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 New Teacher Project’s recent study indicating that billions of dollars are largely wasted on ineffective professional development has raised a question central to all of our reform efforts: How do we make teachers better?

This new brief from the RAND Corporation, representing the preliminary observations of their ongoing assessment of the Leading Educators Fellowship program, attacks that question from the angle of mentoring and teacher leadership. Leading Educators is a national nonprofit that selects and develops exceptional mid-career teachers, training them to act as guides for their less experienced peers and spearhead improvement efforts in their schools. Its specific aims are to inculcate leadership skills among participants in the two-year fellowship, boost the achievement of students taught by both fellows and their mentees, and increase teacher retention in high-need schools. The organization’s own characterization of the study asserts that the program has now graduated over three hundred fellows. That cohort has mentored approximately 2,500 teachers, affecting by extension some sixty-nine thousand students in New Orleans, Memphis, Kansas City, and Washington, D.C.

The report compared program participants (both fellows and mentee teachers) to people who had applied and been rejected, as well as other teachers deemed similar by...

This study examines the effect of market fluctuations on teacher quality. Using reading and math scores of students who took the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test between the 2000–2001 and 2008–2009 school years, the authors construct valued-added scores for thirty-three thousand Florida teachers, then test to see if a number of business cycle indicators (such as unemployment and GDP) predict these scores.

Based on these data, they estimate that teachers who enter the profession during a recession are more effective at teaching math and English language arts than non-recession teachers (by 0.10 and 0.05 standard deviations, respectively). They arrive at slightly larger estimates for male and minority teachers and those entering the profession later in life.

According to the authors, increases in the supply of effective teachers, rather than decreases in demand or differences in attrition, account for the superior quality of teachers hired during recessions. Presumably, these increases are driven by a decline in the quality of alternative employment opportunities for these individuals, some or all of which reflects a decline in their expected earnings relative to those of teachers.

Following this line of reasoning, the study bears two implications: First, recessions are a great time for the government or...

It’s that time of year: Parents are perusing the back-to-school section with their perhaps not-so-eager-to-return-to-school children. Teachers, meanwhile, are gearing up for—or are already attending—in-service and professional development sessions that aim to prepare them for the year ahead. While studying class lists, decorating classrooms, and prepping lesson plans for a new year is exciting for teachers (trust me, walking into the teacher store before a new school year is just like coming downstairs on Christmas morning), the black cloud of professional development (PD) looms. And then it remains.

In a new report entitled The Mirage, TNTP (the nonprofit that brought us The Widget Effect) took a deep dive into teacher PD in three large traditional districts and one midsize charter network. The findings were not pleasant. In the traditional districts, an average of approximately $18,000 was spent on development per teacher, per year—totaling anywhere from 5 to 11 percent of the districts’ annual operating budgets. Overall, district teachers spent about 10 percent of their typical school year in PD. Despite all that time, however, ratings showed only three out of every ten teachers substantially improved their performance, based on the districts’ own evaluations. While beginning teachers...

Though it might be hard to believe, the first primary of the 2016 election season is still six months away. But the “ideas primary” is in full swing. Here’s what we hope to hear from candidates on both sides of the aisle. (Note to campaigns: These ideas and the related infographics are all open-source. Please steal them!)

Thank you for the opportunity to speak about the number-one domestic issue facing our country today: How to improve our schools so that every child has an opportunity to use their God-given talents to the max, contribute to society, and live the American Dream.

In a few minutes, I’m going to talk about what’s wrong with our education system. That’s appropriate, because bad schools continue to steal opportunities away from too many of our young people.

But before we get to that, how about some good news for a change? American schools, on the whole, are getting better. A lot better. Test scores are up—especially in math, and especially for our lowest-performing, low-income, and minority children. Graduation rates are at all-time highs. The college completion rate is inching upward. Things are heading in the right direction.


On Wednesday, Campbell Brown and the American Federation for Children will host an education policy summit in New Hampshire with six of the seventeen GOP presidential contenders. (A similar forum among Democratic candidates is scheduled for October in Iowa.) Here we present six education policy themes—and associated infographics—that we hope the candidates embrace. We've also written a speech that we encourage contenders to emulate. All of these are open-source. Please steal them!

1. Education reform is working. Don’t stop now.


2. College is not the only ticket to upward mobility in America.


3. School choice is growing—and changing lives.


4. America’s best and brightest need attention too.


5. School discipline is under attack—that’s shortsighted and foolish.


6. Preparing children for citizenship is an important goal of schools. Let’s restore civic education. 


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Last week, Bellwether Education Partners analyst (and Obama administration alumnus) Chad Aldeman pointed out that I’ve changed my views on reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act since 2011. He’s absolutely right. What’s perplexing is why he would find this surprising. I assume that many foreign policy analysts reexamined their positions after 9/11, and that housing policy experts did the same after the Great Recession. Does Chad not understand that the unprecedented, autocratic, and quite possibly illegal actions of the president’s Department of Education have changed things a bit?

Yes, four long years ago, Checker Finn and I were still wedded to the “tight-loose” formula of federalism in education: Uncle Sam should be tighter on the outcomes expected from our schools but much looser on how states and districts achieve those ends. What we meant by “tight” was that Washington should require states to adopt “college- and career-ready standards,” either developed with other states (i.e., the Common Core) or unique to themselves. This was in part a response to the perverse incentives of No Child Left Behind—namely the mandate for states to attain near-universal proficiency...

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One of the most hotly debated issues in American education today revolves around low-performing schools and districts: how to define “low-performing,” what to do about them, and who gets to decide. That’s at the heart of the deliberations—and arguments—over the No Child Left Behind reauthorization now moving through Congress.

But there’s another species of “failing” schools and districts that doesn’t attract the same controversy, even though it should: institutions that are financially insolvent, or headed toward that status. For example, as of the 2014–15 school year, the School District of Philadelphia had massive deficits—to the tune of $320 million. In Michigan, nearly 7 percent of all traditional school districts and charter school districts (57 of 843) were operating at a deficit at the end of the 2013–14 fiscal year. Over 25 percent of New Mexico districts (23 of 89) required emergency state aid in 2013–14. And there are similar problems in Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, and elsewhere.

Districts go insolvent primarily because there are insufficient counter-pressures on their leaders to stay fiscally solvent. Existing leaders are often rewarded—through elections, appointments, or re-appointments—when they make promises that...

The GOP had its first 2016 presidential debate last night, featuring the top ten hopefuls by recent poll numbers. Moderators Chris Wallace, Megyn Kelly, and Bret Baier asked tough questions, managed time well, and gave every candidate an opportunity to shine. Florida Senator Rubio seemed to be the consensus winner, and Ohio Governor John Kasich was arguably the runner up. Donald Trump was also there. Education, on the other hand, made a disappointingly brief appearance.

In our education policy primer for the event, Kevin Mahnken and I predicted that moderators would ask about higher education, Common Core, and nothing else. We batted two-for-three.

Fifty minutes into the debate, Twitter alit with eduwonk enthusiasm when Bret Baier, amidst boos from the audience, finally asked former Florida Governor Jeb Bush about the Republican lightning rod known as Common Core. “Governor Bush, you are one of the few people on this stage who advocates for Common Core education standards, reading and math. A lot of people on this stage vigorously oppose federal involvement in education. They think it should all be handled locally. President Obama’s secretary of education, Arne Duncan, has said that most of the criticism...

Recently, ACT disaggregated its 2014 test results and college retention rates in order to get a closer look at the college aspirations and preparation levels of ACT-takers who reported a family income of less than $36,000 (approximately 24 percent of test-takers.) Overall, 96 percent of low-income students who took the ACT reported plans to enroll in college. 33 percent of these students wanted to obtain a graduate or professional degree, 51 percent wanted to obtain a bachelor’s degree, and 13 percent wanted to obtain an associate’s degree. Despite these aspirations, however, only 11 percent of low-income students met all four of ACT’s college readiness benchmarks, which include English, reading, math, and science. Even more troubling, a whopping 50 percent of low-income students failed to meet even one benchmark.

When broken down by subject, low-income students performed best in English (45 percent met the benchmark, compared to 64 percent of all students). In the three remaining subjects, however, low-income students posted far lower numbers. 26 percent met the reading benchmark (compared to 44 percent of all students), 23 percent met the math benchmark (compared to 43 percent of all students), and 18 percent met the science benchmark (compared to...

Recently, the idea of “school-based hubs” has been gaining momentum as a potential solution to the problem of improving upward mobility. These hubs are created when schools partner with doctors’ offices and various other community organizations to offer their clients (students and parents) a wide variety of integrated services. The efficacy of these programs, however, is still in question, as the idea progresses through its infancy; only a small number of them actually exist.

This report offers insight into the successes and challenges of a D.C. school-based hub, the Briya/Mary’s Center. It came together a few years ago, when Briya Public Charter School partnered with Mary’s Center, an “integrative medical center.” Mary’s Center’s mission is to provide families with medical, educational, and social services to improve their overall well-being.

Briya Public Charter School is no stranger to integrated services. In addition to an education, the school provides its students (up to five years old) and their relatives a family literacy program, parenting classes, and two adult credentialing programs. These programs allow Briya parents to become registered medical assistants or early child care professionals, thus setting them up for future success. Briya also encourages parents to be active participants in their...