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 a previous post, I explained competency-based or “mastery” grading: a restructuring of the common grade system that compresses everything from course tests, homework, and class participation into a system that assesses students based entirely on whether or not they’ve mastered specific skills and concepts. (For a look at how mastery grading works in practice, check out how schools like Columbus’s Metro Early College School and Cleveland’s MC²STEM high school, and even suburban districts like Pickerington, make it work). In this piece, I’ll discuss some additional benefits and drawbacks of mastery grading.

Mastery grading is innovative in that students only move on to more complex concepts and skills once they mastered simpler ones. As a result, the failure to master on the first attempt isn’t “failure.” It’s a chance for students to receive additional instruction and support targeted at specific weak spots, work hard, master key concepts, and move on with a firm foundation in place.

For teachers, the possibility of meaningful achievement data that is disaggregated by child and skill and directly drives instruction should be drool-worthy. Imagine knowing at the beginning of the year—before ever giving a diagnostic assessment—what your new students have fully,...

Rick Hess opens his book, The Same Thing Over and Over, by asking readers to imagine the following scenario:

How would you respond if asked for a plan to transform America’s schools into a world-class, twenty-first century system?

Then imagine that there is one condition: you must retain the job descriptions, governance arrangements, management practices, compensation strategies, licensure requirements, and calendar of the existing system.

Hopefully, you would flee just as fast as you possibly could.

Red tape stifles innovation, dynamism, and entrepreneurship in public schooling, while creating a culture of risk aversion and defensiveness. These latter two are hardly the features of nimble organizations that can adapt to a changing world; rather, they are the marks of decaying institutions.

Here in Ohio, state leaders are taking note. On several occasions, both Governor John Kasich and Senate President Keith Faber have expressed their desire to “deregulate” public education. That is great news. Yet the task of deregulation is not a simple one. It requires carefully distinguishing the areas where the state has a valid regulatory role from those where it should defer to local, on-the-ground decision making.

The regulatory framework that we at Fordham have advocated...

Last year, Mike daydreamed of a future in which autonomous vehicles would shuttle his kids around the Beltway while he was freed to relax and tweet the extra hours away. It’s an attractive notion, and not just for reasons of convenience; this is an innovation that could reduce roadway congestion (thus benefiting the economy) and save many of the roughly one-and-a-quarter million lives lost each year in traffic accidents worldwide.

While the achievement of such a vision seems probable someday, it may not happen before the Petrilli boys get their driver’s licenses—and not because the technology is lacking. In recent months, nearly every major car company (and even companies previously having little to do with cars, like Apple and Google) have hinted that a bit of their autonomous vehicle magic is just around the corner. So-called "active safety" features have already become more commonplace. Anti-lock braking and stability control have been available for years, but several brands are rapidly adding features that alert you if you deviate from your lane; some can even help you brake and steer.

Now Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, promises...

Ashley W. Jochim

We need to take issue with a point in Andy Smarick’s thoughtful review, published in Flypaper, of our new book, A Democratic Constitution for Public Education.

As Andy describes, the book proposes a new local oversight body for public education, the Civic Education Council (CEC). The CEC would have only two powers—annually approve a slate of independently run public schools to operate in the locality and hire a CEO. The CEO would be responsible for conducting the data analysis required to support CEC action and establishing systems to ensure fair treatment of students. The CEC would not have the authority to employ teachers, principals, or administrators other than a small number required to support the CEO.

Andy characterized this arrangement as a continuation of the district and predicted that the transition would never be made, based on the leopard/spots metaphor. But under our plan, the district would be replaced by an entirely new entity, based on new law and established with a totally different set of powers than local school boards now have. It is hard to see how this is the old “district” unless the term is used equivocally (i.e., at one time to describe an organization that operates schools directly...

It may not be obvious at first blush, but the political fight happening in New York right now over teacher evaluations has implications for Ohio. Governor Cuomo has proposed increasing the weight of a student’s test scores to 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation, made possible by a proposed decrease in the weight of a principal’s observations. Ohio Governor John Kasich hasn’t proposed any significant changes to teacher evaluations this year, but consider this: both Ohio and New York do a poor job of objectively evaluating teachers  who don’t have grade- and subject-specific assessments, both states allow the unfair option of shared attribution, and stakeholders in each are questioning whether teacher evaluations give rise to extra hours of assessments that aren’t meaningful for students. This leads to a big question: Is there a way to fix these problems?    

Enter Educators 4 Excellence  (E4E) and their alternative teacher evaluation framework. E4E is an organization comprised of former and current teachers. Its mission is to magnify teacher voices in policy and legislative arenas where educator views are often overlooked—despite the fact that ensuing decisions significantly impact the day-to-day lives of teachers. E4E supports teacher evaluations...

This post has been updated with the full text of "The demise of college is greatly exaggerated."

On a snowy December night in 1981, I packed my clothes and stereo into the back of a battered Ford Capri and drove away from SUNY Oswego. I was midway through a restless sophomore year and decided to “take a semester off.” I didn’t know it at the time, but it turned out to be my last day as a full-time college student.

I finished my degree eventually, after far more years than I ought to admit, through a combination of classes, life-learning credit, CLEP exams, and independent study. Ultimately, my college education was highly personalized, largely self-directed, and only loosely bound to a physical campus. Cheap, too. I ended up spending far more on my daughter’s preschool than my entire bachelor’s degree.

Given all this, I ought to be solidly in agreement with the argument put forth by Kevin Carey in his new book The End of College, which holds that American colleges and universities are operating on a deeply flawed and increasingly unsupportable model. The litany of complaints is familiar: College is too expensive, caters to elites, and saddles young people...

  • The Columbia Journalism Review ran a good takedown by Alexander Russo of some unconscionably lazy reporting from the national media on the political controversy surrounding the rollout of Common Core-aligned tests. Esteemed outlets like the Washington Post, PBS NewsHour, and the New York Times have made a rampaging giant of the anti-standards pygmy, forecasting a nationwide revolt against PARCC exams that just hasn’t materialized. Hey, we get it: Conflict moves more newspapers (or, uh, pixels) than consensus. And those parents and teachers irresponsibly keeping kids from participating in the assessments absolutely deserve to be called out. But let’s try have a sense of proportion.
  • Amazingly, though, the opt-out movement isn’t the most overblown education nonstory in recent memory. That dishonor belongs to the absurd Pearson kerfuffle. Some parents had a cow this week over the news that the testing company monitors social media for potential security breaches (if a student shares exam materials over the web, it could compromise assessments across the country and, by extension, the vital school-level information we glean from them). But this is an industry-wide best practice—companies are trawling through publicly available data for instances of very real cheating, not installing
  • ...

The National Conference of State Legislatures has put together a nice primer on accountability for private school choice programs. Twenty-three states, one Colorado district, and the District of Columbia presently have such programs, including “traditional” tuition vouchers, education savings accounts, scholarship tax credits, and personal tax credits or deductions. Accountability requirements for schools participating in such programs vary widely. Most states require: 1) a measure of school quality (whether via student assessment data or outside accreditation), 2) determination of financial strength and sustainability, and 3) meeting minimum seat-time requirements. Once private schools are permitted to accept voucher students and public dollars begin to flow, the range of accountability measures—and the consequences of failing to meet them—broadens. Programs differ by the tests they require participating students to take (the same state assessments as their public school peers or tests of the schools’ own choosing), how and to whom test results are reported, whether outside accreditation can substitute for testing, and the level and timing of sanctions related to low performance. NCSL’s report provides an overview of the varying ways that these accountability measures function in Louisiana, Indiana, and Wisconsin. As we concluded in Fordham’s private school choice policy toolkit last...

A new study published in the American Education Research Journal asks, “What Works in Gifted Education?” Five gifted education and curriculum researchers assess the impact of differentiated English language arts units on gifted third graders. The units—one on poetry and one on research—“reflect more advanced, complex, and abstract concepts,” as well as concepts normally introduced in the fourth and fifth grades. Analysts explain that “even advanced learners vary in their readiness levels, interests and preferred learning profile and learn best when these differences are accommodated.” (Differentiated instruction can be broadly conceived as modifying at least one of three key elements of curriculum: content, process, and product. The evaluated units primarily focus on the former.)

Researchers randomly assigned gifted classrooms to treatment and comparison conditions such that roughly 1,200 students from eighty-five gifted classrooms across eleven states participated in year one of the study, one thousand in year two, and seven hundred in year three (though the number of classrooms and states changed each year). The three years (2009–2012) comprised the three cohorts. All classes were pre-assessed using the Iowa Test of Basic Skills so that they could control for prior achievement, which is important because schools use different methods to identify gifted...

Here’s the top-line takeaway from the Center for Research on Education Outcomes’s (CREDO) comprehensive Urban Charter Schools Report, which is meant to measure the effectiveness of these schools of choice: For low-income urban families, charter schools are making a significant difference. Period.

CREDO looked at charter schools in forty-one urban areas between school years 2006–07 and 2011–12. Compared to traditional public schools in the same areas, charters collectively provide “significantly higher levels of annual growth in both math and reading”—the equivalent of forty days of additional learning per year in math and twenty-eight additional days in reading. As a group, urban charters have been particularly good for black, Hispanic, and English language learner (ELL) subpopulations. Indeed, putting the word “urban” before the phrase “charter school” is becoming somewhat redundant. As Sara Mead recently pointed out, urban students comprise only a quarter of students nationally, but more than half (56 percent) of those enrolled in charters. Thus, perhaps the most encouraging finding in the study is that the learning gains associated with urban charter schools seem to be accelerating. In the 2008–09 school year, CREDO found charter attendance producing an average of twenty-nine additional days of learning for students in...

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