Flypaper

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 judged as too aggressive. When a man says virtually the same thing, heads nod in appreciation for his fine idea. As a result, women often decide that saying less is more.”

This is a prevalent theme in the much-referenced Talking from 9 to 5: Women...

A vast amount of contemporary education policy attention and education reform energy has been lavished on the task of defining and gauging “college readiness” and then taking steps to align K–12 outcomes more closely with it. The ultimate goal is to prepare many more young people to complete high school having been properly prepared for “college-level” work.

The entire Common Core edifice—and the assessments, cut scores, and accountability arrangements built atop it—presupposes that “college-ready” has the same definition that it has long enjoyed: students prepared to succeed, upon arrival at the ivied gates, in credit-bearing college courses that they go right into without needing first to subject themselves to “remediation” (now sometimes euphemized as “developmental education”).

But this goes way beyond Common Core. Advanced Placement courses also rest on the understanding that an “introductory college-level course” in a given subject has a certain set meaning and fixed standards. The people at ACT, the College Board, and NAGB have sweat bullets developing metrics that gauge what a twelfth grader must know and be able to do in order to be truly college-ready—again, in the sense of having solid prospects of succeeding in credit-bearing college courses in one subject or another.

Lying behind all this are a thousand sad sagas of students who complete high school near the top of their class, having met all graduation requirements and gotten good grades, only to discover upon arrival in college—even community college—that they are not prepared to succeed in credit-bearing courses. (That’s...

The New York Times’s Nicholas Kristof argued in his column yesterday that the “low-hanging fruit” of K–12 education reform has already been picked and that we should shift some of our energy to early interventions instead. He’s not wrong about ed reform, but I’m less convinced that pre-school and other early interventions are “low-hanging fruit.” It’s no easier to ensure quality and effectiveness in the early years than it is in elementary and secondary education. Plus, establishing new, sweeping pre-K programs is expensive, making it a heavy lift politically.

But the least convincing part of the argument for early interventions is the notion that well-designed programs can ameliorate the enormous opportunity gaps that open up between rich and poor children before they are even born.

Regular Flypaper readers know that I’ve spent the last two years digging into the anti-poverty research and working on a book related to our “Education for Upward Mobility” conference. And like many Americans, I’ve been captivated (and sobered) by recent important books on inequality and mobility, including Robert Putnam’s Our Kids, Isabel Sawhill’s Generation Unbound, Kathryn Edin’s Promises I Can Keep and Doing the Best I Can, and Charles Murray’s Coming Apart. The story they all tell is about inequality in American childhood experiences that is virtually unprecedented in our history.

On the one hand, we see affluent, college-educated, professional young adults choosing to delay parenthood until after their educations are finished, their careers...

Since its passage in 1974, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) has struck a careful and reasonable balance between the privacy of students and families and the need for timely and accurate information on the state of U.S. schools and school systems. But a provision in the FERPA overhaul “discussion draft” currently being circulated by Republican John Kline and Democrat Robert Scott threatens to upset this balance by giving parents the right to “opt out” of data-sharing agreements with “organizations conducting studies for, or on behalf of, educational agencies or institutions,” which are currently exempt from FERPA’s general prohibition on the sharing of personally identifiable information.

As written, this provision would do serious harm to efforts to evaluate and study existing education programs, because its widespread use would degrade the quality of the data on which many evaluations and studies are based. This would be a huge problem, especially if there were significant differences between students whose families chose to opt out and the broader student population (which there almost certainly would be). Such differences could (and likely would) bias the results of future studies that rely on education data, especially those seeking to understand the performance of students over time by linking data from different systems.

This isn’t just about the convenience of academics in universities, think tanks, and research firms. It’s actively menacing to the country’s ability to know things like:

How well are public schools preparing students for college and the workforce?

Why...

If you count Democrat Lincoln Chafee, five hopefuls have now declared their candidacy for the 2016 presidential election. The forthcoming nineteen months promise to bring scandals, flip-flops, attack ads, and a whole bunch of memes. So in anticipation of all that fun, let’s see where the candidates stand on the biggest issues in education today by looking at what they’ve said in the past.

As each contender throws his or her hat in the ring, I’ll publish a collection of their quotes about education. Some will be recent—but if a candidate hasn’t said anything about an issue in eight years, well, they may be a little more dated. But that has its uses, too; silence can speak volumes.

So without further ado, let’s start with the biggest name in the race: Hillary Rodham Clinton. Earlier this month, Clinton held a sixty-minute education roundtable at which she spoke with a handful of educators and students at an Iowa community college. Due to the format, there wasn’t a lot of stance-taking on the issues, but she did discuss a few noteworthy topics, including the Common Core:

1. Common Core: “The really unfortunate argument that's been going on around Common Core, it’s very painful because the Common Core started off as a bipartisan effort. It was actually nonpartisan. It wasn’t politicized....Iowa has had a testing system based on a core curriculum for a really long time. And [speaking to Iowans] you see the...

The Brookings Institution has come to its senses and found a splendid way to retain Russ Whitehurst on its senior research team. Having cut my own policy-research teeth at Brookings (back in the late Middle Ages), I was doubly dismayed—and said so—when I read a few weeks back that they were seeking a replacement to head the Brown Center, which Russ has led with huge distinction and productivity these past six years. What a terrible move it would have been to let him leave. Well, after much clanking of gears, he's not leaving after all. He's switching from one Brookings "department" to another, and will henceforth be a force to be reckoned with in their highly regarded Center on Children and Families, located within the Institution’s "economic studies" section. The education research and policy world benefits hugely from Whitehurst's continuation at Brookings. Hurrah for this happy outcome for all concerned (except the diminished Brown Center).

If you’re an aficionado of the Education Gadfly, there’s a fair chance you’ve read or heard me discussing my new book, The Cage-Busting Teacher.  It’s written wholly for educators and fueled by interviews and discussions with hundreds of teacher-leaders. In it, I observe that even terrific teachers routinely say they feel stymied, offer insights on how teachers can create the schools and systems where they can do their best work, and explain where practitioners tend to stumble on this count.

But what about policymakers and reformers? What does The Cage-Busting Teacher mean for them? How can they create the conditions whereby cage-busting teachers can thrive? Let me offer four suggestions.

First, policymakers and reformers need to keep in mind that they’re not the ones who educate kids. Heck, they’re only occasionally in classrooms—and they’re not the ones held accountable for how students are faring. From the teacher’s perspective, they—we—are backseat drivers. Everybody gets frustrated by backseat drivers, even when they have good advice to offer. Passengers can carefully study the GPS or old-fashioned roadmap while the driver focuses on the road. They can see signs that the driver missed, maybe even the truck out front making an unexpectedly fast stop.  But backseat drivers need to remember all the stuff they’re not dealing with...because they’re not actually driving. It’s one thing to offer alternate routes or constructive feedback; it’s another to ding the driver for being lazy or irresponsible from the comfort of the backseat. Yet that’s how the rhetoric of reformers and the proposals of policymakers...

Everyone knows that impenetrable jargon is to the education community what sputtering indignation is to Twitter: both irritating and contagious. When teachers and administrators hold forth on the importance of psychometrics and normed modality processing, it emboldens the rest of us to test our comfort with stackable credentials and mastery-based learning. And in the midst of this morass of deliberate obscurantism, a term like “career-ready” should seem like a godsend. But as this new brief from ACT, Inc. reminds us, there are important nuances to even the most outwardly simple concepts.

Nearly ten years ago, the organization released Ready for College and Ready for Work: Same or Different?, a similar publication that made the case for equivalently rigorous education for all high school graduates, regardless of whether they matriculate into colleges or head directly for the workplace. As the authors of Unpacking “Career Readiness” note, the earlier brief “described college and career readiness in terms of benchmarks focusing solely on academic assessments and the level of education…required for success in postsecondary education or targeted workforce training.” They concede, though, that subsequent research “has clearly established the value of additional areas of competency that are important for both college and career readiness and success.”

Those unexplored areas fall largely into the realm of what are now commonly called “non-cognitive” abilities—habits of mind and behavior like stress management, cooperation, critical thinking, and adaptability, which contribute greatly to success in the professional world. ACT divides these skills into four categories and...

After the expectations-busting success of Cage-Busting Leadership two years ago, it’s no surprise that Rick Hess, head of the American Enterprise Institute’s education policy shop, is back with a sequel. The Cage-Busting Teacher has an arguably tougher goal than its predecessor, as there are millions more teachers than district leaders, and thousands more bars in teachers’ cages. Hess’s advice provides a road map for ambitious teachers. But his acknowledgement of critical, systemic issues highlights the fact that teachers can’t—and shouldn’t—have to go at it alone.

The book uses real-life anecdotes, peppered with references to everything from Say Anything to Aaron Sorkin, to illustrate cage busting and urge educators to take an active role in reforming the system to work for them. It’s an eminently readable work with deeply practical advice. Chapters focus on “managing up” with overworked administrators; identifying problems and selling solutions; becoming a savvy networker with district, union, and political leadership; and explaining common trip wires, like budgets and the policy cycle, in plainspoken English. High-placed leaders from TFA to the AFT weigh in on how teachers can develop greater agency and autonomy within the profession. As a former teacher who struggled with finding both during my two years in the classroom—damage from an earthquake actually closed my school at one point, which is only the most dramatic illustration of how little control I felt I had—I can attest that there’s certainly a ready audience.

But in keeping with Hess’s use of pop culture, I have to mention...

Greg Toppo

Note: On Tuesday, April 28, from 4:30 to 6:00 p.m. ET, the Fordham Institute will host a discussion with Greg Toppo on his new book, The Game Believes in You, from which this essay is adapted. See our event page for more information and to register. All are invited to stay for a small reception following the event.

After decades of ambivalence, suspicion, and sometimes outright hostility, educators are beginning to discover the charms of digital games and simulations, in the process rewriting centuries-old rules of learning, motivation, and success.

Teachers have long used cards, dice, pencil-and-paper games, and board games to teach and reinforce key concepts. But digital technology, and games in particular, go even further. Because games look so little like school, they force us to reconsider our most basic assumptions about how children learn: What is school for and what should students do there? Where should kids get their content and how? How important is it that they like what they’re doing? What is our tolerance for failure and what is our standard for success? Who is in control here?

Even the electronic versions of games have a history dating back two generations. The eighth graders who shot buffalo in the first rudimentary version of The Oregon Trail—on a teletype in a Minneapolis classroom in 1971—are now old enough to be grandparents. The movement’s de facto vision statement emerged exactly twenty-five years ago, when an eight-year-old boy in an after-school program at MIT’s Media...

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