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.

TNTP’s new report, “The Mirage,” is essential reading for anyone interested in educator effectiveness. It’s smartly researched and delivers an uppercut of a conclusion: Today's professional development doesn’t work.

There’s just one small problem. I’m not sure I believe it.

To trust its findings would mean admitting that we’ve wasted hundreds of billions of dollars. It would mean we’ve misled millions of educators and families about improving the profession. It would mean a load-bearing wall of the Race-to-the-Top and ESEA-waiver talent architecture is made of sand. All of this would be hard to swallow, but I suppose it’s possible.

But to accept and act on these findings would mean putting our full faith in today’s approach to evaluating educator effectiveness. It would mean believing generations of schools, school systems, PD providers, institutions of higher education, and parents were wrong when it comes to assessing and improving teacher performance. For me, this is a bridge too far.

The study encompassed four large school operators and surveyed thousands of educators. It used multiple measures to assess teacher effectiveness and tried to find variables that influenced whether a teacher improved (things like “growth mindset,” school culture, and access to different types of...

What the best and wisest parent wants for his own child, that must the community want for all its children. – John Dewey

The intuitive appeal of this oft-quoted maxim is obvious. It speaks to the conviction that all of the children in a community or a country are “our kids” and that we should want the very best for them just as we do for our own flesh and blood.

Taken literally, however, it is also problematic, for it equates “sameness” with “equity.” That’s an error in part because what “the best and wisest parents” want varies—some seek traditional schools, others favor progressive ones, etc.

But it’s also a mistake because children’s needs vary. Kids growing up in poverty and fragile families, and dysfunctional communities need a whole lot more than kids living with affluence and stability. And when it comes to their schools, poor kids may need something a whole lot different. That’s why I’m a big fan of No Excuses charter schools, which are showing great promise for low-income children—even if they might not be a good fit for many of their upper-middle class peers.

All...

Hannah Putman

When trying to improve educational outcomes, it is hard not to feel the need for urgency. We want to figure out what works now and implement changes immediately—because if we wait, kids who are in schools now will miss out. Unfortunately, this pressure to act quickly may be fundamentally at odds with the ability to measure what really works, since meaningful changes in the trajectory of student achievement are not always apparent until years later. Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach of Northwestern University provides a compelling example of exactly this conundrum.
 
Schanzenbach’s thesis is that too often, education research only assesses an intervention’s immediate or intermediate outcomes without capturing its long-term benefits. This may be particularly relevant, she asserts, when judging the impact of early childhood investments.
 
Schanzenbach offers the example of two studies (both of which she co-authored) on the famous 1990s Project STAR class size experiment in Tennessee. That well-known experiment assigned students randomly to either regularly sized classes or smaller ones. Researchers behind both papers (the first from Dynarski, Hyman, and Schanzenbach and the second from Chetty, Friedman, Hilger, Saez, Schanzenbach, and Yagan) found that the smaller kindergarten classes yielded an immediate bump in student test scores for that year; but both papers report...

Since 2003, Florida has required that schools retain third graders who fail to demonstrate proficiency on the state reading test. A new study by Martin West and colleagues examines the impact of this policy by rigorously comparing the results from students who are just above or below the cutoff for retention. The first cohort to be affected by the new policy entered the third grade in 2002, and West et al. track it through high school graduation. They also track five additional cohorts, the last of which entered third grade in 2008.

Unsurprisingly, they find that the policy increased the number of third graders retained. It started with 4,800 kids in the year prior to the policy introduction (2002) and jumped to nearly twenty-two thousand the next year. The numbers retained have fallen steadily over time, however, as more students have cleared the hurdle. The study’s key finding is that third-grade retention substantially improves students’ reading and math achievement in the short run. Specifically, reading achievement improves for retained students by 23 percent of a standard deviation after one year—and by as much as 47 percent of a standard deviation after two years—when compared to students of the same age....

  • If Pennsylvania Avenue’s barricaded sidewalks didn’t make it obvious, the whooshing pantaloons of the Swiss Guard certainly will—Pope Francis is officially touring the capital! And while his three-day visit will be punctuated by extensive coverage of the Church’s role in American life and politics, Kavitha Cardoza’s piece on the fate of urban Catholic education is our recommended read (or listen) for anyone intrigued by the issue of school choice. Initially established as alternatives for the children of European immigrant families (who objected to compulsory Protestant indoctrination in nineteenth-century classrooms), Catholic schools grew to serve five million students by their 1960s peak. Since then, tuition increases and fraying religious communities in inner cities have sliced that number by more than half, but optimistic signs exist. As one of Cardoza’s sources remarks, last year’s drop in national Catholic school enrollment was the lowest since 2000, and the decline has substantially slowed over the past few years. That’s a dramatic turnaround from 2008, the year that the pope last visited and Fordham issued its gloomy dispatch on Catholic education, amid freefalling enrollment and tumult in the Church. For families seeking the combination of educational rigor and moral direction that
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The sweetest and shiniest word in the progressive lexicon is “universal.” It connotes equity, equality, and above all fairness. As a practical matter, however, these lofty ideals are undermined when we give everyone the same even if some need more. This is a truth universally acknowledged.

It also seems lost upon New York City’s uber-progressive mayor, Bill de Blasio, who seems oddly determined at times to make worse, not better, the “Tale of Two Cities” dichotomy between rich and poor New York that he rode into office two years ago.

The second year of de Blasio’s signature education initiative, a $300 million program to provide free, full-time pre-K to all New Yorkers, began this fall with troubling data suggesting that it is badly misfiring. Using census data and information from the mayor’s office, Bruce Fuller—a professor of education and public policy at University of California, Berkeley (Berkeley!)— estimates that there are 103,000 four-year-olds eligible for the program. In many instances, however, those who need it most are not being reached.

Children from low-income homes make up the largest share of program participants, accounting for roughly one-third of the sixty-five thousand registrations. But Fuller calculates that more than twelve thousand...

In the fall of 1996, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) implemented a new accountability system that placed 20 percent of its schools on “probation.” Poor reading test scores made up the sole criterion for censure and those scarlet-lettered schools were plastered on the front page of both Chicago newspapers. A new study by Peter Rich and Jennifer Jennings of NYU takes a look at enrollment changes in these “probation schools,” both before and after the imposition of the new accountability system. The authors attempt to determine if the addition of new information (“this school is not performing up to par”) motivated more or different school change decisions among families.

1996 may seem like ancient history to education reformers, but the study illustrates the perennial power of information to motivate school choice decisions. In 1996, CPS had (and still does) an open enrollment policy that allows any family to choose any school in the district other than their assigned one, provided there is space available. Since the district provided no transportation to students either before or after the policy was imposed, that issue was moot. The number of schools and seats within the district also stayed the same. In other words,...

During the summer of 2012, Governor Kasich signed House Bill 525 into law. The bill, dubbed the Cleveland Plan, implemented aggressive reforms aimed at substantially improving academic performance in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD). The plan focused on four strategies: growing the number of high-performing schools while closing and replacing failing schools; investing and phasing in educational reforms from pre-K to college and career; shifting authority and resources to individual schools; and creating the Cleveland Transformation Alliance (CTA), a nonprofit responsible for supporting implementation and holding schools accountable. Soon after the bill was passed, Cleveland voters approved a four-year, $15 million levy to support the plan.

Soon, the district will need to go back to the voters to renew the levy that passed in 2012. District leaders have been working hard to demonstrate enough progress on their goals to maintain community support, and they’re right that several promising signs of progress exist. But Cleveland has long been one of the worst-performing districts in the country, and incremental glimmers of progress may not cut it for families and taxpayers. One only needs to glance at the comments section of a Plain Dealer article...

The possible existence of a gender bias in the classroom is not a new controversy. Research has shown that, consciously or not, some teachers treat students differently according to gender; they may give boys more (or different types of) attention, encourage boys more in certain subjects and girls in others, and otherwise interact with each gender differently.

Economists Victor Lavy and Edith Sand bring us an important continuation of that work with a National Bureau of Economic Research paper that explores whether students are exposed to gender bias during elementary school. It then examines whether that exposure has an impact on students’ later academic achievement.

Their study follows approximately three thousand elementary school students and eighty teachers from twenty-five different elementary schools in Israel. They first ask: Is there gender bias? In other words, do teachers believe one gender is academically stronger than the other when there’s actually no difference (or even if the preferred gender is actually doing worse)? The answer to this question is yes. By comparing a teacher’s assessment of a student’s performance in a variety of subjects to the student’s scores on external exams in the same subject, the researchers find that girls outscore boys on...

Tomorrow is Constitution Day, when all schools receiving federal funds are expected to provide lessons or other programming on our most important founding document. But when only one-quarter of eighth graders score “proficient” on the most recent NAEP civics exam, it’s also a reminder of how rarely civics and citizenship take center stage in America’s public schools. 

The public-spirited mission of preparing children for self-government in a democracy was a founding ideal of America’s education system. To see how far we have strayed from it, Fordham reviewed the publicly available mission, vision, and values statements adopted by the nation’s hundred largest school districts to see whether they still view the preparation of students for participation in democratic life as an essential outcome. Very few do. Well over half (fifty-nine) of those districts make no mention of civics or citizenship whatsoever in either their mission or vision statements. 

The personal and private reasons for education—preparation for college and career, for example—are much more on the minds of school district officials who write and adopt these statements and goals than the public virtue of citizenship. The words “college” (thirty-seven occurrences) and “career” (forty-six), for...

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