Additional Topics

  • A recent cover story in the Economist called the highly educated “America’s new aristocracy.” Basically, education (and the greater earnings with which it is correlated) has become increasingly heritable. Educated, clever people tend to marry other such people and raise their kids to emulate that model. This is all well and good for those people, but it’s widening the income gap and leaving behind children born into educationally (and financially) impoverished homes. So what’s to be done? The article has some suggestions, such as early intervention. We have a bunch of ideas of our own. To be sure, it’s a very complicated problem with myriad causes. Nevertheless, it’s a nut we need to crack.
  • In a time of broad national attacks on testing, the George W. Bush Institute has published an important essay that shows how much achievement has increased in the age of NCLB testing. Beginning around the turn on the century, the federal government began tying annual tests to school accountability, complete with sanctions for inadequate performance. Since that time, significant achievement gains have been made in math and reading, especially among minority children at age nine; scores for white students in 2008 were the highest ever in both reading and math for nine- and thirteen-year olds. “What was good for poor and minority students was good for all students,” they note. Meanwhile the achievement gap between white kids and their black and Hispanic peers has shrunk. Testing is surely overdone in
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Rural school districts are the oft-ignored middle child of our nation’s public schools, consistently snubbed in favor of their urban and suburban siblings. Through a survey of rural superintendents, this report by the Rural Opportunities Consortium of Idaho One sheds much-needed light on the most pressing issues rural educators face—primarily rooted in educators’ struggle to deliver effective, cost-efficient education to students who live in isolated communities. Small rural districts are underfunded. Science, English, and foreign language instructors are in short supply because rural districts lack the incentives to attract them, causing faculty to teach classes that exceed their qualifications. The report’s most interesting recommendation is to increase rural technological connectivity through the implementation of blended learning, a hybrid teaching method that combines digital learning with traditional classroom instruction. This reduces the need for a large, specialized instructional staff by providing live video lectures from teachers elsewhere. Such an initiative would improve the quality of rural education and save districts money. Yet as promising as this all sounds, funding is also an issue here—a concern that the report could have addressed in further detail. Implementing successful blended curricula will require massive up-front injections of capital for things like new tech gadgets, full-time IT personnel, and teacher training. Districts already pinching pennies cannot get their hands on necessary start-up funds without significant reforms to federal, state, and local funding policies. The report briefly addresses this with both an unrealistic recommendation to alter the Title I funding and a more meritorious...

Citing insurmountable data challenges, the authors of Great Schools’ most recent evaluation of the School Improvement Grant Program argue that policymakers are left “without a clear and unambiguous picture of whether this major investment in turning around the nation’s lowest-performing schools worked as intended.” The view may be opaque, but what we can see isn’t pretty.

According to the report, between the 2009–2010 and 2012–2013 school years, SIG grantees at the elementary and middle school levels saw a cumulative increase in proficiency of only a few percentage points in most grades and subjects relative to comparison groups—a disappointing result, considering some schools saw funding increases of as much as 58 percent per student under the program. And while SIG’s restart and closure models were used so infrequently that little can be said about their effectiveness, the report indicates that there were no statistically significant differences between the rates of improvement at transformation and turnaround schools, a finding that suggests that it doesn’t much matter which one-size-fits-all improvement models the federal government prescribes—implementation is what counts.

Unfortunately, SIG’s implementation was deeply troubled, as the authors of the report document through approximately fifty interviews with superintendents, program directors, principals, and teachers. Unsurprisingly, SIG grantees experienced difficulties with “the removal and recruitment of staff, community and union resistance to school changes or closures, the ability to secure and retain sufficient resources to launch and sustain the turnaround efforts, and conflicting demands from various stakeholders.” Additionally, governance was (as always!) a barrier to...

For those who march to the drumbeat of “college for all,” an updated report from the William T. Grant Foundation ought to give pause. Back in 1988, the “forgotten half” were American youth who didn’t attend college and “were struggling in ‘the passage to adulthood.’” Released in near-tandem with the president’s free-community-college plan, this report depicts an honest view of community college, from “notoriously low completion rates” (a mere 20 percent of those who attend community college attain a bachelor’s degree within eight years of graduating high school, and almost half earn no credential at all) to calling remedial education “a vague euphemism that doesn’t help students understand their situation, make informed choices, or learn about alternative programs.” The forgotten half of today are “youth who do not complete college and find themselves shut out of good jobs in the era of college for all.” While past generations with “some college” enjoyed increased earnings, a changing economy means that’s no longer true. “The most alarming finding is that many youth who took society’s advice to attend college, sacrificing time and often incurring debts, have nothing to show for their efforts in terms of credentials, employment, or earnings,” note the authors. They provide a commonsense policy solution: Colleges and high schools need to be frank with students on the costs, debts, time, and potential earnings of different education and career paths. The report also calls for better alignment between high school and college standards by pointing to the example of...

  1. Editors in Cleveland have changed their tune a bit after living with the governor’s K-12 budget proposals for a week. They opine that the new formula still “makes some sense” as they understand it, but say that help for poorer districts “should not come at the expense of often struggling suburban districts that are just climbing out of the Great Recession.” (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  2. Editors in Toledo are opining from the same hymnal as those in Cleveland re: the governor’s proposed funding formula changes. (Toledo Blade)
     
  3. Elyria Schools’ superintendent has spoken up in support of his “rock star” teacher, who as we told you yesterday is leaving teaching, citing standardized testing and Common Core as the reason. Paul Rigda says, “When you have great teachers, hard-working teachers, nationally board-certified teachers questioning the legitimacy of these tests, then there may be some problems.” He goes on to cite the state supe’s recent report on testing as a good place to start the high level conversations that he says need to happen. (NorthCoast Now)
     
  4. In blink-and-you-missed-it action, the House Education Committee yesterday recommended the “PARCC test safe harbor” HB 7 to the full House. There could be a vote as early as today, even though as a number of commentators in the piece note, the bill’s provisions are “largely symbolic”. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  5. The state board of education yesterday got a preview of what “education deregulation” might look like – that is, what
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BOOK 'EM
Politico’s extensive investigation of publishing giant Pearson has unearthed the company’s questionable money-making practices at the expense of American students and taxpayers. For years, lax accountability measures have allowed Pearson to rake in the profits even when its programs and products failed. Schools and state legislatures are realizing the need to more closely scrutinize textbook companies before handing over their multi-million dollar reform dreams.

ALPHABET SOUP
Elsewhere in Pearson news, the Wall Street Journal chronicles the slow decline of the GED. Working in partnership with the nonprofit that administers the test, Pearson has dropped a huge sum developing a new, more complex assessment geared to today’s students and standards. But, as Fordham’s Chester Finn has argued, high school graduation exams shouldn't be set at the college-ready level. And neither should the GED. Not everyone who graduates from high school will—or should—go on to college.

GOOD CITIZENS
Indifferent social-studies pupils, beware! Utah may soon join its neighboring state of Arizona in requiring students to pass a citizenship test before graduating high school. Students would need to correctly pass seventy out of one hundred questions, a more difficult task than the six out of ten required to gain citizenship. The bill needs a final vote in the state Senate before advancing to the House.

DEPARTMENT OF BAD NEWS
Arkansas is the latest state to initiate a school-district takeover, and some worry that the new ESEA reauthorization will mean...

Ethan Gray

Education reformers live in a world of data, accountability, policy, and percentiles. We are most comfortable debating ideas, writing papers, and talking to each other. But when it comes to telling powerful stories to inspire change, we have a lot to learn from one public school student in New York City.

Thirteen-year-old Vidal Chastanet was stopped and asked by Humans of New York photographer Brandon Stanton, “Who is the most influential person in your life?” With his answer—Nadia Lopez, principal at Mott Hall Bridges Academy (MHBA)—Vidal reached the hearts of millions of people.

“When we get in trouble, she doesn't suspend us. She calls us to her office and explains to us how society was built down around us. And she tells us that each time somebody fails out of school, a new jail cell gets built. And one time she made every student stand up, one at a time, and she told each one of us that we matter.”

Vidal’s answer went viral on Facebook, leading him to The Ellen DeGeneres Show and the White House last week. A fundraising campaign set up to help MHBA send students on a trip to Harvard over the summer raised $1.2 million.

Vidal’s story transcended mediums, inspired thousands, and raised millions because it went directly to people’s hearts. It is universal, human, and real.

At Education Cities, a national network of city-based organizations committed to improving public education, we challenge our network members, and ourselves, to reach for...

  1. A “rock star teacher” in Elyria says she is leaving the profession at the end of this year because her “special education students are suffering under the new system based on Common Core standards and more rigorous assessments.” (NorthCoast Now)
     
  2. Ohio Auditor of State Dave Yost wants to make sure state law explicitly forbids felons from serving on charter school boards after routine audits of two schools turned up individuals with felony convictions on their boards. (Dayton Daily News)
     
  3. Madison Schools in Lake County voted to continue outsourcing a large chunk of its transportation services, approving a new five-year contract with its current vendor. Local union reps and another private company also submitted proposals, but there were issues with both of those bids, detailed here. Hopefully this will be the end of it for the next five years. I say that because the original privatization effort ended up in court back in 2009. You can probably guess why. (Willoughby News-Herald)
     
  4. It is often said that without parental involvement, schools can only do so much to help children, especially children whose economic and family circumstances are less than ideal. That sentiment was articulated again recently in Youngstown, by the city’s mayor, in reaction to the local NAACP’s expression of no-confidence in the district’s leadership. This week, the leaders of two community groups, including district school parents and grandparents, are joining in. They say they can easily get parents into the buildings but that
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The biography of teacher evaluation’s time in federal policy might be titled Portentous, Polarizing, and Passing. It had gigantic ripple effects in the states—man, did it cause fights—and, with its all-but-certain termination via ESEA reauthorization, it stayed with us ever so briefly.

Some advocates are demoralized, worried that progress will at best stall and at worst be rolled back. Though I’m a little down that we’re unlikely to see many more states reform educator evaluation systems in the years ahead, I think the feds’ exit makes sense.

This has nothing to do with my general antipathy for this administration or my belief that its Department of Education deserves to have its meddling hands rapped. And while I think Tenth Amendment challenges are justified, I have a different primary motivation.

In short, I think the work of teaching is so extraordinarily complex and teachers are so tightly woven into the fabric of school communities that any attempt by faraway federal officials to tinker with evaluation systems is a fool’s errand. I think we may eventually come to view the Race-to-the-Top and ESEA-flexibility requirements related to assessing teachers as the apotheosis of federal K–12 technocracy.

If you’ve never dug into the details of evaluation-reform implementation, you're probably thinking I’m exaggerating. Just bear with me for the next five hundred words. I think you’ll quickly appreciate just how daunting this work is and, as a consequence, how poorly federal diktats fit the bill.

I had a hand in New Jersey’s early-stage implementation, so I...

THERE HE GOES AGAIN
Louisiana Governor and potential presidential candidate Bobby Jindal released a forty-two-page education-reform proposal urging lawmakers to repeal Common Core on grounds of federal intrusion. Fordham’s Michael Brickman doesn’t think Jindal’s Common Core claims pass the sniff test, but notes that other policies outlined in the proposal, such as ramped-up school choice and charter school efforts, are worth discussing.

WE'LL VOUCH FOR THAT
As the 2016 election crunch approaches, Republicans may be able to put the national spotlight on school vouchers. Though past attempts to expand the voucher program have met with opposition, GOP leaders hope to broaden the school-choice conversation by making it a central issue in the party’s platform. And as our own Chester E. Finn Jr. reports, some high-profile Democrats are finally willing to play ball.

ACROSS THE DIVIDE
NPR offers a poignant look at the vast, if predictable, disparities in college-advising services between Michigan’s tony Cranbrook Schools and an under-funded public school in northeast Detroit. One activist admits resignedly that “your ZIP code can really determine what your future will look like.”

EDUCATION SPOTLIGHT: INDIANA
Political junkies and ed-reform observers are turning their attention to Indiana, where embattled State Superintendent Glenda Ritz is facing legislative action that may ensure that she loses her position as schools’ chief. The dramatic vote in the state House of Representatives is the culmination of a long power struggle between Ritz and Governor Mike Pence—one that...

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