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The Education Gadfly

The court case over teacher job protections in California is underway. The plaintiffs argue that the laws hinder the removal of effective teachers, which disproportionately harms underprivileged students. The defendants, on the other hand, argue that there is plenty of time before tenure to remove teachers. While it is true that many schools do not avail themselves of this limited flexibility, the fact remains that the flexibility is limited. What’s more, that argument dodges the problem: if a teacher burns out after obtaining tenure, he will still be teaching children—and how can anyone defend that? Meanwhile, a photo negative of this case is ongoing in Denver, Colorado, in which the district is facing a class-action lawsuit for supposedly dismissing tenured teachers without just cause—because in the unions’ strange world, poor performance in the classroom couldn’t possibly be considered “just cause.” Interesting!

If you’re looking for (1) good news and (2) something to watch during your lunch break, look no further this quick introduction to Pakistan’s Punjab Education Reform Roadmap (which can be characterized as perhaps the world’s largest voucher program). The short film, featuring British education reformer Michael Barber, documents the challenges (and importance) of implementing an ambitious education-reform strategy—and paints an encouraging picture for the future of Punjab’s children. For more to read on the subject, see our review of Barber’s book, The Good News from Pakistan.

New York City schools chancellor ...

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The Student and the Stopwatch: How much time is spent on testing in American schools?

The Student and the Stopwatch

In this era of results-based academic accountability, teachers and their students spend class time taking—and preparing for—standardized tests. But just how much time? An inordinate amount? Does it vary by locale? What is the ideal amount of prep time? What are the policy implications for districts and states? The curricular and instructional implications? And what are the consequences for children, especially disadvantaged students?
 
JOIN THE DISCUSSION ON THE FORDHAM LIVE PAGE
 
In the largest study of its kind, Teach Plus brings empirical evidence to the table with its new report, The Student and the Stopwatch: How Much Time is Spent on Testing in American Schools? The report examines district- and state-required testing in more than thirty urban and suburban districts nationwide, featuring input from more than 300 teachers.
 
Join the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and Teach Plus for a discussion on time-on-testing in American classrooms.
 
Panel I
 
Joseph Espinosa - Instructional Coach, First Street Elementary, Los Angeles, California
Joe Gramelspacher - Math Teacher, Crispus Attucks High School, Indianapolis, Indiana
Christina Lear - English and Journalism Teacher, Herron High School, Indianapolis, Indiana
Dr. Joy Singleton Stevens - Third-Grade Teacher, Double Tree Montessori School, Memphis, Tennessee
 
Panel I Moderator
Alice Johnson Cain - Vice President for Policy, Teach Plus
 
Panel II
Celine Coggins - CEO and Founder, Teach Plus
Dave Driscoll - Chair, National Assessment Governing Board
Andy Rotherham - Co-founder and Partner, Bellwether Education Partners
 
Panel II Moderator
Michael J. Petrilli - Executive Vice President, Thomas B. Fordham Institute

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 amphibiansAncient Asian Cultures; the Early American civilizationsAncient GreeceNative American culturesChristopher Columbus and the Age of Discovery; the American founders;  movie adaptations of classic children’s books; and American folk heroes.

They say a think tank is a “university without students,” so in that spirit I took a winter break from our Netflix Academy series. But with January behind us, it’s time to get started once again. Not to mention, the weather this week is reminiscent of Washington’s winter at Valley Forge. (How’s that for a segue?) That’s right, it’s time for the best streaming videos on Colonial America and the Revolutionary War! Note that a few of these are for older audiences; you also can’t go wrong by dialing up the fantastic animated show Liberty’s Kids, though it will cost you a couple of bucks an episode on Amazon. Enjoy!

Best videos on Colonial America and the Revolutionary War

1. Jamestown: The Beginning

Jamestown The Beginning

This is a historical overview of America's first permanent English settlement, including Jamestown's origins in England and the first quarter-century of the

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Hear Ye, Hear Ye

Michelle and Brickman take over the podcast, discussing “controlled choice” (and declaring their allegiances to either #TeamMike or #TeamChecker), Sen. Lamar Alexander’s school-choice legislation, and teacher-protection laws in California. Amber reads into English-language-arts instruction.

Amber's Research Minute

Learning that Lasts: Unpacking Variation in Teachers’ Effects on Students’ Long-Term Knowledge,” by Benjamin Master, Susanna Loeb, and James Wyckoff, Working Paper 104 (Washington, D.C.: CALDER and AIR, January 2014).

On the K–12 education front, the president made no news and no big mistakes. He scarcely even mentioned teachers. Save for “Race to the Top,” he mentioned none of his administration’s more controversial (and sometimes worthy) initiatives such as charter schools, teacher evaluations, and state waivers from No Child Left Behind. Unlike last year, he refrained from associating himself with the Common Core academic standards, thereby giving critics of those standards no new ammunition by which to target them as “Obamacore.” His only real policy blunder came in reviving his previous request to Congress to enact “universal” preschool for four-year-olds. Yes, it’s a crowd-pleaser, but it’s also a feckless, wasteful idea that would deliver a costly and unneeded windfall to millions of families that have already made acceptable pre-K arrangements for their children while creating a program too thin to do much good for the acutely disadvantaged youngsters that need it most. (Far better to reform Head Start, which already costs billions, is well-targeted on the “truly needy,” but today does almost nothing to prepare them academically for kindergarten.) Nor could Mr. Obama resist poking one more finger in Congress’s eye by declaring that if they won’t enact his preschool program, he and the governors and philanthropists will just do it on their own.

This article originally appeared on the National Review Online.

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Sam Chaltain, Richard Kahlenberg, and Michael J. Petrilli

From 2000 to 2010, the white share of the District of Columbia’s population grew from 30.8 percent to38 percent . And from 2000 to 2012, the median household income in the city rose 23.3 percent while the nation saw a 6.6 percent decline, adjusted for inflation. This rapid gentrification provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create racially and socioeconomically integrated public schools. The D.C. Advisory Committee on Student Assignment, which is redrawing school boundary lines and feeder patterns, should seize this opportunity.

Middle-class families have moved into neighborhoods such as Columbia Heights and Petworth in large numbers. And many of these families are staying in the District even after their kids are old enough to attend school.

Meanwhile, more parents in D.C. neighborhoods west of Rock Creek Park are sending their kids to public schools, resulting in fewer spots for “out of boundary” students in the most sought-after neighborhood schools such as Lafayette, Murch and Eaton elementary schools or Deal Middle School.

As a result, more-affluent parents in the transitioning neighborhoods — squeezed out of schools west of the park and unable to afford private schools — are taking a shot at either the elementary school down the street or a diverse charter school nearby. In several cases, this has been an orchestrated effort, organized via community meetings or e-mail discussion groups. The trend is particularly pronounced in both district and charter preschool programs, resulting in class rolls that are much more diverse than those in the upper...

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The Smack-Talk Edition

Kathleen and Mike talk Richard Sherman–level smack in this special video edition of the podcast. They tackle Core Knowledge, Rick Hess’s nasty-gram, and Florida’s Common Core two-step. Amber measures teacher-performance trajectories.

Amber's Research Minute

Teacher Performance Trajectories in High and Lower-Poverty Schools,” by Zeyu Xu, Umet Özek, and Michael Hansen, Working Paper 101 (Washington, D.C.: National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research, American Institutes for Research, July 2013).

While presenting his 2014–15 budget for New York State, Governor Andrew Cuomo outlined his education priorities, proposing (among other things) a $1.5 billion pre-Kindergarten expansion to be funded—without a tax increase (as per his repeated pledges to reduce taxes). That didn’t satisfy New York City’s new super-liberal mayor Bill de Blasio, who said “no dice”; he too wants to expand pre-school, but insists on doing so by raising taxes on the wealthy (as per his own campaign promise). It’s all about the kids, right?

In Texas, opening statements were made on Tuesday in the latest court case over whether the Lone Star State adequately funds its public schools. If this sounds familiar, you’re not crazy: in February 2013, Judge John Dietz ruled that Texas was not spending enough to provide the “general diffusion of knowledge” that it is constitutionally compelled to do, leading the legislature to increase K–12 public-school spending by $3.4 billion, which obviously doesn’t mean the issue was resolved.

A similar case is underway in Kansas, where activists have pressed the state Supreme Court to require the legislature to drop $500 million more per year on schools (in 2005, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled in a similar challenge that the state aid needed to increase, which it did, but which has not led to increased test scores in the state). Money alone won’t improve our schools—but smart budgeting...

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Children cannot be truly literate without knowing about history, science, art, music, literature, civics, geography, and more. Indeed, they cannot satisfactorily comprehend what they read unless they possess the background knowledge that makes such comprehension possible. Yet most American primary schools have been marching in the opposite direction: treating reading only as a “skill” and pushing off history, science, art, and music “until later.”

This problem grows more serious with the advent of the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts, which take for granted that children expected to meet those standards are being supplied with a content-rich curriculum. In far too many U.S. schools, however, that is simply not happening.

So what should we do?

Commit to implanting a sequential, content-rich curriculum in the country’s elementary and middle schools.

The essays in Knowledge at the Core: Don Hirsch, Core Knowledge, and the Future of the Common Core restate the case for such a curriculum and chart a course for the future. They also pay tribute to the decades of scholarship, service, and reform commitment of E. D. (Don) Hirsch, Jr., author of Cultural Literacy (and three other prescient books on education reform) and founder of the Core Knowledge Foundation.

DOWNLOAD Knowledge at the Core: Don Hirsch, Core Knowledge, and the Future of the Common Core as an eBook.

Kindle Download (.mobi) - Instructions on how to add the e-book to your Kindle

Nook Download (.epub)

WATCH selected...

  • Cleveland Metropolitan School District is in hot water after rehiring three retired district principals without a public hearing. Under state law, a hearing is required when a retiree is rehired into a public position. This they did, five months after giving them the gigs in error. Gadfly wonders if all this public hoop jumping couldn't be easily avoided though: Shouldn’t Ohio altogether cease the practice of “double dipping” (i.e., when public-sector “retirees” receive both a public pension and a public-employee salary)?
  • Fallout from the long-simmering data “scrubbing” scandal continues. Last week, the Ohio Department of Education referred seven school districts (Campbell, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Marion, Northridge, Toledo, and Winton Woods) to the Office of Professional Conduct to investigate whether individual staff members improperly withdrew students from the district’s attendance records. The shoe still remains to drop on Columbus City Schools.
  • Information, information, information: The Cleveland Transformation Alliance will soon launch a new website www.clevelandta.org that includes much-needed school information for parents. The site will have Cleveland schools’ performance index score and its value-added rating, along with space for community ratings and comments.  
  • The state’s new teacher evaluation system is creating headaches for school administrators. Newark City Schools’ (central Ohio) superintendent estimates that his district’s school administrators will spend some 2,500 hours this year on evaluations. Fortunately, there may be relief on the horizon as Senate Bill 229 (passed the Senate and awaits hearings in the House) would loosen some of the state
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