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.

Last week, Rick Perry, the former governor of Texas, announced that he’s running for president. He is the tenth Republican to join the crowded race—a group that still doesn’t officially include poll-toppers Jeb Bush and Scott Walker. He’s also the subject of the fourteenth installment of the Eduwatch 2016 series chronicling presidential candidates’ stances on education issues.

Perry has been involved in Texas politics since 1985. He started out as a state representative and went on to become commissioner of agriculture, lieutenant governor under George W. Bush, and governor, a role he assumed when Bush was himself elected president. This will be Perry’s second run for the White House, having also tried back in 2012. He’s said much on education. Here’s a sampling:

1. Common Core: “It’s a Tenth Amendment issue. If you want Washington, if you want to implement their standards, that’s your call....We certainly had higher standards than [Common Core], so it was a very easy decision for Texans, myself and the legislature included, to basically say we still believe that Texans know how to best run Texas.” August 2014.

2. Charter schools: “Not every child learns for the same purpose, not every child thrives in the...

Although charter schools were created to be laboratories of innovation, regulations and policies often prevent them from reaching their full potential. Take, for instance, teacher education and certification requirements that can obstruct schools from training educators in the manner that best meets their unique missions, values, and goals. According to a new case study from the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, a few highly successful charter schools have overcome these obstacles by creating their own teacher certification and master’s degree programs. These schools include High Tech High in San Diego; Uncommon Schools, KIPP, and Achievement First in New York; and Match Education in Boston.

Each of these schools began their forays into teacher credentialing because they had trouble finding teachers whose “philosophies and methods” aligned with their missions. In addition, they found that many of the teachers they hired lacked the skills to be immediately successful in the classroom. By creating their own teacher training programs, these schools were able to connect formal teacher education with what happens on the ground in actual classrooms. Each program focuses on its parent school’s innovative instructional approach: For High Tech High, it’s project-based learning; for Relay...

Yesterday, former Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee announced that he’s running for president. He became the fourth Democrat in the race for the party’s nomination—a group that’s doubled in size in the last week. He’s also the subject of the thirteenth installment of the Eduwatch 2016 series chronicling presidential candidates’ stances on education issues.

Chafee entered politics back in 1992, when we was elected as the (and this isn’t a typo) Republican mayor of Warwick, Rhode Island. In 2000, he became a one-term U.S. senator—after which he left the Republican Party and won the 2010 Rhode Island gubernatorial election as an independent. In 2013, two years into his governorship, he switched parties and became a Democrat. He didn’t run for reelection, deciding instead to try for the White House. He hasn’t said an awful lot about education, including where he stands on the Common Core. But here’s a sampling:

1. National standardized testing: “Nationally, I do think it’s a good idea to have some kind of standard testing—some parameters to see how everyone’s doing at various grade levels.” September 2006.

2. Charter schools: “The debate is ongoing on whether charter schools are in the best interest of...

The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) this week gave notice to four charter schools that it sponsors of its determination to cease school operations due to, among other things, a pattern of poor academic performance. While the schools’ governing boards have a short amount of time to appeal closure and provide a plan acceptable to ODE to remedy its concerns, it is unlikely that the four schools will reopen next school year. These are hard decisions with real impacts to the families and the communities served by these schools, but the department (and especially its Office of Quality School Choice) deserve plaudits for making tough calls and acting in the best interests of children and families whose schools are not providing the quality education that all of our students deserve.

While some may want to characterize this action under the popular “Wild Wild West” narrative and use it as a flail with which to attack charter schools writ large in Ohio, it is more accurately characterized as the latest in a very positive series of steps taken by the department to assert improved oversight over the charter school sector in the Buckeye State:

  • In 2013, State Superintendent Richard
  • ...

The year was 2013. Bruce Springsteen was on the European leg of his “Wrecking Ball” tour. Seagulls squawked warily on the freshly rebuilt piers of the Jersey Shore. And here’s what Governor Chris Christie had to say about Common Core: "We are doing Common Core in New Jersey, and we're going to continue. And this is one of those areas where I have agreed more with the president than not.” Ah yes—rousing if uncharacteristically unprofane words from the state’s chief executive. But after countless years (actually, we counted; it was a little less than two) of study and consideration, Christie is now signaling his intent to abandon the Common Core standards he once championed. You can only imagine our shock at the sudden inconstancy of this resolute man, especially when New Jersey is only in the very first stages of implementing the CCSS-aligned PARCC tests. But at least we know that this reversal isn’t some cynical ploy to grab conservative support in the 2016 Republican primary. After all, what would be the point? His chances of seeing the Oval Office on anything other than a school trip are sinking faster than a fat guy thrown off the...

Classroom discipline is, let’s face facts, a fraught subject. It frequently occurs at the uncomfortable vector between schooling and race, where seemingly all useful reform conversations end up turning poisonous and accusatory. If you argue in favor of curbing suspensions and expulsions for black students, you’re privileging the rights of reprobates over the studious kids trying to learn in an unruly environment. Advance a case for stricter measures, however, and you’ll find “disparate impacts” and the “school-to-prison pipeline” hung around your neck. Few areas of education discourse are more in need of illuminating research.

This new study, conducted by Stanford researchers specializing in the investigation of implicit psychological bias, provides exactly that. Through the use of two separate experiments, it exposes a tendency in K–12 teachers (predominantly white females in the middle of their careers, but including members of both sexes and multiple races) to detect patterns of misbehavior in black students more so than white. In the first experiment, the authors provided participants with disciplinary records for students with either stereotypical white or black names, each detailing two episodes of petty insubordination. They then asked the teachers to describe how “troubled” they felt (a composite measure indicating their degree...

A new study from MDRC evaluates the impact, over three years, of a support program for low-income community college students in New York who are taking remedial courses. Developed by the City University of New York, the program is called the Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (or ASAP) and includes several components. Among these is a requirement to enroll full-time and participate in tutoring; comprehensive and dedicated student advising; a non-credit seminar that covers academic planning and goal setting; and career and employment services. Participants enjoy tuition waivers, free transportation vouchers, and free textbooks. Eligible students had to meet income eligibility requirements and take one to two remedial courses, among other conditions.

Three of CUNY’s largest community colleges participated, and roughly nine hundred students were randomly assigned either to a control group that received the usual college services or the treatment group, which had the opportunity to participate in ASAP (a study design that actually met the What Works Clearinghouse design standards without reservations).

Now for the results: ASAP students earned, on average, nine more credits than the control group. Moreover, the program nearly doubled the graduation rate, with 40 percent of the ASAP group receiving a degree compared to...

Maryland’s demanding new Kindergarten Readiness Assessment was administered statewide for the first time this year. Its results are revealing and sobering, to put it mildly. Many states don’t even check in any systematic way on their children’s readiness for kindergarten, and in previous years, Maryland used metrics based on modest expectations, outdated standards, and feel-good politics.

With the leadership of State Superintendent Lillian Lowery and Assistant Superintendent Rolf Grafwallner, Maryland has brought a new sense of reality to the skills that five-year-olds ought to possess if they’re truly prepared to succeed in kindergarten and the early grades. These span four domains, two of them cognitive (language, math), plus physical wellbeing (motor development, hygiene, etc.) and what they term “social foundations” (self-control, for example).

The assessment is individually administered by kindergarten teachers and was given this year to all of the Old Line State’s sixty-seven thousand kindergartners. The results are sorted into three bands, politely labeled “demonstrating readiness,” “developing readiness,” and “emerging readiness.” But only the first of these means actually ready to succeed in kindergarten—and slightly fewer than half of Maryland’s entering kindergartners met that standard.

Which is to say that more than half are not ready. This report candidly...

I liked Grant Wiggins more than just about anyone with whom I disagreed so much. On several occasions, he’d write something about teaching or curriculum I vehemently disagreed with, or vice versa. A sharply worded blog comment or tweet would follow. Then, invariably, there would be an email. Often lots of them. Nothing remarkable there; arguments begun in one venue often spill over into others. But what I came to value about those exchanges with Wiggins, who passed away suddenly and unexpectedly last week at age 64, is that they weren’t an attempt to win an argument or a convert. If you disagreed with him—if you looked at the same evidence and came to a different conclusion—he had to know why. 

Wiggins, the author of the influential curriculum planning guide Understanding by Design, held to his beliefs tightly and argued them passionately. He would never have embraced the label of education reformer—far from it—but he resisted the facile view of the education world as an “us versus them” proposition. He was adamant that instructional practices he railed against—dry lectures; activities divorced from big ideas and important skills; dutiful marches through content to be covered—were not a product of “reform,” but...

At the heart of Robert Putnam’s important new book, Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, is a paradox. As Putnam so effectively and compassionately illustrates, the fundamental reality of life for many children growing up in poverty in America today is the extremely low level of “social capital” of their families, communities, and schools. One or both of their parents are absent; church attendance is down; opportunities to participate in sports teams or scout troops or youth groups are few and far between. Put simply, these kids—“our kids”—feel all alone, living “troubled, isolated, hopeless lives.”

The solution, then—the way to help poor children climb the ladder to the middle class and achieve the American Dream—must involve rebuilding this social capital, right? Yet that’s not what Putnam proposes; instead, he calls for more investments in government services and transfer payments. He wants to replace social capital with financial capital.

Why? It’s probably because, like the rest of us, he doesn’t know how to rebuild social capital. Once it’s lost, it may be gone forever.

And that’s the paradox: Social capital is essential to keeping families and communities spiritually and materially prosperous. But once a family or a community experiences...

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