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.

Success Academy, the high-performing charter network run by tough-as-nails Eva Moskowitz, is looking to expand—and has put Mayor Bill de Blasio in a tough spot. He has long opposed the policy of allowing charter schools to share space with traditional public schools, enacted by his predecessor. However, a state law passed in April requires that he do just that—or give the schools money to find their own space. And as the New York Times notes, “The last time he denied space to Success Academy schools, it led to the law that now handcuffs him.”

Governor Bobby Jindal has issued executive orders that, he says, will remove Louisiana from the Common Core and PARCC. “Not so fast,” say State Education Superintendent John White and others who point out that Jindal doesn’t have that power, especially on the standards. “This is all political theater,” said Mike to Politico. “Gov. Jindal will score points with the tea party, but his actions seem likely to be stymied in court.” Or so we hope.

This week, a New York Times piece, featuring both an article and an accompanying short video, highlighted New York’s transition to the Common Core. Kids are struggling to adjust to thinking critically and writing evidence-based rather than personal essays, and teachers are struggling to teach the new standards with new materials—while the low test scores in the first Common Core–aligned tests dinged their confidence. However, as the teacher featured in the Times’s video points...

Mainstream media and advocacy groups often portray teachers as an embattled, even embittered, ensemble. Tougher policies are sometimes accused of contributing to their stress. But has accountability actually led to deteriorating work conditions and lower morale among teachers? This new study shatters that popular conception. A team of researchers discovered that teachers have been reporting increasingly positive attitudes about their job since the enactment of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in 2001. The study examined the responses of nearly 140,000 public school teachers from four rounds of the Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS): two waves occurred prior to NCLB, and two occurred after the law took effect (most recently in 2008). Happily, the researchers found that, post-NCLB, teachers are more likely to perceive support from their colleagues, administrators, and parents than prior to the law. The study also found that teachers report a greater sense of “classroom control” (e.g., autonomy over curricula, textbooks, discipline, etc.), greater job satisfaction, and a stronger commitment to the profession. In addition, the researchers attempt to tease out the causal effects of NCLB on teachers’ attitudes. (One cannot necessarily attribute the positive trends to NCLB per se.) To do this, they compared teachers’ responses in states with accountability regimes prior to NCLB to teachers in states that implemented systems as a result of NCLB. The researchers discovered that the onset of accountability positively impacted teachers’ feelings of classroom control and administrator support. The researchers, however, did not discern a similar effect on job satisfaction or...

The results of the second edition of NCTQ’s evaluation of teacher-preparation programs aren’t that much more optimistic than last year’s much publicized and contentious findings. This years’ study examined the same programs, for the most part, but expanded the scope of the work by analyzing them more comprehensively. In total, over 1600 elementary and secondary programs were evaluated on all “key” standards, which include selectivity and admissions practices; subject-area preparation; student teaching; and classroom management. Out of this universe, only twenty-six elementary and eighty-one secondary programs made the list of top ranked programs, which is roughly 6 percent. Overall, elementary programs are weaker than secondary ones: 67 percent of the former landed in the lowest tier of scores. Further, coursework in just 17 percent of programs prepares elementary and special-education teachers in all five fundamentals of scientifically based reading instruction. The analysis also included an evaluation of alternate route programs, which now account for the education of one in five teachers in America. They don’t appear to be doing much better than traditional programs. Of the eighty-five programs reviewed, just one—Teach For America, Massachusetts—received top marks.

SOURCE: Julie Greenberg, Kate Walsh, and Arthur McKee, 2014 Teacher Prep Review: A Review of the Nation’s Teacher Preparation Programs (Washington, D.C.: National Council on Teacher Quality, June 2014).

In its “Room for Debate” series recently, the New York Times published a quartet of opinion pieces discussing the value of gifted and talented programs. New York City schools chancellor Carmen Fariña prompted this discussion by promoting the faddish and contradictory mantra of “gifted education for all,” downplaying the role of the city’s current programs for high-achieving students. But in the end, the opponents’ arguments simply don’t hold any more water than the Chancellor’s banal but unactionable formulation.

The overarching theme of the two critics of gifted programs is that they lead to inequality. Authors of the first piece point out that such programs are disproportionately comprised of white and Asian- American kids. This is true and is surely something to work on. But then the authors suggest replacing these separate-and-distinct programs with “gifted education for all” (that phrase again…) because some research has found that ability grouping might worsen the educational outcomes of lower-achieving students. Moreover, say the authors, students in gifted programs are missing out on the benefits that diverse classrooms provide. (Shouldn’t their parents decide whether that outweighs the benefits of an accelerated curriculum?)

The second critical piece approaches the matter differently. Instead of citing the benefits of diversity per se—a proposition the author actually undermines by saying “there’s nothing magical or inherently good or bad about exposing black children to white children”—he worries about the self-fulfilling nature of...

What do the education-policy world and the sports world have in common? For one, Americans are rabidly passionate about both. What’s more, both really love rankings. And you think we’re bad at soccer? We’re even worse in education.

As everyone reading this probably knows, the U.S. has chronically lagged behind our competitors on international tests. It doesn’t matter which subgroup one looks at—high SES, low SES, top scorers, average scorers—the U.S. hasn’t lived up to its potential. Of course, it doesn’t have to be that way. And all of us in the ed-policy world do what we do because we believe our education system can improve. We know we can do better by our eager students.

Well, the World Cup—the crowning jewel of the “Beautiful Game” and the biggest sporting event in the world—is upon us. And it struck us here at Fordham that the similarities are uncanny. Here, too, the rankings don’t love us. Sports Illustrated and the Soccer Power Index say we’re the nineteenth-best team in the tournament. Heck, even our coach Jürgen Klinsmann doesn’t like our chances. Indeed, look at our soccer and education rankings in the graphic below.

So here we are, nineteenth best in the world in the country’s sixth most popular sport (behind golf), which is, frankly, not high enough. We have 318 million people....

Robert Hanna

Andy Smarick and Juliet Square recently published a report arguing that state education agencies, or SEAs, lack the expertise needed to implement today’s education reforms. Federal policymakers expected SEAs to be “compliance examiners,” focused on monitoring districts’ use of federal education funds, they wrote. The authors argue that many of SEAs’ successes are limited to compliance and that SEAs are not capable of meeting the additional demands of educational innovation and reform. In a related blog post by Smarick, he refers to compliance and monitoring as being in the SEA’s “DNA structure.”

If compliance is really in SEAs’ DNA, did the federal government get the gene sequencing wrong?

Today, the Center for American Progress released three reports about the ways in which SEAs work within the current education governance system. The reports identify innovative approaches to changing the genetic code of SEAs given current demands for far-reaching education reforms. We argue that despite barriers, real or perceived, there are more effective ways for states to meet these demands—and that both federal policymakers and state leaders have roles to play.

As education policy researcher Patrick Murphy describes in his report, federal education regulations often have adverse impacts on states. Each federal fund comes with different strings attached. As a consequence, SEA leaders often silo their agencies by federal fund in order to make sure they meet compliance requirements. For example, staff working on projects funded by Title I are contained within...

Asking whether teacher tenure should be abolished in public schools is like asking whether the Tampa Bay Rays (18 games below .500) should sack their shortstop. Sure, that might be a good start, but that’s not going to be enough to turn things around.

First, the argument for eliminating tenure: As Judge Rolf M. Treu of Los Angeles Superior Court ruled on Tuesday, any benefit that tenure provides to teachers is far outweighed by its costs to children and society by keeping grossly ineffective instructors in the classroom. Defenders often say that tenure is all that limits principals and school boards from terminating teachers for innumerable bogus motives. Yet in the decades since legislatures put tenure laws on the books, legal protections for all employees have grown dramatically, particularly in the public sector. Dismissal under tenure requires a far more onerous due process procedure. But even without it, anyone who believes that he or she has been discriminated against or fired for “arbitrary and capricious” reasons can sue, and will often win. That goes for teachers, too.

Tenure reform is no education game-changer. Tenure is just one part of a dysfunctional approach to human resource management in U.S. schools that needs a complete overhaul. Our public education system is among the only institutions in the land still pretending that professionals will spend their whole careers in a single job. The teacher compensation structure heavily favors lifers, what with its mix of low pay with generous, back-loaded retirement benefits. This is an...

For this year’s “Diplomas Count,” an annual Education Week special issue, researchers surveyed teachers and administrators for their opinions on student engagement in their schools. The results were unsurprising and straightforward: the educators overwhelmingly agreed on how to identify engaged students (they’re the ones with good attendance, who participate frequently in class, and who get good grades).  Yet just 40 percent believed that the majority of the students in their school were engaged. Perhaps that’s because the educators themselves don’t know how to engage their students; fewer than half reported receiving any pre-service training on the topic, and only 58 percent reported learning about student engagement via in-service training While none of this is particularly shocking, the accompanying commentary by Ed Week’s journalists, informed by the survey results, is thoughtful enough to deserve your engagement.

SOURCE: Education Week, Diplomas Count 2014: Motivation Matters: Engaging Students, Creating Learners (Bethesda, MD: Editorial Projects in Education, June 2014).

On Tuesday, a California superior court judge tentatively overturned five state laws related to the employment of teachers. The plaintiffs’ attorney called the decision “a victory for students, parents, and teachers across California.” The head of the Los Angeles teachers union said, “This decision today is an attack on teachers.” The court ordered a stay on the decision, pending appeal. Here are ten things worth knowing as the case moves on.

  1. The plaintiffs, a group of students and school districts, argued that several state statutes stood in the way of all students receiving the education guaranteed to them under the California constitution. “Plaintiffs claim that the Challenged Statutes result in grossly ineffective teachers obtaining and retaining permanent employment, and that these teachers are disproportionately situated in schools serving predominantly low-income and minority students. Plaintiffs’ equal protection claims assert that the Challenged Statutes violate their fundamental rights to equality of education by adversely affecting the quality of the education they are afforded by the state.”
  2. The judge agreed. He found “that the Challenged Statutes impose a real and appreciable impact on students’ fundamental right to equality of education and that they impose a disproportionate burden on poor and minority students.”
  3. This was essentially a civil-rights case, and the court underscored that point, starting its opinion by referencing Brown vs. Board of Education and then quoting the famous passage that education “is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.”
  4. State courts have, in recent years, frequently
  5. ...

Back in college, one of my political science professors wanted to make a point to a lecture hall full of know-it-all freshman.

He asked all of us to think back to when we were first getting interested in politics and developing positions on major issues. For most of us at this inside-the-beltway university, that was early.

He asked us to write down what our positions were back then on a list of three hot-button issues he provided. We did so eagerly.

He then said to the 400 of us, “Now, consider your current positions on these issues. Please raise your hand if your opinion on issue one has changed.”

Not a single hand went up.

“Please raise your hand if your opinion on issue two has changed.”

Two hands went up.

“Please raise your hand if your opinion on issue three has changed.”

Not a single hand went up.

He had us. “I’m sure you all realize how young and uninformed your previous selves were. You probably also know how much new information has come out over the last decade and how these debates have evolved. And yet, of 1,200 possible switches, we only have two.”

Then the coup-de-grâce.

“Is it that you were unfailingly brilliant at 12 years old, or are you allowing that 12-year-old to continue dictating your political views?”

He then introduced us to the academic research. One body of literature showed that once an individual made a decision (this is particularly true in the case of...

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