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Here are some of the best edu-reads I’ve come across recently.

Think the teacher-pension issue is only for green-eyeshade types? Think again! My colleagues at Bellwether, Chad Aldeman and Andy Rotherham, have written an informative—and worrisome—report on the current state of play of educator retirement benefits and its implications for the profession and taxpayers. Get this: about half of all public schoolteachers won’t qualify for even a minimal pension. How in the world is that possible? Read the report.

You may also think that “school productivity”—how to get the biggest bang for our education buck—is only for accountants and actuaries. But Paul Hill has written a very good piece for the George W. Bush Institute on how smart governance changes can both make the most of our scarce resources and improve student learning. The report isn’t spreadsheets and pivot tables; it’s an interesting argument for changes in mindset, policy, and practice.

The always-excellent Center for Reinventing Public Education has produced a terrific short white paper on common enrollment systems, namely how to facilitate choice across a city with multiple school sectors. The brief describes how such systems are working in Denver and New Orleans, including the tough issues such systems have to address and how well they ultimately match students to their most preferred schools. I believe the march toward sector agnosticism is inexorable. A common enrollment system is almost certainly part of the urban school system of the future, so if you track K–12 developments...

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Research has repeatedly found that being a firstborn can come with advantages—they tend to be natural leaders, have higher IQ’s, and are often chosen to portray James Bond. They also perform better in school. This new NBER study sheds light on why this is so, testing the conventional wisdom that earlier-born siblings put more effort in school and perform better than their later-born siblings partly because their parents are more strict with them. Using the 1979 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (which includes data from parent surveys), they track outcomes for children as they transition between the ages of 10 and 14. Three key findings: First, there is a clear association between school performance and birth order. For example, 34 percent of firstborns are viewed by their mothers as “one of the best in the class,” versus 27 percent of those coming fourth in birth order. Likewise, just 7 percent of firstborns are considered below the middle or at the bottom of the class, compared to 11 percent of fourth-borns. (The analysts use GPAs on school transcripts to validate the moms’ self-reported data regarding how their children perform in school.) Early birth order is also associated with higher scores on standardized math and reading tests. Second, parents regulate earlier-born siblings’ television-viewing and homework-completing behaviors more intensely. Third, the more younger siblings a child has, the more likely are his parents to closely supervise him in the event that he brings home low performance on...

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Perhaps New York mayor Bill de Blasio is starting to see that attacking charter schools is a better Democratic-primary strategy than governing philosophy. This turn of events can be illustrated by his appearance earlier this week on MSNBC’s Morning Joe show, where he encountered a surprisingly sharp round of questioning from the roundtable of (left-leaning) hosts on the matter. The New York Times notes that de Blasio is softening his rhetoric and reaching out to charter groups “more sympathetic” to his administration. With his approval rating already down to 39 percent—just ten weeks after taking office—here’s hoping Hizzoner will stop antagonizing charter schools altogether.

The Kansas Supreme Court ruled on an important school funding case this week, finding that the state’s legislature does, in fact, have the authority to make budgetary decisions—but that it also must maintain an educational system that meets constitutional requirements. In Education Next, Eric Hanushek contends that the court got it right. Unlike previous rulings in the state, the court indicated that the “total spending is not the touchstone for determining adequacy”; rather, the skills of students ought to be so.

In a new Huffington Post article, Diane Ravitch argues that the “reform” narrative is a fraud: NAEP scores and graduation rates are at their highest point in history for both whites and minorities, the dropout rate is at a historic low, and so on. But in this week’s Education Gadfly Show podcast, Mike Petrilli looks at the...

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The SXSWedu portion of the famously cool SXSW festival is the oddball segment, as evidenced by the early start and the attendees actually wearing suits. Besides the un-SXSW vibe of SXSWedu, there were a ton of takeaways for policy wonks. Here are four key ones:

  1. Wendy Kopp, founder of Teacher For America and Teach For All, not only takes tough questions from the audience (including many former TFA corps members), she took the no-silver-bullets route—that no one policy is the answer for our education crisis. She identified teacher-preparation reform as the 2013–14 flavor of the school year: fix the teachers and you’ll fix the schools. But most impressively, she told a tech-savvy audience that putting a tablet into every child’s hands isn’t going to do squat for improving our schools.
  2. A marriage between school choice and non-cognitive skills has a lot of potential. Many are reluctant to open their arms to teaching the “touchy-feely” stuff in our schools, especially as we continue to underperform academically. But non-cognitive skills matter. Bryan Contreras from KIPP Houston described the network’s home visits, summer camps, and mentoring programs. Contreras convinced me that these efforts at “social and emotional learning” are clear-headed parts of KIPP’s strategy for preparing students for success in college and life. It would be no easy task to scale these for all students at all schools, but charter schools (and private schools) can lead the way on innovative ways to provide non-cognitive skills to more low-income kids.
  3. Data security was
  4. ...
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The SXSWedu portion of the famously cool SXSW festival is the oddball segment, as evidenced by the early start and the attendees actually wearing suits. Besides the un-SXSW vibe of SXSWedu, there were a ton of takeaways for policy wonks. Here are four key ones:

  1. Wendy Kopp, founder of Teacher For America and Teach For All, not only takes tough questions from the audience (including many former TFA corps members), she took the no-silver-bullets route—that no one policy is the answer for our education crisis. She identified teacher-preparation reform as the 2013–14 flavor of the school year: fix the teachers and you’ll fix the schools. But most impressively, she told a tech-savvy audience that putting a tablet into every child’s hands isn’t going to do squat for improving our schools.
  2. A marriage between school choice and non-cognitive skills has a lot of potential. Many are reluctant to open their arms to teaching the “touchy-feely” stuff in our schools, especially as we continue to underperform academically. But non-cognitive skills matter. Bryan Contreras from KIPP Houston described the network’s home visits, summer camps, and mentoring programs. Contreras convinced me that these efforts at “social and emotional learning” are clear-headed parts of KIPP’s strategy for preparing students for success in college and life. It would be no easy task to scale these for all students at all schools, but charter schools (and private schools) can lead the way on innovative ways to provide non-cognitive skills to more low-income kids.
  3. Data security was
  4. ...
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Last week, Chris Cerf stepped down after three extraordinarily successful years as New Jersey’s commissioner of education. Education observers in the Garden State and beyond will remember his tenure for its major initiatives.

He secured a Race to the Top 3 grant and one of the first ESEA waivers. He successfully led the charge for the overhaul of the state’s outdated tenure statute and launched a new teacher-evaluation pilot program. He negotiated a new labor contract in Newark, and he had the state intervene in the tragically low-performing Camden school district. He dramatically improved chartering in the state, authorizing dozens of new schools while closing 10 persistently low performers. And he was a stalwart for both Common Core and PARCC.

Cerf’s accomplishments are undeniable. But in the fine tradition of blogging, I need to make this about me.

To wit, no single person has had a larger or more positive influence on my professional development. I learned mountains from Chris Cerf about leadership in general and, more specifically, how to bring about change as the whipping winds of politics (and worse) swirl around you.

As fate would have it, our adventure and all I took from it came an inch from being aborted. We met during the darkest period of my professional career. I had been offered the job as New Jersey’s deputy commissioner by Cerf’s predecessor.

I quit my job, moved my wife and two-week old baby away from family in Maryland, bought a house, and began...

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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 amphibians; reptilesAncient Asian Cultures; the early American civilizations; Ancient GreeceNative American culturesChristopher Columbus and the Age of DiscoveryColonial America and the Revolutionary Warthe American founders;  movie adaptations of classic children’s books; and American folk heroes.

Where I live near Washington, D.C., the long, cold, snowy winter and late spring haven’t deterred the songbirds from making their vernal voices heard. Not only are these incredible creatures beautiful (visually and vocally), but they also are our modern link to the age of the dinosaurs and feature prominently in art, music, and culture throughout human history. Here are some videos to help teach your kids about our feathered friends.

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

Best videos on birds

1. Nature Adventures: Unique Birds of the Prairie

Nature AdventuresTodd and Terri explore the Great Plains in search of unique bird species. They show you that not all birds live in nests, as they get up close to burrowing owls near the Badlands of South Dakota. Plus they examine red tailed hawks and long...

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The K–12 education world brims with debates and dichotomies that get us into all manner of needless quarrels and cul-de-sacs, thus messing up every reform initiative and retarding progress. In every case, both sides are certain that they speak the whole truth; convinced that opposing views are...

Do the characteristics of a school and its neighborhood affect whether prospective teachers apply to teach there? To answer this question, analysts attended three large job fairs for Chicago Public Schools in Summer 2006 and compiled extensive data on the...

The National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) has emerged as one of the nation’s staunchest proponents of charter-school quality. In November 2012, it launched its ambitious One...

The Adele Dazeem edition

Mike and Dara “Let It Go” with student free speech, Obama’s federal budget request, and Louisiana’s CTE revamp. Amber confirms the obvious: location matters to prospective teachers.

Amber's Research Minute

New Evidence on Teacher Labor Supply,” by Mimi Engel, Brian A. Jacob, and F. Chris Curran, American Educational Research Journal 51(36): pp. 36–72.

Private Schools, Public Vouchers - School Leaders Panel

State-funded voucher programs have stoked political controversy, culture clashes, and pitched court battles. In Ohio, vouchers (aka "scholarships") enable students without access to a good public school--or limited means--to attend a private school. Research has consistently shown that voucher programs benefit the kids who participate: higher achievement, higher odds of graduating high school, and a greater likelihood of attending college.
 
But what do we know about the private schools that educate voucher students? How has school life changed? Can they uphold their distinctive mission, values, and culture--even as they participate in a state-run program? Very little is known.
 
In Fordham's latest research venture, we sought to understand what happens in schools that take voucher students. We enlisted veteran journalist and former Dayton Daily News editorial-page editor Ellen Belcher who visited five private schools across the Buckeye State. The findings of our research will be released in a groundbreaking report Pluck and Tenacity: How five private schools in Ohio have adapted to vouchers.
 
Please join the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, Ellen Belcher, four private-school leaders (including a newly-confirmed principal from Toledo), and education-policy experts to discuss the fascinating findings of this new report and their policy implications.
 
OPENING REMARKS
Ellen Belcher - Lead Investigator, Journalist and former editor, Dayton Daily News
 
SCHOOL LEADERS PANELISTS
Karyn Hecker - Principal, Immaculate Conception School, Dayton
Monica Lawson - Admissions Director, St. Martin de Porres High School, Cleveland
Deb O'Shea - Principal, St. Patrick of Heatherdowns School, Toledo
Mike Pecchia - President, Youngstown Christian School
 
MODERATOR
Chad Aldis - Vice President for Ohio Policy and Advocacy, Thomas B. Fordham Institute

The Adele Dazeem edition

Mike and Dara “Let It Go” with student free speech, Obama’s federal budget request, and Louisiana’s CTE revamp. Amber confirms the obvious: location matters to prospective teachers.

Amber's Research Minute

New Evidence on Teacher Labor Supply,” by Mimi Engel, Brian A. Jacob, and F. Chris Curran, American Educational Research Journal 51(36): pp. 36–72.

Private Schools, Public Vouchers - Policy Leaders Panel

Private Schools, Public Vouchers - Policy Leaders Panel

State-funded voucher programs have stoked political controversy, culture clashes, and pitched court battles. In Ohio, vouchers (aka "scholarships") enable students without access to a good public school--or limited means--to attend a private school. Research has consistently shown that voucher programs benefit the kids who participate: higher achievement, higher odds of graduating high school, and a greater likelihood of attending college.
 
But what do we know about the private schools that educate voucher students? How has school life changed? Can they uphold their distinctive mission, values, and culture--even as they participate in a state-run program? Very little is known.
 
In Fordham's latest research venture, we sought to understand what happens in schools that take voucher students. We enlisted veteran journalist and former Dayton Daily News editorial-page editor Ellen Belcher who visited five private schools across the Buckeye State. The findings of our research will be released in a groundbreaking report Pluck and Tenacity: How five private schools in Ohio have adapted to vouchers.
 
Please join the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, Ellen Belcher, four private-school leaders (including a newly-confirmed principal from Toledo), and education-policy experts to discuss the fascinating findings of this new report and their policy implications.
 
Policy Leaders Panelists
Sarah Pechan Driver - Senior Director of Programs, School Choice Ohio
Greg Harris - State Director - Ohio StudentsFirst
Larry Keough - Associate Director, Department on Education, Catholic Conference of Ohio
 
MODERATOR
Chad Aldis - Vice President for Ohio Policy and Advocacy, Thomas B. Fordham Institute

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