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.

An increasingly bright and pitiless spotlight is being shined on America’s schools of education. With the encouragement of the federal government, states are developing systems to tie student performance data to teacher preparation programs; competition and comparisons with alternative certification programs are bringing additional pressure to bear. The upshot for those who train our teachers is increased scrutiny and ever-louder calls to prove that the teachers they turn loose on the nation’s classrooms can actually do the jobs they were trained, certified, and licensed to do. Against this backdrop, a task-force report from the American Psychological Association aims to offer a practical resource for accreditors, state education departments, and policymakers seeking to improve teacher-preparation programs. The report focuses on three data sources that are “well-established scientific methods that have evolved from the science of psychology” and that the authors argue should form the basis of all credible evaluation systems: value-added assessments; standardized observation protocols; and surveys of graduates, employers, and students. To their credit, the report authors are clear-eyed, taking pains to note the “utility and limitations” of value-added and the other proffered evaluation systems—but maintaining that we should judge the merits of teacher-prep programs “with the best evidence that can be obtained now, rather than the evidence we might like to have had, or that might be available in the future.” The report offers thirteen recommendations for evaluating teacher-prep programs, the most important of which is to insist that such programs have “strong affirmative, empirical evidence of...

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Peter Sipe

Twelve years ago, my wife and I went back to school. Not the same one, though: she went to medical school and I went to education school. I don’t think I’ll shock even the gentlest reader by asserting that the former was harder than the latter, but I would like to offer a glimpse of how differently rigorous they were.

Here’s a reconstruction of a typical conversation from our school days:

Me: “How was school, dear?”

Wife: “I have to master the circulatory system by Monday or repeat the entire year. How was school, dear?”

Me: “I have to write a one-page reflection on what education should be.”

Wife: [Mutters oaths, none of them Hippocratic.]

I can’t imagine a professional school more rigorous than medical school. And I’ll leave aside for now how crazy hard it is just to get in, or the I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-illegal madness of what happens after a doctor graduates. (Free romance tip: marry a doctor after she’s finished residency, not before.) But say what you want about it—and my wife and her classmates did, believe me—those med students learned how to be doctors.

Me? This ed student’s classes generally went like this: a professor would speak for a bit on some theoretical matter, then we’d break into small groups to discuss it for an extravagantly long time, then we’d get back into a big group and share our opinions some more. I remember a class one evening in which you could not speak unless you had been...

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Just as the education-reform movement is starting to figure out how to use test-score data in a more sophisticated way, the Obama administration and its allies in the civil-rights community want to take us back to the Stone Age on the use of school discipline data. This is an enormous mistake that repeats almost exactly the nuance-averse way we looked at test-score data in the early days of NCLB.

We all know that there are real problems with the ways that discipline is meted out in some American schools today. You can find campuses where huge numbers of students are suspended or expelled, particularly African American and Latino teenagers, mostly boys. A few years later, those young people are likely to end up in America’s bloated prison system, causing all manner of societal suffering along the way, not to mention blighting their own lives. “Zero tolerance” policies—removing administrator discretion and treating all offenses as equally injurious—have arguably made things worse.

I whole-heartedly support efforts to improve the ways that schools handle these issues; tips and training on creating a positive school culture and reducing suspensions and expulsions are welcome. Nor do I doubt that some of America’s 100,000-plus schools discriminate against minority children. I’ve heard Russlynn Ali, former assistant secretary for civil rights at the U.S. Department of Education, talk about the district where a black Kindergartener gets suspended for pulling a fire alarm while...

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Since the inception of standardized tests in our schools, many debates have raged regarding their value. Critics often contend that schools are “testing students to death”, while supporters argue that testing allows for accountability at the student, teacher, and school level. The dispute may continue, but for now, let’s examine whether standardized test results provide any indication of the future educational attainment of the students who take them. It turns out that in districts across Ohio, proficiency on standardized tests (in both reading and mathematics) correlates moderately well with high school graduation and college remediation rates.

First, let’s examine the relationship between proficiency and high school graduation. Figure 1 represents the eighth-grade proficiency and graduation rate for each Ohio district as a point on the graph. Proficiency data from 2007-08 are paired with 2011-12 graduation rates, since eighth-grade students in spring 2008 were scheduled to graduate in spring 2012 under the conventional pathway to graduation.[1] For the most part, we observe a positive correlation between the two variables—the line that best fits the points trends upward.  Our R-squared values[2] (the measure of the “goodness” of the trend lines’ fit through the points), and the correlation coefficients[3] indicate that this link is moderate in strength.

Districts with higher proficiency rates tend to have higher graduation rates and vice-versa. Generally speaking, this suggests that test results are linked to high-school graduation. Yet a district’s proficiency rate isn’t the only factor...

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Articles of the week from the Education Gadfly

Whither the NEA?
Chester E. Finn, Jr. | July 9, 2014 | Flypaper

On school discipline, let’s not repeat all our old mistakes
Michael Petrilli, @MichaelPetrilli | July 8, 2014 | Flypaper

Teachers, the Common Core, and the freedom to teach
Jessica Poiner, @jpoiner17 | July 7, 2014 | Ohio Gadfly Daily

Vergara, Harris, and the fate of the teacher unions
Andy Smarick, @smarick | July 7, 2014 | Flypaper

Fordham in the news

Public schools like KIPP are most powerful as a “direct retort to people who say we must first end poverty before we can do anything to improve education.”
Chester E. Finn, Jr. | New York Post | July 9, 2014

"Our research suggests, however, that better hiring practices alone are only part of the solution. Districts must also re-imagine the principal’s role."
Lacking Leaders report | StateImpact Ohio | July 7, 2014

Sweet Tweets

I’ve never been to the annual conference of the National Education Association and I’ve never regretted it http://gadf.ly/U5r6GW
@educationgadfly | July 10, 2014

I love this piece so much I'm posting it twice. "The Fallacy of ‘Balanced Literacy’" http://nyti.ms/1ku4SFi #reading ...

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Just as the education-reform movement is starting to figure out how to use test-score data in a more sophisticated way, the Obama administration and its allies in the civil-rights community want to take us back to the Stone Age on the use of school-discipline data. This is an enormous mistake.

We all know that there are real problems with the ways that discipline is meted out in some American schools today. You can find campuses where huge numbers of students are suspended or expelled, particularly African American and Latino teenagers and mostly boys. Those young people are extraordinarily likely to end up in America’s bloated prison system as adults, causing all manner of societal suffering along the way, not to mention blighting their own lives. “Zero tolerance” policies—by removing administrator discretion and treating all offenses as equally injurious—have arguably made things worse.

I whole-heartedly support efforts to improve the ways that schools handle these issues; tips and training on creating a positive school culture and reducing suspensions and expulsions are welcome. Nor do I doubt that some of America’s 100,000-plus schools discriminate against minority children. Russlynn Ali, the former assistant secretary for civil rights at the U.S. Department of Education, talks about the district where a black Kindergartener gets suspended for pulling a fire alarm while a white tenth grader does the same thing and gets off with a warning. That’s wrong, and I’m grateful that students...

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Teach For America (TFA) is one of the nation’s largest alternative routes into the teaching profession. In the 2013–14 school year, there were 11,000 corps members reaching more than 750,000 students in high-need classrooms all around the country, including nearly 150 TFA members in the Cleveland and Cincinnati-Dayton areas. Yet even with TFA’s growing scale, its teachers are a proverbial drop in the bucket compared to the country’s teaching force of approximately 3 million. This raises the question of how best to allocate these young, enthusiastic teachers. Should corps members be dispersed widely across a district’s schools, or should they be “clustered” into targeted schools? Would having a high density of TFA members in a few, high-need schools provide positive learning benefits even for students with non-TFA teachers (“spillover” effects)? This new study analyzes the impact of clustering TFA members in Miami-Dade County Public Schools (M-DCPS), using district level data from 2008–09 to 2012–13. TFA altered its placement strategy in M-DCPS in 2009–10 and began to cluster members in a smaller number of turnaround schools. For example, among middle schools with a TFA member, 18 percent of the school’s teaching staff was, on average, TFA in 2012–13, compared to just 4 percent in 2008–09. The researchers, however, found that the higher density of TFA members in the targeted schools yielded no significant “spillover” benefits—as measured by test-score gains—for students with non-TFA teachers. That said, this study replicates the finding that TFA teachers, in math at least,...

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In recent years, Ohio’s businesses have lamented the challenge of hiring highly skilled employees. Surprisingly, this has occurred even as 7 percent of able-bodied Ohioans have been unemployed. Some have argued that the crux of the problem boils down to a mismatch between the needs of employers and the skills of job-seeking workers. A new study from Jonathan Rothwell of the Brookings Institution sheds new light on the difficulty that employers face when hiring for jobs that require skills in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. Using a database compiled by Burning Glass, a job-analytics company, the Rothwell examines 1.1 million job postings from 52,000 companies during the first quarter of 2013. The study approximates the relative demand for STEM vis-à-vis non-STEM jobs by comparing the duration of time that the job vacancies are posted. Hence, a job posted for an extended period of time is considered hard to fill (i.e., “in demand”).[1] As expected, Rothwell finds that STEM-related job postings were posted for longer periods than non-STEM jobs. STEM jobs were advertised, on average, for thirty-nine days, compared to thirty-three days for non-STEM jobs. The longer posting periods for STEM jobs were consistent across all education levels—from STEM jobs that required a minimum of a graduate-level degree to “blue-collar” STEM jobs that required less than a college degree. For Ohioans, the study also includes a useful interactive webpage that slices the data for the state’s six metropolitan areas (Akron, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus,...

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The most interesting story coming out of the landmark Vergara and Harris decisions is the coming irresistible-force-immovable-object collision of reformers’ aggressive new litigation strategy and teachers unions’ stout-defense approach to leadership.

These cases provide the nation’s unions an opportunity to produce next-generation leaders who strengthen labor’s long-term position through new rhetoric and priorities. But the unions’ recent bearing—elevating aggressive individuals wedded to longstanding ways—may be a path to their political marginalization or worse.

Most observers interpreted the Vergara-Harris tandem as an anti-union one-two combination. The Vergara decision was the uppercut, a jarring repudiation of California’s policies on tenure and seniority. Harris was the enervating body blow setting up the denouement. It chipped away at unions’ ability to extract dues from nonmembers in the name of preventing “freeriders” ; the Court emphasized the right of individuals to refuse to financially support organizations with which they disagree, which could have major implications for mandatory-dues policies.

Said simply, Vergara struck down union-supported policies, and Harris may eventually serve to turn off a stream of income upon which unions depend for their negotiating and advocacy activities.

A doughty response from labor was to be expected. This is no glass-jaw gang.

But their reaction has been positively martial. The first paragraph alone in the NEA’s statement included “privatizing public education and attacking educators,” “ultra-rich cronies,” and “deep-pocketed corporate special interests.” The California Federation of Teachers declared, “The judge fell...

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One often hears anecdotes of teachers feeling undervalued and, at times, isolated in their profession. The most recent OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey—a study that homes in on the working conditions of teachers and learning environments of schools, focusing on lower secondary education—confirms the narrative. The survey, which queried approximately 100,000 lower secondary school teachers and 6,500 lead teachers in thirty-four OECD countries, found that less than one-third of all teachers felt that teaching is a valued profession in their society. (However, there was significant variation: In France and Sweden, for example, just 5 percent of teachers felt that society valued their work. Meanwhile, 83.8 percent of Malaysian teachers felt valued, with South Korea, Singapore, and Abu Dhabi also scoring well.) Additionally, four in ten teachers reported that they never taught jointly or observed other teachers’ classes to provide feedback, even though a plethora of studies have argued that well-structured cooperative practices help educators improve their classroom practice. Overall, though, teacher job satisfaction was high: roughly 90 percent of those surveyed felt positively about their work, and 80 percent said that if given the option to restart their career, they would choose teaching again.

SOURCE: Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, TALIS 2013 Results: An International Perspective on Teaching and Learning (OECD Publishing, 2014).

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