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.

  • The myth of America’s teacher shortage, like your older brother’s stories about alligators in the sewers and malevolent hitchhikers stalking the roadways, poses an intriguing question: If we’re going to invent fanciful stories for our own amusement, why do they have to be scary ones? In an in-depth piece for Chalkbeat Indiana, Shaina Cavazos debunks ominous reports of a teacher deficit in the Hoosier State with a lot of the same data and arguments that contradict the broader notion of a national shortage. While some districts are facing a lack of qualified applicants, our education schools are still pumping out way more graduates than there are open positions for them to fill. Longer-term trends—the perennial difficulty of attracting young educators to rural areas and the gradual retirement of the Baby Boom workforce—generally account for those anecdotal reports of professional scarcity, but macro-level teacher employment has actually increased over the last ten years. Maybe now we can get back to more pressing problems, like exorcising the ghost of Elvis Presley.
  • Nobody likes the fellow who shows up early for work every day. Smug at his desk, he’s already dutifully responding to his emails while the rest of us
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A new analysis from Matthew A. Kraft at Brown University links the characteristics of laid-off teachers to changes in student achievement. The analysis was conducted in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS), which laid off just over a thousand teachers as a result of the Great Recession in 2009 and 2010. Since North Carolina is one of five states where collective bargaining is illegal, a discretionary layoff policy was used rather than the more common “last-hired, first-fired” (sometimes referred to as LIFO—last in, first out) method. CMS identified candidates for layoffs based on five general criteria: duplicative positions, enrollment trends, job performance, job qualifications, and length of service.

Kraft estimates the effects of these layoffs on student achievement by using both principal observation scores (which directly informed layoffs) and value-added scores (which were not used to make layoff decisions). This enabled him to compare the impact of a teacher layoff based on subjective and objective measures of effectiveness. The good news for CMS students is that, overall, laid-off teachers received lower observation scores from principals and had lower value-added scores in math and reading compared to their counterparts who weren’t laid off. Kraft found that math achievement in grades that lost an...

A new working paper by American University public policy professor Seth Gershenson examines whether a “match” of students and teachers by race has any effect on teacher expectations of students. What is the result, for example, of white instructors teaching black students versus white students? What about other racial combinations?

Gershenson used nationally representative survey data from the Educational Longitudinal Study of 2002 (ELS) for U.S. students who were in tenth grade in 2002. There were over sixteen thousand student-teacher matches, which included various demographic data about the students and teachers. And each student’s tenth-grade math and English teachers reported their expectations for that student’s educational attainment, with possible responses ranging from those not finishing high school to those completing a four-year degree.

To ensure that any differences were systematic rather than random—which would suggest that teacher beliefs are at least partly explained by student demographics—Gershenon designed his study carefully. For example, he made use of various demographic variables to rule out systematic sorting (whereby, for instance, low-ability math students may be routinely assigned to white math teachers). The ELS administration was also set up so that a student’s two teachers offer their assessments at the same point in time....

A school district should never go broke. But unfortunately, they can, and do. Take Pennsylvania’s beleaguered Chester Upland School District. Teachers will once again work for free as the district faces a $22 million deficit, which the Washington Post reports could grow to $46 million. The district of approximately three thousand students was first tagged as “financially distressed” in 1994, and since then, its enrollment has declined by nearly 60 percent even as special education costs have risen substantially. Neither of these developments came as a surprise. Yet the district still overspent its coffers by $45 million between 2003 and 2012, despite millions in few-strings-attached bailouts by the state over the same period. In 2012, Chester Upland ran out of money completely and the teachers agreed to work without pay; that same year, the state finally enacted legislation to do something other than hand out more cash. Under Act 141, the state could declare small districts in financial distress, allow them to apply for loans, and appoint a chief recovery officer (CRO) to oversee finances.

Since 2010, Chester Upland has received $75 million (an enormous sum, considering that its yearly budget is...

Kim Davis, the Rowan (Kentucky) County clerk, is in the spotlight this week for ignoring a federal judge’s order to issue marriage licenses to gay couples seeking to wed. She claims that doing so would violate her Christian faith and her religious liberties. On Tuesday, she added that she was acting “under God’s authority.”

You don’t have to be a Constitutional scholar to know that her legal argument has no merit. As a public official, she took an oath to follow the rule of law. If she believes that doing so would conflict with her religious beliefs, then she should do the honorable thing and resign.

This episode goes far beyond the gay marriage debate, though. It brings to mind another class of public employees: educators. Must they always follow the rule of law—even when it conflicts with their personal beliefs, religious or otherwise? In a system that is overly rule-bound, bureaucratic, and politicized, where is the line between “cage busting” and law breaking? And does it matter that they are government employees instead of elected officials?

Sometimes the answers are clear and straightforward. For instance: Public school science teachers should teach what’s in...

A new analysis from Matthew A. Kraft at Brown University links the characteristics of laid-off teachers to changes in student achievement. The analysis was conducted in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS), which laid off just over a thousand teachers as a result of the Great Recession in 2009 and 2010. Since North Carolina is one of five states where collective bargaining is illegal, a discretionary layoff policy was used rather than the more common “last-hired, first-fired” (sometimes referred to as LIFO—last in, first out) method. CMS identified candidates for layoffs based on five general criteria: duplicative positions, enrollment trends, job performance, job qualifications, and length of service.

Kraft estimates the effects of these layoffs on student achievement by using both principal observation scores (which directly informed layoffs) and value-added scores (which were not used to make layoff decisions). This enabled him to compare the impact of a teacher layoff based on subjective and objective measures of effectiveness. The good news for CMS students is that, overall, laid-off teachers received lower observation scores from principals and had lower value-added scores in math and reading compared to their counterparts who weren’t laid off. Kraft found that math achievement in grades that lost an...

  • As traditionalist gift givers are no doubt aware, the tenth anniversary metal is tin. Last week, with a slew of ten-year retrospectives and events commemorating the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe, a longtime reform critic traded in her responsible commentator’s hat for one of those nifty ones made from tin foil. Business journalist Andrea Gabor, who has spent years grinding an axe against school choice and high standards, attempted to bury it in the back of the New York Times with a breathless op-ed decrying the “myth” of the post-hurricane New Orleans schools revival. The Seventy Four quickly published a rebuttal of the simple factual inaccuracies in Gabor’s piece, and reform-friendly superintendent John White wrote a paean to the city’s charter district and the educators who work there. But the best response has come from liberal pundit Jonathan Chait, who defended high-achieving charters as “one of the most impressive triumphs of American social policy.” New Orleans still hasn’t completely turned around a school system that was irrevocably broken even before the storm. But after a decade of progress, it’s attracted allies from across the spectrum, and that’s something to celebrate.
  • Franz Kafka is most famous
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In most states, only math and reading teachers in grades 4–8 receive evaluations based on value-added test results. For all other teachers, it’s on to Plan B. To evaluate these teachers, many districts are using alternative measures of student growth, which include vendor assessments (commercial, non-state exams) and student learning objectives (SLOs, or teacher-designed goals for learning). But how are these alternative measures being administered? What are their pros and cons? The research on this issue is terribly thin, but a new study from the Institute of Education Sciences casts an intriguing ray of light. Through in-depth interviews, the researchers elicited information on how eight mid-Atlantic districts (unnamed) are implementing alternative measures.

Here are the study’s four key takeaways: First, educators considered vendor assessments (with results analyzed through a form of value-added modelling) to be a fairer and more rigorous evaluation method than SLOs. Second, both alternative measures yielded greater variation in teacher performance than observational methods alone. Third, implementing SLOs in a consistent and rigorous manner was extremely difficult. In fact, the authors write, “All types of stakeholders expressed concern about the potential for some teachers to ‘game the system’ by setting easily attainable goals.” Fourth,...

A new study by economists at the Center for Household Financial Stability disseminates research on family savings and debt and finds that the attainment of a college education does not appear to “protect” the wealth of all American families equally.

This is a descriptive study that examines the income and wealth of different families and the stability (or lack thereof) of each. Analysts use survey data from the 2013 edition of the Survey of Consumer Finances.

First, the researchers found that college-educated families—meaning those in which the head of the household has a four-year college degree—earn significantly higher incomes than those headed by someone without a college degree (no surprise there). The median income among all families headed by a college graduate is 2.4 times greater than the median income among families headed by a non-college-graduate.

Second, the median wealth (the value of real estate and other assets) of all families headed by college graduates declined by 24 percent between 2007 and 2013 as a result of the prolonged recession; the decline among families without college degrees was much higher at 48 percent.

Third, higher education appears to protect wealth during rocky economic times, but mostly just among white and...

Education policy is rarely a top issue in presidential campaigns. In the main, that's fine; most of the action takes place at the state and local levels. Still, last week's education policy summit hosted in New Hampshire by the education news website the Seventy Four and the American Federation for Children gave six of the seventy GOP presidential contenders the chance to burnish their K–12 credentials. (A second summit featuring Democratic candidates is slated for October in Iowa.)

To help the candidates hone their stump speeches, those of us at the Fordham Institute spent some time recently brainstorming campaign themes we'd like to see candidates from either party embrace. Here's what we came up with:

Education reform is working. It's by no means unanimous or uncontroversial, but Americans are generally supportive of the education reform agenda, broadly defined. An Education Next poll released last week shows solid (if softening) support for reform staples like charter schools, testing and accountability, merit pay for teachers, and tax credits to fund scholarships for low-income children. Voters even like higher standards—as long as you don't use the words "Common Core." And while...

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