Hope Against HopeThe Friedman-ism that “every crisis is an opportunity” has, in the eyes of many, found dramatic and fitting vindication in the city of New Orleans. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the teachers union was washed away, while the city’s traditional public schools were almost entirely supplanted by a host of new charters, many of them answerable to a new state-level governing body. The value of these changes has been frequently quantified by test scores, college-attendance rates, and similar informative (yet reductive) data. Sarah Carr’s Hope Against Hope offers a rare view from the ground—one that humanizes education reform in the Bayou City. She profiles a trio of figures (a novice teacher, a veteran principal, and a high school student) as well as a handful of charter schools. The conflicts at the core of Carr’s book—between different measurements of and causes for student success (or failure) and between guarding community culture and finding pathways to the middle class—transcend the Big Easy. But do not look for conflict resolution here. Carr’s intent, instead, is to articulate vividly what’s at stake. Her vignettes, particularly her story of a popular and promising teen’s fateful night out (and subsequent incarceration), show how out-of-school factors can easily destroy students’ futures—simultaneously reminding readers that school quality is not the whole story and that intensive efforts to transform student culture (think the “no excuses” charter...


With findings reminiscent of those from the Gates Foundation’s recent MET study or Chetty’s teacher-effectiveness research, this CALDER paper widens an already well-worn trail. Using a comprehensive, five-year dataset of student-test scores for beginning teachers in New York City, the authors find that early value-added results (though imperfect) are strong predictors of educators’ long-term effectiveness and that relative teacher performance (based on student test scores) remains fairly constant. Among math teachers whose performance was in the lowest quintile after their first two years on the job, 62 percent still performed in the bottom two quintiles in their third through fifth year and only 19 percent ended up in the top two quintiles. Similarly, if a school adopted a policy of firing the bottom 10 percent of new teachers (averaged over years one and two), it would rid itself of almost one third of the future lowest-performing teachers and absolutely none of the future top performers (according to years three, four, and five averages). They also find that value-added in years one and two explained 27.8 percent of the variance in average future performance (compared with only 2.8 percent explained by a number of combined “input” metrics including teacher demographics, credentialing scores, and competitiveness of undergraduate institution). The implications are clear: Cage-busting leaders should simply not keep the low performers around long enough to let them gain tenure.

SOURCE: Allison Atteberry, Susanna Loeb, and James Wyckoff, “Do First Impressions Matter? Improvement in Early Career Teacher Effectiveness” (Washington,...


If I could go back in time and begin my stint at an SEA all over again, I’d dedicate more energy to educator-preparation policy for three reasons.

First, obviously, educator effectiveness is hugely important to student learning, and we could accomplish a much by ensuring that those entering the profession are fully prepared for the tough work awaiting them.

The second reason is that SEAs have far greater power over this issue than most people—including lots of incoming state chiefs—understand.

(The third reason comes later…)

Under nearly every state constitution, the state government is given responsibility for public schooling. Lots of this power is then devolved, via statute, to districts.

But most state-level authority is vested in the state department of education. Though legislatures pass lots of laws related to schooling, they generally know where their expertise ends; and regardless of the issue or level of government, when legislators recognize the water’s edge of their understanding, they defer to executive branch (administrative) agencies.

What this translates to is SEAs’ (and/or state boards of educations’) having huge leeway when it comes to teacher preparation and credentialing.

State law may say that each teacher must have “appropriate certification for the position held,” but determining what a person needs to do in order to earn and maintain certification is in the hands of these departments and boards.

For the uninitiated—actually, for the initiated, as well—this field can feel like a tangle of professional associations and acronyms. There’s InTASC , ISLCC, ...


wise wonk once wrote that the biggest challenge facing America’s schools is the enormous variation in the academic level of students coming into any given classroom. The subject of this NBER working paper is one proposed solution to this quandary: sorting students by ability. And though conventional wisdom (and some prior research) suggests that kids in the lower-achieving groups would fare worse with such an approach, the researchers in this study concluded that sorting is beneficial for both high and low achievers—though high achievers did see larger gains than those of their lower-scoring peers (approximately 1.6 times greater). The analysis used student- and classroom- level  data linked to one cohort of Dallas elementary students—amounting to roughly 9,000 children in 135 schools who progress from the third to fourth grade (in 2003–04 and 2004–05). Analysts attempt to account for unobservable ways that schools might sort (say, by student behavior) and ultimately find that three-quarters of the schools organize students along at least one dimension: Nineteen percent by prior math scores, 24 percent by prior reading scores, 28 percent by “gifted” status, 57 percent by LEP (limited English proficiency) status, and 13 percent by special-education status (further, around 40 percent sort by at least two dimensions). If schools began perfectly grouping by ability, they would see a 0.4 SD gain in student learning. While this small-scale study provides evidence that sorting is beneficial for increased test scores, school leaders must bear in mind the importance of other factors, such as the impact of...


The release of this year’s Metlife Survey of the American Teacher, conducted annually since 1984, caused an uproar: “Record low job satisfaction among teachers—down 23 percentage points since 2008!,” a typical headline might have read. While a drop in teacher satisfaction is nothing to sneeze at, upon closer inspection, the degree to which this is the case may be overblown. In an insightful article, Bellwether Education’s Andy Rotherham pointed out that the wording of the question aimed at gauging teacher job satisfaction was altered: In 2008 and 2009, teachers were asked, “How satisfied would you say you are with teaching as a career?” In 2011 and 2012, the survey queried, “How satisfied would you say you are with your job as a teacher in the public schools?” Hence, this five-year “trend” appears to be based on survey methods that can be fairly dubbed “questionable.” The numbers bear this out: In the eight years that teachers were asked the “career” question, an average of 53 percent responded that they were “very satisfied”; in the six years that they were asked the “job” version, the average was 41 percent. Still, the decline in job satisfaction marked between 2011 and 2012—5 percent fewer teachers responded that they were “very satisfied”—is cause for some concern. Whether related to heightened accountability or tightened budget belts, this trend may carry consequences for the reform movement in the years ahead.

SOURCE: Harris Interactive, The MetLife Survey of the American Teacher: Challenges for...


Donald Campbell was an American social psychologist and noted experimental social science researcher who did pioneering work on methodology and program evaluation. He has also become—posthumously—an unlikely hero of the anti-testing and accountability movement in the United States. In the hands of accountability critics, his 50 years of research on methodology and program evaluation have been boiled down to a simple retort against testing: Campbell’s Law. But a deeper reading of his work reveals a more complicated and constructive message: Measuring progress (using both quantitative and qualitative indicators) is essential; when using quantitative data for evaluation, the indicators can become distorted or manipulated; and there are concrete steps we can—and must—take to minimize data manipulation and distortion.

Campbell’s December 1976 article, “Assessing the Impact of Planned Social Change,” has become a flashpoint in the educational accountability debate. There, he argued,

The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor."

Foes of testing and accountability frequently evoke this “Law” to argue against the use of standardized tests and test-based accountability. In a May 25 blog post, for example, Diane Ravitch explained:

Campbell’s Law helps us understand why No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top are harmful to education…As high-stakes testing has become the main driver of our nation’s education policy, we will see more cheating, more narrowing of...
Charity Hallman
When Teachers Choose Pension Plans: The Florida Story

Talk of pension reform for K–12 public school teachers is known to spark an array of emotion, ranging from boredom to rage. It's understandable—the issues with traditional pension plans are complex and personal. Yet, it's critical that policy makers, taxpayers, and especially teachers join the conversation.

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute recently released a case study on Florida's teacher pension reform that adds to a growing body of evidence that it is possible to reform teacher pensions and that teachers do in fact want portable retirement plan options. These are important findings that help to debunk the popular myth that all teachers prefer traditional, defined benefit, retirement plans.

The final retirement benefit paid to an employee under a defined benefit plan is a fixed amount determined through a formula that includes years of service, final average salary, and a salary multiplier. In defined benefit plans, employees' benefits are not affected by investment gains or losses. In order for a teacher to receive the full benefit these plans provide, however, they must continue to work as a teacher, typically within the same state, from 25 to 35 years. Otherwise, the teacher incurs significant losses from their retirement wealth. For example, a teacher who splits a lifelong career between two pension plans...


We laughed. We cried. We wondered how in the world his proposals wouldn’t increase our deficit “by a single dime.” President Obama’s fifth State of the Union delivered an aggressive call to expand pre-Kindergarten opportunities to all four-year-olds (the overall cost of which remains decidedly murky), to create a Race to the Top offshoot focused on pressing high schools to better prepare students for high-tech jobs, and to hold colleges accountable for keeping tuitions affordable—a classic liberal wish list to be funded via voodoo economics and shell-game fiscal policies.

Maryland told nine of its counties—including smug Montgomery, whose teacher-evaluation proposal the state rejected earlier this month—that the Maryland School Assessment must comprise at least 20 percent of their teacher- and principal-evaluation models. “My team and I are fully prepared to make visits to your district to provide clarification and to assist you in reaching approved status,” Dave Volrath of the state education department offered helpfully to Montgomery County. Yeah. We’re sure it’s all just a big misunderstanding.

Since 2007, hundreds of California school districts and community colleges have used $7 billion in “capital-appreciation” bonds to finance school-construction projects. The catch? Capital-appreciation bonds can balloon to more than ten times the amount borrowed over as much as forty years. For scale, compare this to a typical thirty-year home mortgage, which will wind up costing two to three times the amount borrowed. We are speechless. We thought pensions were the most vivid example...


Operating in the Dark

Operating in the Dark

The United States faces a shortage of high-quality school leaders at a time when it is more apparent than ever that principals are key to attracting and retaining teacher talent and driving the improvement of student learning.

While districts hire principals, states control the entry point to the principalship, overseeing the preparation and licensure of school leaders. Yet, to date, there has been no one central repository of information on state policies impacting principal preparation, licensure, tenure, and data collection to monitor the outcomes of those policies.

The Bush Institute's new report, Operating in the Dark: What Outdated State Policies and Data Gaps Mean for Effective School Leadership, is a first-of-its-kind compilation of state-reported data on how the 50 states and the District of Columbia are using their authority to increase the supply of high-quality principals.

Please join us for a presentation of the study's findings and a panel discussion, moderated by Fordham's Chester E. Finn, Jr., on how states can strengthen the rigor of the principal preparation program approval process and establish licensure requirements that validate and confirm that principals are indeed ready for the job and effective once employed as school leaders. The panelists will also discuss the role of the states in collecting data on principal effectiveness once school leaders are on the job and using that data to increase the supply of high-quality principals available for hire.


Operating in the DarkAfter years of focus on lifting teacher quality, attention is—slowly—turning to the need to do the same for school leaders. This new report from the George W. Bush Institute (GWBI) adds to this freshening conversation: It offers recommendations for how states can take charge to improve the quality of school leadership. Drawing on survey responses from education departments in all fifty states and D.C., the report identifies four areas of focus: principal prep-program accreditation, licensure requirements, principal-effectiveness standards, and collection and dissemination of job-performance data. On all, states are lacking. For example, nineteen states couldn’t report how many principals are trained annually within their borders, and twenty-eight don’t collect job performance data. Further, only six require current principals to demonstrate effectiveness before renewing their licenses (typically done every five years or so). Two overarching policy recommendations arise. First, each state must clearly define what it means to be “effective” and regulate preparation and licensure programs accordingly. Second, states must develop data-collection systems that track principals from preparation to licensure to job placement, and use these data to close ineffective prep programs and revoke the licenses of incapable principals. Though the report is jargon-laden at times, its advice is sound.

SOURCE: Kerri Briggs, Gretchen Rhines Cheney, Jacquelyn Davis, and Kerry Moll, Operating in the Dark: What Outdated State Policies and Data...