Flypaper

Ah, January is upon us: The wind is howling, the thermometer is plummeting, and we are greeted by the nineteenth consecutive edition of Quality Counts, Education Week’s compilation of mostly useful data, analysis, rankings and commentaries.

The single best thing about QC is its focus on states, not just because it enables state leaders to view external gauges of their own performance and compare it with other states, but also—especially valuable today—because it reminds everyone that states remain the central players in matters of K–12 education quality. (So many have obsessed for so long about federal stuff and Common Core—itself a state initiative—that it’s easy, especially inside the Beltway, to lose focus.)

The analysts and authors of QC keep fussing with the variables, metrics and weightings by which they grade state performance. This year, once again, those variables are sorted into three buckets, two of which have to do with processes, practices, and inputs. Some of the latter (e.g., parents’ education) is completely beyond state control, and some is based on questionable assumptions about how much is enough (and whether more is better) when it comes to education spending....

SAT WORDS: NOW WITH MORE COOING
Researchers from the Thirty Million Words project are setting out to educate (brand) new mothers on the importance of parent interactions from day one. Pulling from the famous 1995 Hart and Risley study, which found that children from working-class families hear an average of thirty million more words by the age of four than those of “welfare” families, the team is hoping that early interventions will encourage new parents to read and talk to their newborns at every opportunity. Hear, hear, says Robert Pondiscio, who has argued that it pays to increase one’s word power.

MORE ON READING
A new report by Scholastic found that less than one-third of children interviewed between the ages of six and seventeen read for fun on a daily basis. Being read aloud to, restricted digital time, and free time to read at school were all top factors among those who reported regularly reading for pleasure. Literacy experts say parents should continue to read aloud to their children throughout elementary school to build higher-level vocabulary and develop interdisciplinary background knowledge. But Michael Petrilli would argue that...

Debate begins today on H.R. 30, a bill to tweak Obamacare so that large employers need not provide insurance for their staff unless they work forty hours per week, versus thirty hours under current law. The rationale is clear: The thirty-hour rule appears to be encouraging employers to cut workers’ hours, which is driving down income at a time when many part-timers are already struggling to make ends meet.

It got me thinking: How many school districts would be required to provide health insurance to their teachers under the proposed standard? Of course, virtually everywhere, such benefits are already baked into state law and/or local contracts for teachers, so this is just a thought exercise. And yes, most teachers work longer than is contractually required—both on site and at home. But so do professionals in other fields. The current debate made me curious about the mandatory workweek of the nation’s teachers.

To find out, I tapped the National Council on Teacher Quality’s fantastic Teacher Contract Database, which pulls information from collective-bargaining agreements (or their equivalents in non-union states) from more than one hundred districts nationwide. (Most of the data are current as of the 2013–14 school year.)

What did...

DIFFERENTIATED STROKES FOR HETEROGENEOUSLY GROUPED FOLKS
In a must-read piece in Education Week, James R. Delisle takes aim at one of the biggest trends in education: differentiated instruction. The method is meant to reach students learning at drastically different levels, but Delisle charges that it complicates the work of teachers by forcing them to prepare separate materials and is almost impossible to put into practice. Fordham President Emeritus Chester Finn once asked if differentiated instruction was a hollow promise. Delisle and the Gadfly give a resounding yes.

BUT WHEN WILL WE GET A PLAYOFF SYSTEM?
You know it’s January when Rick Hess reveals his annual RHSU Edu-Scholar Rankings, a rock-’em, sock-’em power poll of the biggest, baddest wonks in academia. Check out the post to discover the biggest risers and hottest newcomers, along with the perennial champions making up the top ten. (And note the presence of peeps who were EEPS.) Of course, any list of influential education voices that doesn’t include a certain winged, anthropomorphized insect is notably incomplete.

GRADE-LEVEL TEXTS
In a dramatic victory for both restive pupils and the Apple Store, New York Mayor Bill...

WHAT TO WATCH
In a new article from Education Week, readers get the low-down on what to expect from the 114th Congress on the education front. First, we’ll see a race to get a reauthorized ESEA bill to the president by mid-February. Next, we can expect to see some debate on two major ed-reform issues: grade-span testing and charters schools. Finally, get ready for what may be the reemergence of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act and an education-research bill.

ESEA AS PIE
The first item on that list is the one that interests us most right now. For the best in-depth take on the GOP’s plans to tinker with No Child Left Behind (the most recent ESEA reauthorization, passed in 2001 and renewed in 2007), read Maggie Severns’s fantastic piece at Politico. Alongside a useful history of the law and a fresh look at the testing debate, the article cites Fordham’s own marvelous Mike Petrilli on the prospects for legislative action. The process, he says, will be “all about Congress taking a red pen and deleting” language in NCLB.

MORE FROM MIKE
...

ESEA reauthorization explained in a single table

Once upon a time (OK, it was 2007), we D.C. policy wonks were gearing up for a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education act (a.k.a. No Child Left Behind), and all the buzz was about the new federal requirements that would be added. Checker and I dubbed it “No Idea Left Behind.”

What a difference eight years makes. As Politico reported last week, with Republicans fully in charge of Capitol Hill, the only question this time around is how much Congress will subtract. Call it No Red Pen Left Behind.

Below is my take on the major ESEA provisions that are dead for sure, those that will survive, and the handful of policies that will animate the coming debate. [1]

[1] To be clear, some of the provisions listed here aren't in ESEA proper. Race to the Top and the Investing in Innovation fund were created as part of the 2009 stimulus bill; the administration dreamed up the requirements that states adopt teacher-evaluation systems and "college- and career-ready standards" as part of its conditional ESEA waivers....

EDUCATION SNAPSHOT: MASSACHUSETTS
Newly-appointed Massachusetts Secretary of Education James Peyser, a close associate of Governor-Elect Charlie Baker, will oversee implementation of a host of reforms, including the transition to Common Core, the replacement of the MCAS test (which he helped put in place during a stint in state government in the 1990s) with PARCC, and a promise to open at least fifty more charter schools over the next four years, which would bring the state total to 130. 

THEY THROW IN THE ARTILLERY CLASSES FREE
NPR investigates what’s being called the “largest employer-sponsored childcare program in the country”: military preschool. The program, which serves over 200,000 children at 800 centers and staffs 40,000 employees, has become a national model for early childhood care. The military subsidizes nearly two-thirds of the costs of childcare, and centers offer high teacher pay, mandatory training, and professional development and accredited facilities.

CALLING ALL COUNSELORS
The ratio of students to counselors in national high schools is 478:1, nearly double the recommendation put forth by the American School Counselor Association. This strain is particularly felt during college application periods, when guidance offices shuffle through hundreds of students and are often...

Editor's note: This post was originally published in a slightly different form as an op-ed in the Washington PostIt was subsequently republished in the Denver PostTampa Bay TimesSalt Lake TribuneTampa TribunePhiladelphia InquirerCommercial AppealPost and CourierPost-StandardNews TribuneNews Journaland Capital Times.

In November, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush suggested to hundreds of lawmakers and education reformers gathered for his foundation’s annual summit that “the rigor of the Common Core State Standards must be the new minimum.” Furthermore, he said, to “those states choosing a path other than Common Core, I say this: That’s fine. Except you should be aiming even higher and be bolder and raise standards and ask more of our students and the system.” Several Republican politicians, including Louisiana Senator (and gubernatorial hopeful) David Vitter and Mississippi Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves, promptly took up his suggestion, calling on their states to replace the Common Core with standards that are even more challenging.

In theory, this position is exactly right. Academic standards are the province of the states; it’s within their rights to have their own standards if that’s what their leaders and residents want. Furthermore, though there are benefits to having common standards...

Jack Schneider

Editor's note: This post is the sixth entry of a multi-part series of interviews featuring Fordham's own Andy Smarick and Jack Schneider, an assistant professor of education at Holy Cross. It originally appeared in a slightly different form at Education Week's K-12 Schools: Beyond the Rhetoric blog. Earlier entries can be found hereherehere, hereand here.

Schneider: In our previous post, you implied—through one of your fictional stories—that research could be used in the courts to establish particular policy positions, and I'd like to follow up on that.

I'm perpetually frustrated by the fact that, for every complex issue, there is competing research to cite. It's a real dilemma for which I don't really see a solution. Maybe we can talk through this a bit.

Smarick: I actually see the vast majority of research as complementary, not competing. 

Studies on the same subject often ask different questions, use different data sets, and have different methodologies. So if you only read the titles, you might think two reports are in conflict; but once you get into the details, you see that they paint a fuller picture of some issue when taken together. Let me give you just one very...

It’s the end of another great year in education-reform punditry. What was on the mind of Fordham experts and guest bloggers this year? Common Core for sure, from teaching literacy to the coming assessments; but also the fate of unions, no-excuses charters, career and technical education, differentiated instruction, and more.

Presenting your favorite (Fordham) things (in 2014), according to your clicks:

Flypaper (and Ohio Gadfly Daily)

10. Vergara, Harris, and the fate of the teachers unions
By Andy Smarick

9. Boston’s high-quality charters make no excuses
By Michael Goldstein

8. Turning the tables on the vocational ed debate
By Emily Hanford

7. A few reflections on the Common Core Wars
By Michael Petrilli

6. Education reform in 2014
By Chester E. Finn, Jr.

5. The opt-out outrage
By Chester E. Finn, Jr.

4. It pays to increase your word power
By Robert Pondiscio

3. Is differentiated instruction a hollow promise?
By Chester E. Finn, Jr.

2. Lies, damned lies, and the Common Core
By Michael Petrilli

1. Teachers, the Common Core, and the freedom to teach
by Jessica Poiner

Common Core Watch

10....

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