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Marc Mannella

As the founder and Executive Director of KIPP Philadelphia Schools, I was surprised to read Dr. Laurence Steinberg’s Flypaper post on how KIPP charter schools approach character development. In response to his portrayal of our character work, I want to offer a KIPP educator’s perspective.

The headline of Dr. Steinberg’s piece asks, “Is character education the answer?” Neither I nor anyone at KIPP believes that teaching character in and of itself is the answer to the challenges faced by our students—85 percent of whom grow up in poverty. But just because character isn’t the answer, doesn’t mean it isn’t part of an answer. We know from several studies that certain character strengths play an important role in increasing students’ academic success. And a growing body of research, like that by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and Dr. Carol Dweck from Stanford University, indicates that elements related to KIPP character strengths like social intelligence and optimism are ultimately teachable.

When approached thoughtfully and deliberately, teaching character strengths can help students develop the resiliency to overcome life’s obstacles. We’re already seeing that KIPP students graduate college at more than four times the rate of students from the country’s lowest-income families; by investing in character in our schools, we are aiming to raise that rate even higher.

While Dr. Steinberg is complimentary of much of KIPP’s work, his description of our approach to teaching character as a settled protocol is not entirely accurate. It is in fact a highly...

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On the whole, the new guidance from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights is another example of executive overreach and federal interference run amok. Really, the department is going to sue local school districts if their lighting is poor? Does anyone think this is a good idea? Secretary Duncan, this is "tight-loose"?

But there is a silver lining: This could be an incredibly helpful tool for charter schools. We know from a recent University of Arkansas study (and several before it) that charter schools are woefully underfunded. This is particularly true in states where most charters serve poor and minority children. They also have meager access to high quality facilities. (I hear some are even poorly lit!)

I'd love to see charter associations throughout the country file complaints with OCR, asking it to investigate states that don't do enough to provide equitable funding to charter schools serving high proportions of poor and minority children. Advocates in New York City might file a complaint against Mayor Bill de Blasio for refusing to provide equitable facilities. And certainly charter advocates that have already filed lawsuits alleging discrimination against charter schools (in Washington, D.C. and New York state) should use the tactic, too.

It almost certainly didn't mean to, but OCR may have stumbled into the most significant federal charter policy action since the birth of the charter movement two decades ago. So tenth-amendment hawks: Lighten up!...

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This study does exactly what its title promises. Specifically, analysts study two instructional practices in mathematics: (1) engaging students in discourse with the teacher and their peers to make sense of problems and explain answers and (2) using appropriate mathematical vocabulary. Importantly, these practices also reflect the Mathematical Practices of the Common Core math standards, specifically those that require students to construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others and those that require students to attend to precision, including the use of appropriate mathematical vocabulary. The study occurs as part of a larger evaluation of Project M2, an advanced math curriculum (i.e., it includes content that typically appears at higher grade levels or content studied in depth with challenging task and problems) covering geometry and measurement in grades K–2. The final sample includes thirty-four K–2 teachers and their 560 students who participated in a field test from 2008–11. Teachers were randomly assigned to the intervention and control groups. The former attended roughly ten days of professional development, after which they were observed weekly and rated on fidelity of implementation to the content and the two instructional strategies of interest. Students were administered the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS) as a pretest and control measure. Bottom line: Teachers’ implementation scores for verbal communication and encouraging use of math language—the two strategies—significantly predicted math achievement as gauged by the students’ percentage gain scores on an outcome measure known as the Open Response assessment. For example, if a kindergarten student with...

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A new report from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools assesses the health of the public charter school movement by examining its progression and performance in twenty-five states and Washington, D.C. To qualify, states had to participate in the 2013 CREDO study and have at least 1 percent of public school students served by charters. They ranked the strength of each locale using fifteen indicators in three categories: growth, or the overall number of schools available and students served; innovation, defined as the “use of various innovative practices,” such as an extended school year; and quality, measured in additional days of learning for both reading and math. Washington, D.C. and Louisiana came in first and second, respectively, earning high marks for offering multiple charter school options for families, serving high numbers of economically disadvantaged youth, and showing strong student achievement gains. Nevertheless, the report suggests that both ought to make efforts to secure equitable operational funding. At the other end of the spectrum, Oregon and Nevada occupied the bottom two spots because they serve a low percentage of the state’s population of public school children, and their charters aren’t producing gains in reading and math. For these low performers, the report suggests changes in law that would allow for more in-school autonomy and more accountability for authorizers. The Alliance acknowledges that improvement can be made in identifying and collecting comprehensive data on public charter schools. Indeed. But, in the meantime, this debut analysis offers clarity to a movement...

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Call it the Iron Law of Pedagogy: Every good teaching idea becomes a bad idea the moment it hardens into orthodoxy.

The latest example might be “close reading,” which has become yet another hot-button issue among Common Core critics. But complaints about it bother me less than its potential overuse, or the creeping notion that close reading is what all reading instruction should look like under Common Core. That would be bad for the standards, and even worse for reading achievement in the U.S.

Close reading is “an intensive analysis of a piece of text, in order to come to terms with what it says, how it says it, and what it means,” writes literacy expert Tim Shanahan of the University of Illinois at Chicago. Common Core expects students to “read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.”

Sounds simple, benign, even obvious. Would anyone not want students to be able to do this? Close reading for evidence and to support inferences is a far more rigorous and academically useful standard to meet than, for example, expecting student to produce a “personal response” to literature—the kind of content-free literacy practice Common Core is intended to supplant. The mischief comes in translating “reading closely” into sound classroom practice. Some of the guidance teachers have...

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Though the occasional political firecracker still flares across the night sky, as of mid-2014 it seems likely that most of the forty-six jurisdictions that originally embraced the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) will stick with them.

That’s a seismic development for American public education, but whether it produces a 1.0 or an 8.0 on the Richter scale remains to be seen. It depends on (1) the thoroughness of implementation, (2) the selection (and scoring) of assessments, and (3) perhaps most of all, the ways in which results revealed by those assessments affect the lives of real people and their schools.

Today, all three are up for grabs.

The most important thing to know about the Common Core standards is that learning what they say you should learn is supposed to make you ready for both college and career, i.e., for a seamless move from twelfth grade into the freshman year at a standard-issue college, where you will be welcomed into credit-bearing courses that you will be ready to master.

That’s the concept. It’s a really important one and the main justification for the heavy lifting and disruption that these standards will occasion.

Today, far less than half of U.S. twelfth graders are “college ready.” (Never mind those who have already dropped out of high school.) The National Assessment Governing Board estimates that not quite 40 percent are college ready. The ACT folks estimate 26 percent are college ready across the...

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The Sopranos edition

Common Core reading wars, union endorsements of convicted felons, schools that encourage patriotism, and the health of the charter movement.

Amber's Research Minute

"Examining the Relationship Between Teachers' Instructional Practices and Students' Mathematics Achievement," by Janine M. Firmender, M. Katherine Gavin, and D. Betsy McCoach, Journal of Advanced Academics vol. 25, no. 3 (August 2014).

  1. As you may have heard, the OEA and Innovation Ohio have launched a website (KnowYourCharter.com) to ostensibly provide comparison information between charter schools and Ohio’s districts. There’s tons wrong with this picture, of course, but suffice it to say that it’s akin to the Confederation of Wolves launching a website called KnowYourHenHouse.com, to let you know how secure chicken coops are around the state. It definitely isn’t for the purpose of making the coops more secure. But seriously folks, the Dispatch coverage quotes our own Chad Aldis talking about the apples-to-bowling-balls comparison to be had. (Columbus Dispatch). Gongwer’s coverage has other voices raising the same concerns. (Gongwer Ohio) Most other coverage around Ohio is limited to this same piece with only token information and token response. (Willoughby News Herald)
     
  2. Back in the real world, CEO Eric Gordon gave his annual State of the Schools speech in Cleveland yesterday. Although playing heavily on the story of Sisyphus, he averred that the Cleveland Plan is starting to show signs of success. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  3. Still hanging in the real world, officials in the inner-ring Columbus suburb of Whitehall say that their schools are ready for PARCC, especially in the area of appropriate technology for the online version of the tests. How’d they get there so easily, despite the well-known challenges? By participating in last year’s test piloting. (ThisWeek News/Whitehall News)
     
  4. Sliding back into the realms of fantasy for a moment, check out this
  5. ...
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DIFFERENT MINDS THINK ALIKE
At a Colorado gubernatorial debate last night, Governor John Hickenlooper and Congressman Bob Beauprez discussed their views on education. The consensus: To improve the state's standing in national rankings, more federal funding is necessary. Good luck with that, fellas.

GOOD NEWS FOR LOW-INCOME UNDERGRADS
The University of Chicago will announce today a number of initiatives aimed at increasing the enrollment of low-income students. “This is all part of a strategy to create a common and equal platform for all students,” said the school’s dean.

TOOTHLESS STANDARDS
Mathew Chingos writes that although California has passed laws to remove ineffective teachers and end tenure abuse, this legislation will have a minimal impact, dismissing poor teachers at an annual rate of only 0.0008 percent. 

THINK DIFFERENT
While technology in the classroom opens the door for versatile lessons, some worry that automated programs rob children of the ability to solve complex problems on their own. ...

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I’m excited about a recent shift in the reform conversation. After years of focusing on Common Core, common assessments, and teacher evaluation, many of those interested in large-scale K–12 improvements are turning their attention back to state accountability systems.

The Obama administration’s ESEA waiver policy had the potential to spur imaginative state-level thinking. But thanks to a combination of NCLB’s legal strictures, the administration’s fixation on particular policy conditions, and state leaders who just wanted to get out from under AYP ASAP, the new state systems look a whole lot like the old ones. (In fairness, some states have smartly experimented with A–F systems and “super subgroups.”)

Despite this arrested development, I think two important events provide the outlines for a new approach to state-level accountability.

First, under the auspices of CRPE and TBFI, a group of experienced policymakers and thought leaders have penned an “Open Letter on Accountability To State Superintendents and Governors.” It explains and defends K–12 accountability, concedes problems with current systems, and offers eight smart principles for next-generation systems. The group doesn’t get into specifics; instead, it hopes to get people thinking about what’s possible (though within certain guidelines).

This is important because of the second event: Increasingly, people are arguing that a unitary statewide accountability system stymies innovation and fails to capture important elements of schooling that some communities prioritize.

Mike Petrilli has argued that about 10 percent of a state’s public schools should be allowed to “opt...

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