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Many of our recent ed-reforms—e.g. Teach for America, alternative certification, the Hamilton Project, and various “new teacher” projects—implicitly subscribe to the idea that great teachers are born, not made. Ed schools, too, largely consider “training” teachers to be beneath their dignity. Hence the path to instructional excellence is to welcome all sorts of smart people into the classroom via all sorts of entry paths, then weed out those who don’t cut it.

In her new book, Building a Better Teacher, veteran education journalist Elizabeth Green sets out to dismantle this notion.

If she’s right and the reformers are wrong it would be good news, for then we could devise purposeful strategies for improving classroom instruction at scale—and not subject kids to a trial-and-error process of teacher selection. This possibility makes Building a Better Teacher an important book. Alas, Green offers scant evidence to support the made-not-born thesis. Indeed, her biggest proof point—a lengthy examination of the teaching techniques pioneered by a small cadre of math teachers in Michigan—comes perilously close to undermining the case she sets out to build.

This narrative focuses on the work of Deborah Ball, currently dean of education at the University of Michigan. Back in the day, she was a gifted fifth-grade math teacher at Spartan Village Academy in East Lansing. While still a student at Michigan State (MSU), Ball and a colleague, an equally...

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The New York chapter of the United Federation of Teachers participated in an anti-police brutality rally this past Saturday, prompting the question of what exactly does the union stand for: teachers or a political agenda? Fordham’s vice president of research and coauthor of Fordham’s union-strength study, Amber Northern, explained to Fox viewers why the UFT’s decision to support this rally undermines their chief cause.

As Northern puts it, “the zebra is showing its stripes.” 

This post is an excerpt from a speech I gave last week at the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce’s state of the schools event.

We’re in the midst of the biggest backlash to education reform in a decade, if not a generation. While some in the movement believe we need to just improve our message, or find new messengers, my sense is that our challenges run much deeper. If we’re going to succeed over the long haul, we need to take a hard look not just at how we’re selling, but also at what we’re selling. We need to look at our reform agenda and ask ourselves: Is it working? Do the pieces fit well together? Does it diagnose the problem correctly and offer the right cures?

This is where we’ve made our biggest mistakes: getting the diagnosis wrong. Specifically, we have diagnosed all of our schools as having the same disease, and prescribed the same medicine for all of them.

In many of our reform conversations, there’s been a lot of tough talk about “failing schools,” and the need to “blow up the system.” And heaven knows there are some terrible schools out there, and broken, dysfunctional systems.

But let me ask you: do you send your children to public schools? Do you think your own public schools are broken, failing, need to be blown up?

I’m a public school parent. I don’t think my son’s school is broken or failing. It’s not. And neither,...

BOBBY SUE
Bobby Jindal plans to file a lawsuit today, accusing the federal government of  illegally manipulating federal grant money and regulations to force states to adopt Common Core. It has been observed that the Louisiana governor may covet national office.  

EIGHT TOUGHEST CHALLENGES FACING ED REFORM
In Education Week, Fordham’s Finn notes where education reform has made significant advances, (a la school choice), but outlines work still to do—including one of the seven deadly sins.

THIS OP-ED SCORES IN THE 99TH PERCENTILE
“We have convulsions when we read the nonsense being passed off as testing insights,” says a real, live psychometrician in the New York Daily News.

FORDHAM IN THE NEWS
Amber Northern is no fan of teachers unions, and on Fox News she wonders why the New York UFT is a fan of Al Sharpton.

READING, WRITING, AND ROLLER COASTERS
Kids in Washington, D.C., and Maryland are back to school this week, but it’s still summer vacation in Virginia, thanks to the state’s powerful amusement-park lobby.

FRESHMAN ORIENTATION AT PCU
No idea what “Transnational Transgender Social Formations” means? Bari Weiss in the Wall Street Journal advises new students at Politically Correct University to stick...

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Neerav Kingsland

Marc Tucker is the author of an important new report: Fixing Our National Accountability System. You can find the executive summary here.

Although Marc and I disagree on the promise of Relinquishment (most specifically on charter schools), I agree with much of this thinking.

But, in this report, Marc makes a strategic mistake in dismissing choice-based reforms.

To put it another way: if there is a grand bargain to be made that significantly increases student achievement in the United States, it could look like this:

  • Reduce testing frequency and increase testing rigor
  • Improve the quality of the teaching force
  • Increase charter schools and choice

Why could this bargain work? Because both Democrats and Republicans might actually support all three strategies.

Why might Marc’s vision not be realized without a charter strategy? Because, without charters, his reforms reduce testing accountability and increase spending, without increasing any elements of choice, competition, or entrepreneurship.

This is likely a nonstarter for many Americans, especially centrist and conservative policy makers.

Seventy percent of the public supports charter schools. Urban charter schools outperform traditional schools. And countries such as South Korea have shown that choice and competition can increase student achievement.

Pragmatically, Marc would be much more likely to see his vision realized if he embraced charter schools. And I believe firmly that this would be better for students.

So here’s my plea: Marc, embrace charters and choice in addition to your other excellent...

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AND YOUR ENDOWMENT STILL GROWS TAX-FREE?
There are lots more poor students graduating from high school and going to college than ever before. Just not elite colleges. The New York Times reports top colleges educate roughly the same percentage of low-income kids as they did a generation ago. Separately, Vox notes Harvard, Yale, and Princeton are rich enough to let kids attend for free.

ELL TO PAY
Most of the 55,000 unaccompanied children who crossed the border illegally in the past will be enrolling in school in the U.S. “Most will require a number of supports that can be costly,” Education Week reports, “including English-language instruction, as well as counseling and mental-health services.”

DOWN AND OUT IN CALIFORNIA
Thousands of California students never make it to the ninth grade. “With most dropout prevention and recovery efforts centered on the upper grades,” notes the Hechinger Report. “These students slip through the cracks early on and are faced with bleak futures unless they find their own way back.”

CALMING CORE CRITICS
Florida's Republican governor Rick Scott said on Monday that Florida's department of education will ‘investigate’ all standardized testing and look for ways to deregulate selection of instructional materials. The moves are intended to calm critics of Common Core, Reuters reports.

YES, PLEASE, I’D LOVE TO DO A KEG STAND
...

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THE SOFT PUNDITRY OF LOW EXPECTATIONS
As New York City races ahead with its mammoth PreK expansion, some analysts say “anything short of a disaster” could benefit mayor de Blasio, the Associated Press reports

PRESSING THE RHEESTART BUTTON
Michelle Rhee’s departure from StudentsFirst “could represent a significant shift in the environment” for DFER. 50CAN, Stand for Children and others. “These groups, which have grown in prominence in a number of states...are dealing with pushback from traditional education interest groups,” Edweek reports.

EDUWARS BY PROXY
Teachers unions attack “proxy enemies” like Campbell Brown, Michelle Rhee, and Arne Duncan, because Obama remains highly popular with the union rank-and-file, notes New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait.  “Asking teachers to choose between Obama and the union line runs the risk that many teachers will decide the union is wrong,” he writes.

DADS SHOULD SEE THESE CHARTS TOO
Only half of education jobs are teacher jobs, reminds The Daily Signal in four charts for moms. Dads should take a look too.

LET’S BE SAFE OUT THERE
It’s the first day of school for students in Washington, DC and elsewhere.  The New York Times reports on opening day in Ferguson....

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WHAT WOULD HUEY P. LONG DO?
Jindal’s about-face on Common Core has created chaos in Louisiana, the New York Times reports, and turned some allies against him. Says one, “No permanent friends. No permanent enemies. Only permanent interests.” Somewhere, the Kingfish smiles.

PICK ME! PICK ME!
Which U.S. city is the choice and charter capital? New Orleans? New York? Try Miami. This year, half of Miami-Dade students, 56,000 total, are in schools their families picked themselves, says the Miami Herald.

I’LL BET KRUGMAN HAS TENURE
“There’s no sense in putting something as crucial as children’s education in the hands of a professional class with less accountability than others and with job protections that most Americans can only fantasize about,” opines the Times' Frank Bruni.  

I’LL HAVE WHAT SHE’S HAVING
Fordham’s Robert Pondiscio in the New York Daily News on the eye-popping test results posted by Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy.  If she’s got the secret sauce to student achievement, it’s time for it to be bottled and sold.

FORDHAM IN THE NEWS
CSN News trumpets our new report The Hidden Half: School Employees Who Don't Teach.  And Gannett Newspapers reminds readers of our review of Common Core, which gave the standards a B+ in English and an A- in math.

WHERE THE WILD THINGS AREN’T
This pro-unschooling article in Outside magazine (naturally) says classroom education “enjoys scant historical precedent.” Bust those kids out of school! Turn ‘em loose in nature!  Know what else has scant historical precedent? Movable type. Penicillin. The internal...

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I’ll have what she’s having.

New York’s latest round of state test results were released last week and the biggest news is the scores posted by Success Academy, the network of twenty-two charter schools throughout New York City run by Eva Moskowitz. Only 29 percent of New York’s kids met the new higher English standards under Common Core. Success more than doubled it with 64 percent meeting the standards. Wait. It gets better. One in three New York City students scored proficient in math, but at Success it was better than nine out of ten.

With admirable restraint, the head of the New York City Charter Center, James Merriman, pronounced the results “remarkable” and attributed the results to Success’ intensive instruction. A lot of schools, including many charter high-fliers, offer high-octane teaching. None come close to matching Success Academy’s results the last two years. 

Remarkable? No, these are results that make your jaw hit the floor hard enough to loosen your fillings. Success Academy kids didn’t merely pass the state math test, they destroyed it. For example, 680 fourth graders sat for the state test at seven of Moskowitz’s schools. Care to guess how many earned a “4,” the highest level? 

Nearly five freakin’ hundred of them!

No, this is not “remarkable.” This is Secretariat winning the Belmont by thirty-one lengths. It’s Michael Jordan dropping sixty-three points on the Celtics in the playoffs.  It’s Tiger Woods demolishing the field and winning the Masters by eighteen strokes.

On the...

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In back-to-back days last week, I had the chance to spend time with different groups of leaders interested in improving state-level reform work.

These conversations were very different than the philosophical fights about the advisability of big reforms like educator effectiveness and Common Core. They were also different than discussions of school- and district-level activities, like Success Academy’s test scores or district staffing patterns.

Both sets of conversations are very important, and I regularly take part in both. But I think too little attention is given to a third set of activities, the state-level work sitting between the two.

State governments are the entities ultimately responsible, under state constitutions, for ensuring kids have access to great schools. This means state governments need to handle funding formulas, longitudinal data system, the adoption of standards and assessments, the monitoring of big federal programs, and more.

The two meetings I participated in addressed different aspects of state-level activity. One was about the smart, careful implementation of new standards and assessments. The other was about figuring out the best way to execute all of the state’s responsibilities, whether through the traditional SEA or through other approaches (per the argument in our At the Helm, Not the Oar report).

Much could be said about these meetings and the takeaways. But I was reminded, once again, that many federal policymakers often just assume that a new federal program, reporting requirement, or funding stream will automatically and...

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