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.

  • Across New York State, 32 percent of would-be teachers were denied certification because they failed to pass a basic Academic Literacy Skills exam, the New York Post reports. Let that rattle around in your head for a moment. The test measures reading comprehension and writing skills and is part of a new battery of tests that the Empire State now requires for people who want to teach within its borders. Shockingly, in many of the state’s teacher-prep schools, a majority of candidates failed the tests. At least one school had no students pass. Schools with low pass rates have to come up with corrective plans, such as improving instruction or denying admission to more applicants. Three cheers for smart policy.
  • Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant is hoping to throw out the Common Core, and educators across the state think it’s a bad idea that threatens to reverse the state’s progress. Indeed. Mississippi has arguably the worst schools in the country—and has for some time. And the CCSS represent a vast improvement over what was previously in place. Worse, during the state’s mostly political discussions about the standards, educators have apparently been largely absent, which is a shame because many of them are optimistic about the Common Core.

Most of us have known students who struggle with non-cognitive skills. Teachers have labored heroically to keep a reserved pupil engaged in group projects; parents have cajoled a discouraged child to keep working through a multi-step equation; even a few education writers, in our misguided youths, put off a term paper or two until the night before the end of the semester (I’m sure it got lost in your inbox, Professor Kaiser). Melissa Tooley and Laura Bornfreund’s new study for the New America Foundation looks at how high-quality early-education programs impart critical, non-content-oriented traits like work ethic, curiosity, teamwork, and empathy—abilities they label “skills for success” and thereafter, somewhat gratingly, refer to as “SFS”—and how those approaches can be replicated and expanded at the K–12 level. Their findings represent a worthwhile and informative new entry into a debate that’s suddenly grown hot. For their part, the authors are quickly forced to address one obvious pitfall: the difficulty of quantitatively determining a student’s progress in attaining better emotional and behavioral habits, other than perhaps locking a four-year-old in a room with a marshmallow and telling him to exercise grit. “It may not currently be possible to assess certain skills well at all,” they concede. What can be assessed, however, are classroom and school environments, which research suggests have an outsized effect on students’ development of skills for success. Using surveys like the Comprehensive School Climate Inventory (CSCI) and Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS), it is possible to measure and...

This study examines the impact of peer pressure on academic decisions. Analysts Leonardo Bursztyn and Robert Jensen conducted an experiment in four large, low-performing, low-income Los Angeles high schools whereby eleventh-grade students were offered complimentary access to a popular online SAT prep course. Over 800 students participated. Analysts used two sign-up sheets, which they randomly varied. One told students that their decision to enroll would be public, meaning their classmates would know they signed up; the other told them it would be kept private. The key finding is that, in non-honors courses, sign-up was 11 percentage points lower when students believed others in the class would know whether they agreed to participate, compared to those who were told it would be kept private—suggesting that these adolescents believe there is a social cost to looking smart. In honors classes, there was no difference in sign-up rates under the two conditions. Because students in honors and non-honors classes obviously differ, to help mitigate selection bias, Bursztyn and Jansen then examined results only from students who took two honors classes—some of whom would be sitting in honors classes when they were offered the decision to participate and some of whom would be sitting in non-honors courses. They found that making the decision to enroll "public" rather than private decreases sign up rates by 25 percentage points when the “two-honors-class” students are in one of their non-honors classes. Yet when students are in one of their honors courses, making the decision public increases sign...

It’s been nearly fifty years since the publication of “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” remembered by history simply as “the Moynihan Report” after its author, future United States Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who in 1965 was an assistant labor secretary. The report detailed the decay of the black two-parent family and the concomitant social and economic problems. In this article in Education Next, the first in an entire issue dedicated to the Moynihan Report, Princeton professor Sara McLanahan and Christopher Jencks of Harvard’s Kennedy School ask, “Was Moynihan right? What happens to the children of unmarried mothers?” Note the race-neutral formulation. The authors aren’t attempting to avoid an inflammatory question. Rather, they’re addressing a problem now far more widespread than it was when Moynihan wrote. The rate of unmarried births among whites today is considerably higher than the 1965 rate among blacks, which troubled Moynihan enough to issue his bombshell report. Indeed, an estimated half of all children in the United States live with a single mother at some point before they turn eighteen. This portends many different outcomes, none of them good. The authors cite a recent review of forty-five studies using quasi-experimental methods, which find that growing up apart from one’s father reduces a child’s chances of graduating from high school by about 40 percent. Interestingly, the absence of a biological father has not been shown to affect verbal and math test scores. The disconnect seems to be attributable to another ill effect of a...

To grow up as the child of well-educated parents in an affluent American home is to hit the verbal lottery. From their earliest days, these children reap the benefits of parents who speak in complete sentences, engage them in rich dinner table conversation, and read them to sleep at bedtime. Verbal parents chatter incessantly, offering a running commentary on vegetable options in the produce aisle, pointing out letters and words in storefronts and street signs. Parents proceed, as Ginia Bellafante of the New York Times once put it, “in a near constant mode of annotation.”

In sharp contrast, early disadvantages in language among low-income children—both the low volume of words they hear and the way in which they are employed—establish a verbal inertia that is immensely difficult to address or reverse. Schools will spend every moment trying to make up for the verbal gaps kids come to school with on Day One, which usually grow wider year after year.

When it comes to vocabulary, size matters. E.D. Hirsch, Jr. observed that vocabulary “is a convenient proxy for a whole range of educational attainments and abilities.” It signals competence in reading and writing and correlates with SAT success—which, in turn, predicts the likelihood of college attendance, graduation, and the associated wage premium that has been fetishized by education reformers and driven their agenda for decades.

But vocabulary is important even for kids whose pathway...

EVERYTHING’S BIGGER IN TEXAS EXCEPT FOR SOME STUFF IN CALIFORNIA
At a news conference Monday, Greg Abbott, the Governor-elect of Texas, said that he was disturbed by “the fact that five of the top ten public universities in the country are from California, with none being from Texas.” Abbot asserted that improving the state’s public education would be his top priority, specifically pointing to early childhood education and postsecondary opportunities as areas with room for improvement.

THE LAST NCLB WAIVER EXTENSION OF 2014 GOES TO...
Despite the ongoing legal battles between Governor Bobby Jindal and State Superintendent John White over the use of Common Core-aligned tests, the U.S. Department of Education has granted Louisiana a No Child Left Behind waiver extension. It appears that Jindal’s political stand against standards did little to hurt the state’s chances of receiving an extension.

ANIMAL CRACKERS AND QUADRATIC EQUATIONS
It may come as a surprise, but many preschool students receive less than one minute of math instruction each day. In a new $25 million study funded by the Robin Hood Foundation, researchers will set out to see if introducing a new math intervention in preschool will have long-term effects on graduation rates. The study is based on previous research indicating that early math skills may be the single strongest predictor for high school graduation, and they support other development including verbal and meta-cognitive skills.

WONDER WHO SCHEDULED THIS ONE?
In yet another successful melding of...

Sadly, a change recommended by the Ohio House Education Committee in House Bill 343 that would have eliminated the minimum teacher-salary schedule from state law was removed by the Rules Committee before the legislation reached the full house. The law entrenches the archaic principle that teacher pay should be based on seniority and degrees earned, and most districts’ collective-bargaining agreements still conform to the traditional salary schedule. For instance, each district in Montgomery County, except for one, had a seniority and degrees-earned salary schedule.[1]

There are several good reasons to do away with the traditional salary schedule.  These reasons include: (1) It wrongly assumes that longevity is related to productivity; (2) it falsely assumes that a masters’ degree correlates to productivity; (3) it does not reward teachers who are demonstrably more effective; and (4) it does not differentiate teacher pay based on the conditions of the wider labor market.

Given Ohio policymakers’ reticence to ditch the salary schedule, it’s worth discussing again (see here and here for prior commentary) why the rigid salary schedule shackles schools. In particular, I’d like to deal with the fourth reason mentioned above.

Most will agree that some teachers possess specialized knowledge that may be more valued in the external labor market (i.e., in non-teaching occupations). Consider Miss Jones, a high school math teacher: It is plausible that she could compete for a well-paying job at, say, Battelle. Assuming her school wants to...

If you stop and listen, you can hear it: The country yearning, praying, hoping for some sign that our political leaders can get their acts together and get something done, something constructive that will solve real problems and move the country forward again. In 2001, in the wake of 9/11, that something was the No Child Left Behind Act, which was the umpteenth renewal of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). A reauthorization of the ESEA (on its fiftieth anniversary no less) could play the same role again: showing America that bipartisan governance is possible, even in Washington.

Thankfully, both incoming chairmen of the relevant Senate and House committees—Lamar Alexander and John Kline—have indicated that passing an ESEA reauthorization is job number one. And friends in the Obama administration tell me that Secretary Duncan is ready to roll up his sleeves and get to work on something the president could sign. So far, so good.

So what should a new ESEA entail? And could it both pass Congress and be signed by President Obama? Let me take a crack at something that could.

First, let’s set the context. For at least six years, we at the Fordham Institute have talked about “reform realism” in the context of federal education policy—recommending that Washington’s posture should be reform-minded, but also realistic about what can be accomplished from the shores of the Potomac (and cognizant of how easy it is for good intentions to go awry). While Secretary Duncan gave...

UVA RAPE STORY CONTINUES
In the wake of growing doubt over the authenticity of certain claims lodged in Rolling Stone’s article about campus sexual assault at the University of Virginia, as well as the magazine’s recent acknowledgement that it had “misplaced” its trust in the subject of the piece, national organizations have issued a call for the university to end its sanctions on fraternities and sororities.

PHONING IT IN
Charter authorizers in Washington, D.C. and Massachusetts are using a creative new tactic to test the enrollment strategies of their schools. To ensure that schools are not unfairly turning away special needs students, anonymous callers posing as parents are testing the system. The program is in response to fears that publicly-funded, independently run charters may turn away these students to maintain higher test scores. But the “mystery caller” approach also has its detractors. Last month, Fordham’s own Andy Smarick said that it “could verge on entrapment and/or discourage schools from providing the best advice to families.”

BECAUSE FOUR YEARS OF COLLEGE IS PLENTY
Colleges in North Carolina, Texas, Florida, and Virginia are re-evaluating strategies to ensure students graduate in four years. By capping credit hours at 120 and charging for additional hours taken, students and institutions save money and prevent others from accessing classes needed to graduate. Most students rack up additional courses because they change majors or enroll in “interesting” but not mandatory classes; allowing students to register for multiple semesters at one...

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...

Pages