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Trick or tweet?

Mike channels Darth Vader and Checker channels, well, Checker, in a Halloween edition of the podcast featuring all sorts of treats: charter schools, the Common Core, and the political appeal of ed reform. Amber explains why Fordham’s latest study on teacher-union strength is a must-read—all 405 pages of it.

Amber's Research Minute

Gary Orfield is at it again, although this time with a twist: This book, edited by Orfield and Penn State professor Erica Frankenberg, focuses on how suburban areas are handling an influx of poor and minority students—and how they might handle it better. The book profiles six suburbs (located outside Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, and San Antonio) as well as Beach County, Florida (which encompasses West Palm Beach and Boca Raton). Each case study analyzes demographic shifts, how the districts are combating their schools’ achievement gaps, and what the political and cultural hurdles are to achieving true racial integration (Orfield’s long-time end-goal). (Prefacing these chapters is a welcome analysis and discussion of the demographics of suburbia at large—showing that, across the board, it’s less homogenous than many people suppose.) The Resegregation of Suburban Schools is a worthy contribution to the academic literature on suburbia and a thought-provoking read on the morality of desegregation. But look elsewhere for concrete policy ideas. In these pages are only vague proposals for affirmative-action programs when hiring educational professionals, amorphous “involvement” of civil-rights organizations like the NAACP in the suburbs, and an increase in magnet schools and student-exchange programs (i.e., busing across district lines). The recent attempts to extend integration programs to the suburbs should stand as a lesson: Racial integration—while a nice idea—can quickly bog down. It might be time to start thinking of diverse schools as one...

A. Graham Down

Guest blogger A. Graham Down was acting director of the College Board's Advanced Placement Program and executive director and president of the Council for Basic Education.

I first met Jacques Barzun in 1960 at the Lawrenceville School. He was the featured speaker at the school’s 150th anniversary, making a presentation entitled “The Place and Price of Excellence.” He cut an impressive, if somewhat austere, figure. Regal, aristocratic, and articulate, Jacques Barzun made an immediate impression on me. The fineness of his mind, the extraordinary wealth and depth of his knowledge, and his insistence on the highest academic standards were all readily apparent. Later, in seeming apposition, I learned that he wrote mystery and detective novels under a pseudonym with a life-long friend, Wendell Taylor, the head of the school’s science department.

Regal, aristocratic, and articulate, Jacques Barzun made an immediate impression on me.

Flash forward to August 1974. Our paths crossed again in an entirely different context. Now, informally dressed and over a glass of beer on the back porch of his summer compound on Cape Cod, he interviewed me (in his capacity as a board member) for the position of executive director of the Council for Basic Education, a national organization which championed the liberal arts for all students at the pre-college level. The entente was immediate. He naturally and visibly epitomized the council’s ideals. Intolerant of intellectual mediocrity, he wanted to make sure that I was scholarly enough to maintain the high standards of an...

Yesterday morning, I had the opportunity to introduce Teach for America founder, Wendy Kopp, at the White House Fellows Annual Leadership Conference.

Though I had to excise some of the material below to meet a pre-ordained time limit, the following is the original text of my comments.

Good morning, everyone. It is an honor and pleasure to introduce our next speaker.

It has been a terrific morning, but it’s also been a bit long, I know. So with that and the conference’s theme of “Creativity and Leadership,” in mind, I thought I’d start off somewhat differently to spice things up a little.

By talking about football.

It’s not just what we do but what we build.

Legendary San Francisco 49ers head coach Bill Walsh won four Super Bowls—a coaching record. But he left a far greater legacy than just those Lombardi Trophies.

He was such a great teacher and mentor that six of his assistant coaches went on to become NFL head coaches. And then their assistants became NFL head coaches. And their assistants, too.

His influence continues to this very day. Contemporary NFL head coaches Mike Tomlin of the Steelers, John Harbaugh of the Ravens, Andy Reid of the Eagles, Mike Shanahan of the Redskins, Lovie Smith of the Bears, and many others trace their pedigree directly back to Bill Walsh.

Now that’s a legacy. It’s not just what we do but what we build.

Walsh retired in 1988, at the pinnacle of his career, but also, tragically, possibly...

We all love teachers but do we all love ed reformers?

Mike and Kathleen wonder why education can’t stay out of the debates and pick the top edu-initiatives on the ballot. Amber describes the spectacular growth in non-teaching staff.

Amber's Research Minute

The School Staffing Surge: Decades of Employment Growth in America’s Public Schools by Benjamin Scafidi (Indianapolis, IN: The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, October 2012). - Download PDF

Intelligence, curiosity, and grit: important traits for success in school and life. But so is popularity, argues this working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research. Tapping Wisconsin Longitudinal Study data for 4,300 males from 1957 (the year they graduated high school) through 2005, authors evaluate characteristics associated with “popularity” and the effects of being well-liked on lifetime incomes. To gauge one’s popularity, authors tallied “friendship nominations,” both the number of friends a student lists and the number of times he is listed by his peers. Overall, authors found that students who are older than their grade-mates and have higher IQs are more popular. (Strong maternal and sibling relationships are also closely connected to social status; so is exposure to larger peer groups, as experienced by increased extracurricular activities.) But one’s family income had no effect on popularity. Linking these findings to one’s own lifetime income data, the analysts report that men in the top quartile of high school popularity have a 10 percent earnings premium over those in the bottom quartile. Moreover, increased social skills (by one decile, based on author calculations) are associated with a 2 percent wage advantage thirty-five years later—roughly 40 percent the return accrued from an additional year of schooling. The authors speculate why: High school “social interaction…provides the bridge to the adult world as [students] train individual personalities to be socially adequate.” There’s much to unpack in this short paper—including its dense methodology. But it does provide a boost for the benefits of...

There’s been much twittering, tweeting, debating, and general obsessing in education-land about this year’s presidential election and what difference it will make whether Barack Obama or Mitt Romney occupies the Oval Office after January 20, 2013.

In reality, however, while the outcome of this hard-fought contest matters greatly to the nation in many crucial realms, it doesn’t really make much difference for K-12 education. Nor do the parallel races to control Congress.

Ballot Box Close-up
The presidential election isn't the education race that matters most this fall. 
Photo by Joe Hall.

There are, to be sure, nontrivial differences between the candidates regarding future federal education policy, programs, regulations, and budget levels, and they have occasionally tried to underscore these during the campaign (not including Monday evening’s smarmy cries from both that “I love teachers!”). Yet even if those differences are substantial, it still won’t really matter much. Because federal policy, beloved though it is by those inside the Beltway and associated echo chambers, doesn’t really determine much about the conduct of our primary-secondary education system.

Even with his recently enlarged appetite for spending on education and attempts to call more of the shots, Uncle Sam kicks in only about ten percent of the money and has...

For much of the 1970 and 80s, the educational future for black students looked bright: The gap between white and black students’ graduation rates was closing rapidly, dropping from 9.2 to 4.4 percentage points over nineteen years (and due mostly to a rise in black attainment). Had this rate of convergence continued, the black graduation rate would have been level with that of whites by the mid-1990s. But everything changed in 1986. Why? Authors of this recent National Bureau of Economic Research working paper blame the “stalled progress” on one social phenomenon: the proliferation of crack-cocaine markets. The authors examine the impact of crack-cocaine markets in fifty-seven metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) on the black-white achievement gap, with a specific focus on the male achievement gap. Crack markets, the authors find, account for between 40 and 73 percent of the decline in achievement among black males by catalyzing a higher murder rate, a greater chance of incarceration, and more opportunities for employment outside of the “formal” sector (reducing the value of their education). Why, then, have achievement gains among black males not rebounded after the decline in crack cocaine-related violence in the early 2000s? The authors speculate that there may now exist a perverse relationship between prison-intake rates and lower educational attainment: while the former originally caused the latter, the latter could now be driving the former by pushing students to crime due to lack of opportunity. Heady research, fodder for much debate, and another example of the social constraints that...

Last week, Fordham and the ESC of Central Ohio welcomed Nate Levenson to the Buckeye State for a series of conversations with district and Educational Service Center superintendents, state policymakers, and education organizations that represent both traditional districts and charter schools. Levenson spoke about his ideas for making special education more efficient and of greater quality, which are laid out in his recent report Applying Systems Thinking to Improve Special Education in Ohio.

Throughout his time in Ohio, Levenson emphasized the following points:

1. The compliance-driven culture of special education needs to change. Compliance is ingrained deeply into the culture of special education. Because compliance is so worrisome for special education directors, it leads to perverse incentives; for example, the incentive to “over-identify” students as special needs and the incentive for special education training and professional development to focus on compliance rather than pedagogy and actual student learning.

2. Schools could become more efficient and provide higher-quality services by subcontracting special education services. Ohio’s Educational Service Centers, social service agencies, and non-profit and for-profit companies could provide a “dream team” of special education specialists that districts could bid for. Districts would therefore reduce the in-house cost of providing special education services by contracting these services to other partners.

3. Identifying kids as special needs doesn’t necessarily translate to better outcomes. When students are unnecessarily identified as special needs, it lowers expectations and may lead to educational complications, in the long-term. One example...

It is hard to argue against a group of disparate organizations working together to solve a longstanding problem. It suggests a collection of positive behaviors: joint identification of a challenge, consensus that it must be solved, a willingness to sublimate parochial interests for a greater good, and cooperation for the sake of others. Most importantly, it might actually increase the likelihood of success.

It is hard to argue against a group of disparate organizations working together to solve a longstanding problem.

This is the feel-good stuff of “collective impact,” a popular and growing approach to our most formidable and tangled societal puzzles. John Kania and Mark Kramer, both of consulting firm FSG, provide a clear definition and tight and persuasive argument for it in a recent article.

It is more than a consortium or a coalition. The lanes are narrower and the bonds are stronger. They write:

Collective impact (is) the commitment of a group of important actors from different sectors to a common agenda for solving a specific social problem. Collaboration is nothing new. The social sector is filled with examples of partnerships, networks, and other types of joint efforts. But collective impact initiatives are distinctly different. Unlike most collaborations, collective impact initiatives involve a centralized infrastructure, a dedicated staff, and a structured process that leads to a common agenda, shared measurement, continuous communication, and mutually reinforcing activities among all participants.

The lion’s share of their article is dedicated to describing the elements of that last sentence, which...