Flypaper

John Kraman

In a recent EdNext column, Checker Finn proposed what he expected to be a controversial solution to the problem of low levels of college readiness among our high school graduates: namely, “different ways of completing—and being credentialed for completing—one’s primary and secondary education.”

In case Checker is holding his breath, I would like to raise a (quiet) howl of protest—just not for the reason Checker expected. The reality is that differentiated credentials are already here; they are common, diverse and wide-spread. New York State did retire the “Local Diploma” option a few years back for non-special-education students, requiring all students to earn at least a Regents diploma. I say “at least” because there are many different kinds of Regent diplomas (see here for detailed look at the array of designations and endorsements in NYS).

New York is not alone. A decade ago, Achieve reported that twenty states had multi-tiered diplomas, with designations such as “honors,” “advanced academic” and “advanced technical.” To earn a higher diploma, states may require students to earn additional course credits or complete more advanced courses, especially in mathematics, science, foreign languages and/or technical programs. Others may require students to pass more state assessments, pass state assessments at a higher performance level, or pass AP or IB exams. According to the experts at Achieve who continue to track graduation requirements, the level of complexity has only grown since 2004.

Beyond these K–12 policies, the University of California System established “A–G” requirements for high school graduates applying to their...

[Editor’s note: This is the fifth in a series of personal reflections on the current state of education reform and contemporary conservatism by Andy Smarick, a Bernard Lee Schwartz senior policy fellow with the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.  The previous posts in this series can be seen herehere, here, and here.]

Andy’s odyssey: Part five

I’m worried that when the history of today’s era of education reform is written, the most damning critique will be that its progressive leaders had little understanding of social capital.

Social capital describes the “benefits that flow from the trust, reciprocity, information, and cooperation associated with social networks.” When people are connected, they (and even those outside the network) gain, thanks to sharing, interdependence, joint learning, collective action, solidarity, and more.

Key to the development of social capital is longevity. Trust and relationships take time to develop. They mature, evolve, and strengthen over time.

As I wrote in the last installment, progressives’ bent for change is invaluable when longstanding institutions are destructive. But it can also do immeasurable harm when it undermines old valuable institutions, which can serve as wellsprings and keepers of social capital.

It is striking how seldom the reform community discusses preservation. Ed-reform leaders rarely comment on the need to protect our social fabric by insulating some longstanding institution, practice, or relationships from change (though Fordham’s own Robert Pondiscio has shared some worthy thoughts on the subject).

The clearest example of our field’s disregard...

SWING AND A MISS
Bob Herbert's op-ed in Politico Magazine lambasts the pro-charter efforts of Bill Gates and other wealthy donors. Herbert seems to think that the movement is a failure because charter schools have not already succeeded in eliminating the achievement gap and reducing racial inequities. He might be expecting more from charters than even Gates and his compatriots. 

CONTRACT REVOKED
Pennsylvania's School Reform Commission just canceled the contracts of 15,000 Philadelphia teachers, forcing teachers to pay their own health premiums and face other cuts to their benefits. District leaders say there was "nothing else to cut" following years of layoffs and school closures, but teachers are calling it an ambush.

BETTER TOGETHER
D.C. public schools are seeing positive results from including technology in the classroom in blended learning models. The online learning software allows students to work at their own pace and frees up instructional time for teachers. Self-promotion alert: Fordham's own Michael Brickman and John Elkins recently reviewed a study from the indispensible CEE-Trust examining efforts to establish blended learning networks in Chicago and Washington, D.C.

APPETITE FOR DEBATE
The battle over school lunches extends as far back as the 1940s and has been increasingly politicized in recent years, especially with the adoption of Michelle Obama's school nutrition program. This week, the New York Times Magazine's Nick Confessore dives so deep into the issue, your ears will start to hurt....

Welcome to the new-and-improved Late Bell, Fordham's uncanny afternoon newsletter! We're starting off our bold new era with a special Fordham-in-the-news edition.

WHEN YOU’RE AN EDUCATION-POLICY WONK AND A PUBLIC SCHOOL DAD
“Education leaders are often put off by parents who know a lot about schools and won’t shut up. Petrilli is definitely in that category,” notes Jay Mathews of the Washington Post on a recent column in which this education-policy dad asks where’s the beef on curriculum.

THE EDUCATION-REFORM PLAYOFFS
At the National Review Online, Fordham’s Chester E. Finn, Jr. asks whether pushing only a test-based accountability system is the best strategy. But that doesn’t mean he’s giving up on reform: “Major-league education change is still needed, maybe now more than ever, and it’s no time for either complacency or despair.”

YOU SAY SKILLS, WE SAY KNOWLEDGE
Emily Richmond chronicles why Common Core might be more difficult to implement in the higher grades since the standards are based on the idea that kids need knowledge. Case in point? Richmond highlights Robert Pondiscio’s take on close reading.

TO WAIVER OR NOT TO WAIVER?
‘“We’re punishing schools and educators, and arguably kids, because state policy makers don’t want to do what” the Education Department demands. “Talk about friendly fire," said...

Americans are ambivalent about testing, standards, and accountability in their children’s schools. This is clear from survey results that swing wildly depending on how, exactly, the question is phrased—and on whether the practice in question might inconvenience one’s own kid, as apart from fixing those awful schools across town.

The public shows far greater tolerance for tests whose scores may yield things we crave—admission to the college of one’s choice, for example (SAT, ACT), even advance credit for college work (AP)—than for the kind whose foremost purpose is to rank schools or teachers and give distant officials data by which to fine-tune their policies. Indeed, when it comes to statewide standardized testing of the sort that’s become universal in the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) era, a great many parents—and a huge fraction of teachers—appear to have had enough. They grump, with some justice, that

  • Too much school time is given over to test prep—and the pressure to lift scores leads to cheating and other unsavory practices.
  • Subjects and accomplishments that aren’t tested—art, creativity, leadership, independent thinking, etc.—are getting squeezed if not discarded.
  • Teachers are losing their freedom to practice their craft, to make classes interesting and stimulating, to act like professionals.
  • The curricular homogenizing that generally follows from standardized tests and state (or national) standards represents an undesirable usurpation of school autonomy, teacher freedom, and local control by distant authorities.
  • ...

“STOP STEALING KIDS’ FUTURES”
In New York City, pro-charter school parents and kids will march at the Families for Excellent Schools rally. “We need to stop stealing the possible,” says Eva Moskowitz in a New York Post op-ed.

WHEN YOU TRIP AND FALL...
“I'm almost certain it didn't mean to, but OCR may have stumbled into the most significant federal charter policy action since the birth of the charter movement two decades ago,” says Michael Petrilli to Politico Pro’s Morning Education.

WHAT WOULD SMARICK SAY?
The Department of Education announced $20 million “for finding, training, and keeping  good turnaround principals”—a worthy venture to beat the lacking-leaders conundrum. But is SIG even worth saving?

DISCIPLINING ON DISCIPLINE
Oregon's Department of Education is levying a fine against Portland Public Schools for suspending a disproportionate number of African American special-education students. A tricky subject, but on school discipline, Mike Petrilli doesn’t want school to repeat old mistakes

COMMON CORE AND PRIVATE SCHOOLS
“For many schools, [Common Core is] not going to drive any monumental shift in what they’re doing. There are lots of private schools that have rigorous college prep curricula to which Common Core is compatible,” says Kathleen Porter-Magee....

Marc Mannella

As the founder and Executive Director of KIPP Philadelphia Schools, I was surprised to read Dr. Laurence Steinberg’s Flypaper post on how KIPP charter schools approach character development. In response to his portrayal of our character work, I want to offer a KIPP educator’s perspective.

The headline of Dr. Steinberg’s piece asks, “Is character education the answer?” Neither I nor anyone at KIPP believes that teaching character in and of itself is the answer to the challenges faced by our students—85 percent of whom grow up in poverty. But just because character isn’t the answer, doesn’t mean it isn’t part of an answer. We know from several studies that certain character strengths play an important role in increasing students’ academic success. And a growing body of research, like that by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and Dr. Carol Dweck from Stanford University, indicates that elements related to KIPP character strengths like social intelligence and optimism are ultimately teachable.

When approached thoughtfully and deliberately, teaching character strengths can help students develop the resiliency to overcome life’s obstacles. We’re already seeing that KIPP students graduate college at more than four times the rate of students from the country’s lowest-income families; by investing in character in our schools, we are aiming to raise that rate even higher.

While Dr. Steinberg is complimentary of much of KIPP’s work, his description of our approach to teaching character as a settled protocol is not entirely accurate. It is in fact a highly...

On the whole, the new guidance from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights is another example of executive overreach and federal interference run amok. Really, the department is going to sue local school districts if their lighting is poor? Does anyone think this is a good idea? Secretary Duncan, this is "tight-loose"?

But there is a silver lining: This could be an incredibly helpful tool for charter schools. We know from a recent University of Arkansas study (and several before it) that charter schools are woefully underfunded. This is particularly true in states where most charters serve poor and minority children. They also have meager access to high quality facilities. (I hear some are even poorly lit!)

I'd love to see charter associations throughout the country file complaints with OCR, asking it to investigate states that don't do enough to provide equitable funding to charter schools serving high proportions of poor and minority children. Advocates in New York City might file a complaint against Mayor Bill de Blasio for refusing to provide equitable facilities. And certainly charter advocates that have already filed lawsuits alleging discrimination against charter schools (in Washington, D.C. and New York state) should use the tactic, too.

It almost certainly didn't mean to, but OCR may have stumbled into the most significant federal charter policy action since the birth of the charter movement two decades ago. So tenth-amendment hawks: Lighten up!...

DIFFERENT MINDS THINK ALIKE
At a Colorado gubernatorial debate last night, Governor John Hickenlooper and Congressman Bob Beauprez discussed their views on education. The consensus: To improve the state's standing in national rankings, more federal funding is necessary. Good luck with that, fellas.

GOOD NEWS FOR LOW-INCOME UNDERGRADS
The University of Chicago will announce today a number of initiatives aimed at increasing the enrollment of low-income students. “This is all part of a strategy to create a common and equal platform for all students,” said the school’s dean.

TOOTHLESS STANDARDS
Mathew Chingos writes that although California has passed laws to remove ineffective teachers and end tenure abuse, this legislation will have a minimal impact, dismissing poor teachers at an annual rate of only 0.0008 percent. 

THINK DIFFERENT
While technology in the classroom opens the door for versatile lessons, some worry that automated programs rob children of the ability to solve complex problems on their own. ...

I’m excited about a recent shift in the reform conversation. After years of focusing on Common Core, common assessments, and teacher evaluation, many of those interested in large-scale K–12 improvements are turning their attention back to state accountability systems.

The Obama administration’s ESEA waiver policy had the potential to spur imaginative state-level thinking. But thanks to a combination of NCLB’s legal strictures, the administration’s fixation on particular policy conditions, and state leaders who just wanted to get out from under AYP ASAP, the new state systems look a whole lot like the old ones. (In fairness, some states have smartly experimented with A–F systems and “super subgroups.”)

Despite this arrested development, I think two important events provide the outlines for a new approach to state-level accountability.

First, under the auspices of CRPE and TBFI, a group of experienced policymakers and thought leaders have penned an “Open Letter on Accountability To State Superintendents and Governors.” It explains and defends K–12 accountability, concedes problems with current systems, and offers eight smart principles for next-generation systems. The group doesn’t get into specifics; instead, it hopes to get people thinking about what’s possible (though within certain guidelines).

This is important because of the second event: Increasingly, people are arguing that a unitary statewide accountability system stymies innovation and fails to capture important elements of schooling that some communities prioritize.

Mike Petrilli has argued that about 10 percent of a state’s public schools should be allowed to “opt...

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