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Leaking all of our education-reform secrets

Mike and Kathleen catch the whistleblower spirit, giving the goods on NGSS, sparring over ability grouping, and decrying the latest Common Core distraction. Amber goes easy on Ed Sector.

Amber's Research Minute

The New State Achievement Gap: How Federal Waivers Could Make It Worse—Or Better by John Chubb and Constance Clark (Washington, D.C.: Education Sector, June 2013).

In this study on the potential impact of No Child Left Behind on student achievement and education inequality, analysts John Chubb and Connie Clark bite off a big topic that’s perhaps more than they can chew. First they demonstrate that the nationwide gains on the NAEP exams (in math and reading in grades four and eight) in the NCLB era (2003–11) were over twice as large as those during the pre-NCLB era (1992–2000). (By omitting 2000–03, they avoid NCLB’s transition years—which also happened to be a time of explosive progress in achievement.) Black, Hispanic, and low-income students made particularly large gains. Then Chubb and Clark turn to state-by-state differences and note that progress varied widely—ranging from almost fifty-point gains (in Maryland and D.C.) to nearly no growth or a loss (Iowa and West Virginia). Controlling for socioeconomic status and starting test scores, the analysts find a gap of forty-five scale points between the largest and smallest gainers—showcasing an oft-ignored state-to-state achievement gap, according to Chubb and Clark. From there, they take a qualitative look at ESEA waivers from states that have made lots and little progress on NAEP during the NCLB era. They conclude that being serious about reform—such as implementing tough accountability systems and benchmarking assessments against other measures of college readiness—is what makes the difference. (In fact, the authors posit that the historically high achievers have built these smart reforms into their waiver applications while the low achievers have not—a point that worries Chubb and Clark, as they...

Assessing the Educational Data MovementWhen it comes to using data for education policy and reform, two factions emerge: modern Luddites who fear the mechanization of schooling and tech-savvy number crunchers who tend to believe that data will solve all of education’s woes. This book by IT pro Philip Piety deftly weaves between the factions and offers a valuable read for teachers, administrators, and policymakers looking to work productively with educational data without becoming overwhelmed. Piety divides it into three sections. The first lays out the history of the educational-data “movement” and the current debate surrounding value-added measures and testing. The second discusses best practices in and applications of administrative infrastructures—which include data systems about teaching methods and students. For example, the U.S. Department of Education’s State Longitudinal Data Systems (SLDS) program created a powerful research tool and a nexus of information crucial to federal, state, and local policy goals. The third examines how data can be helpful to the “technical core”—that is, students, teachers, materials, and classrooms. Even more helpful, the author showcases how Teach For America and KIPP use metrics innovatively to, among other things, improve instruction.

SOURCE: Philip J. Piety, Assessing the Educational Data Movement (New York, NY: Teachers College, Colombia University, 2013)....

In the midst of a blooming field of research on how to serve high-achieving minority and lower-income youngsters, this report from Education Trust plants a welcome bud. Noting that the sturdiest predictor of college success is the richness of a student’s course of study in high school, and concerned about how few minority and low-income students opt to take challenging Advanced Placement (AP) courses, the authors set out to understand the extent of these inequities—and what can be done to reverse the trend. After determining that 71 percent of all U.S. high schools in 2009–10 had at least one student take an AP examination, providing 91 percent of all students with some AP access, they outlined the extent of the gap: 6 percent of African American students take AP courses, compared with 11.9 percent of white students and 25.1 percent of Asians; similarly, 5.5 percent of low-income students take AP courses, versus 15.6 percent of all other students. The authors go on to recommend a number of actions that district and high school educators can take, from simply expanding awareness among underrepresented student groups to creating a network of supports for students taking advanced courses. But while most of these proposals seem reasonable, the recommendation that schools ensure that their barriers to AP enrollment are not too “rigid” stuck out like a sore green thumb. While there are plenty of qualified and underrepresented students who never enroll and ought to be encouraged to do...

By the Company it Keeps: Tim Daly

I’ve known Mashea Ashton on and off for almost a decade. We’ve done charter school stuff together and crossed paths in various other pursuits. I always liked and respected her a great deal. In my mind she was good people.

Marc Porter Magee 50CAN

But through a fellowship program, I got to know Mashea even better. And for that I’m eternally grateful. Seldom will you come across someone with so much ability and yet so much humility. She is reflective and kind to the core, and she does this work with a quiet passion.

As you’ll see in the questions, Mashea has just about done it all. She’s worked for some of the most influential ed-reform organizations, and she’s currently leading a major effort in one of America’s most prominent ed-reform cities.

But you’ll also see in her answers how she manages to avoid the limelight: by simply being decent and modest and giving others credit.

And that is why I love doing these interviews: to show why our movement is so strong and to draw attention to those who so richly deserve it.

Ladies and gentlemen: the wonderful Mashea Ashton.

What makes you most proud of the Newark Charter School Fund?

I’m most proud of the...

For nearly thirty years—at least since Bill Bennett’s tenure as secretary of education and Lamar Alexander’s as governor of Tennessee—education-minded conservatives at both national and state levels have embraced a two-part school reform strategy, focused equally on rigorous standards and parental choice. Recent events have frayed that coalition, but it’s not too late to stitch it back together.

The history of education reform
The 1970s left education in shambles.
Photo by ajari

First, a bit of history: In the 1970s, U.S. education policy was all about “equity,” inclusion, and funding and its reformist zeal came from the left, save for noble but isolated exceptions such as Milton Friedman.

Few deny that the equity agenda did some good, especially for disabled and minority youngsters, but the concomitant neglect of academic achievement proved costly. Though the College Board didn’t acknowledge it until 1975, SAT scores had peaked a decade earlier and were in free fall. Every newspaper seemed to bring word of another teacher strike. Adult authority was in decline, goofy curricular schemes were ascendant—and Jimmy Carter decided that his top education priority would be creation of a new federal agency to reward the NEA for its support in the ‘76 election.

In the blunt words of chronicler Tom Toch (then with U.S. News, now with the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of...

A bunch of very good publications have been released over the last few weeks—so many, in fact, that I’ve had trouble getting to them all (people, you’re killing me; can you coordinate release dates?). But I finally made it, and a number are definitely deserving of attention.

So if your to-read pile has dwindled, here are a few to add to the top of the stack. Actually, there are so many, I’ve broken this post into two. I know it’s a lot to get through, but, c’mon, what else were you going to read at the beach?

  • If you follow NCLB reauthorization or ESEA waivers, you should consider this new Education Sector report a must-read. Authors John Chubb and Constance Clark do three invaluable things. First, they show that during the NCLB era, there were enormous differences in the gains states made in student achievement. Second, the authors show that those states that did well over the last decade have very different waiver applications than the states that lagged far behind. Third, they explain what this means for the Department’s waiver policy and for reauthorization. This is top-notch stuff.
  • A very good companion piece to Ed Sector’s report is this new paper by Thomas Ahn and Jacob L. Vigdor, which argues that NCLB—despite the ritualistic political thrashings it gets today—deserves some credit. It helped raise test scores, showed that tough love for troubled schools has benefits, and more. The paper also argues that the choice/SES provisions (as
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Student outcomes do matter
Deborah's vision is beautiful—but does it work?
Photo by scottwills

This article originally appeared on Education Week’s Bridging Differences blog, where Mike Petrilli is debating Deborah Meier through mid-June.

Dear Deborah,

Your last post was amazing—one of the most coherent, cogent articulations of a reform alternative that I've ever read.

I was particularly moved by this passage:

We need quiet places and noisy places, places full of books and computers and others full of paint and clay. We need adults with the freedom to make spontaneous decisions—shifting the conversation in response to one of those "wonderful moments" and deviating from any designed curriculum. Teachers need the time to mull over what they have learned from student work (written as well as observed) and collegial time to expand their repertoires. We need feedback from trusted and competent colleagues. We need time for families and teachers to engage in serious conversations. We need settings where it seems reasonable that kids might see the school's adults as powerful and interesting people who are having a good time.

It reminded me why I loved your books when I was studying at the University of Michigan's education school twenty years ago—and why you and your ideas are so beloved today. This is a joyous,...

You call that "flexibility"?

Mike and Dara discuss NCLB reauthorization, NYC’s teacher evaluations, and the relationship between poverty and educational outcomes. Amber revels in the glory of having finally gotten Fordham’s epic pensions report out the door.

Amber's Research Minute

This article originally appeared on Education Week’s Bridging Differences blog, where Mike Petrilli is debating Deborah Meier through mid-June.

Dear Deborah,

Tackling the larger issues of poverty and inequality
Start by clarifying the issue.
Photo by Taylor Dawn Fortune

I want to return to the perennial question of poverty as it relates to educational outcomes. One of the main arguments against education reform is that it misdiagnoses the problem. We have big “achievement gaps” in terms of test scores, graduation rates, college-going, and much else, but that’s primarily because of inequities in our society, not because of the failings of our schools—so goes the thinking.

As I indicated in my first post for Bridging Differences, I’m not opposed to tackling these larger issues of poverty and inequality. (Neither are most reformers.) But we’d better have a good understanding of what we’re tackling. I would argue that clarity is sorely lacking.

Is the issue really poverty, per se? The fact that many families in the U.S. don’t have enough income to provide the advantages that other children enjoy? If so, are we satisfied with delineating the problem with the poverty line (currently about $20,000 for a family of three)? That qualifies 23 percent of all children (as of 2011), up from 18 percent before the...

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