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.

The latest study by IES attempts to document how American eighth graders compare to their peers around the globe. Using NAEP scores to predict performance on TIMSS, an international test that examines what students know about math and science, analysts included thirty-eight countries and nine other educational systems in their inquiry. And the results? Not terrible. Eighth-grade students in thirty-six states outperformed the international TIMSS average in math, and those in forty-seven states did so in science. In the interest of naming names, the states that performed below that average in math included Oklahoma, Tennessee, West Virginia, Alabama, and the District of Columbia, while four systems—South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Taiwan—bested every U.S. state in math. Massachusetts did well in math compared to other systems, but when matched against the top performers, its scores weren’t anything to write home about: For instance, 19 percent of its eighth graders scored at the “advanced” level—compared to roughly 50 percent in Taiwan, Korea, and Singapore. As for science, forty-seven states scored higher than the TIMSS average, while three states’ scores—Mississippi, Alabama, and D.C.—scored lower. Six out of ten of the top scorers in science were in the U.S., including a decent chunk of the northeast states: Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. In general, the U.S. fared better in science than it did in math. That said, we ought to keep in mind a few caveats: (1) NAEP and TIMSS measure different things [link to podcast segment], even if the scores on...

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The “fifty-state review” of educational policies has proliferated into a literary genre of its own. Extant are fifty-state reviews of academic standards, charter school laws, a whole plethora of ed-reform policies, teacher-union strength, and even bullying laws. Add to this growing body of literature the National Council on Teacher Quality’s (NCTQ) recent fifty-state review of teacher evaluation policies. For NCTQ analysts, it’s not merely the teacher-evaluation tool per se that is important—it is also about how schools use evaluations in staffing decisions. The following are the three key takeaways from this study: First, teacher-evaluation policies have moved speedily—propelled, in part, by federal policy—through state legislatures. For example, in 2009 just fifteen of the fifty-one states (including D.C.) mandated that teacher evaluations be based on objective measures of student achievement. Now, forty-one states require such measures. Second, the degree to which teacher-evaluation systems are rigid or flexible varies across states. More than half of states (twenty-nine) give local districts considerable latitude in designing and implementing a homegrown evaluation system. The rest of the states take a heavier-handed approach, either mandating a single statewide system for all districts or a statewide system where districts can seek an “opt-out” waiver from the state if they implement a comparable evaluation system. Third, among the states with a teacher-evaluation policy based on achievement measures, state policies vary widely in how evaluations are linked to staffing decisions. Just six states tie evaluations to teacher salaries, while twenty-three states tie unsatisfactory evaluations...

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After a week of insider chatter predicting that L.A. schools chief John Deasy would resign in February, the L.A. Unified Board of Education issued him a satisfactory evaluation—and his contract has been extended through 2016. It’s no secret that L.A.’s teacher union has no love of Deasy, due in part to his support for the parent trigger, his push for student-performance-based teacher evaluations, and his Breakfast in the Classroom program. Most recently, he has been criticized for his handling of the district’s $1 billion iPad rollout. For Dara’s analysis of what’s next for Deasy and LAUSD, check out this week’s Education Gadfly Show podcast. [Link to podcast]

On Tuesday, the Department of Justice filed a motion asking a Louisiana district court for more time to produce documents requested by the state’s attorneys—including the federal desegregation orders upon which the DOJ based its lawsuit against the Bayou State’s school-voucher program in the first place. Governor Jindal promptly responded, pointing to this as yet another example of the Obama administration’s incompetence. “Were these documents lost in the Obamacare website? Or did the Department of Justice just ignore the documents and file a lawsuit against the state without having all of the information available?” Whatever the case, Holder’s certainly made a hash of it. Here’s hoping he cancels the lawsuit entirely....

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Louisiana recently released A-to-F school grades for the 2012–13 school year. These are the first results from the state’s new accountability system.

I take away three big things from the release. First, states are getting increasingly sophisticated about accountability systems. Second, the changes made by Louisiana’s leaders show that there’s no such thing as a perfect system—to have an accountability system is to make subjective, and therefore debatable, decisions. Third, the early indications are that, as was the case in Massachusetts and Florida over the last decade plus, Louisiana’s strong accountability system is contributing to improved student results.

Here are the facts. Schools are now scored on a 150-point scale (down from the previous 200-point scale), and several changes were made to the measures comprising the rankings. Attendance no longer counts toward scores at elementary schools, and high school scores take into account student performance on the ACT—Louisiana recently became the 10th state to have all high school students take the ACT. The education department no longer gives schools points for students who score below grade level, and schools can qualify for bonus points for improving the performance among their lowest-performing students.

For comparison purposes, the state released letter grades based on the old system in addition to the new ratings. The former criteria would have resulted in both more A-ranked schools and more F-ranked schools. The ...

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Here’s a simple thought experiment:

Sam and Ben are eight-year-old identical twins. Like most identical twins, they are the same in almost every way. They do, however, differ in two important respects: Sam is smarter than Ben, but Ben is naturally a harder worker. So here’s my question: All other things being equal (in this case, quite literally), which twin is likely to be a more successful adult?

The answer is Ben, the harder worker. Ben has a far greater chance of achieving success than does Sam. And this is an unacceptable consequence of our country’s inadequate education system, particularly its ineffective education of higher-ability students.

Hard work is a more learned characteristic than is intelligence. Circumstances can easily lead someone to work harder; intelligence is a more fixed attribute (if not fixed entirely). But BOTH of these attributes—hard work and ability—are vital for success.

Let’s look at two possible outcomes for the stars of our story. In this instance, Sam and Ben are in the same math class learning long division. They have four days to learn it before they’re tested. Sam can learn long division in two days; Ben can grasp the same concept in four.

Outcome 1: Sam only wanted to work for one day; Ben toiled for all four. Regardless of ability, Sam is now behind Ben.

Outcome 2: Both twins put in the required time to learn long division. And both do well on the test. BUT Sam’s time was wasted for two days

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Dear Deborah,

Over the course of our dialogue, we've written a lot about children living in poverty and about inequality. But you've been practically daring me to engage on the question of the other end of the spectrum: the children of the rich. OK, fine, I see that resistance is futile!

In your most recent post, for instance, you argued,

Children are born into whatever they are born into.  That some start the six-mile foot "race" at a mile behind the starting line and others a few miles ahead is not fair, not a level playing field. A few in the bottom quintile (3 percent?) overcome the odds.  But it would be a lot easier for the message of hope to reach the other 97 percent if they were closer to the starting line, and the rich weren't so incredibly far ahead, looking back at them with disdain.  If my childless, working-age grandchildren aren't too proud to take a "hand-out" from their parents, why should the adult children of families who have experienced a lifetime of poverty and racism feel otherwise about taking a helping hand from a society they didn't ask to be born into poor?  Alas, many do feel shame.

This reminds me of the old joke about people who were born on third base and thought they'd hit a triple.

If you recall, we started our discussion last spring with a debate about Sean Reardon's finding that, in recent decades, affluent children...

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With Common Core implementation in full swing, states are, for the most part, reaching for the same academic achievement goals. Yet according to this new report from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS), the accountability structures being developed in state and local jurisdictions continue to be disparate in scope and quality. Must this be the case? Policymakers, private funders, charter authorizers, or others might create a national system that “could offer the primary advantage of providing a consistent and comprehensive measure of charter school quality to inform parent choice and authorizer decisions,” argue the authors. Looking for inspiration, the analysts study state and local accountability systems as well as private ones, such as the high school rankings provided by U.S. News and World Report. They found that each used different reporting formats and a variety of means to measure student achievement, growth, college and career readiness, and subgroup performance. Logistics, costs, and our fears of federal intervention in education will likely ensure that a multi-state evaluation system does not move much beyond the kind offered by U.S. News. Nevertheless, the report calls for better data and offers a number of steps that states could take to make their results more comparable, such as including student-growth measures or using simplified reporting formats.

SOURCE: Lyria Boast and Tim Field, Quality School Ratings: Trends in Evaluating School Academic Quality (Washington, D.C.: National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, October 2013)....

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IMPACT—the District of Columbia’s controversial teacher-evaluation system, ushered in by former D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee—offers robust incentives and sanctions for teachers and links them to multiple measures of performance, such as test scores, classroom observations, and collaboration with colleagues. And according to this new study, it is working. Analysts studied teacher-level administrative and demographic data for DCPS’s general-education teachers in grades K–12, and their students, over the first three years of IMPACT (2009–10 through 2011–12), including their scores on IMPACT, which placed them into four categories of effectiveness ranging from highly effective to ineffective. Teachers in the latter category were immediately dismissed, while those in the next lowest category (called minimally effective) were subject to a dismissal threat—meaning they could be fired the following year if their rating did not improve. On the other hand, those who were rated as highly effective were eligible for a one-time bonus of up to $25,000, as well as increases in their base pay if they scored at the highest rating for at least two consecutive years. When comparing these two “threshold” groups, the low-performers (whose ratings placed them near the threshold of a dismissal threat) and the high performers (whose rating placed them near the threshold for the big pay bump), the analysts found that the threat of dismissal increased the voluntary attrition of low-performing teachers by 11 percentage points (or more than 50 percent) and improved the performance of teachers who remained by 0.27 of a standard deviation. They also...

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The results of New York’s hard-fought, revamped, and supposedly tougher teacher-evaluation system are in: 91.5 percent of teachers were rated either highly effective or effective, 4.4 percent were rated “developing,” and just 1 percent were rated “ineffective.” This appears to be a continuation of a trend: After a huge push for rigorous teacher evaluations tied to achievement, the results are mostly the same. These outcomes are especially interesting when juxtaposed with those from the recently lauded D.C. IMPACT system [link to SR]. Mike Petrilli, unsurprised, notes that the natural local response to top-down mandates is to resist.

A thoughtful article in National Review Online profiled the battle against “progressive education” over the last half century and, in particular, the contributions of E.D. Hirsch Jr. to the cause. It is a must-read for anyone those who wish to understand more clearly the philosophical underpinnings of the education-reform movement.

New York Times op-ed columnist Bill Keller highlighted the move to reform teacher preparation, noting in particular the calls for greater selectivity in admissions (a key point in Amanda Ripley’s The Smartest Kids in the World), better training in content knowledge (as quoted in the article, researcher William Schmidt reckoned that about 60 percent of America’s future middle school math teachers were being trained at “Botswana-level teacher programs”), and the introduction of “sustained, intense classroom experience” into prep programs.

Seven states—Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, and Washington—will participate in a...

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Throughout much of 2013, a colleague and I worked on a project related to America’s highest-potential boys and girls, students colloquially known as “gifted.” Though I learned a great deal, it was mostly a discouraging enterprise.

In short, this country gives the impression that it doesn’t much care about such kids. We have an astonishingly under-resourced, deprioritized, and inchoate system of school supports for kids on the right side of the academic distribution.

Though the project was designed to identify what’s happening in this field, I spent much of my time studying the dog that seldom barks—trying to figure out why there is so little activity in this field. I’m now of the mind that American-ness might be at the heart of the problem.

There is something quintessentially American about beating the odds, bootstrapping your way to success. Think of the waves of penniless immigrants who came to our shores and made their marks, the hardy souls who crossed the plains and mountains to realize their destinies. This is the stuff of The American Dream.

But something important seems to go hand-in-hand with our rooting for the underdog—what might be described as the chip on our collective shoulder, a bit of disdain for those seen as undeservingly advantaged. Our Founders cast off the crown, the nobility, and the haughty pretentions that go along with class privilege. We rebel against not only...

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