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.

John Chubb

[Editor's note: This is the second post in our latest blog series by John Chubb, "Building a Better Leader: Lessons from New Principal Leadership Development Programs." See here for the introductory post.]

Traditional principal preparation programs are notoriously non-selective. The new breed of program takes selectivity to the opposite extreme. Some have ratios of acceptances to inquiries or applications that rival competitive colleges—below 10 percent. For example, Building Excellent Schools (BES) receives upwards of 2,000 inquiries for between ten and twelve fellowships.

Every alternative program that we studied is looking first for intellectual capacity and leadership approach. Jane Shirley, executive director of Get Smart Schools (GSS), put it this way: “We’re looking for systemic thinkers. [Management expert] Peter Senge says that every system is perfectly designed to get the results it is getting. We want leaders who, when faced with a problem, understand it’s because whatever you’ve designed is supporting that particular problem—to understand the problem at the design level is the kind of creativity we are looking for.” GSS is preparing principals to lead autonomous schools, she emphasized, and “that is very different from leading schools in a bureaucracy.”

The University of Illinois is preparing principals to work in a bureaucracy, the Chicago Public Schools. But it has a similar emphasis. First, the program is embedded in a Ph.D. program, evidence of the kind of deep and creative thinking that it values. The program also demands that prospective leaders be capable of maintaining high expectations as a...

Editor’s Note: On Thursday, November 13, Chad Aldis testified before the Ohio House Education Committee on the substitute bill for House Bill 228. His comments focused on a small but substantial change that would limit the length of a state assessment, even if administered in several parts at multiple times during the school year, to four hours. A portion of his testimony is below.

I would like to commend the legislature on its decision to examine the issue of over-testing. In recent months, concerns over the amount of classroom time allocated to standardized testing have risen with a fervor and urgency that is understandable. Testing impacts thousands of students, parents, and educators across our state. As a parent of children in a traditional public school, I understand the concerns surrounding testing. I am equally concerned though that in our rush to find a solution we could potentially swing the pendulum too far the other way.

I oppose placing a testing time limit in statute for three reasons.

First, the provision limiting testing hours on the state assessment is a quick fix that may not solve the issue of over-testing. Under HB 487, enacted in June, the state superintendent is required to study the state’s assessments and report back to you by January 15. This report should give you valuable information that can be utilized in making decisions about testing. I urge you to be patient and wait for...

Draft Conference Agenda
Thomas B. Fordham Institute's Education for Upward Mobility
December 2, 2014
The Renaissance Hotel
999 9th Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20001
 
8:00 – 8:45           Registration, breakfast and coffee available
8:45 – 9:00           Welcome and introductions, Michael J. Petrilli
9:00 – 10:15        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? Military service? Apprenticeships? Following the “success sequence” (get a high school diploma, work full time, and wait until age 21 to marry and start a family)?
 
Presenters
Ron Haskins, Brookings Institution: “Education and the Success Sequence”
Andrew Kelly, American Enterprise Institute: “Big Payoff, Low Probability: Postsecondary Education and Economic Mobility in America”
...

NYC KIDS FLOOD PRE-K
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s full-day pre-K initiative is exceeding enrollment expectations. More than 53,000 children have signed up for the program, compared to about 20,000 attending full-day pre-kindergarten last year. The sharp rise in attendance is seen as a victory for the mayor, who has made expansion of pre-K programs a cornerstone of his education policy.

GOLD STANDARDS IN THE SILVER STATE
In part two of NPR’s terrific series on reading in the Common Core era, teachers in Washoe County, Nevada, discuss how the challenging standards demand more from both low and high achievers. The shift from simple comprehension questions to evidence-supported answers helps students at all levels of achievement stay engaged with the material.

IS IT SAFE?
The National Association of Secondary School Principals is working to address increasing security concerns accompanying a rise in technology and data storage in classrooms. Among its recommendations, the group suggests tougher encryption standards, development of statewide security plans, and district-level policies that determine what data can be collected and where...

  • Uber-effective charter leaders Judy Burton and Dacia Toll took to U.S. News this week to argue that charters and standards go hand in hand. Both reforms grew from the same analysis of and frustration over low-performing American schools. Charter advocates understand that we need to set high expectations for teachers and students; we also know that the Common Core does that, allowing American students everywhere to be ready for college and, more importantly, the world beyond. To be sure, the transition will be difficult at times. But, as Theodore Roosevelt said, “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty.”
  • The New York Times editorial board penned an op-ed last week calling for a stronger school turnaround plan for the city. The impetus for and target of the piece was Mayor de Blasio’s long-anticipated blueprint to rescue struggling schools, which the paper deemed imprecise and almost surely doomed to fail. A prominent feature of the plan is to add wraparound services to low-performing schools over the next three years, including mental health and dental treatment. But because these kids are struggling now, a three-year plan seems tone deaf—especially when the solution has a poor track record. Given how strenuously the current administration is trying to roll back and negate the gains of Bloomberg and Klein, the criticism is deserved.
  • The Wall Street Journal reports that, because U.S. students’ math scores are so much lower than foreign students’, some high-profile
  • ...

This book, out of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, is a useful field guide to the design and implementation of blended learning models, which combine computer-mediated resources like MOOCs with conventional classroom instruction. Nonetheless, readers may greet its subtitle, “Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools,” with a pang of foreboding. Blended initially makes you worry that its pages will mostly be a blend of TED Talk doublespeak. Indeed, the foreword (contributed by the High Prophet of Disruption himself, Clayton M. Christensen) ominously name-checks Thomas Kuhn, the philosopher and historian who first coined the now-inescapable phrase “paradigm shift.” But whatever their slight fondness for techno-jargon, authors Michael B. Horn and Heather Staker have written something valuable mainly because they are at pains to define their terms. This is the critical task facing advocates of blended learning, as Fordham itself has chronicled. Furnishing students with laptops and posting lesson plans on Blackboard isn’t blended learning; nor is a totally online experience that students access from home. For clarification, Horn and Staker use refreshingly simple graphics to outline the varying blends—from hybrid approaches shuttling kids between online activities, small-group instruction, and pen-and-paper assignments, to more unfamiliar models that explicitly make online teaching the backbone of coursework even within brick-and-mortar schools. The book doesn’t sidestep the question of what role teachers and facilities will play as more curriculum and tutoring is done remotely; the treatment is thin, but its vision of community schools providing family services, serving nutritious (and even edible)...

This new study examines whether voluntary financial contributions to public education have increased over time and, if so, whether these donations vary by district size and other characteristics. Voluntary contributions are those awarded by charitable school foundations, local endowments, booster clubs, parent-teacher associations, and alumni associations—so these are local dollars in addition to the local revenues generated largely by property taxes. Analysts examine voluntary contributions to public schools from 1995 through 2010, relying on Form 990 filings that are captured in the Guidestar nonprofit database, which includes expenditure reports for nonprofits with annual revenues totaling $25,000 or more. These data were then linked with mapping data to match the nonprofit to the corresponding school district, including data about district revenues and demographics. The final sample included over 13,000 non-profits that supported schools and/or districts. There are four key findings. First, PTAs comprise most of the nonprofits (70 percent), while local foundations comprise only 13 percent. And among all donors, 93 percent of them give to district schools, while only 1.3 percent support charter schools. Second, the number of nonprofits supporting schools has increased 230 percent, from over 3,400 in 1995 to nearly 12,000 in 2010. Third, nonprofit revenues increased almost 350 percent, from $197 million in 1995 to $880 million in 2010. Nationwide, per-pupil voluntary contributions jumped along with it, going from $3.67 in 1995 to $20.31 in 2010. Moreover, if you hone in on those districts that have at least one non-profit supporting them, we see that the voluntary...

Sometimes the conventional wisdom is right. Education really is an easy major. This study from the National Council on Teacher Quality, the bête noire of America’s teacher prep programs, finds that 44 percent of prospective teachers graduate with honors, compared to only 30 percent of all graduating students at the same colleges. The reason appears to be that grading standards for education majors are much lower than for students in other majors on the same campus. NCTQ analyzed course assignments on the syllabi for nearly 1200 courses at thirty-three schools—not just in education, but in a variety of majors. The 7,500 assignments in those courses were then classified as either “criterion-referenced” or “criterion-deficient.” The former means that students were graded on “a clearly circumscribed slice of knowledge and skill-based content,” which ostensibly allows instructors to provide substantive feedback and comparisons of student work. By contrast, “criterion-deficient” assignments were more subjective in nature. These latter kinds of assignments are used about twice as often—71 percent versus 34 percent—in education coursework. The report also examines and dismisses several popular theories for why ed majors earn so many As: Yes, a rising tide of grade inflation has lifted all boats, but teacher candidates’ boats are like hovercraft rising above the waves. Interestingly, the assumption that ed school is all low-level assignments and group work turns out to be a canard—as is the less commonly held belief that ed students and faculty are simply stronger than other departments....

Peter Sipe

“Ambiguous” is a reliably fun word to teach sixth graders. They quickly grasp its essence and utility. I introduce it by explaining how I was once given a keychain with the legend “I Teach. I Make a Difference.I assure my students that I have never used this keychain, for, in keeping with my unyielding commitment to personal excellence, I would only ever boast of making a positive difference. Then we have a lively discussion about the possible meanings of the keychain’s phrase. This discourse was evidently not forgotten by one student, who in June concluded a speech, "Mr. Sipe, you made a difference." Then she smiled wickedly and added, “A big difference!”

At least she didn’t declare this: “He could not disguise from my hourly notice the poverty and meagreness of his understanding.” That unambiguous teacher evaluation was penned by Thomas DeQuincey almost two hundred years ago in Confessions of an Opium-Eater. He dispatches another master as “a blockhead, who was in a perpetual panic lest I should expose his ignorance.” You don’t have to read far to begin to wonder if his titular waywardness was perhaps due to unrewarding schooling. “It is a bad thing,” DeQuincey observes, “for a boy to be and to know himself far beyond his tutors, whether in knowledge or in power of mind.” I wouldn’t challenge him on this.

The question of how to challenge a young...

DEPARTMENT OF GOOD NEWS
Earlier this fall, Fordham’s inimitable Robert Pondiscio traveled to Reno to check out the breezy and successful Common Core implementation in the Washoe County school district. This week, the county's teachers discuss how their original wariness of the standards gave way to an understanding of how they will benefit students. Teachers are particularly optimistic about how the Common Core ELA standards stress text-based evidence rather than personal connections, an approach that helps disadvantaged kids keep pace with the rest of their class.

DEPARMENT OF BAD NEWS
The U.S. Department of Education announced in September that more than 1.1. million public school students have no permanent homes. Experts say homeless students are nine times more likely to be held back a grade level and four times more likely to drop out of school entirely. Nonprofit mobile tutoring programs often have to supplement the work of local schools, as NPR reports.

COMPETITORS GETTING TEST-Y
There is growing controversy surrounding Common Core-aligned test-development contracts. Bidding in many states has lacked any semblance of competition, with only one company participating in the process, and a lawsuit in New Mexico alleges that the bid requirements were prejudicial, according to the Wall Street Journal.

SHORTCUT TO HIGHER PAY?
A new study found wide variations in wages earned by students graduating from short- or long-term degree programs, concluding that most short-term career certificates yield “minimal to no positive effects.” Today, more than a...

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