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.

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...

The logic of using school choice to drive educational quality assumes that choosers will make rational decisions based on complete information and that market forces will do the rest. Isn’t it pretty to think so? Yet “people are flawed as information consumers and decision makers,” notes Tulane University’s Jon Valant in this thought-provoking report from AEI. Most of us, he notes, are “boundedly rational.” Our decisions make sense, but they’re a function of the time we have to spend evaluating our options, and our own cognitive capacity to process the information at hand. Thus, while many proponents see school choice as an intrinsic good arising from values such as freedom and parental control, there are limits to just how much change in the realms of education quality and achievement is actually brought about by choice per se. Valent’s report shows why: Families consider fewer schools than are available (and sometimes only one), typically turning to friends, neighbors and family members “whose insights often come without the school chooser having to search for them.” Providing more school options—and more information about those options—may make little sense when parents remain unaware of the full range of available choices or lack...

This is an excerpt from Michael J. Petrilli’s opening comments at the Education for Upward Mobility conference. Read the whole speech here; video from the event is available here; the ten papers that were presented are available here.

One of the most important questions in America today is: How can we help children born into poverty transcend their disadvantages and enter the middle class as adults? And in particular, what role can our schools play?

These aren’t new questions.  When President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act fifty years ago, he remarked, “As a son of a tenant farmer, I know that education is the only valid passport from poverty.”

Or, as Jeb Bush put it two weeks ago, quoting Horace Mann: “Education is the great equalizer.”

What is new is the nagging concern (shared across the ideological spectrum) that social mobility in the U.S. has stalled. As conservative scholar Peter Wehner wrote recently, “Two-thirds of Americans believe that it will be harder for them to achieve the American Dream than it was for their parents, and three-quarters believe that it will...

A core assumption of the education-reform movement is that excellent schools can be engines of upward mobility. But what kind of schools? And to what end?

In tandem with the release of several papers, this path-breaking conference will consider thorny questions, including: Is “college for all” the right goal? (And what do we mean by “college”?) Do young people mostly need a strong foundation in academics? What can schools do to develop so-called “non-cognitive” skills? Should technical education be a central part of the reform agenda? How about apprenticeships? What can we learn from the military’s success in working with disadvantaged youth?

 

Panel I: Escaping Poverty through Education, Work, and Personal Responsibility
About a third of the individuals who grow up in poverty in America climb the ladder to the middle class as adults. What do we know about their trajectory? How can we increase these numbers? What role does education play? Higher education? Industry certifications and other non-degree credentials? Apprenticeships? Following the “success sequence” (get a high school diploma, work full time, and wait till age 21 to marry and start a family)?
 
...

EDUCATION SNAPSHOT: FLORIDA
Some schools in Florida are offering single-sex classes in the hopes of improving academic performance and cutting down on disciplinary issues. Supporters of the tactic cite unique learning differences between boys and girls, claiming that, among other gender-specific distinctions, boys often require more physical activity during lessons. Meanwhile, groups like the A.C.L.U. say that separating students by gender perpetuates stereotypes and shows no evidence of academic benefits.

CATCHING UP WITH NCLB
Congress is hoping to update No Child Left Behind by early 2015, though reaching bipartisan consensus will be difficult. The law, which last came up for renewal in 2007, requires schools to revamp teacher evaluations and monitor and report the performance of at-risk students. Much criticism has been directed against the law’s focus on increased standardized testing, which will likely garner considerable debate during the months ahead.

BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING
MOOCs, or massive open online courses, allow students of all ages to broaden their educational horizons by increasing access to expert instruction. However, apprehension concerning the use of student data is building as the number of MOOC enrollees grows. Some worry that students are unwittingly forfeiting vast...

Having worked on educator evaluation reform at a state department of education, I do my best to keep up with developments related to the extremely tough work of state-level implementation. I follow New Jersey’s progress especially closely because I took part in the work there (and I’m certainly biased in its favor).

If you also track such stuff, take a look at the “2013-14 Preliminary Implementation Report on Teacher Evaluation" recently released by the NJDOE

There’s much to like here, including the way the state reports on the history of the program and its focus on district engagement and continuous improvement.

But two things really caught my eye. First, the report has some important data points. For instance:

  • The pilot program included thirty districts and nearly 300 administrators.
  • More than 25,000 educators took part in some kind of state training in 2013–14.
  • The new program may have increased the number of teacher observations around the state by 180,000(!).
  • More than half of districts are using some version of the Danielson observation instrument, and most of the remaining districts are using one of four other tools.

Second, the state is...

Good morning. It’s wonderful to see so many friends and colleagues here today. My name is Michael Petrilli, and in August I took over as the president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, one of the nation’s leading education-policy think tanks, as well as an education-reform advocacy organization in the great state of Ohio and a charter school authorizer in the great city of Dayton. Welcome to our “Education for Upward Mobility” conference.

Today is a rare chance for those of us engaged in the raucous and sometimes vitriolic education-reform debate to step back and consider the path we find ourselves upon. The goal is to seek an answer to a fundamental question, perhaps one of the most important questions in America today: How can we help children born into poverty to transcend their disadvantages and enter the middle class as adults? And in particular, what role can our schools play?

This isn’t a new question.  When President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act fifty years ago, he remarked that, “As a son of a tenant farmer, I know that education is the only valid passport from poverty.”

Or, as Jeb Bush put it two weeks...

  • Conventional wisdom suggests would-be GOP presidential candidates are supposed to disavow the Common Core (cf. Bobby Jindal), but Jeb Bush and Governor John Kasich didn’t get the memo. During a speech last Thursday in Washington, the former Florida governor emphasized the importance of raising academic standards in America’s schools, which starts with the Common Core. And if states opt to forgo adoption, any replacement ought to be even more rigorous, Bush said. Likewise, Governor Kasich, speaking last week at the Republican Governors Association, continued his strong and unwavering support of the CCSS, reiterating that governors wrote the standards and not the federal government. In other words, the Common Core is not a litmus test for Republicans.
  • Due to tougher teacher exams, New York State saw a 20 percent drop in the number of new certifications for the 2013–14 school year, reports the New York Times. The Empire State introduced the new assessments last year in an attempt to boost the caliber of new teachers. Those who don’t pass can’t teach in public schools. Better still, ed schools with high failure rates risk losing accreditation. Raising standards for teachers was a critical part of the "Massachusetts
  • ...

Myriad obstacles stand between low-income students and a college education—even for those who beat the odds, graduate from high school, and gain acceptance into a post-secondary institution. Indeed, 20 percent of these young people will not make it past their first semester—which raises a couple of questions: Why is this happening? And how do we fix it? According to authors Benjamin Castleman and Lindsay Page, much of the problem is what happens (or doesn’t) between the last day of high school and the first days of college. They call it the “summer melt.” Things like stacks of enrollment paperwork, complicated financial forms, and daunting tuition bills prove to be substantial hindrances for these kids, many of whom are the first in their families to make it this far. And once they get to campus, they often lack the support to persevere through those difficult first months. In other words, preparing these youngsters for freshman year involves more than academics. To this end, the authors propose three solutions. First, high schools need to expand the role of college counselors, paying them to work in the summer months and encouraging them to spend more time with individual students in need. The Boston-based...

The Cristo Rey Network comprises twenty-eight private schools serving 9,000 students nationwide. Ninety-six percent of network students are minority (largely Hispanic), and 100 percent are economically disadvantaged (defined as households earning less than 75 percent of the national median income). The schools utilize an innovative education model that honors its Catholic roots while simultaneously embracing new ways of preparing economically disadvantaged high school students for future success. This report from the Lexington Institute profiles the Cristo Rey model and looks at how—despite great success—the laudable network is still searching for ways to improve. A defining feature of the schools is a work-study program that requires students to work at least one day a week in the community while keeping up with rigorous high school coursework. In lieu of wages, companies donate money to the schools that’s used to cover most of the operating costs. More than 2,000 employers invested upwards of $44 million in 2013–14, lowering the average tuition costs for parents to $1,000 annually. Other features include extended school days and school years and a summer preparatory program that focuses on both academic and work skills. The results are impressive: All 1,400 of Cristo Rey's 2014 graduates were accepted...

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