Flypaper

I had an economics professor in grad school who told us that every civilized household should use the most recent edition of the “Statistical Abstract of the United States” as a coffee table book.

For one hundred thirty years, the “Stat Ab” has been was an annual federal publication packed to the rafters with data: page after page of data tables on every imaginable aspect of our lives—demographics, jobs, transportation, health, agriculture, the military, and more.

When our class laughed at the idea of replacing a book of Ansel Adams’s photos with one that included “Table 925. Energy Supply and Disposition by Type of Fuel,” our professor excitedly (and without irony) replied, “But there’s just so much you can learn from these numbers!”

The same could be said of the “2015 Condition of Education” recently published by the National Center for Education Statistics. For years, Congress has required this federal agency to annually produce a report on the state of U.S. schools. If it were up to me, it would be mandatory professional development for everyone working in K–12 to spend ninety minutes with this report.

We should all stay up to speed with the...

Ashley LiBetti Mitchel

As my colleague Sara Mead has written, we recently completed an analysis of state policies that affect charter/pre-K collaboration. In the analysis, we tried to figure out what a charter school would need to do and know in order to access state pre-K funds. In each state, we ask: Can charter schools offer state-funded pre-K? What’s the process for doing so? And how many charter schools serve preschoolers?

We used this information to rank states based on how hospitable an environment they offer for charter schools seeking to serve preschoolers. There are a few states where it is relatively easy for charters to offer pre-K. Washington, D.C. and Oklahoma top our list, with Wisconsin and Texas close behind. In these states, charter schools are one option in a network of diverse pre-K providers.

But in a majority of states, charter schools face numerous barriers to offering pre-K. Lots of these barriers are common across states, while others are unique to particular states. For example, low pre-K funding (less than 75 percent of what charters receive to serve K–12 students) creates a disincentive to offering pre-K in twenty-two states (and affects all potential providers, not just charter schools).

Nine states...

Jack McCarthy

Sara Mead and Ashley LiBetti Mitchel have done a great public service by providing a detailed study of how the early care and K–12 education policy landscape creates barriers to collaboration. It is good to see the Thomas B. Fordham Institute focusing its considerable knowledge and prestige on thinking about this opportunity.

From the perspective of someone who has been involved with charter schools since 1993, adding preschool and pre-kindergarten arrows to the education reform quiver has been a no-brainer since 2005. That was the year we launched AppleTree Early Learning Public Charter School in Washington, D.C.

The science behind early learning is clear and compelling. With growing numbers of children living in poverty-stricken and fragmented family households, the need is clear and compelling too.

Resources are already being invested. By some estimates, federal, state, and local governments (as well as corporations and individuals) spend $70 billion each year on myriad programs for early care and education. But as the study illustrates, the sector is highly fragmented, lacks quality, and is not connected to K–12 education in any meaningful way. Few states currently even offer full-day kindergarten.

What's most lacking is a clear, compelling goal, so let me suggest one: We must...

Last week, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute released a new report authored by my colleague Ashley LiBetti Mitchel and me on charter schools and pre-K. Ashley’s going to be sharing more about the report later today, but I wanted to answer some questions that came up a lot in our research: Why should charter schools be able to offer pre-K? And why should we care?  There are several reasons: 

  1. Supply. Even if universal pre-K (or even universal pre-K for poor kids) were fully funded today, we wouldn’t have enough high-quality providers to serve all kids. The challenges that New York City is facing as it expands access offer a case in point here. Getting great pre-K to all the kids who need it will require growing the supply of great providers. Charter schools are one potential source of this supply.
  2. Diversity. Both the charter movement and most state pre-K programs recognize that there is value in a diversity of providers that can offer different models and services to meet the needs of kids and families. In K–12, the charter sector has helped make new types of options, such as Montessori, Core Knowledge, or Dual Language schools, available to families who value them. Including
  3. ...

As everyone knows, the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education act is closer to the finish line now than at any time in the past eight years. (The law was due for an update in 2007—soon after NASA sent New Horizons to Pluto. That was a long time ago.)

For a great overview of where things stand, it’s hard to beat this excellent rundown by Alyson Klein of Politics K-12. But that won’t stop me from trotting out my ever-so-popular color-coded table. (Previous editions here, here, and here.)

The items that are “up in the air” are those that the Senate, House, and Obama administration will wrangle over in conference.

A few caveats: First, some of these provisions aren’t in current law—some were in the stimulus bill (like Race to the Top), some are in Arne Duncan’s conditional waivers (like teacher evaluations), and some are in one of the bills passed this month (like Title I portability). Second, the administration may very well try to add more items to the “up in the air” column in conference. For instance, it might try to save Race to...

Tim Scott

Editor’s note: Last week, Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) sponsored an amendment that would have allowed Title I dollars to follow low-income children to the schools of their choice. It failed, 45–51. Still, we found his speech to be a particularly eloquent case for school choice generally. The transcript from the Congressional Record follows; we recommend watching it as well.

Mr. President, I rise today regarding my amendment No. 2132, specifically targeting an opportunity to improve education for those kids attending Title I schools. This is a portability amendment. As we debate this Education bill, we must ensure our focus is in the right place. Education policy is not about protecting a bureaucracy, it should not be about empowering Washington, and it cannot be about an endless, fruitless push for some sort of one-size-fits-all type of system. This conversation must be about kids—5-year-olds and 15-year-olds—and their unlimited potential.

I believe without question that each and every child has within them a reservoir of potential. We should make sure that the access to experiencing the fullness of their potential is available to all Americans throughout this country. Too many of our Nation’s children...

Chris Barbic

Editor’s note: Chris Barbic announced today his decision to step down as the head of Tennessee’s Achievement School District, a position he has held since 2011. Under his leadership, the Achievement School District has shown great promise, as described in two Fordham Institute reports by Nelson Smith. He released a public letter to explain his decision and offer a number of lessons he learned during his tenure. Those lessons are what follow, in Chris’s own words.

We do far better when we trust our teachers and school leaders. In the ASD, we trust educators by giving them the power to make the decisions that matter most in schools—staffing, program, budget, and time. They are the ones—not I or any “central” administrator—making things happen in schools, and with the right structure in place, this cycle of fast learning and educator-led decision-making will continue. By removing the bureaucracy—and putting the power in the hands of nonprofit school operators—we can eliminate the vicious cycle of the hard-charging superintendent needing to “reform” a central office once every three years.

Autonomy cannot outpace talent. All of our schools in the ASD are given autonomy. The difference between the high performers...

Massachusetts and Ohio: Study in contrasts, am I right? One gave the country its handsomest president; the other birthed its most corpulent. One is a mecca for athletics, home to storied franchises that have piled on championships over the course of decades; the other’s teams have known defeat so cruel and so persistent that many suspect the influence of a wrathful deity. One has been the setting of cherished cultural touchstones of television and film; the other is not so much like that. (What’s that? I’m from Boston, why do you ask?)

But when it comes to education, the two have more in common that you might imagine. Last week, Achieve released detailed profiles of each state’s career and technical education (CTE) programs. The reports arrive at a turning point in the history of workforce training, as noted policy commentators are beginning to embrace vocational instruction as an underutilized tool for spurring upward mobility. CTE students, we now know, are just as likely as students on a college preparatory track to pursue postsecondary education; what’s more, their starting salaries after obtaining associate’s degrees and professional certifications are impressive enough to make this liberal...

A new study in the scientific journal Brain and Language examines how the brain responds when presented with two different methods of reading instruction. It examines a small sample—sixteen adults (with an average age of twenty-two) who are native English speakers and do not face reading disabilities.

Participants took two days to undergo training, whereby they learn an invented language based on hieroglyphics. Each participant was taught two ways to associate a set of words read aloud to a corresponding set of visual characters (or “glyphs”). The first was a phonics-based approach focusing on letter-sound relationships; the second was a whole-word approach relying on memorization. After training, the participants took part in testing sessions during which they were hooked up to an EEG machine that monitored their brain response. They were then instructed to approach their “reading” using one strategy or the other.

Scientists found that the phonics approach activated the left side of the brain—which is where the visual and language regions lie, and which has been shown in prior studies to support later word recognition. Thus, activating this part of the brain helps to spur on beginning readers. This approach also enabled participants to decode “words” they had...

There are no grand revelations, but this new report about New York’s robust charter sector from the city’s Independent Budget Office offers useful data on a range of hotly debated topics, including student demographics, attrition, and “backfilling” seats left by departing students.

For starters, it’s good to be reminded just how small that sector is, in spite of its rapid growth. Gotham boasts some of the nation’s highest-profile and most closely watched charters, including Success Academy, KIPP, and Achievement First, but only seventy-two thousand of the city’s 1.1 million school-aged children attend a charter school. And those major players are a fraction of the New York’s charter school scene, which is almost evenly split between network-run schools and independents. Some New York City neighborhoods are particularly charter-rich (Harlem, for instance, enrolls 37 percent of its students in charters as of 2013–2014), but charters remain relatively rare in the boroughs of Queens and Staten Island. The sector also serves an overwhelmingly black and Hispanic population. Charter students are more likely to be poor than traditional Department of Education (DOE) schools, though charters serve smaller concentrations of English language learners and special education students.

Another fascinating bit of data: The controversial practice of...

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