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.

Aside from generalized fretting over “curricular narrowing,” educators and education policy types have been so consumed in recent years by the crises of the moment—the fracases over Common Core, the new assessments (and their opt-outers), the worrying achievement reports that may follow in the autumn, and how all that does or doesn’t intersect with NCLB reauthorization—that practically nobody has focused on “social studies” courses like history, geography, and civics. (Yes, there have been pot-shots aplenty at the AP framework for U.S. history, but little or no attention to what’s happening in earlier grades.)

Today’s hot-off-the-presses NAEP results should refocus us, at least briefly, because they’re anything but hot. In truth, they’re chilling.

NAEP tested eighth graders in all three subjects last year, and the reports are just out. The bottom line: “In 2014, eighteen percent of eighth graders performed at or above the Proficient level in U.S. history, 27 percent performed at or above the Proficient level in geography, and 23 percent performed at or above the Proficient level in civics.”

Which is to say that three quarters of the kids are less than proficient, a worse showing than in reading and math (both now around 36 percent...

Bad schools rarely die. This was the conclusion of Fordham’s 2010 report Are Bad Schools Immortal?, which discovered that out of two thousand low-performing schools across ten states, only 10 percent actually closed over a five-year period. On reflection, the finding was not too surprising: Shuttering schools nearly always sets off a torrent of political backlash, as authorities in Chicago, Philadelphia, and other urban districts have learned in recent years. And the reasons are understandable: Schools are integral parts of communities. They’re built into families’ routines and expectations, and closing them inevitably causes pain, disruption, and sadness, even when it’s best for students.

However, we also recognize that closing schools is sometimes necessary. In the charter sector, in particular, closure is an essential part of the model: Schools are supposed to perform or lose their contracts. That’s the bargain. And in the district sector, experience has taught us that some schools have been so dysfunctional, for so long, that efforts to “turn them around” are virtually destined to fail.

That doesn’t mean it’s easy to put bad schools out of their misery. Part of the difficulty is political, but it’s also a genuine moral dilemma: Are we sure that...

Intra-district choice has long been a type of school choice supported by many people who don’t really like school choice. Since neither students nor funding leave their boundaries, district officials have fewer problems allowing families to choose their schools. But intra-district choice is also complicated. A lack of quality information about available schools, the absence of a simple system-wide method of applying to those schools, and the added burden of transportation challenges can bring the potential of intra-district choice to a screeching halt. However, there are school districts that have taken these issues head-on and offered valuable, innovative solutions. Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) is a shining example.

During the 2013–14 school year, CPS made the transition to high schools that serve students between the seventh and twelfth grades. CPS offers some compelling academic reasons for the switch, but they also utilized the transition to create high schools of choice. Instead of assigning sixth graders to a high school based on their home addresses, CPS permits students to choose their high school. Each high school offers a variety of programs, classes, extracurriculars, and services that represent unique learning environments and opportunities. All schools offer college preparatory curriculum aligned to Ohio’s...

This is the third installment in our Eduwatch 2016 series chronicling the declared presidential candidates’ stances on today’s biggest education issues. I began with editions for Hillary Clinton and Marco Rubio. Next up is Ted Cruz, the junior U.S. senator from Texas.

With a midnight tweet on Monday, March 23, Cruz was the first to officially announce his candidacy. He followed that up a few hours later with a half-hour speech at Liberty University. His campaign has emphasized “restoring” America, which includes education. Here’s what he’s said:

1. Education as a foundation: “Education is foundational to every other challenge you've got. If you're looking at issues of crime or poverty or healthcare, if you have education, if you get the foundation of an education, all of those problems by and large can take care of themselves.” March 2014.

2. The Department of Education: “We need to abolish the U.S. Department of Education.” March 2013...

This is the second in a series of Eduwatch 2016 posts that will chronicle presidential candidates’ stances on today’s biggest education issues. Last week’s inaugural post revealed Hillary Clinton’s views on everything from Common Core to charter schools. Next up is the junior senator from the Sunshine State, Marco Rubio.

Rubio’s been active in his role as a legislator, especially when it comes to school choice. In 2013, for example, he introduced the Educational Opportunities Act—a bill designed to support choice through tax credits—and co-sponsored a bill that would allow billions of Title I dollars to follow kids to whichever school they attend. But those are just pieces of senatorial legislation, and unsuccessful ones at that. Rubio’s dreaming bigger; he wants to jump from lawmaker to leader of the free world, which means a whole lot of talking between now and November 2016. So let’s see what he’s had to say about education:

1. The Department of Education: “If I was president of the United States, I would not have a Department of Education, perhaps at all….We don’t need...

When the history of this era’s urban-education reform movement is written, four big policy innovations are sure to get attention: the nation’s first voucher program, first charter law, first mayor-controlled charter authorizer, and first “extraordinary authority” unit (the RSD).

The people mostly responsible for these have two important things in common.

First, unless you’re an old hand in this business, you may not know of them.

Second—Polly Williams, Ember Reichgott Junge, Teresa Lubbers, Leslie Jacobs—they’re all women.

Unfortunately, those two facts are probably related.

Much has been written recently about the social forces pushing women below the radar in professional settings. In an excellent NYT piece, “Speaking While Female,” Sheryl Sandberg (Lean In) and Adam Grant (a Wharton professor) argue that “speaking up” at work generally helps men but not women.

“When a woman speaks in a professional setting,” they write, “she walks a tightrope. Either she’s barely heard or she’s...

A vast amount of contemporary education policy attention and education reform energy has been lavished on the task of defining and gauging “college readiness” and then taking steps to align K–12 outcomes more closely with it. The ultimate goal is for many more young people to complete high school having been properly prepared for “college-level” work.

The entire Common Core edifice—and the assessments, cut scores, and accountability arrangements built atop it—presupposes that “college-ready” has the same definition that it has long enjoyed: students prepared to succeed, upon arrival at the ivied gates, in credit-bearing college courses that they go right into without needing first to subject themselves to “remediation” (now sometimes euphemized as “developmental education”).

But this goes way beyond Common Core. Advanced Placement courses also rest on the understanding that an “introductory college-level course” in a given subject has a certain set meaning and fixed standards. The people at ACT, the College Board, and NAGB have sweat bullets developing metrics that gauge what a twelfth grader must know and be able to do in order to be truly college-ready—again, in the sense of having solid prospects of succeeding in credit-bearing college courses in one subject or another.

Lying beneath...

The New York Times’s Nicholas Kristof argued in his column yesterday that the “low-hanging fruit” of K–12 education reform has already been picked and that we should shift some of our energy to early interventions instead. He’s not wrong about ed reform, but I’m less convinced that pre-school and other early interventions are “low-hanging fruit.” It’s no easier to ensure quality and effectiveness in the early years than it is in elementary and secondary education. Plus, establishing new, sweeping pre-K programs is expensive, making it a heavy lift politically.

But the least convincing part of the argument for early interventions is the notion that well-designed programs can ameliorate the enormous opportunity gaps that open up between rich and poor children before they are even born.

Regular Flypaper readers know that I’ve spent the last two years digging into the anti-poverty research and working on a book related to our “Education for Upward Mobility” conference. And like many Americans, I’ve been captivated (and sobered) by recent important books on inequality and mobility, including Robert Putnam’s Our Kids, Isabel Sawhill’s Generation Unbound, Kathryn Edin’s Promises I Can Keep and Doing the...

Since its passage in 1974, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) has struck a careful and reasonable balance between the privacy of students and families and the need for timely and accurate information on the state of U.S. schools and school systems. But a provision in the FERPA overhaul “discussion draft” currently being circulated by Republican John Kline and Democrat Robert Scott threatens to upset this balance by giving parents the right to “opt out” of data-sharing agreements with “organizations conducting studies for, or on behalf of, educational agencies or institutions,” which are currently exempt from FERPA’s general prohibition on the sharing of personally identifiable information.

As written, this provision would do serious harm to efforts to evaluate and study existing education programs, because its widespread use would degrade the quality of the data on which many evaluations and studies are based. This would be a huge problem, especially if there were significant differences between students whose families chose to opt out and the broader student population (which there almost certainly would be). Such differences could (and likely would) bias the results of future studies that rely on education data, especially those seeking to understand the...

If you count Democrat Lincoln Chafee, five hopefuls have now declared their candidacy for the 2016 presidential election. The forthcoming nineteen months promise to bring scandals, flip-flops, attack ads, and a whole bunch of memes. So in anticipation of all that fun, I welcome you to Eduwatch 2016, Fordham's coverage of the race as it pertains to education. To start things off, let’s see where the candidates stand on today's biggest issues by looking at what they’ve said in the past.

As each contender throws his or her hat in the ring, I’ll publish a collection of their quotes about education. Some will be recent—but if a candidate hasn’t said anything about an issue in eight years, well, they may be a little more dated. But that has its uses, too; silence can speak volumes.

So without further ado, let’s start with the biggest name in the race: Hillary Rodham Clinton. Earlier this month, Clinton held a sixty-minute education roundtable at which she spoke with a handful of educators and students at an Iowa community college. Due to the format, there wasn’t a...

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