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 Cristo Rey Network comprises twenty-eight private schools serving 9,000 students nationwide. Ninety-six percent of network students are minority (largely Hispanic), and 100 percent are economically disadvantaged (defined as households earning less than 75 percent of the national median income). The schools utilize an innovative education model that honors its Catholic roots while simultaneously embracing new ways of preparing economically disadvantaged high school students for future success. This report from the Lexington Institute profiles the Cristo Rey model and looks at how—despite great success—the laudable network is still searching for ways to improve. A defining feature of the schools is a work-study program that requires students to work at least one day a week in the community while keeping up with rigorous high school coursework. In lieu of wages, companies donate money to the schools that’s used to cover most of the operating costs. More than 2,000 employers invested upwards of $44 million in 2013–14, lowering the average tuition costs for parents to $1,000 annually. Other features include extended school days and school years and a summer preparatory program that focuses on both academic and work skills. The results are impressive: All 1,400 of Cristo Rey's 2014 graduates were accepted to college, and 90 percent enrolled. Nevertheless, refusing to rest on its laurels, the network’s newest school—Cristo Rey San Jose Jesuit—is the first to utilize a blended-learning approach that integrates technology into math, English, Spanish, science, social studies, and even religion. Still in its infancy, the experiment has already...

This study, conducted by economists at the University of Toronto, examines the impact of a comprehensive Canadian academic and social support program for at-risk youth called Pathways to Education. The voluntary program starts with a contract, signed by the youngsters and their and parents, that requires each student to participate in twice-monthly meetings with a “support worker” who helps the children deal with any academic or social issues that arise during their high school careers. Participants must also attend free weekly tutoring and group activities such as sporting events, cooking classes, and community recycling projects. They receive career counseling, college transition assistance, free transportation, and college scholarships up to $4,000. Its beneficiaries, who live in the largest public housing project in Toronto, are asked to participate prior to their ninth-grade year; between 80 and 96 percent of eligible students register. Authors compared outcomes before and after the introduction of the program to outcomes for students who resided in other Toronto public housing projects and also attended Toronto high schools between 2000 and 2007, which comprised roughly 6,900 students. In the end, it works: Pathways to Education puts poor kids on a better life trajectory. Five-year high school graduation rates increased from about 38 to 58 percent, and postsecondary enrollment rates increased by more than 50 percent. The program was expanded to two other sites in 2007, and those sites saw an immediate 10 percent increase in high school graduation rates and a similar increase in post-secondary enrollment. (College graduation data...

Last week, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute teamed up with the London-based Education Foundation to host a conference, “School Leadership: Lessons from England”; to publish a new paper by University of Pennsylvania professor Jonathan Supovitz and the Center for Policy Research in Education, Building a Lattice for School Leadership: The Top-to-Bottom Rethinking of Leadership Development in England and What It Might Mean for American Education; and to release a short documentary, Leadership Evolving: New Models of Preparing School Heads.

The catalyst for all three was the aggressive reform effort of the English government over the past decade to revamp that country’s approach to school leadership. At the center of the reform is the eminently sensible idea that school leadership needs to be a team endeavor.

No, it’s not a new idea. There’s been plenty of discussion about “distributed leadership” on both sides of the pond for years. But while we’ve mostly jawboned the idea, the Brits got busy doing it.

What they did in particular was clarify and formalize three levels of school leadership, each with distinct roles and responsibilities: headteachers who lead schools (equivalent to the principal’s role in the U.S.), senior leaders or deputy heads who assist the headteacher (similar to the vice principal role in American education, but with additional school-wide responsibilities), and middle leaders responsible for the quality...

President Obama’s contempt for the Constitution, and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s unfortunate disregard of that document, have been loudly and justly decried by critics of executive overreach. Less heralded, but equally troubling, is the mission creep of the Office for Civil Rights as it works to reshape the education world and to right whatever alleged wrongs it thinks it sees.

All of these officials and agencies are seeking to accomplish policy goals that they believe are good for America, and I’m not impugning their motives. But they are playing fast and loose with their job descriptions and responsibilities under law.

Much has been written and said about Obama and Duncan. Let’s focus here on OCR. Mike Petrilli has already exposed the folly of the agency’s witch hunt for disparate impact in school discipline and explained the challenges it will pose for educators trying to run schools that are conducive to learning. In the matter of sexual harassment, I and others have written about the ill-conceived substitution of university conduct codes, unreasonable evidentiary standards, and star-chamber procedures for longstanding law-enforcement practices. (This carries more than a whiff of hypocrisy, as those whom the government is “protecting” are the selfsame students who would bridle at any effort to constrain their freedom to have sex, get drunk, and skip class.)

The most recent exercise of mission creep and nanny-statism by OCR, and not yet adequately exposed, involves what the enforcers call “equal access to educational resources.” These include gifted-and-talented programs within schools as well as...

WE DON'T NEED NO STINKIN' DATA
“There shouldn’t be a whole movement out of charters the month before the test,” said NYC schools chancellor Carmen Fariña last week, implying that some charters are manipulating test scores by pushing struggling students out of their schools prior to testing. Her statements have charter operators and advocates incensed, and many are calling for the chancellor to produce data to substantiate her remarks. “Unless she can back up this statement with facts,” said Jeremiah Kittredge of Families for Excellent Schools, “she should withdraw it.”

WONK ALERT
Teachers are trying out a new way to prepare students for tests through a strategy known as interleaving, or mixing problems and concepts. In studies, students who completed homework in mixed sets performed better on final assessments than those who received traditional “blocked” problems. Psychologists also say students better retain information when they teach to peers. 

DRILLING FOR DEGREES
Amidst multi-year budget cuts to higher education across the country, two states have managed to buck the trend: those profligate spenders Alaska and North Dakota. Flush with newfound petrodollars, both states have sunk millions into their state schools in the hopes of improving job prospects for their citizens. Though Alaska’s spending surge has been more modest, North Dakota has increased per-pupil spending by nearly 40 percent in the last six years.

PROFILE IN COWARDICE
The Hechinger Report has a terrific look at Common Core implementation at Andrew Johnson Elementary School...

LICENSE TO FAIL
The pass rate for teacher-licensing exams is usually about 90 percent. However, only 68 percent of candidates passed New York’s new licensing test, which emphasizes understanding of the new Common Core ELA standards and ability to instruct English language learners and special needs students. This data comes at a time when many argue that teaching licenses are awarded too easily, resulting in too many unprepared teachers in America’s classrooms.

NEW LOOK FOR AFFIRMATIVE ACTION FOES
NPR has a fascinating story on the novel approach taken by an organization militating against prevailing affirmative action policies. The Project for Fair Representation, run by activist Edward Blum, charges that Asian American applicants are disproportionately kept out of elite institutions like Harvard and the University of North Carolina by racial balancing formulae that arbitrarily cap the number of spaces allotted to students of their ethnicity. If true, the allegation would confirm some of the arguments in Ron Unz’s mammoth study of the corruption of Ivy League admissions

TRUTH TO POWER
During a panel with fellow Republican...

John Chubb

[Editor's note: This is the fifth post in our latest blog series by John Chubb, "Building a Better Leader: Lessons from New Principal Leadership Development Programs." See herehere, here, and here for prior posts.]

It's one thing to practice skills in the controlled environment of a residency; it is quite another to practice when you are formally in charge of a school. Each of the alternative leadership programs examined in this blog series recognizes this truth and provides its graduates various kinds of support, sometimes as long as five years. Much as research has demonstrated about teaching—that teachers tend to become more effective over the first four or five years in the classroom—the same is likely true of school leaders: Their first few years in the position may be when the job is mastered (or not). These exemplar programs try to make those early years an additional learning experience.

This is hardly a new idea. Many school systems provide some sort of coaching or...

Maybe it's because I just saw Interstellar last weekbut after a weekend-long Twitter battle with American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten and her defenders, I can't help but think that some of them are living in an alternate universe. For those who haven't heard, teachers unions are outraged at this Time Magazine cover story last month by Haley Sweetland Edwards. It wasn't so much the story as the cover that many public union supporters just couldn't get past. The magazine even pulled the story out from behind its paywall so the distraught union tweeters could do more than judge the magazine by the cover, but to no avail. Weeks later, the howls of outrage continue unabated.

I’d mostly ignored the story until this point, but I couldn’t help but respond to Weingarten’s assertion over the weekend that “@TIME’s ‘rotten apples’ cover was a personal attack on educators.” First, it seemed contradictory that the cover could be a “personal” attack on educators generally, but the bigger question was why exactly this was so threatening and outrageous? Michelle Malkin’s Twitchy site did a solid job of covering the blow-by-blow from there, but now that the Twitter armies have moved on to other matters, the question remains: Why does the AFT seem so determined to keep this phony controversy alive? 

Now, it’s important to recognize...

CAPITAL OF CHOICE
According to new data, school choice is working incredibly well in D.C., where nearly half of public school students attend charters. Parents are exercising their freedom of choice, and it’s showing: Excellent charters are growing and underperforming charters are closing. This is a big win for charter advocates, as it goes to show that, when done well, school choice can lead to better outcomes for students. For more on this story, read Andy Smarick’s characteristically smart new post.

A NATION OF IMMIGRANTS...AND STUDENTS
When President Obama rolls out his executive action on immigration in a primetime address this evening, those of us involved in education must consider how his plans will affect students with undocumented parents. This Huffington Post article outlines how the new immigration policies might create some stability in these children’s home lives by assuaging fear of parental deportation. 

EVERYTHING IN ITS PLACE
School reformers talk about changing a lot in education: School financing, governance, teacher quality, school size, accountability, testing, the works. We don’t talk a lot about where most learning is done—that is, the physical space of the classroom. Lennie Scott-Webber offers a terrific take on how the arrangement of learning stations can affect the way students learn.

PROFILE OF THE WEEK
The Hechinger Report has the heartrending story of D’Andre (last name withheld), a twelve-year-old raised by his grandmothers in Newark. The long profile depicts his splintered family life, zeal for learning, and...

Gabriel Sanchez Zinny

Educational systems around the world are in a critical state. Nearly everywhere, they struggle with poor-quality schools, persistent inequality, and local administrations with restricted budgets—which all combine to compromise the educational opportunities of a large portion of the student-age population.

These worrisome trends are reinforced in emerging economies, like those of Latin America. The region has seen over a decade of sustained growth and growing middle classes, and as the burgeoning “knowledge society” is impacting every sector, these expanded middle classes are demanding better education and greater opportunity.

While Latin America trails behind most of the world in its education performance, there are a number of governments taking the initiative in confronting these challenges. Leading this group are Chile, Colombia, and recently Mexico, where President Enrique Pena Nieto has successfully pushed for deep education reforms. While passing legislation cost significant political capital, and on paper the measures—including reforming the teacher tenure system—look very positive, the ultimate impact on the quality of learning will depend greatly on the implementation and follow-through of subsequent governments.

But perhaps the most surprising recent phenomenon in Latin America has been the extent to which the non-government sector, including entrepreneurs, companies, and investors, is getting involved in education. Among these disparate groups, there is a new awareness of the importance of education and an unprecedented understanding that the region’s previous commodities-based, export-led, low productivity economic model will not be enough to advance to the next stage of development. Instead, to achieve more competitiveness and...

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