A Reform-Driven System

Via this ambitious strand of work, we seek to deepen and strengthen the K–12 system’s capacity to deliver quality education to every child, based on rigorous standards and ample choices, by ensuring that it possesses the requisite talent, technology, policies, practices, structures, and nimble governance arrangements to promote efficiency as well as effectiveness.

  • Will an end to the annual testing mandates be the defining feature of a reauthorized No Child Left Behind Act? Education Week’s Alyson Klein reports a draft bill circulating among Senate GOP aides would leave testing schedules up to the states—no more mandatory reading and math tests in grades 3–8. Someone should remind the GOP that annual testing made clear that every student in every grade matters. Oh, wait. We did that.
  • They won’t have John King to kick around anymore. New York’s education chief is stepping down to become a senior adviser to Arne Duncan. More than “inspirational,” the adjective “embattled” had become a more common frozen epithet attached to King, who presided over the rollout of Common Core and pushed for strong teacher evaluations. In doing so, he ran afoul of the state’s teachers unions and anti-reform activists, who accused him of not listening even while jeering and shouting down the dignified King at series of public forums last year. He will be missed. 
  • ProPublica ran a piece blowing the whistle on “sweeps contracts,” wherein non-profit charter schools funnel nearly all their public dollars into the coffers of for-profit management companies. Potentially alarming, but This Week in Education blogger Alexander Russo rightly noted the ProPublica piece offered no clue on just how widespread the practice is. “A NACSA staffer tells me that there's no national data but that these situations aren't rare,” Russo writes.

This study in the Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis Journal examines the role of the school environment in relation to teacher effectiveness over time. On average, we know that teachers tend to make rapid gains in effectiveness in their early years—and that this growth rate tapers off with additional experience. But this finding is too broad. Thus, analysts explored the differences that exist across individual teachers working in different schools to uncover the role that school culture might play in their varied effectiveness over time. They use administrative records from third to eighth grade for years 2000–2010 in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools, which include more than 280,000 student records and roughly 3,200 teachers. They combine these data with responses from a state teacher survey that gauges working conditions, such as whether the school is safe, orderly, and characterized by mutual trust and respect; whether teachers collaborate on teaching practices; whether the principal supports teachers; and so on. After controlling for numerous student-, peer-, school-, and teacher-level variables, analysts find that the variation in returns to teaching experience is explained in part by differences in schools’ professional environments. Findings show that working in a more supportive environment is related to improvement that actually accumulates throughout the first ten years of a teacher’s career. (The gift that keeps on giving!) Specifically, after ten years, teachers working at a school with a more supportive environment moved up in the distribution of overall teacher effectiveness by roughly one-fifth of a standard deviation more than teachers...

With the fiftieth anniversary at hand for the celebrated and once-controversial "Moynihan Report," the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan is back on people's minds and keyboards. There will be more of this attention as 2015 unfolds. But Pat Moynihan is seldom off my mind, as he was primus-inter-pares of the mentors who mattered in my life and career, as well as my primary boss in three different settings between 1969 and 1981 (not to mention my doctoral advisor). My first "grown-up" job at his side—if age twenty-five counts as grown-up—was as a junior White House education aide at the start of the Nixon administration. (My version of this tale is recounted in the early chapters of Troublemaker, if you're a real glutton for punishment.) Pat was an assistant to the president for urban affairs, with an office in the West Wing not far from Kissinger's. The other room in his cramped basement suite was occupied by his chief deputy, Steve Hess (who for most of the time since has been an exceptionally prolific senior fellow at Brookings and one of Washington's true "wise men"—as well as a member of the vanishing species known as "moderate Republicans”). Steve has now written, and Brookings has just published, a thoroughly delightful account of the eventful first year of the Nixon-Moynihan relationship, which was unlikely from the outset, but rapidly proved to be both mutually beneficial and highly productive. ...

The charter school sector in the United States encompasses forty-two states and the District of Columbia, with 6,400 charter schools serving 2.5 million students. More than 1,000 authorizers oversee these schools, working under state laws that seek to balance school autonomy and accountability for results. This report, conducted by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA), evaluates the quality of those laws. NACSA has identified eight policies that facilitate the development of effective charters, including performance management and replication, default closures, and authorizer sanctions. States are awarded points—on a thirty- or twenty-seven-point scale, depending on the group—based on the strength each of these policies in their charter schools laws. NACSA divided the states into three groups, according to their charter-authorizing landscapes, and then assigned ranks within. They include: (1) seventeen district-authorizing states, (2) five states with many authorizers, and (3) twenty-one states with few authorizers. South Carolina topped the first list with a score of twenty-five out of thirty. Last place here (and in the nation) is Kansas, with zero, for which the report blamed the state’s “dead” charter law; though legal, the schools do not have autonomous governing boards or alternative authorizers. In the second group, Indiana led with eighteen points out of a possible twenty-seven. And despite being the newest charter state, Washington earned not only the best marks in the final group, but the best in the nation—a perfect thirty out of thirty. Speaking of perfection, NACSA unfortunately does not achieve it; a few of...

It was the best of times…

…for the Republican Party. Election Day 2014 was a rout, with the GOP winning full control of Congress and its largest House majority since World War II. Republican governors were re-elected in Florida, Wisconsin, Michigan, Kansas, and Maine. Democrat Pat Quinn was booted out of office in President Obama’s home state of Illinois. Republican now control two-thirds of state legislatures too. The GOP groundswell “will be good for education reform, especially reforms of the school-choice variety,” predicted Fordham’s Mike Petrilli

It was the worst of times…

...for teachers’ unions. “It’s open season on teacher employment protection laws in U.S. state courts,” noted Fordham’s Brandon Wright on the heels of June’s Vergara v. California verdict holding California’s tenure laws unconstitutional. And the hits just kept on coming. In October, the commission that runs the financially troubled Philadelphia public school system unilaterally canceled the union’s contract and ruled teachers must contribute to their health insurance to free up money for classrooms. (A good decision to avoid the big squeeze.) Election Day made the annus horribilis complete. The $60 million the AFT and NEA spent on campaigns merely advertised their impotence. The unions took out their frustrations in the waning days of 2014 on a TIME magazine cover story on tenure. “It’s a lot easier to gin up phony outrage over magazine covers than reckon with the question of...

JEB THE APOSTATE
Will Jeb Bush’s support of the Common Core keep him from realizing his presidential aspirations? Since his announcement yesterday that he has “decided to actively explore the possibility of running for president of the United States,” Politico, The Hill, and Time have all published articles detailing how the issue might hinder Jeb’s campaign, while Libby Nelson of Vox explained why it won’t affect his run.  

BE PREPARED (DISNEY ALERT)
The 2012 suspension of six teaching programs at Lake Superior State University in Michigan has been called a much-needed wake up call, and many argue that other schools should follow suit. But Education Week reports that many schools are hesitant to pull the plug on their teacher prep programs, even when they are not adequately training future teachers for the classroom. Teacher programs, and their lack of accountability, have been called out before; for more, read NCTQ’s 2014 Teacher Prep Review.

WON'T SOMEBODY PLEASE THINK OF THE HARVARD GRADS
Alternative teacher prep program Teach For America reports a drop in corps applications this year, potentially losing 25 percent of recruitment potential. Training Institutes in New York and Los Angeles may be the first to feel the effects of a drop in enrollment, but TFA spokespeople say some pockets across the country are swelling with candidate applications. 

IN MY DAY WE WERE UP CHOPPING FIREWOOD BY DAWN
Following recommendations in a report by the...

Senator Lamar Alexander, Representative John Kline, and their respective staffs have successfully freaked out sizable portions of the education-reform crowd—especially those who spend our days inside the Beltway bubble—by threatening to eliminate No Child Left Behind’s annual testing requirement. I’m hoping that this is just a bluff or feint—a way to strengthen their negotiating position—because the idea is so insane.  Do Republicans really want to scrap the transparency that comes from measuring student (and school and district) progress from year to year and go back to the Stone Age of judging schools based on a snapshot in time? Or worse, based on inputs, promises, and claims? Are they seriously proposing to eliminate the data that are powering great studies and new findings every day on topics from vouchers to charters to teacher effectiveness and more?

I suspect they’ll come to their senses. But I do appreciate the impulse—both the reaction to a dozen years of Washington micromanagement (taken to new heights by Arne Duncan’s conditional waivers) and the very real concern about over-testing in the classroom. If the GOP wants actually to fix that problem, however, rather than just rail about it, here’s an idea: Kill the federal mandate around teacher evaluations and much of the over-testing will go away.

That’s because much of the huge growth in testing in recent years hasn’t come from No Child Left...

Dear Santa,

On behalf of a host of certified experts, policy wonks, busybodies and know-it-alls: All I would like for Christmas this year is your help in getting people to do what we know is best for them rather than what they want to do.

I know, I know, there are all those old clichés about a free society and the “pursuit of happiness.” But why do those stubborn kids and parents refuse to understand that we know better than they do what will bring them happiness? OK, maybe not perfect happiness, but we certainly know what’s good for them.

Consider Michelle Obama. She went to Princeton, for Pete’s sake, and Harvard Law School. I think she even passed the bar exam. She’s a real expert on so many things. She definitely knows what’s good for kids. After all, she has two of her own. And she has some sort of garden at the White House where they grow stuff that she says is healthy to eat. Surely she knows better than kids and parents and cafeteria ladies and Aramark what students ought to eat for lunch. After all, she persuaded the president of the United States and the Congress—experts all—to change the rules regarding the food that schools serve to their pupils.

But those stubborn kids don’t want to eat what she says they should eat—and they’re bankrupting their school districts by refusing to buy it! They’re not just stubborn. They’re downright destructive! If only...

SHAME OF THE WORLD
First Lady Michelle Obama said Friday that we need to accelerate efforts to extend education to girls in all communities. Worldwide, 62 million girls do not attend school, and in some countries, less than 10 percent move on to secondary school for reasons such as high tuition or material costs, early and forced marriage, and lack of safety measures while commuting to and from school.

LOOK AWAY
The Hechinger Report sat down with Mississippi principal Shannon Eubanks to discuss state leaders’ recent rebuke of the Common Core State Standards. Eubanks, along with teachers and district leaders, worry that repealing Common Core midway through the school year will cause chaos for teachers, who have spent two years implementing the new standards. Common Core is designed to close the gaps between high- and low-achieving students, but abandoning the standards this late in the game would leave many kids behind.

TUESDAYS ARE NOW DUCK L'ORANGE DAYS
The push to increase the nutritional value of cafeteria fare has had a major negative side effect: Students aren’t eating the healthier food. In an attempt to make healthier food more palatable, some districts are hiring professional chefs out of prestigious culinary institutes. Santa Clarita Valley schools recently hired a chef out of Le Cordon Bleu, the chain of world renowned culinary institutes that has produced famous chefs like Julia Child and Mario Batali. 

CHART(S) OF THE WEEK
Vox has a quick, revelatory set...

Jack Schneider

Editor's note: This post is the fourth entry of a multi-part series of interviews featuring Fordham's own Andy Smarick and Jack Schneider, an assistant professor of education at Holy Cross. It originally appeared in a slightly different form at Education Week's K-12 Schools: Beyond the Rhetoric blog. Earlier entries can be found herehere, and here.

Schneider: We ended our last post with a question about school funding. You seem to be more concerned with the issue of accountability than I am. And I appear to be more concerned with equal funding.

So it seems like maybe we have a chicken and egg issue here.

I don't think you can begin to talk accountability seriously until you have a relatively equal playing field. You seem hesitant to channel funds to organizations that can't meet accountability targets. Can you talk through your position for me?

Smarick: My position on funding in a nutshell is: I want every school in America to have the money necessary so every child can succeed, but we need to appreciate that more funding won't necessarily generate better results. 

So let's first put some basic facts on the table.

The U.S. now spends close to $700 billion annually on K–12 education. If our primary and secondary schools were a country, they would have the twentieth-largest GDP in the world, larger than the economies of Sweden and Poland.

We now spend in the neighborhood of $13,000 per student annually (this includes capital outlays and debt). Even after controlling for inflation,...

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