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 Education Department’s flurry of waivers from the No Child Left Behind accountability regime has changed the rules for states and profoundly altered how they identify schools for intervention. This report from the New America Foundation examines data from sixteen of the forty-two states that received waivers. It compares the number of Title I schools—typically poorer schools—that were in “improvement” status (i.e., required intervention) in these states’ last year under NCLB accountability (2011–12) and their first year under ESEA flexibility (2012–13). Across the sixteen states, analysts found that the number of schools in improvement fell by 34 percent. Some states had remarkable drops: Massachusetts, for example, identified 718 schools for improvement under NCLB (which was almost surely too many), while under its waiver it fingered just 162. Interestingly, though, five of the sixteen states bucked the trend, showing increases in the number of schools in improvement. Why? ESEA waivers have changed the method by which states identify their low-performing schools. States have moved from NCLB’s absolute standard (i.e., whether a school makes “Adequate Yearly Progress”) to a relative standard under ESEA flexibility (i.e., whether a school is in the bottom 15 percent of statewide performance). Many have also moved toward considering student growth over time as a significant factor in school ratings. The right approach to accountability—whether at a federal, state, and even at a charter-school-authorizer level—is far from settled. The report’s author writes that “identifying low-performing schools is the easy part, compared to actually improving them.” This...

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One of the biggest stories coming out of the 2013 NAEP TUDA data release, especially for those inside the beltway, were the results for District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS).

When state-level NAEP results came out last month, Washington, D.C., showed strong gains. But since charters (which enroll nearly half of the city’s children) were included in the results, it was impossible to tell how the district alone had fared.

But the success of IMPACT on human-capital practices and last year’s positive state test scores suggested the district was headed in the right direction.

NAEP TUDA results include only district schools in D.C. (since charters are their own LEAs), and 21 districts participate in this test. So TUDA was set to be the best barometer yet for DCPS’s progress—compared to both its own previous performance and that of other urban districts.

At first blush, the results are very positive. In each of the four areas assessed (reading and math in fourth and eighth grades), DCPS made statistically significant gains in scale scores. It was the only city with such results. In fact, only eight of the 21 cities had even one statistically significant gain (two saw a drop, and 11 cities made no significant gain whatsoever).

There is no doubt that this feels like a good-news story for the city. I’m proud of the hard work started by Michelle Rhee and carried on and accelerated by Kaya Henderson and their teams, and I’m very...

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The achievement of Cleveland’s public school students continues to be appalling low, and the city’s students are falling even further behind their peers from other urban areas.

Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Education released city-level data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Cleveland is the only Ohio city that participates in the Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA), which reports data from twenty-one cities across the United States. NAEP--the "Nation's Report Card"--administers the assessments to a representative sample of U.S. students.

Among the cities that participated, Cleveland’s test scores placed them second-to-last, with only Detroit scoring lower. The percentage of Cleveland students who met NAEP’s proficiency standard are as follows: fourth-grade reading—9 percent; fourth-grade math—13 percent; eighth-grade reading—11 percent; eighth-grade math—9 percent. In comparison to 2011 (the last round of testing), Cleveland’s test scores were flat. Meanwhile, Cleveland’s average test scores in the four grade and subject combinations fall 30 to 37 points below Ohio’s statewide average NAEP score.

Startling also is the increasing gap between Cleveland’s test scores and those of other large cities. Consider the “Average Scores for District and Large Cities” trend charts (available here, here, here, and here and reproduced below). As one can see the achievement data (and the trend) for Cleveland’s students are grim, bleak, and unacceptable—and are yet another stark reminder that Cleveland’s bold education reforms, which have just begun, must be vigorously implemented and with all due haste.

Increasing gap between Cleveland achievement and...

We would like to extend our congratulations to Learn to Earn Dayton for recently being awarded a $200,000 grant from the Lumina Foundation to dramatically increase the number of individuals with post-secondary credentials in the Dayton region. Dayton is one of only twenty communities nationwide to partner with Lumina in this grant program. Other Midwest awardees include Cincinnati; Columbus, IN; Fort Wayne, IN; and Kalamazoo, MI.

Lumina’s grant aims to increase the number of people with post-secondary credentials, which will make the local economy stronger and, in turn, provide a better quality of life for individuals and strengthen communities. Outcomes-based goals will be used to measure effectiveness, and awardees will receive the funding over a three year period. One of Learn to Earn’s central goals is to ensure that youth in Montgomery County (which includes Dayton) earn a college degree or a credential—specifically, that by 2025, 55 percent of high school graduates will have achieved some post-secondary attainment within six years of high school graduation.

In addition to Learn to Earn’s award, we also congratulate Dayton Early College Academy (DECA) for winning a $478,241 award in Ohio’s “Straight-A” competitive-grant program. The purpose of the Straight-A Fund is to improve achievement and efficiency by funding innovative projects. DECA was one of just twenty-four grantees among 570 applications to receive funding for the 2013 fiscal year. DECA will use the funds to jump-start a summer-learning program, to improve its use of technology, and to engage parents more...

John Mullaney

This week, $88 million dollars were awarded in the first round of the Governor’s Straight-A Fund to twenty-four schools across Ohio, out of a pool of 569 applications submitted. This one-of-a kind initiative is intended to incentivize innovations in teaching and learning across the state, to save money to the district, and to prove replicable in order to benefit other districts. The awards ranged from $14 million to $205,000.

I and four other colleagues from the philanthropic sector were among the educators, administrators, and business and venture capitalists invited to sit on the Grant Advisory Committee. One clear message to the committee was that the Straight-A Fund is attempting to create a set of demonstration projects across the state. The Fund holds the promise to truly change the way the public typically thinks of education in Ohio.

The process is creating a portfolio of projects that, if successful, will deliver the public a robust System of Schools with a portfolio of creative learning environments, rather than a one-size-fits-all School System. The grants have been awarded, and that is a good start. For the program to truly succeed, however, the follow-up will be the Governing Board’s greatest challenge. If done well, the Fund will serve as a national model.

For those of us in the philanthropic sector, the selection process was unlike anything we had ever seen. To ensure anonymity and impartiality, the state employed the expertise of statisticians from Ohio State University to assist. The committee was introduced to...

Today, NAEP TUDA results are released.

Actually, I should say the results are being packaged.

I’m disappointed in the National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB) and the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), entities that typically—and admirably—go about their work in a just-the-facts-ma’am fashion.

But unfortunately, that’s not the case here.

There’s an uncomfortable cheerleading quality to the materials being released. They have the effect of whitewashing the real story here—that today is a day to be sad for millions of disadvantaged kids. It is not a day for celebration.

In short, NAGB and NCES have gone out of their way to emphasize the gains that urban districts have made. They have titled two glossy productions, “Progress Over A Decade.” They show how urban district averages are getting closer to those of the nation as a whole. The release package even includes a cheerful statement and press release from the national organization whose job is to advocate for big urban districts.

Not a single voice dissenting from this roseate narrative is included.  

But the data-rich spreadsheets (downloadable from the website) tell the other side of the story.

Here are 10 important things revealed by the numbers themselves.

1.   In fourth-grade reading, eighth-grade reading, and eighth-grade math, about one out of every four students reaches proficiency in the average large city. The brightest spot is fourth-grade math, where one in three are proficient. Specific examples:...

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The National Council on Teacher Quality has a message for teacher-preparation programs: Your graduates need to know how to manage their classrooms effectively. Every classroom teacher knows that, in the words of the authors, “the most brilliantly crafted lesson can fall on deaf ears” if a productive classroom environment has not been established. And our current system's expectation that teachers just “sink or swim” in classroom management is unacceptable. After reviewing 150 previous studies, NCTQ found five common themes regarding what every aspiring teacher should master before taking responsibility for his own classroom: how to set clear rules, how to develop routines and establish structure so students know what to expect, how to reward students who are doing the right thing, how to punish those who are not, and how to make sure students are too engaged in learning to act out. The authors then assessed 122 teacher-preparation programs in thirty-three states to determine whether such research is informing what the programs are actually doing. They found that, even though teacher-prep programs overemphasized theory to the detriment of practical skills, all but a handful did cover classroom management in some form. The problem lies in just how much classroom management is still being deemphasized. On average, programs studied required about ten to fifteen courses prior to student teaching, but time spent on classroom management added up to only about eight class periods. As one might imagine, that is not near enough time to cover all of the material that is...

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Behavioral psychology tells us that to gain traction on our problems, we should separate and categorize their individual parts. We tend to do this in education reform, too, identifying and tackling discrete challenges, one at a time (think: teacher evaluations, funding formulas, governance). But according to a new book by business and education professors Ian Mitroff, Lindan Hill, and Can Alpaslan, that way of thinking might actually exacerbate the problem. The authors examine the ways that educators, union leaders, and reformers have approached the interconnected problems that make up “The Education Mess,” as they dub it (income inequality, poverty, hunger, poor health, the achievement gap, etc.). They apply the Jungian systems framework, viewing education as a system of interconnected problems rather than a machine with independent parts. Their critique of Indiana’s education reform overhaul in 2012 demonstrates this perfectly: Mitroff et al. worry that the largely structural changes made by the state will not be systemic enough to support sustainable growth. Their favorite example of systems thinking done right, however, is the Harlem Children’s Zone, which they cite frequently throughout the book. And while we at Fordham are a little skeptical about the scalability of efforts like HCZ, this book offered a unique lens by which to view The Education Mess. And if it takes a village to raise a child, it surely takes a village to improve education.

SOURCE: Ian Mitroff, Lindan B. Hill, and Can M. Alpaslan, Rethinking the Education Mess: A Systems Approach...

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The nation’s two largest teacher labor unions (AFT and NEA), the largest public-sector employee labor union (SEIU), and other national organizations are rallying today on their “National Day of Action.” Unfortunately, this conglomerate of labor and liberal interest groups has put forward a slate of tired and worn-out “adequacy” principles and solutions that are better suited for another time and place. The principles represent an input-driven, compliance-based public education model that has yielded decades of academic mediocrity and nary a whiff of excellence.

Meanwhile, this coalition portrays any effort from education “outsiders” to reform America’s public school system as “corporate”—not because there is any evidence of a corporate conspiracy but because it polls well in our increasingly polarized society. This is an unambiguous attempt by teacher unions to preserve their monopoly over the public-school system. The message to those outside the union sphere of influence is clear: Butt out.

We won’t be so kind as to accede. For, as we argue below, the seven principles that this coalition has laid out are deeply flawed. If our ultimate objective is for our public schools and students to achieve higher academic performance, Ohio needs a bolder set of guiding principles. To its credit, the Buckeye State (sometimes with and sometimes without labor support) is indeed undertaking bold, promising educational reforms in our K–12 schools.

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Labor’s principle #1: Public schools are public institutions.

Public schools are of course public institutions; as such, taxpayers—individuals and businesses alike—have a...

Checker Finn, chagrined at the lack of attention to gifted education in the U.S., has decided to study what other nations do. His initial assessment is that we’re not the only one giving high-ability kids minimal thought. Such a strange, unfortunate phenomenon.

With the failure of SIG, we need a Plan B ASAP for kids in failing schools. I’ve long argued for a massive new schools strategy. (More on this to come in an upcoming blog post.) If you’re likeminded or intrigued by the idea of the starting-fresh approach, check out the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools’ ESEA-reauthorization recommendations. This is a blueprint for Plan B.

I think single-purpose chartering bodies are the future. In fact, I think all public schools (and all private schools participating in voucher or tax-credit programs) should have performance contracts with them (more on this in an upcoming AEI paper). NACSA has a terrific short policy brief on such independent chartering boards. Check it out.

If you follow the increasing use of Value-Added Measures (VAMs) and Student Growth Percentiles (SGPs) in state-, district-, school-, and teacher-accountability systems, read this very good new Mathematica working paper. There’s high correlation between the two, but there are important differences in how teacher ratings shake out based on differences in student populations. Important and fascinating implications.

Ten years ago, TNTP released its first report, Missed Opportunities, which I vividly remember reading in disbelief—urban districts were...

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