Curriculum & Instruction

All Hallows Edition

The testing pushback, a college boost for poor kids, adolescent readers, and school-supporting nonprofits.

Amber's Research Minute

"The Rise of School-Supporting Nonprofits," by Ashlyn Aiko Nelson and Beth Gazley, Association for Education Finance and Policy (Feburary 2014).

All the world's a stage - October 22, 2014

The benefits of live theater, how and whether to discipline, detrimental reading tests, and relative school costs.

Amber's Research Minute

The Relative Costs of New York City’s New Small Public High Schools of Choice,” by Robert Bifulco and Rebecca Unterman,  MRDC (October 2014).

The enlightenment edition - October 15, 2014

Civil rights, Christopher Columbus, D.C. school spending, and teacher prep.

Amber's Research Minute

"Teacher Preparation Policies and Their Effects on Student Achievement," by Gary T. Henry, et al., The Association for Education Finance and Policy (2014).

Transcript

Michelle:       Hello, this is your host, Michelle Gininger of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute here at The Education Gadfly Show and online at edexcellence.net. Now, please join me in welcoming my cohost, the Alicia Florrick of education reform, Alyssa Schwenk.

Alyssa:           Oh wow. That was such an honor.

Michelle:       I knew you'd love that. I knew it.

Alyssa:           I mean it is kind of our topic of conversation every Monday or Tuesday whenever we get around to watching The Good Wife which airs on Sunday …

Michelle:       Let's be honest, it's never Monday morning because I can't stay up till 10 o'clock at night on Sunday so it's Tuesday or Wednesday or Thursday.

Alyssa:           Yeah. Usually, not on football season, I can watch it on Sunday. But on football season, forget about it.

Michelle:       Yeah. Football just ruins The Good Wife for me. I think we should move football to another day and this is the big policy I'm going to be pushing this year.

Alyssa:           Oh good to know but I mean if they were up to, I think, the two of us, television would end by 9 PM every night. We would have to stay up till 11.

Michelle:       That would be fantastic. I think we should promote that but in the meantime let's get back to Ed reform. Ellen, what do you have for us?

Ellen:              Fordham’s own Mike Petrelli recently argued that over the last six years, the Department of Education has been too involved in civil rights. Do you agree?

Michelle:       This is based on a special Op Ed that Mike had in NRO’s education week that they just had this weekend. Robert Pendisi on our team also had one on common core but basically, Mike takes another aim at the Secretary of Education. Alyssa, what's your take?

Alyssa:           Mike gave two examples in the piece of areas in which he believes that Arne Duncan has used the Office of Civil Rights to overreach over local control on several issues and the first, I agree with and the second, I do not.

Michelle:       Oh, I think we might be opposite here.

Alyssa:           Ooh, okay which one do you agree with Mike on?

Michelle:       I agree on the AP testing.

Alyssa:           So do I.

Michelle:       Oh see, I thought that was second in the article.

Alyssa:           I guess it was okay. Well one of the points I agree with and one that I do not.

Michelle:       Here's how we should solve the AP problem. Basically Mike is calling out the department because they are pushing for more minority students to be in AP classes which obviously is a good thing but the on the ground reality is that we're just going to be pushing more students into AP courses who aren't ready for AP course week. The goal should be putting more minority kids in AP courses and having the pass rate of AP courses staying the same. That way, we’re not incentivizing schools to just put kids in the classes they're not prepared for but we are incentivizing schools to get more students prepared and putting them in these AP courses.

Alyssa:           Yeah. I do worry very much about the unintended consequences of pushing unprepared kids into AP whether or not that's colleges deciding AP no longer accounts for college credit which is really important when you're a student who tuition is a big barrier for entry. I also think it's an opportunity for schools to do things like maybe course share or take online courses so kids who are in schools were not … There’s not 30 kids who are ready for AP but there's maybe 5 can still take those classes and have those opportunities. I think there's an opportunity there but the way that the office is being used, I'm a little concerned about.

Michelle:       Now, one thing that I did in … or that happened in my high school once upon a time when I was a young, young high school student was they just offered courses and then at the end of the course, you could opt in to taking the AP exam. There was an AP US history on top of US history. It was just history class and if at the end of the year, you felt prepared to take the AP exam, you could opt in to taking it which was an interesting model. I don't know how if that's necessarily possible in public schools. I did go to a private school and it was pretty small so it was easy. There wasn’t the scale issue that's one interesting thing that might be a good policy recommendation.

Alyssa:           Yeah, that would definitely I think be a solution.

Michelle:       We're not even going to talk about school discipline, sorry Mike. We're just going to go question number 2.

Ellen:              Monday was Columbus Day, a celebration of a controversial often misunderstood figure. Should schools give students a more accurate picture of who Christopher Columbus really was?

Michelle:       I know, Alyssa and I disagree on this one so that's a good thing. I am for Christopher Columbus Day it might just be because I am part Italian. What can I say? But I'm for it. Alyssa?

Alyssa:           I think that there's a better use of students’ time than … I think on American history, we have a tendency to kind of lionize a lot of historical figures who have kind of unsavory pasts. Christopher Columbus, obviously chief among them. I don't think a great use of students’ time is to be out of school. I think they should be in school learning about these figures, learning about different aspects of American history and really debating and discussing these things.

There's definitely a lot of weak history curriculum out there and I think now is the time to push that and have a chance for students to learn about these figures instead of just playing or doing God knows what that day.

Michelle:       First, don't take away any of my federal holidays even though Fordham does work on Columbus Day.

Alyssa:           I was going to say we were the office bright and early yesterday.

Michelle:       So I'm all for that. Would I want to create a Columbus Day if it didn't exist? Probably not but I have 2 strong feelings on this. One, we can't judge yesterday’s historical figures based on today's morals. Now, obviously Christopher Columbus did some horrendous things, but by those standards, it wasn't that bad. I'm not saying what he did is okay, I'm just saying, when we teach this stuff in school and when we do have a good history curriculum which we should, we should say here's what Christopher Columbus did and yet all these drawbacks and horrible things that he did.

I think that it's just turned into a political fight as opposed to a constructive conversation of how we should actually deal with historical figures that don't live up to today standards and morals. Obviously, you already mentioned Thomas Jefferson owned slaves but pretty much everyone historically did not respect women as equal people, which we do today hopefully. That is a more important conversation than one day off at school and should it be Christopher Columbus Day or another day, I think that conversation’s a little [mute 00:06:17].

Alyssa:           Yeah. All right, Ellen question number three.

Ellen:              With Fordham's new Metro DC school spending explorer, Mike Petrelli and Matt Richmond note that Arlington and Fairfax counties are spending much more on their high poverty schools than Montgomery County which prides itself on its strong commitment to social justice and Prince George's County with high levels of students in poverty. What's going on here?

Michelle:       Before I get on my high horse that Virginia is totally more awesome than Maryland.

Alyssa:           I knew you were going to be saying that.

Michelle:       I know, I know. I'm a lifelong Virginian. Let me explain what this awesome project this. Basically, we had the3 question of how much do DC area schools spend per people at the school level. Obviously, we know that there's going to be spending differences between districts. What's interesting in that portion was that PG County in Maryland spends so much less than the other districts that we studied. But also perhaps more interesting is that within districts, the funding levels are different even if you look at schools that should be on par with one another.

You're can have 2 public elementary schools in the same district that receive vastly different funding levels or spending levels, excuse me, Dara would [chide 00:07:27] me for seeing funding instead of spending. That's what the project is. It's really awesome. I encourage folks to look at our interactive map, but to the question at hand, Mike and Matt took a look at how districts spend for their highest needs students, the highest poverty schools. What they found is that for extra spending for low income students, Arlington hit it up out of the park with 81% followed by Fairfax County with 34 while Montgomery County which prides itself as Ellen noted on being social mobility friendly, not so much in MPG County was with 2%. A few caveats there, school don’t necessarily have a lot of control on the spending. Most of it is teacher salaries. Arlington only actually had 2 high poverty schools while PG County had 50 high poverty schools. That's a lot of nuance here but it's certainly really interesting.

Alyssa:           Yeah. I feel like that kind of undercuts your Virginia is for everyone and Virginia is the best argument but as a DC person, I was particularly interested in the spending differences between DC charter schools and DC public schools and noted that DC charter schools spent a bit more per pupil and this is obviously taking out the discrepancies in building and construction funding which is a huge issue inside DC but DC charter schools are spending more per high poverty pupil than the DC public schools are even though DC charter schools have incredibly high student poverty in most of them.

In terms of Prince George's, I was not super surprised having been around DC for a while. I think there, it's just such a tax-based issue and it's so hard to build up the tax base whereas Arlington and Fairfax have kind of a more affluent population that they're working with in general. I think that PG County stories of concern to the local area because as more and more poor families are being kicked out of DC because of gentrification, they're going from perhaps … They're going from one school in DC that's pretty well-funded to a school that isn't as well-funded. That's of concern.

Of course, there's no direct correlation between funding and student performance so there's a lot of nuance here but I think it's important to look at this and one of the things that I find most interesting about the project in total is that state average, that district average that is touted doesn’t tell the story and this map I think will be an eye-opener for certainly the parent advocacy contingent in the area.

Michelle:       I'm sure Mike's going to just love that. But yeah no I think the map is super cool. I spend, when I was looking at the beta version, almost an hour I'd say just clicking in, clicking out seeing all of the different categories. It's a very cool project to check out.

Alyssa:           Being a local, I got to look at what my district in public high school would have been back when I was a young teenager. That's all the time we have for Pardon the Gadfly. Thank you Ellen. Up next is everyone’s favorite, Amber's Research Minute.

                        Welcome to the show Dara.

Dara:              Thank you.

Alyssa:           Bravo on your DC Spending Explorer Map out today.

Dara:              We'll call that a labor of love.

Female:         We’ll call it a labor of something.

Dara:              Labor of something. We are super excited that we're able to share this with everyone. It's been literally months and months and months of work doing the analyses, getting the website out the door so we're super excited.

Female:         What is your favorite take away from this project? On the data, not on the process.

Dara:              Besides the fact that the way that schools account for the way that … The way that districts account for dollars spent is absolutely insane. I don't know if anyone has tried to actually read a school district expenditure report.

Female:         No.

Dara:              It's a bit nuts. That's why we did this project so you don't have to.

Michelle:       That's why we have researchers do this sort of thing.

Dara:              The biggest take-away I think is that there is predictable variation between districts. We know that districts spend the money that comes in so Montgomery County, lots of local funds, spends more per pupil than Prince George's County even though they're in the same state. They're receiving the same state revenue. That was predictable. What is really interesting is the variation between schools in the same district and that really is the result of district leaders making choices about what dollar goes to what school and so you can poke around on the website, click on each schools, see all their demographics and special education students and free and reduced lunch students and see how each schools spends its dollars.

Michelle:       Great. We won't have you research minute our own projects so what do you have for us today?

Dara:              Something completely different from that. Today, it's a study from this month's Association for Education Finance and Policy Journal from a team of researchers led by Gary Henry at Vanderbilt University. It asks a question that has already received a lot of attention in the past which is how does teacher preparation affect student achievement but this study is way more robust than any of the other research out there that examines similar questions.

One of the reasons is because of the way that it divided up teachers. Instead of lumping teachers into two groups, traditional versus alternative certification, instead it made many more nuanced comparisons which I’ll talk about in a second. The data consisted of over 22,000 North Carolina teachers in their first, second or third year of teaching and 1.18 million students.

To get the data, the authors use administrative data to get teacher characteristics, how long a teacher was teaching, how a teacher was prepared, characteristics of the school where they taught. They combined this with 5 years of student test score data. This is an incredible data set. The analysis used a value added model with school fixed effects. To answer the question how does teacher preparation affects student value added on state tests for eight combinations of grade levels and subjects. We've got Elementary Math, Elementary Reading, Middle School Math, Middle School Reading and High School Math, Science, English and Social Studies.

That was a big buildup. Here are the results. First, comparing teachers who were traditionally prepared to those who received alternative certification but not TFA. This is why this study is unique. First of all, it separated out alternative certification as in the day you step foot in the classroom, you don't have your full license. It separated those out from TFA. Traditionally prepared with non-TFA alternative certification, alternative entry teachers are significantly less effective than traditionally prepared teachers in Middle School Math and High School Math and Science but no different in any of the other subjects.

                        Second, traditionally prepared teachers compared to TFA teachers. TFA teachers are more effective in six of the eight categories, Elementary Math, Elementary Reading, Middle School Math, High School Math, Science and English. Third, comparing teachers prepared out of state versus those prepared in-state. Out-of-state teachers are less effective in Elementary Math and Reading and in High School Math.

Fourth, teachers who began teaching with a graduate degree or less effective in Middle School Math and Reading and more effective in High School Science than teachers who did not have a grad degree. Fifth and finally, no difference in any grade level or subject between in-state teachers who receive their certification at a private school versus a public school. One additional finding if that wasn't enough, the study confirmed previous research that showed that there is significant variation within different preparation categories. TFA teachers as a group first, second and third year TFA teachers more effective in 6 out of those 8 categories but within TFA teachers, there is significant variation.

Female:         That's fascinating. I'm excited about this. This is a cool study.

Dara:              I think so. Like I said, this is a question that has been asked a lot but because the researchers had such a enormous data set, they were able to make these much more nuanced categories for example not lumping together all alternatively certified teachers into one category.

Alyssa:           A few things based on what you said. Out-of-state prepared teachers performed worse … Or students performed worse than in-state? Does that go away with dare I say it, common core?

Michelle:       That was my question as well actually.

Dara:              I can only speculate because the student data, the five years of student data stopped with the 2009, 2010 school year. It's possible that if you have more … Teachers who are more familiar with the state standards and if the standards are common, that should theoretically be the case, then it is very possible that that variation could go away.

Michelle:       We'll see. Here's another question that I picked up. Exciting news on TFA or first up exciting news on TFA even though there are some variation when you look within TFA. It sounds like only in TFA were we seeing improvement in Reading and English which traditionally is so hard to get those scores up. What do we think could be the cause of that? I know again speculation.

Dara:              Right. I mean one of the things that's important to note is North Carolina is one of the original TFA focus areas. They have spent a very long time developing the infrastructure to train their teachers there. It's the same theoretical structure that the five or six week boot camp summer institute as you have with TFA everywhere else but because it is so well established in North Carolina, it's very possible that it's not just the way that TFA is recruiting its teacher but also because it's very well established, they know what they're doing.

One thing that the study didn't do is it didn't look beyond the third year of teaching. They would've had to go too far back in the data but the idea is that it's likely that preparation affects sort of fuss over once you get past the first couple of years, so take that as you will.

Michelle:       Alyssa, as a former TFAer, thoughts?

Alyssa:           I was very happy to hear that. I think I was doing a little bit of a happy dance right there. What was most interesting to me was that alternative certification teachers who were not TFA did not do so hot with Middle School Math and High School Math and Science which we know that those are traditionally hard subjects and those are areas where it's compelling to say this person is maybe a career changer or this person has a background in [STEM 00:18:55] subject. Let’s put them in front of the classroom. I'd love to hear your thoughts on that Dara.

Dara:              It's a constant tension between lowering the barriers to entry into the teaching profession because you have this hard staff grade levels and subjects so you lower the barriers to entry, how do you maintain quality control. This article, this study seems to speak to the fact that lowering barriers to entry via alternative certification and via allowing out-of-state teachers reciprocity with their credential is not a good thing because those teachers don't do as well.

However, it doesn't mean that you have to keep those barriers high, it just means that you need to have quality control either with entry or evaluation systems that allow for the removal of an ineffective teacher as soon as they prove themselves ineffective especially if the barriers to entry are low.

Michelle:       All right fascinating stuff. Thanks so much Dara.

Dara:              My pleasure.

Michelle:       That's all the time we have for this week's Gadfly Show. Till next week.

Alyssa:           I'm Alyssa Schwenk.

Michelle:       I'm Michelle Gininger for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute signing off.

The Sopranos edition

Common Core reading wars, union endorsements of convicted felons, schools that encourage patriotism, and the health of the charter movement.

Amber's Research Minute

"Examining the Relationship Between Teachers' Instructional Practices and Students' Mathematics Achievement," by Janine M. Firmender, M. Katherine Gavin, and D. Betsy McCoach, Journal of Advanced Academics vol. 25, no. 3 (August 2014).

The civics edition

Independence scotched, letting 16-year-olds vote, destructive school boards, think tank journalism, and a deep dive on instructional practices.

Amber's Research Minute

"Examining the Relationship Between Teachers' Instructional Practices and Students' Mathematics Achievement," by Janine M. Firmender, M. Katherine Gavin, and D. Betsy McCoach, Journal of Advanced Academics, vol. 25, no. 3 (August 2014).

Transcript

Michelle:       Hello, this is your host, Michelle Gininger of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute here at the Education Gadfly Show and online at edexcellence.net. And now please join me in welcoming my co-host, the Braveheart of ed reform, Robert Pondiscio.

Robert:           Freedom. How was that?

Michelle:       Eh, not loud enough. See ...

Robert:           Oh, OK, well, best I can do.

Michelle:       So why are we talking about Braveheart? Explain.

Robert:           Scottish independence, which didn't happen, but it could have.

Michelle:       It could have.

Robert:           It could have.

Michelle:       It nearly happened. Everyone was talking about how the vote was a wide margin. I didn't think it was that wide. I think ...

Robert:           Was it 56-44, I believe?

Michelle:       Yeah, that's pretty close.

Robert:           Right.

Michelle:       Like deciding the future of your country.

Robert:           Yep. In my other life I teach civics at a charter school in New York City, and this was a big topic for discussion for us because this was history, our own history, being revisited 250 years later. I think my students thought that they were going to vote "yes," and they voted "no," but still, a fascinating story.

Michelle:       Had they seen "Braveheart"?

Robert:           That's a great question. No, I don't know.

Michelle:       Because they're so young that they might not have seen the movie which is ...

Robert:           They might have missed it.

Michelle:       ... really sad.

Robert:           Might have missed it. Twenty years ago now?

Michelle:       Yeah, it's a long time ago.

Robert:           Back when people knew who Mel Gibson was?

Michelle:       Well, on that note, let's play part on the Gadfly.

Ellen:              Last week, 16- and 17-year-olds were allowed to vote in the Scottish independence referendum. Should we do the same in America? Would it encourage schools to do a better job with civics education?

Michelle:       OK, Mr. Civics ...

Robert:           Wow. Those are two very, very different questions, and I think I'm going to surprise you with my answer.

                        "Would it encourage schools to do a better job with civics education?" Yeah, probably.

                        "Should we allow 16- to 17-year-olds to vote?" This is heresy, but I don't think so.

Michelle:       Why not?

Robert:           Because they're kids, Michelle. Why would you want 16- and 17- ... This is funny. I do civics education. It's one of my passions in this field, so you would think, "Of course Pondiscio's going to want 16- and 17-year-olds to vote." I'm not sure I even want them to drive let alone vote.

Michelle:       You're not for expanding the vote. You want to take away the rights: driving. Anything else you want to add to that?

Robert:           Now hold on a second. I'm not taking away the right for 16- and 17-year-olds to vote. They don’t have it yet.

                        I guess, and this is again a little bit of heresy on my part, the more time I spend doing civic education, the more time I think that our goal should not be to encourage more voting, it should be to encourage more informed voting. And I'm not sure that just creating an entitlement for 16- and 17-year-olds to vote ...

                        On the one hand, maybe it would incentive them to pay more attention. On the other hand, based on just the sample size that I see of high school students, do we want them to vote? Are the paying attention to the news? If you could convince me that we could create boxcar numbers of really deeply informed 16- and 17-year-olds paying attention to the news, civically engaged, then sure. I think we've got to do one before we can do the other.

Michelle:       I agree. I don't know that 16- and 17-year-olds should vote, and I also don't want to get into the "Are these kids ... Do they know enough about civics to vote?" Because what are you going to do, have a civics test? And then are we going to have a voting test? All of those sort of things that's down a rabbit hole we absolutely in no way want to go down.

                        I think the fact that Scotland did not win independence ...

Robert:           And those kids could vote.

Michelle:       ... and those kids could vote I think is perhaps an indication that 16- and 17-year-olds could vote, and it wouldn't drive everything crazy. They wouldn’t be voting for insane candidates or ... Another question is, could we do any worse than we're already doing?

Robert:           If you want to set the bar there, Michelle. I haven't seen the breakdown of the Scottish vote, but I'm assuming that 16- and 17-year-olds broke heavily for independence.

Michelle:       Yes, I would assume so as well.

Robert:           Right.

Michelle:       So if they still didn't even get independence, maybe our 16- and 17-year-olds can vote and not want to legalize marijuana and lower the alcohol age and all these things that perhaps we would assume 16- and 17-year-olds would care about.

Robert:           Lower the age of compulsory education.

Michelle:       Yeah.

Robert:           Do all kind of mischief.

Michelle:       Exactly. All right. Question #2.

Ellen:              A recent "This American Life" episode told listeners about a New York State school board battle that escalated into an all-out war, complete with threats of violence and felony charges. In a democracy, where we respect majority rule, what could have been done to prevent the conflict?

Michelle:       This is not a new story, but "This American Life" just recently covered it, and after you've finished listening to our podcast, I encourage everyone to go listen to that podcast, but not before you reach the end of ours.

Robert:           After you watch "Braveheart."

Michelle:       Actually, it's going to be third on the to do list after "Braveheart."

                        This isn't a new study, but I was listening to it on my morning commute into the office, and I thought the person next to me on the Metro was going to ask if I was OK because I was sitting there just getting so up in arms about the whole thing. Because talk about a breakdown in governance.

                        For too long we haven't focused on the governance aspect of education, and in this civics edition of the podcast, let's take it on. Robert, what's your take?

Robert:           I want to answer a slightly different question. One are the things, and this is a difficult device and story. Makes me a little bit sad, and I'm going to put back on my civics educator hat again.

                        I'm very fond of reminding people ... We talk all the time in our current ed reform era about college and career. The two C's. I like to remind people that it was a third C that started it all, and that was "citizenship."

                        If you go back and you read the work in Don Hirsch, Edie Hirsch's book, "The Making of Americans" talks a lot about this. You go back and look at the founding thinkers of American education, names you never hear any more like Benjamin Rush and Noah Webster, they were not concerned with things like college, career, STEM subjects, etc. They were really concerned with creating what Benjamin Rush called, I think, "republican machines." Small R republican.

                        Our entire public school system was really about making Americans. Creating this class of citizen who were deeply informed, who were capable of managing their own affairs.

                        This story just says to me how far we have strayed from that, and how much we've simply forgotten that we invest so much money in public education for a reason. We want self-governing, thoughtful citizens. This just shows how easily it can all fall apart.

Michelle:       I think this story is shocking in that it was a total breakdown of the public good and the private good of education.

Robert:           Exactly.

Michelle:       And we talk about that all the time. I want my kids to be well prepared, and have a great life, and be able to go on to college, and get a good career, and raise a family, and all of these great things. But I want all of your kids to do the exact same thing.

Robert:           Sure.

Michelle:       Mostly because it's what's best for our country, but also you can take the very fiscal route of we don't want to pay for people not to be able to support themselves.

Robert:           I wrote a blog post about this not long ago in response to Andy Smarick's very nice series about conservativism and ed reform. And I made what I thought was just a simple point, which is that there's an institutional value to public education that we tend to forget sometimes when we're focused on what you called that "private good," that "I'm going to go to college, I'm going to get a good job, I'm going to be upwardly mobile."

                        There is an institutional anchor purpose that schools serve in a community. On the one hand, we all want schools to perform better, but I worry sometimes that we can lose site of what is essentially a large, important public institution in our communities. And it sounds like the folks that "This American Life" were talking to have completely lost sight of that.

Michelle:       It would be interesting if in this new Common Core debate we're having, we bring that idea into it a little bit. Obviously Common Core isn't breaking down the school system like this example, but it would be interesting if everyone just took a step back. OK, Common Core high standards, what does this mean for the purpose of schooling? And I think we could have perhaps a more productive debate.

Robert:           Yep, and you're never going to hear me argue against civic education. It is that third C: college, career, and citizenship. I always like to remind people of that.

Michelle:       I like it. OK, Ellen, question #3.

Ellen:              On Saturday "The Economist" reported on the rise of think-tank journalism, a trend that's blurring an old line between creating news and distributing it. Is this change a good thing? Are there pitfalls?

Michelle:       This isn't an education story per se, but I think that there's an education angle we can get to.

Robert:           Sure there is.

Michelle:       And there's certainly a civics education angle we can get to [crosstalk 09:03].

Robert:           And here's my second movie reference vis-a-vis journalism. "I keep trying to get out. They keep dragging me back in." Name the movie.

Michelle:       I can't. I'm drawing a blank.

Robert:           Godfather III.

Michelle:       Oh, yeah.

Robert:           Yeah. I started my career in journalism. I still to this day spend far more years in radio news and the magazine business than I have in the classroom or here.

                        Yeah, these lines are blurry, but part of it is ... Look, American journalism has been sort of on a suicide mission for several years. If you're looking for high quality, thoughtful content about any public issue, there's a vacuum that needs to be filled, and folks like us like to think we have a role in filling it.

Michelle:       Absolutely, I think that this isn't necessarily the traditional story that journalism ... there's so few journalism ... journalism is failing and think tanks are filling the void.

                        I actually view it from a little bit of the opposite view. Instead of there being so many beat reporters and straight up journalism where you're just reporting on the story, or even doing an investigative story, so many journalists today are jumping to this commentary aspect. This "what does it all mean?" thing, which is not necessarily a bad thing, and I enjoy reading it, and I sort of appreciate it. But that role is more a role that think tankers have often taken.

                        So I think that it's actually journalism is going more towards the think-tank world as opposed to the think-tank world adapting to the journalism world.

Robert:           That's one, and you alluded to before there's a loss of subject specialty knowledge as well. I'll give you a good example. I worked for years at Time Magazine. Back when I started, we had a dedicated religion reporter, a law reporter, lots of science reporters, an education reporter. Now everybody is a generalist.

Michelle:       On the Media, clearly everyone knows I listen to NPR all day, On the Media just did a story on the loss of the beat reporter, so this is something that's well known and out there. Now within education reporting, Mike Petrilli has an interesting column coming out in the next edition of Education Next about how education journalism seems to be flourishing. So maybe in the local paper in Louisville there's not an ed reporter any more, though don't quote me on that. I feel bad for Louisville now. They're might be an ed reporter.

                        But we're seeing so much specialized reporting on whether it's Vox, whether it's VentureBeat launching an education channel. The Atlantic has an education channel. There is a focus on education. All the Chalkbeats.

Robert:           Right.

Michelle:       We can list and list and list examples.

Robert:           But hold on, Michelle. Why do you think that's happening?

Michelle:       Well it's foundation funded.

Robert:           And what makes education news sexy from the standpoint of a journalist? What do we have that a lot of other beats don't have?

Michelle:       Conflict.

Robert:           Exactly. We love conflict. And whenever people are willing to beat themselves bloody and get in high dudgeon over something that makes for good copy, you're going to see more attention.

Michelle:       And we have lots and lots and lots of players on both sides who ...

Robert:           Both sides?

Michelle:       ... happy to step up to the plate.

Robert:           There are multiple sides.

Michelle:       Multiple sides.  All right. That's all the time we have for Pardon the Gadfly. Thanks so much, Robert.

Robert:           Thank you.

Michelle:       Up next is Amber's Research Minute.

                        Welcome to the show, Amber.

Amber:           Thanks, Michelle.

Michelle:       Have you seen "Braveheart"?

Amber:           "Braveheart?" As in Mel Gibson?

Michelle:       Mel Gibson. Yeah.

Amber:           Of course.

Michelle:       That's a little out of left field. I'm sorry. But we were talking about the Scottish independent vote.

Amber:           Ah, gotcha.

Michelle:       And that was our pop culture reference.

Amber:           Love that movie. Mel Gibson was phenomenal in it. I think it's a movie that appeals to women and men, which doesn't always happen. But yeah, I really enjoyed it.

Michelle:       Do you think it's because Mel Gibson is so young?

Amber:           He's some pretty good eye candy, right? At least back then.

Robert:           Used to be.

Amber:           Back then. Back then.

Michelle:       All right. What do you have for us today?

Amber:           We have a new study out. And by the way, it's a little long, but I'm going to do my darnedest to get through it quickly, but there's important stuff in here. It's called "Examining the Relationship Between Teachers' Instructional Practices and Students' Math Achievement."

                        Analysts studies two instructional practices in math. One, engaging students in discourse with the teacher and their peers to make sense of problems and explain their answers. We've heard a lot about this with the Common Core math. Explain your answer.

                        #2, using appropriate mathematical vocabulary.

                        Importantly, these practices reflect the mathematical practices of the common core, but that actually wasn't the purpose of the study, which is why I like the study. That was sort of like an afterthought. They realized later, hey, these actually reflect what the Common Core says in little bit different terms. The Common Core talks about constructing viable arguments and critiquing the reasoning of others. And the Common Core talks about attending to precision, including the use of appropriate mathematical vocabulary.

                        So there was a decent overlap between what they were studying and what the Common Core math practices say.

                        The study occurred as part of a larger evaluation of Project M-Squared, which is an advanced math curriculum covering geometry and measurement in Grades K through 2. I normally don't do evaluations of curriculum, but I like this study.

                        The final sample includes 34 Grade K-2 teachers and 560 students who participated in the field test of the larger evaluation. Teachers were randomly assigned to the intervention and control groups. The intervention group teachers attended roughly 10 days total of PD. That's not chump change. They were observed weekly during the study, which was a big deal. Whereby they were rated on fidelity of implementation to the content and those two instructional strategies.

                        The kids were administered the Iowa Test of Basic Skills as a pre-test and as a control.

                        Bottom line. Teachers' implementation scores for those two strategies significantly predicted math achievement as gauged by the students' gained scores on an outcome measure known as the Open Response Assessment, which had me scratching my head. In other words, a kindergartener who was average on the ITBS standard score, and his teacher was rated "always implementing these practices," basically could be expected to gain about 72% pre- to post-test on this measure.

                        Problem is, at the front of this, it sounds like, wow, this is great data that bolsters evidentiary claims of the Common Core math, which people are always acting like, "let's see the evidence."

                        But they developed because there's nothing. And they're kind of like you're damned if you do, you're damned if you don't because there's no good measure for geometry and measurement in Grades K-2, so they had to develop their own. So they developed both outcome measure, and they developed the classroom observation measure.

                        Lo and behold, the teachers who scored well on these measures, the kids did well, and so you kind of have to call into question the validity and the soundness of the findings because the analysts and the researchers themselves both created and evaluated the ... created the measures and evaluated the outcomes for the curriculum.

                        I didn't like that, but at the same time, I thought, wow ... What gave it credibility at the outset in my mind, they didn’t go into this thing saying we're going to measure these two Common Core math practices. It was just sort of an ah-ha moment was kind of how I read it when they reflected back on the evaluation.

Robert:           But I'm going to push you on something that you said early on. You said you don’t like to do evaluative studies of curriculum and instruction? Why?

Amber:           Sometimes they just really, really micro-level in some ways, so if you look at what works clearinghouse, a six in math ...

Robert:           What doesn't work in clearinghouse?

Amber:           You've got about 50 different nuances that you can't cover. Granted I do 2 minutes around here, but, you really can't give justice to, and I think in some ways a lot of these studies are supported by the curriculum developers themselves. So unless it's an external evaluation by a third party, I ...

Robert:           I'm just always going to be the guy that wants to see more study of curriculum and instruction because I'm always going to be that guy who says, that's what really matters.

Amber:           I think around here we care more about curriculum obviously now than we used to. But there are scads of evaluations. I used to work at a firm that did this for a living. And obviously, any developer of anything wants to have their product evaluated. But obviously it's always best if they're not paying for the evaluation. That's usually the nature of the beast. And if you hire a qualified evaluator, then that's half the battle of making sure you've got some reliable information from reliable evaluators.

Robert:           But am I also not right to say that the effect sizes that we know of are larger for a curriculum than for most other factors?

Amber:           I think it depends ... I know that the success for all has posted some pretty impressive research. I'm not so sure ... When you look at What Works Clearinghouse, I'm actually surprised there are more evaluations of curriculum. I don't know if you've looked at it.

Robert:           But to your point, that has to do with the nature of the studies as opposed to the curriculum, generally.

Amber:           Right. Yeah. If it's a well done study. Yeah, and you've got a decent sample size, and all that good stuff.

Robert:           More well done studies of curriculums, please.

Amber:           Yes. And I was hoping this was one. And it sorta, kinda was, but then once I read that they had developed all the measures, I wasn't as enamored. But regardless what I liked was that they really went down and got into a specific practice. You know how, Robert.

Robert:           Absolutely.

Amber:           Sometimes you just look at the curriculum writ large, and you don't really know what is the "it" about the curriculum that actually is doing something good.

Robert:           Yeah, look, you've got me excited. Ten days of PD, measuring implementation weekly, I thought, yes, this sounds great.

Amber:           Yeah, and these two defined strategies. They just didn’t look at Project M-Squared, like what's it? And looked at these two specific things, so, that's the kind of detailed information that useful for teachers on the ground.

Robert:           Absolutely.

Amber:           Anyway.

Robert:           It was a disappointment.

Amber:           Yeah.

Robert:           Just like "Braveheart."

Amber:           Sorry, Michelle, I got a little wonky today.

Michelle:       No, I like it, and you know, any time you mention curriculum in front of Robert, you know where the conversation's going to go.

Robert:           Sorry, ladies.

Michelle:       All right. Thanks so much, Amber.

Amber:           You're welcome.

Michelle:       And that's all the time we have for this week's Gadfly Show. Til next week.

Robert:           I'm Robert Pondiscio.

Michelle:       And I'm Michelle Gininger for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute signing off.

Laurence Steinberg, Ph.D.

Over the last few years, there has been a growing awareness of the need to incorporate character development into school curricula, and various efforts to do so have received wide attention. Perhaps the best-known effort is the Knowledge Is Power Program, or KIPP, which has been implemented in close to 150 charter schools across the country.

KIPP is aimed at children and teenagers from low-income families. Its explicit goal is increasing college enrollment by combining an emphasis on factors proven to bolster academic success (high expectations, parental involvement, time spent on instruction) with a novel focus on developing seven character strengths—zest, grit, self-control, optimism, curiosity, gratitude, and social intelligence. These strengths are tracked on a “character growth card” and encouraged through classroom discussions and assignments that incorporate lessons about character into more conventional academic activities. Teachers also go out of their way to both model and praise displays of good character.

KIPP has a long record of impressive accomplishments that have garnered much media attention, including Paul Tough’s bestseller, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character. Students attending KIPP schools have higher rates of high-school graduation, college enrollment, and college completion than students from similarly disadvantaged backgrounds who attend other types of schools. Numerous evaluations of KIPP schools have found that students show larger-than-expected gains on various measures of achievement.

However, because KIPP schools are charter schools, the students who attend them have...

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Fuzz-free math

CCSS myths, noncognitive skills, Dana Goldstein, and gifted ed.

Amber's Research Minute

Does Gifted Education Work? For Which Students?, by David Card and Laura Giuliano, National Bureau of Economic Research (September 2014).

In many school districts, classroom observations make up as much as 75 percent of teachers’ evaluation scores, according to a new study published in Education Next. And these scores predict a teacher’s ability to raise student test scores the following year, as measured by value-added models. With that in mind, analysts did a deep dive into the observation practices of four school districts. They found that score stability and the quality of the information gathered improved as the number of individual observations increased, and that evaluations by trained, independent, outside evaluators (instead of principals) were more predictive of the following year’s value-added gains. The report recommends that districts observe teachers at least two or three times annually, using an outsider at least once. Moreover, the study draws attention to the latent bias against teachers with lower-achieving students or who teach in struggling schools. Although value-added models are careful to control for students’ backgrounds and achievement levels, there’s often no such adjustment for classroom observations. (Simply put, it can be much harder to teach a great lesson when the kids are below grade level or unruly.) Unchecked, this can push teachers to avoid these roles, widening the achievement gap. The authors suggest that states conduct statistical analyses to control for these variables. If districts hope to retain and improve their teaching force, making the most of their teacher observations is a good place to start.

SOURCE: Grover J. Whitehurst, Matthew M. Chingos, and Katharine M. Lindquist, “Getting Classroom Observations Right,”...

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In The Teacher Wars, reporter Dana Goldstein offers a stirring account of the 175-year history of the public school teaching profession. The book, which ought to be required reading for education reformers and status-quo defenders alike, notes some obvious but oft-overlooked realities. Namely, we need a lot of teachers, and men and women of ordinary abilities will have to fill these jobs. Goldstein points out that even if every graduate of Ivy League institutions went into teaching, there would still be a significant staffing shortfall. Most striking are the familiar themes that recur throughout the history of teaching. (Indeed the conversations in 2014 aren’t that different from the ones in 1924.) First, the demands and goals placed on teachers and education have always been nearly impossible to meet—such as the mandates to integrate races or to end poverty. Second, teacher prep has always been mediocre. Third, political and social tensions in the rest of the country, not surprisingly, infiltrate the teaching profession. Goldstein calls teaching “the most controversial profession in America.” And she endorses both misguided and useful reforms: Dramatically reduce the stakes attached to standardized tests (misguided) and end outdated union protections (useful). In all, Goldstein, with a self-described left-leaning bias, concludes that a bottom-up approach is right for education reform.

SOURCE: Dana Goldstein, The Teacher Wars: A History of America's Most Embattled Profession. New York: Doubleday, 2014.

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photo credit: roberthuffstutter via photopin cc

Much of the criticism recently leveled at the College Board’s new framework for its Advanced Placement United States history course and exam is hysterical and undeserved. There’s also reason to suspect that some of the harshest critics may be motivated at least in part by the riches they have reaped by prepping high school kids for the old version of the test.

That’s not to say the new framework has no flaws. Both Rick Hess and Jeremy Stern have responsibly pointed them out. But the College Board has agreed to undertake revisions. And the sample exam they recently released is pretty good. Among its short questions, I spotted a few that were poorly worded and one that I judged unfair to Ronald Reagan’s foreign policy, but the overwhelming majority looked fine and the medium- and long-answer questions are plenty challenging, well-conceived, and unlikely to be answered successfully without a fair command of the essentials of American history.

But AP framework builders are caught between a rock and a hard place. The fundamental concept of Advanced Placement, after all, is to provide able-enough high school students with college-level coursework that, if successfully mastered, can actually yield them credit as they enter the ivy walls.

It works, too, though not nearly as easily as it once did. Back in the late middle ages, I was able to skip...

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