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.

  • In the entire tortured lexicon of bureaucratese, no two words can inspire more dread in the hearts of academic administrators than “Dear Colleague” (well, maybe “NAEP scores,” but that’s a separate issue). President Obama’s Office of Civil Rights has issued a fusillade of “Dear Colleague” letters to educators at every level of schooling over the past few years, relying on the magic of governmental coercion to solve such diverse ills as campus rape, inequitably applied discipline, and the existence of languages besides English. In both the Wall Street Journal and Education Next, R. Shep Melnick has picked apart the legal rationale behind yet another pernicious edict, first disseminated late last year; this one pushes schools to shrink the nationwide racial achievement gap by providing their students with equal access to “resources” (read: funding, and everything else). The policy breezes past two Supreme Court rulings that explicitly reject its legal foundations, forcing schools to meticulously chronicle the “intensity” of their extracurricular activities and the condition of their carpeting if they wish to avoid a federal investigation. Educational disparities among ethnic groups are seriously concerning, but policymakers should consider whether the best way to counter them is
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NOTE: Chad Aldis addressed the Ohio Board of Education in Columbus this morning. These are his written remarks in full.

Thank you, President Gunlock and state board members, for giving me the opportunity to offer public comment today.

My name is Chad Aldis. I am the vice president for Ohio policy and advocacy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education-oriented nonprofit focused on research, analysis, and policy advocacy with offices in Columbus, Dayton, and Washington, D.C.

One of the major strands of our work involves support for school choice, and that’s why I’d like to talk with you this morning about charter schools. Before I begin, and in the interest of full disclosure, I would like to note that Fordham’s Dayton office currently sponsors eleven charter schools around the state.

We believe that charter schools can make a huge positive impact in the lives of kids, and in many places around the country, they already are. It has become increasingly clear that while Ohio has many outstanding charter schools, the state’s laws must be strengthened if our charter sector is going to match the success being realized elsewhere. This past year, to achieve that goal, we’ve sponsored two major...

In a previous post, I explained course access and its potential to revolutionize school choice in Ohio. The best example of this is the Florida Virtual School (FLVS), which Brookings evaluated in 2014. But Ohio wouldn’t have to copy Florida’s entire model. Instead, it could create a unique one complementing its successful CTE and College Credit Plus programs. While there are plenty of ways to get to the mountaintop, here are a few ideas for how Ohio could establish a pilot program that—if it successfully meets the needs of students—could be grown into a statewide program.

Governance

FLVS was created as the nation’s first statewide, Internet-based public high school. Students can enroll full-time, but approximately 97 percent of students are part-time. Students who are enrolled at a traditional school (district, charter, or private) can sign up part-time for a course for a multitude of reasons: to make up course credit, to take a class not offered at their schools, or to accelerate their learning. Just imagine the possibilities for schools that want to incorporate mastery grading or competency-based education!

To provide Ohio students with similar options, policymakers in the Buckeye...

The first few weeks of September make up a sweet spot between seasons, with summer's last days of warmth and play mingling with the beginning a new school year. All that beauty and excitement can make it easy to forget the significance of today's date: Fourteen years have passed since the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania. Though the distance of time has made it gradually easier for that anniversary to pass by unnoticed, we should all take a few moments to remember the thousands who were taken from their families and communities. Their lives are as worthy of consideration today, after fourteen years, as after five, ten, or twenty. 

But the job of an educator, or a society, is not merely to commemorate. We must also teach. Freshmen entering high school this month have no memory of the horrors of 9/11. Indeed, many were born after the events took place. For the sake of their education and our democracy, it's crucial that they learn what the attacks meant to our nation—their place in American history, their impact on law and citizenship, and their effect on our geopolitical posture around the world. This is complex and sometimes...

Miriam Kurtzig Freedman

In the vast “how-to-fix-education” universe, early childhood programming seems to be the new elixir. Governors and mayors push it, as does our president, viewing it as a smart investment in the future. Many children come to school unprepared to learn, so we have to intervene earlier. Right? An instinctive response is to advocate for more early childhood education. Who can argue with that? Some seek universal full-day programs for three- and four-year-olds, while others focus on babies from birth to age two.

As an early childhood observer (though not a practitioner), I suggest we step back to ask whether a different, more direct approach might be better. Before we create new programs, let’s consider Sutton’s Law. This delightful decree is named after Willie Sutton, who robbed banks because, as he put it, “that is where the money is.” Thus, when diagnosing challenges, consider the obvious first. “When you hear hoof beats behind you, think horses and not zebras.” 

When children come to school unprepared, think home! Build on the reality that home is where children reside with their first teachers, their parents and caregivers. The road to improve early education—especially in the area of language skills, so vital to school...

Linda K. Wertheimer

In Faith Ed: Teaching About Religion in an Age of Intolerance, Linda K. Wertheimer argues that American schools should do more to teach students about world religions because it reduces ignorance and encourages coexistence. She tells stories of students who have taken these classes and, in many cases, experienced personal growth. One such pupil is Celia Golod, who was a sixth grader in 2010–11 at Wellesley Middle School in suburban Boston. What follows is her story, as excerpted from the book.

Some students brought heavy baggage with them. Long before middle school, they were picked on because they were members of a religious minority. Celia Golod had been teased for being a Jew ever since her family moved from a largely Jewish area in New Jersey to the mostly Christian town of Wellesley. At the time, Celia was in third grade. During the first year in a Wellesley school, a kid came up to her with a ruler to measure her nose. Celia hid in a corner afterward. In fifth grade, around Christmas time, she clashed with peers who wanted to know why she did not believe in...

Lisa Hansel

“Programmatic series of studies”—that’s how one of my psychology professors described research on learning and memory around twenty years ago. Do a study, tweak it, try again. Persist.

I was reminded of that while reading this new volume by Tony Bryk and colleagues. After thirty years of constant reform and little improvement, it’s clear that there’s a fundamental flaw in how the education field goes about effecting change. Quick fixes, sweeping transformations, and mandates aren’t working. Ongoing professional development isn’t working either.

What might work much better is a sustained, systemic commitment to improvement—and a willingness to start with a series of small pilots instead of leaping into large-scale implementation. Guided by “improvement science” pioneered in the medical field, Learning to Improve shows how education could finally stop its reform churn. As Bryk et al. write:

All activity in improvement science is disciplined by three deceptively simple questions:

  1. What specifically are we trying to accomplish?

  2. What change might we introduce and why?

  3. How will we know that a change is actually an improvement?...

A set of general principles guides the approach: (1) wherever possible, learn quickly and cheaply;...

Today marks the first class in a yearlong seminar in civics and citizenship I teach at Democracy Prep Charter High School in Harlem. My goal is for students to see America as their own, a country worthy of their dreams and ambitions. I will assign readings and papers, lead discussions, and design tests. I should take them all to see Hamilton on Broadway as well.

More than just an inventive musical or a hip hop history lesson, Hamilton accomplishes in two and a half hours what I will spend a year attempting to do in class, and what K–12 education barely even bothers to attempt anymore: It transfers ownership of America’s ideals and ambitions from one generation to the next.

The show’s star and creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, read the story of one of the nation’s most brilliant and volatile founders and saw echoes of Jay Z, Eminem, and Biggie Smalls. “I recognized the arc of a hip-hop narrative in Hamilton’s life,” he said in a recent interview. If the parallels are not obvious to you in the biography of the author of many Federalist Papers and America’s first treasury secretary—and they certainly weren’t to me—perhaps that’s the point.

“Lin is telling the story of...

When talking about educational choice, most people focus on choosing a school. But true educational choice shouldn’t stop after a family chooses a school. After all, few schools can meet the educational needs of all of their varied students—or can they?

Course choice, a growing trend in K–12 education, provides public school students with expanded course offerings across learning environments from diverse, accountable providers. It may sound impossible, but for many Ohio students, this is already a reality. CTE programs offer personalized paths toward earning high school credits, industry credentials, and college credit. The College Credit Plus program empowers students in grades 7–12 to attend classes at participating public or private colleges after they’re admitted based on their college-readiness. For students who aren’t interested in existing CTE programs and aren’t deemed college- and career-ready, ilearnOhio seems like the perfect solution. Dubbed a “powerful tool” for students and educators alike, the online platform provides classroom resources (e.g., instructional support materials, assessments, and professional development resources) and a marketplace with online courses from a variety of developers. The marketplace offers students extended course options—but only if their family has a few hundred dollars to drop, since many of...

  • The myth of America’s teacher shortage, like your older brother’s stories about alligators in the sewers and malevolent hitchhikers stalking the roadways, poses an intriguing question: If we’re going to invent fanciful stories for our own amusement, why do they have to be scary ones? In an in-depth piece for Chalkbeat Indiana, Shaina Cavazos debunks ominous reports of a teacher deficit in the Hoosier State with a lot of the same data and arguments that contradict the broader notion of a national shortage. While some districts are facing a lack of qualified applicants, our education schools are still pumping out way more graduates than there are open positions for them to fill. Longer-term trends—the perennial difficulty of attracting young educators to rural areas and the gradual retirement of the Baby Boom workforce—generally account for those anecdotal reports of professional scarcity, but macro-level teacher employment has actually increased over the last ten years. Maybe now we can get back to more pressing problems, like exorcising the ghost of Elvis Presley.
  • Nobody likes the fellow who shows up early for work every day. Smug at his desk, he’s already dutifully responding to his emails while the rest of us
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