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.

SANCTUARY CITY
Following the president’’s executive order providing temporary relief for unauthorized immigrant families, the Los Angeles Unified School District has received roughly 16,000 transcript requests. (The information is necessary to apply for the expanded DACA program.) Yesterday, district officials and union leaders agreed that they would help eligible students to access records to complete their applications.

MAYBE THERE'S ROOM IN WESTCHESTER
During an American Enterprise Institute event on Tuesday, Success Academy CEO Eva Moskowitz unveiled her plan to have one hundred charter schools in the Success network within the next ten years. Moskowitz has been dealing with pushback from NYC mayor Bill de Blasio, whose administration has thwarted efforts to obtain space for expansion. She claimed that the schools are besieged by “people who are trying to kill us.

A PEN AND A PHONE AND A BILLION DOLLARS
President Obama announced a billion-dollar public/private early childhood education initiative. $250 million from the Department of Education will be divided between eighteen states to expand preschool programs, the Department of Health and Human Services has allocated an additional $500 million for daycare in forty states, and private groups have raised another $330 million through the...

  • Across New York State, 32 percent of would-be teachers were denied certification because they failed to pass a basic Academic Literacy Skills exam, the New York Post reports. Let that rattle around in your head for a moment. The test measures reading comprehension and writing skills and is part of a new battery of tests that the Empire State now requires for people who want to teach within its borders. Shockingly, in many of the state’s teacher-prep schools, a majority of candidates failed the tests. At least one school had no students pass. Schools with low pass rates have to come up with corrective plans, such as improving instruction or denying admission to more applicants. Three cheers for smart policy.
  • Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant is hoping to throw out the Common Core, and educators across the state think it’s a bad idea that threatens to reverse the state’s progress. Indeed. Mississippi has arguably the worst schools in the country—and has for some time. And the CCSS represent a vast improvement over what was previously in place. Worse, during the
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Most of us have known students who struggle with non-cognitive skills. Teachers have labored heroically to keep a reserved pupil engaged in group projects; parents have cajoled a discouraged child to keep working through a multi-step equation; even a few education writers, in our misguided youths, put off a term paper or two until the night before the end of the semester (I’m sure it got lost in your inbox, Professor Kaiser). Melissa Tooley and Laura Bornfreund’s new study for the New America Foundation looks at how high-quality early-education programs impart critical, non-content-oriented traits like work ethic, curiosity, teamwork, and empathy—abilities they label “skills for success” and thereafter, somewhat gratingly, refer to as “SFS”—and how those approaches can be replicated and expanded at the K–12 level. Their findings represent a worthwhile and informative new entry into a debate that’s suddenly grown hot. For their part, the authors are quickly forced to address one obvious pitfall: the difficulty of quantitatively determining a student’s progress in attaining better emotional and behavioral habits, other than perhaps locking a four-year-old in a room with a marshmallow and telling him to exercise grit. “It may not currently be possible to assess certain skills well...

This study examines the impact of peer pressure on academic decisions. Analysts Leonardo Bursztyn and Robert Jensen conducted an experiment in four large, low-performing, low-income Los Angeles high schools whereby eleventh-grade students were offered complimentary access to a popular online SAT prep course. Over 800 students participated. Analysts used two sign-up sheets, which they randomly varied. One told students that their decision to enroll would be public, meaning their classmates would know they signed up; the other told them it would be kept private. The key finding is that, in non-honors courses, sign-up was 11 percentage points lower when students believed others in the class would know whether they agreed to participate, compared to those who were told it would be kept private—suggesting that these adolescents believe there is a social cost to looking smart. In honors classes, there was no difference in sign-up rates under the two conditions. Because students in honors and non-honors classes obviously differ, to help mitigate selection bias, Bursztyn and Jansen then examined results only from students who took two honors classes—some of whom would be sitting in honors classes when they were offered the decision to participate and some of whom would be sitting...

It’s been nearly fifty years since the publication of “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” remembered by history simply as “the Moynihan Report” after its author, future United States Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who in 1965 was an assistant labor secretary. The report detailed the decay of the black two-parent family and the concomitant social and economic problems. In this article in Education Next, the first in an entire issue dedicated to the Moynihan Report, Princeton professor Sara McLanahan and Christopher Jencks of Harvard’s Kennedy School ask, “Was Moynihan right? What happens to the children of unmarried mothers?” Note the race-neutral formulation. The authors aren’t attempting to avoid an inflammatory question. Rather, they’re addressing a problem now far more widespread than it was when Moynihan wrote. The rate of unmarried births among whites today is considerably higher than the 1965 rate among blacks, which troubled Moynihan enough to issue his bombshell report. Indeed, an estimated half of all children in the United States live with a single mother at some point before they turn eighteen. This portends many different outcomes, none of them good. The authors cite a recent review of forty-five studies using quasi-experimental methods, which find...

To grow up as the child of well-educated parents in an affluent American home is to hit the verbal lottery. From their earliest days, these children reap the benefits of parents who speak in complete sentences, engage them in rich dinner table conversation, and read them to sleep at bedtime. Verbal parents chatter incessantly, offering a running commentary on vegetable options in the produce aisle, pointing out letters and words in storefronts and street signs. Parents proceed, as Ginia Bellafante of the New York Times once put it, “in a near constant mode of annotation.”

In sharp contrast, early disadvantages in language among low-income children—both the low volume of words they hear and the way in which they are employed—establish a verbal inertia that is immensely difficult to address or reverse. Schools will spend every moment trying to make up for the verbal gaps kids come to school with on Day One, which usually grow wider year after year.

When it comes to vocabulary, size matters. E.D. Hirsch, Jr. observed that vocabulary “is a convenient proxy for a whole range of educational attainments...

EVERYTHING’S BIGGER IN TEXAS EXCEPT FOR SOME STUFF IN CALIFORNIA
At a news conference Monday, Greg Abbott, the Governor-elect of Texas, said that he was disturbed by “the fact that five of the top ten public universities in the country are from California, with none being from Texas.” Abbot asserted that improving the state’s public education would be his top priority, specifically pointing to early childhood education and postsecondary opportunities as areas with room for improvement.

THE LAST NCLB WAIVER EXTENSION OF 2014 GOES TO...
Despite the ongoing legal battles between Governor Bobby Jindal and State Superintendent John White over the use of Common Core-aligned tests, the U.S. Department of Education has granted Louisiana a No Child Left Behind waiver extension. It appears that Jindal’s political stand against standards did little to hurt the state’s chances of receiving an extension.

ANIMAL CRACKERS AND QUADRATIC EQUATIONS
It may come as a surprise, but many preschool students receive less than one minute of math instruction each day. In a new $25 million study funded by the Robin Hood Foundation, researchers will set out to see if introducing a new math intervention in preschool will...

Sadly, a change recommended by the Ohio House Education Committee in House Bill 343 that would have eliminated the minimum teacher-salary schedule from state law was removed by the Rules Committee before the legislation reached the full house. The law entrenches the archaic principle that teacher pay should be based on seniority and degrees earned, and most districts’ collective-bargaining agreements still conform to the traditional salary schedule. For instance, each district in Montgomery County, except for one, had a seniority and degrees-earned salary schedule.[1]

There are several good reasons to do away with the traditional salary schedule.  These reasons include: (1) It wrongly assumes that longevity is related to productivity; (2) it falsely assumes that a masters’ degree correlates to productivity; (3) it does not reward teachers who are demonstrably more effective; and (4) it does not differentiate teacher pay based on the conditions of the wider labor market.

Given Ohio policymakers’ reticence to ditch the salary schedule, it’s worth discussing again (see here and here for prior commentary) why the rigid salary schedule shackles schools. In particular, I’d like to deal with the fourth reason mentioned above....

If you stop and listen, you can hear it: The country yearning, praying, hoping for some sign that our political leaders can get their acts together and get something done, something constructive that will solve real problems and move the country forward again. In 2001, in the wake of 9/11, that something was the No Child Left Behind Act, which was the umpteenth renewal of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). A reauthorization of the ESEA (on its fiftieth anniversary no less) could play the same role again: showing America that bipartisan governance is possible, even in Washington.

Thankfully, both incoming chairmen of the relevant Senate and House committees—Lamar Alexander and John Kline—have indicated that passing an ESEA reauthorization is job number one. And friends in the Obama administration tell me that Secretary Duncan is ready to roll up his sleeves and get to work on something the president could sign. So far, so good.

So what should a new ESEA entail? And could it both pass Congress and be signed by President Obama? Let me take a crack at something that could.

First, let’s set the context. For at least six years, we at the Fordham Institute...

UVA RAPE STORY CONTINUES
In the wake of growing doubt over the authenticity of certain claims lodged in Rolling Stone’s article about campus sexual assault at the University of Virginia, as well as the magazine’s recent acknowledgement that it had “misplaced” its trust in the subject of the piece, national organizations have issued a call for the university to end its sanctions on fraternities and sororities.

PHONING IT IN
Charter authorizers in Washington, D.C. and Massachusetts are using a creative new tactic to test the enrollment strategies of their schools. To ensure that schools are not unfairly turning away special needs students, anonymous callers posing as parents are testing the system. The program is in response to fears that publicly-funded, independently run charters may turn away these students to maintain higher test scores. But the “mystery caller” approach also has its detractors. Last month, Fordham’s own Andy Smarick said that it “could verge on entrapment and/or discourage schools from providing the best advice to families.”

BECAUSE FOUR YEARS OF COLLEGE IS PLENTY
Colleges in North Carolina, Texas, Florida, and Virginia are re-evaluating strategies to ensure students graduate in four years. By capping credit...

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