to create a final sample of 16,248 students drawn from grades 6–10 across seventeen different public schools with a demographic roughly representative of the southeastern United States. Data was collected over a three-year period between August 2008 and June 2011. Authors controlled for school-level variables (within-school variation on percent minority, percent free and reduced-price lunch, percent in special education, expenditures per student, school size, and total number of disciplinary offenses committed in a school in a given year), as well as student and non-school factors (race, socioeconomic status, the neighborhood in which the school is located, and a student’s likelihood of suspension).

They found that black students were nearly six times more likely to be suspended than whites, while other ethnic and racial minorities were over two times more likely. Schools with larger concentrations of black students had significantly higher rates of out-of-school suspension, while students who have been suspended in a given year scored...

America’s schools are staffed disproportionally by white (and mostly female) teachers. Increasing attention has been paid to the underrepresentation of teachers of color in American classrooms, with research examining its impact on expectations for students, referral rates for gifted programs, and even student achievement. This paper by American University’s Stephen Holt and Seth Gershenson adds valuable evidence to the discussion by measuring the impact of “student-teacher demographic mismatch”—being taught by a teacher of a different race—on student absences and suspensions.

The study uses student-level longitudinal data for over one million North Carolina students from kindergarten through fifth grade between the years 2006 and 2010. The researchers simultaneously controlled for student characteristics (e.g., gender, prior achievement) and classroom variables (e.g., teacher’s experience, class size, enrollment, etc.), noting that certain types of regression analysis are “very likely biased by unobserved factors that jointly determine assignment to an other-race teacher.” For example, parental motivation probably influences both student attendance and classroom assignments. The researchers conducted a variety of statistical sorting tests and concluded that there was no evidence of sorting on the variables they could observe, and likely none occurring on unobservable dimensions either. All of which is to say that students’...

A new set of four studies conducted by Pat Wolf and colleagues evaluate various aspects of the Louisiana Scholarship Program. The program, it’s important to note, prohibits participating schools from using their normal selective admissions process for their voucher kids and also mandates that they administer the state test, among other requirements.

The first study examines how the scholarships affect student achievement. It focuses on the 2012–13 applicant cohort, including those who took state tests in grades 3–6 in school year 2011–12. This provides student baseline scores for kids before entering the program. Students who applied to oversubscribed schools were randomly chosen to receive scholarships. The study found that the voucher program had a negative impact on participating students’ achievement in the first two years of operations, most clearly in math. Specifically, a voucher user who was performing at the fiftieth percentile at baseline fell twenty-four percentile points below their control group peers in math after one year. By year two, however, they were thirteen percentile points below, so at least they were on the upswing. (The results for reading impact can’t be presented with confidence.)

The second study measured the impact of the voucher programs on non-cognitive skills like...

Peter Sipe

One of my favorite pieces of writing is four sentences long. It’s the statement General Dwight Eisenhower drafted in the event D-Day ended in defeat:

Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air, and the Navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.

This noble declaration came to mind as I studied for the exams to become an elementary teacher in Massachusetts. I wondered how I should explain if I did not pass. And I still do, because I won’t learn until March 18.

You may be wondering how delusional one must be to compare failing a test to failing to liberate Western Europe. I think what you’re really asking, though, is an estimation question, and the answer would be best expressed using scientific notation. Hitting the books has hugely improved my math skills, you see.

Having been credentialed as an elementary teacher already—years ago, in a neighboring state I will identify only...

Lisa Hansel

Last week, we encouraged state policy makers and educators to rethink what it takes to develop strong readers and the signals sent to schools by accountability measures. The bottom line: reading comprehension is a slow-growing plant, and the demand for rapid results on annual tests may be encouraging poor classroom practice—giving kids a sugar rush of test preparation, skills, and strategies when a well-rounded diet of knowledge and vocabulary is what’s really needed to grow good readers. Assessment and evaluation policy must ensure that these long-term investments in the building blocks of language growth are rewarded, not punished. Under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), states have the opportunity to do exactly that.

States also have the freedom to rethink teacher accountability. Because broad, general knowledge builds broad, general reading comprehension ability, school-wide accountability for reading makes far more sense than individual teacher accountability. Every school subject builds the knowledge base that contributes to a child’s reading comprehension ability (you need to know some science to make sense of a science text; history to make sense of a history text, etc.).

Take the comparatively simple task of teaching students to decode. At a minimum, it requires K–2 teachers. For...

If you’re at all interested in Washington, D.C. schools, you should read this excellent report by David Osborne. It serves as a quick and comprehensive history lesson on the city’s last two decades of reform. It also offers valuable analysis of the current state of play and makes a compelling argument about why things landed where they did.

But I think the report’s most valuable contribution is the implicit question it raises about the future. That question—related to the evolution of urban K–12 systems with district and non-district charter sectors—is being faced by cities from coast to coast. How the District (and other places) answers it will shape the next decade of urban school reform. In fact, because of D.C.’s work over the last twenty years and its strong leadership today, it could become the nation’s most important city for systemic reform.

Much of the report proceeds chronologically. If you know nothing about the recent history of D.C. schools, this is a great primer. But even if you’re familiar with the city, you’ll gain a new appreciation for how events and initiatives built on one another. There are many interrelated storylines: turnover in city government, shifting demographics, the creation of...

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