The education-reform movement is experiencing a rapid acceleration, mainly fueled by great strides in expanding school choice. The number of charter schools in the U.S. has nearly quadrupled in little more than ten years, for instance, and private-school choice is on the rise. But as the efforts pick up speed, a human-capital gap has emerged: according to this report from the nonprofit leadership-training group EdFuel, the “autonomous and accountable public school sector” (a term the authors use to mean public charter schools and private schools accepting students with publicly funded vouchers) will need to fill 32,000 senior and mid-level (non-instructional) roles by 2023. EdFuel finds that the five fastest-growing roles are in instructional coaching, policy, legal areas, advocacy and outreach, and program implementation. To fill this human-capital gap, EdFuel prescribes four actions. First, because current career pipelines aren’t providing talent pools that are deep and diverse enough, recruitment ought to be ramped up—especially in the five top sectors listed above. Second, the sector needs to focus on growing management talent via PD for “rising stars” and “sector switchers.” Third, the sector ought to engage with city leadership to help recruit and keep top talent. And fourth, sector leaders should keep an eye on local politics; without political will, the sector will weaken and talent will head to cities with smoother roads.

SOURCE: EdFuel, Map the Gap: Confronting The Leadership Talent Gap in The New Urban Education Ecosystem (Washington, DC: EdFuel, April 2014)....


America’s educational shortcomings are not limited to disadvantaged kids. Far from it, as Eric Hanushek, Paul Peterson, and Ludger Woessmann explain in this recently released Education Next/PEPG study. Looking at the NAEP scores in every U.S. state and the PISA results of all thirty-four OECD countries, Hanushek et al. compared the math proficiency rates of students by parental education level: low (neither parent has a high school diploma), moderate (at least one parent has a high school diploma, but neither has a college degree), and high (at least one parent has a college degree). The results, from an American perspective, were pretty grim at every level. Overall, 35 percent of U.S. students are proficient in math, placing us twenty-seventh. For the most disadvantaged students, things are actually a bit rosier: we rank twentieth. The whopper, however, is the comparative proficiency of our most advantaged students: they fall in at a dismal twenty-eighth place—worse than the country’s overall rank. In other words, advantaged U.S. students appear to be doing comparatively worse internationally than students with less-educated parents. This is the opposite of what many low-score apologists—and suburban parents—would like you to believe. (Try explaining that with poverty.) Fortunately, there’s a little bit of state-level good news. Advantaged students from Massachusetts, for example, rank just outside the top five internationally, with a 62 percent proficiency rate. And disadvantaged students in Texas have a 28 percent proficiency rate, placing them seventh internationally. For the country, however, the picture is decidedly distressing....


Kudos to Andy Rotherham and Chad Aldeman for taking on, via a nifty new website and this recent Washington Post article, the pressing (and underreported) issue of teacher-pension reform. Before you yawn, at least take note that due to extraordinarily long vesting periods—which, conveniently, help out lawmakers who haven’t properly funded their state’s pension plans—more than half of all teachers won’t qualify for even a minimal pension. As in other fields nowadays, barely a quarter of Maryland’s teachers will stay in this line of work for a full career—and a whopping 57 percent will leave without seeing a penny in pension benefits. Capable young folks who might otherwise try their hand in the classroom cannot be blamed for thinking twice about taking the plunge. Now that you’re awake, get educated.

In last weekend’s New York Times magazine, Paul Tough (of How Children Succeed fame) looked at why so many low-income students drop out of college. Just a quarter of college freshmen whose families are in the bottom half of the income distribution will obtain a bachelor’s degree by the time they are twenty-four years old, while nearly 90 percent of their classmates born in the top income quartile will do so. Tough identifies a number of factors at play, from family obligations and expectations to simply becoming overwhelmed by financial-aid paperwork. He also describes an innovative, and apparently successful, initiative at the University of Texas to provide greater support to disadvantaged students....


How often are kids reading, and which books are they choosing? Two recent reports took a crack at finding the answers. Renaissance Learning released a comprehensive look at children’s reading habits, providing detailed information on over 9.8 million children and the 318 million books they read during the 2012–13 school year, split by grade and gender—and, in so doing, offering up hints about how the Common Core standards are already impacting the classroom. Aside from pop-culture winners like The Hunger Games (which topped the charts as the most-read book), a tellingly large number of semi-obscure works that were featured in the Common Core Appendix B (a list of text exemplars) are more popular now than they were prior to state adoption of the Core standards. The second report, from Common Sense Media, employs data gathered via large national studies to analyze specific variables that could influence a child’s reading habits. Unfortunately, dramatically fewer children read for pleasure than those surveyed in the past. Nearly a third of seventeen-year-olds read for fun every day in 1984, while that fraction dropped to one-fifth in 2012—and those whonever or hardly ever read for fun grew from one-tenth to over a quarter. If reading for pleasure is on the downswing among youngsters, what they read in school matters more than ever.

Renaissance Learning, What kids are reading: The book-reading habits of students in American schools(Wisconsin Rapids, WI: Renaissance Learning, May 2014).

Common Sense Media, Children, Teens, and Reading (San Francisco, CA: Common Sense

Every year, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers draws on survey data from half of the nation’s charter-school authorizers to assess the quality of their practices, outlining a set of twelve essential practices and scoring authorizers based on their adherence to them. In this sixth edition, the results are mixed. Most practices are adopted by at least 80 percent of authorizers, but rates of adoption have decreased in seven practices since 2012. According to the report’s authors, an influx of small, new authorizing agencies negatively diluted the numbers. Smaller authorizers (which tend to be local education agencies) scored lower on average than their larger counterparts. Some of the practices outlined by NASCA—such as having designated staff work on authorizing functions—inherently favor larger entities that can devote more resources to the job. However, this report also highlights the relative lack of explicit criteria for charter renewal, which any authorizer can adopt. Size matters, but small scale is no excuse for poor oversight.

National Association of Charter School Authorizers, The State of Charter School Authorizers 2013 (Chicago, IL: National Association of Charter School Authorizers, May 2014).



Everyone agrees that a good teacher makes all the difference in the world—but that’s where the agreement ends. This new report from Brookings adds to the body of research examining how to decide what makes a good teacher, specifically looking at teacher-evaluations systems in four moderate-sized urban districts in an effort to suggest ways to improve them. Analysts link individual student and teacher data—one to three years of them, from 2009 to 2012—and specifically use two consecutive years of district-assigned evaluation scores for teachers with value-added ratings. There were five key findings: First, only a small minority of the workforce (22 percent) can be evaluated using gains in test scores; the remainder of educators in nontested grades and subjects are evaluated using classroom-observation scores (which account for 40–75 percent of their ratings) and teacher-developed measures, school value added, and student feedback, among other things. Second, observation scores are fairly stable from year to year. Third, including school-value added in the teachers’ evaluations (not surprisingly) tends to bring down the scores of good teachers in bad schools and inflates the scores of weaker teachers in good schools. Fourth, teachers with initially high-performing kids receive higher observation scores on average than do teachers who have initially lower-performing kids; this finding holds when comparing observation scores of the same teacher at different points in time—meaning that this result is probably not due to better teachers getting better kids  (What this means, again not surprisingly, is that it’s easier to teach a dynamite

After a rancorous mayoral race, the city of Newark has elected Ras Baraka—a decision surely to hold repercussions for the city’s ambitious education reform agenda. With perfect timing, the New Yorker this week published a clear-eyed long-form article on the history of these reforms, spearheaded by former mayor Cory Booker and governor Chris Christie and funded (in part) by Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook fame. All signs indicate that these reforms will soon go the way of MySpace.

Eric Hanushek, Paul Peterson, and Ludger Woessmann published an Education Next/PEPG studythis week examining whether U.S. educational challenges are concentrated among students from less-educated families. Turns out, they aren’t. The authors found that, regardless of parent education level, advantaged and disadvantaged U.S. students both earn low scores, compared to similarly situated international peers. In fact, advantaged U.S. students (those with college-educated parents) might be doing comparatively worse. Their math proficiency rates ranked twenty-eighth out of thirty-four OECD countries; disadvantaged U.S. students (those with lower levels of parental education) fell in at twentieth. Stay tuned for next week’s Gadfly, where we’ll review this apologist-busting study in greater detail.

Earlier this week, the New Republic ran Professor Jeffrey Aaron Snyder’s strong criticism of KIPP’s character-education model, in which he argued that the charter group’s method of teaching attributes like “grit” does not actually accomplish the job—and is amoral, to boot. Snyder points out that while research on the “science of character” may be becoming increasingly cogent, there exists “no science of teaching character,” and he calls...

On Wednesday, Michigan superintendent Mike Flanagan dumped the Education Achievement Authority, saying it will no longer be exclusively responsible for Michigan’s failing schools. Opponents to the EEA are claiming victory, but Gadfly notes that this is a political maneuver that Detroit’s children won’t find very clever.

Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford, a Republican, is taking a tool from our school-choice toolkit. He wants to expand the state’s tax-credit-scholarship program while requiring scholarship students to take the same (or similar) assessments as their public-school counterparts. The expansion would also allow partial scholarships for participating families with rising incomes—a smart way to encourage upward mobility.

The majority of teachers may support Common Core, but the largest union is raising a big red flag nonetheless. But read the NEA’s words carefully; when its president, Dennis Van Roekel, says a major “course correction” is needed, we’re pretty sure he’s mostly talking about teacher evaluations. Implementation isn’t easy, but “when the going gets tough, union presidents run for cover.”


Many complain, legitimately, that the ed-reform world has been overly focused on math and reading scores, to the detriment of other important—but not as easily assessed—student outcomes. This working paper out of the University of Arkansas aims to address this issue by exploring a potential new measure of non-cognitive ability: survey-item response rates. The authors use data from the 1997 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth that tracks a nationally representative sample of young adults; respondents are born between 1980 and 1984 (making them between the ages of twenty-nine and thirty-three now) and are surveyed annually on issues like employment, assets, and wages. When the analysts compared information collected in 1997 to the respondents’ highest educational outcomes as reported in 2010 or earlier, they find that the number of items either left blank or answered “I don’t know” is a significant predictor of educational attainment, even after controlling for many factors, including cognitive ability. The fewer the number of questions left unanswered, the greater the likelihood overall that the respondent had enrolled in college. (For example, a one-standard-deviation increase in response rates increased the amount of education received by .31 years, or 11 percent of a standard deviation.) The authors posit that failure to respond to these questions could mean a loss of interest or lack of effort, which they contend is a valid measure of conscientiousness. While one might dispute this assertion—and while the inclusion of “don’t-know” responses in their count could be an issue, given that the respondent could...


A Chicago public school and public library will begin to share space on Thursday, breaking ground for a new “library-within-a-school” model that may be “copied and mimicked all across the city,” according to an enthusiastic Mayor Rahm Emanuel. The Windy City’s schools and libraries have both seen financial troubles in the last couple of years. Library Commissioner Brian Bannon has clarified that proliferation of this model would be about “reducing storefront and leased space” and possibly result in moving libraries, not closing libraries. Gadfly likes efficiency and books—so hat tip!

The school-funding crisis in Philadelphia has reached the boiling point: After Superintendent William Hite issued an ultimatum stating that schools may not open in time if the district does not receive at least $50 million more in funding by Friday, August 16th, Mayor Michael Nutter announced that it would borrow the cash, apparently obviating that eventuality. Now that the district will be able to re-hire some laid-off staff members, the School Reform Commission—Philadelphia’s appointed school board—will vote on whether to suspend portions of state law to grant Hite the flexibility to re-hire for reasons other than seniority. The unions, naturally, are furious, but this appears to be the best possible outcome for students.

This week, Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Erroll Davis asked the district’s Board of Education to stop approving new charter schools. The reason: Georgia’s Supreme Court has yet to decide whether Davis can withhold...