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.

EVERYTHING’S BIGGER IN TEXAS EXCEPT FOR SOME STUFF IN CALIFORNIA
At a news conference Monday, Greg Abbott, the Governor-elect of Texas, said that he was disturbed by “the fact that five of the top ten public universities in the country are from California, with none being from Texas.” Abbot asserted that improving the state’s public education would be his top priority, specifically pointing to early childhood education and postsecondary opportunities as areas with room for improvement.

THE LAST NCLB WAIVER EXTENSION OF 2014 GOES TO...
Despite the ongoing legal battles between Governor Bobby Jindal and State Superintendent John White over the use of Common Core-aligned tests, the U.S. Department of Education has granted Louisiana a No Child Left Behind waiver extension. It appears that Jindal’s political stand against standards did little to hurt the state’s chances of receiving an extension.

ANIMAL CRACKERS AND QUADRATIC EQUATIONS
It may come as a surprise, but many preschool students receive less than one minute of math instruction each day. In a new $25 million study funded by the Robin Hood Foundation, researchers will set out to see if introducing a new math intervention in preschool will...

Sadly, a change recommended by the Ohio House Education Committee in House Bill 343 that would have eliminated the minimum teacher-salary schedule from state law was removed by the Rules Committee before the legislation reached the full house. The law entrenches the archaic principle that teacher pay should be based on seniority and degrees earned, and most districts’ collective-bargaining agreements still conform to the traditional salary schedule. For instance, each district in Montgomery County, except for one, had a seniority and degrees-earned salary schedule.[1]

There are several good reasons to do away with the traditional salary schedule.  These reasons include: (1) It wrongly assumes that longevity is related to productivity; (2) it falsely assumes that a masters’ degree correlates to productivity; (3) it does not reward teachers who are demonstrably more effective; and (4) it does not differentiate teacher pay based on the conditions of the wider labor market.

Given Ohio policymakers’ reticence to ditch the salary schedule, it’s worth discussing again (see here and here for prior commentary) why the rigid salary schedule shackles schools. In particular, I’d like to deal with the fourth reason mentioned above....

If you stop and listen, you can hear it: The country yearning, praying, hoping for some sign that our political leaders can get their acts together and get something done, something constructive that will solve real problems and move the country forward again. In 2001, in the wake of 9/11, that something was the No Child Left Behind Act, which was the umpteenth renewal of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). A reauthorization of the ESEA (on its fiftieth anniversary no less) could play the same role again: showing America that bipartisan governance is possible, even in Washington.

Thankfully, both incoming chairmen of the relevant Senate and House committees—Lamar Alexander and John Kline—have indicated that passing an ESEA reauthorization is job number one. And friends in the Obama administration tell me that Secretary Duncan is ready to roll up his sleeves and get to work on something the president could sign. So far, so good.

So what should a new ESEA entail? And could it both pass Congress and be signed by President Obama? Let me take a crack at something that could.

First, let’s set the context. For at least six years, we at the Fordham Institute...

UVA RAPE STORY CONTINUES
In the wake of growing doubt over the authenticity of certain claims lodged in Rolling Stone’s article about campus sexual assault at the University of Virginia, as well as the magazine’s recent acknowledgement that it had “misplaced” its trust in the subject of the piece, national organizations have issued a call for the university to end its sanctions on fraternities and sororities.

PHONING IT IN
Charter authorizers in Washington, D.C. and Massachusetts are using a creative new tactic to test the enrollment strategies of their schools. To ensure that schools are not unfairly turning away special needs students, anonymous callers posing as parents are testing the system. The program is in response to fears that publicly-funded, independently run charters may turn away these students to maintain higher test scores. But the “mystery caller” approach also has its detractors. Last month, Fordham’s own Andy Smarick said that it “could verge on entrapment and/or discourage schools from providing the best advice to families.”

BECAUSE FOUR YEARS OF COLLEGE IS PLENTY
Colleges in North Carolina, Texas, Florida, and Virginia are re-evaluating strategies to ensure students graduate in four years. By capping credit...

BUILDING A BETTER MATH GEEK
Researchers from the Indiana University School of Education are studying what attracts students to STEM fields and, moreover, what keeps them there. While they haven't found a single compelling factor that will predict whether a student will pursue a STEM route, interest and passion have the most staying power and are more often linked with obtaining a STEM degree.

MIND THE GAP
A new report by the New America Foundation helps policy makers visualize where educational inequities exist in communities across the country. The report highlights the deeply fragmented efforts to bridge opportunity gaps, such as building high-quality child care centers and increasing enrollment in distance-learning education programs.

EDUCATION'S WASTED ON THE YOUNG
The United States Census has released new information on how young adults have changed over the last four decades. The report, which features an interactive mapping tool, found that a higher number of young adults now hold a college degree but are more likely to be unemployed and living in poverty. And while today’s bullish jobs report might come as a relief to observers of the economy, those negative trends will take time and work...

Jack Schneider

Editor's note: This post is the second entry of a multi-part series of interviews featuring Fordham's own Andy Smarick and Jack Schneider, an assistant professor of education at Holy Cross. It originally appeared in a slightly different form at Education Week's K-12 Schools: Beyond the Rhetoric blog. The first entry can be found here.

Schneider: We ended our previous conversation with some skepticism on my part—about whether the charter model itself (rather than particular charter schools) would be any better than district governance. I'm wondering if you can articulate the theory of action there.

Smarick: My theory of action began with a hypothesis about the problem. The more I studied urban districts, the more I became convinced that there must be a systemic explanation for why none of these entities could muster the results we wanted. A number of books helped me piece together an initial answer, including Kolderie's Creating the Capacity for Change; Hill's Reinventing Public Education; Chubb and Moe's Politics, Markets, and America's Schools; and New Schools for a New Century, which Diane Ravitch edited with Joe Viteritti. 

I also looked outside of education, and I was pleasantly surprised to see the same themes surfacing. I found Osborne and Gaebler's ...

HOOSIER HAVOC
Following several years of inter-governmental conflict over the direction of education policy in Indiana, Governor Mike Pence has formally called for state lawmakers to elect a replacement for Board of Education Chairwoman Glenda Ritz. “I think the coming legislative session should be (an) education session and we should focus on our kids and teachers and what’s happening in our classrooms in Indiana,” Pence remarked in his announcement. 

THE STUDENT ACHIEMENT METRICS ARE ALWAYS GREENER
Education reformers often find inspiration in the education systems of other countries. However, Dr. Tom Loveless reveals the potential perils in this practice; namely, the trickiness of identifying variables that translate across borders and the dangers of confirmation bias. While these overseas investigations often yield new insights, its important that we be careful in choosing what we take away.

...

  • Many, including some of us at Fordham, have argued that under President Obama and Secretary Duncan, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights is running amok on issues like school discipline and access to AP courses. Now it has released guidance that, according to the New York Times, will walk back the Bush-era policy allowing single-sex schools and classrooms. (a policy that was also encouraged by Hillary Clinton). According to the Department of Education’s guidance, schools may still offer these classes, but only if they jump through nine hoops. They must, for example, provide evidence that these classrooms benefit children in a way that mixed-gender ones cannot, offer students both alternatives, and ensure that all parents volunteered their kids for enrollment. Why not just allow it if parents want it?
  • In Pittsburgh, a state statute and local bargaining agreement dictate that teacher layoffs must be based exclusively on seniority. Yet the school district—cognizant of the policy’s many shortcomings—ignored the law and the CBA in favor of keeping a number of highly qualified special-education teachers. The union grieved, an arbiter ruled in its favor, and the district appealed to a higher court. The
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This study examines the quality of school management in different countries and school types and its relationship to student outcomes. The authors constructed an index by averaging across twenty management practices in four areas (operations, monitoring, target setting, and personnel), then surveyed 1,800 principals in eight countries on their adherence to these practices. A broad range of schools ended up in the data set, including traditional government schools, private schools, and autonomous government schools (i.e., schools that receive public funding but have some degree of operational independence, such as charter schools). The authors find that the quality of school management varies significantly across countries, with the United Kingdom, Sweden, Canada, and the United States scoring higher than the other four. High scores on the index are positively correlated with better student outcomes. Yet large disparities in management quality exist within countries across different types of schools, with autonomous public schools faring better than both traditional government schools and private schools. The difference, the authors say, is not the autonomy, but how it’s used. “Having strong accountability of principals to an external governing body and exercising strong leadership through a coherent long-term strategy for the school appear to be two key...

Research shows that the gap in reading skills between poor and non-poor kids manifests itself earlier than kindergarten and often widens during summer. With that in mind, this new study examines whether a summer reading program for elementary students affects reading comprehension. During the spring and summer of 2013, second and third graders in fifty-nine North Carolina public schools were randomly assigned to treatment and control groups. The former were given six reading comprehension lessons aimed at fostering their engagement with books at home during the summer and were subsequently mailed a book each week—ten total—over the summer months. (Books were matched to students based on their initial reading level and their interests.) Control kids received six math lessons during the same time period and weren’t mailed books. Both groups were asked to send in response cards on which they reported the number of books read and answered a handful of basic questions about them. There are three key findings: One, the treatment group read an additional 1.1 books more over the summer than the control group. Two, there were significant impacts on reading comprehension test scores in the fall for third-grade girls. Although third-grade boys and second graders of...

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