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.

This new study by the Center for American Progress (CAP) examines the ESEA comparability requirement, which mandates that school districts provide “comparable” educational services in both high- and low-poverty schools as a condition of receiving Title I dollars. CAP’s concern is that, although this requirement is intended to level the playing field for schools, it actually allows districts to use teacher-to-student ratios or average teacher salaries as a proxy for comparable services, instead of using actual teacher salary expenditures. And because poor schools typically have newer teachers who tend to struggle their first few years and cost less to employ, these schools are getting both less qualified teachers and less money than more advantaged ones.

The analysts examine Office of Civil Rights district spending data for the 2011–12 school year from roughly ninety-five thousand public schools. Adjusting for cost-of-living differences across districts, they compare how districts fund schools that are eligible to receive federal Title I dollars with other schools in their grade span and find “vast disparities” in the allocation of state and local dollars.

Here are the three key findings: one, due to the “loophole” in federal law, more than 4.5 million low-income students attend inequitably funded Title I schools; two, those schools receive around $1,200 less per student than comparison schools in their districts; and three, if the federal loophole were closed, high-poverty schools would receive around $8.5 billion in additional funds each year.

There is, however, a large and insurmountable problem: The...

  • Critics of charter schools, often in the face of thorough and convincing evidence of the benefits of school choice, too often fall back on an unsourced allegation. If charters teach rings around their district counterparts, they claim, it’s only because they scheme to weed out needy and underperforming students. It’s become such a common trope that New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña blithely passed it along just last fall. But a new Manhattan Institute study has found that low-performing New York City students, who generally facing a higher risk of leaving their school than other kids, are no more likely to depart from a charter than a traditional public school. What’s more, special needs students and English-language learners are actually more likely to stay enrolled at a charter. Unfortunately, this new data is unlikely to make an impression on Fariña because…well, it’s data.
  • We at Fordham find ourselves defending Common Core because we believe that it’s good for kids all around the country to be held to high standards. But it’s one thing for education reformers to line up in support of a policy; it’s quite another for career professionals to give it the same endorsement. A newly released report from Teach Plus strongly suggests that many teachers feel as favorably about Common Core-aligned assessments as we do. Nearly 80 percent of participants said they considered the PARCC tests to be of higher quality than the state tests that preceded them. They also
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This clever volume offers a collection of essays about how to improve teacher education. Each of the authors write about the findings of the Choosing to Teach longitudinal study, which involved thirty randomly chosen teachers, ten each from three non-traditional teacher-prep programs: the Urban Teacher Education Program (UTEP) at the University of Chicago, the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) at the University of Notre Dame, and the (Jewish) Day School Leadership through Teaching (DeLeT) program at Brandeis University. Following enrollees from the time they entered their respective programs through four years in the classroom, it focuses on how teacher prep programs tailored to participants’ backgrounds and aspirations can improve classroom practices and keep teachers in the classroom longer. For example, teaching in an inner-city Catholic school has a different set of challenges than teaching at an affluent suburban school, and a given teacher’s interests and effectiveness will differ in each.

With this in mind, all three programs provide immersive and contextualized learning opportunities through what the authors call “nested contexts of teaching.” Training looks beyond the classroom to provide a more comprehensive view of the role future teachers will play. ACE, for example, focuses not just on the classroom, but on the larger school, its community, and the Catholic Church. This multi-layered approach ostensibly provides teachers with tools unique to their local environments. That, in turn, “increased their sense of agency as teachers and reinforced the rightness of their career choice.” By the end of their first year of...

Teach For America, its coffers fattened with $50 million in federal i3 scale-up grant money, embarked upon a major expansion effort in 2010. It aimed to place 13,500 first- and second-year teachers in fifty-two regions across the country by the 2014–2015 school year—an ambitious 80 percent expansion of its teaching corps in just four years. As part of the deal, TFA contracted with Mathematica Policy Research to evaluate the expansion.

A handful of previous studies have found that TFA teachers have been more effective than conventionally trained and hired teachers in math and about the same in reading. The big question was whether putting its growth on steroids would compromise TFA’s recruitment and selection standards or overall effectiveness.

Mathematica found little reason to be concerned about TFA losing a step. The elementary school teachers recruited in the first and second years of the i3 scale-up were “as effective as other teachers in the same high-poverty schools in teaching both reading and math.” Corps members in lower elementary grades “had a positive, statistically significant effect on student reading achievement,” but no measurable impacts for other subgroups of TFA teachers were found. Of interest (mostly to TFA itself), the study found “some evidence that corps members’ satisfaction with the program declined”—perhaps a hint of growing pains.

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, Teach For America remains the closest thing education reform has to a household brand. Matt DiCarlo of the Shanker Institute summarized reaction...

Editor’s note: This is the eighth in a series of personal reflections on the current state of education reform and contemporary conservatism by Andy Smarick, a Bernard Lee Schwartz senior policy fellow with the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. The previous posts in this series can be seen hereherehereherehere, here, and here.

Many reformers work to ensure that every child has access to great schools. Similar universal aspirations have inspired countless others—the recognition of unalienable rights, the elimination of poverty, the fair distribution of resources.

Indeed, the question of how to define and realize “justice” has consumed philosophers for centuries. A key lesson from this Everest of scholarship is that all approaches require tradeoffs.

Unfortunately, our field doesn’t talk much about tradeoffs, and we certainly don’t talk about philosophy. You’ll not find in your conference program, “Plato, Aquinas, and Nietzsche: The Metaphysics of Annual Testing.”

But this is not to say that reform is philosophy-free. Conservatives led this movement twenty-five years ago; their skepticism of government monopolies and public sector unions and commitment to empowering parents and diversifying options owed much to Smith, Mill, and Friedman. 

Today, progressives dominate education reform, and progressivism is stirred by calls for “social justice” and transfixed by economic inequality. Accordingly, the word “equity” is ubiquitous in our world.

TNTP recommended an “equity fund.” TFA launched Leadership for Educational Equity. The administration’s recently released its vision for educator “equity plans.”

The late philosopher John Rawls is this...

This post has been updated with the full text of "Shifting from learning to read to reading to learn."

Spring means high-stakes tests in America’s schools, and this year’s test season is already proving to be a particularly contentious one. The number of parents choosing to “opt out” of tests remains small but appears to be growing. Anti-testing sentiment will likely sharpen as rigorous tests associated with Common Core are rolled out in earnest this year. Parents who have been lulled into complacency by their children’s scores on low-bar state tests may not react well when their children are measured against higher standards.

Testing—who should be tested, how often, and in which subjects – is also one of the most contentious issues in the pending reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (the most recent iteration of which is better known as No Child Left Behind). At present, the feds require states to test every student every year in math and reading from grades 3–8. However, if we are serious about improving reading—and education outcomes for children at large—we might be better off if we stopped testing reading in third grade rather than started it.

There are two big problems with existing test-driven accountability schemes in reading. First, the high-stakes reading tests our kids take in elementary and middle school really don’t test what we think they do. Even worse, by the time those tests diagnose reading difficulties in third grade, it’s incredibly hard for schools and teachers to help pull kids out...

Ohio has been a hotbed of education reform in recent years, but two policy areas remain mostly virgin territory: teacher preparation and licensure. I tackled the former previously; now let’s examine three significant problems with Ohio’s approach to the latter.

1. Lack of content tests for early childhood licenses

According to NCTQ’s 2014 State Teacher Policy Yearbook, Ohio is one of only four states in the nation that doesn’t require all elementary teachers to pass a content test prior to licensure (see here for the Ohio details). A list of required assessments shows that early childhood (PK–3) teachers are only required to pass the Assessment of Professional Knowledge: Early Childhood (which tests pedagogical knowledge) and Early Childhood Education assessments. The second of these tests is intended to assess a candidate’s content mastery, but closer inspection reveals that the only core content with its own, separate part of the test is language and literacy development. Math, social studies, and science content are smaller parts of “Domain III” which itself only accounts for 36 percent of the test. This 36 percent is divided among music, drama, creative movement, dance, visual arts, health, safety, and physical activity in addition to science, math, and social studies. No one is going to argue that language and literacy aren’t important enough to have their own section, but aren’t science, math, and social studies important enough to be separate too?

To put it bluntly, Ohio has no way of knowing...

Across the nation, the monopoly of traditional school districts over public education is slowly eroding. Trust-busting policies like public charter schools and vouchers have given parents and students more options than ever before. But how vibrant are school marketplaces in America’s largest districts?

Now in its fourth year, the Education Choice and Competition Index is one of the best examinations of educational markets, rating the hundred most populous districts along four key dimensions: (1) access to school options; (2) processes that align student preferences with schools (e.g., common applications, clear information on schools); (3) policies that favor the growth of popular schools, such as funds following students; and (4) subsidies for poor families.

The top-rated district, you ask? The Recovery School District in New Orleans won top marks in 2014, as it has in the two prior years. New York City and Newark, New Jersey, are close behind the Big Easy. The study commends these cities for their ample supply of school options—and just as importantly, for policies that support quality choice. For instance, this trio of cities (along with Denver) has adopted an algorithm that optimally matches student preferences with school assignments. Impressive stuff from which other states and districts can learn.

As fine as this study is, however, there’s at least one way in which authors could sharpen it. The list of rated cities appears to tilt toward states with countywide districts, while states where district lines are tightly drawn seem to have too few...

  • In the wake of the Jeb Bush not-quite-announcement and the Scott Walker boomlet, it should now be clear to all that we’ve entered the wonderful season of presidential politics. In that spirit, AEI scholars and Friends of Fordham Andrew P. Kelly and Frederick Hess have logged some important commentary on G.O.P. hopefuls and education policy. It’s all well and good, they write, for governors like Bush, Walker, Bobby Jindal, and John Kasich to list the ambitious policies they enacted back home, but they also have to square their reform instincts with a commitment to a sensibly limited federal role in schooling. It’s a paradox that conservative reformers especially are familiar with: How do you embrace a bold agenda for change without falling into the trap of top-down edicts and federal overreach?
  • Politico has an informative look at higher education’s “wait-and-see” attitude toward the Common Core, at least when it comes to using its associated assessments for placement decisions. While many reformers (Gadfly among them) hope that tests such as the PARCC and Smarter Balanced might one day be used to determine whether students are ready for credit-bearing courses, waiting for more data is a responsible position for now.
  • Finally, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention President Obama’s address in Selma, Alabama, which commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of the historic civil rights march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Both the setting and the language of the speech—one of the best of his career—succeeded in stoking
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This article is part of a new Education Next series on the state of the American family that marks the fiftieth anniversary of the 1965 release of the Moynihan Report. We are reprinting it here in two installments; the first was published in last week’s Education Gadfly Weekly.

Last week, I argued that single parenthood is a major impediment to upward mobility for low-income youth, especially when parenthood starts in one’s teens or early twenties. Furthermore, I concluded that the most important “intervention” is hope: a realistic plan for a life trajectory that is more compelling than early motherhood and fatherhood. This means, among other things, having meaningful opportunities for higher education and interesting, decently paid work. How, then, can schools boost the education and employment prospects of disadvantaged children?

One way is to get many more young people—especially those from challenging backgrounds—“to and through” four-year college degrees. This well-meaning strategy is the primary focus of education reform. There’s little doubt that, when it’s successful, this will encourage many more young people to delay childbearing, which increases their odds of getting married before starting a family.

But it need not be our only strategy for helping adolescents find their way to a rewarding, middle class career and stable family life. High-quality career and technical education (CTE) is another solid pathway to postsecondary education and remunerative and satisfying work—jobs that are worth working toward, and which can thus...

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