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Managing in a fishbowl

Mike and Nina Rees take on the federal charter-school bill that passed in the House last week, what traditional public schools can learn from charters, and the pros and cons of KIPP’s character-education model. Amber wades into teacher-evaluation research.

Amber's Research Minute

Evaluating Teachers with Classroom Observations: Lessons Learned in Four Districts by Grover J. Whitehurst, Matthew M. Chingos, and Katharine M. Lindquist, (Washington, D.C.: Brown Center on Education Policy at Brookings, May 2014).

  • We’ve been covering the efforts of schools and districts around the state to meet the requirements of the Third Grade Reading Guarantee, mostly with a lot of optimism and positivity. That optimism and positivity seems seriously lacking in Akron, even while the work is actually getting done. It could be that teachers and administrators have given their all and don’t know what else to do, but I do credit the ABJ for noting that third graders in the district will have been given up to six chances to pass the test when all is said and done. That’s a ton of effort for the district to be proud of; no matter the number of kids who don’t make it, it’s got to be better than the status quo from previous years. (Akron Beacon Journal)
  • Districts in the Cincinnati area may not be serving gifted students to the fullest extent. (Cincinnati Enquirer)
  • There’s a joke about beans to be made here, but I’m not one to laugh in the face of success. The food service chief of Lima City Schools testified before Congress this week on how well the Community Eligibility Provision is working for families in Lima. Said Ms. Woodruff: “I was there to offer my perspective from one school district that’s doing it and can say it’s going well. The parents appreciate it, the students are participating and it’s a good fit. I was
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The Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education was born in response to A Nation at Risk, and in a 1991 report, it pointed the way toward the Bay State's much-praised 1993 education-reform act. What happened thereafter is widely known: with an entire suite of reforms in place, the “Massachusetts Miracle” propelled that state to a level of educational performance that rivaled leading nations elsewhere on the globe. The past few years, however, have seen some stagnation and backsliding on the ed-reform front in the Bay State, and the MBAE recognized that the time has come for a new kick in the pants. So they engaged Sir Michael Barber and his Brightlines colleague, Simon Day, to prepare the present report, a status update and road map to the future. Even a jaded report reader might fairly term the result thrilling. It acknowledges the stagnation problem and depicts six gaps as the main challenges facing Massachusetts: the employability gap (the dearth of needed skills for success in the modern economy); the knowledge gap (a lack of crucial Hirsch-style content); the achievement gap (similar to NCLB concerns); the opportunity gap (i.e., poor kids don’t get a fair shake); the global gap (the state will lose its international ranking as countries with strong education systems forge ahead); and the top-talent gap (failure to address the education needs of gifted youngsters). For each of these gaps, an audacious but convincing set of remedies is proposed. I've no idea whether the Bay State has the will, the...

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All eyes are on the “extraordinary authority districts” in Louisiana (the RSD), Tennessee, (the ASD), and Michigan (the EAA). And for good reason, because as this excellent Hechinger Report article demonstrates, old-style state takeovers almost always disappoint. The article highlights cases in the Magnolia State where districts have improved modestly under state direction but have then fallen back down when returned to local control—a logical outcome when a suite of reforms does not accompany the takeover.

Over the weekend, the Times wrote up the Too Small the Fail initiative, which is working with low-income parents to encourage them to talk to their babies and toddlers more. Hillary Clinton is among its founders. Here’s hoping it works; anything that gets disadvantaged kids off to a stronger start is worth pursuing. But we’d be remiss if we didn’t note that initiatives such as these are explicitly working to change the culture and behavior of low-income communities; Paul Ryan would probably be called a racist if he proposed such an idea.

The headline “Indiana Drops Common Core” has splashed across the national media all week. A more accurate headline might read, “Indiana May or May Not Have Dropped Common Core—We’ll Find Out in a Few Months.” What is certain, though, is that Indiana is in a pickle. Not only are its new draft standards worse than the Common Core standards they replace—but they’re worse than the ...

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Now Look What You’ve Done

Mike and Michelle acknowledge that school board members, for better and sometimes worse, affect student outcomes in their districts. But they don’t have to accept the misleading headlines on Indiana’s standards debacle (a case study in the hazards of politicization if there ever was one), nor must they wholeheartedly back Arizona’s ESA program. Amber wonders if high-flyers maintain their altitude—and has déjà vu all over again.

Amber's Research Minute

The Icarus Syndrome: Why Do Some High Flyers Soar While Others Fall?” by Eric Parsons, Working Paper, July 2013.

In an Education Week commentary essay about school boards in 2009, I wrote, “[M]y sense of things, after two stints on my local school board…is that school boards have been overtaken by the ‘educatocracy,’ by powerful trade unions, certified specialists, certification agencies, state and federal rule-makers and legislators, grants with strings, billion-dollar-contractor lobbyists, textbook mega-companies, professional associations, and lawyers—the list could go on.”

I am quite gleeful, therefore, that the new report from Fordham entitled Does School Board Leadership Matter? asks most of the right questions about school boards—and provides some very interesting and helpful answers for progress moving forward.

Complaints about school boards are legion—and well known—and they carry on. A few titles in the new report’s endnotes spell it out: “School Boards: A Troubled American Institution” (by Jacqueline Danzberger), School Boards in America: A Flawed Exercise in Democracy (by Gene Maeroff), and Beseiged: School Boards and the Future of American Politics (William Howell). The dates of these publications range from 1992 to 2010. And, of course, Checker Finn beat them all, suggesting in a 1991 Education Week commentary that we should probably “declare local boards and superintendents to be archaic in the 1990s, living fossils of an earlier age…. Local school boards are not just superfluous. They are also dysfunctional.”

“Under these circumstances,” I wrote in my 2009 Ed Week commentary, “it doesn’t surprise me that many people think school boards are irrelevant. They are. Boards do a lot of moving the chairs around on...

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Peter Cunningham

In a provocative piece in Slate recently, Fordham’s executive vice president Mike Petrilli asked why Euro-style tracking isn’t a better strategy for high-school students who are significantly below grade level. Here’s one response.

I do some work with a nonprofit organization in Chicago called Manufacturing Renaissance, which trains high-school students and ex-offenders for manufacturing jobs in the area. Austin Polytech Academy (APA) was founded in 2007 as a small high school to replace a larger underperforming school. Of the student body, 95 percent are low income, 13 percent are homeless, and 30 percent have diagnosed learning needs. The school’s graduation rate is 60 percent, and the average ACT score is just 14.5 on a scale of 36, well below the level deemed “college ready.” The students are precisely the ones who would be tracked toward career programs in a European-style education system.

APA is also surrounded by hundreds of small and medium-sized manufacturing companies desperately in need of trained workers to replace an aging workforce. By some estimates, there are 20,000 unfilled manufacturing jobs in the Chicago region alone and 600,000 nationwide.

To meet this need, APA began offering a career-education program that offers students work-ready credentials from the National Institute of Metalworking Skills (NIMS). To date, more than 150 APA graduates have earned more than 250 work-ready NIMS credentials. More than half of the students get paid work experience while in high school, and about two-dozen APA graduates have gotten jobs upon graduation. Starting wages are between...

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Every state in America would benefit from something like this—an honest appraisal of the present condition of its K–12 education combined with a bold, even arresting vision of how it should change over the next two decades.

The Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education was born in response to A Nation at Risk and, with a foreword-looking 1991 report, pointed the way toward the Bay State's much-praised education-reform act two years later.

What happened thereafter is widely known: with an entire suite of reforms in place (centered, I believe, on strong academic standards, a steadfast high-stakes assessment system, more rigorous requirements for teachers, and one of the country's better—though small—charter-school programs), the “Massachusetts Miracle” propelled that state to a level of educational performance that rivaled leading nations elsewhere on the globe.

The past few years, however, have seen some stagnation and backsliding on the ed-reform front in the Bay State, and the MBAE recognized that the time has come for a new kick in the pants. So they engaged Sir Michael Barber and his Brightlines colleague Simon Day to prepare a status report and road map to the future.

The result is now out, all 120 pages of it, and even a jaded report reader might fairly term it thrilling. It acknowledges the stagnation problem and depicts six gaps as the main challenges facing Massachusetts. To wit, the employability gap (a.k.a. the dearth of needed...

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There’s a lot of talk about accountability in education today; schools are held accountable, teachers are increasingly held accountable. But what about education PR firms?

Consider the “case of the bad apples.” Last week, the Discipline Disparities Research-to-Practice Collaborative, a twenty-six-person group based at Indiana University, released a research briefing that summarized sixteen studies presented at a recent conference. The quality of the briefing was basically fine, but the press release that went with it jumped the shark. (See it here.) News outlets such as Politico Pro and the Huffington Post then picked up its content.

The press release boldly states, “There is no evidence to support the premise that ‘bad kids’ should be removed from the classroom in order to ensure that ‘good kids’ can learn.”

This caught our attention at Fordham, for not only does this claim fly in the face of common sense (and every teachers’ experience, ever), it simply isn’t true. As Education Next pointed out, a quick look surfaces these two studies demonstrating the opposite. And they are surely the tip of the iceberg.

The mystery is why the press release made this claim in the first place (beyond the obvious answer: to throw some click-bait to reporters). The report is about racial disparities in school discipline, not about the impact of suspensions on the peers of disruptive students. So what happened? The sixteen-page research briefing does briefly mention the issue:

Schools that reduce...

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Encouraging integrated schools in the District of Columbia?

Encouraging integrated schools in the District of Columbia?

A discussion on the merits and pitfalls of "controlled choice"
 
 
"Parents would express preferences among a cluster of schools, and an algorithm would make matches by balancing personal preferences with the shared civic goal of maximizing socioeconomic integration."
 
That's how controlled-choice zones would work in Washington, D.C., as suggested by Sam Chaltain, Richard Kahlenberg, and Michael Petrilli in a recent Washington Post op-ed. Why try such a policy in our nation's capital? Many believe in the value of integrated schools and communities as tools for teaching tolerance, encouraging critical thinking, and strengthening our democracy. Some research shows that children of different socioeconomic backgrounds benefit from learning together.
 
But others argue that "controlled choice" isn't all that different from the "forced busing" of yesteryear, in that it restricts families' education options and imposes a top-down, government-run social-engineering scheme on school assignment policies. Some worry that it might also impede the economic revitalization of the city.
 
Join the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and The Century Foundation for a lively debate on the merits and pitfalls of controlled choice.

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