Flypaper

Uli Kunkel

A new study commissioned by the National Institute for Hustling and Inciting the Launch and Implementation of School Mayhem (NIHILISM) reports that efforts by teachers and principals to enforce discipline in their classrooms have a negative impact on children’s education and future prospects.

Analysts A.J. Kaczynski and V. McVeigh found that “discouraging genuine expression will blunt students’ potential for success and happiness. America’s future would brighten if these faux Officer Krupke’s would allow the Jets and Sharks (and Crips and Bloods) to engage in the behaviors they desire. And anyway, who cares? Nothing matters.”

The report includes a laudatory foreword by Office for Civil Rights head Catherine Lemon. She writes that “my colleagues and I are doing everything in our power to root out discrimination against violent students without regard to race, gender, religion, economic status, or family background. Our counterparts at the Justice Department are also examining the ways in which inhibiting pupil expression may violate the First Amendment.”

SOURCE: A.J. Kaczynski & V. McVeigh, “Nothing Matters: Classroom Discipline and Student Achievement,” NIHILISM (March 2016)....

TFA to feds: “We aren’t a cult!”: Teachers’ unions have long criticized Teach For America’s practice of sending teachers into classrooms after just five weeks of training. Now TFA faces new challenges, as the FBI investigates allegations that it’s a cult. Agents have raised questions about “indoctrinating practices” at Institute, TFA’s summer training program for corps members. They cite a number of “telltale signs”: sleep deprivation, ritualized chanting, lack of compensation, and the shunning of quitters. A TFA representative took strong issue with the federal probe: “This is all a misunderstanding. We’re forging bonds. We’re a family. And to succeed, corps members need to be completely devoted to the success of their students. We can’t quit. And if someone does quit, we have to make sure they never again see the inside of a classroom.” Alumni admitted that, yes, some beliefs are common to all TFA corps members, but denied that there’s something in the water. “We never drank any Kool-Aid,” added one alumnus, “plenty of chardonnay, sure, but no Kool-Aid.”

A ghost(writer) in Peter Cunningham’s attic: Have you ever read an Education Post byline and said to yourself, “I wonder if this teacher or...

This study examines the impact of achievement-based “tracking” in a large school district. The district in question required schools to create a separate class in fourth or fifth grade if they enrolled at least one gifted student (as identified by an IQ test). However, since most schools had only five or six gifted kids per grade, the bulk of the seats in these newly created classes were filled by the non-gifted students with the highest scores on the previous year’s standardized tests. This allowed the authors to estimate the effect of participating in a so-called Gifted and High Achieving (GHA) class using a “regression discontinuity” model.

Based on this approach, the authors arrive at two main findings: First, placement in a GHA class boosts the reading and math scores of high-achieving black and Hispanic students by roughly half of one standard deviation, but has no impact on white students. Second, creating a new GHA class has no impact on the achievement of other students at a school, including those who just miss the cutoff for admission. Importantly, the benefits of GHA admission seem to be driven by race as opposed to socioeconomic status. They are also slightly larger for minority...

A new study examines the effects of disruptive elementary school peers on other students’ high school test scores, college attendance, degree attainment, and early adult earnings.

Analysts link administrative and public records data for children enrolled in grades 3–5 in one large Florida county (Alachua) between the years of 1995–1996 and 2002–2003. The demographic and test score data are linked to domestic violence, which is the part of the study that strikes me as odd.

They define “disruptive peer” not by how many times a child is disciplined in school or the severity of the offense, but rather by a proxy—whether a member of the child’s family petitioned the court for a temporary restraining order against another member of the family. Apparently, the literature shows that children exposed to domestic violence are more likely to display a number of behavioral problems, among them aggression, bullying, and animal cruelty. Another study showed these students negatively affected their peers’ behavior. Nevertheless, calling these students “disruptive peers” is a misleading characterization given the lack of documented school infractions. They are kids exposed to domestic violence, and the findings should be understood within this light.

That said, here are the results: Estimates show that...

If I had to pick just one reason to support Common Core, it would be to address the paucity of nonfiction texts read by students in elementary and middle school reading instruction. Gaps in background knowledge and vocabulary make it stubbornly difficult to raise reading achievement. Conceptualizing reading comprehension as a skill you can apply to any ol’ text broadly misses the point. By encouraging reading in history, science, and other disciplines across the curriculum, Common Core encourages “a foundation of knowledge in these fields that will also give [students] the background to be better readers in all content areas.”

Thus, it is great good news that the 2016 Brown Center Report on American Education finds the dominance of fiction waning in the fourth and eighth grades. The standards call for a 50/50 mix of fiction and non-fiction in fourth grade. In 2011, 63 percent of fourth-grade teachers reported emphasizing fiction in class, while only 38 percent said they emphasized non-fiction. A mere four years later, the gap is down to just eight percentage points (53 percent to 45 percent).

On the math side, CCSS asks for fewer topics or strands, as well as a focus on whole number arithmetic from kindergarten...

Way back in the early days of the accountability movement, Jeb Bush’s Florida developed an innovative approach to evaluating school quality. First, the state looked at individual student progress over time—making it one of the first to do so. Then it put special emphasis on the gains (or lack thereof) of the lowest-performing kids in the state.

Many of us were fans of this approach, including the focus on low-achievers. It was an elegant way to highlight the performance of the children who were most at risk of being “left behind,” without resorting to an explicitly race-based approach like No Child Left Behind’s.

Chad Aldeman of Bellwether Education Partners recently interviewed one of the designers of the Florida system, Christy Hovanetz, who elaborates:

By focusing on the lowest-performing students, we want to create a system that truly focuses on students who need the most help and is equitable across all schools. We strongly support the focus on the lowest-performing students, no matter what group they come from.

That does a number of things. It reduces the number of components…within the accountability system and places the focus on students who truly need the most help….It also reduces the need for...

We are all familiar with the "hero teacher" narrative from books and movies: A plucky young (inevitably white) teacher ends up in a tough inner-city classroom filled with "those kids"—the ones that school and society have written off as unteachable—and succeeds against all odds, through grit and compassion, embarrassing in the process those who run "the system." Ed Boland's The Battle for Room 314 is the dark opposite. It's a clear-eyed chronicle of first-year teaching failure at a difficult New York City high school, vividly written and wincingly frank.

Reading the book brought back a flood of memories of my own struggles as a new teacher at a low-performing public school in the South Bronx. Like Boland, I had my share of defiant and difficult students. If I'd been teaching high school, not elementary school, I likely would have made the same decision he did: to abandon ship and return to my previous career after one year, shell-shocked and defeated.

Two things saved me. First, midway through my first year, another fifth-grade teacher was called up from the army reserve to active duty. I asked my principal to reassign me from my two-teacher "inclusion" classroom to take over her class....

Van Schoales

Education Cities and Great Schools recently released a useful new educational data tool called the Education Equality Index (EEI), which allows users to compare cities and states across the nation that are “closing the achievement gap.” The tool compiles school-level low-income student achievement data (2011–2014), compares it to state average proficiency rates for all students (by test and grade), and adjusts the school’s score based on the population it serves. The EEI then rolls up these school scores into city- and state-wide scores. It quantifies the size of this gap (which, because the data is normalized, can be compared across cities and states with different standardized tests).

Education Cities should be applauded for helping raise the issue around our nation’s huge achievement gap. We need to pay more attention to disparities by race, income, and gender in our schools. We need to apply even more resources to understanding how schools are narrowing these gaps and devote greater attention to those efforts that are actually getting students to achieve at higher levels. EEI also has some great data visualizations from which the National Center on Educational Statistics could take a few tips.

There are, however, a number of significant problems with...

This report from Public Impact describes an unusual $55 million school turnaround effort in North Carolina’s Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools called Project L.I.F.T. (Leadership and Investment for Transformation). Despite its sizable price tag, the project offers lessons for funders, district leaders, and anyone else taking on the tough work of overhauling low-performing schools—as spelled out in this examination of outcomes at the project’s two-year midway point.

Launched in 2012–13, L.I.F.T. is an effort led and largely funded by a group of donors working in partnership with the district to raise the graduation rate at West Charlotte High School and improve performance at select feeder schools. The project’s initial investment group, led by local foundations, pledged an astonishing $40.5 million to the effort during its planning phase; corporate sponsors, individual donors, and federal School Improvement Grants and Title I dollars have funded the rest. Project reforms center on four areas: time, talent, technology, and parent and community engagement. This has included implementing extended learning in select schools and opening a credit recovery high school, as well as issuing hiring bonuses, revamping the district’s hiring calendar, and realizing “Opportunity Culture”—an initiative through which teachers teach more students for more pay. Laptops have been...

A new study by Brian Jacob and colleagues examines the relationship between teacher hiring data and subsequent teacher performance in D.C. Public Schools (DCPS).

Analysts focused on information gathered between 2011 and 2013 through TeachDC, the district’s centralized application process that collects data on applicants’ education history, employment experience, and eligibility for tenure (the study includes over seven thousand applicants). TeachDC winnows down applicants based on their performance on subject-specific assessments, interviews, and teaching auditions. Those who pass all three stages are put in the recommended pool to be seen by principals (though new hires can also be hired outside the pool). Data also included IMPACT, D.C.’s teacher evaluation system, for all district teachers between 2011–12 and 2013–14.

There are four key findings. First, applicants with no prior teaching experience are less likely to be hired by DCPS schools than those with prior experience. Second, teachers with better academic credentials (e.g., ACT or SAT scores) appear to be no more or less likely to be hired. Third, for those who are hired, achievement measures (undergraduate GPA, SAT and ACT scores, and college selectivity) and some screening measures (such as applicants’ performance on mock teaching lessons) mostly did not predict hiring...

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