Flypaper

M. René Islas

A new study, Public Pre-K and Test Taking for the NYC Gifted & Talented Programs: Forging a Path to Equity, released by NYU's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, discovered a positive side effect of participating in New York City's public pre-Kindergarten programs: more interest in gifted and talented programs by parents and their children. This unintended outcome is particularly promising because it increases the number of children from disadvantaged backgrounds that want access and compete for a chance to be in advanced academic programs.

According to Ying Lu, the study's lead author, "whether a student attends a public pre-k program is the strongest predictor of whether the student takes the gifted and talented test." Lu continues, "there is a compelling need to create public awareness of educational opportunities to ensure that students from all backgrounds have access to them.”

While participating in pre-K may not be the silver bullet for increasing the equitable participation in gifted and talented programs among high-potential disadvantaged youth, it does point to the importance of educating parents about quality options for their children and the power of access to outstanding content, instruction, and expectations in helping students achieve their full human...

It’s well known that students of color are underrepresented in gifted programs compared to white and Asian students. Attempting to understand why, a new study from Vanderbilt University investigates how student, teacher, and school characteristics affect pupil assignment to gifted programs in reading and math.

Researchers derived a data sample of approximately 10,640 pupils from the NCES Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 1998–1999 (ECLS-K). The ECLS-K data tracks pupils from kindergarten through the eighth grade nationwide, collecting descriptive information on student, family, school, and community factors with questionnaires administered to parents, teachers, and school administrators. The authors used this study to extract information on student demographics and achievement, as well as school environment, classroom environment, and teacher qualifications and demographics during the first, third, and fifth grades—times when most gifted students are identified in elementary school. Finally, researchers measured the probability of gifted assignment based on each characteristic.

Overall, the odds of black and Hispanic children being referred to gifted programs are 66 percent and 47 percent lower than white students, respectively. Moreover, when student, teacher, and school characteristics were averaged, white students had a predicted probability of 6.2 percent of gifted—whereas black students had only a 2.8...

A new study from the University of Arkansas examines the relationship between Milwaukee’s citywide school voucher program and students’ criminal behavior.

Controlling for factors such as family income, parental education, and the presence of two parents in the home, the authors used data from Wisconsin court records to compare the criminal behavior of voucher students with non-voucher students. The groups, comprising some two thousand students, were enrolled in eighth or ninth grade in 2006 as part of Milwaukee’s Parental Choice Program (MPCP) and the Milwaukee Public School (MPS) system.

The study first analyzed only pupils who were enrolled in MPCP and MPS in 2006, regardless of how long they stayed in the program, and found no statistically significant results. Next, the researchers measured the effects of a “full dose” of voucher program treatment (i.e., students who were enrolled in 2006 and stayed through the twelfth grade). These students were found to be 5–7 percent less likely to commit a misdemeanor, 2–3 percent less likely to commit a felony, and 5–12 percent less likely to be accused of any crime as young adults. (Participants were between twenty-two and twenty-five years old at the time the data were analyzed.) In other words,...

Way back in the days of NCLB, testing often existed in a vacuum. Lengthy administration windows created long delays between taking the test and receiving results from it; many assessments were poorly aligned with state standards and local curricula; communication with parents and teachers was insufficient; and too much test preparation heightened the anxiety level for teachers and students alike. These issues largely prevented assessments from being used to support and drive effective teaching and learning. That doesn’t mean just state tests, either, but rather the full range of assessments given during the year and across curricula.

But the new federal education law creates a chance for a fresh start. While ESSA retains yearly assessment in grades 3–8 and once in high school, the role of testing has changed. States are now empowered to use additional factors besides test scores in their school accountability systems, states may cap the amount of instructional time devoted to testing, funding exists to streamline testing, and teacher evaluations need no longer be linked to student scores. These changes may mean less anxiety, but that won’t equate to better outcomes unless significant reforms occur when states design their new assessment systems.

A new report from the Center...

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of blog posts that will take a closer look at the findings and implications of Evaluating the Content and Quality of Next Generation Assessments, Fordham’s new first-of-its-kind report. The first post can be read here

Few policy issues over the past several years have been as contentious as the rollout of new assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). What began with more than forty states working together to develop the next generation of assessments has devolved into a political mess. Fewer than thirty states remain in one of the two federally funded consortia (PARCC and Smarter Balanced), and that number continues to dwindle. Nevertheless, millions of children have begun taking new tests—either those developed by the consortia, ACT (Aspire), or state-specific assessments constructed to measure student performance against the CCSS, or other college- and career-ready standards.

A key hope for these new tests was that they would overcome the weaknesses of the previous generation of state assessments. Among those weaknesses were poor alignment with the standards they were designed to assess and low overall levels of cognitive demand (i.e., most items required simple recall or...

A decade ago, U.S. education policies were a mess. It was the classic problem of good intentions gone awry.

At the core of the good idea was the commonsense insight that if we want better and more equitable results from our education system, we should set clear expectations for student learning, measure whether our kids are meeting those expectations, and hold schools accountable for their outcomes (mainly gauged in terms of academic achievement).

And sure enough, under the No Child Left Behind law, every state in the land mustered academic standards in (at least) reading and math, annual tests in grades 3–8, and some sort of accountability system for their public schools.

Unfortunately, those standards were mostly vague, shoddy, or misguided; the tests were simplistic and their “proficiency” bar set too low. The accountability systems encouraged all manner of dubious practices, such as focusing teacher effort on a small subset of students at risk of failing the exams rather than advancing every child’s learning.

What a difference a decade makes. To be sure, some rooms in the education policy edifice remain in disarray. But thanks to the hard work and political courage of the states, finally abetted by some...

If you care about state education policy and/or the new federal education law, you ought to spend some time doing three things. First, consider how the performance of schools (and networks of schools) needs to be assessed. Second, read the short Fordham report At the Helm, Not the Oar. Third, encourage your favorite state’s department of education to undertake an organizational strategic planning process.

All three are part of a single, important exercise: figuring out what role the state department of education must play in public schooling.

By now, everyone knows that ESSA returns to states the authority to create K–12 accountability systems. So it’s worth giving some thought to what, exactly, schools and districts should be held accountable for. What do we want them to actually accomplish?

But even if we get clear on the “what,” the “who” and “how” remain. Which entity or entities should be tasked with this work, and how should they go about it?

In At the Helm, which I co-wrote in 2014 with Juliet Squire, we argue that there are lots and lots of things handed to state departments of education (also known as state education agencies, or “SEAs”) that could be better achieved elsewhere....

Reformers always face backlash, no matter the realm. People and institutions, structures and routines, budgets and staffing arrangements—all are tailored for the status quo. Indeed, they define the status quo, and myriad interests are then enmeshed in keeping things the way they’ve always been. Plenty of people are undone by change, even the prospect of it, and plenty more find it hard to imagine something different from what they’re accustomed to.

The reformer’s job is to overcome all that in pursuit of some greater good. That impulse arises from the belief—and, one hopes, from ample evidence—that the status quo is failing in various ways to deliver the necessary results. But part of the pushback from aficionados of the status quo is a stout insistence that today’s results are actually fine, that the reformer is wrong to say that the status quo is failing, and that changing the present arrangement could well produce a worse result.

That’s been the story of education reform and its resisters as long as I’ve been around—dating back, at least, to the denial of Coleman’s findings in the sixties and seventies, the denunciation of A Nation at Risk in the eighties, and the recent insistence that adopting the Common Core...

Joanne Weiss

On February 2, I had the privilege of being a judge for the Fordham Institute’s ESSA Accountability Design Competition. It’s widely known that I’m a fan of using competition to drive policy innovation, and this competition did not disappoint. Fordham received a stunning array of proposals from teachers, students, state leaders, and policy makers.

But before we turn to the insights buried in these pages, I want to praise the competition’s conception, which mirrored the process that states should replicate as they design their own accountability systems. Contestants explained how their proposed accountability systems would support a larger vision of educational success and spur desired actions. They laid out their design principles—attributes like simplicity, precision, fairness, and clarity. They defined the indicators that should therefore be tracked, and they explained how those indicators would roll up into ratings of school quality. Finally, they laid out how each rating would be used to inform or determine consequences for schools. All decisions were explained in the context of how they would forward the larger vision.

Together, these proposals represent a variety of both practical and philosophical approaches to accountability system design. Here are the five major themes I found most noteworthy.

1. The...

Michael Hansen

I walked away from Fordham’s School Accountability Design Competition last Tuesday pleasantly surprised—not only at the variety of fresh thinking on accountability, but also at how few submissions actually triggered the “I think that’s illegal” response. I left encouraged at the possibilities for the future.

The problem of one system for multiple users

Having done some prior work on school accountability and turnaround, I took great interest in the designs that came out of this competition and how they solved what I’m going to call the “one-system-multiple-user” problem. Though the old generation of systems had many drawbacks, I see this particular problem as their greatest flaw and the area where states will most likely repeat the mistakes of the past.

Basically, the one-system-multiple-user problem is this: The accountability design is built with a specific objective in mind (school accountability to monitor performance for targeted interventions) for a single user (the state education office); but the introduction of public accountability ratings induces other users (parents, teachers, district leaders, homebuyers, etc.) to use the same common rating system. Where the problem comes in is that not all user groups have the same objective; indeed we expect them to have different purposes in...

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