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.

With belts tightening in communities across the land, education leaders are exploring novel ways to stretch the school dollar. One such approach is “personalized learning,” i.e., using technology to tailor coursework to individual students while making better use of teachers’ time. To determine whether personalized learning is helping schools get more bang for the buck, the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) is conducting a cost study of twenty schools that received grants from the Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC) initiative. In this brief, CRPE—halfway through its two-year study—presents its early findings from eight new charter schools, each of which was awarded $150,000 in their planning year and a matching grant of up to $300,000 during their first year of implementation. Unfortunately, CRPE found that these early implementers significantly missed their revenue projections: the median shortfall in private revenue (donations from philanthropies) was $120,600 per school (or 30 percent of expected donations), and the median shortfall in public revenue (due to lower than expected enrollment) was $135,000 per school (the median was off the mark by eighteen students, or 14 percent of forecasted enrollment). These missed projections forced the schools to cut budgets, and six out of the eight schools reverted to a more traditional budget model, investing more in labor and less in technology. (Some cuts were quite savvy, though: one principal, for instance, cut more than $100,000 from the school’s tech budget by switching from Macbook Air computers to cheaper Chromebooks.) In light of these experiences,...

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  • The EdChoice Scholarship Program received a record number of applications this year: over 20,800 students applied during the window, which closed on May 9, up more than 4,000 from last year.
  • The food-service chief of Lima City Schools testified before Congress last week on how well the Community Eligibility Provision is working for families in Lima. Said Ms. Woodruff, “It’s going well. The parents appreciate it, the students are participating and it’s a good fit.”
  • There is a puzzling gap in Ohio between the number of students identified as gifted and the number of gifted students actually being served. A journalist in the Zanesville area tried to demystify the numbers by digging deep into some local schools. The conclusion of her interview subjects is that the state “mandates we test for giftedness, but they don’t fund it.”
  • Piloting of the new PARCC tests are continuing up to the end of the school year in Ohio. Few problems have been reported, and it seems that kids in particular really like the online nature of the testing.
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The education-reform movement is experiencing a rapid acceleration, mainly fueled by great strides in expanding school choice. The number of charter schools in the U.S. has nearly quadrupled in little more than ten years, for instance, and private-school choice is on the rise. But as the efforts pick up speed, a human-capital gap has emerged: according to this report from the nonprofit leadership-training group EdFuel, the “autonomous and accountable public school sector” (a term the authors use to mean public charter schools and private schools accepting students with publicly funded vouchers) will need to fill 32,000 senior and mid-level (non-instructional) roles by 2023. EdFuel finds that the five fastest-growing roles are in instructional coaching, policy, legal areas, advocacy and outreach, and program implementation. To fill this human-capital gap, EdFuel prescribes four actions. First, because current career pipelines aren’t providing talent pools that are deep and diverse enough, recruitment ought to be ramped up—especially in the five top sectors listed above. Second, the sector needs to focus on growing management talent via PD for “rising stars” and “sector switchers.” Third, the sector ought to engage with city leadership to help recruit and keep top talent. And fourth, sector leaders should keep an eye on local politics; without political will, the sector will weaken and talent will head to cities with smoother roads.

SOURCE: EdFuel, Map the Gap: Confronting The Leadership Talent Gap in The New Urban Education Ecosystem (Washington, DC: EdFuel, April 2014)....

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America’s educational shortcomings are not limited to disadvantaged kids. Far from it, as Eric Hanushek, Paul Peterson, and Ludger Woessmann explain in this recently released Education Next/PEPG study. Looking at the NAEP scores in every U.S. state and the PISA results of all thirty-four OECD countries, Hanushek et al. compared the math proficiency rates of students by parental education level: low (neither parent has a high school diploma), moderate (at least one parent has a high school diploma, but neither has a college degree), and high (at least one parent has a college degree). The results, from an American perspective, were pretty grim at every level. Overall, 35 percent of U.S. students are proficient in math, placing us twenty-seventh. For the most disadvantaged students, things are actually a bit rosier: we rank twentieth. The whopper, however, is the comparative proficiency of our most advantaged students: they fall in at a dismal twenty-eighth place—worse than the country’s overall rank. In other words, advantaged U.S. students appear to be doing comparatively worse internationally than students with less-educated parents. This is the opposite of what many low-score apologists—and suburban parents—would like you to believe. (Try explaining that with poverty.) Fortunately, there’s a little bit of state-level good news. Advantaged students from Massachusetts, for example, rank just outside the top five internationally, with a 62 percent proficiency rate. And disadvantaged students in Texas have a 28 percent proficiency rate, placing them seventh internationally. For the country, however, the picture is decidedly distressing....

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Last week, I participated in two events that challenged my ideas on one of urban education’s trickiest and most combustible issues.

Those who know only a caricatured version of my views might be surprised by both the subject and those who’ve caused my ruminations. But I wrestled with this issue in my book, and while I don’t always see eye-to-eye with my interlocutors of last week, they have valuable insights into this issue.

I’m writing about it here both because it’s important and because, frankly, I need help figuring out the right answer.

The question is, “How do we protect the ‘public’ in public education?”

On Wednesday, I participated in this discussion at the AFT’s Shanker Institute. At a conference the following day, I moderated a conversation between urban school leaders, and similar issues kept bubbling up.

There are many ways to define a school’s “public-ness” (Rick Hess expertly unbundles the issues here). But the aspect I’m most concerned about relates to governance, whether the public—the adults in the geographic area served by the system of schools—is able to shape the contours of the system.

The very specific issue I’m interested in is how this can happen absent locally elected school boards.

Per state constitutions, ensuring a system of public education is the responsibility of state governments. They, however, have created local school districts and boards, thereby delegating K–12 authority...

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There’s been much talk lately about whether college is for everyone. And there’s always much talk about teacher preparation and pay. Let’s combine these issues and look at them through a specific lens: money.

Consider Bob, who just graduated high school and is torn between two career paths. His father is a proud mechanic who wants Bob to learn the skill and join him on the job. His mother is a schoolteacher, and part of him has always wanted to go to college and follow in her footsteps. What should Bob do?

Ignoring all other considerations, let’s see how the financials shake out.

First, let’s clarify our assumptions.[1About half of the country’s 3.8 million teachers hold only a bachelor’s degree, and the policy of providing automatic pay raises for obtaining master’s degrees may be on the way out. Let’s look at the lifetime earnings of public-school teachers with bachelor’s degrees, and let’s compare this figure with that of high school graduates who have never stepped foot inside a college classroom, whom I’ll call “non-college-goers.”

Measures usually define “lifetime earnings” as one’s aggregate earnings between the ages of twenty-five and sixty-four, including pensions. So step one is determining how much people in either situation earn between the start of their working careers and the age of twenty-five. Estimating a median annual salary of...

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In creating a new Course and Exam Description for the revamped Advanced Placement US History test (coming in the 2014–15 academic year), the College Board’s writers faced a notable challenge. On the one hand, any such guide must seek to specify essential knowledge and concepts that will be covered on the AP exam. On the other, it needs to be compatible with any and all state standards (from the ludicrously vague to the solidly specific), any local guidelines, and teachers’ own individual plans. The College Board explicitly denies any intention of imposing detailed course standards or curricula. Yet the AP exam is uniform across the nation and must judge all students against a single assessment standard; the Board must, therefore, lay out the core material for which all tested students are responsible. Such a document straddles a difficult line: specifying core content without dictating curricula.

How do you help teachers prepare students for the AP exam, while recognizing that you can’t specify curriculum in the process and that the very best teachers, the ones you most want teaching AP classes, do not want to be told exactly what to teach? The key mission of the document is to make clear to such teachers what areas may appear on the test, coordinating a single national exam with variable state standards and myriad individual classes. But how do you lay out the areas for which students will be responsible without laying out the key specifics that such questions may depend upon?...

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Something unsavory is underway at the Department of Education and in the world of preschool zealotry. They seem to be merging—and in so doing, they risk the integrity of our education-data system.

The late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, my longtime mentor, was renowned for declaring (among other things), “You’re entitled to your own opinion, but you’re not entitled to your own facts.”

Well, in the matter of preschool statistics, it appears you’re not going to be able to tell the difference.

Worse, you’re going to begin to wonder whether you can trust the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) to obtain its data from impartial sources of facts rather than hotbeds of passionate advocacy.

This was an issue a dozen years back when economist Michael Podgursky (and others) pointed out that NCES was getting its teacher-salary data from the unions—and publishing those numbers as reliable facts, which they may or may not have been. (Podgursky noted, for example, that they certainly didn’t take account of many noncash benefits that teachers also derive from their employment, such as shorter work years.)

NCES has since gathered its own data on teacher compensation (or relied on trustworthy government agencies, such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics), as it should.

But in the preschool realm, NCES has done something worse than it did with the salary data. It has not only outsourced the number gathering to a prominent interest group in the field but also allowed that interest group to add its own...

For families seeking more than what their child’s assigned school offers, “school choice” has long been a cherished solution. And it’s made strong headway on the U.S. education-policy front. Millions of girls and boys now enjoy access to a range of educational options thanks to innovative school-choice policies.

Sometimes, however, changing schools isn’t the optimal solution—perhaps because no better options are available within a reasonable commute, because the state doesn’t have a viable choice policy, or because the student’s present school is satisfactory in all but a couple of areas. Enter “course choice,” a strategy for widening the education options available to youngsters. As a new white paper from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute argues, it has the potential to dramatically expand access to high-quality courses for many more children from many more backgrounds and locales than we have thus far managed.

Rather than asking kids in need of a better shake to change homes, forsake their friends, or take long bus rides, course choice enables them to learn from the best teachers in the state or nation while staying in their neighborhood schools. It grants them access to an array of course offerings that no one school can realistically gather under its roof, while offering a new revenue opportunity for schools and additional income for public-school teachers. How many Sal Khans are in our schools today just waiting for an opportunity to expand their...

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After twenty years of expanding school-choice options, state leaders, educators, and families have a new tool: course choice, a strategy for students to learn from unconventional providers that might range from top-tier universities or innovative community colleges to local employers, labs, or hospitals.

In Expanding the Education Universe: A Fifty-State Strategy for Course Choice, Fordham’s Michael Brickman outlines policy questions and options to weigh when designing course-choice programs, including issues of student eligibility, course providers, funding, quality control, and accountability.

Spotlight: Course Choice in Louisiana

Louisiana is not the only state with a course-choice program (others include Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, Texas, Utah, and Wisconsin), but it is the farthest along in making such options widely accessible—and the way it has handled any challenges posed by these programs make it an ideal exemplar. Read about barriers that State Superintendent John White and other leaders have had to overcome in designing and implementing course choice.

Download the report: Expanding the Education Universe: A Fifty-State Strategy for Course Choice

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