Flypaper

Public school districts in the United States face a tough reality: Student needs are mounting and accountability demands are on the rise, but resources remain limited or are on the decline. In recent years, there has been great energy around how to do more with less through technology-supported instruction, class-size management, new staffing patterns, school closures, etc. But in the end, many districts have resorted to doing less with less, such as offering fewer electives, reducing administrator and support-staff positions, delaying maintenance, and postponing textbook adoptions.

But there is good news. There are practical, real-world opportunities for districts to realign resources and free up funds to support their strategic priorities. It is possible to do more with less, if you are spending money wisely. Many district leaders might defensively respond that they in fact have a multitude of ideas, but the budgeting process and political pushback make many options virtually impossible. The challenge is to find cases in which the political pushback is manageable and both the impact on student achievement and the financial benefit are significant. Fortunately, recent research shows that such scenarios do exist.

We at the District Management Council detailed the top ten opportunities for resource reallocation in our book Spending Money Wisely: Getting the Most from School District Budgets. Focusing on these achievable opportunities offers the potential to free up significant resources that can be used to improve a district’s performance and ultimately bring about what we all hope for:...

A few weeks ago, I bemoaned an Education Trust report positing that schools shouldn’t get A grades if they have significant achievement gaps, even if their students are making lots of progress. I guess I didn’t make a convincing case, particularly to the folks at 400 Maryland Avenue. As Anne Hyslop reported, the newly announced NCLB waiver guidelines now ask states for “a demonstration that a school may not receive the highest rating in the state’s accountability system if there are significant achievement or graduation rate gaps in the school that are not closing.” As Anne wrote, “this is almost verbatim from the recommendations” put forth by Ed Trust.

But is this a smart idea? Consider the case of Sawgrass Elementary School in Broward County, Florida. Let’s examine its stats (downloaded from this Florida Department of Education site). First look at the demographics, which show it to be a rare model of racial and socio-economic diversity:

  • 27 percent white
  • 28 percent black
  • 37 percent Hispanic
  • 6 percent Asian
  • 54 percent disadvantaged
  • 29 percent English language learners (ELL)

As for academic performance, Sawgrass has been making big gains in both math and reading, both overall and for its lowest-performing students. As for subgroups, let’s look at the percentage of students scoring at “satisfactory” or above on mathematics:

  • Its white students outperform the statewide white average by thirteen percentage points.
  • Its black students outperform the statewide black average
  • ...

BUSHWACKED
In a bout of unforeseen excitement at AEI, a routine guest lecture by controversial Newark Schools Superintendent Cami Anderson turned to pandemonium when dozens of furious protesters bused down from the Gateway City to disrupt the talk. Over at Education Week, event organizer Rick Hess lambasted the activists as “rabble-rousers” and “enemies of free speech,” also apparently taking offense to their repeated use of train whistles.

BETTER LEARNING THROUGH VIDEO GAMES
A recent study has found that playing high-action video games may accelerate student learning. According to the Rochester Center for Brain Imaging, students who played these games were faster at learning new sensory-motor skills than their non-gaming peers. As it turns out, high-action video games may enhance a student’s attention, perception, and ability to switch tasks and mentally rotate objects—skills that contribute heavily to a student’s ability to succeed in math and geometry.

IMPOSSIBLE DREAM?
When long-serving former Boston Mayor Tom Menino died last month, the occasion spawned countless panegyrics to the most powerful leader the city had ever known. Even while honoring his many accomplishments, however, supporters had to concede that his record on education failed to astound. Now his successor Marty Walsh is struggling to win the prize that eluded Menino during his two-decade tenure: a longer school day.

SHAME OF THE NATION
An article in today’s New York Times details the dilapidated state of Native American schools. School officials claim that the environment in which...

John Chubb

[Editor's note: This is the second post in our latest blog series by John Chubb, "Building a Better Leader: Lessons from New Principal Leadership Development Programs." See here for the introductory post.]

Traditional principal preparation programs are notoriously non-selective. The new breed of program takes selectivity to the opposite extreme. Some have ratios of acceptances to inquiries or applications that rival competitive colleges—below 10 percent. For example, Building Excellent Schools (BES) receives upwards of 2,000 inquiries for between ten and twelve fellowships.

Every alternative program that we studied is looking first for intellectual capacity and leadership approach. Jane Shirley, executive director of Get Smart Schools (GSS), put it this way: “We’re looking for systemic thinkers. [Management expert] Peter Senge says that every system is perfectly designed to get the results it is getting. We want leaders who, when faced with a problem, understand it’s because whatever you’ve designed is supporting that particular problem—to understand the problem at the design level is the kind of creativity we are looking for.” GSS is preparing principals to lead autonomous schools, she emphasized, and “that is very different from leading schools in a bureaucracy.”

The University of Illinois is preparing principals to work in a bureaucracy, the Chicago Public Schools. But it has a similar emphasis. First, the program is embedded in a Ph.D. program, evidence of the kind of deep and creative thinking that it values. The program also demands that prospective leaders be capable of maintaining high expectations as a...

Draft Conference Agenda
Thomas B. Fordham Institute's Education for Upward Mobility
December 2, 2014
The Renaissance Hotel
999 9th Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20001
 
8:00 – 8:45           Registration, breakfast and coffee available
8:45 – 9:00           Welcome and introductions, Michael J. Petrilli
9:00 – 10:15        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? Military service? Apprenticeships? Following the “success sequence” (get a high school diploma, work full time, and wait until age 21 to marry and start a family)?
 
Presenters
Ron Haskins, Brookings Institution: “Education and the Success Sequence”
Andrew Kelly, American Enterprise Institute: “Big Payoff, Low Probability: Postsecondary Education and Economic Mobility in America”
...

NYC KIDS FLOOD PRE-K
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s full-day pre-K initiative is exceeding enrollment expectations. More than 53,000 children have signed up for the program, compared to about 20,000 attending full-day pre-kindergarten last year. The sharp rise in attendance is seen as a victory for the mayor, who has made expansion of pre-K programs a cornerstone of his education policy.

GOLD STANDARDS IN THE SILVER STATE
In part two of NPR’s terrific series on reading in the Common Core era, teachers in Washoe County, Nevada, discuss how the challenging standards demand more from both low and high achievers. The shift from simple comprehension questions to evidence-supported answers helps students at all levels of achievement stay engaged with the material.

IS IT SAFE?
The National Association of Secondary School Principals is working to address increasing security concerns accompanying a rise in technology and data storage in classrooms. Among its recommendations, the group suggests tougher encryption standards, development of statewide security plans, and district-level policies that determine what data can be collected and where...

Peter Sipe

“Ambiguous” is a reliably fun word to teach sixth graders. They quickly grasp its essence and utility. I introduce it by explaining how I was once given a keychain with the legend “I Teach. I Make a Difference.I assure my students that I have never used this keychain, for, in keeping with my unyielding commitment to personal excellence, I would only ever boast of making a positive difference. Then we have a lively discussion about the possible meanings of the keychain’s phrase. This discourse was evidently not forgotten by one student, who in June concluded a speech, "Mr. Sipe, you made a difference." Then she smiled wickedly and added, “A big difference!”

At least she didn’t declare this: “He could not disguise from my hourly notice the poverty and meagreness of his understanding.” That unambiguous teacher evaluation was penned by Thomas DeQuincey almost two hundred years ago in Confessions of an Opium-Eater. He dispatches another master as “a blockhead, who was in a perpetual panic lest I should expose his ignorance.” You don’t have to read far to begin to wonder if his titular waywardness was perhaps due to unrewarding schooling. “It is a bad thing,” DeQuincey observes, “for a boy to be and to know himself far beyond his tutors, whether in knowledge or in power of mind.” I wouldn’t challenge him on this.

The question of how to challenge a young...

DEPARTMENT OF GOOD NEWS
Earlier this fall, Fordham’s inimitable Robert Pondiscio traveled to Reno to check out the breezy and successful Common Core implementation in the Washoe County school district. This week, the county's teachers discuss how their original wariness of the standards gave way to an understanding of how they will benefit students. Teachers are particularly optimistic about how the Common Core ELA standards stress text-based evidence rather than personal connections, an approach that helps disadvantaged kids keep pace with the rest of their class.

DEPARMENT OF BAD NEWS
The U.S. Department of Education announced in September that more than 1.1. million public school students have no permanent homes. Experts say homeless students are nine times more likely to be held back a grade level and four times more likely to drop out of school entirely. Nonprofit mobile tutoring programs often have to supplement the work of local schools, as NPR reports.

COMPETITORS GETTING TEST-Y
There is growing controversy surrounding Common Core-aligned test-development contracts. Bidding in many states has lacked any semblance of competition, with only one company participating in the process, and a lawsuit in New Mexico alleges that the bid requirements were prejudicial, according to the Wall Street Journal.

SHORTCUT TO HIGHER PAY?
A new study found wide variations in wages earned by students graduating from short- or long-term degree programs, concluding that most short-term career certificates yield “minimal to no positive effects.” Today, more than a...

VIEW FROM THE TOP
The U.S. Department of Education is reviewing the process by which teachers are assigned to schools to ensure that highly qualified and experienced teachers are equally staffed at both high-poverty schools and those of greater means. States are being sent OCR data about teacher experience, certification, absenteeism, and salary, and asked to develop plans for their schools to comply with federal law mandating equal access to high-quality instructors. It’s the first time such plans have been solicited in almost a decade.

MEET THE NEW BOSS
In an interview with NPR this morning, Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander described the education policy agenda of the newly Republican-controlled Senate. The former education secretary emphasized the need for more local control and declared that fixing No Child Left Behind is among his highest priorities. 

EDUCATION SNAPSHOT
Students at a Boston Cristo Rey high school gain real-world work experience that boosts confidence and gives them a competitive edge in the workforce. The Catholic school network’s work-study program sends students, who primarily come from low-income families, to local companies for five days a month in exchange for a portion of the student’s tuition. It’s an innovative model that was recently profiled in an exceptional piece in the Atlantic.

TEACH YOUR TEACHERS WELL
Ed schools are rethinking math teacher prep in light of the new Common Core standards: The Mathematics Teacher Education...

ELECTIONS HAVE CONSEQUENCES
Newly elected congressional Republicans have revealed an aggressive education policy agenda that will focus on overhauling No Child Left Behind and the Higher Education Act. Other education priorities include school choice, funding issues, and scaling back the federal government’s involvement in K–12. For more information on the election’s implications on education, read Andy Smarick’s hot take from earlier this week.

TAKE OFF YOUR COAT AND STAY A WHILE
A new study by the Council of Great City Schools found that the average tenure of principals from the largest school districts has slightly decreased since 2010, to 3.2 years. This high turnover makes sustainable change and reform efforts difficult to implement and often stifles “positive academic momentum.” To get a local look at the effects of this kind of churn, turn to Chalkbeat’s look at the revolving door for principals in Denver Public Schools

SIGN O' THE TIMES
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio recently rolled out his three-year initiative for school reform, which centers on reinventing ninety-four of the city’s most troubled schools as “Renewal Schools.” Today, he got the early response from elite consensus: The New York Times op-ed page panned the proposal, saying the mayor “robbed himself of a useful reform tool” by abandoning Michael Bloomberg’s strategy of shutting down failing schools.

FOR-PROFIT SCHOOLS FIGHT REGULATIONS
On the subject of newly-released education proposals, the federal government’s regulations on for-profit...

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