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.

Editor's note: This post originally appeared in a slightly different form at U.S. News & World Report.

I wanted to hate this book.

I’m a bit of an education technology skeptic, but I come by it honestly. No field overpromises and underdelivers more than education. And nowhere within education is that more true than among education tech’s various cheerleaders. For years, we’ve heard innovators, disruptors, and paradigm shifters natter on about twenty-first-century skills, flipped classrooms, and the “school of one.” Meanwhile, the experience of school for most kids remains the same, with the same mediocre outcomes year after year. Read my lips: No new TED Talks.

So I confess that I opened Greg Toppo’s The Game Believes in You with an arched eyebrow. I’m not ready to abandon my skepticism entirely, but Toppo made a persuasive case that games do many of the things we expect schools and teachers to do—differentiate instruction, gather data, and assess performance—and very, very well.

He started to win me over by not making the standard, clichéd education tech enthusiast’s argument about student engagement and “meeting the children where they are.” I don’t think...

Mike Huckabee announced his candidacy for president yesterday, becoming the eighth hopeful to do so and the third Republican in two days. The Republican primary is now a six-person race, compared to the Democrats’ two. And Huckabee is the subject of the seventh installment of the Eduwatch 2016 series chronicling candidates’ stances on today’s biggest education issues.

The forty-fourth governor of Arkansas is very familiar with both politics and presidential campaigns. He started his political career in 1993 as the lieutenant governor of Arkansas. He leveled up to governor in 1996, a gig he held until 2007. Dreaming even bigger, he ran for president in 2008. He considered running in 2012, but ultimately didn’t. And here he is in 2016, back in the mix. His long career has brought many opinions on education, some of which have changed significantly. Here are ten:

1. Common Core (2015): “I also oppose Common Core....We must kill Common Core and restore common...

Carly Fiorina announced Monday that she’s running for president, joining five other hopefuls in the race to win the Republican primary. Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett Packard, isn’t entirely new to politics. In 2010, she received 42 percent of the vote in an unsuccessful bid to unseat Barbara Boxer, the junior U.S. senator from California.

Fiorina is neither a popular talking head nor a seasoned politician, so her stances on the issues aren’t as publicized as those of her competitors. Nevertheless, she’s been pretty vocal the last few months, and her senatorial run necessitated some opining. So in this sixth installment of the Eduwatch 2016 series chronicling candidates’ views on today’s biggest education issues, here are Fiorina’s positions:

1. Common Core: “I don't think Common Core is a good idea. I don't support it.” January 2015.

2. No Child Left Behind: “No Child Left Behind helped us set high standards for our students, and many of our students have met and exceeded that bar.” August 2010.

3. School choice: “Parents should be given choice, competition, and accountability in the classroom.” February 2015.

4. Non-cognitive skills: “Teaching entrepreneurship, innovation, risk taking, and imagination comes with local control, and we have to maintain this...

Ben Carson announced yesterday that he’s running for president. The retired neurosurgeon has never held political office, but he was the first doctor to successfully separate twins conjoined at the head—so there’s that. He’s also the fifth subject in the Eduwatch 2016 series chronicling candidates’ stances on education.

Since his highly publicized speech at the 2013 National Prayer breakfast, Carson has become a popular figure among conservatives. This has afforded him many opportunities to share his views, and education is one of his favorite issues:

1. The importance of education: “Education is the fundamental principle of what makes America a success. It is the foundation of what truly makes our country ‘the Land of Opportunity.’” May 2015.

2. Common Core: “In recent years, there has been a troubling trend of the U.S. Department of Education increasingly...

Bernie Sanders, the socialist senator from Vermont, declared his candidacy for president last week. He’s also the subject of the fourth installment of the Eduwatch 2016 series chronicling presidential candidates’ stances on education issues.

Sanders talks more about higher education than K–12 schooling. Aside from voting against an anti-Common Core amendment back in March, he hasn’t said anything about the controversial standards. And I couldn’t find any reference to school choice. Nevertheless, he hasn’t been silent:

1. Early childhood education: “We must do away with the archaic notion that education begins at four or five years old. For far too long, our society has undervalued the need for high-quality and widely accessible early childhood education.” February 2014.

2. Standardized testing: “Promote creative learning by doing away with 'fill-in-the-bubble' standardized tests, and instead evaluate students based their understanding of the curriculum and their ability to use it creatively.” May 2015.

3....

The education components of Governor Kasich’s proposed budget—and the House's subsequent revisions—made a big splash in Ohio's news outlets. Much of the attention has been devoted to the House’s (unwise) moves to eliminate PARCC funding and their rewrite of Kasich’s funding formula changes. Amidst all this noise, however, are a few other education issues in the House’s revisions that have slipped by largely unnoticed. Let’s examine a few.

Nationally normed vs. criterion-referenced tests

As part of its attempt to get rid of PARCC, the House added text dictating that state assessments “shall be nationally normed, standardized assessments.” This is worrisome, as there is a big difference between norm-referenced and criterion-referenced tests.

A norm-referenced test determines scores by comparing a student’s performance to the entire pool of test takers. Each student’s test score is compared to other students in order to determine their percentile ranking in the distribution of test takers. Examples of norm-referenced tests are the Iowa Test of Basic Skills or the Stanford 10 exams. A criterion-referenced test, on the other hand, is scored on an absolute scale. Instead of being compared to other students, students are compared against a standard of achievement (i.e.,...

In a previous review, my colleagues examined a National Charter School Resource Center (NCSRC) report that analyzed states’ charter policies regarding access to district-owned facilities. In a new report, NCSRC narrows its focus to charter school facilities in California. Golden State charters were asked to complete a survey about their facilities and to allow an on-site measurement; these results were then supplemented by data on school enrollment, student demographics, and funding. The results offer a sobering picture of charter facilities in the state. Charter school facilities are generally smaller than the size recommended by the California Department of Education; classrooms for elementary, middle, and high schools are, on average, between 82 and 89 percent of the state standard size (it is worth nothing that state size standards might not be appropriate for all schools in all situations). Charter facilities as a whole are 60 percent smaller than state site size recommendations, even after adjustments are made for enrollment differences. California charters also spend varying amounts of their per-pupil funding on facilities; charters that own their buildings pay an average of $895 per pupil; charters located in a school district facility pay an average of $285 per pupil; and...

  • There are no fearsome beasts or rings of fire, but Marc Tucker’s newest jeremiad for Education Week is an apocalyptic prophecy worthy of a revival tent. Speculating on the origins of our collapsed standards, Tucker settles on four horsemen of academic mediocrity: grade inflation, the eroding prestige of the teaching profession, a standards movement hijacked by the accountability movement, and the consumer transformation of colleges and universities. Taken together, he claims, these factors have produced four decades of educational stagnation and a climate in which colleges teach high school math—and high schools teach grade grubbing. As Fordham’s own Chester Finn reminds us, we’ve been dumbing down our expectations for decades, and the results justify some doom saying.
  • Like the rose that grew from concrete, the inimitable Dan Willingham has taken his talents over to the Washington Post’s Answer Sheet blog for a five-part series on reading. His terrific posts, of which three have been published so far, advance arguments from his new book. They will also raise points familiar to fans of Fordham’s own literacy guru, Robert Pondiscio. In the first, Willingham mounts a defense of the Common Core standards as a powerful catalyst for early literacy.
  • ...

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 country, more than 100,000 teachers, or roughly 3 percent of the teacher workforce, are 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 to earn board certification, including bonuses of up to $5,000 for teachers working in high-need schools. The study finds that, compared to average teachers with similar experience, NBCTs produce additional student learning gains on state exams that correspond to about 1–2 additional weeks of middle school reading instruction. In middle school math, the results indicate a whopping five weeks of additional learning compared to...

Education technology in general—and digital games specifically—can be easily dismissed as yet another Next Big Thing that’s doomed to disappoint. If your standard prescription for schools and teaching is high standards, rigorous instruction, and rich curriculum, you might be tempted to roll your eyes at Greg Toppo’s new book on the potential of digital games to change K–12 education, The Game Believes in You. Toppo is no pie-eyed fanboy nattering on about digital natives, paradigm shifts, innovation, and disruption. The national education reporter for USA Today and a former classroom teacher, Toppo makes a compelling case for games as not merely engaging, (the default setting for mere enthusiasts and marketers) but cognitively demanding. A well-designed game is fun, but it’s rigorous fun.

Toppo makes a convincing case that savvy teachers have always used games to involve kids in learning. He’s at his best describing games like DragonBox, a “lovely, mysterious, and a bit off-center” diversion that seems unusually good at getting pre-schoolers—yes, pre-schoolers—to think algebraically. Likewise, what is a multi-level game if not an adaptive assessment that kids want to participate in? But the most compelling argument running through the book is the infinite malleability of well-designed games. If differentiated...

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