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.

BUILDING A BETTER MATH GEEK
Researchers from the Indiana University School of Education are studying what attracts students to STEM fields and, moreover, what keeps them there. While they haven't found a single compelling factor that will predict whether a student will pursue a STEM route, interest and passion have the most staying power and are more often linked with obtaining a STEM degree.

MIND THE GAP
A new report by the New America Foundation helps policy makers visualize where educational inequities exist in communities across the country. The report highlights the deeply fragmented efforts to bridge opportunity gaps, such as building high-quality child care centers and increasing enrollment in distance-learning education programs.

EDUCATION'S WASTED ON THE YOUNG
The United States Census has released new information on how young adults have changed over the last four decades. The report, which features an interactive mapping tool, found that a higher number of young adults now hold a college degree but are more likely to be unemployed and living in poverty. And while today’s bullish jobs report might come as a relief to observers of the economy, those negative trends will take time and work to turn around.

NUTMEG POWER
Earlier this week, an estimated 6,000 Connecticut parents, educators, and advocates gathered in New Haven to rally for better schools. Led by a number of education advocacy groups, the event was meant as a call to action to improve the state’s public and...

Jack Schneider

Editor's note: This post is the second entry of a multi-part series of interviews featuring Fordham's own Andy Smarick and Jack Schneider, an assistant professor of education at Holy Cross. It originally appeared in a slightly different form at Education Week's K-12 Schools: Beyond the Rhetoric blog. The first entry can be found here.

Schneider: We ended our previous conversation with some skepticism on my part—about whether the charter model itself (rather than particular charter schools) would be any better than district governance. I'm wondering if you can articulate the theory of action there.

Smarick: My theory of action began with a hypothesis about the problem. The more I studied urban districts, the more I became convinced that there must be a systemic explanation for why none of these entities could muster the results we wanted. A number of books helped me piece together an initial answer, including Kolderie's Creating the Capacity for Change; Hill's Reinventing Public Education; Chubb and Moe's Politics, Markets, and America's Schools; and New Schools for a New Century, which Diane Ravitch edited with Joe Viteritti. 

I also looked outside of education, and I was pleasantly surprised to see the same themes surfacing. I found Osborne and Gaebler's Reinventing Government, Christensen's Innovator's Dilemma, and Foster and Kaplan's Creative Destruction to be invaluable.

Here's where I landed: The urban district was designed as a monopoly, the sole public-school provider that assigned kids to schools based not on their needs or interests but their home addresses. Research tells us,...

HOOSIER HAVOC
Following several years of inter-governmental conflict over the direction of education policy in Indiana, Governor Mike Pence has formally called for state lawmakers to elect a replacement for Board of Education Chairwoman Glenda Ritz. “I think the coming legislative session should be (an) education session and we should focus on our kids and teachers and what’s happening in our classrooms in Indiana,” Pence remarked in his announcement. 

THE STUDENT ACHIEMENT METRICS ARE ALWAYS GREENER
Education reformers often find inspiration in the education systems of other countries. However, Dr. Tom Loveless reveals the potential perils in this practice; namely, the trickiness of identifying variables that translate across borders and the dangers of confirmation bias. While these overseas investigations often yield new insights, its important that we be careful in choosing what we take away.

NEW TESTING STIRS DOUBTS IN CALIFORNIA
The 2014–2015 school year marks the first year that the new Common Core- aligned Smarter Balanced tests will be administered to students across the country. Some experts are concerned that the recalibrated Academic Performance Index, which...

  • Many, including some of us at Fordham, have argued that under President Obama and Secretary Duncan, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights is running amok on issues like school discipline and access to AP courses. Now it has released guidance that, according to the New York Times, will walk back the Bush-era policy allowing single-sex schools and classrooms. (a policy that was also encouraged by Hillary Clinton). According to the Department of Education’s guidance, schools may still offer these classes, but only if they jump through nine hoops. They must, for example, provide evidence that these classrooms benefit children in a way that mixed-gender ones cannot, offer students both alternatives, and ensure that all parents volunteered their kids for enrollment. Why not just allow it if parents want it?
  • In Pittsburgh, a state statute and local bargaining agreement dictate that teacher layoffs must be based exclusively on seniority. Yet the school district—cognizant of the policy’s many shortcomings—ignored the law and the CBA in favor of keeping a number of highly qualified special-education teachers. The union grieved, an arbiter ruled in its favor, and the district appealed to a higher court. The case isn’t getting Vergara-like attention, but a ruling is expected in the coming week. The district has argued, among other things, that this foolish seniority-based system violates NCLB and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act because it removes effective teachers from students with special needs—arguably the youngsters that need them
  • ...

This study examines the quality of school management in different countries and school types and its relationship to student outcomes. The authors constructed an index by averaging across twenty management practices in four areas (operations, monitoring, target setting, and personnel), then surveyed 1,800 principals in eight countries on their adherence to these practices. A broad range of schools ended up in the data set, including traditional government schools, private schools, and autonomous government schools (i.e., schools that receive public funding but have some degree of operational independence, such as charter schools). The authors find that the quality of school management varies significantly across countries, with the United Kingdom, Sweden, Canada, and the United States scoring higher than the other four. High scores on the index are positively correlated with better student outcomes. Yet large disparities in management quality exist within countries across different types of schools, with autonomous public schools faring better than both traditional government schools and private schools. The difference, the authors say, is not the autonomy, but how it’s used. “Having strong accountability of principals to an external governing body and exercising strong leadership through a coherent long-term strategy for the school appear to be two key features that account for a large fraction of the superior management performance of such schools,” they note. From a policy perspective, school management tends to get less attention than teacher quality, class size. or school choice. That may be a mistake. 

SOURCE: Nicholas Bloom, Renata Lemos, Raffaella Sadun, and John...

Research shows that the gap in reading skills between poor and non-poor kids manifests itself earlier than kindergarten and often widens during summer. With that in mind, this new study examines whether a summer reading program for elementary students affects reading comprehension. During the spring and summer of 2013, second and third graders in fifty-nine North Carolina public schools were randomly assigned to treatment and control groups. The former were given six reading comprehension lessons aimed at fostering their engagement with books at home during the summer and were subsequently mailed a book each week—ten total—over the summer months. (Books were matched to students based on their initial reading level and their interests.) Control kids received six math lessons during the same time period and weren’t mailed books. Both groups were asked to send in response cards on which they reported the number of books read and answered a handful of basic questions about them. There are three key findings: One, the treatment group read an additional 1.1 books more over the summer than the control group. Two, there were significant impacts on reading comprehension test scores in the fall for third-grade girls. Although third-grade boys and second graders of both genders showed no gains, the program caused an increase of 7.3 percent of a standard deviation in reading comprehension compared to the control group. That is equivalent to the gain that a typical third-grader makes in 1.4 months. Third, regarding differences within the treatment group, reading more books and...

The logic of using school choice to drive educational quality assumes that choosers will make rational decisions based on complete information and that market forces will do the rest. Isn’t it pretty to think so? Yet “people are flawed as information consumers and decision makers,” notes Tulane University’s Jon Valant in this thought-provoking report from AEI. Most of us, he notes, are “boundedly rational.” Our decisions make sense, but they’re a function of the time we have to spend evaluating our options, and our own cognitive capacity to process the information at hand. Thus, while many proponents see school choice as an intrinsic good arising from values such as freedom and parental control, there are limits to just how much change in the realms of education quality and achievement is actually brought about by choice per se. Valent’s report shows why: Families consider fewer schools than are available (and sometimes only one), typically turning to friends, neighbors and family members “whose insights often come without the school chooser having to search for them.” Providing more school options—and more information about those options—may make little sense when parents remain unaware of the full range of available choices or lack the time and resources to evaluate them. Simply making the data user-friendly isn’t necessarily the answer, either. The much-pilloried school report cards that reduce a school to a simple (or simplistic) A–F grade have measurable influences on the decisions parents make. Yet Valant also shows that narrative comments on those...

This is an excerpt from Michael J. Petrilli’s opening comments at the Education for Upward Mobility conference. Read the whole speech here; video from the event is available here; the ten papers that were presented are available here.

One of the most important questions in America today is: How can we help children born into poverty transcend their disadvantages and enter the middle class as adults? And in particular, what role can our schools play?

These aren’t new questions.  When President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act fifty years ago, he remarked, “As a son of a tenant farmer, I know that education is the only valid passport from poverty.”

Or, as Jeb Bush put it two weeks ago, quoting Horace Mann: “Education is the great equalizer.”

What is new is the nagging concern (shared across the ideological spectrum) that social mobility in the U.S. has stalled. As conservative scholar Peter Wehner wrote recently, “Two-thirds of Americans believe that it will be harder for them to achieve the American Dream than it was for their parents, and three-quarters believe that it will be harder still for their children and grandchildren to do the same.” And sure enough, the numbers are sobering, particularly for the poorest among us. Richard Reeves of the Brookings Institution explains, “Children born on the bottom rung have a four-in-ten chance of remaining stuck there in adulthood.”

There’s little...

A core assumption of the education-reform movement is that excellent schools can be engines of upward mobility. But what kind of schools? And to what end?

In tandem with the release of several papers, this path-breaking conference will consider thorny questions, including: Is “college for all” the right goal? (And what do we mean by “college”?) Do young people mostly need a strong foundation in academics? What can schools do to develop so-called “non-cognitive” skills? Should technical education be a central part of the reform agenda? How about apprenticeships? What can we learn from the military’s success in working with disadvantaged youth?

 

Panel I: Escaping Poverty through Education, Work, and Personal Responsibility
About a third of the individuals who grow up in poverty in America climb the ladder to the middle class as adults. What do we know about their trajectory? How can we increase these numbers? What role does education play? Higher education? Industry certifications and other non-degree credentials? Apprenticeships? Following the “success sequence” (get a high school diploma, work full time, and wait till age 21 to marry and start a family)?
 
Opening remarks by Michael J. Petrilli, President, Thomas B. Fordham Institute
 
Presenters
Ron Haskins, Brookings Institution: “Education and the Success Sequence”
Andrew Kelly, AEI, “Big Payoff, Low Probability: Postsecondary Education and Economic Mobility in America”
Tamar Jacoby, Opportunity America, “The Certification Revolution”
Robert Lerman,
...

EDUCATION SNAPSHOT: FLORIDA
Some schools in Florida are offering single-sex classes in the hopes of improving academic performance and cutting down on disciplinary issues. Supporters of the tactic cite unique learning differences between boys and girls, claiming that, among other gender-specific distinctions, boys often require more physical activity during lessons. Meanwhile, groups like the A.C.L.U. say that separating students by gender perpetuates stereotypes and shows no evidence of academic benefits.

CATCHING UP WITH NCLB
Congress is hoping to update No Child Left Behind by early 2015, though reaching bipartisan consensus will be difficult. The law, which last came up for renewal in 2007, requires schools to revamp teacher evaluations and monitor and report the performance of at-risk students. Much criticism has been directed against the law’s focus on increased standardized testing, which will likely garner considerable debate during the months ahead.

BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING
MOOCs, or massive open online courses, allow students of all ages to broaden their educational horizons by increasing access to expert instruction. However, apprehension concerning the use of student data is building as the number of MOOC enrollees grows. Some worry that students are unwittingly forfeiting vast amounts of private information, from birthdays to IP addresses to academic performance, while attempting to supplement their classroom learning.

ART CLASS AS SCHOOLCRAFT
As part of Education Week’s “Inspired Learning” series, Oklahoma educator Jean Hendrickson extols the value of arts education in elementary school. Hendrickson credits enhanced arts...

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