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.

A February study from the Center for Education Data and Research aims to determine if National Board Certified Teachers (NBCTs) are more effective than their non-certified counterparts. Established in 1987, National Board Certification is a voluntary professional credential designed for experienced teachers in twenty-five content areas. Certification is awarded through a rigorous portfolio assessment process consisting of four components: content knowledge; differentiation in instruction; teaching practice and classroom environment; and effective and reflective practices. These components are analyzed via teacher “artifacts,” including videos of classroom lessons, student work, and reflective essays. Across the U.S., more than 100,000 teachers (or roughly 3 percent of the teacher workforce) is National Board Certified.

This study examines data out of Washington State, which boasts the fourth-highest number of NBCTs in the country. Washington provides financial incentives for teachers earning board certification, including bonuses of up to a $5,000 for teachers working in high-need schools. The study finds that NBCTs produce additional student learning gains on state exams that correspond to about 1–2 additional weeks at the elementary level and in middle school reading. In middle school math, the results indicate a whopping five weeks of additional learning, compared to non-NBCTs with similar experience. In other words, NBCTs post strong “value-added” results. The researchers also find that teachers with higher scores on the national board assessment program are also more effective than those with lower grades: An increase of one standard deviation in teacher assessment scores corresponds to 3–5 weeks of student learning...

Tell me if you disagree, my fellow wonks and pundits, but I don’t think anyone predicted a 22-0 vote from the Senate HELP committee on ESEA reauthorization. What an amazing tribute to the bipartisan leadership of Chairman Lamar Alexander and ranking member Patty Murray.

So what happens now? The next stop is the Senate floor, where members of the committee and others will introduce many an amendment—some of which will be plenty controversial, but few of which will muster sixty votes. At that point, we’ll learn whether there are sixty votes to pass the bill as a whole. The unanimous committee vote certainly bodes well, though it’s no guarantee. (I can’t imagine Senator Rand Paul voting for a bill on the Senate floor that doesn’t including Title I portability, for example, but there aren’t the numbers for that. So he’ll vote nay.)

And if the Senate does pass a bill? Then there’s that pesky House of Representatives. That’s where things get interesting. House Republican leaders will face three choices:

First, they can take the Senate bill straight to the House floor and seek to pass it with bipartisan support. They will almost surely lose many liberals and conservatives, but they might squeak out a majority consisting of both Republicans and Democrats. (If they can’t get a majority of Republicans, they will have to break the “Hastert Rule” to pass it, which seems unlikely.)

Second, they can rally their fellow Republicans to pass...

In education reform, we like to say that demography isn’t destiny—that, with the right supports, poor children can achieve at high levels despite the many challenges they face. But today, I’d like to discuss demography more literally—namely, the nation’s birth rate. Because it is destined to lead to significant teacher layoffs in the near future.

Much like the Great Depression did, the onset of the Great Recession led to a sharp decline in the U.S. birth rate. This graph illustrates the trend clearly:

More babies were born in the United States in 2007 than any other year in history—even more than at the peak of the Baby Boom. But the numbers started to plummet in 2008; as of 2013 (the most recent data), we’ve seen six straight years of decline. We are now 9 percent below 2007’s high.

So what does this mean for schools? For starters, remember that there’s a five year lag between birth and kindergarten entry. Do the math and you’ll learn that, at least nationally, there are a whole lot of first and second graders (born in 2007). But the kindergarten class is smaller, and the rising kindergarten class (kids born in 2009 and 2010) is smaller than that. Give it a few years and our national enrollment of elementary school students will be down, well, about 9 percent.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that every elementary school will shrink by...

A new report by a Harlem-based parent advocacy group calls on New York City charter schools to reduce their long waiting lists by “backfilling,” or admitting new students whenever current ones leave. The report from Democracy Builders estimates that there are 2,500 empty seats in New York City charter schools this year as a result of students leaving and not being replaced the following year.

It’s a deeply divisive issue within the charter sector. When transient students (those most likely to be low-performing) leave charter schools and are not replaced, it potentially makes some charters look good on paper through attrition and simple math: Strugglers leave, high performers stay, and the ratio of proficient students rises, creating an illusion of excellence that is not fully deserved. Charters should not be rewarded, the backfillers argue, merely for culling their rolls of the hardest to teach or taking advantage of natural attrition patterns.

Fair enough, although there’s a distasteful, internecine-warfare quality to all of this: Charters that backfill resent the praise and glory heaped upon those who do not, and seek to cut them down to size. Traditional schools hate them both.

Some disclosure is needed here. When I’m not at Fordham, I’m a senior adviser and teacher at Democracy Prep Public Schools (DPPS) in Harlem, which actively backfills. The leading pro-backfill proponent and primary author of the report is my friend and close colleague, DPPS Founder Seth Andrew. That...

  • Because she couldn’t bear to keep Martin O’Malley in suspense any longer, Hillary Clinton revealed this weekend that she would be running for president in 2016. Her well-executed video ginned up an endless amount of free press, but few commentators picked up on a strangely off-key segment: Early on, one participant expresses excitement at the prospect of moving to a new neighborhood so that their child will have access to a decent school. Situated discordantly between announcements of weddings and new business ventures, the line perfectly illustrates the lack of choice most parents face when trying to educate their kids. Several prominent liberal writers have already voiced their frustration with the message. “Having to move in order to enroll in a ‘better" school,’ wrote Jonathan Chait in New York, is “a very strange value system for the left to embrace.”
  • If you haven’t spent the last few months in a cave, you’re probably aware that this spring marks the debut of Common Core-aligned tests in dozens of states across the country. Those tests, expected to be far tougher than those that preceded them, have stirred up enough national controversy to keep education writers busy until the next ESEA reauthorization (should be any year now). The response at the state level is no less intense: In Ohio, an online poll commissioned by prominent State Senator Peggy Lehner revealed widespread dissatisfaction among educators with the implementation of the new PARCC tests; many are frustrated with the disruption
  • ...

As part of its College Match Program, MDRC has released an application guide for “counselors, teachers, and advisers who work with high school students from low-income families and students who are the first in their families to pursue a college education.”

A “match” school embodies two important qualities: It is academically suited for the student, and it meets her financial, social, and personal needs. Unfortunately, “undermatching”—enrolling in schools for which one is academically overqualified or not applying to college at all—is all too common for low-income kids, driving down their college completion rates. Myriad factors at the student, secondary, and post-secondary levels can lead to this phenomenon, including lack of information, concerns about leaving home, minimal training for adults working with students, and limited college recruitment practices.

MDRC’s solution is the College Match Program. Between 2010 and 2014, it placed “near-peer” advisers, who are recent college graduates with training in college advising, in low-income high schools (eight in Chicago and two in New York City) to support students as they navigated the school-selection and financial aid application process. Approximately 1,200 students were served. Researchers conclude that students are willing to apply to selective colleges when they (1) have an opportunity to learn about the options available to them; (2) engage in the college application process early enough to meet important deadlines; and (3) have support and encouragement along the way.

As a former high school teacher who often felt ill-prepared to offer advice to college-bound students, I wish I...

The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, best known for its scholarship programs for low-income gifted students in high school and college, has entered into the policy realm by beating the drum on an important issue—closing the excellence gap. Gifted-education expert Jonathan Plucker and his coauthors grade states on how they educate an oft-forgotten class of learners: high-performing, low-income students. (We at Fordham often refer to high-achieving students as high flyers.)

The report assesses states on inputs, which include requiring the identification of gifted students, providing services for them, and establishing pro-acceleration policies. Predictably, but still dishearteningly, not one state earned an A for providing needed support for their low-income high-flyers. On average, states only implement three of nine desirable policies, and no state implements more than six. Only two states require gifted education coursework in teacher or administrator training. The best grade, a B-, went to Minnesota, in part because it requires gifted students to be identified and given services.

Helpfully, the report also grades states on outputs. It reports the number of their students who reached “Advanced” on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) assessments or scored a three or higher on Advanced Placement exams (not necessarily the best proxies for measuring outcomes for high flyers). Massachusetts leads the pack, with 18 percent of students scoring Advanced on eighth-grade math assessments—but only 6 percent of those qualified for free or reduced-price lunch. This excellence gap needs fixing, and the authors warn that “without more deliberate focus on...

Today, the Senate HELP Committee is considering the bipartisan ESEA reauthorization bill crafted by Senators Alexander and Murray.

This legislation represents a very smart compromise on the key issue of accountability. What happens in committee, on the floor, and beyond is anyone’s guess. But the current language is, in my view, the best proposal we’ve seen for solving the problem that’s held up ESEA reauthorization for ages.

In February, I created a graphic showing how the various proposals on the table handled the various elements of accountability. The major plans followed one of three approaches. The middle path (between a beefed-up federal role and an emaciated one) was staked out by state-oriented groups including CCSSO, NGA, and NCSL. I called this “Accountability for Results.”

The Alexander-Murray bill is in this mold, though with a couple of notable adjustments.

Like many other plans, it keeps NCLB’s suite of tests. But it makes a very important, very interesting, and very compelling amendment to NCLB’s aspirational target of all students reaching proficiency in each grade by a certain date. Instead, it requires states to create accountability plans so that all kids are on track to reach college and career readiness by high school graduation.

This approach ensures that we continue focusing on the needs of all kids. It also maintains a high bar for...

Everyone is right to laud the impressive work of Senate HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander and ranking member Patty Murray in producing a strong bipartisan bill to update the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). But it has a significant flaw that needs mending before it becomes law, and it might be up to House Republicans to do the fixing.

The problem, in a nutshell, is that it puts enormous pressure on the states to set utopian goals. That, in turn, will result in most schools being declared failures (and/or create pressure for states to water down their standards), which is exactly what happened under NCLB.

At issue is a true dilemma for policymakers: There seems to be an irresistible urge in education to set aspirational goals. There’s nothing wrong with that, per se—stirring, “shoot for the moon” rhetoric can be motivational and galvanize action. But as Rick Hess and Checker Finn have explained, when it’s time to create accountability systems, policymakers must sober up. If they set unrealistic, unreachable goals, the people working in the system will grow cynical and disillusioned—the opposite of motivated.

Senator Alexander’s discussion draft bill got this balance right. (So does the House Republicans’ Student Success Act.) It started with the moonshot: State accountability systems will “ensure that all students graduate from high school prepared for postsecondary education or the workforce without the need for remediation.” That’s a fantastic aspiration. But it’s not going to happen, not in the 5–10 years...

I’m back from a week’s vacation and pleased to find that ESEA reauthorization is still (if just barely) alive. The release of a compromise bill from Senate HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander and ranking member Patty Murray gives me an excuse to bring back my beloved color-coded ESEA table.

The last time we checked, when Chairman Alexander published his discussion draft, it looked like this:

After negotiating with Senator Murray, it now looks like this (items that moved are in bold):

(* These were in the Alexander discussion draft too; I had them in the wrong column last time. My apologies.
** The School Improvement Grants program is officially gone, though the bill [like Alexander’s discussion draft] does include a large state set-aside for school “interventions and supports.”
)

So what’s the big news? First, federally mandated teacher evaluations are dead as a doorknob, as are requirements that states adopt a particular type of standard (read: Common Core). That’s good news on both fronts, as Uncle Sam has become a monkey on the backs of these reforms. Second, as most of us predicted, annual tests are here to stay. (The House Republicans’ bill keeps them, too.) Third, Senator Murray rescued the “maintenance of effort” requirement, though Republicans succeeded in adding some flexibility for states and districts. She also kept a handful of...

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