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.

John Chubb

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

Every leadership development program is guided by leadership standards, statements of what successful leaders should know and be able to do. This is true of the exemplars examined in this blog series and of open-enrollment programs run by countless colleges and universities. Thirty-two states comprise the Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium (ISLLC) which developed a competency framework that is used in programs licensed in member states. It includes standards relative to school culture, management, community relations, and vision of learning.

In fact, most competency frameworks—whether guiding mundane licensure programs like many carrying the ISLLC imprimatur or other, more heralded alternatives—include similar expectations. School leaders should provide vision, set worthy goals, build effective teams, cultivate positive cultures, drive quality instruction, and get results. One would be hard pressed to distinguish successful from unsuccessful leadership development programs by looking only at competency frameworks.

KIPP’s framework has but four elements, consistent with the expert advice that less is more: student focus (what KIPP also calls “prove the possible”), drive results,...

Public school districts in the United States face a tough reality: Student needs are mounting and accountability demands are on the rise, but resources remain limited or are on the decline. In recent years, there has been great energy around how to do more with less through technology-supported instruction, class-size management, new staffing patterns, school closures, etc. But in the end, many districts have resorted to doing less with less, such as offering fewer electives, reducing administrator and support-staff positions, delaying maintenance, and postponing textbook adoptions.

But there is good news. There are practical, real-world opportunities for districts to realign resources and free up funds to support their strategic priorities. It is possible to do more with less, if you are spending money wisely. Many district leaders might defensively respond that they in fact have a multitude of ideas, but the budgeting process and political pushback make many options virtually impossible. The challenge is to find cases in which the political pushback is manageable and both the impact on student achievement and the financial benefit are significant. Fortunately, recent research shows that such scenarios do exist.

We at the District Management Council detailed the...

A few weeks ago, I bemoaned an Education Trust report positing that schools shouldn’t get A grades if they have significant achievement gaps, even if their students are making lots of progress. I guess I didn’t make a convincing case, particularly to the folks at 400 Maryland Avenue. As Anne Hyslop reported, the newly announced NCLB waiver guidelines now ask states for “a demonstration that a school may not receive the highest rating in the state’s accountability system if there are significant achievement or graduation rate gaps in the school that are not closing.” As Anne wrote, “this is almost verbatim from the recommendations” put forth by Ed Trust.

But is this a smart idea? Consider the case of Sawgrass Elementary School in Broward County, Florida. Let’s examine its stats (downloaded from this Florida Department of Education site). First look at the demographics, which show it to be a rare model of racial and socio-economic diversity:

  • 27 percent white
  • 28 percent black
  • 37 percent Hispanic
  • 6 percent Asian
  • 54 percent disadvantaged
  • 29 percent English language learners (ELL)

As for academic performance, Sawgrass has been making big...

BUSHWACKED
In a bout of unforeseen excitement at AEI, a routine guest lecture by controversial Newark Schools Superintendent Cami Anderson turned to pandemonium when dozens of furious protesters bused down from the Gateway City to disrupt the talk. Over at Education Week, event organizer Rick Hess lambasted the activists as “rabble-rousers” and “enemies of free speech,” also apparently taking offense to their repeated use of train whistles.

BETTER LEARNING THROUGH VIDEO GAMES
A recent study has found that playing high-action video games may accelerate student learning. According to the Rochester Center for Brain Imaging, students who played these games were faster at learning new sensory-motor skills than their non-gaming peers. As it turns out, high-action video games may enhance a student’s attention, perception, and ability to switch tasks and mentally rotate objects—skills that contribute heavily to a student’s ability to succeed in math and geometry.

IMPOSSIBLE DREAM?
When long-serving former Boston Mayor Tom Menino died last month, the occasion spawned countless panegyrics to the most powerful leader the city had ever known. Even while honoring his many accomplishments, however, supporters had to concede that his record on education failed to astound. Now his...

John Chubb

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

Traditional principal preparation programs are notoriously non-selective. The new breed of program takes selectivity to the opposite extreme. Some have ratios of acceptances to inquiries or applications that rival competitive colleges—below 10 percent. For example, Building Excellent Schools (BES) receives upwards of 2,000 inquiries for between ten and twelve fellowships.

Every alternative program that we studied is looking first for intellectual capacity and leadership approach. Jane Shirley, executive director of Get Smart Schools (GSS), put it this way: “We’re looking for systemic thinkers. [Management expert] Peter Senge says that every system is perfectly designed to get the results it is getting. We want leaders who, when faced with a problem, understand it’s because whatever you’ve designed is supporting that particular problem—to understand the problem at the design level is the kind of creativity we are looking for.” GSS is preparing principals to lead autonomous schools, she emphasized, and “that is very different from leading schools in a bureaucracy.”

The University of Illinois is preparing principals to...

Editor’s Note: On Thursday, November 13, Chad Aldis testified before the Ohio House Education Committee on the substitute bill for House Bill 228. His comments focused on a small but substantial change that would limit the length of a state assessment, even if administered in several parts at multiple times during the school year, to four hours. A portion of his testimony is below.

I would like to commend the legislature on its decision to examine the issue of over-testing. In recent months, concerns over the amount of classroom time allocated to standardized testing have risen with a fervor and urgency that is understandable. Testing impacts thousands of students, parents, and educators across our state. As a parent of children in a traditional public school, I understand the concerns surrounding testing. I am equally concerned though that in our rush to find a solution we could potentially swing the pendulum too far the other way.

I oppose placing a testing time limit in statute for three reasons.

First, the provision limiting testing hours on the state assessment is a quick fix that may not solve the issue of...

Draft Conference Agenda
Thomas B. Fordham Institute's Education for Upward Mobility
December 2, 2014
The Renaissance Hotel
999 9th Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20001
 
8:00 – 8:45           Registration, breakfast and coffee available
8:45 – 9:00           Welcome and introductions, Michael J. Petrilli
9:00 – 10:15        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? Military service? Apprenticeships? Following the “success sequence” (get a high school diploma, work full time, and wait until age 21 to marry and start a family)?
 
...

NYC KIDS FLOOD PRE-K
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s full-day pre-K initiative is exceeding enrollment expectations. More than 53,000 children have signed up for the program, compared to about 20,000 attending full-day pre-kindergarten last year. The sharp rise in attendance is seen as a victory for the mayor, who has made expansion of pre-K programs a cornerstone of his education policy.

GOLD STANDARDS IN THE SILVER STATE
In part two of NPR’s terrific series on reading in the Common Core era, teachers in Washoe County, Nevada, discuss how the challenging standards demand more from both low and high achievers. The shift from simple comprehension questions to evidence-supported answers helps students at all levels of achievement stay engaged with the material.

IS IT SAFE?
The...

  • Uber-effective charter leaders Judy Burton and Dacia Toll took to U.S. News this week to argue that charters and standards go hand in hand. Both reforms grew from the same analysis of and frustration over low-performing American schools. Charter advocates understand that we need to set high expectations for teachers and students; we also know that the Common Core does that, allowing American students everywhere to be ready for college and, more importantly, the world beyond. To be sure, the transition will be difficult at times. But, as Theodore Roosevelt said, “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty.”
  • The New York Times editorial board penned an op-ed last week calling for a stronger school turnaround plan for the city. The impetus for and target of the piece was Mayor de Blasio’s long-anticipated blueprint to rescue struggling schools, which the paper deemed imprecise and almost surely doomed to fail. A prominent feature of the plan is to add wraparound services to low-performing schools over the next three years, including mental health and dental treatment. But because these kids are struggling now, a three-year plan seems tone deaf—especially when the
  • ...

This book, out of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, is a useful field guide to the design and implementation of blended learning models, which combine computer-mediated resources like MOOCs with conventional classroom instruction. Nonetheless, readers may greet its subtitle, “Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools,” with a pang of foreboding. Blended initially makes you worry that its pages will mostly be a blend of TED Talk doublespeak. Indeed, the foreword (contributed by the High Prophet of Disruption himself, Clayton M. Christensen) ominously name-checks Thomas Kuhn, the philosopher and historian who first coined the now-inescapable phrase “paradigm shift.” But whatever their slight fondness for techno-jargon, authors Michael B. Horn and Heather Staker have written something valuable mainly because they are at pains to define their terms. This is the critical task facing advocates of blended learning, as Fordham itself has chronicled. Furnishing students with laptops and posting lesson plans on Blackboard isn’t blended learning; nor is a totally online experience that students access from home. For clarification, Horn and Staker use refreshingly simple graphics to outline the varying blends—from hybrid approaches shuttling kids between online activities, small-group instruction, and pen-and-paper assignments, to more unfamiliar models that explicitly make...

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