America’s educational shortcomings are not limited to disadvantaged kids. Far from it, as Eric Hanushek, Paul Peterson, and Ludger Woessmann explain in this recently released Education Next/PEPG study. Looking at the NAEP scores in every U.S. state and the PISA results of all thirty-four OECD countries, Hanushek et al. compared the math proficiency rates of students by parental education level: low (neither parent has a high school diploma), moderate (at least one parent has a high school diploma, but neither has a college degree), and high (at least one parent has a college degree). The results, from an American perspective, were pretty grim at every level. Overall, 35 percent of U.S. students are proficient in math, placing us twenty-seventh. For the most disadvantaged students, things are actually a bit rosier: we rank twentieth. The whopper, however, is the comparative proficiency of our most advantaged students: they fall in at a dismal twenty-eighth place—worse than the country’s overall rank. In other words, advantaged U.S. students appear to be doing comparatively worse internationally than students with less-educated parents. This is the opposite of what many low-score apologists—and suburban parents—would like you to believe. (Try explaining that with poverty.) Fortunately, there’s a little bit of state-level good news. Advantaged students from Massachusetts, for example, rank just outside the top five internationally, with a 62 percent proficiency rate. And disadvantaged students in Texas have a 28 percent proficiency rate, placing them seventh internationally. For the country, however, the picture is decidedly distressing....
Kudos to Andy Rotherham and Chad Aldeman for taking on, via a nifty new website and this recent Washington Post article, the pressing (and underreported) issue of teacher-pension reform. Before you yawn, at least take note that due to extraordinarily long vesting periods—which, conveniently, help out lawmakers who haven’t properly funded their state’s pension plans—more than half of all teachers won’t qualify for even a minimal pension. As in other fields nowadays, barely a quarter of Maryland’s teachers will stay in this line of work for a full career—and a whopping 57 percent will leave without seeing a penny in pension benefits. Capable young folks who might otherwise try their hand in the classroom cannot be blamed for thinking twice about taking the plunge. Now that you’re awake, get educated.
In last weekend’s New York Times magazine, Paul Tough (of How Children Succeed fame) looked at why so many low-income students drop out of college. Just a quarter of college freshmen whose families are in the bottom half of the income distribution will obtain a bachelor’s degree by the time they are twenty-four years old, while nearly 90 percent of their classmates born in the top income quartile will do so. Tough identifies a number of factors at play, from family obligations and expectations to simply becoming overwhelmed by financial-aid paperwork. He also describes an innovative, and apparently successful, initiative at the University of Texas to provide greater support to disadvantaged students....
Speaking of Columbus City Schools, Fordham friend Mark Real of KidsOhio.org has a “good news” op-ed in the paper today, talking about some “needles in a haystack” schools (to borrow a phrase) in the district. (Columbus Dispatch)
TFA’s Ben Lindy has coauthored an op-ed the Enquirer discussing educational progress in the 60 years since Brown v Board and looking forward to the future for today’s students. (Cincinnati Enquirer)
I’m not going to tell you what the topic of this story from Cincinnati actually is. I’m just going to give you the opening paragraph and see if you can guess before looking. Good luck. “The Common Core education standards may suck the oxygen out of the room when it comes to education conversations, but the factor that makes the most difference for a kid is and always has been his teacher.” (Cincinnati Enquirer)
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald hates high-stakes tests, a fact articulated by Mr. FitzGerald this week along with some of his other education policy positions. Wonder how he feels about high-stakes elections at the moment? (Cincinnati Enquirer)
As spring leans toward summer, many of us start dreaming of vacations to come, perhaps adventures into the wilderness or expeditions out West. It’s fitting, then, to remember one of the most famous expeditions of all: that led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, launched in the middle of May 1804. There’s so much for boys and girls of all ages to love about this epic journey: the strong characters (Lewis and Clark, of course, but also Sacagawea and Thomas Jefferson, among others), the rugged terrain, the stories of heroism and near-death, the tense interactions between the explorers and the Native Americans, and more. Plus, the story opens to door to many other important topics and concepts: the Louisiana Purchase, Westward Expansion, and Manifest Destiny, to name a few. (Can you tell I love this subject? Maybe because I grew up in St. Louis.) Someday, I hope to take my boys to retrace Lewis...
In creating a new Course and Exam Description for the revamped Advanced Placement US History test (coming in the 2014–15 academic year), the College Board’s writers faced a notable challenge. On the one hand, any such guide must seek to specify essential knowledge and concepts that will be covered on the AP exam. On the other, it needs to be compatible with any and all state standards (from the ludicrously vague to the solidly specific), any local guidelines, and teachers’ own individual plans. The College Board explicitly denies any intention of imposing detailed course standards or curricula. Yet the AP exam is uniform across the nation and must judge all students against a single assessment standard; the Board must, therefore, lay out the core material for which all tested students are responsible. Such a document straddles a difficult line: specifying core content without dictating curricula.
How do you help teachers prepare students for the AP exam, while recognizing that you can’t specify curriculum in the process and that the very best teachers, the ones you most want teaching AP classes, do not want to be told exactly what to teach? The key mission of the document is to make clear to such teachers what areas may appear on the test, coordinating a single national exam with variable state standards and myriad individual classes. But how do you lay out the areas for which students will be responsible without laying out the key specifics that such questions may depend upon?...
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.
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)
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
Fordham LIVE: State Education Agencies: The Smaller the Better?
April 23, 2014
In the era of Race to the Top, waivers, and waivers of waivers, the role of state education agencies (SEAs) has increased dramatically: taking on school turnarounds, teacher-evaluation systems, and now Common Core implementation. Many argue that SEAs need "more capacity" to do these new jobs successfully. But what if we are asking departments of education not only to do too much but also to do things that they weren't built to do—and probably cannot do well? Should we shrink the SEA and its role and empower other entities to lead state-level reform instead?
Join the Thomas B. Fordham Institute for a discussion on the role of state education agencies and their leaders in the education-reform ecosystem.
PANELISTS Deborah A. Gist - Commissioner, Rhode Island Department of Education Mark Murphy - Secretary of Education, Delaware Department of Education Andy Smarick - Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow, Thomas B. Fordham Institute & Partner, Bellwether Education Partners
MODERATOR Chester E. Finn, Jr. - President, Thomas B. Fordham Institute
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...