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.

Today, the U.S Department of Education released Year-Three reports on the 12 states that won funding via Race to the Top’s first two competitions. Here are the five things that jumped out at me.

1.   Common Core implementation, front and center

While politicians and talking heads have been warring over the new standards, these states have been neck-deep in implementation. States are approaching implementation differently—some focusing on training, while others are producing model units and lesson plans—but all of them seem to have kept their eye on this ball.

2.   Will the training work?

A number of states placed huge bets on professional development, spending enormous sums to train their teachers and school leaders. In a few cases, states have served tens of thousands of educators; Florida’s report claims 134,000 educators attended their training sessions. Given the not-so-encouraging research on the efficacy of professional development, we have to wonder if this money was well spent. But as one state leader told me, “We had to take a chance on PD…how else were we going to get our teachers ready for new standards and assessments?”

3.   Teacher-evaluation troubles

Many of the reports highlight the challenges these states face in faithfully implementing the teacher-evaluation promises they made in their applications. This includes not producing growth scores on time, having trouble differentiating teachers as expected, and more. Georgia is probably in the worst shape on this front—it may lose funding because it hasn’t developed the compensation system it promised, and it...

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Late last year, the U.S. Department of Education’s independent research arm, the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), released a preliminary but highly informative report on the School Improvement Grant program (SIG).  Its findings help explain why the program is failing so badly and foreshadow IES’s much-anticipated comprehensive analysis of this multi-billion dollar program.

This report focuses on inputs, three “levers” for school improvement: school-level operational authority; state and district support; and state monitoring. Its findings are based on a survey and interviews of school, district, and state administrators.

The most notable finding is that there is very little difference between the goings-on of SIG schools and similarly low-performing schools that didn’t receive SIG funding. SIG schools were marginally more likely than non-SIG schools to have authority over professional development and the length of the school day, but there were no statistically significant differences in other areas. Moreover, in most areas studied (such as student discipline and curriculum), the majority of SIG and non-SIG schools both reported that they lacked primary authority.

Similarly, SIG and non-SIG schools reported receiving generally the same types of district and state supports.

The report is careful to point out that the sample studied was not randomly selected, meaning these results don’t necessarily reflect SIG as a whole.

But when you consider these findings alongside the state-level implementation findings and the dismal student-achievement results released so far, the picture comes into focus: SIG was a terribly...

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Ohio’s urban policymakers are searching for ways to (a) improve their students’ achievement and college-going rates, (b) boost enrollment in their schools, and (c) increase city population—or at least keep people from fleeing. Making progress toward this trifecta of goals is tough-sledding. We at Fordham have documented the struggles of Ohio’s urban schools in our annual report-card analysis, and have observed the massive declines in school enrollment in the state’s “Big 8” urban areas.

A recent Education Next article looks at one college-scholarship program in Kalamazoo, Michigan, a city the size of Canton and with very similar demographics. Established in 2005, these privately funded scholarships allow Kalamazoo’s high-school graduates to attend a Michigan public college or university. The scholarship is worth between 65 to 100 percent of tuition, and scholarship-bearing students are required to maintain a 2.0 grade point average (GPA) while in college.

This aid not only supports college enrollment, but it also is designed to reverse Kalamazoo’s flagging K-12 enrollment and to give the city’s current grade-school students another reason to succeed in their studies. After all, why bother with “college readiness” if it’s unaffordable?

A research study of the program found promising results after its third year (2008). The city’s district enrollment increased, overall and also across both White and African American student groups. Moreover, they found a significant increase in African American students’ GPA and a significant decrease in the number of days suspended for African American and for all students.

The early...

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The goal is innovation and excellence in education, the preferred avenues are digital-learning approaches in any of various forms, and the work is geared toward removing barriers to these approaches: that is the background of Digital Learning Now’s 2013 report card, released last week. The report card measures and grades K–12 education policies in each of the nation’s fifty states against the ten elements that they determined were important to ensure high-quality digital learning (among them embracing new education models, utilizing technology to expand personalized learning, and eliminating barriers to blended learning). The top states this year were Utah and Florida, the only two to get as high as an A–. Ten states were in the B range, and the rest were C+ and below. So, how’d Ohio do? Overall, we scrounged up a D, as did Hawaii and Alaska. We were higher than Pennsylvania and Kentucky but far below Indiana and Michigan. Ohio’s bright spot was in the area of “quality instruction,” for which we received a B+, but that still left us in the middle of the pack, our overall grade pulled down by lack of appropriate funding and less-than-open access to bring that quality instruction equitably across the state. However, Ohio was singled out for a “high note” to end the year: the first round of Straight-A Fund awards in December.

Source: Digital Learning Now, 2013 Digital Learning Report Card (Excellence in Education, March, 2014)...

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“Grit” is a hot new buzzword—and what some believe to be the key to whether a student succeeds. But this study takes a slightly different tack, demonstrating a link between a teacher’s grit and her effectiveness and longevity in the classroom. The authors determined the “grittiness” of a selection of first- and second-year teachers via a blind rating system of their résumés, awarding points to individuals who remained in activities (sports, clubs, and so on) for more than two years and extra points for high achievement in those areas. Then, the researchers assessed the teachers’ performance via their students’ proficiency on a standardized assessment. The teachers who were most effective possessed demonstrably higher grit ratings than their counterparts. Grittier teachers were also more likely to complete the school year. Other measures—such as demographic characteristics, school assignment, SAT scores, college GPA, and leadership abilities—did not yield the same statistically significant correlation. The researchers concluded that strong teachers can be identified during the hiring process through a careful examination of the right personality traits, which manifest in teachers’ high-school and college activities. Principals, take heed!

SOURCE: Claire Robertson-Kraft and Angela Lee Duckworth, “True Grit: Trait-Level Perseverance and Passion for Long-Term Goals Predicts Effectiveness and Retention among Novice Teachers,” Teachers College Record 116(3).

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By now, education observers are aware of New York City mayor Bill de Blasio’s incursion on the Big Apple’s charter sector.

No one should be surprised; this was no ambuscade, no lying in wait. He publicly campaigned against charters. He actually called his predecessor’s policy of allowing charter public schools to share public-school space with district public schools “abhorrent.”

This has been a shame for low-income kids, of course, given NYC’s charters’ superb performance. But it has made for 24-karat media fodder.

Hizzoner has picked a fight with Eva Moskowitz, not only the operator of a network of tremendously successful charters but also one of the toughest pugilists in the city’s notoriously combative political squared-circle. The Democratic mayor is now involved in internecine warfare over charters with the state’s Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo, who publicly declared, “We will save charter schools.

But de Blasio’s camp hasn’t turned tail; they’ve trickily tergiversated. Despite their words and deeds, the mayor’s camp is claiming he’s not really against chartershis narrative got hijacked. He likes charters just fine!

Former governor Mario Cuomo, Andrew’s father, brilliantly said, “You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose.”

Given the mayor’s attempt at playing both sides, his team might be credited with implying a third part of the equation: “You spin in prevarication.”

Though all of this makes for Broadway-ready pyrotechnics, there is an important and as-of-yet unexplored element of this script....

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Do the characteristics of a school and its neighborhood affect whether prospective teachers apply to teach there? To answer this question, analysts attended three large job fairs for Chicago Public Schools in Summer 2006 and compiled extensive data on the preferences and demographics of the 4,000 attending applicants, as well as where they lived in relation to the schools in which they expressed interest. Here are four key findings: First, schools with a larger proportion of white or Asian students had more job fair applicants—a 10 percentage point increase in white or Asian students is associated, on average, with four more applicants per school. Similarly, an increase in free-lunch-eligible students of 10 percentage points is associated with four fewer applicants per school per job fair. Second, African American candidates are more likely to apply to schools serving African American populations, and Hispanic candidates are more drawn toward schools serving larger populations of students with limited English proficiency than they are toward schools with a majority of students of other races. Third, applicants with a degree in math or science appear to value student achievement more: they were more likely to apply to schools with larger proportions of kids meeting basic levels of proficiency than other teachers. Fourth, teachers tend to apply to schools close to home. Candidates are 40 percent less likely to apply to a school that is just three miles further from their homes. The analysts close with several recommendations intended to help lure more qualified...

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The K–12 education world brims with debates and dichotomies that get us into all manner of needless quarrels and cul-de-sacs, thus messing up every reform initiative and retarding progress. In every case, both sides are certain that they speak the whole truth; convinced that opposing views are misguided, perhaps even evil; and insistent that changes the system needs will go awry unless their side prevails.

These philosophical tug-of-wars lead to paralysis akin to what we witness today in Congress and many legislatures. Of them we ask, “Why can’t you compromise, split the difference, make a deal, take the best of both positions, and get something done?”

The ten education dichotomies outlined below should be seen in similar light: neither side owns the truth—and what would do kids the greatest good is an intelligent middle ground that melds the best of both views.

Skills vs. Knowledge

Back in 1987, in What Do Our 17-Year-Olds Know?, Diane Ravitch and I tackled a pair of overlapping “false dichotomies”: skills vs. content and concepts vs. facts. They were prevalent in the education profession then and remain front and center today—indeed, are highlighted by the challenges of implementing (and assessing) the Common Core State Standards, which at first look skills-centric but which also make clear that success hinges on the deployment of a rich, sequential, content-focused curriculum. Already influenced by the analysis of E.D. Hirsch Jr. and the cognitive science that he had exhaustively mined, Diane and I wrote, “It is neither possible nor desirable...

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The Obama administration has just released its 2015 budget proposal. Here are its most notable K-12 edu-features.

  • It leads with the “Preschool for All” initiative, a significant investment in pre-K. It’s worth noting that this is at the front of the request. Pre-K is popular, and the administration is seizing on it. The budget also discusses an “Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative,” which would cut across several departments; some of these resources would be applicable to this pre-K initiative.
  • The budget reflects the growing use of the term “equity” in the K–12 debate with the new Race to the Top “Equity and Opportunity” program, which is designed to help close the achievement gap. It’s relatively small ($300m) compared to previous RTT programs, and it’s not totally clear how it would work. It appears that the administration wants to “leverage” existing programs, and it too will be supplemented by the “Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative.” This does, however, continue the RTT brand and is an indication that the administration wanted to show that it listened to the Equity and Excellence Commission.
  • The administration promotes its “most mature” programs: RTT, i3, SIG, TIF, and Promise Neighborhoods. They don’t mention, however, that TIF was created by the Bush administration or that SIG is failing badly. Regardless, four of these five are competitive grant programs (not formula programs), something the administration evidently wants to be remembered for advancing—and for which it deserves credit.
  • The administration still doesn’t understand that it
  • ...
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“Shoot for the Moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars”: this clichéd adage, often found on motivational posters, actually has something worthwhile to say. Sometimes where we set goals determines where we end up, even if the goal is seldom met. A forthcoming American Educational Research Journal study applies this proverbial wisdom to content coverage in Kindergarten. Focusing on math and reading, researchers examine whether replacing “basic” content (content mastered by 50 percent or more of incoming Kindergarten students) with “advanced” content (mastered by less than 50 percent) leads to greater academic gains, as measured by assessments administered in the fall and spring of Kindergarten. The answer? Yes. And this holds regardless of the child’s childcare experiences prior to Kindergarten (i.e., center-based care, Head Start, or “other”). The researchers conclude that lackluster content coverage in Kindergarten helps explain the fading benefits of pre-school. Basically, Kindergarten teachers spend too much time on “basic content” that, by definition, most of the students already know, especially those that attended center-based pre-K programs. Kindergarten is simply too easy. When teachers instead focus more on teaching students advanced content, every student benefits, even students who didn’t attend pre-K. These teachers are shooting for the moon, while the others are only aiming for the clouds. Sounds like it’s time to order more motivational posters for the nation’s Kindergarten classrooms.

SOURCE: Amy Claessens, Mimi Engel, and F. Chris Curran, “Academic Content, Student Learning, and the Persistence of Preschool Effects,” American Educational Research...

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