Flypaper

After the expectations-busting success of Cage-Busting Leadership two years ago, it’s no surprise that Rick Hess, head of the American Enterprise Institute’s education policy shop, is back with a sequel. The Cage-Busting Teacher has an arguably tougher goal than its predecessor, as there are millions more teachers than district leaders, and thousands more bars in teachers’ cages. Hess’s advice provides a road map for ambitious teachers. But his acknowledgement of critical, systemic issues highlights the fact that teachers can’t—and shouldn’t—have to go at it alone.

The book uses real-life anecdotes, peppered with references to everything from Say Anything to Aaron Sorkin, to illustrate cage busting and urge educators to take an active role in reforming the system to work for them. It’s an eminently readable work with deeply practical advice. Chapters focus on “managing up” with overworked administrators; identifying problems and selling solutions; becoming a savvy networker with district, union, and political leadership; and explaining common trip wires, like budgets and the policy cycle, in plainspoken English. High-placed leaders from TFA to the AFT weigh in on how teachers can develop greater agency and autonomy within the profession. As a former teacher who struggled with finding both during my two...

Greg Toppo

Note: On Tuesday, April 28, from 4:30 to 6:00 p.m. ET, the Fordham Institute will host a discussion with Greg Toppo on his new book, The Game Believes in You, from which this essay is adapted. See our event page for more information and to register. All are invited to stay for a small reception following the event.

After decades of ambivalence, suspicion, and sometimes outright hostility, educators are beginning to discover the charms of digital games and simulations, in the process rewriting centuries-old rules of learning, motivation, and success.

Teachers have long used cards, dice, pencil-and-paper games, and board games to teach and reinforce key concepts. But digital technology, and games in particular, go even further. Because games look so little like school, they force us to reconsider our most basic assumptions about how children learn: What is school for and what should students do there? Where should kids get their content and how? How important is it that they like what they’re doing? What is our tolerance for failure and what is our standard for success? Who is in control here?

Even the electronic versions of games have a history dating back two generations. The...

Tell me if you disagree, my fellow wonks and pundits, but I don’t think anyone predicted a 22-0 vote from the Senate HELP committee on ESEA reauthorization. What an amazing tribute to the bipartisan leadership of Chairman Lamar Alexander and ranking member Patty Murray.

So what happens now? The next stop is the Senate floor, where members of the committee and others will introduce many an amendment—some of which will be plenty controversial, but few of which will muster sixty votes. At that point, we’ll learn whether there are sixty votes to pass the bill as a whole. The unanimous committee vote certainly bodes well, though it’s no guarantee. (I can’t imagine Senator Rand Paul voting for a bill on the Senate floor that doesn’t including Title I portability, for example, but there aren’t the numbers for that. So he’ll vote nay.)

And if the Senate does pass a bill? Then there’s that pesky House of Representatives. That’s where things get interesting. House Republican leaders will face three choices:

First, they can take the Senate bill straight to the House floor and seek to pass it with bipartisan support. They will almost surely lose many liberals and conservatives, but...

In education reform, we like to say that demography isn’t destiny—that, with the right supports, poor children can achieve at high levels despite the many challenges they face. But today, I’d like to discuss demography more literally—namely, the nation’s birth rate. Because it is destined to lead to significant teacher layoffs in the near future.

Much like the Great Depression did, the onset of the Great Recession led to a sharp decline in the U.S. birth rate. This graph illustrates the trend clearly:

More babies were born in the United States in 2007 than any other year in history—even more than at the peak of the Baby Boom. But the numbers started to plummet in 2008; as of 2013 (the most recent data), we’ve seen six straight years of decline. We are now 9 percent below 2007’s high.

So what does this mean for schools? For starters, remember that there’s a five year lag between birth and kindergarten entry. Do the math and you’ll learn that, at least nationally, there are a whole lot of first and second graders (born in 2007). But the kindergarten class is...

  • Because she couldn’t bear to keep Martin O’Malley in suspense any longer, Hillary Clinton revealed this weekend that she would be running for president in 2016. Her well-executed video ginned up an endless amount of free press, but few commentators picked up on a strangely off-key segment: Early on, one participant expresses excitement at the prospect of moving to a new neighborhood so that their child will have access to a decent school. Situated discordantly between announcements of weddings and new business ventures, the line perfectly illustrates the lack of choice most parents face when trying to educate their kids. Several prominent liberal writers have already voiced their frustration with the message. “Having to move in order to enroll in a ‘better" school,’ wrote Jonathan Chait in New York, is “a very strange value system for the left to embrace.”
  • If you haven’t spent the last few months in a cave, you’re probably aware that this spring marks the debut of Common Core-aligned tests in dozens of states across the country. Those tests, expected to be far tougher than those that preceded them, have stirred up enough national controversy to keep education writers busy until
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As part of its College Match Program, MDRC has released an application guide for “counselors, teachers, and advisers who work with high school students from low-income families and students who are the first in their families to pursue a college education.”

A “match” school embodies two important qualities: It is academically suited for the student, and it meets her financial, social, and personal needs. Unfortunately, “undermatching”—enrolling in schools for which one is academically overqualified or not applying to college at all—is all too common for low-income kids, driving down their college completion rates. Myriad factors at the student, secondary, and post-secondary levels can lead to this phenomenon, including lack of information, concerns about leaving home, minimal training for adults working with students, and limited college recruitment practices.

MDRC’s solution is the College Match Program. Between 2010 and 2014, it placed “near-peer” advisers, who are recent college graduates with training in college advising, in low-income high schools (eight in Chicago and two in New York City) to support students as they navigated the school-selection and financial aid application process. Approximately 1,200 students were served. Researchers conclude that students are willing to apply to selective colleges when they (1) have an...

Back in January, the Education Research Alliance (ERA) for New Orleans released a study looking at patterns of parental choice in the highly competitive education marketplace. That report showed that non-academic considerations (bus transportation, sports, afterschool care) are often bigger factors than academic quality when parents choose schools. It also suggested strongly that it was possible for other players in the system (e.g., city officials, charter authorizers, the SEA) to assert the primacy of academic quality by a number of means (e.g., type and style of information available to parents, a central application system). A new report from ERA-New Orleans follows up by examining school-level responses to competition, using interview and survey data from thirty schools of all types across the city.

Nearly all of the surveyed school leaders reported having at least one competitor for students, and most schools reported more than one response to that competition. The most commonly reported response, cited by twenty-five out of thirty schools, was marketing existing school offerings more aggressively. Less common responses to competition included improving academic instruction and making operational changes like budget cuts so that the need to compete for more students (and money) would be less pressing.

These...

The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, best known for its scholarship programs for low-income gifted students in high school and college, has entered into the policy realm by beating the drum on an important issue—closing the excellence gap. Gifted-education expert Jonathan Plucker and his coauthors grade states on how they educate an oft-forgotten class of learners: high-performing, low-income students. (We at Fordham often refer to high-achieving students as high flyers.)

The report assesses states on inputs, which include requiring the identification of gifted students, providing services for them, and establishing pro-acceleration policies. Predictably, but still dishearteningly, not one state earned an A for providing needed support for their low-income high-flyers. On average, states only implement three of nine desirable policies, and no state implements more than six. Only two states require gifted education coursework in teacher or administrator training. The best grade, a B-, went to Minnesota, in part because it requires gifted students to be identified and given services.

Helpfully, the report also grades states on outputs. It reports the number of their students who reached “Advanced” on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) assessments or scored a three or higher on Advanced Placement exams (not necessarily...

Today, the Senate HELP Committee is considering the bipartisan ESEA reauthorization bill crafted by Senators Alexander and Murray.

This legislation represents a very smart compromise on the key issue of accountability. What happens in committee, on the floor, and beyond is anyone’s guess. But the current language is, in my view, the best proposal we’ve seen for solving the problem that’s held up ESEA reauthorization for ages.

In February, I created a graphic showing how the various proposals on the table handled the various elements of accountability. The major plans followed one of three approaches. The middle path (between a beefed-up federal role and an emaciated one) was staked out by state-oriented groups including CCSSO, NGA, and NCSL. I called this “Accountability for Results.”

The Alexander-Murray bill is in this mold, though with a couple of notable adjustments.

Like many other plans, it keeps NCLB’s suite of tests. But it makes a very important, very interesting, and very compelling amendment to NCLB’s aspirational target of all students reaching proficiency in each grade by...

Everyone is right to laud the impressive work of Senate HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander and ranking member Patty Murray in producing a strong bipartisan bill to update the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). But it has a significant flaw that needs mending before it becomes law, and it might be up to House Republicans to do the fixing.

The problem, in a nutshell, is that it puts enormous pressure on the states to set utopian goals. That, in turn, will result in most schools being declared failures (and/or create pressure for states to water down their standards), which is exactly what happened under NCLB.

At issue is a true dilemma for policymakers: There seems to be an irresistible urge in education to set aspirational goals. There’s nothing wrong with that, per se—stirring, “shoot for the moon” rhetoric can be motivational and galvanize action. But as Rick Hess and Checker Finn have explained, when it’s time to create accountability systems, policymakers must sober up. If they set unrealistic, unreachable goals, the people working in the system will grow cynical and disillusioned—the opposite of motivated.

Senator Alexander’s discussion draft bill got this balance right. (So does the...

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