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.

  • On Monday, the Ohio House Education Committee approved a bill to limit annual state testing of students to four hours for any given subject. Notwithstanding the legitimate concerns that have led to such a push, placing a statutory limit is ill advised for at least three reasons. First, it’s a feel-good fix that may not solve the issue of over-testing (rampant test prep takes up geometrically more class time than the test themselves). Second, state accountability systems—the ability to say whether a student or a school is succeeding—are important and depend on assessment results. Third and finally, if we’re going to maintain test-based accountability, we should ensure that we use high-quality tests, and that requires flexibility. Having only one four-hour, super-high-stakes exam each year doesn’t allow for that.
  • The seventeen member states of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, one of the two federally funded groups tasked with creating Common Core–aligned assessments, have approved initial achievement levels for the math and English language arts/literacy tests. Such cutoffs, which are used on other major tests—such as NAEP, PISA, and TIMSS—are important starting points for discussions about performance expectations, progress, and achievement gaps. And to that end, the consortium also approved a position paper that teachers, principals, parents, and other stakeholders can use to better interpret results. Moreover, SBAC expects more than half of kids to score below “proficient”—indicating that they are setting the bar reasonably high. It’s a major step on the country’s path to higher standards.
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At present, there are a myriad of initiatives aiming to attract and keep good teachers in so-called STEM subjects. But even if the U.S. doubled recruitment of top talent, cut top teacher attrition in half, and tripled the rate at which ineffective teachers are dismissed, this brief by Public Impact estimates about 60 percent of classrooms would still be without skilled STEM educators—those who can help students make an extra half-year of progress every year, on average, compared with typical teachers. Public Impact proposes to fix this by applying its Opportunity Culture initiative to STEM teachers. Schools identify their top teachers, expand their reach, and pay them more, within budget. These expansion efforts, which would apply to only the best STEM educators, include larger class sizes; streaming and/or recording lessons so that other students can watch remotely; ensuring that teachers only teach their best subjects; and augmenting class time with digital instruction to improve learning and maximize class size. The putative STEM superstar teachers would also be tasked with leading teams of less effective teachers, creating in-school STEM teams. Leaders would determine team curricula and tailor each teacher’s role to his or her strengths. Thirty schools in four districts located in three states are piloting the idea, says the report. By the fifth year, a “multi-classroom leader” directing a math or science team while continuing to teach could in theory earn a salary supplement of up to $23,000—not enough to close the STEM pay gap entirely, the authors say,...

By recording every utterance in a few dozen homes with small children and doing a little math, University of Kansas child psychologists Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley uncovered a startling and sobering fact twenty years ago: Children of professional classes hear about 30 million more words by the age of three than the children of families on public assistance. That’s before any of them, rich or poor, set foot in kindergarten for the first time. The constant patter of verbal adults sets off a virtuous circle of language growth for affluent kids (the more words you know, the easier it is to learn even more), but for the poor it’s a vicious one. Since then, various intensive and expensive interventions—from programs in pediatricians’ offices to home visits—have attempted to get low-income parents to speak, read, and engage in more home literacy activities with their children. A cheaper and more effective plan may be at hand—actually, in your hand. The National Bureau of Economic Research finds significant positive effects of READY4K!, a text-messaging program designed to encourage parents of preschoolers to support their children’s literacy development. Participating parents receive three text messages each week during the school year suggesting they try a particular early literacy skill (“Say two words to your child that start with the same sound, like happy & healthy. Ask: can you hear the ‘hhh’ sound in happy & healthy?”). The texts increased the frequency that parents told stories, pointed out rhyming words, or engaged in similar...

For all the talk about the importance of recruiting the most talented teachers to our schools, there’s surprisingly little data about whether the tools districts use to vet candidates can actually predict anything about outcomes later down the road. This study by Dan Goldhaber and colleagues explores the predictive validity of hiring rubrics used in Spokane Public Schools. Teacher candidates in Spokane go through three steps before being hired: First they are pre-screened based on a rubric that assesses their experience and skills. The applicants who pass are then evaluated by additional screeners and principals using a more detailed evaluation rubric that assesses would-be teachers on ten criteria, including certification, training, classroom management, instructional skills, interpersonal skills, etc. Those results are then used to select candidates for in-person interviews. Analysts compared results from hired teachers to those not hired but employed elsewhere in the state. They merged a variety of teacher demographic and outcome data with the hiring data and found that the screening tools predict teacher value added in student achievement, as well as teacher attrition. Specifically, a one-standard-deviation increase in the score on the more comprehensive tool is associated with approximately a 0.07 standard deviation increase in math achievement, up to a 0.05 standard deviation bump in reading, and a decrease in attrition by roughly 2.5 percentage points. Of the subcomponents on the rubric, a few areas have the strongest relationship to teacher effectiveness: They include classroom management for both reading and math—and, for math only, it’s instructional...

On November 11th, the Fordham Institute’s Chester E. Finn, Jr. addressed a private meeting of reform-minded Catholic education leaders and philanthropists. What follows is adapted from his remarks on that occasion.

Two big changes in American education policy over the past several decades have been good for the country and for kids in general, but not particularly good for Catholic schools, especially the urban variety.

First, families now have myriad choices, many different kinds of schools and ways of getting educated, so we no longer take for granted that our child will go to your neighborhood or parish school. Second, we now judge schools by their results, not by their inputs, intentions, or reputations, and we’re increasingly hard-nosed about those results, looking—probably too much—at test scores and graduation rates and such.

Both of these changes have tended to leave Catholic schools behind. With some worthy exceptions, their leaders haven’t tried very hard to take advantage of them. They haven’t been nimble or enterprising in making use of the opportunities presented by new forms of publicly supported choice. Nor have they—or private schools generally—done well in accommodating the shift to judging schools by quantifiable and comparable outcomes.

Integral to both big shifts has been the creation of uniform, statewide, grade-by-grade academic standards. Accompanying those standards are statewide assessments, followed by complicated reporting and accountability schemes. In some places, Catholic schools must participate in these, usually as...

ON TRACK FOR SEGREGATION?
A recent press release from the U.S. Department of Education declared that tracking students by ability perpetuates a system of segregated schools and adds to the widening achievement gap. Because white students are more likely to enroll in gifted talented and classes from an early age, black and Latino students fall behind and are separated for the remainder of their schooling. In related news, Fordham’s fearless President Michael J. Petrilli passed withering judgment on the department’s approach to achievement gaps just a few days ago.

UNCOMMON POSITION 
As outlined in the Wall Street Journal, education might be a decisive issue if Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida and perpetually embittered little brother, chooses to run for president. Bush’s outspoken support of Common Core (he is, after all, the chairman of an education think tank that has been unabashedly pro-standards) puts him at an uncomfortable distance from his natural base: As of October, 58 percent of GOP parents oppose Common Core.

KIDS TODAY
You’ve heard about the millenial kids, right? The trophy kids living in their parents’ basement? The “Me Me Me Generation” (real original, Time magazine)? Yeah, those guys. Using data from the Census, Department of Labor, and the Pew Research Center, NPR has put together a nice generational profile of the latest batch of young people to be dismissed as ungrateful little twerps. In brief: They're...

John Chubb

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

Our fourth lesson takes its title from a hit song by George Harrison, which doubles as an apt summary of the operational philosophy of all of the exemplar leadership programs explored earlier in this series. Conventional principal preparation programs take time, too—the time to earn sufficient credits for a master’s degree. But alternative programs are all about practice, practice, and more practice. Practice cannot be rushed. Practice takes time. Practice is in addition to whatever course requirements may be necessary for licensure as a school administrator.

Each of the examined programs in this series is based on a residency model of training. Much like medical training, they emphasize supervised practice for honing leadership skills. The New York City Aspiring Principals Program (APP) places candidates in residencies for a full academic year in a single school, with a one-month stay in another city school. Chicago’s Urban Education Leadership (UELP) also lasts a full year, with candidates playing different roles in receiving schools depending on their level of leadership experience. Building Excellent Schools (BES) Fellows spend two years preparing to open their schools, with much of...

SURVEY SAYS
It’s been nearly six months since the Vergara decision declared California’s state tenure and seniority laws unconstitutional. A recent Education Next survey asked how teachers rate their colleagues and, perhaps indirectly, how they feel about the consequential decision. Teachers gave high marks for 69 percent of their colleagues and gave low or failing marks to 12 percent. And as it turns out, only 41 percent of teachers favor tenure and also believe it should not be tied to student performance.

ADMISSION ISN'T ENOUGH
The National Student Clearinghouse reports that the proportion of students graduating from college has declined since 2008, when the economic recession hit its low point. Of students who enrolled in either two-year or four-year degree paths, only 55 percent graduated within six years. Clearinghouse directors suggest universities focus on helping already-enrolled students reach the finish line instead of attracting prospective applicants.

HOW A BILL BECOMES A LAW
After months of stagnation in the Senate, the Child Care Development Block Grant was passed Monday evening, updating safety standards for child care...

Flanner House Elementary, an Indianapolis charter school, closed just weeks into the 2014–15 school year by a vote of its board (under heavy pressure from the mayor’s office, which was the school’s sponsor) after an investigation revealed widespread cheating on tests in previous years. This seems like a prudent course of action, given the information known and despite the havoc it wreaked on the lives of its students. A protracted closure process would have been far worse for them.

The most striking thing about this story is the praise received by the mayor’s office in the wake of the closure decision. As reported in Education Week

[The Indianapolis mayor's office]…assigned charter-office employees to communicate with parents on a biweekly basis.

"We had a tracker that listed when we called families, the nature of that communication, next steps that we agreed to, and then we worked with those families to meet their needs," which included buying school supplies and new uniforms, Mr. Brown said.

The mayor's office also hosted two enrollment fairs where parents could talk with leaders from nearly 30 schools and could enroll their children on the spot.

"What we saw is that we had a lot of angry families at first that, over time, came to really value the support we gave them, to the point that we had multiple families call our office and say, 'We are so thankful that you made this decision,' " said Mr. Brown. "We didn't feel...

MORE ON COMMON CORE READING
NPR has wrapped up its four-part series on Common Core reading with a great look at a classroom of Washington, D.C. fifth graders picking their way through American history readers. The complexity of their standards-aligned texts—which require the students to answer questions using evidence from the reading—should challenge them to read more closely and develop an appetite for greater difficulty. Fordham’s incomparable tandem of Robert Pondiscio and Kevin Mahnken tackled this aspect of the literacy wars back in September.

BUT WHO WILL INVENT SELF-WRITING PERSONAL ESSAY SOFTWARE?
As high school seniors are beginning to make college plans, tech companies are stepping up to provide more tools to do so. Among them, LinkedIn’s new University Finder helps students identify schools with high grad-employment rates with certain companies, and Parchment.com purports to show students their chances of getting into their top schools. Check out the other online tools and pass them along to college-seeking seniors.

FORDHAM BOOK CLUB
Newsweek’s Abigail Jones talks to John Demos about the strange story of the Heathen School, chronicled in the historian’s 2014 book of the same name. Opened in Connecticut 1817, the Foreign Mission School (as it was officially known) sought to educate and convert American Indians as well as immigrants from China, Hawaii, and India. Local prejudice doomed the project from the start, and Andrew Jackson’s obsession with Indian removal...

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