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Any baseball team finding itself down 3-0 in a seven-game series points to the 2004 Boston Red Sox. Despite the longest of odds—they hadn’t won a World Series in eighty-six years! Their Bronx nemeses had them down!—they staged a miraculous comeback, winning four games straight.

Now, any on-the-brink team getting peppered by reporters’ questions can point to the Sox. “Yes, we’re down big,” they can say. “Sure, things haven’t gone as we wanted. But it can be done! Just give it time! The Red Sox did it!”

Of course, what these teams fail to mention is that the thirty-two other times an MLB team went down 3-0, that team lost the series. Worse, in the 110 instances in which an NBA team went down 3-0, that team always lost the series.

In other words, past poor performance predicts prospective performance.

But Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is undaunted. True to the administration’s messianic approach to policymaking, he sought yesterday to defy history. Presumably wearing a Johnny Damon jersey under his suit, the secretary traveled to the home of the Red Sox to rally-cap the legacy of his signature initiatives.

I tip my own cap to his PR team. The choice of Boston for this...

Editor's note: This post is the final entry of a three-part series on Race to the Top's legacy and the federal role in education. You can read the first two entries here and here.

In two recent posts about Race to the Top (RTTT), I expressed skepticism about a sunny assessment of the program’s influence and critiqued the mindset behind federal efforts to remake complex education systems.

But my M.O. is not to disparage all federal K–12 activity. From Brownthe National Defense Education Act, and Title I to the charter school grant program, NCLB’s disaggregated data, and the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, Uncle Sam has done some serious good for our schools. So I believe that there should be a federal K–12 agenda (for instance), and I hope both parties’ presidential candidates start articulating one.

What I’m interested in is fashioning some rules of the road. The agnosticism/nihilism of insisting on no federal activity ever would’ve amounted to a “Road Closed” sign to high-return investments like NAEP and seed funding for charters. The progressive hubris of believing that the feds can solve everything, on the other hand, is the on-ramp to P.J. O’Rourke’s bon mot about government-induced pileups. I think the...

Success for All specializes in whole-school turnaround for struggling elementary schools. Its 2010 proposal for an Investing in Innovation (i3) grant called for the program, whose primary goal is to ensure that every child learns to read well in elementary school, to grow from one thousand schools to more than two thousand. The Baltimore-based organization was one of only four to grab the shiniest brass ring in the i3 competition—a five-year, $50 million “scale-up” grant. Teach For America, KIPP, and the Reading Recovery program snared the other three.

This third and final report from MDRC looks at SFA’s impacts between kindergarten and second grade in five school districts over a three-year period covered under the i3 grant. A total of thirty-seven schools across five school districts were part of the study—nineteen randomly chosen to implement SFA, along with eighteen control schools that either stuck with their existing reading programs or choose new ones other than SFA.

The report finds that SFA is “an effective vehicle for teaching phonics,” showing statistically significant effects for second graders who were in SFA for all three years. SFA students also performed better than the average in reading fluency and comprehension, though not significantly. The...

Earlier this year, the RAND Corporation surveyed the 3,338 principals with current Teach For America (TFA) corps members at their schools. These principals are, on average, slightly less experienced and more racially diverse than American principals at large—and far more likely to run a charter school (27 percent work at charters).

In general, the survey’s results suggest that most principals who work with TFA corps members view them positively. Eighty percent of respondents said they were satisfied with the corps members at their schools; 86 percent said they would be willing to hire another corps member; and 66 percent would “definitely recommend” doing so. Moreover, a majority of respondents said corps members were at least as proficient as other novice teachers across a range of skills, including developing positive relationships with colleagues and administrators, having high expectations for students, and improving student performance. And 87 percent of respondents said they were satisfied with the support TFA provides, which three-quarters agreed complemented their school’s induction or training.

Despite these generally positive findings, the survey identified two areas of concern: First, half of the respondents identified weak classroom management as a reason not to hire additional TFA corps members. Second, 57 percent...

In spite of some well-publicized controversies, performance-based teacher evaluations have maintained a strong presence in most states. A new report from the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) examines the policy landscape of teacher and principal evaluations, as well as various states’ successes in using evaluations to inform teacher practice and administrative decisions.

As of 2015, twenty-seven states require annual evaluations for all teachers, and forty-five require annual evaluations for all new, probationary teachers. Forty-three states require objective measures of student achievement to be included in teacher evaluations; seventeen use student growth as the “preponderant” criterion for evaluations; and an additional eighteen count growth measures as “significant” criteria.

Despite these new policies, however, a “troubling pattern” lingers on from the evaluation systems of yesteryear: The overwhelming majority of teachers are still labeled as “effective” or “highly effective.” NCTQ notes this could be the result of several factors, including the fact that few states utilize multiple observations and multiple observers—which is problematic because many principals are either unable or unwilling to “make distinctions about teacher skills” when conducting observations. In addition, Student Learning Objectives (SLOs)—which are required or allowed by twenty-two states—fail to effectively differentiate teacher performance. According to...

As a young child, Adrian was quick to anger and often acted out in class, sometimes physically. In fourth grade, his school classified him as having emotional problems and assigned him a personal aide. After a few years, the aide was phased out; his behavior improved, but the disciplinary consequences got worse. "If he lost his temper, he was generally suspended," recalls his mother, who asked not to be identified. "I had meetings upon meetings with the vice principals, but they would say, 'This is what we do; we have no money for things like detention or supervision for in-school suspension.'"

The barrage of disciplinary actions against Adrian (not his actual name) began to feel like harassment. "Countless suspensions for countless issues," his mother recalls. Before a six-month suspension, a lawyer told her that the school was "essentially a dictatorship" and that she had no real recourse. Frustrated and increasingly embittered, the family withdrew Adrian, moved away, and enrolled him in a public school where minor misbehaviors were punished with detention, not suspensions. "The school got rid of him by excessive penalties and suspensions," she concludes.

You might assume this is yet another tale out of Eva Moskowitz's network of...

A small storm has blown up around the fact that certain math items on the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) do not align with what fourth and eighth graders are actually being taught in a few states—mainly places attempting to implement the Common Core State Standards within their schools’ curricula.

NAEP is only administered in grades four, eight, and twelve. So the specific issue is whether the fourth graders who sat for NAEP this spring had a reasonable opportunity to learn the skills, algorithms, techniques—broadly speaking, “the content”—on that test. If their state standards had moved some portion of what used to be fourth-grade math to the fifth or sixth grade, or replaced it with something else entirely, their state’s NAEP scores would likely be lower.

This kind of misalignment is blamed for some of the math declines that NAEP recently reported. Department officials in Maryland, for example, examined the NAEP math sub-scores and determined that many Maryland fourth graders are no longer being taught some of those things before they take the test.

We are left to wonder: Should NAEP frameworks and assessments be updated to reflect what’s in...

When Hillary Clinton recently told an audience that the purpose of charter schooling is to “learn what works and then apply (it) in the public schools,” she made the obvious mistake of implying that charters are not public schools.

But in her comments, Clinton contributed to another purposeful, longstanding, and inaccurate narrative. She suggested that chartering is, always has been, and should remain an R&D effort for the district sector. This argument serves the purposes of charter opponents and those who want to limit charter growth. That is, if you convince people that charters are only meant to think up and test a few new ideas, then you’ve established that the district is the real system and that chartering should never grow too large.

I’ve been trying to dispel this myth for some time. Chapter Five of my book The Urban School System of the Future chronicles the intellectual history of chartering, which includes motivations well beyond district R&D. In the 1980s, Ray Budde was looking for ways to permanently empower teachers in new environments. At the same time, Joe Loftus wanted new ways to oversee persistently failing schools. In 1988, Minnesota’s nonpartisan Citizen’s League argued that educators should have an ongoing way to...

I spent a few hours digging into the recently released 2015 NAEP TUDA data. The results didn’t get much media coverage. That’s a shame because these are the best assessments for understanding student performance in (and comparing the results of) America’s biggest urban districts.

It’s a treasure trove of information, and it tells hundreds of stories. I encourage you to get into the numbers and see what pops for you.

I tried to condense my big takeaways into six headlines and images.

1. We’ve been trying to improve urban districts for half a century. These are the results. No district is able to get even one in five black kids up to proficiency in eighth-grade math or reading.

2. Across the participating districts, there has been meager progress in both subjects and both grades for more than a decade.

3. A few districts, however, have made gains over time, most notably Atlanta, Chicago, D.C., and Los Angeles. They deserve credit.

4. Instances of progress deserve attention because progress is not guaranteed. For example,...

Finland has been lauded for years as this planet's grand K-12 education success story, deserving of study and emulation by other nations. The buzz began with its impressive Program for International Student Assessment results in 2000, which stayed strong through 2006. Educators hastened to Helsinki from far and wide to sample the secret sauce, hoping they might recreate it back home. And most of them loved the taste, as Finland's recipe contained many ingredients that educators generally like and shunned those they typically find repugnant. It was all about teachers, professionalism, and equity, rather than jarring notions like standards, choice, assessments, and accountability.

Gradually, however, the sauna cooled a bit. Finland's PISA scores and rankings slipped in 2009, and again in 2012, followed by a scathing report from the University of Helsinki that led the program's uber-advocate Pasi Sahlberg to warn that the time had come for Finns "to concede that the signals of change have been discernible already for a while and to open up a national discussion regarding the state and future of the Finnish comprehensive school that rose to international acclaim due to our students' success in the PISA studies."

He was right. There had,...

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