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.

WE DON'T NEED NO STINKIN' DATA
“There shouldn’t be a whole movement out of charters the month before the test,” said NYC schools chancellor Carmen Fariña last week, implying that some charters are manipulating test scores by pushing struggling students out of their schools prior to testing. Her statements have charter operators and advocates incensed, and many are calling for the chancellor to produce data to substantiate her remarks. “Unless she can back up this statement with facts,” said Jeremiah Kittredge of Families for Excellent Schools, “she should withdraw it.”

WONK ALERT
Teachers are trying out a new way to prepare students for tests through a strategy known as interleaving, or mixing problems and concepts. In studies, students who completed homework in mixed sets performed better on final assessments than those who received traditional “blocked” problems. Psychologists also say students better retain information when they teach to peers. 

DRILLING FOR DEGREES
Amidst multi-year budget cuts to higher education across the country, two states have managed to buck the trend: those profligate spenders Alaska and North Dakota. Flush with newfound petrodollars, both states have sunk millions into their state schools in the hopes of improving job prospects for their citizens. Though Alaska’s spending surge has been more modest, North Dakota has increased per-pupil spending by nearly 40 percent in the last six years.

PROFILE IN COWARDICE
The Hechinger Report has a terrific look at Common Core implementation at Andrew Johnson Elementary School...

LICENSE TO FAIL
The pass rate for teacher-licensing exams is usually about 90 percent. However, only 68 percent of candidates passed New York’s new licensing test, which emphasizes understanding of the new Common Core ELA standards and ability to instruct English language learners and special needs students. This data comes at a time when many argue that teaching licenses are awarded too easily, resulting in too many unprepared teachers in America’s classrooms.

NEW LOOK FOR AFFIRMATIVE ACTION FOES
NPR has a fascinating story on the novel approach taken by an organization militating against prevailing affirmative action policies. The Project for Fair Representation, run by activist Edward Blum, charges that Asian American applicants are disproportionately kept out of elite institutions like Harvard and the University of North Carolina by racial balancing formulae that arbitrarily cap the number of spaces allotted to students of their ethnicity. If true, the allegation would confirm some of the arguments in Ron Unz’s mammoth study of the corruption of Ivy League admissions

TRUTH TO POWER
During a panel with fellow Republican...

John Chubb

[Editor's note: This is the fifth post in our latest blog series by John Chubb, "Building a Better Leader: Lessons from New Principal Leadership Development Programs." See herehere, here, and here for prior posts.]

It's one thing to practice skills in the controlled environment of a residency; it is quite another to practice when you are formally in charge of a school. Each of the alternative leadership programs examined in this blog series recognizes this truth and provides its graduates various kinds of support, sometimes as long as five years. Much as research has demonstrated about teaching—that teachers tend to become more effective over the first four or five years in the classroom—the same is likely true of school leaders: Their first few years in the position may be when the job is mastered (or not). These exemplar programs try to make those early years an additional learning experience.

This is hardly a new idea. Many school systems provide some sort of coaching or...

Maybe it's because I just saw Interstellar last weekbut after a weekend-long Twitter battle with American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten and her defenders, I can't help but think that some of them are living in an alternate universe. For those who haven't heard, teachers unions are outraged at this Time Magazine cover story last month by Haley Sweetland Edwards. It wasn't so much the story as the cover that many public union supporters just couldn't get past. The magazine even pulled the story out from behind its paywall so the distraught union tweeters could do more than judge the magazine by the cover, but to no avail. Weeks later, the howls of outrage continue unabated.

I’d mostly ignored the story until this point, but I couldn’t help but respond to Weingarten’s assertion over the weekend that “@TIME’s ‘rotten apples’ cover was a personal attack on educators.” First, it seemed contradictory that the cover could be a “personal” attack on educators generally, but the bigger question was why exactly this was so threatening and outrageous? Michelle Malkin’s Twitchy site did a solid job of covering the blow-by-blow from there, but now that the Twitter armies have moved on to other matters, the question remains: Why does the AFT seem so determined to keep this phony controversy alive? 

Now, it’s important to recognize...

CAPITAL OF CHOICE
According to new data, school choice is working incredibly well in D.C., where nearly half of public school students attend charters. Parents are exercising their freedom of choice, and it’s showing: Excellent charters are growing and underperforming charters are closing. This is a big win for charter advocates, as it goes to show that, when done well, school choice can lead to better outcomes for students. For more on this story, read Andy Smarick’s characteristically smart new post.

A NATION OF IMMIGRANTS...AND STUDENTS
When President Obama rolls out his executive action on immigration in a primetime address this evening, those of us involved in education must consider how his plans will affect students with undocumented parents. This Huffington Post article outlines how the new immigration policies might create some stability in these children’s home lives by assuaging fear of parental deportation. 

EVERYTHING IN ITS PLACE
School reformers talk about changing a lot in education: School financing, governance, teacher quality, school size, accountability, testing, the works. We don’t talk a lot about where most learning is done—that is, the physical space of the classroom. Lennie Scott-Webber offers a terrific take on how the arrangement of learning stations can affect the way students learn.

PROFILE OF THE WEEK
The Hechinger Report has the heartrending story of D’Andre (last name withheld), a twelve-year-old raised by his grandmothers in Newark. The long profile depicts his splintered family life, zeal for learning, and...

Gabriel Sanchez Zinny

Educational systems around the world are in a critical state. Nearly everywhere, they struggle with poor-quality schools, persistent inequality, and local administrations with restricted budgets—which all combine to compromise the educational opportunities of a large portion of the student-age population.

These worrisome trends are reinforced in emerging economies, like those of Latin America. The region has seen over a decade of sustained growth and growing middle classes, and as the burgeoning “knowledge society” is impacting every sector, these expanded middle classes are demanding better education and greater opportunity.

While Latin America trails behind most of the world in its education performance, there are a number of governments taking the initiative in confronting these challenges. Leading this group are Chile, Colombia, and recently Mexico, where President Enrique Pena Nieto has successfully pushed for deep education reforms. While passing legislation cost significant political capital, and on paper the measures—including reforming the teacher tenure system—look very positive, the ultimate impact on the quality of learning will depend greatly on the implementation and follow-through of subsequent governments.

But perhaps the most surprising recent phenomenon in Latin America has been the extent to which the non-government sector, including entrepreneurs, companies, and investors, is getting involved in education. Among these disparate groups, there is a new awareness of the importance of education and an unprecedented understanding that the region’s previous commodities-based, export-led, low productivity economic model will not be enough to advance to the next stage of development. Instead, to achieve more competitiveness and...

As my Bellwether colleague (and D.C. Public Charter School Board member) Sara Mead wrote last week, new information on the performance of the Washington, D.C. charter school sector is extremely encouraging. And while the strong and improving achievement scores are terrific news for kids and families in the city, they also offer even more reason to believe that chartering—if done smartly—can replace the district system for delivering public education in America’s cities.

First, the basics and headlines: For several years now, PCSB, the only active charter authorizer in the nation’s capital, has made public the results of its “performance management framework.” This school-assessment tool provides a comprehensive set of information about schools in PCSB’s portfolio. And, more than ever, that information should give us all cheer.

Each school is rated across a number of indicators (and all of that data is accessible), but it is also placed in one of three categories, with “Tier 1” reserved for schools that are excelling and “Tier 3” for schools performing well below expectations.

In 2014, nearly 12,500 students attended twenty-two Tier-1 schools; that was a 9 percent increase over 2013 in the number of students enrolled in outstanding charters. As PCSB notes in its press release, these schools are located throughout the city, and their racial and income demographics reflect the city as a whole. In fact, eight of the top ten scoring schools...

  • On Monday, the Ohio House Education Committee approved a bill to limit annual state testing of students to four hours for any given subject. Notwithstanding the legitimate concerns that have led to such a push, placing a statutory limit is ill advised for at least three reasons. First, it’s a feel-good fix that may not solve the issue of over-testing (rampant test prep takes up geometrically more class time than the test themselves). Second, state accountability systems—the ability to say whether a student or a school is succeeding—are important and depend on assessment results. Third and finally, if we’re going to maintain test-based accountability, we should ensure that we use high-quality tests, and that requires flexibility. Having only one four-hour, super-high-stakes exam each year doesn’t allow for that.
  • The seventeen member states of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, one of the two federally funded groups tasked with creating Common Core–aligned assessments, have approved initial achievement levels for the math and English language arts/literacy tests. Such cutoffs, which are used on other major tests—such as NAEP, PISA, and TIMSS—are important starting points for discussions about performance expectations, progress, and achievement gaps. And to that end, the consortium also approved a position paper that teachers, principals, parents, and other stakeholders can use to better interpret results. Moreover, SBAC expects more than half of kids to score below “proficient”—indicating that they are setting the bar reasonably high. It’s a major step on the country’s path to higher standards.
  • ...

At present, there are a myriad of initiatives aiming to attract and keep good teachers in so-called STEM subjects. But even if the U.S. doubled recruitment of top talent, cut top teacher attrition in half, and tripled the rate at which ineffective teachers are dismissed, this brief by Public Impact estimates about 60 percent of classrooms would still be without skilled STEM educators—those who can help students make an extra half-year of progress every year, on average, compared with typical teachers. Public Impact proposes to fix this by applying its Opportunity Culture initiative to STEM teachers. Schools identify their top teachers, expand their reach, and pay them more, within budget. These expansion efforts, which would apply to only the best STEM educators, include larger class sizes; streaming and/or recording lessons so that other students can watch remotely; ensuring that teachers only teach their best subjects; and augmenting class time with digital instruction to improve learning and maximize class size. The putative STEM superstar teachers would also be tasked with leading teams of less effective teachers, creating in-school STEM teams. Leaders would determine team curricula and tailor each teacher’s role to his or her strengths. Thirty schools in four districts located in three states are piloting the idea, says the report. By the fifth year, a “multi-classroom leader” directing a math or science team while continuing to teach could in theory earn a salary supplement of up to $23,000—not enough to close the STEM pay gap entirely, the authors say,...

By recording every utterance in a few dozen homes with small children and doing a little math, University of Kansas child psychologists Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley uncovered a startling and sobering fact twenty years ago: Children of professional classes hear about 30 million more words by the age of three than the children of families on public assistance. That’s before any of them, rich or poor, set foot in kindergarten for the first time. The constant patter of verbal adults sets off a virtuous circle of language growth for affluent kids (the more words you know, the easier it is to learn even more), but for the poor it’s a vicious one. Since then, various intensive and expensive interventions—from programs in pediatricians’ offices to home visits—have attempted to get low-income parents to speak, read, and engage in more home literacy activities with their children. A cheaper and more effective plan may be at hand—actually, in your hand. The National Bureau of Economic Research finds significant positive effects of READY4K!, a text-messaging program designed to encourage parents of preschoolers to support their children’s literacy development. Participating parents receive three text messages each week during the school year suggesting they try a particular early literacy skill (“Say two words to your child that start with the same sound, like happy & healthy. Ask: can you hear the ‘hhh’ sound in happy & healthy?”). The texts increased the frequency that parents told stories, pointed out rhyming words, or engaged in similar...

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