Flypaper

For advocates of evidence-based urban education policy, a recent New York Times profile of New York City Schools’ Chancellor Carmen Fariña should offer serious cause for concern. That Fariña has worked to dismantle several of the promising Bloomberg-era education reforms is not the main offending issue. (The former is unfortunate, but hardly unexpected from the current administration.) As Robert Pondiscio has previously pointed out in this space, far more worrisome is Fariña’s apparent view of the proper role of research in education policy—one seemingly rooted in the bad old days when high-quality empirical research was dismissed or ignored.

Chancellor Fariña plainly nurtures none of the previous administration’s fondness for data, preferring a more “holistic” approach. Nor, for that matter, does she even require test scores to know which schools are performing well. The chancellor, perhaps with Spidey-sense, knows a good school when she sees it.

To be fair, I’m open to the claim that perhaps some of the Bloomberg reforms were too technocratic. And no one could have reasonably expected Chancellor Fariña to be an empirical data junkie. But her recent statements reveal a remarkable disdain for science’s role in formulating education policy. The following New York Times passage...

BOOK 'EM
Politico’s extensive investigation of publishing giant Pearson has unearthed the company’s questionable money-making practices at the expense of American students and taxpayers. For years, lax accountability measures have allowed Pearson to rake in the profits even when its programs and products failed. Schools and state legislatures are realizing the need to more closely scrutinize textbook companies before handing over their multi-million dollar reform dreams.

ALPHABET SOUP
Elsewhere in Pearson news, the Wall Street Journal chronicles the slow decline of the GED. Working in partnership with the nonprofit that administers the test, Pearson has dropped a huge sum developing a new, more complex assessment geared to today’s students and standards. But, as Fordham’s Chester Finn has argued, high school graduation exams shouldn't be set at the college-ready level. And neither should the GED. Not everyone who graduates from high school will—or should—go on to college.

GOOD CITIZENS
Indifferent social-studies pupils, beware! Utah may soon join its neighboring state of Arizona in requiring students to pass a citizenship test before graduating high school. Students would need to correctly pass seventy out of one hundred questions, a more difficult task than the six...

Ethan Gray

Education reformers live in a world of data, accountability, policy, and percentiles. We are most comfortable debating ideas, writing papers, and talking to each other. But when it comes to telling powerful stories to inspire change, we have a lot to learn from one public school student in New York City.

Thirteen-year-old Vidal Chastanet was stopped and asked by Humans of New York photographer Brandon Stanton, “Who is the most influential person in your life?” With his answer—Nadia Lopez, principal at Mott Hall Bridges Academy (MHBA)—Vidal reached the hearts of millions of people.

“When we get in trouble, she doesn't suspend us. She calls us to her office and explains to us how society was built down around us. And she tells us that each time somebody fails out of school, a new jail cell gets built. And one time she made every student stand up, one at a time, and she told each one of us that we matter.”

Vidal’s answer went viral on Facebook, leading him to The Ellen DeGeneres Show and the White House last week. A fundraising campaign set up to help MHBA send students on a trip to Harvard over the summer...

The biography of teacher evaluation’s time in federal policy might be titled Portentous, Polarizing, and Passing. It had gigantic ripple effects in the states—man, did it cause fights—and, with its all-but-certain termination via ESEA reauthorization, it stayed with us ever so briefly.

Some advocates are demoralized, worried that progress will at best stall and at worst be rolled back. Though I’m a little down that we’re unlikely to see many more states reform educator evaluation systems in the years ahead, I think the feds’ exit makes sense.

This has nothing to do with my general antipathy for this administration or my belief that its Department of Education deserves to have its meddling hands rapped. And while I think Tenth Amendment challenges are justified, I have a different primary motivation.

In short, I think the work of teaching is so extraordinarily complex and teachers are so tightly woven into the fabric of school communities that any attempt by faraway federal officials to tinker with evaluation systems is a fool’s errand. I think we may eventually come to view the Race-to-the-Top and ESEA-flexibility requirements related to assessing teachers as the apotheosis of federal K–12 technocracy.

If you’ve never dug into the details of...

Student learning gains ought to be a component of teacher evaluations. Measures such as value added are a useful and important complement to classroom observations. But not all models are created equal, as illustrated by a new lawsuit in Tennessee that reveals a rather preposterous policy.

Last week, the Volunteer State’s largest teacher union sued the state in federal court over a law that ties student test scores to evaluations of educators who teach such non-core subjects as art, French, and gym. Teachers in Tennessee receive annual scores between one and five, with five being best. Those scores determine all manner of high-stakes administrative decisions affecting teachers, including bonuses, termination, and tenure. Approximately half of the metric is based on classroom observations, the rest on student test scores. For a teacher in a core subject such as math, and in a grade in which students are tested, this model makes sense. The bulk of the test-based portion of her rating is based on how well her students do on the math portions of the state’s standardized tests. That’s rational. A smaller portion, 15 percent, is based on “school-wide” performance—how well all the schools’ students do in all subjects tested....

THERE HE GOES AGAIN
Louisiana Governor and potential presidential candidate Bobby Jindal released a forty-two-page education-reform proposal urging lawmakers to repeal Common Core on grounds of federal intrusion. Fordham’s Michael Brickman doesn’t think Jindal’s Common Core claims pass the sniff test, but notes that other policies outlined in the proposal, such as ramped-up school choice and charter school efforts, are worth discussing.

WE'LL VOUCH FOR THAT
As the 2016 election crunch approaches, Republicans may be able to put the national spotlight on school vouchers. Though past attempts to expand the voucher program have met with opposition, GOP leaders hope to broaden the school-choice conversation by making it a central issue in the party’s platform. And as our own Chester E. Finn Jr. reports, some high-profile Democrats are finally willing to play ball.

ACROSS THE DIVIDE
NPR offers a poignant look at the vast, if predictable, disparities in college-advising services between Michigan’s tony Cranbrook Schools and an under-funded public school in northeast Detroit. One activist admits resignedly that “your ZIP code can really determine what your future will look like.”

EDUCATION SPOTLIGHT: INDIANA
Political junkies and ed-reform observers are turning their attention to...

Recent days have brought several thoughtful commentaries on results-based accountability in K-12 education, why it’s important, what it’s accomplished and why it needs to continue.

Such attention is exceptionally timely, as the negotiations presently underway between Senators Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray in pursuit of a bipartisan formula for reauthorizing No Child Left Behind will inevitably devote much attention to the issues surrounding school (and teacher) accountability.

Like Mike Petrilli, I’m convinced that this can no longer be managed from Washington. Like Mike, I’m also convinced that accountability for results in K–12 education must continue. Losing it would carry us back to the pre-Coleman era when schools were judged not by their results but by their inputs, promises, and services, and teachers were evaluated by brief classroom visits from supervisors who arrived with no data, no rubrics—and no ability to do anything about problematic instructors. (Alas, that last shortage remains the norm, as does the practice of finding just about every teacher satisfactory, if not outstanding.)

The only thing that really matters about a school (or teacher)—beyond such basics as children’s safety—is whether kids are learning there. If they’re not, something must be done to change the situation....

TFA TROUBLE
Teach For America’s slipping numbers continue as they experience their second year of diminishing applicant numbers. The group says the appeal of an improving job market is to blame, while some aspiring teachers have deep concern with TFA’s two-year long model. Perhaps played down in the article is a shift to diversify cohorts of teachers, which could also be a factor in diminishing numbers.

LOOKING FOR MIDDLE GROUND
Senators Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray are reportedly putting their heads together to create a bipartisan proposal for ESEA renewal. Yet there is much skepticism as to whether a fully collaborative bill will be produced; last week, Lamar Alexander said that an NCLB update didn’t necessarily have to start with a bipartisan product. When the Senate Education Committee passed a bill in 2013, not one Republican voted for it.

HEASTIE FROM THE BLOCK
Bronx legislator Carl Heastie has been elected to replace the recently resigned Sheldon Silver as speaker of the New York State Assembly, granting him the power to decide which bills are considered and which aspects of the state budget are negotiated. His (relatively quiet) views on education will be important...

THE SWEET SMELL OF CREEPING DISILLUSIONMENT
The older students get, the more pessimistic (or perhaps realistic) they become regarding their future job prospects, according to this Gallup Student Poll. While 68 percent of fifth graders strongly agreed with the statement, “I know I will find a good job after I graduate,” only 48 percent of twelfth graders expressed the same sentiment. Whether this is a reflection of the rough young adult job market or a simple loss of youthful optimism, schools are increasing focus on their students’ college and career readiness.

STATE YOUR BUSINESS
Senator Lamar Alexander has indicated his leaning towards keeping federal testing requirements in the new ESEA bill, but giving states the freedom to choose how they use it to hold their schools accountable. Michael Petrilli says it well: “States should continue to experiment with various interventions in low-performing schools. But let’s admit that we don’t know precisely what that should look like, and thus we definitely shouldn’t prescribe a particular approach from Washington.”

CAP'S OFF
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker unveiled his proposal for the 2015-17 education budget, with plans to extend voucher participation beyond the thousand-student cap and increase accountability...

It’s fascinating—and telling—how rapidly the zillion issues tucked away in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act have been distilled down to arguments about testing.

There’s been almost no discussion, at least in places where I look, about Titles II through X of the 2002 (NCLB) version, and most of Title I’s myriad provisions seem also to have been set aside while people argue over the future of annual testing.

The new House bill would retain that requirement, and Senate Education Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander, though declaring himself open-minded on the subject, seems to be moving closer toward keeping it.

Testing is of course controversial in its own right. Many people think there’s too much of it and that it’s getting in the way of teaching and learning. I’ve come to view annual testing of kids in reading and math, and the disaggregating and public reporting of their performance at the school (and district) level, as the single best feature of NCLB and the one that most needs preserving. Indeed, I wish the testing requirement extended below third grade and above eighth, and that it was as demanding for science and history as for reading...

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