Flypaper

With Memorial Day in our rearview mirror and Labor Day far over the horizon, miles and miles of beach-filled days stretch ahead of us. Nothing complements SPF 325 and drinks with umbrellas like some high-quality recent edu-reads.  Here’s the first installment of some good stuff I’ve come across; you’ll get tranche two tomorrow.

More to come as researchers’ keyboards allow and sunny days demand.

I recently wrote about my evolving thinking on the “public” in public education, especially as it relates to “local voice” and “system-wide coherence” in increasingly choice-based urban locales. If these issues interest you, I highly recommend a paper by Ashley Jochim and Michael DeArmond presented at a recent conference of the Association for Education Finance and Policy. They explore the influence that choice-based “fragmentation” has on “collective action.” Unlike too many conference papers, this one is not only informed by recent policy developments and current activities, it also has timely, actionable recommendations. Great stuff from the team at CRPE.

Andy Rotherham and Ashley LiBetti Mitchell, my colleagues at Bellwether, recently penned Genuine Progress, Greater Challenges: A Decade of Teacher Effectiveness Reforms, which captures and analyzes the major efforts to improve educator effectiveness over the last several decades. Readers will learn about the research findings and policies that predated today’s focus on growth scores, teacher evaluations, and preparation programs. The report also provides a list of sober recommendations for an area of work prone to bingeing.

Speaking of educator-effectiveness...

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I’m a huge believer in high-quality charter authorizing. My view is that many of the strengths of chartering today are attributable to good authorizing and that many of chartering’s weaknesses are the result of bad authorizing.

I know from firsthand experience how tough it is to run a great authorizing shop. I oversaw the NJDOE’s authorizing office, the only authorizer in the state, and became intimately acquainted with the challenges of staffing, the difficulties of building the right practices, the competing factors involved in renewal decisions, the regularity of lawsuits, and more.

I’m particularly excited (and concerned) about authorizing because I believe that all urban public schools, including district-run schools, should have contracts with authorizers. I also believe that private schools participating in public scholarship or tax-credit programs should have performance contracts with authorizers.

I think it’s essential to have an accountability body separate from the school itself and the school’s operator. If we’re to adopt this model across two or three sectors, we need to make sure authorizers are ready for the promotion.

NACSA’s sixth annual survey of authorizers is a must-read for anyone trying to become familiar with the ins and outs of authorizing, as well as those interested in seeing big gains in authorizer quality.

The report doesn’t diverge much from previous editions, but the basic descriptive statistics are important, especially as they relate to NACSA’s “12 Essential Practices.” ...

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It strikes us at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute that the CREDO studies of the last few years provide pretty good evidence of what we’ve always suspected: charters in some cities and states are performing much better than their traditional district counterparts, at least as measured by value-added on standardized tests, while others are performing worse. (At the top of the performance heap are charters in Boston, New Orleans, Rhode Island, and D.C.; at the bottom are charters in Nevada, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Ohio, and Texas.)

The question is, why?

This is hardly hypothetical; for reformers in real places (like our team in Dayton, Ohio), the question of how to create a high-quality charter sector is at the heart of our work. While we understand that nobody can claim definitively (with causal evidence) which policies and practices explain the relatively high or low performance of charter sectors in different cities and states, we still think it’s worth trying to collect some wisdom based on the best available data.

To that end, we have asked a number of prominent scholars, practitioners, and policy analysts to take a stab at explaining why some charter sectors outpace their local district schools while others are falling behind. Possible explanations include the following:

  • Cities and states with caps (now or in the past) tend to have higher-performing charters because authorizers were more careful in handing out charters.
  • Cities and states
  • ...
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Note: This post is part of our series, "Netflix Academy: The best educational videos available for streaming." Be sure to check out our previous Netflix Academy posts on dinosaursaquatic lifeinsectsfrogs and other amphibiansreptilesbirdsmammalshuman evolutionearthquakes and volcanoesAncient Asian Culturesearly American civilizationsAncient GreeceAncient RomeNative American culturesChristopher Columbus and the Age of DiscoveryColonial America and the Revolutionary War; the American founders; the Lewis and Clark expeditionmovie adaptations of classic children’s books, and American folk heroes.

Understanding outer space is, quite literally, a huge undertaking. Thankfully, Netflix and the other streaming sites are here to help explorers young and old, with tons of great content about this fascinating subject. To infinity—and beyond!

Special thanks to research interns Andrew McDonnell, Elisabeth Hoyson, and Liz McInerney for helping to compile these lists.

Best videos on outer space

The Planets

1. The Planets

This documentary series examines cutting-edge discoveries about the planets, explores the origin of the sun, considers life on other worlds and more.

Length: Eight 50-minute episodes

Rating: TV-G

Provider: Netflix

How the Universe Works

2. How the Universe Works

Join host Mike Rowe for a...

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Renaissance Learning’s annual look at what books students choose when they read for pleasure found high school students reading “far fewer words” than younger students and middle and high school students choosing books that are below grade level.

That first finding might well be troubling, but it will surprise no one who interacts with adolescents (or who has ever been one themselves)—the thinner, bigger-font book seems to reach out and grab us rather than the other way around.

But students may unwittingly be getting help from their teachers when it comes to picking below grade-level books.

In a national survey of English, language arts, and reading teachers released last year by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, the subgroup of teachers who said they do not assign novels for the whole class to read were asked, “When you help individual students pick a novel to read, which of these are you more likely to consider: a student’s reading level or the grade level of the class?” The vast majority of elementary school teachers (83 percent), a majority of middle school teachers (57 percent), and more than one-third of high school teachers (36 percent) picked the former; barely handfuls (between 3 and 7 percent) said they mostly rely on “the grade level of the class.”

This is not to say that teachers don’t care about grade level. Larger numbers of middle and high school teachers chose the “something else” category, which included a combination of both ability and appropriate grade level, as...

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Just because some criticisms of Common Core standards are over the top and dripping with misinformation doesn’t make them all so. Plenty of valid concerns exist, and the estimable Peggy Noonan recently homed in on several of them. She acknowledges “that Core proponents’ overall objective—to get schools teaching more necessary and important things, and to encourage intellectual coherence in what is taught—is not bad, but good.” But she raised a lot of questions for “eggheads” like us who have pushed for these ambitious new academic standards:

Proponents are now talking about problems with the rollout. Well, yes, and where have we heard that before? One gets the impression they didn’t think this through, that they held symposia and declared the need, with charts and bullet points, for something to be done—and something must be done, because American public education is falling behind the world—and then left it to somebody, or 10,000 somebodies, to make it all work….How was implementation of the overall scheme supposed to work?

Did we think this through? A major reason we support the Common Core is because we’re confident that it will bring greater “intellectual coherence,” in Noonan’s words, to America’s curricular and instructional approaches. That’s sorely needed because the textbooks and other materials that most schools use are dreadful and have been for decades.

Why so bad? Partly it’s due to the textbook oligopoly. (As behemoth Pearson has purchased many of its competitors in recent years, it’s approaching an outright monopoly.) Partly...

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Last week, I participated in two events that challenged my ideas on one of urban education’s trickiest and most combustible issues.

Those who know only a caricatured version of my views might be surprised by both the subject and those who’ve caused my ruminations. But I wrestled with this issue in my book, and while I don’t always see eye-to-eye with my interlocutors of last week, they have valuable insights into this issue.

I’m writing about it here both because it’s important and because, frankly, I need help figuring out the right answer.

The question is, “How do we protect the ‘public’ in public education?”

On Wednesday, I participated in this discussion at the AFT’s Shanker Institute. At a conference the following day, I moderated a conversation between urban school leaders, and similar issues kept bubbling up.

There are many ways to define a school’s “public-ness” (Rick Hess expertly unbundles the issues here). But the aspect I’m most concerned about relates to governance, whether the public—the adults in the geographic area served by the system of schools—is able to shape the contours of the system.

The very specific issue I’m interested in is how this can happen absent locally elected school boards.

Per state constitutions, ensuring a system of public education is the responsibility of state governments. They, however, have created local school districts and boards, thereby delegating K–12 authority...

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There’s been much talk lately about whether college is for everyone. And there’s always much talk about teacher preparation and pay. Let’s combine these issues and look at them through a specific lens: money.

Consider Bob, who just graduated high school and is torn between two career paths. His father is a proud mechanic who wants Bob to learn the skill and join him on the job. His mother is a schoolteacher, and part of him has always wanted to go to college and follow in her footsteps. What should Bob do?

Ignoring all other considerations, let’s see how the financials shake out.

First, let’s clarify our assumptions.[1About half of the country’s 3.8 million teachers hold only a bachelor’s degree, and the policy of providing automatic pay raises for obtaining master’s degrees may be on the way out. Let’s look at the lifetime earnings of public-school teachers with bachelor’s degrees, and let’s compare this figure with that of high school graduates who have never stepped foot inside a college classroom, whom I’ll call “non-college-goers.”

Measures usually define “lifetime earnings” as one’s aggregate earnings between the ages of twenty-five and sixty-four, including pensions. So step one is determining how much people in either situation earn between the start of their working careers and the age of twenty-five. Estimating a median annual salary of...

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The following is a response to Gary Rubinstein’s post, “Open Letters To ‘B-List’ Reformers I Know. Part 3: Michael Petrilli

Dear Gary,

I don’t mind you calling me a wonk you know if you don’t mind me calling you a teacher I know. For all of its bombast, social media has helped to put me in touch with real teachers like you in real classrooms in the real world. Becoming disconnected from the daily work of education is a significant risk for those of us who long ago crossed into policy analysis. We’re lucky at the Fordham Institute that our Ohio team gets down and dirty with real schools in Dayton and elsewhere, but I’m willing to say it: thank goodness for Twitter.

Now, what I’m not so happy about is your calling me a “B-list” reformer!

But I digress.

I appreciate your comments about my various blog posts. We take our role as “Education Gadfly” very seriously at Fordham. We are fortunate—thanks to our mission, our fantastic board, and our endowment, which gives us a measure of independence—that we can feel uninhibited to raise the red flag when we see reforms going awry. I would be bored to death if I had to stick to talking points.

Thankfully, we’re not the only ones willing to speak honestly about problems as they arise. I think a fair-minded observer would see that the vast majority of...

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Note: This post is part of our series, "Netflix Academy: The best educational videos available for streaming." Be sure to check out our previous Netflix Academy posts on Ancient Asian Culturesearly American civilizations; Ancient GreeceAncient RomeNative American culturesChristopher Columbus and the Age of DiscoveryColonial America and the Revolutionary War; the American foundersmovie adaptations of classic children’s booksAmerican folk heroesdinosaursaquatic lifeinsectsfrogs and other amphibiansreptilesbirdsmammalshuman evolution; and earthquakes and volcanoes.

As spring leans toward summer, many of us start dreaming of vacations to come, perhaps adventures into the wilderness or expeditions out West. It’s fitting, then, to remember one of the most famous expeditions of all: that led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, launched in the middle of May 1804. There’s so much for boys and girls of all ages to love about this epic journey: the strong characters (Lewis and Clark, of course, but also Sacagawea and Thomas Jefferson, among others), the rugged terrain, the stories of heroism and near-death, the tense interactions between the explorers and the Native Americans, and more. Plus, the story opens to door to many other important topics and concepts: the Louisiana Purchase, Westward Expansion, and Manifest Destiny, to name a few. (Can you tell I love this subject? Maybe because I grew up in St. Louis.) Someday, I hope to take my boys to retrace Lewis...

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