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 fourth post in our latest blog series by John Chubb, "Building a Better Leader: Lessons from New Principal Leadership Development Programs." See here, here, and here for prior posts.]

Our fourth lesson takes its title from a hit song by George Harrison, which doubles as an apt summary of the operational philosophy of all of the exemplar leadership programs explored earlier in this series. Conventional principal preparation programs take time, too—the time to earn sufficient credits for a master’s degree. But alternative programs are all about practice, practice, and more practice. Practice cannot be rushed. Practice takes time. Practice is in addition to whatever course requirements may be necessary for licensure as a school administrator.

Each of the examined programs in this series is based on a residency model of training. Much like medical training, they emphasize supervised practice for honing leadership skills. The New York City Aspiring Principals Program (APP) places candidates in residencies for a full academic year in a single school, with a one-month stay in another city school. Chicago’s Urban Education Leadership (UELP) also lasts a full year, with candidates playing different roles in receiving schools depending on their level of leadership experience. Building Excellent Schools (BES) Fellows spend two years preparing to open their schools, with much of...

SURVEY SAYS
It’s been nearly six months since the Vergara decision declared California’s state tenure and seniority laws unconstitutional. A recent Education Next survey asked how teachers rate their colleagues and, perhaps indirectly, how they feel about the consequential decision. Teachers gave high marks for 69 percent of their colleagues and gave low or failing marks to 12 percent. And as it turns out, only 41 percent of teachers favor tenure and also believe it should not be tied to student performance.

ADMISSION ISN'T ENOUGH
The National Student Clearinghouse reports that the proportion of students graduating from college has declined since 2008, when the economic recession hit its low point. Of students who enrolled in either two-year or four-year degree paths, only 55 percent graduated within six years. Clearinghouse directors suggest universities focus on helping already-enrolled students reach the finish line instead of attracting prospective applicants.

HOW A BILL BECOMES A LAW
After months of stagnation in the Senate, the Child Care Development Block Grant was passed Monday evening, updating safety standards for child care...

Flanner House Elementary, an Indianapolis charter school, closed just weeks into the 2014–15 school year by a vote of its board (under heavy pressure from the mayor’s office, which was the school’s sponsor) after an investigation revealed widespread cheating on tests in previous years. This seems like a prudent course of action, given the information known and despite the havoc it wreaked on the lives of its students. A protracted closure process would have been far worse for them.

The most striking thing about this story is the praise received by the mayor’s office in the wake of the closure decision. As reported in Education Week

[The Indianapolis mayor's office]…assigned charter-office employees to communicate with parents on a biweekly basis.

"We had a tracker that listed when we called families, the nature of that communication, next steps that we agreed to, and then we worked with those families to meet their needs," which included buying school supplies and new uniforms, Mr. Brown said.

The mayor's office also hosted two enrollment fairs where parents could talk with leaders from nearly 30 schools and could enroll their children on the spot.

"What we saw is that we had a lot of angry families at first that, over time, came to really value the support we gave them, to the point that we had multiple families call our office and say, 'We are so thankful that you made this decision,' " said Mr. Brown. "We didn't feel...

MORE ON COMMON CORE READING
NPR has wrapped up its four-part series on Common Core reading with a great look at a classroom of Washington, D.C. fifth graders picking their way through American history readers. The complexity of their standards-aligned texts—which require the students to answer questions using evidence from the reading—should challenge them to read more closely and develop an appetite for greater difficulty. Fordham’s incomparable tandem of Robert Pondiscio and Kevin Mahnken tackled this aspect of the literacy wars back in September.

BUT WHO WILL INVENT SELF-WRITING PERSONAL ESSAY SOFTWARE?
As high school seniors are beginning to make college plans, tech companies are stepping up to provide more tools to do so. Among them, LinkedIn’s new University Finder helps students identify schools with high grad-employment rates with certain companies, and Parchment.com purports to show students their chances of getting into their top schools. Check out the other online tools and pass them along to college-seeking seniors.

FORDHAM BOOK CLUB
Newsweek’s Abigail Jones talks to John Demos about the strange story of the Heathen School, chronicled in the historian’s 2014 book of the same name. Opened in Connecticut 1817, the Foreign Mission School (as it was officially known) sought to educate and convert American Indians as well as immigrants from China, Hawaii, and India. Local prejudice doomed the project from the start, and Andrew Jackson’s obsession with Indian removal...

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, build relationships, and manage people. Tellingly, the framework began with just the first two elements—in essence an almost maniacal focus on student achievement, which had been the founders’ secret to success. As KIPP sought to develop more school leaders, it recognized the crucial importance of working with the adults in...

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 top ten opportunities for resource reallocation in our book Spending Money Wisely: Getting the Most from School District Budgets. Focusing on these achievable opportunities offers the potential to free up significant resources that can be used to improve a district’s performance and ultimately bring about what we all hope for:...

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 gains in both math and reading, both overall and for its lowest-performing students. As for subgroups, let’s look at the percentage of students scoring at “satisfactory” or above on mathematics:

  • Its white students outperform the statewide white average by thirteen percentage points.
  • Its black students outperform the statewide black average
  • ...

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 successor Marty Walsh is struggling to win the prize that eluded Menino during his two-decade tenure: a longer school day.

SHAME OF THE NATION
An article in today’s New York Times details the dilapidated state of Native American schools. School officials claim that the environment in which...

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 work in a bureaucracy, the Chicago Public Schools. But it has a similar emphasis. First, the program is embedded in a Ph.D. program, evidence of the kind of deep and creative thinking that it values. The program also demands that prospective leaders be capable of maintaining high expectations as a...

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 over-testing. Under HB 487, enacted in June, the state superintendent is required to study the state’s assessments and report back to you by January 15. This report should give you valuable information that can be utilized in making decisions about testing. I urge you to be patient and wait for...

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