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.

Classroom discipline is, let’s face facts, a fraught subject. It frequently occurs at the uncomfortable vector between schooling and race, where seemingly all useful reform conversations end up turning poisonous and accusatory. If you argue in favor of curbing suspensions and expulsions for black students, you’re privileging the rights of reprobates over the studious kids trying to learn in an unruly environment. Advance a case for stricter measures, however, and you’ll find “disparate impacts” and the “school-to-prison pipeline” hung around your neck. Few areas of education discourse are more in need of illuminating research.

This new study, conducted by Stanford researchers specializing in the investigation of implicit psychological bias, provides exactly that. Through the use of two separate experiments, it exposes a tendency in K–12 teachers (predominantly white females in the middle of their careers, but including members of both sexes and multiple races) to detect patterns of misbehavior in black students more so than white. In the first experiment, the authors provided participants with disciplinary records for students with either stereotypical white or black names, each detailing two episodes of petty insubordination. They then asked the teachers to describe how “troubled” they felt (a composite measure indicating their degree...

A new study from MDRC evaluates the impact, over three years, of a support program for low-income community college students in New York who are taking remedial courses. Developed by the City University of New York, the program is called the Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (or ASAP) and includes several components. Among these is a requirement to enroll full-time and participate in tutoring; comprehensive and dedicated student advising; a non-credit seminar that covers academic planning and goal setting; and career and employment services. Participants enjoy tuition waivers, free transportation vouchers, and free textbooks. Eligible students had to meet income eligibility requirements and take one to two remedial courses, among other conditions.

Three of CUNY’s largest community colleges participated, and roughly nine hundred students were randomly assigned either to a control group that received the usual college services or the treatment group, which had the opportunity to participate in ASAP (a study design that actually met the What Works Clearinghouse design standards without reservations).

Now for the results: ASAP students earned, on average, nine more credits than the control group. Moreover, the program nearly doubled the graduation rate, with 40 percent of the ASAP group receiving a degree compared to...

Maryland’s demanding new Kindergarten Readiness Assessment was administered statewide for the first time this year. Its results are revealing and sobering, to put it mildly. Many states don’t even check in any systematic way on their children’s readiness for kindergarten, and in previous years, Maryland used metrics based on modest expectations, outdated standards, and feel-good politics.

With the leadership of State Superintendent Lillian Lowery and Assistant Superintendent Rolf Grafwallner, Maryland has brought a new sense of reality to the skills that five-year-olds ought to possess if they’re truly prepared to succeed in kindergarten and the early grades. These span four domains, two of them cognitive (language, math), plus physical wellbeing (motor development, hygiene, etc.) and what they term “social foundations” (self-control, for example).

The assessment is individually administered by kindergarten teachers and was given this year to all of the Old Line State’s sixty-seven thousand kindergartners. The results are sorted into three bands, politely labeled “demonstrating readiness,” “developing readiness,” and “emerging readiness.” But only the first of these means actually ready to succeed in kindergarten—and slightly fewer than half of Maryland’s entering kindergartners met that standard.

Which is to say that more than half are not ready. This report candidly...

I liked Grant Wiggins more than just about anyone with whom I disagreed so much. On several occasions, he’d write something about teaching or curriculum I vehemently disagreed with, or vice versa. A sharply worded blog comment or tweet would follow. Then, invariably, there would be an email. Often lots of them. Nothing remarkable there; arguments begun in one venue often spill over into others. But what I came to value about those exchanges with Wiggins, who passed away suddenly and unexpectedly last week at age 64, is that they weren’t an attempt to win an argument or a convert. If you disagreed with him—if you looked at the same evidence and came to a different conclusion—he had to know why. 

Wiggins, the author of the influential curriculum planning guide Understanding by Design, held to his beliefs tightly and argued them passionately. He would never have embraced the label of education reformer—far from it—but he resisted the facile view of the education world as an “us versus them” proposition. He was adamant that instructional practices he railed against—dry lectures; activities divorced from big ideas and important skills; dutiful marches through content to be covered—were not a product of “reform,” but...

At the heart of Robert Putnam’s important new book, Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, is a paradox. As Putnam so effectively and compassionately illustrates, the fundamental reality of life for many children growing up in poverty in America today is the extremely low level of “social capital” of their families, communities, and schools. One or both of their parents are absent; church attendance is down; opportunities to participate in sports teams or scout troops or youth groups are few and far between. Put simply, these kids—“our kids”—feel all alone, living “troubled, isolated, hopeless lives.”

The solution, then—the way to help poor children climb the ladder to the middle class and achieve the American Dream—must involve rebuilding this social capital, right? Yet that’s not what Putnam proposes; instead, he calls for more investments in government services and transfer payments. He wants to replace social capital with financial capital.

Why? It’s probably because, like the rest of us, he doesn’t know how to rebuild social capital. Once it’s lost, it may be gone forever.

And that’s the paradox: Social capital is essential to keeping families and communities spiritually and materially prosperous. But once a family or a community experiences...

Lindsey Graham, the senior senator from South Carolina, joined the presidential race this week. He’s currently competing against eight other Republicans for the party’s nomination—a number that promises to grow as the year goes on. He’s also the subject of the thirteenth installment of the Eduwatch 2016 series chronicling presidential candidates’ stances on education issues.

Graham has served in the Senate since 2003. Before that, he was a four-term representative in the House and served one term in the state legislature. This, however, is his first time running for the White House. Over his long political tenure, he’s said much about education. Here are some of his views:

1. Common Core (2014): “The Obama administration has effectively bribed and coerced states into adopting Common Core....Blanket education standards should not be a prerequisite for federal funding. In order to have a competitive application for some federal grants and flexibility waivers, states have to adopt Common Core. This is simply not the way the Obama administration should be handling education policy.” February 2014.

2. Common Core (2013): “What's Common Core?...I'll address it. I don't know what it is. Sounds like a bad idea. I'll tell my staff, and I'll try...

Martin O’Malley, the former governor of Maryland, announced over the weekend that he’ll be running for president. He’s only the third Democrat to announce, joining Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in a comparatively shallow race (the Republicans, on the other hand, already have nine confirmed candidates). He’s also the subject of the twelfth installment of the Eduwatch 2016 series chronicling presidential candidates’ stances on education issues.

O’Malley has been in politics most of his adult life. He helped on campaigns in his twenties, ran for state senate, got elected to the Baltimore City Council, served as the mayor of Baltimore for two terms, and was the Old Line State’s governor for eight years. During that time, he’s made education a priority—so much so that, according to his gubernatorial staff, he was “widely considered to be the ‘education governor.’” Here’re some quotes:

1. Common Core: “Our goal moving forward is to build the best public school system in not just America, but in the world. That's why we're choosing to adopt the Common Core standards, new curricula that will prepare our kids to be winners in a global economy, which is growing more knowledge-based by the day.” August...

George Pataki, the former three-term governor of New York, announced today that he’s running for president. He’s the eighth Republican to do so and the second in two days (Rick Santorum declared yesterday). He’s also the subject of the eleventh installment of the Eduwatch 2016 series chronicling presidential candidates’ stances on education issues.

Pataki defeated Mario Cuomo back in 1994 to win the governorship of the Empire State, an office he held until 2006. In fact, he’s never lost an election. In 1982, he won the mayoral seat in Peekskill, NY. He was elected to the state assembly two years later, and to the state senate in 1992. He’s had a long, successful career—so long that if he wins in 2016, he’ll be the oldest American president in history. And during that time, he’s formed some strong opinions about education:

1. Common Core: “I oppose Common Core. I think it's a terrible idea.”...

  • Like raucous pep rallies, autumn school-supply binges, and despising every page of Ethan Frome, there’s something comfortingly banal about multiple choice tests. But there have always been doubts about the benefits of having kids choose between four potential antonyms for “circumscribe.” As a corrective, the Common Core-aligned PARCC and Smarter Balanced tests feature sections devoted to “performance tasks”—longer, in-depth assignments designed to evaluate strategic and critical thinking. The new approach combines a short classroom activity with complex individual components, such as argumentative essays or multi-step math problems. While advocates claim that the exercises give a fuller picture of students’ mastery over the material, some teachers lament lost instructional time and fret about the difficulties of implementation. We’ll know which side was right later this year, when Fordham releases its review of the next-generation assessments; until then, it’s usually safe to fill in “All of the above.”
  • In life, unlike in multiple choice exams, the correct answer isn’t always presented as part of a menu of options. You either know the quadratic formula or you don’t; either you can make a persuasive argument or you can’t. It is therefore critical to teach kids valuable skills for their future lives, and
  • ...

In the age of college- and career-ready standards, the education reform community is finally jumping on the career and technical education (CTE) bandwagon—and with good reason. As Mike Petrilli recently noted, “The best CTE programs, like Career Academies, tend to do a better job with both career skills and academic skills, and create a glide path for students into postsecondary education of the technical variety. Long-term outcomes are very promising, especially for low-income students and African American boys.” But what makes a good CTE program, and how can we ensure that students are benefiting from them?

Reading Visher and Stern’s policy brief is a good place to start. The authors meticulously describe existing CTE programs across the country, focusing on two approaches to CTE: systemic approaches and discrete programs. The former are usually state-driven, less rigid, partner-focused (typically with colleges and communities), and reach a large number of students. Examples are Linked Learning and California Partnership Academies. The latter are usually school-based, such as Career Academies and small schools of choice in New York City

CTE has the benefit of being the “both/and” of education reform: It can be for both college and career, and for all students....