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.

I’m excited about a recent shift in the reform conversation. After years of focusing on Common Core, common assessments, and teacher evaluation, many of those interested in large-scale K–12 improvements are turning their attention back to state accountability systems.

The Obama administration’s ESEA waiver policy had the potential to spur imaginative state-level thinking. But thanks to a combination of NCLB’s legal strictures, the administration’s fixation on particular policy conditions, and state leaders who just wanted to get out from under AYP ASAP, the new state systems look a whole lot like the old ones. (In fairness, some states have smartly experimented with A–F systems and “super subgroups.”)

Despite this arrested development, I think two important events provide the outlines for a new approach to state-level accountability.

First, under the auspices of CRPE and TBFI, a group of experienced policymakers and thought leaders have penned an “Open Letter on Accountability To State Superintendents and Governors.” It explains and defends K–12 accountability, concedes problems with current systems, and offers eight smart principles for next-generation systems. The group doesn’t get into specifics; instead, it hopes to get people thinking about what’s possible (though within certain guidelines).

This is important because of the second event: Increasingly, people are arguing that a unitary statewide accountability system stymies innovation and fails to capture important elements of schooling that some communities prioritize.

Mike Petrilli has argued that about 10 percent of a state’s public schools should be allowed to “opt...

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ATLANTA’S SHAME
Yesterday saw opening statements in the criminal trial of a dozen Atlanta teachers and administrators who allegedly engaged in a “widespread, cleverly disguised” conspiracy to cheat on standardized test scores “to protect their jobs and win favor and bonuses from administrators,” the New York Times reports.

FORDHAM (AND CRPE) IN THE NEWS
Tom Vander Ark weighs in on the accountability reboot from Fordham-CRPE noting, “I love the idea of a 'good school promise' (best captured by #3) and think it should form the backbone of every states ed code. This list is a good start but doesn't adequately capture the opportunity of next generation learning.”

REFORM: A NEW CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT?
At The Hill, Basil A. Smikle Jr. examines the growing split between ed reformers and unions, with parents caught in the middle: “They also have agency, but there is a growing sense that their support is being appropriated for purposes that go beyond the classroom and their children.”

PATRIOTISM OR CENSORSHIP?
The protests in Jefferson County, Colorado against proposed changes to the history curriculum have engendered some great debates over the place of patriotism in the classroom. A longtime Colorado teacher shares his thoughts in The Denver Post.

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DEMOCRACY REQUIRES PATRIOTISM
“In the long and deadly battle against those who hate Western ideals, and hate America in particular, we must be powerfully armed, morally as well as materially,” writes historian Donald Kagan in a Wall Street Journal op-ed.

THAT’S WHAT I’M TALKIN’ ABOUT
Former President Bill Clinton made waves with “stunning remarks” arguing charters that don’t outperform public schools should be closed. If “stunning” means saying the same thing charter advocates have been saying for twenty years, responds NACSA head Greg Richmond, “then yes, his remarks were stunning.”

“NOBODY WANTS TO BE ATLANTA”
The Wall Street Journal reports on “a burgeoning industry in detecting cheating on standardized exams.” School districts from Delaware to Idaho are hiring anti-cheating consultants, buying software to spot wrongdoers, and requiring testing companies to offer anti-cheating plans when seeking contracts. 

ONCE MORE UNTO THE BREACH
Literacy expert Tim Shanahan enters the fray on teaching with complex text, not just “leveled” text. “Teachers should pay attention to evidence—not opinion,” he writes. Read Fordham’s take by Mahnken and Pondiscio here.    

HISTORY LESSONS
In Philly, students are required to take a one-year course in African American history, but many find the course frustrating, says the New Republic. And teachers “sometimes fear that introducing current events and encouraging interpretation and debate will lead to...

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DEPARTMENT OF GOOD NEWS:
Hispanic children, the fastest growing group of young people in the U.S., are seeing improvements on many academic measures, including increased math proficiency and lower dropout rates.

DEPARTMENT OF BAD NEWS:
The number of charter schools has nearly doubled over the past decade, but federal and state assistance for funding school facilities and renovations, a major obstacle for many charter schools, has declined.

COMMON CORE UNFOLDS IN LOUISIANA:
In spite of the legal furor surrounding the implementation of Common Core in the Pelican State, the standards have seen a mostly encouraging reception in the classroom, Will Sentell reports in the New Orleans Advocate.

YALE BEATS HARVARD, 20.2-15.4:
Yesterday we pointed you to a Wall Street Journal story highlighting Harvard’s somewhat lackluster 15.4 percent investment gains in fiscal 2014; today brings the news that archnemesis Yale posted a 20.2 percent return over the same period. Meanwhile, the Crimson's investment arm has brought on a new chief executive....

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Kevin Mahnken

Among opponents of the Common Core, one of the more popular targets of vitriol is the standards’ focus on improving literacy by introducing higher levels of textual complexity into the instructional mix. The move to challenge students with more knotty, grade-level reading material represents a shift away from decades of general adherence to so-called “instructional level theory,” which encourages children to read texts pitched at or slightly above the student’s individual reading level. New York public school principal Carol Burris, an outspoken standards critic and defender of leveled reading, recently published an anti-Common Core missive on the Washington Post’s Answer Sheet blog that was fairly typical of the form. Where, she wondered, “is the research to support: close reading, increased Lexile levels, the use of informational texts, and other questionable practices in the primary grades?”

The blog post, which has already been intelligently critiqued by Ann Whalen at Education Post, expanded on remarks delivered by Burris earlier this month at an Intelligence Squared U.S. debate with Fordham president Michael Petrilli and former assistant secretary of education Carmel Martin. There, too, she demanded evidence of literacy improvements arising from the use of complex texts.

A fair request and one that warrants a thorough response. But first, for the benefit of readers who are neither teachers nor literacy specialists, a quick explainer on how these two theories of reading work: In leveled reading, a teacher listens as her...

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Every child should be in a school where he or she can learn effectively. That’s not a controversial goal in itself, but the methods meant to accomplish it can become hot buttons. That was the case with No Child Left Behind (NCLB), which made the goal a national policy. It’s also becoming the case with the Common Core, under which states commit to educate children to rigorous standards.

Actions taken in pursuit of the goal are controversial because they are inevitably difficult and complicated. There is a lot of work of many kinds to be done: improving teacher training, experimenting with more effective methods, and continuously enhancing learning opportunities for children. Moreover, none of these tasks are enough by themselves. What ties them together is accountability—the use of standards, measures, judgments, and remedies to ensure that students are making significant progress over time and, if some are not, to ensure that they have access to better opportunities.  

Accountability is where the rubber meets the road. And, thanks to NCLB, we have unprecedented data about schools, students, and teachers. We have a sharper focus on students who are failing in schools that serve the average student well. States and localities have new tests to provide early warning when children are not learning, and have tied these results to remedial action and school closure or replacement.

But we are still struggling to get accountability right. In particular, the current backlash...

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Blended learning, a teaching model in which students learn from both online sources and traditional instruction, has recently seen tremendous growth. Advocates say it can improve brick-and-mortar schools and increase students’ curricular options. A new white paper written for CEE-Trust examines two new blended learning networks created by local, city-based organizations and provides a framework for others who wish to emulate their efforts. Front and center is the work of the Chicago Public Education Fund and the CityBridge Foundation (in cooperation with the NewSchools Venture Fund). The former selected sixteen teams of educators to enroll in their Summer Design Program and provided tools and support that enabled them to better recognize school shortcomings and develop novel ways to offset them—typically through the implementation of blended learning programs. Likewise, CityBridge and NewSchools created the Education Innovation Fellowship to improve the quality of blended learning programs in Washington, D.C. Twelve teachers were chosen to design and implement the model in their classrooms with constant feedback from their peers through CityBridge-organized events. They also took part in workshops and visited schools around the country that are utilizing this type of instruction. Both programs helped foster the development of innovative learning models by creating an environment in which they could succeed, and both organizations shaped their networks around five general considerations: desired outcomes; recruitment, screening, and selection; training and support; external partners; and deciding which entities should pilot the network. The paper argues that these efforts offer a serviceable blueprint for others wishing to...

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To answer the questions in its title, this NBER study analyzes administrative and test score data in the upper elementary grades from one of the country’s largest school districts (not identified). The district provides gifted services to three groups of fourth-grade kids, who are mixed together post-identification: 1) non-disadvantaged students who score at least 130 points on an IQ test, the state cut off for gifted eligibility; 2) English language learners and low-income youngsters with IQs over 116 points (a lower threshold allowed under law for these kids); and 3) a group of non-gifted pupils—called “high achievers”—who scored highest among their school/grade cohort on the state test in the previous year. The third group comprises the bulk of students in the program. The district requires schools to create a gifted classroom whenever there’s at least one identified student in a school/grade cohort (e.g., school A, grade 4). And before a teacher is assigned to such a classroom, he or she must complete a specialized five-course training sequence. Researchers utilize a series of analytic models and find that the program had no effect on the reading or math achievement of the first two groups, the disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged kids identified as gifted by their IQ scores. (These results likely weren’t due to gifted kids “topping out” on state tests, because a mere two percent of the non-disadvantaged kids received the maximum reading score.) The third group, however, enjoyed large, positive achievement gains in math and reading—up to 0.5 standard deviations. Moreover,...

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Our earliest thinkers about education—men like Benjamin Rush, Noah Webster, and Horace Mann—would have found our current obsession with preparing children for college or a career a trifle odd. Given the uncertain prospect of ordinary Americans running their own affairs, they were focused on an entirely different “C”—citizenship. Rush spoke of the need to “convert men into republican machines.” Education was key, he said, “if we expect them to perform their parts properly in the great machine of the government of the state.” Once the impetus, civic education is the forgotten mission of public schools, unloved and—as this report from the American Enterprise Institute correctly observes—increasingly untested. The absence of high-stakes assessments devalues the significance of civics as a subject and sets in motion the dull hum of apathy: no stakes, no urgency, no civic knowledge, no civic engagement. Might high-stakes civics exams help turn young people into informed and engaged voters? David Campbell, a professor of political science and director of the Rooney Center for the Study of American Democracy at the University of Notre Dame, looks at twenty-one states that have some kind of statewide civics assessments. Eleven of those administer a test that’s mandated for graduation or a final grade in a required civics course. These requirements do not appear to influence overall voter turnout or party identification among 18- to 24-year-olds, based on an analysis of voter turnout for the 2012 election. So civics tests don’t matter? Not so fast. A deeper analysis shows that testing appears...

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BACK TO THE SUMMIT
Education Week looks at the 25th anniversary of the famous Charlottesville summit of 1989. The meeting between President George H.W. Bush and the nation's governors helped initiate the national drive for standards in education. 

SAFETY FIRST
School safety is a top concern for Department of Education officials, who recently awarded over $70 million in "Now is the Time" federal grants to districts across the nation. The funds will be put toward implementation of behavior interventions, counseling services, and development of emergency response plans.

PAINTING CURRICULUM RED?
Parents, teachers, and students staged a walkout in a Denver suburb yesterday in protest of a newly proposed curriculum-review committee that would promote patriotism and discourage "civil disorder." Students and teachers from the Jefferson County school district object to the recent edits the conservative school board has made to the history curriculum; subsequent protests have disrupted regular school activity. 

IVY GROWTH
Harvard has posted a 15.4 percent investment return for its endowment in FY 2014, the Wall Street Journal reports. The gains trail those reported by Ivy League rivals Dartmouth (19.2 percent) and the University of Pennsylvania (17.5 percent), as well as the 16.7 percent one-year median for all reported large endowments and foundations....

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