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The case for character education hardly needs to be made. Have a glance at the motivational posters lining school hallways everywhere. “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety nine percent perspiration,” Thomas Edison counsels our kids. “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard,” adds NBA star Kevin Durant. Perhaps Brookings will issue a classroom poster with Richard Reeves’s face and his conclusion from this paper: “Smarts matter, but so does character.” We get it. Among the least surprising findings in social science research is that people who have certain character strengths (this paper focuses on “drive” and “prudence”) do better in life. Whether our children have great or modest gifts, we hope they will work hard, delay gratification, and persist when things don’t come easy. Still it’s easy to get nervous when Reeves suggests “too little attention is paid by policymakers to the cultivation and distribution of these character skills.” What exactly would such attention look like? Demanding that schools making AYP in grit and prudence? Character value-added measures? Likewise, eyebrows may rightfully be raised when Reeves suggests that “character skills may count for a lot – as much, perhaps, as cognitive skills – in terms of important life...

This new study asks a question that is receiving increasing attention: How does teacher preparation affect student achievement? To answer it, the authors gathered data from about 22,078 North Carolina educators, including how teachers were prepared and characteristics of the schools where they teach. This was combined with five years of test score data from 1.18 million students. The study is more robust than similar research, owing to its comprehensive data set and the way that it grouped teachers: Instead of lumping teachers into two broad groups—traditional or alternative certification—it creates much more nuanced groups of teachers by the way they were prepared, as well as by grade and subject taught. The first comparison is between teachers who were traditionally prepared to those who received alternative certification (meaning they didn’t have a full credential when they began teaching), excluding teachers prepared by Teach For America. Alternative entry teachers are significantly less effective (as determined by value-added measures) than traditionally prepared teachers in middle school math and high school math and science. There was no difference in the other grade levels and subjects. Second, compared to traditionally-prepared teachers, TFA teachers are more effective in six of the eight categories: elementary math and reading,...

For the first time this year, the College Board released the annual test results of its three programs—AP, SAT, and PSAT/NMSQT—in one report. The news is mixed. On the upside, an unprecedented number of students, including a large increase in minority and low-income students, participated and succeeded. Of the 1.67 million students who took the SAT, nearly half were minorities and nearly a fourth were low-income students. And the number of high school students who succeeded on at least one AP exam (earning at least a 3 out of 5) doubled in the past year. On the other hand, the results reveal at least three problem areas. First, too many students are missing out on opportunities. Thirty-nine percent of the 684,577 students who showed AP potential (indicated by high PSAT/NMSQT scores) didn’t enroll for a single AP class. Likewise, for SAT takers, 9 percent were close to achieving the college and career readiness benchmark and might have succeeded with less than a year of additional instruction. The SAT Benchmark is a combined score of 1550 and indicates a 65 percent likelihood of achieving a B- average or higher during the first year of a four-year college. Second, using this same...

SECOND ACT
Nevada and Missouri are the most recent states to contract with the SAT and ACT to ensure that every eleventh grader has access to a college entry exam. While we can all agree that increasing access to these tests is a good thing, there are also concerns about adding another test to the pile. Some wonder if the test could serve the dual purposes of college admittance and school assessment.

ELECTION SPOTLIGHT: KANSAS
Funding for schools has landed on the political map in Kansas, where Democrat Paul Davis stands an excellent chance of upsetting Republican incumbent Governor Sam Brownback. Democrats claim that Brownback’s primary fiscal agenda item, a series of tax cuts, has led to a revenue shortfall that endangers public education. The governor’s supporters point to nonpartisan analysis indicating that per-pupil funding has, in fact, increased over the last several years.

POLLING ALERT
New numbers are out on Common Core’s approval among teachers. According to today’s Gallup poll, 41 percent view the standards positively and 44 percent negatively. Beyond the top-line polling, there were interesting implications...

  1. Apologies if I’ve clipped this before, but Fordham-sponsored KIPP Columbus is getting some national attention for winning a $3 million grant to build a science center on their new campus and to provide STEM training for area teachers. (THE Journal)
     
  2. As we noted yesterday, there was a student protest held ahead of a school board vote in West Geauga on the future of open enrollment in the district. None of the options the board was considering really showed much interest in the students currently attending the district on open enrollment, and the final vote – to allow those currently open enrolled to stay through graduation but to close grades K-5 to any future open enrollment – was really no exception. Earlier iterations of this tussle focused on money (e.g. district “guilt” over “stealing” money from its neighbors), but do note that the one public reason given this time was a parent’s concern over no longer getting “good kids” through open enrollment. Hope this vote shows those bad Kindergartners where they belong! Sad. (Willoughby News-Herald)
     
  3. We noted that Education Secretary Arne Duncan was in Columbus earlier this week. The Washington express continued as HUD Secretary Julian
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HOSTILE TAKEOVER
Students, teachers, and community members in Memphis protested the takeover of local schools by Tennessee’s state-run Achievement School District, which contracts the administration of failing schools out to charter providers. Students chanted in protest while brandishing signs reading, “We’re not going down without a fight." For the full story on the ASD and other reform measures in Tennessee, drop everything and turn to Nelson Smith’s classic 2013 report for Fordham.

BLOOMBERG PUSHES LOW-INCOME KIDS TO COLLEGE
As has been widely reported, dropping out of college can exact a dreadful toll on job prospects and future income. Today, just one-third of all top-performing high school students from the bottom half of the income scale attend a college with a six-year graduation rate above 70 percent. To address the problem, Bloomberg Philanthrophies has started an initiative to boost that portion to one-half, the New York Times reports.

"STUDENT"-ATHLETES
The Hechinger Report’s Joseph Rauch has an excellent, searing take on the academic scandal haunting the University of North Carolina. Though it’s easy to feign shock over a decades-long...

  1. Arne Duncan was in Columbus yesterday. Before the main event, he answered a couple of quick questions on Common Core from Cleveland public media. (IdeaStream)
     
  2. The main purpose of Secretary Duncan’s visit was addressing the second Rural Education National Forum. Seems that the concerns of the group haven’t changed much since last year (lack of resources, high teacher turnover, insufficient access to technology, etc.) but through the work of the Ohio Appalachian Collaborative and the Straight-A Fund, some strides have been made. (Columbus Dispatch)
     
  3. Newark is not exactly rural, but neither is it suburban. It is a small city with big-city issues, and it is one of many in Ohio. One out-of-the-box effort in Newark City Schools to serve students at risk of dropping out is the district-sponsored charter e-school Newark Digital Academy. NDA was one of four Charter School of the Year winners from the Oho Alliance of Public Charter Schools, based on some very good report card numbers last year. Nice. (Newark Advocate)
     
  4. We first told you this strange tale a few weeks ago: the School District who Wouldn’t Sell. Despite a solid offer, Monroe Schools’ board would not sell their mothballed
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THANKS OBAMA
Many observers found Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s recent admonishment of testing to be a puzzling change of direction. However, it now appears that his motivation may have been executive in nature. Alyson Klein writes that President Obama’s new position on testing likely influenced Secretary Duncan. What has made the President rethink the issue is not as clear.

MO' MONEY, REFRESHINGLY FEWER PROBLEMS
A new study from Mathematica Policy Research lends credence to a somewhat intuitive notion: If you pay teachers more, educational outcomes will improve. The case in question is that of Manhattan’s Equity Project, a mostly Hispanic charter school in Washington Heights that pays its teachers roughly $125,000 annually. Eighth graders at the school have experienced gains in math performance comparable to an extra year and a half of instruction at a district school.

HERO AMIDST TRAGEDY
Details continue to emerge surrounding Friday morning’s deadly school shooting at Washington’s Marysville-Pilchuck High School. While the fourteen-year-old shooter’s motives and state of mind remain a mystery, the New York Times reports that a heroic member of the school’s faculty...

  1. Our friends at School Choice Ohio have created a nifty voucher-eligibility tool that went live on their website last week. It’s a tough business because there are a lot of variables (income, assigned school, school attending, future year assignments, etc.) but it seems like a great way to give families some initial information about one of the least-understood and least-clear options potentially available. There are several items in the linked piece. The SCO story is toward the bottom. Worth a look. (Gongwer Ohio)
     
  2. I was a bit premature in calling the PD’s “test mania” story finished last week. The final piece – talking to a couple of parents who’ve opted their children out of as much testing as possible – was published later in the day on Friday. Both of these folks have, I believe, testified against Common Core as well, mostly on testing concerns. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  3. Speaking of continuing series, the Beacon Journal continued its look at disciplinary transfers in Akron schools, which we first noted on Friday. This time, a historical perspective. A contract change made in the wake of a teachers strike in 1989 allowed Akron teachers to sit in on
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MORE ON INSTITUTIONAL FAILURE AT UNC
Continuing their terrific coverage of the unfolding academic scandal at the University of North Carolina, the Washington Post weighs in with an important finding: Of the over 3,000 students who enrolled in academically deficient classes in the school’s African and Afro-American studies department, a narrow majority were not athletes. Some weren’t aware that the coursework—including Swahili classes that evidently required no knowledge of the language—was bogus, but most seemed to have knowingly used the shadow curriculum for an easy A. 

AND THE WINNER IS...
The superintendent of the Houston Independent School District received the Urban Educator of the Year award at the CGCS conference yesterday. While the rising graduation rate and narrowing achievement gap were cited as reasons for the decision, winner Terry Grier admitted that Houston is still a work in progress, saying “We’re that close to being a breakout urban district, and we’re not going to stop until we make that happen.” 

DEPARTMENT OF GOOD NEWS
A bit of good news in Mississippi, home to a public school system that has long...

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