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.

What would happen if both sides of today’s education reform debate—the “public common school” crowd and the education reformers—got everything they wanted all at once? The newly released Student Success 2025 plan aims to envision just that for the state of Delaware.

The plan was crafted by the Vision Coalition of Delaware, led by a Who’s Who of education, business, philanthropy, and state government heavyweights. The Student Success 2025 project included dozens of additional committee members from all stakeholder areas. The project was informed by the public input of more than four thousand Delawareans, including over 1,300 K–12 students. The intent was to create a broad plan for the future of public education in the state in order to “cut through the noise” and to think big on “issues on which most people can agree.” By keeping the two sides in regular communication for a decade, the coalition has accomplished a minor miracle. The plan they have produced is reflective of that effort.

Student Success 2025 reads like a laundry list that includes universal, free, high-quality pre-K; comprehensive wraparound services for kids and families at every school; mastery-based learning with limitless remediation and acceleration as...

Dan Weisberg

Editor's note: This post originally appeared in a slightly different form on the TNTP Blog.

Yesterday on Flypaper, our friend Andy Smarick shared some reflections on “The Mirage,” our recent report on teacher improvement. Our finding that the enormous investment school systems make in teacher improvement isn’t actually helping most teachers improve tends to send people into something resembling the five stages of grief. We experienced it ourselves. Andy readily admits that he’s still stuck on denial, and from there he raises a big question that we’ve heard in other critiques of the report: Can we really trust the measures of teacher performance we used to reach our conclusions about professional development?

Andy knows the ins and outs of teacher evaluation as well as anyone, so we respect his healthy skepticism on this front. Before I address his specific concerns, though, it’s worth pointing out that our findings about professional development aren’t as dire as he and others have made them out to be. In our research, we found thousands of teachers who improved from year to year. Clearly, some kinds of professional development are helping individual teachers. The problem is that at the systemic level, these teachers are the exception...

A blended Advanced Placement (AP) pilot program unfolding in Cincinnati shows tremendous promise. It provides students in poverty with in-person and virtual access to AP instruction and—if successful—could help make the case for why Ohio should provide free and universal access to online courses.

Over the years, Advanced Placement (AP) courses have been one of the most effective ways to prepare high school students for college and make it more affordable—a double win. However, there are enormous discrepancies in students’ access to AP programs based on geographic location, race, and poverty levels. The very academic programs that can help first-generation college goers and those typically underrepresented in higher education tend to be less available to them. Admittedly, some progress has been made: between 2003 and 2013, the number of students taking and scoring a 3 or higher on an AP exam almost doubled nationally. But Ohio continues to lag, not just in overall access to AP, but in successful course completion. The state falls considerably below the national average: 14.8 percent of 2013 Ohio graduates scored a 3 or higher on the AP exam, compared to 20.1 percent nationally.

That’s why an AP program piloted by Cincinnati...

Nearly ten years ago, Congress established the Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF). A total $1.8 billion has been disbursed since then by the U.S. Department of Education to districts to accomplish four tasks: overhaul their teacher evaluation systems, create merit pay bonuses based on them, give educators opportunities to take on additional responsibility for more money, and offer professional development to support teachers in their efforts to hit these higher marks.

Under the TIF program, bonuses are supposed to be “substantial, differentiated, challenging to earn, and based solely on educators’ effectiveness.” Since this evaluation shows that 60 percent of teachers received a bonus in a subgroup of districts studied, it’s fair to wonder just how challenging to earn they really were. Moreover, understanding of the program still seems sub-optimal. In the second year of implementation, more teachers understood their eligibility for bonuses and how they were being evaluated than in the first year. “Yet more than one-third [38 percent] of teachers still did not understand they were eligible for a bonus,” the report notes. “And teachers continued to underestimate the potential size of the bonuses, believing that the largest bonuses were only about two-fifths the size of the actual maximum bonuses...

There’s a classic puzzle that requires connecting a square of nine dots with four lines; the problem appears impossible until the solver realizes that she can extend the lines outside the box. Ted Kolderie does just that in his new book arguing for a bevy of bold yet sensible reforms that would upend today’s education model.

Some suggestions are not so revelatory, such as increasing student motivation and personalized learning. But as Kolderie continues, he makes his way to recommendations that would shake up everything from age-based student grouping to how we think about achievement and teacher leadership. To be sure, none of his ideas are meant for every district in every state. “‘America’ does not have schools…Massachusetts has schools, Texas has schools, California has schools,” Kolderie writes. Each state, he believes, should adopt and its own reforms to fit its unique needs.

Kolderie’s most compelling argument is that U.S. schools require too many years of attendance. Some young people are ready for responsibility sooner than our system allows. So by requiring everyone to stay in school until age eighteen, we’re preventing millions of people from reaching their full potential. “The restrictions built into the institution of adolescence have made...

In Eastern Ohio and elsewhere across the nation, fracking has had a profound effect on economic activity and labor markets. But has it had an impact on education? According to a new study by Dartmouth economists, the answer is yes: The proliferation of fracking has increased high-school dropout rates— among adolescent males specifically, and not surprisingly. They estimate that each percentage-point increase in local oil and gas employment—an indicator of fracking intensity—increased the dropout rates of teenage males by 1.5–2.5 percentage points.

The analysts identify 553 local labor markets—“commuter zones,” or CZs—in states with fracking activity, including Ohio. For each CZ, they overlay Census data spanning from 2000 to 2013 on employment and high-school dropouts (i.e., 15–18 year olds not enrolled and without a diploma). The study then exploits the “shock” of fracking—it picked up significantly in 2006—while also analyzing the trend in dropouts. Prior to 2006, dropout rates were falling for both males and females; post-2006, dropout rates for males shot up in CZs with greater fracking activity. (Female dropout rates continued to decline.) Using statistical analyses, the researchers tie the increase in male dropout rates directly to the fracking boom.

This study raises important issues about the...

  • Say for the sake of argument that there are two education initiatives aimed at promoting upward mobility. One, a college preparation track, pushes its participants to complete high school and pursue postsecondary education at markedly higher rates than their peers, shaving off ten points from the socioeconomic graduation gap in the bargain. The other, a job training option, imparts years of workplace instruction and regularly places its students in well-paying positions after they finish. Both sound great. But which is the more promising path for kids hoping to make it into the middle class? Thankfully, we don’t have to choose—career and technical education actually comprises both. A new profile of Philadelphia’s CTE movement reviews all the familiar merits of the approach, including a new, city-issued report suggesting that freshmen who take part in vocational education are simply better prepared for college and career than those who don’t. Unfortunately, it also highlights the serious funding deficit faced by Pennsylvania CTE programs, which receive a piddling $900 per-student subsidy from the state. When convicts have an easier time learning job skills than schoolchildren and under-enrolled schools are being converted into yuppie event spaces, it means we’re ignoring a potential
  • ...

A great problem in U.S. education is that gifted students are rarely pushed to achieve their full potential. It is no secret that American students overall lag their international peers. Among the thirty-four countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development whose students took the PISA exams in 2012, the United States ranked seventeenth in reading, twentieth in science, and twenty-seventh in math.

Less well known is how few young Americans—particularly the poor and minorities—reach the top ranks on such measures. The PISA test breaks students into six levels of math literacy, and only 9 percent of American fifteen-year-olds reached the top two tiers. Compare that with 16 percent in Canada, 17 percent in Germany, and 40 percent in Singapore.

Among the handful of American high-achievers, eight times as many kids come from the top socioeconomic quartile as from the bottom. That ratio is four to one in Canada, five to one in Australia, and three to one in Singapore.

What has gone wrong? Thanks to No Child Left Behind and its antecedents, U.S. education policy for decades has focused on boosting weak students to minimum proficiency while neglecting the children who have already cleared that low bar. When...

TNTP’s new report, “The Mirage,” is essential reading for anyone interested in educator effectiveness. It’s smartly researched and delivers an uppercut of a conclusion: Today's professional development doesn’t work.

There’s just one small problem. I’m not sure I believe it.

To trust its findings would mean admitting that we’ve wasted hundreds of billions of dollars. It would mean we’ve misled millions of educators and families about improving the profession. It would mean a load-bearing wall of the Race-to-the-Top and ESEA-waiver talent architecture is made of sand. All of this would be hard to swallow, but I suppose it’s possible.

But to accept and act on these findings would mean putting our full faith in today’s approach to evaluating educator effectiveness. It would mean believing generations of schools, school systems, PD providers, institutions of higher education, and parents were wrong when it comes to assessing and improving teacher performance. For me, this is a bridge too far.

The study encompassed four large school operators and surveyed thousands of educators. It used multiple measures to assess teacher effectiveness and tried to find variables that influenced whether a teacher improved (things like “growth mindset,” school culture, and access to different types of...

What the best and wisest parent wants for his own child, that must the community want for all its children. – John Dewey

The intuitive appeal of this oft-quoted maxim is obvious. It speaks to the conviction that all of the children in a community or a country are “our kids” and that we should want the very best for them just as we do for our own flesh and blood.

Taken literally, however, it is also problematic, for it equates “sameness” with “equity.” That’s an error in part because what “the best and wisest parents” want varies—some seek traditional schools, others favor progressive ones, etc.

But it’s also a mistake because children’s needs vary. Kids growing up in poverty and fragile families, and dysfunctional communities need a whole lot more than kids living with affluence and stability. And when it comes to their schools, poor kids may need something a whole lot different. That’s why I’m a big fan of No Excuses charter schools, which are showing great promise for low-income children—even if they might not be a good fit for many of their upper-middle class peers.