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Another effort is afoot to turn Title I, at least partially, into a scholarship program for low-income kids. I’d love to see this happen. Anything we can do to create more accessible high-quality seats for disadvantaged kids gets my vote. But this windmill has seen tilting knights since the 1970s. Someday we’ll get our Dulcinea del Toboso. But the Galicians of this administration would sooner leave such plans bruised and battered.

Three very interesting job-related items!

  • The very cool, very influential TNTP is looking for a VP of Strategy, Systems, and Policy. The person would lead the organization’s educator evaluation and other human capital systems design and implementation work. They’re looking for a bold, innovative leader with a breadth of experience who can quickly build credibility with high-level clients.
  • New Schools for New Orleans (NSNO) is looking for a Managing Director of Human Capital Investments. This person will manage NSNO’s relationship with the nation’s leading human-capital organizations and will direct a $13 million grant program related to educator evaluation and compensation. If you’re interested or know someone who might be, contact HR Director, Jenny Katz,
  • NSNO’s Neerav Kingsland is also involved with a terrific brand-new human-capital organization called Hackstack EDU. The group, which just launched, uses an online platform and some innovative methods to match amazing teachers with amazing schools. It’s a free service allowing each interested teacher to create a personal profile, find schools that match his interests and abilities, and
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Unnecessary Censorship: Ed-Reform Edition

Unnecessary Censorship: Ed-Reform Edition

Featuring (in order of appearance):

Michael Petrilli - Executive Vice President, Thomas B. Fordham Institute
Amber Winkler - Vice President for Research, Thomas B. Fordham Institute
John Chubb - Interim CEO, Education Sector
Anne L. Bryant - Executive Director, National School Boards Association
Gene I. Maeroff - Founding Director, Hechinger Institute
Mike Miles - Superintendent, Dallas ISD
Christopher S. Barclay - President, Montgomery County Board of Education, Maryland
Geoffrey Jones - founding principal, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology
Chester E. Finn, Jr. - President, Thomas B. Fordham Institute
Rick Hess - Resident Scholar and Director of Education Policy Studies, American Enterprise Institute

Springtime is at hand for America’s senior class—and for many of these graduating seniors, spring means daydreaming about college or a first job. Senioritis anyone? In a recent report, From High School to the Future: The Challenge of Senior Year in Chicago Public Schools, The University of Chicago’s Consortium on Chicago School Research tackles the question of whether high school students’ entire senior year is one large case of senioritis. In other words, are senior years generally productive or wasted? To answer this question, the researchers analyzed the course-taking patterns of over 50,000 Chicago Public School graduating seniors, between 2003 and 2009.

The study’s key finding is that, for too many students, the senior year is indeed an unproductive and unchallenging academic year—far from a launching pad into college or gainful employment. In their analysis of student transcripts and follow-up interviews with students, the researchers found that many students chose to take easy elective courses that allowed them to “coast to graduation.” The researchers attribute this senior-year mess to the lack of an “organizing framework or common set of expectations” for what a rigorous and productive senior year looks like—for the college- and vocation-bound student alike.

Perhaps the only silver lining of this report is that the researchers found a solid quarter of CPS students engaged in an Advanced Placement (AP) heavy courseload (taking, on average, nearly two AP courses). Yet, even here, there is substantial variation in AP participation across CPS high schools, even among similarly qualified students....

  • According to news reports, New Jersey governor Chris Christie is on the verge of announcing that the state will take over the deeply troubled Camden school district. During my tenure with the NJDOE, though the state controlled aspects of three other districts, Camden was always at or near the front of our minds. The condition of the city, especially the state of its schools, is as tragic as I’ve seen. Decades of nationwide experience demonstrate that state takeovers of districts are beset by a long list of challenges—educational, financial, political, and organizational. But if there’s any Governor bold enough to push through the obstacles, it’s Chris Christie. And if there’s any state chief with the brain, heart, and backbone to make it work, it’s my old boss, Chris Cerf. There are tough days, weeks, and months ahead, I’m sure, but I’m confident that this is in the best interest of Camden’s long underserved boys and girls.
  • If you like data—especially if you’re in the “data-driven-decision-making-can-solve-everything!” camp—this story from the NYT Metropolitan section is definitely worth a read. Actually, if you’re worried about the pronounced use of data in education—especially if you’re in the “we’re-turning-our-kids-into-widgets!” camp—you probably want to read it, too. The first few paragraphs about identifying oil-dumping scofflaws pretty much summarize the piece: If we collect enough data and analyze it the right way, heavens, the problems we can solve. Lots of people nowadays talk about using interim assessment data to improve instruction, change class
  • ...

Anyone who knows a teenager understands how hard it is to get into a good college these days. We’ve all heard of some bright eighteen-year-old with a stellar GPA, sky-high SAT scores, fives on a half-dozen AP courses, and a service record like Mother Theresa’s who still couldn’t manage to get into her university of choice. (Colleges mail acceptance letters this week.) What gives?

It’s particularly mysterious since national and international exams keep telling us that American high schoolers aren’t, by and large, making any significant achievement gains. Yet when it comes time to apply to college, the crème-de-la-crème appear to be rising further to the top. As proof, see this chart below. It shows, for the nation’s fifty most selective institutions,*  the SAT scores that put one at the 25th percentile of the freshman class (in other words, toward the lower range of what it takes to get into these schools).

One possible explanation for this phenomenon is simple supply and demand. The demographic bulge known as the Baby Boom Echo has made its way through our high schools and into college in recent years. The supply of seats at elite colleges hasn’t increased (much to these schools’ discredit), yet demand for those seats—from well-prepared students—has gone up significantly. And that’s because there are simply more students to begin with (about a million more students per class than when I graduated high school in 1991).

To test that hypothesis, I charted...

I usually keep two books going at once. I like to find the connections and divergences between seemingly unrelated texts.

Recently, I’ve been making my way through a biography of Catherine the Great and the autobiography of Frederick Douglass.

Going in, I figured the brain-candy thread tying the two together would be the dissimilarities between their nearly contemporary lives: Douglass (1818–95) born into American slavery, eventually escaping, becoming a leading abolitionist and statesman; Catherine (1729–96) born into German nobility, marrying into Russian royalty, ruling for more than 30 years.

But as it turns out, the stories of these historical giants have three associations particularly relevant to our work.

Catherine the Great
Catherine the Great tried to end serfdom—but eventually grew acclimated to power.
Photo from the Wikimedia Commons

First, though she was spectacularly wealthy—casually distributing estates, amassing the largest art collection in Europe’s history—Catherine tried to end the abomination of serfdom. As the book recounts, “The conditions of Russian serfs resembled that of black slaves in America.”

It is striking how two people from such disparate backgrounds could be compelled to advocate for the same moral cause. Douglass lived the horror: He had no knowledge of his age and was separated from mother in infancy. He was often awakened in morning by “the most heartrending shrieks” of slaves...

The All-Girl Edition

Dara and Kathleen put on their thinking caps to discuss Common Core implementation, ability grouping, and pre-K absenteeism. Amber joins in for some March Madness dishing—and some tough love for eighth-grade Algebra.

Amber's Research Minute

The 2013 Brown Center Report on American Education: How Well Are American Students Learning? by Tom Loveless (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, March 2013)

A useful new report from Public Agenda and the Kettering Foundation underscores the painful divide between parents and education reformers on the crucial topic of what to do about bad schools.

School hallway
Schools play many roles in communities, and the prospect of closing one undermines most of those.
Photo by hundrednorth

In a nutshell, if the neighborhood school is crummy, parents want it fixed. So do community leaders. Ed reformers are far more apt to want to close it and give families alternatives such as charter schools.

As Andy Smarick has perceptively written, schools play multiple roles in communities, and the prospect of closing one undermines most of those. Hence, shuttering a school affects more than the convenience of keeping one’s own kids in a familiar (and generally close-at-hand) facility, maybe even with that nice Ms. Greensleeves who teaches fourth grade there. As Jean Johnson writes on behalf of Public Agenda, based on a recent series of focus groups (as well as much other research), “Most parents see local public schools as important community institutions and viscerally reject the idea that closing schools—even those that are persistently low-performing—is a good way to improve accountability in education.”

On the reform side, however, Johnson writes, “In many communities, school leaders are closing or drastically reorganizing low-performing schools. Many districts are turning to...

GadflyIn the latest dust-up over the Common Core, the inclusion of some (arguably) violent, war-themed picture books in New York City’s third-grade English curriculum has some whining that the recommended texts were not vetted properly—and, predictably, claiming that implementation is moving too fast. For straight talk, check out this week’s Education Gadfly Show podcast.

A national database called inBloom that warehouses millions of students’ personal information for school districts has a slightly unfortunate side business: selling realistic-but-fake student data to application developers. According to inBloom, the two sides of its operation are strictly separate—but that hasn’t stopped parent listservs from exploding with the rage of a thousand mothers.

Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal found that more than 10 percent of New York City’s principals did not issue a single teacher an “unsatisfactory” grade (the city uses a pass/fail system for reviewing job performance). While this may seem like bad news, flip that number around and notice that nearly 90 percent did. For comparison, consider that, according to Education Week, 98 percent of Michigan’s teachers and 97 percent of Florida’s were rated effective or better—and those are states that recently revamped their evaluation systems. New York City is a cage-busting leader in ferreting out bad teachers. Note, too, that if and when personnel decisions are truly devolved to school principals,...