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.

For those who march to the drumbeat of “college for all,” an updated report from the William T. Grant Foundation ought to give pause. Back in 1988, the “forgotten half” were American youth who didn’t attend college and “were struggling in ‘the passage to adulthood.’” Released in near-tandem with the president’s free-community-college plan, this report depicts an honest view of community college, from “notoriously low completion rates” (a mere 20 percent of those who attend community college attain a bachelor’s degree within eight years of graduating high school, and almost half earn no credential at all) to calling remedial education “a vague euphemism that doesn’t help students understand their situation, make informed choices, or learn about alternative programs.” The forgotten half of today are “youth who do not complete college and find themselves shut out of good jobs in the era of college for all.” While past generations with “some college” enjoyed increased earnings, a changing economy means that’s no longer true. “The most alarming finding is that many youth who took society’s advice to attend college, sacrificing time and often incurring debts, have nothing to show for their efforts in terms of credentials, employment, or earnings,” note the authors. They provide a commonsense policy solution: Colleges and high schools need to be frank with students on the costs, debts, time, and potential earnings of different education and career paths. The report also calls for better alignment between high school and college standards by pointing to the example of...

Editor's note: These remarks were delivered as an introduction to Doug Lemov's February 10 panel discussion at the Fordham Institute.

It is a genuine honor and pleasure to be here with you today and to have the opportunity to introduce Doug Lemov. Doug is a man whose humility knows no bounds—indeed, he attributes his own success with Teach Like a Champion to his own limitations as a teacher. I’ve heard him more than once explain—earnestly and sincerely—that the reason he started filming and analyzing videos of great teachers in action was because he was such an “average” teacher, and he wanted to learn the magic of the champion teachers around him.

And that humility courses through all of his work, including his writing.

Yet his achievements are remarkable. He and his colleagues at Uncommon Schools consistently achieve at the highest levels on state tests. And Doug’s work identifying what “champion” teachers do that drives their results has been nothing short of transformational.

You might even say the work Doug and his team does is magic.

And so I thought it was fitting, before we launched into the weeds of how to improve teacher practice—a subject that is near and dear to my heart—to talk about the secrets of great magicians.

A few years ago, Teller—the silent partner of the famed Penn and Teller duo—wrote a piece for Smithsonian magazine in which he revealed his secrets. In it, Teller shares three lessons that I think are worth repeating.

The first lesson is that technology, no...

BOOK 'EM
Politico’s extensive investigation of publishing giant Pearson has unearthed the company’s questionable money-making practices at the expense of American students and taxpayers. For years, lax accountability measures have allowed Pearson to rake in the profits even when its programs and products failed. Schools and state legislatures are realizing the need to more closely scrutinize textbook companies before handing over their multi-million dollar reform dreams.

ALPHABET SOUP
Elsewhere in Pearson news, the Wall Street Journal chronicles the slow decline of the GED. Working in partnership with the nonprofit that administers the test, Pearson has dropped a huge sum developing a new, more complex assessment geared to today’s students and standards. But, as Fordham’s Chester Finn has argued, high school graduation exams shouldn't be set at the college-ready level. And neither should the GED. Not everyone who graduates from high school will—or should—go on to college.

GOOD CITIZENS
Indifferent social-studies pupils, beware! Utah may soon join its neighboring state of Arizona in requiring students to pass a citizenship test before graduating high school. Students would need to correctly pass seventy out of one hundred questions, a more difficult task than the six out of ten required to gain citizenship. The bill needs a final vote in the state Senate before advancing to the House.

DEPARTMENT OF BAD NEWS
Arkansas is the latest state to initiate a school-district takeover, and some worry that the new ESEA reauthorization will mean...

Ethan Gray

Education reformers live in a world of data, accountability, policy, and percentiles. We are most comfortable debating ideas, writing papers, and talking to each other. But when it comes to telling powerful stories to inspire change, we have a lot to learn from one public school student in New York City.

Thirteen-year-old Vidal Chastanet was stopped and asked by Humans of New York photographer Brandon Stanton, “Who is the most influential person in your life?” With his answer—Nadia Lopez, principal at Mott Hall Bridges Academy (MHBA)—Vidal reached the hearts of millions of people.

“When we get in trouble, she doesn't suspend us. She calls us to her office and explains to us how society was built down around us. And she tells us that each time somebody fails out of school, a new jail cell gets built. And one time she made every student stand up, one at a time, and she told each one of us that we matter.”

Vidal’s answer went viral on Facebook, leading him to The Ellen DeGeneres Show and the White House last week. A fundraising campaign set up to help MHBA send students on a trip to Harvard over the summer raised $1.2 million.

Vidal’s story transcended mediums, inspired thousands, and raised millions because it went directly to people’s hearts. It is universal, human, and real.

At Education Cities, a national network of city-based organizations committed to improving public education, we challenge our network members, and ourselves, to reach for...

The biography of teacher evaluation’s time in federal policy might be titled Portentous, Polarizing, and Passing. It had gigantic ripple effects in the states—man, did it cause fights—and, with its all-but-certain termination via ESEA reauthorization, it stayed with us ever so briefly.

Some advocates are demoralized, worried that progress will at best stall and at worst be rolled back. Though I’m a little down that we’re unlikely to see many more states reform educator evaluation systems in the years ahead, I think the feds’ exit makes sense.

This has nothing to do with my general antipathy for this administration or my belief that its Department of Education deserves to have its meddling hands rapped. And while I think Tenth Amendment challenges are justified, I have a different primary motivation.

In short, I think the work of teaching is so extraordinarily complex and teachers are so tightly woven into the fabric of school communities that any attempt by faraway federal officials to tinker with evaluation systems is a fool’s errand. I think we may eventually come to view the Race-to-the-Top and ESEA-flexibility requirements related to assessing teachers as the apotheosis of federal K–12 technocracy.

If you’ve never dug into the details of evaluation-reform implementation, you're probably thinking I’m exaggerating. Just bear with me for the next five hundred words. I think you’ll quickly appreciate just how daunting this work is and, as a consequence, how poorly federal diktats fit the bill.

I had a hand in New Jersey’s early-stage implementation, so I...

THERE HE GOES AGAIN
Louisiana Governor and potential presidential candidate Bobby Jindal released a forty-two-page education-reform proposal urging lawmakers to repeal Common Core on grounds of federal intrusion. Fordham’s Michael Brickman doesn’t think Jindal’s Common Core claims pass the sniff test, but notes that other policies outlined in the proposal, such as ramped-up school choice and charter school efforts, are worth discussing.

WE'LL VOUCH FOR THAT
As the 2016 election crunch approaches, Republicans may be able to put the national spotlight on school vouchers. Though past attempts to expand the voucher program have met with opposition, GOP leaders hope to broaden the school-choice conversation by making it a central issue in the party’s platform. And as our own Chester E. Finn Jr. reports, some high-profile Democrats are finally willing to play ball.

ACROSS THE DIVIDE
NPR offers a poignant look at the vast, if predictable, disparities in college-advising services between Michigan’s tony Cranbrook Schools and an under-funded public school in northeast Detroit. One activist admits resignedly that “your ZIP code can really determine what your future will look like.”

EDUCATION SPOTLIGHT: INDIANA
Political junkies and ed-reform observers are turning their attention to Indiana, where embattled State Superintendent Glenda Ritz is facing legislative action that may ensure that she loses her position as schools’ chief. The dramatic vote in the state House of Representatives is the culmination of a long power struggle between Ritz and Governor Mike Pence—one that...

Ohio Gadfly readers won’t be surprised to know that we were thrilled to see Governor John Kasich strongly endorse charter school reforms that are similar to those we proposed in December—and have been seeking for years before that. We were particularly encouraged that governor wants to combine significantly stronger charter school oversight with greater funding for high-performing schools. His is exactly the right equation.

That’s because lax quality control and paltry funding are the underlying causes of Ohio’s relatively weak charter sector. Quality has lagged in large part because Ohio charter law too vaguely defines the powers and responsibilities of each actor in the charter-governing system. It also treats charters as second-class public schools. They receive less overall taxpayer funding and garner scant facilities support.

Kasich’s solution is to tie greater consequences and incentives to the state’s new Quality Sponsor Practices Review (QSPR). In particular, he would empower the Ohio Department of Education to shut down sponsors (i.e., authorizers) that receive low ratings on the QSPR; meanwhile, he would make charters overseen by high-ranking sponsors (yes, including Fordham) eligible for $25 million in additional facilities funding.

So what is the QSPR? Developed over several years, it is based on the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) Principles & Standards—widely considered the gold standard for authorizing practices. It has three components:

  • Academic performance of a sponsor’s schools
  • Compliance with applicable laws and rules
  • Adherence to quality sponsoring practices prescribed by the department (and
  • ...

TFA TROUBLE
Teach For America’s slipping numbers continue as they experience their second year of diminishing applicant numbers. The group says the appeal of an improving job market is to blame, while some aspiring teachers have deep concern with TFA’s two-year long model. Perhaps played down in the article is a shift to diversify cohorts of teachers, which could also be a factor in diminishing numbers.

LOOKING FOR MIDDLE GROUND
Senators Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray are reportedly putting their heads together to create a bipartisan proposal for ESEA renewal. Yet there is much skepticism as to whether a fully collaborative bill will be produced; last week, Lamar Alexander said that an NCLB update didn’t necessarily have to start with a bipartisan product. When the Senate Education Committee passed a bill in 2013, not one Republican voted for it.

HEASTIE FROM THE BLOCK
Bronx legislator Carl Heastie has been elected to replace the recently resigned Sheldon Silver as speaker of the New York State Assembly, granting him the power to decide which bills are considered and which aspects of the state budget are negotiated. His (relatively quiet) views on education will be important for the more than one million students that are part of the New York City school system and the $8 billion annually set aside in the budget. What do we know about Heastie so far? His policy plans align somewhat with union priorities, he’s pro-charter, and he will bring overdue...

THE SWEET SMELL OF CREEPING DISILLUSIONMENT
The older students get, the more pessimistic (or perhaps realistic) they become regarding their future job prospects, according to this Gallup Student Poll. While 68 percent of fifth graders strongly agreed with the statement, “I know I will find a good job after I graduate,” only 48 percent of twelfth graders expressed the same sentiment. Whether this is a reflection of the rough young adult job market or a simple loss of youthful optimism, schools are increasing focus on their students’ college and career readiness.

STATE YOUR BUSINESS
Senator Lamar Alexander has indicated his leaning towards keeping federal testing requirements in the new ESEA bill, but giving states the freedom to choose how they use it to hold their schools accountable. Michael Petrilli says it well: “States should continue to experiment with various interventions in low-performing schools. But let’s admit that we don’t know precisely what that should look like, and thus we definitely shouldn’t prescribe a particular approach from Washington.”

CAP'S OFF
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker unveiled his proposal for the 2015-17 education budget, with plans to extend voucher participation beyond the thousand-student cap and increase accountability through revised school report cards. The charter school sector can also expect to see an additional $4 million in funding, to be put towards the creation of a state board charged with the approval of new school authorizers.

TREASURE MAP
Because the people demanded it: Education Week has assembled...

  • President Obama released his 2016 budget proposal this week, and the media welcomed it with loads of over-analysis. Yet Congress has no use for it.  One Republican House member went so far as to call it “laughable.” It won’t guide legislation for the next twelve months, regardless of what it says about testing or charter schools or anything else. Moreover, the Republicans’ aversion is based on far more than partisanship. The $4 trillion budget is packed with new taxes, yet still isn’t balanced—a major problem when the government is already borrowing money for the programs we have. The White House called it the “beginning of a negotiation.” Translation: It’s unreasonable, and they know it.
  • On Monday, comments closed on the Department of Education’s proposed regulations designed to improve the quality of teacher-preparation programs. Two noteworthy changes would be the collection and distribution of more meaningful data on program quality and the withholding of TEACH grants if programs aren’t up to par. Both are worthwhile upgrades, considering the grisly state of U.S. teacher training. Not surprisingly, the major teacher and professor advocacy groups opposed the regulations, including the American Federation of Teachers and the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, complaining that the regs are too test-reliant and onerous. The real news, however, came in the form of strong support from Deans for Impact and Art Levine of the Woodrow Wilson Group.
  • The Washington Post reports that Washington,
  • ...

Pages