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The so-called War on Poverty has been fantastically successful at eradicating poverty among the old and devastatingly miserable at eradicating poverty among the young. It’s not hard to see why. It’s easy to reduce or eliminate poverty among people, such as seniors, who are not expected to work: Give them money and free services, like Social Security and Medicare. Voilà, problem solved. What our young people require, however, is so much more. And it’s nothing a government program can provide.

What they need, first and foremost, are parents with the emotional stability, resources, and commitment to do their most important job well. That means making good decisions every day about what they will or won’t expect of their kids; the time they will or won’t spend with them; the books they will or won’t read to them; the experiences they will or won’t provide. It shouldn’t be controversial to say, then, that many poor parents struggle to make these good decisions, often because they themselves are still growing up and are trying to do the job alone.

If we want to reduce intergenerational poverty—the real social scourge in America—we need an all-out effort to encourage everyone to follow a simple rule: Don’t have kids until you are ready to provide for them, emotionally and financially.

That means taking children who are growing up today in dysfunctional families and dysfunctional communities, and often attending dysfunctional schools, and transporting them into environments that can, as President George W. Bush would say, “touch...

Forgive an aging education-reformer’s reminiscences, but LBJ’s declaration of war on poverty shaped the next fifty years of my life.

I was a Harvard undergraduate at the time, dabbling in social reform and social action via a slew of student-volunteer programs in schools, settlement houses, public-housing projects, and hospitals; not studying very hard; and expected by my family to join my father and grandfather in their Dayton law firm.

Then two things happened.

Professor Edward Banfield brought into his course on “urban problems” a young assistant secretary of labor named Daniel Patrick Moynihan, whose enthusiastic explanation of the nascent “war” fired my imagination—and introduced the man who would later become my doctoral adviser, chief mentor, and source of three riveting jobs.

And Lyndon Johnson’s oft-stated conviction that education was the surest route to vanquishing poverty engaged both the do-gooder inclinations of a twenty-year-old and reflected what I was seeing among children in poor neighborhoods of Cambridge and Boston and the miserable schools they attended.

Between LBJ and Pat Moynihan, I now had a sense of mission. So I applied to the ed school instead of the law school. And on it went from there.

In retrospect, I have no career regrets, but I’ve also learned a ton about the limits of formal education (which makes up a relatively small part of a person’s life); about the difficulty of changing our major institutions; about the hazards of inflating what Uncle Sam, in particular, can do to bring about such changes; about the predilection...

Joshua Dunn

Today’s guidelines announced in Baltimore by the Justice and Education Departments brings the tortured logic of disparate impact to school discipline.  Unfortunately the consequences for schools and particularly for minority students will be nothing short of disastrous if actually implemented.  The only conclusion that can be drawn from these guidelines is that the Obama administration does not care about actual student behavior and only wants to focus on disembodied percentages regardless of their destructive educational consequences.

The guidelines issued by the departments contain all the standard boilerplate about helping students “learn and thrive” and supporting “positive behavior and character development” that anyone could want.  But nothing can mask the fact their heavy handed intrusions will only undermine schools’ ability to create—to use their own language—“a safe and inclusive environment where all students can learn and succeed.”  According to the guidelines schools still “violate Federal law when they evenhandedly [emphasis added] implement facially neutral policies” that were adopted with no intent to discriminate “but nonetheless have an unjustified effect of discriminating against students on the basis of race.”  Ordinary English users can be forgiven if they find themselves scratching their heads asking, “How could evenhanded and neutral policies actually be discriminatory?  Doesn’t discrimination require someone, you know, actually discriminating?”  But they are simply blissfully ignorant of the subtle nuances of disparate impact doublespeak.  In translation, the guidelines mean that if students in one racial group are punished more than their percentage of the student population a school can expect the feds to come...

The holiday season has come to end, and mostly likely, you’re starting 2014 off with some New Year’s resolutions. Maybe you’re still trying to figure out how to program your Fitbit. Or maybe you’re waking up an hour earlier to make it to the gym. If your fitness, diet, dating, and money-saving resolutions don’t quite pan out (only 8 percent of us are successful), focus on these education-policy resolutions:

  1. Really publicize those Next Generation Science Standards hearings. Really. Three years from now, when the conservative backlash over these standards begins, you don’t want the Rick Hess–Mike McShane duo to claim there was no public discussion (as they’ve claimed for the Common Core).
  2. Understand how collective bargaining, pensions, and strikes work before you write about them. (That goes for the Netflix writers, too.) If you need a Pensions 101 primer, check out this video featuring Fordham’s Dara Zeehandelaar.
  3. Don’t ever let go of the serial comma.
  4. Don’t hold your breath on new education initiatives in the State of the Union. Or reauthorization of No Child Left Behind. Or a preschool-policy overhaul. I just don’t want you to get your hopes up.
  5. Stretch that dollar! Even with a $700 billion annual budget, we can’t fund everything the way some in education want. So we’ll have to make smart decisions. My top two choices for 2014: keep it to means-tested pre-K programs and right size the classroom (with higher salaries and more students for excellent teachers).
  6. All education-reform debates
  7. ...

The first time I drove through Camden, New Jersey, I was shell-shocked.

I was the state’s deputy commissioner of education and was on my way to one of the city’s schools, where Governor Christie was hosting a bill-signing event. I had previously visited one of Camden’s alternative schools, but I had been ferried by a local who, I later figured out, knew the roads inside and out.

I had heard countless stories about Camden’s sad state but hadn’t truly witnessed it during that trip. But the online map provider I used for my first solo journey showed that it knew less about the city than I did. It generated a route that took me on a tour I will never forget.

To that point, the two most tragic cities I’d seen were Detroit and Cleveland. Yes, both have areas that still give the appearance of vibrancy, but venture a bit further out and you see countless deserted buildings and decaying neighborhoods.

Then you see kids.

The cruelty these environs inflict on boys and girls is unspeakable. It’s why I do this work.

But what I saw in Camden was even worse. Entire blocks had fallen apart. The street activity, meager as it was, was unwholesome to say the least. The city felt not just hollow but abandoned.

The worst part was when I finally made my way to a larger thoroughfare and saw a sign indicating that I’d found a “...

We know that student mobility negatively impacts achievement and increases the likelihood of dropping out, not to mention the spillover effects on non-movers in high-churn schools. But can schools really do anything to curtail mobility among students? This study, conducted by researchers at the University of Wisconsin and Rice University, seeks to answer that question by randomly assigning an intervention designed to build relationships among families and between families and school personnel. Parents are recruited into a program comprising eight weeks of gatherings after school that last two to three hours, followed by two years of monthly parent-led meetings where parents, students, and school staff have meals together, play bonding games, and engage in other family rituals. Fifty-two elementary schools in Phoenix and San Antonio—all with high proportions of Hispanic and poor children—were randomly assigned to the treatment, with half receiving the intervention and half serving as the control group. Data were collected during the students’ first- through third-grade years. In the treatment schools, 73 percent of families attended at least one gathering and half attended multiple sessions. Of those who attended at all, a third completed the full program. Analysts found that on average, attending a school with the intervention did not reduce mobility. However, there were subgroup differences; specifically, black students in the control schools were more likely to move overall, but the intervention reduced their likelihood of moving by 29 percent in intervention schools—and that percentage rose for students whose families completed the entire program. Survey data suggest that the intervention...

The appointment of former educator and experienced administrator Carmen Fariña as the new chancellor of New York City’s one-million-student public school system has been met with cautious optimism from several fronts, spanning from those who hope she will soften de Blasio’s stance against charter schools to those who hope the opposite. Gadfly, however, is deeply concerned about her recent comments—specifically, her contention that facts are learned “maybe to take tests, but we learn thinking to get on in life. As anyone who understands the past thirty years of cognitive science knows, that’s as false a dichotomy as they come. Gaining knowledge and learning to think critically, rather than being mutually exclusive, are in fact dependent upon one another. Gotham’s students need more knowledge, not less.

Call it a Christmas present to value-added haters: Over the holiday season, news broke that an error in the District of Columbia’s Mathematica-designed value-added model—specifically, the calculation of teachers’ “individual value-added” score, which constitutes 35 percent of teachers’ score under the city’s IMPACT evaluation system—led to mistaken job evaluations for forty-four teachers, one of whom lost their his or her job as a result. In a statement issued just before the winter break, district official Jason Kamras announced that the twenty-two teachers who should have received higher IMPACT scores will “receive all benefits (such as bonuses) that go with the scores,” while the twenty-two who...

Amber loses her marbles

In the first podcast of the year, Mike and Brickman discuss NCLB’s goal of universal proficiency, an error in D.C.’s IMPACT evaluation scores, and the correct pronunciation of Fariña. Amber is no good with marbles—but great at educating us about student mobility.

Amber's Research Minute

Reducing School Mobility: A Randomized Trial of a Relationship-Building Intervention,” by Jeremy E. Fiel, Anna R. Haskins and Ruth N. López Turley, American Educational Research Journal 50 (2013): 1188–1218.

It’s that time of year when we guilt ourselves into better behavior—vowing to lead a more abstemious lifestyle, go to the gym more often, improve personal finances...

Way too hard.

Here’s a New Year’s resolution you can follow through on: five good edu-reads to start the year off right!

If you care about accountability systems, you really must read the new report by New America’s Anne Hyslop, “It’s All Relative.” The study shows the major difference between the NCLB era and the waiver era in 16 states. There are way too many lessons to be captured in this short blurb—each table and figure deserves a paragraph—but the overarching takeaway is that states with waivers are addressing struggling schools very differently than they had over the previous decade. That might not turn out to be a good thing.

The KIPP Foundation’s CEO posted a blog on seven exciting developments for the nation’s largest CMO during 2013. The highlights: they now have 141 schools serving 50,000 kids; they continue to serve high-need students and get great results; more than 4,500 alumni are in college; and the organization is making strides to make school leadership more sustainable.

Check out a good article in Education Next about Rhode Island’s innovative “Mayoral Academies,” a model that gets teams of mayors involved in starting and attracting high-performing charter schools. The story of its beginnings and evolution is interesting and should serve as an example for policymakers in other states.

CRPE...

Tomorrow morning, some of you are going to feel bad about yourselves for tonight’s debauch. Not much I can do for headaches and queasy stomachs, but I can help you insulate your self-esteem: Read these five things before the festivities. You’ll head into the evening knowing you smartened yourself up. And tomorrow, when someone looks at your haggard visage and says, “Last year went out with a bang, huh?” you can say, “Yes, indeed. I did some high-quality edu-reading.”

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