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.

OPINION

During a high-visibility Supreme Court hearing last week on the Fisher v. University of Texas admissions case, Justice Scalia made some ill-considered comments on race in higher education: "There are those who contend that it does not benefit African Americans to get them into the University of Texas, where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less advanced school, a slower-track school where they do well." Then, referencing a case filing, he added, “One of the briefs pointed out that most of the black scientists in this country don't come from schools like the University of Texas,” he said. “They come from lesser schools where they do not feel that they're being pushed ahead in classes that are too fast for them.”

Myriad commentators went after him. Others came to his defense. And still others landed somewhere in-between. We don’t view Scalia as a racist, but there’s no denying that his statements can be interpreted as suggesting that black kids are inescapably destined for the slow track. It’s not surprising that people are offended.

It ought to go without saying, but of course there is nothing inherently inferior about poor and minority...

Here at Fordham, you can usually find us gleefully dinging New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on his education policies. When he was first pushing his universal pre-K initiative a few years back, we argued that he should have tailored the program more narrowly to the kids who needed it most. And please don’t get us started on hizzoner’s ill-advised tussle with Eva Moskowitz and high-performing charters. But that’s the duty of a gadfly: to have fun critiquing powerful figures when they veer off course.

Now I’m doing the opposite by unhappily conceding that de Blasio is absolutely correct, at least on one issue. It doesn’t particularly grieve me to find myself in agreement with the mayor personally; I’m just deflated about the issue of our concurrence—namely school safety. The mayor is obviously and tragically right that private and religious schools should be afforded public funds to pay for security personnel. The city council made the right decision in passing a bill that would make $20 million available for that purpose, and de Blasio deserves credit for lending it his support.

In an ideal world, education commentators—to say nothing of the students whose interests we try to promote—would be able to...

NOTE: Chad Aldis addressed the Ohio Board of Education in Columbus this afternoon. These are his written remarks in full.

Thank you, President Gunlock and state board members, for allowing me to offer public comment today.

My name is Chad Aldis. I am the vice president for Ohio policy and advocacy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education-oriented nonprofit focused on research, analysis, and policy advocacy with offices in Columbus, Dayton, and Washington, D.C. I testified to you in September urging the state to quickly and thoroughly implement the charter school provisions contained in HB 2. I also emphasized during my testimony the importance of moving quickly to get the sponsor performance review (SPR)—which was required by legislation passed in 2012, but took three years to develop and pilot—back on track. The success of Ohio’s recent reforms lie heavily on the SPR, so the department deserves tremendous credit for installing an independent panel to review the SPR and draft recommendations quickly. It is a strong sign that the department is serious about implementation and sponsor quality.

We are pleased to say that we agree with many of the recommendations and commend the panel for its thorough...

It’s difficult to get your arms around the idea of suspending a three- or four-year-old from preschool. For most of us (if we’re even able to remember back that far), pre-K discipline basically meant quiet time in the corner, miserably sulking while our friends laughed and colored. Sending a child away from class, whether for a few hours or a few days, just seems disproportionate to the level of mischief we’d expect from one so young. That cognitive dissonance perhaps accounts the tone of disbelief in Melinda Anderson’s recent Atlantic article on the subject. Tallying a spate of seemingly frivolous dismissals for offenses like potty accidents and inconsolable crying—fairly common occurrences among the juicebox set, we can probably agree—she warns that “toddlers are racking up punishments that leave many parents and child experts bewildered.”

She’s not wrong. More and more commentators are wondering what transgression could possibly warrant suspension for pupils still sporting pull-ups. The key evidence in Anderson’s own piece is the story of Tunette Powell, a mother of two sons who were suspended from their preschool a combined eight times. Powell originally wrote about her experiences in a widely discussed Washington Post piece  touching on some of the same issues that have colored the discipline...

Based on a national sample of thirty-seven thousand public school teachers, this report from the National Center for Education Statistics’s School and Staffing Survey (SASS) looks at teacher autonomy in the classroom during the 2003–04, 2007–08, and 2011–12 school years. The news in brief: Teachers are somewhat less likely to feel that they have a great deal of autonomy than they have been in the past. But they still report a degree of professional freedom that most of us would surely envy.

To measure autonomy, researchers asked teachers how much “actual control” they have in their classrooms over six areas of planning and teaching: selecting textbooks and other classroom materials; content, topics, and skills to be taught; teaching techniques; evaluating and grading students; disciplining students; and determining the amount of homework to be assigned. Teacher autonomy is “positively associated with teachers’ job satisfaction and teacher retention,” the report notes. Those who perceive that they have less autonomy are “more likely to leave their positions, either by moving from one school to another or leaving the profession altogether.”

With nearly three out of four teachers still reporting a “great deal” of autonomy (down from 82 percent in 2003–04), it hardly seems...

  • To everyone except the students and educators who labor to start them, high-performing charter schools must seem like fully formed miracle factories. They sprout from Mark Zuckerberg’s largesse, produce outstanding academic results, and win facilities conflicts with crusading big-city mayors. This week, the Hechinger Report spins the incredible (and incredibly detailed) story of how these places actually come together. In three interlocking narratives focused on a first-time principal, a veteran teacher, and an incoming freshman, the account details the emergence of Brooklyn Ascend High in the daunting Brownsville neighborhood of New York City. The school, organized around an ideal of civic service and employing a nontraditional discipline structure, offers an ideal backdrop against which to examine the challenges of establishing an academic culture and galvanizing a faculty. For readers who wonder why more charter profiles can’t offer the fractured perspectives and compelling mystery of Rashomon, here’s your (regrettably samurai-less) answer.
  • The Texas Board of Education rules over the state’s textbooks like a juice-drunk toddler rules over his sandbox: utterly, and hilariously. If they’re not pondering the knotty question of whether to include creationism in science curriculum (guess I thought Spencer Tracy settled that one), they’re helpfully reinserting
  • ...

Our friend and colleague Mike Petrilli is right about many things, but he’s wrong to dismiss solid interstate comparisons of academic performance as a “nice to have,” not a “must-have.” He acknowledges that the Common Core standards have largely failed to usher in an era of timely, valid, and informative comparisons, but then he says, in effect, never mind, we still have NAEP, PISA, and other measures by which to know how one state is doing academically versus another and in comparison with the country as a whole.

It is indeed a good thing that we have those other measures because it’s true that the Common Core era has failed to deliver on what many of us saw as one of its most valuable and important features: a platinum meter stick to be used to measure, monitor, and compare student achievement, not just between states but also among districts, individual schools, even individual classrooms and children. That’s how the superintendent in Springfield, Illinois, could determine how his schools—even just his fifth-graders—compare with their counterparts in Springfield, Oregon, Springfield, Ohio, and Springfield, Massachusetts, both in absolute achievement and in academic growth trajectories in math and English. That’s how a principal...

Nancy Brynelson, Corley Dennison, Daniel Doerger, Jacqueline E. King, William Moore, and Faith Muirhead

As states have implemented college and career readiness standards, it has sometimes been assumed that most of the work and attention has occurred at the elementary grades. In truth, many states have been working for some time to ensure that grade twelve prepares all students for post-secondary success. Programs like AP, IB, and dual enrollment are the most touted offerings for well-prepared students. But there has also been a great effort to create courses for students who are not yet college-ready and who can use senior year to close academic gaps and avoid the remedial instruction that so often acts as a drain on the time, finances, and morale of ascending college students. Just last month, the Fordham Institute held an event called “Pre-medial Education” that discussed ways to bring high school-based college readiness programs to scale.

For colleges and universities, “fixing” remediation is a major priority. According to Complete College America, three out of five students entering community colleges and one out of five students entering four-year institutions require remediation. The vast majority of these students (78 percent at community colleges and 63 percent at four-year institutions) do not go on to successfully complete gateway credit-bearing courses....

Ohio is one of fifteen states with an automatic closure law for low-performing charter schools, meant to serve as a minimum floor for performance and clean up the sector during an era when bad schools proliferated and authorizers failed to close them.[1]

Ohio’s academic death penalty for charter schools has been described as the “toughest in the nation.” In reality, it’s had minimal impact on either the number of schools closed or the number of students affected. A current three-year safe harbor on closure (among other sanctions) makes it all the more anemic. In its early days, it may have motivated some charter school authorizers to intervene and prevent their schools from facing a similar fate, but it hasn’t curbed poor oversight decisions among some authorizers in the nine years since the law was enacted.

Even so, accountability advocates needn’t be concerned or press for a stronger closure law. All in all, Ohio is a case study for how a minimum performance threshold for charter schools by itself doesn’t lead to wide-scale sector improvement. Our experience shows that direct state intervention cannot accomplish much and that strong accountability controls on charter...

As 2015 comes to a close, the long-awaited reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act will likely soon become a reality. Among many proposed changes is the jettisoning of the federal waiver requirement mandating teacher evaluations. Before critics rejoice and demand an immediate end to the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System (OTES), it would be wise to remember why evaluations were instituted in the first place: Several research studies indicate that while teacher quality isn't the only factor affecting student achievement, it is a significant one. Ensuring that all students have a good teacher is a worthy and important goal; without a system to evaluate and differentiate effective teachers from ineffective ones, though, it is impossible to achieve. It’s also worth noting that many of the evaluation systems that existed prior to federal waivers—those that were solely observation-based—failed to get the job done. Teacher evaluations have come a long way.

That being said, Ohio’s system needs some serious work. Fortunately, fixing evaluation policies isn’t without precedent: In 2012, only 30 percent of Tennessee teachers felt that teacher evaluations were conducted fairly. In 2015, after the Tennessee Department of Education ...

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