Flypaper

A core assumption of the education-reform movement is that excellent schools can be engines of upward mobility. But what kind of schools? And to what end?

In tandem with the release of several papers, this path-breaking conference will consider thorny questions, including: Is “college for all” the right goal? (And what do we mean by “college”?) Do young people mostly need a strong foundation in academics? What can schools do to develop so-called “non-cognitive” skills? Should technical education be a central part of the reform agenda? How about apprenticeships? What can we learn from the military’s success in working with disadvantaged youth?

 

Panel I: Escaping Poverty through Education, Work, and Personal Responsibility
About a third of the individuals who grow up in poverty in America climb the ladder to the middle class as adults. What do we know about their trajectory? How can we increase these numbers? What role does education play? Higher education? Industry certifications and other non-degree credentials? Apprenticeships? Following the “success sequence” (get a high school diploma, work full time, and wait till age 21 to marry and start a family)?
 
Opening remarks by Michael J. Petrilli, President, Thomas B. Fordham Institute
 
Presenters
Ron Haskins, Brookings Institution: “Education and the Success Sequence”
Andrew Kelly, AEI, “Big Payoff, Low Probability: Postsecondary Education and Economic Mobility in America”
Tamar Jacoby, Opportunity America, “The Certification Revolution”
Robert Lerman, Urban Institute, “How Apprenticeship Can Spur Upward Mobility”
 
Respondent
Reihan Salam, National Review Institute
 

Panel II: Multiple Pathways in High School
We dive deep into the “make or break” time for social mobility—the adolescent years, ...

EDUCATION SNAPSHOT: FLORIDA
Some schools in Florida are offering single-sex classes in the hopes of improving academic performance and cutting down on disciplinary issues. Supporters of the tactic cite unique learning differences between boys and girls, claiming that, among other gender-specific distinctions, boys often require more physical activity during lessons. Meanwhile, groups like the A.C.L.U. say that separating students by gender perpetuates stereotypes and shows no evidence of academic benefits.

CATCHING UP WITH NCLB
Congress is hoping to update No Child Left Behind by early 2015, though reaching bipartisan consensus will be difficult. The law, which last came up for renewal in 2007, requires schools to revamp teacher evaluations and monitor and report the performance of at-risk students. Much criticism has been directed against the law’s focus on increased standardized testing, which will likely garner considerable debate during the months ahead.

BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING
MOOCs, or massive open online courses, allow students of all ages to broaden their educational horizons by increasing access to expert instruction. However, apprehension concerning the use of student data is building as the number of MOOC enrollees grows. Some worry that students are unwittingly forfeiting vast amounts of private information, from birthdays to IP addresses to academic performance, while attempting to supplement their classroom learning.

ART CLASS AS SCHOOLCRAFT
As part of Education Week’s “Inspired Learning” series, Oklahoma educator Jean Hendrickson extols the value of arts education in elementary school. Hendrickson credits enhanced arts instruction and partnerships between schools and cultural organization with “higher student achievement, fewer disciplinary referrals, better attendance for students and their teachers, higher levels of parental involvement, and more evidence of creativity and what we call ‘the joy factor.’"...

Having worked on educator evaluation reform at a state department of education, I do my best to keep up with developments related to the extremely tough work of state-level implementation. I follow New Jersey’s progress especially closely because I took part in the work there (and I’m certainly biased in its favor).

If you also track such stuff, take a look at the “2013-14 Preliminary Implementation Report on Teacher Evaluation" recently released by the NJDOE

There’s much to like here, including the way the state reports on the history of the program and its focus on district engagement and continuous improvement.

But two things really caught my eye. First, the report has some important data points. For instance:

  • The pilot program included thirty districts and nearly 300 administrators.
  • More than 25,000 educators took part in some kind of state training in 2013–14.
  • The new program may have increased the number of teacher observations around the state by 180,000(!).
  • More than half of districts are using some version of the Danielson observation instrument, and most of the remaining districts are using one of four other tools.

Second, the state is betting on “student growth objectives” (SGOs) and putting significant energy into implementing them well.

The state held forty-four SGO workshops from late 2013 through early 2014, then held another thirty-nine “SGO 2.0” sessions this spring, then added more this summer and fall because of demand. According to a state survey, teachers are reporting that SGOs can be beneficial to their practice.

Things aren’t perfect by any means. According to the state’s review, only 70 percent of SGOs were deemed to be “high-quality,” “specific,” and “measurable.” Most of the other 30 percent were found to lack specificity. There was also inconsistency in...

Good morning. It’s wonderful to see so many friends and colleagues here today. My name is Michael Petrilli, and in August I took over as the president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, one of the nation’s leading education-policy think tanks, as well as an education-reform advocacy organization in the great state of Ohio and a charter school authorizer in the great city of Dayton. Welcome to our “Education for Upward Mobility” conference.

Today is a rare chance for those of us engaged in the raucous and sometimes vitriolic education-reform debate to step back and consider the path we find ourselves upon. The goal is to seek an answer to a fundamental question, perhaps one of the most important questions in America today: How can we help children born into poverty to transcend their disadvantages and enter the middle class as adults? And in particular, what role can our schools play?

This isn’t a new question.  When President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act fifty years ago, he remarked that, “As a son of a tenant farmer, I know that education is the only valid passport from poverty.”

Or, as Jeb Bush put it two weeks ago, here in Washington: “Education is the great equalizer.”

What is new is the nagging concern (shared across the ideological spectrum) that social mobility in the U.S. has stalled. As conservative scholar Peter Wehner wrote recently, “Two-thirds of Americans believe that it will be harder for them to achieve the American Dream than it was for their parents, and three-quarters believe that it will be harder still for their children and grandchildren to do the same.” And sure enough, the numbers are sobering, particularly for the poorest among us. As Richard Reeves of the Brookings Institution explains, “Children born on...

Emily Hanford

A college-track student looks back with envy at career-track schooling.
Emily Hanford

In England, all schools feature “distributed leadership.” Here, not so much.
Michael J. Petrilli and Amber M. Northern, Ph.D.

President Obama’s contempt for the Constitution, and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s unfortunate disregard of that document, have been loudly and justly decried by critics of executive overreach. Less heralded, but equally troubling, is the mission creep of the Office for Civil Rights as it works to reshape the education world and to right whatever alleged wrongs it thinks it sees.

All of these officials and agencies are seeking to accomplish policy goals that they believe are good for America, and I’m not impugning their motives. But they are playing fast and loose with their job descriptions and responsibilities under law.

Much has been written and said about Obama and Duncan. Let’s focus here on OCR. Mike Petrilli has already exposed the folly of the agency’s witch hunt for disparate impact in school discipline and explained the challenges it will pose for educators trying to run schools that are conducive to learning. In the matter of sexual harassment, I and others have written about the ill-conceived substitution of university conduct codes, unreasonable evidentiary standards, and star-chamber procedures for longstanding law-enforcement practices. (This carries more than a whiff of hypocrisy, as those whom the government is “protecting” are the selfsame students who would bridle at any effort to constrain their freedom to have sex, get drunk, and skip class.)

The most recent exercise of mission creep and nanny-statism by OCR, and not yet adequately exposed, involves what the enforcers call “equal access to educational resources.” These include gifted-and-talented programs within schools as well as honors tracks, Advanced Placement courses, and, perhaps, Ms. Arkwright’s practice of dividing her third-graders into “bluebirds” and “redbirds” for reading instruction, as well as the Morgan School’s practice of “teaming” its seventh-grade math instructors so that students who are already pushing into algebra go to Mr. Janeway’s classroom, those who...

I recently wrote about exciting new charter school results in Washington, D.C.. More kids are in high-performing charters, the number of high-performing charters is growing, and the number of struggling charters is shrinking.

But why?

For lots of reasons; D.C. has great school operators that are expanding; the charter law is quite good; the city has valuable support organizations; and public support has helped insulate the sector from unfounded attacks.

But among the most important factors is strong authorizing. That’s why you should read the new case study of the D.C. Public Charter School Board (PCSB).

By way of background, PCSB is regarded as one of the nation’s ablest authorizers. It’s a “single-purpose entity,” meaning that it only does charter authorizing, and its schools educate nearly half of D.C.’s public-school students. (And my Bellwether colleague Sara Mead is a member of its board.)

The report provides solid information on PCSB’s history, structure, schools portfolio, activities, processes, budget, staffing, and governance. Charter authorizing across the nation would improve (and charter performance would improve as a result) if PCSB’s lessons were widely adopted.

Even if you’re not as devoted to chartering as I am, you might want to give the report a look. Charter market share is significant and growing in most big cities, meaning authorizing will have a major bearing on the future of urban public schooling.

In my view, the report’s key shortcoming is that it ignores The Big Question: Since the D.C. charter sector produces several additional months of learning annually for its kids, educates nearly half of D.C. students, has very long waitlists, and continues to grow, and since DCPS continues to struggle, how is PCSB preparing to become the dominant public education provider...

WE DON'T NEED NO STINKIN' DATA
“There shouldn’t be a whole movement out of charters the month before the test,” said NYC schools chancellor Carmen Fariña last week, implying that some charters are manipulating test scores by pushing struggling students out of their schools prior to testing. Her statements have charter operators and advocates incensed, and many are calling for the chancellor to produce data to substantiate her remarks. “Unless she can back up this statement with facts,” said Jeremiah Kittredge of Families for Excellent Schools, “she should withdraw it.”

WONK ALERT
Teachers are trying out a new way to prepare students for tests through a strategy known as interleaving, or mixing problems and concepts. In studies, students who completed homework in mixed sets performed better on final assessments than those who received traditional “blocked” problems. Psychologists also say students better retain information when they teach to peers. 

DRILLING FOR DEGREES
Amidst multi-year budget cuts to higher education across the country, two states have managed to buck the trend: those profligate spenders Alaska and North Dakota. Flush with newfound petrodollars, both states have sunk millions into their state schools in the hopes of improving job prospects for their citizens. Though Alaska’s spending surge has been more modest, North Dakota has increased per-pupil spending by nearly 40 percent in the last six years.

PROFILE IN COWARDICE
The Hechinger Report has a terrific look at Common Core implementation at Andrew Johnson Elementary School in northeast Tennessee. Teachers at the school, which sits in a district made up predominantly of students from economically disadvantaged families, have recently reported outstanding literacy gains correlated with the adoption of new standards. That didn’t stop Republican governor and former Common Core advocate Bill Haslam from caving to...

LICENSE TO FAIL
The pass rate for teacher-licensing exams is usually about 90 percent. However, only 68 percent of candidates passed New York’s new licensing test, which emphasizes understanding of the new Common Core ELA standards and ability to instruct English language learners and special needs students. This data comes at a time when many argue that teaching licenses are awarded too easily, resulting in too many unprepared teachers in America’s classrooms.

NEW LOOK FOR AFFIRMATIVE ACTION FOES
NPR has a fascinating story on the novel approach taken by an organization militating against prevailing affirmative action policies. The Project for Fair Representation, run by activist Edward Blum, charges that Asian American applicants are disproportionately kept out of elite institutions like Harvard and the University of North Carolina by racial balancing formulae that arbitrarily cap the number of spaces allotted to students of their ethnicity. If true, the allegation would confirm some of the arguments in Ron Unz’s mammoth study of the corruption of Ivy League admissions

TRUTH TO POWER
During a panel with fellow Republican governors Bobby Jindal, Mike Pence, Rick Perry, and Scott Walker, Ohio Governor John Kasich distinguished himself with his pro-Common Core stance. In an exchange with Perry about the role of the federal government in creating the standards, Governor Kasich affirmed a rare nugget of truth that isn’t articulated nearly...

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