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 Asian American Achievement Paradox, a new book by Jennifer Lee and Min Zhou, prompted New York Times columnist Nick Kristof to pen a provocative column on Sunday. Kristof agreed that “the success of Asian-Americans is a tribute to hard work, strong families and passion for education,” but went on to caution that “because one group can access the American dream does not mean that all groups can.”

I’m not that bleak. Though nobody’s education system can completely compensate for heedless parents, slothful ways, and an apathetic attitude, the truth is that policy does matter. Schools can do more than Kristof seems to think to help more kids climb the ladder toward the American dream.

My new book with Brandon Wright, Failing Our Brightest Kids: The Global Challenge of Educating High-Ability Students, looks closely at why American public education has been doing such a lackluster job helping smart children reach their full potential; how this failure of will, policy, and program is particularly devastating to high-ability youngsters from disadvantaged circumstances; and how a number of other countries do better than us.

The Asian nations in our study (Singapore, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan) do all of this especially well. And yes, family...

Matt Barnum

In a series of blog posts (IIIIIIIV), Jay Greene argues against the “high-regulation approach” to school choice. I’m going to focus on the final two posts, in which Greene argues that student achievement tests are poor proxies for school quality and that they’re not correlated with other measures of quality.

I think Greene is right to a large extent. But he undersells the value of tests.

It’s pretty clear that the ability of a school or teacher to increase students’ standardized test scores is associated with long-run outcomes. Let’s dig in to some evidence:

  • The well-known Chetty study used a rigorous quasi-experiment to show that teachers with high value-added scores (which are based on standardized tests) produced higher income, greater college attendance, and lower teen pregnancy among students. (In the comments of his post, Greene acknowledges this study but describes the effects as small. I disagree, considering we are describing the effects of a single teacher at a single grade level.)
  • A different Chetty study reports that “students who were randomly assigned to higher-quality classrooms in grades K–3—as measured by classmates' end-of-class test scores—have higher earnings, college attendance rates, and other outcomes.”
  • Hanushek finds that international academic achievement
  • ...

Boehner is out! McCarthy is in! No, wait, McCarthy is out! Maybe Paul Ryan is in? Or even John Kline?!? What will this mean for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act?

It reminds of this famous Buddhist story:

An old farmer had worked his crops for many years. One day, his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. "Such bad luck," they said sympathetically. "Maybe," the farmer replied.

The next morning, the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. "How wonderful," the neighbors exclaimed. "Maybe," replied the old man.

The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune. "Maybe," answered the farmer.

The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son's leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out. "Maybe," said the farmer.

So will the current House chaos kill off reauthorization chances this year?

Maybe.

...

In case you’ve been hibernating away from news lately, the Ohio General Assembly passed landmark charter school law reform legislation yesterday. HB 2 had a long gestation and filled up a lot of news coverage over that time. The clearing of the final hurdle did not disappoint in terms of additional coverage. Here’s a selection:

  1. To many observers, the biggest hurdle was not the floor votes in the House and Senate, but the conference committee that took up the Senate changes to the original House bill. The concern was that the bill would come out of committee “watered down” or compromised in its efforts to strengthen accountability and transparency for charter schools and their sponsors and operators. In the end, it came out of conference on Tuesday unscathed and with bicameral and bipartisan support. As Fordham’s Chad Aldis said, “It contains provisions that charter advocates and opponents alike have urged for a decade.” Whew. (Columbus Dispatch, 10/6/15)
     
  2. The AP also covered the favorable report of HB2 out of the conference committee. As Chad told them, “This won't
  3. ...

The Seventy Four had a simple goal: to make the 2016 presidential election season one in which candidates could pause in their frenzy of backstabbing and baby kissing to talk about education. In a first-of-its-kind education forum, the site (with the help of sponsor and cohost the American Federation for Children) invited presidential candidates to discuss their vision for public schools. Republicans spoke in August, and Democrats were supposed to take their turn later this month.

But as Politico recently reported, the Democrats declined their invitations. It’s a missed opportunity. Worse, nobody seems to know why the candidates backed out.

Campbell Brown, the Seventy Four’s co-founder and would-be forum moderator, says it’s due to pressure from teachers’ unions (both the AFT and NEA have publically endorsed Hillary Clinton). “What happened here is very clear: The teachers’ unions have gotten to these candidates,” Brown told Politico. “All we asked is that these candidates explain their vision for public education in this country, and how we address the inequality that leaves so many poor children behind.” Representatives from the unions, unsurprisingly, won’t verify her claim. More troubling, the candidates won’t comment on their refusal to join in the debate. They’re remaining...

Since the civil rights era, the United States has struggled with how best to integrate schools—and today is no different, as concerns mount over signs of school re-segregation. This report by the Century Foundation’s Halley Potter argues that charter schools might have a role to play, by using their “flexibility, funding, and political viability” to solve various integration problems.

Charter schools can prove helpful in at least five ways: available funding, the ability to enroll children across district lines, program and curricular autonomy, independent leadership and management, and battle-hardened political effectiveness. As integration programs continue to struggle against political barriers (frequently about funding), school choice leaders could prove to be valuable allies.

Two examples of successful and charter-backed inter-district integration are the Rhode Island Mayoral Academies and Connecticut’s Interdistrict School for Arts and Communication (ISAAC). The Mayoral Academy schools draw their students from four districts, two urban and two suburban, which encompass a broad socioeconomic range. The schools use a weighted lottery system to ensure that they admit an equal number of students from the urban and suburban areas and that at least half of their enrolled students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. Not only has the school...

Researchers from the National Bureau of Economic Research recently examined whether financial incentives can increase parental involvement in children’s education and subsequently raise cognitive and non-cognitive outcomes. The analysts conducted a randomized field experiment during the 2011–12 school year in Chicago Heights, a low-performing urban school district where 90 percent of students receive free or reduced-price lunch. The 257 parent participants were randomly assigned to one of three groups: a treatment group in which parents were paid immediately; a second treatment group in which parents were paid via deposits into a trust fund that could only be accessed when their children enrolled in college; and a control group that received no payment. Parents in both treatment groups could earn up to $7,000 per year for their attendance at parent academy sessions (eighteen sessions, each lasting ninety minutes, that taught parents how to help children build cognitive and non-cognitive skills), proof of parental homework completion, and the performance of their child on benchmark assessments.  

To measure cognitive outcomes, the analysts averaged results along the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test and the Woodcock Johnson III Test of Achievement; to measure non-cognitive outcomes, they averaged results from the Blair and Willoughby Measures...

  • No offence to the great Michelle Pfeiffer or Morgan Freeman, but it seems like the last thing the world needs is another account of a crusading educator helping gang members turn their lives around. (The scenario isn’t improbable, exactly, just overexposed; things might seem fresher if studios ever made movies about social workers ministering to white collar crooks or county clerks counseling unwed mothers.) But there’s a great story this week about John King, tied to the announcement of his appointment as acting secretary of education, that may restore your faith in the subgenre. While serving the department in a lesser role this August, he met with a group of former convicts at Homeboy Industries, a Los Angeles organization that provides resources to ex-offenders. King was probably the ideal man for the setting. Orphaned by the age of twelve and later expelled from high school, he could have very easily fallen into delinquency himself; plus, he had to face down throngs of screaming Common Core opponents in his former job as the New York State education commissioner, so he’s definitely not daunted by tough rooms. But if King can share space with hardened felons and irate
  • ...

“The problem in American education is not dumb teachers. The problem is dumb teacher training,” University of Virginia cognitive scientist Dan Willingham recently wrote in the New York Times. Indeed, if there’s any part of the education pipeline that’s ripe for retooling, it’s the way we prepare teachers. Complaints are legion, long-standing, and not unique to policy wonks. Teachers themselves routinely bemoan how poorly prepared their training left them for the realities of classroom life. Fewer than half of new teachers described their training as “very good” in a 2012 survey by the American Federation of Teachers, while one in three new teachers reported feeling unprepared on his first day.

Thus, it can only be viewed as a great good thing that two dozen deans of education schools have come together under the banner of “Deans for Impact” and committed themselves to a common set of principles, including data-driven improvement, common outcome measures, empirical validation of teacher preparation methods, and accountability for student learning. They’re also persuading other teacher preparation programs to do the same.

At a Tuesday event at the National Press Club, the group unveiled a ...

What would happen if both sides of today’s education reform debate—the “public common school” crowd and the education reformers—got everything they wanted all at once? The newly released Student Success 2025 plan aims to envision just that for the state of Delaware.

The plan was crafted by the Vision Coalition of Delaware, led by a Who’s Who of education, business, philanthropy, and state government heavyweights. The Student Success 2025 project included dozens of additional committee members from all stakeholder areas. The project was informed by the public input of more than four thousand Delawareans, including over 1,300 K–12 students. The intent was to create a broad plan for the future of public education in the state in order to “cut through the noise” and to think big on “issues on which most people can agree.” By keeping the two sides in regular communication for a decade, the coalition has accomplished a minor miracle. The plan they have produced is reflective of that effort.

Student Success 2025 reads like a laundry list that includes universal, free, high-quality pre-K; comprehensive wraparound services for kids and families at every school; mastery-based learning with limitless remediation and acceleration as...

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