Flypaper

A recent analysis by uber-wonk Anne Hyslop and her colleagues at the Alliance for Excellent Education adds to a long list of reports expressing concern that many states’ accountability systems are turning a blind eye to the performance of disadvantaged students and students of color. The analysis finds that, under the Every Student Succeeds Act, “Many states fail to include student subgroups meaningfully across two of the law’s most important accountability provisions: (1) school ratings and (2) the definitions used to identify schools for targeted support and improvement.”

On its face, it’s a reasonable worry. One of the few popular aspects of the original No Child Left Behind act was the underlying principle that we shouldn’t rely on average test scores to determine the quality of a school; it’s important to consider how its vulnerable subgroups are performing too. Surely federal policymakers didn’t intend to sweep such issues under the rug when they enacted ESSA, as Democrats on Capitol Hill and their allies in civil rights groups have been arguing.

Yet I’ve long suspected these concerns to be overblown—because of basic math. If a subgroup was large enough to be counted under a state’s accountability system, I...

 
 

Recent studies have examined the relationship between affluence and grade inflation in K–12 schools, concluding that grade inflation has been on the rise more in affluent schools than in schools serving less advantaged students. This finding has led to confusion, and both reporters and education policy wonks have misinterpreted it to say that grades are generally more inflated in the more affluent schools than in the less affluent ones. But this isn’t what the studies found.

Instead, these reports were referring to changes in grading over the past decade or two. The findings have confused journalists and the larger world of education policy because the term “grade inflation” is commonly used to refer to two related, but very different, phenomena.

The first meaning of “grade inflation” relates to the question of whether it’s generally too easy to get a good grade, something we might call “static grade inflation” or “the combined total amount of grade inflation in all of history.” “The students don’t understand even the basics of biology, yet they all got A’s and B’s—typical grade inflation,” you might hear from some disillusioned educator, shaking her head while referring to this type of grade inflation. Another...

 
 

I recently returned from the Policy Innovators in Education (PIE) Network Summit in New Orleans. PIE occupies a unique space within the education reform community, bringing together policymakers and advocates to explore common ground—embracing a range of ideological and partisan differences in pursuit of educational equity and excellence. I always look forward to its eclectic mix of ideas, participants, and speakers. This year’s event featured Louisiana State Superintendent John White.

There are few public officials today as respected and admired as White is within education reform circles. I first met him in Indianapolis in 2012, shortly before he was tapped for his current role, which feels like a lifetime ago in education reform years. White has lasted far longer than most of his contemporaries; his time in office has been instructive because education often doesn’t deliver the instant results that politics demands.

White’s remarks in New Orleans offered a reflection on his tenure as well as a renewed challenge: how to keep the country focused on improving education for all students and keep the ed reform policy discussion fresh and relevant. The question of relevance is not trivial, given today’s hyperpolarized environment and the tribal...

 
 

The City Connects program is an initiative of Boston College that works to address non-cognitive barriers to student success among elementary school pupils in Boston Public Schools (BPS), as well as charter and private school students in Boston and other nearby cities. It was piloted in six low-performing BPS elementary schools in 2001, assessing needs and providing access to services for students via a third party rather than through the schools themselves.

Those services can include academic tutoring, social-emotional development, health needs, and family supports. Full-time coordinators are embedded in the schools and monitor need, referrals, and successful use of these services, obviating the need for teachers to become de facto social workers and for school administrators to become service providers. A fuller description of the program can be found here. It is important to note, for purposes of this study, that City Connects is limited to elementary school.

Because of its genesis within Boston College’s Lynch School of Education, City Connects has been widely studied by the school’s researchers. The latest report looks at long-term effects of the program on combatting high school dropout. The students under study were part of the first five cohorts of kindergarteners...

 
 
Brennan Brown

In the hit tween book and movie Wonder (a kinder version of Mask), we learn the that main character’s teacher left Wall Street to pursue his dream of teaching. He challenges his students to think critically about what it means to be a good friend and a good citizen.

This story of overcoming obstacles in a world full of them is told beautifully — and it clarifies that education’s mission isn’t just the three Rs. It’s also about raising connected and compassionate leaders. In our child protagonist, we see a young person working to find the right fit in school. In his teacher, we see a talented career switcher in one of our most important professions, which itself is struggling mightily at the moment. In fact, according to the National Education Union, 80 percent of classroom teachers have seriously considered leaving the profession in the past year.

Dealing with the challenges of childhood that come with K-12 education is exhausting, but blame for challenges in the teaching profession cannot be placed at students’ feet. Today’s classroom is a polarized place. Even when change is necessary, it’s not easy. Questions of fit and environment are as important for our kids as...

 
 

Tragically, the mold seems to have been irrevocably shattered, if not discarded on the ash heap of history. Surrounded by the politics and politicians that plague us today, and the wretched campus climate that we’re living with, to view the great new documentary about the late Pat Moynihan is to weep over what’s practically vanished from American public and intellectual life: independent thinkers, policymakers both intrepid and persistent, respect for data, reverence for the truth, determination to stand up for what’s best about America while acknowledging its failings, and a willingness to cross the lines of party and ideology in pursuit of better outcomes for people who need them.

Yes, you can find a few aging practitioners still treading carefully on Capital Hill, but you won’t find any who also convey Moynihan’s erudition, bravura, persistence, humor, and charm, let alone his depth of knowledge and capacity to create more of it. (After Pat’s death in 2003, George Will—who figures prominently in the new documentary film about his life—wrote that “His was the most penetrating political intellect to come from New York since Alexander Hamilton.” Will also quipped that Pat “wrote more books than some of his [Senate] colleagues ever...

 
 
Kerri Briggs and Catherine Freeman Jaynes

A couple weeks ago, the Washington Post's Editorial Board rightfully reminded D.C. residents what education in the city was like before mayoral control. “School didn’t start on time each fall because buildings weren’t ready,” it writes. “Textbooks stayed stacked in warehouses because the central office failed to deliver them to classrooms. Teachers were hired and principals appointed for who they knew, not what they could accomplish. Students didn’t learn because no one expected them to.”

Such examples are infuriating—and accurate—especially in light of two bills and a separate proposal that were recently introduced to the D.C. City Council and would chip away at the mayor’s authority over education. Again, from the aforementioned Washington Post editorial:

Council member David Grosso (I-At Large), chair of the Education Committee, wants to establish the Office of State Superintendent for Education as an independent agency and extend the term of superintendent from four to six years. The bill would strip the mayor of the ability to remove the superintendent at will and give the agency authority to hire all its personnel, rather than giving the mayor discretion in filling some positions. A proposal by council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) would go...

 
 

Teachers—especially elementary ones—see a lot of weird, gross, and sad stuff. Whether it’s eating boogers, pooping in urinals, or repeated cases of lice, teachers spend their days with lots of children. Enough said? Some students are simply in the throes of normal development where farting contests and melted candy canes on radiators are reasons to fall over laughing and drive their teacher a little batty. Others may have disabilities or home situations that better explain their behaviors, eccentricities, and even outward signs of neglect. Teachers have forever been known for their ability to be discreet in helping and even protecting students from the cruelty that often comes along with being weird, different, and even unbathed. Sure, they may talk about it with their spouses or colleagues but public humiliation? Never.

Well, unless you are a public figure in the Trump administration. I am no fan of Trump nor do I find Stephen Miller even remotely appealing. But when his third grade teacher from decades ago dug up a class photo and essentially mocked his third grade self, I was left thinking, God help us if the elementary school teachers of public figures start coming out of the woodwork to humiliate...

 
 

A new study by Jason A. Grissom and Brendan Bartanen of Vanderbilt University examines the impact of principal effectiveness on teacher turnover. It’s well established that better school leadership leads to lower average turnover, but as the authors write, “all teacher turnover is not created equal.”

Grissom and Bartanen used data on all public education personnel in the state of Tennessee from 2012 to 2017. To gauge teacher effectiveness, they relied on observation and student growth scores. And for principals, they looked to evaluations by superiors, as well as surveys from teachers.

Tennessee’s statewide educator evaluation system, the Tennessee Educator Acceleration Model (TEAM) began in the 2011–12 school year and produced the data used in this study. This means that principals in Tennessee may have had better information to use when evaluating teachers than their peers in other states.

Grissom and Bartanen offer descriptive findings that add context to their examination of whether principals affect teacher turnover. Most noteworthy is that, in general, less effective teachers are more likely to turn over: 37 percent of the teachers in the least effective band turned over, compared to just 11 percent of teachers in the most effective range. Overall, 13...

 
 

If the purpose of school is to prepare students for adulthood, developing their financial literacy ought to be an important goal. So a new Brookings report by Matt Kasman, Benjamin Heuberger, and Ross A. Hammond examines what—if anything—states are doing to promote it. They find that forty include “substantive financial literacy material” in their standards, but that they “fall along a wide spectrum in terms of rigor.”

Part of the variance stems from the difficulty in defining “financial literacy.” Combining definitions from previous researchers, the authors present financial literacy as a dynamic relationship between five key components. A few of these are intuitive: foundational skills like basic math, knowledge of core financial concepts, and psychological factors such as confidence and self-control. The other two components, opportunities to interact with financial services and lasting behavioral impact, are rarely included in financial literacy research. All five of these factors should interact and build towards “long-term financial security and the avoidance of suboptimal financial decision-making.” Financial education, then, can focus on any of these individual aspects, especially depending on the age of the student; second graders may find more use in multiplication than in a simulation of the stock market, for example.

With...

 
 

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