Flypaper

The latest SAT scores are out today, and as I remarked to Nick Anderson at the Washington Post, education reform appears to be hitting a wall in high school.

In truth, we already knew this. The SATs aren’t even the best gauge—not all students take them, and those who do are hardly representative.

But a variety of sources show much the same thing. Twelfth-grade NAEP: Flat. Long-term NAEP for seventeen-year-olds: Flat. ACT scores: Flat. Percentage of college-ready graduates: Flat.

What makes this so disappointing is that NAEP shows respectable gains for younger students, especially in fourth grade and particularly in math. Yet these early gains seem to evaporate as kids get older.

Here’s what that looks like using data from the long-term trend NAEP for three recent student cohorts. Progress at ages nine and thirteen hasn’t translated into progress at age seventeen.

*Note: This shows, for example, that when members of the graduating high school class of 2004 were nine years old (in 1996), they scored 231 on the long-term trend NAEP. Since there was no testing in 2000, I...

A new analysis from Matthew A. Kraft at Brown University links the characteristics of laid-off teachers to changes in student achievement. The analysis was conducted in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS), which laid off just over a thousand teachers as a result of the Great Recession in 2009 and 2010. Since North Carolina is one of five states where collective bargaining is illegal, a discretionary layoff policy was used rather than the more common “last-hired, first-fired” (sometimes referred to as LIFO—last in, first out) method. CMS identified candidates for layoffs based on five general criteria: duplicative positions, enrollment trends, job performance, job qualifications, and length of service.

Kraft estimates the effects of these layoffs on student achievement by using both principal observation scores (which directly informed layoffs) and value-added scores (which were not used to make layoff decisions). This enabled him to compare the impact of a teacher layoff based on subjective and objective measures of effectiveness. The good news for CMS students is that, overall, laid-off teachers received lower observation scores from principals and had lower value-added scores in math and reading compared to their counterparts who weren’t laid off. Kraft found that math achievement in grades that lost an...

A new working paper by American University public policy professor Seth Gershenson examines whether a “match” of students and teachers by race has any effect on teacher expectations of students. What is the result, for example, of white instructors teaching black students versus white students? What about other racial combinations?

Gershenson used nationally representative survey data from the Educational Longitudinal Study of 2002 (ELS) for U.S. students who were in tenth grade in 2002. There were over sixteen thousand student-teacher matches, which included various demographic data about the students and teachers. And each student’s tenth-grade math and English teachers reported their expectations for that student’s educational attainment, with possible responses ranging from those not finishing high school to those completing a four-year degree.

To ensure that any differences were systematic rather than random—which would suggest that teacher beliefs are at least partly explained by student demographics—Gershenon designed his study carefully. For example, he made use of various demographic variables to rule out systematic sorting (whereby, for instance, low-ability math students may be routinely assigned to white math teachers). The ELS administration was also set up so that a student’s two teachers offer their assessments at the same point in time....

Most of the sturm und drang over Common Core has centered on the politics of the standards’ creation and adoption. The bigger problem—much bigger—was always going to be implementation. This new brief from the Education Trust offers a glimpse of how it’s going. Alas, the answer is not very well.

An analysis of middle school classroom assignments finds that most “do not reflect the high-level goals” set by Common Core. This, the report suggests, demonstrates where teachers are in their understanding of the higher standards. Among the sobering data points: A mere 6 percent of the assignment fell into the high range of Education Trust’s analysis framework, and fewer than 40 percent of assignments were aligned with grade-appropriate standards at all. “It’s time for an honest conversation about where we are in implementing the standards,” the report concludes.

Hear, hear—but some important caveats must be noted. The study was conducted at six middle schools spread across two urban districts in two states. Given Education Trust’s focus on equity and the achievement gap, this is not surprising; however, it may not be representative of K–12 education at large. It’s also interesting that more than half of the assignments reviewed came from...

A school district should never go broke. But unfortunately, they can, and do. Take Pennsylvania’s beleaguered Chester Upland School District. Teachers will once again work for free as the district faces a $22 million deficit, which the Washington Post reports could grow to $46 million. The district of approximately three thousand students was first tagged as “financially distressed” in 1994, and since then, its enrollment has declined by nearly 60 percent even as special education costs have risen substantially. Neither of these developments came as a surprise. Yet the district still overspent its coffers by $45 million between 2003 and 2012, despite millions in few-strings-attached bailouts by the state over the same period. In 2012, Chester Upland ran out of money completely and the teachers agreed to work without pay; that same year, the state finally enacted legislation to do something other than hand out more cash. Under Act 141, the state could declare small districts in financial distress, allow them to apply for loans, and appoint a chief recovery officer (CRO) to oversee finances.

Since 2010, Chester Upland has received $75 million (an enormous sum, considering that its yearly budget is...

The tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina provided a much-needed occasion to reflect on the progress of the city’s schools since the floodwaters receded. One of the most important questions is whether New Orleans can stand as a national model for those seeking to transform the education—and therefore the life outcomes—of low-income children of color. I’m not completely sold yet.

In the wake of the storm, New Orleans’s education system was rebuilt virtually from scratch. More than one hundred low-performing schools were placed under the jurisdiction of Louisiana’s Recovery School District (RSD), which was created in 2003 to take over and reverse the fortunes of chronically disappointing public schools throughout the state. At a stroke, the city’s public school system was functionally transformed; today it’s a virtually all-charter “replacement district.” More than 90 percent of New Orleans public school students attend a charter school, with the RSD overseeing 70 percent of the city’s overall K–12 student population.

When reform-friendly commenters and cheerleading journalists write about the NOLA transformation, it’s become de rigueur to offer a standard qualifier--words to the effect of, “We still have a long way to go, but…” In this formulation, poor...

Kim Davis, the Rowan (Kentucky) County clerk, is in the spotlight this week for ignoring a federal judge’s order to issue marriage licenses to gay couples seeking to wed. She claims that doing so would violate her Christian faith and her religious liberties. On Tuesday, she added that she was acting “under God’s authority.”

You don’t have to be a Constitutional scholar to know that her legal argument has no merit. As a public official, she took an oath to follow the rule of law. If she believes that doing so would conflict with her religious beliefs, then she should do the honorable thing and resign.

This episode goes far beyond the gay marriage debate, though. It brings to mind another class of public employees: educators. Must they always follow the rule of law—even when it conflicts with their personal beliefs, religious or otherwise? In a system that is overly rule-bound, bureaucratic, and politicized, where is the line between “cage busting” and law breaking? And does it matter that they are government employees instead of elected officials?

Sometimes the answers are clear and straightforward. For instance: Public school science teachers should teach what’s in...

In the CRPE debate between Paul Hill and Robin Lake on the issue of charter back-fill, Paul's right. Robin, as always, makes excellent points and raises legitimate concerns. But in the grand trade-off they're debating—whether "high-output" charters should be able to be choosy about which kids they retain and what they do with vacancies that arise during the year—Paul makes the more persuasive argument, at least when judged by what's good for the kids who stand to benefit most from these schools. If we keep their interests squarely in front of us, we must wind up agreeing with Paul: "When drawing from a highly at-risk population, it is not easy to identify kids who will do the work a priori. It’s one thing for a student and family to promise daily attendance and completion of all assignments, but quite another to deliver. A high-output school has to let those kids who won’t fulfill their obligations go elsewhere, unless it is willing to abandon requirements that it considers essential to full college preparation. It should be free to fill seats that become vacant with kids who have a good chance of succeeding in the school, but shouldn’t be forced to fill vacancies."...

In most states, only math and reading teachers in grades 4–8 receive evaluations based on value-added test results. For all other teachers, it’s on to Plan B. To evaluate these teachers, many districts are using alternative measures of student growth, which include vendor assessments (commercial, non-state exams) and student learning objectives (SLOs, or teacher-designed goals for learning). But how are these alternative measures being administered? What are their pros and cons? The research on this issue is terribly thin, but a new study from the Institute of Education Sciences casts an intriguing ray of light. Through in-depth interviews, the researchers elicited information on how eight mid-Atlantic districts (unnamed) are implementing alternative measures.

Here are the study’s four key takeaways: First, educators considered vendor assessments (with results analyzed through a form of value-added modelling) to be a fairer and more rigorous evaluation method than SLOs. Second, both alternative measures yielded greater variation in teacher performance than observational methods alone. Third, implementing SLOs in a consistent and rigorous manner was extremely difficult. In fact, the authors write, “All types of stakeholders expressed concern about the potential for some teachers to ‘game the system’ by setting easily attainable goals.” Fourth,...

Here’s a line that deserves to be committed to memory by all who would seek to improve literacy outcomes for children. Maybe it should be tattooed onto our flesh: 

“One striking fact is that the complex world of education—unlike defense, health care, or industrial production—does not rest on a strong research base. In no other field are personal experience and ideology so frequently relied on to make policy choices.”

That excellent observation, from a 1999 National Research Council paper, is quoted in this report from the Alliance for Excellent Education, The Next Chapter: Supporting Literacy Within ESEA. Author Mariana Haynes laments that literacy instruction in our schools “is not grounded in the science of reading development and learning.”  Another “striking fact” is that the Alliance’s report itself overlooks a great, glaring chunk of that science itself in making an otherwise unimpeachable case for research-based reading instruction. Writing in the Core Knowledge Blog, Lisa Hansel rightly observed that the report ignores the need for building broad academic knowledge across the curriculum as a means of raising reading achievement. “Like almost all discussions of literacy, the focus is on literacy instruction and reading and writing skills,” Hansel lamented. “If...

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