Flypaper

A national commission convened by the Aspen Institute just released a report titled, “From a Nation at Risk to a Nation at Hope,” with the hope (pun intended) that it will gain as much traction as the seminal report it pays homage to. Two years in the making, the Aspen report features six macro-level recommendations—all generally unobjectionable—for states to better integrate social, emotional, and academic learning into their schools and communities. These days, a lot is riding on SEL, especially among funders who are feeling once bitten, twice shy since Common Core launched in 2010.

The pursuit of collaboration and consensus was clearly top of mind among the report’s authors. Let’s come together on what unites us (“a shared vision for the future prosperity and well-being of our children”) rather than focusing myopically on what divides us (“divisive policy arguments”). In today’s polarized era, efforts like Aspen’s to find common ground is something we need more of, and their investment in what should be an integral part of every young person’s experience is worth commending. But notwithstanding the luminary status of those who signed onto the report’s conclusions, there are five potentially problematic elements that could prevent...

 
 

As I’ve embarked on my weeks-long discussion of how to usher in a Golden Age of Educational Practice, I have heard—often on Twitter, sometimes via email—a clear and compelling message:

FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, MIKE, DO NOT TURN THIS CALL FOR EVIDENCE BASED PRACTICES INTO ANOTHER EXCUSE FOR SO-CALLED EXPERTS TO TELL TEACHERS WHAT TO DO, OR TO FOIST YOUR OWN PREFERRED PRACTICES UPON THE NATION’S SCHOOLS. SHOW SOME HUMILITY, MAN.

To which I say: I hear you, my friends, I really do. And I whole-heartedly agree that we need to approach the topic of evidence-based practice with an enormous amount of humility.

That’s largely because of what Dylan Wiliam likes to say: “Everything works somewhere; nothing works everywhere.” He’s right, of course—the contexts of our schools really do vary dramatically, making the use of evidence an inherently complex and fraught challenge. Plus, in a field where implementation is everything, the only way “doing what works” can be effective is with teacher buy-in and engagement. They call it “winning hearts and minds” for a reason; we can’t expect that evidence alone will win the day.

But perhaps the strongest argument for humility here...

 
 

The long-awaited report of the National Commission on Social, Emotional, & Academic Development is now out and will doubtless make some waves within education’s chattering classes and more broadly among practitioners. But will anyone else notice or care?

Let me state up front that—aside from its abominably ungrammatical, if slightly clever, title—it’s a solid, respectable product, the sort of thing one rightly expects from the Aspen Institute, the blue-ribbon panel that produced it, and the eminent foundations that paid for it. It’s worth paying attention to. But I will also admit to a fairly serious case of déjà vu.

For the Commission’s central message is not new. It’s basically about “educating the whole child,” as we’ve been told to do at least since Dewey, since Montessori, since Rousseau, arguably since Aristotle. We’re admonished, once again, not to settle for the Three R’s, not to treat test scores as the only legitimate markers of school success, not to succumb to the cramped view that schools’ only job is to develop one’s cognitive faculties. So much more is needed…

Yes, it’s needed, and there’s no harm in being reminded of that once again. As Tim Shriver and Rick Hess write,...

 
 

Education Week opened the year with a second annual special issue titled “10 Big Ideas” with, wrote editor Elizabeth Rich, “the potential to define—or redefine—education in the year ahead.” Each includes a staff-written essay accompanied by a commentary penned by an outside researcher, practitioner, or advocate.

Some of the “Big Ideas” are fairly predictable. Colleges will keep striving to diversity their enrollments and to devise new ways of gauging applicants’ readiness. Annual testing will remain contentious. Students will continue to be frustrated by the seeming irrelevance of their classroom work to the “real world” outside. Effective school desegregation—and the narrowing of achievement gaps—remains a tangled web. Bilingual education continues to expand, boosted by the newish “Seal of Biliteracy,” but controversy continues around it and the proliferation of native languages spoken by kids in U.S. schools makes it next to impossible to universalize. And inevitably, in the #MeToo era, schools are being urged to “teach consent as a life skill.”

Three of the other topics caught my eye for different reasons.

Associate editor Christina Samuels pondered whether the absurdly overdue reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) might lead to some rethinking of special ed, but she didn’t...

 
 

One of the longest running debates about early childhood education is how much emphasis teachers should place on academic content. Thanks to changing perceptions, the standards-based reform movement, and accountability policies that have changed early grade instruction, kindergarten classrooms are increasingly focused on academic content and skill development.

These changes have garnered mixed reactions. Those in favor of the increased academic focus cite studies showing that exposure to advanced content is associated with higher student achievement. Opponents, meanwhile, have raised questions about whether kindergartners are developmentally ready for academics, and whether focusing on more advanced skills reduces play opportunities and leads to poorer social-emotional (SE) development.

To address these concerns, a new study examines the relationship between advanced content in kindergarten and children’s academic achievement and social-emotional outcomes. The study’s authors used the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study of Kindergartners in 2010 (ECLS), a nationally representative study of kindergarteners enrolled during the 2010–11 school year. ECLS included approximately 18,200 children from nearly 1,000 schools, but the authors used a specific sample of 11,600 public school kindergarteners and their 2,690 teachers. ECLS collected information during the fall and spring of the academic year about children’s academic achievement and SE skills through surveys...

 
 
Jessica Baghian

While the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) gave states the opportunity to broaden and deepen their visions of what makes for an excellent education, researchers and states have both struggled to design measures and systems that take meaningful steps in that direction. Most of us would agree that primary grade literacy, knowledge of U.S. history and civics, and productive transitions to employment and postsecondary education, for example, are essential and measurable aspects of schooling in America. Yet their appearances in ESSA accountability plans are rare to nonexistent.

The same is true for another essential area of the educational experience—enrichment experiences, which are abundant in virtually all respected schools, and which research confirms contribute profoundly to the lifelong interests and habits students take on as adults. Enrichment experiences, however, are not proportionally made available to all students at all schools. In Louisiana, for example, where I’m an assistant superintendent at the state education department, the average student in the district with the lowest enrichment enrollment is accessing 61 percent fewer enrichment courses than her counterpart in the district with the highest enrichment enrollment.

There is a clear and growing national interest to change this by elevating the role of enrichment opportunities...

 
 
Max Eden

Last week, the first randomized control trial study of “restorative justice” in a major urban district, Pittsburgh Public Schools, was published by the RAND Corporation.

The results were curiously mixed. Suspensions went down in elementary but not middle schools. Teachers reported improved school safety, professional environment, and classroom management ability. But students disagreed. They thought their teachers’ classroom management deteriorated, and that students in class were less respectful and supportive of each other; at a lower confidence interval, they reported bullying and more instructional time lost to disruption. And although restorative justice is billed as a way to fight the “school-to-prison pipeline,” it had no impact on student arrests.

The most troubling thing: There were significant and substantial negative effects on math achievement for middle school students, black students, and students in schools that are predominantly black.

What are we to make of these results? For education journalists like U.S. News and World Report’s Lauren Camera, there’s an easy solution: Don’t report the negative findings and write an article titled “Study Contradicts Betsy DeVos’ Reason for Eliminating School Discipline Guidance.”

When asked why she left her readers in the dark regarding the negative effects on black student achievement,...

 
 

“We ain't asking you to love us
You may place yourself high above us
Mr. President, have pity on the working man.”

—Randy Newman, Mr. President (Have Pity on the Working Man)

“Hold on a sec, I’m gonna get me a beer,” said Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren in a New Year’s Eve live feed on Instagram, hours after filing paperwork to launch her exploratory committee to run for President. Warren, an unusually opportunistic and calculating politician, even by the standards of Oval Office aspirants, was immediately eviscerated on social media and in the press for her ham-handed attempt at regular guy authenticity, both for her language (“gonna get me a beer” vs. “get myself a beer”) and her choice of brews (Michelob Ultra). One Boston newspaperman aptly dismissed her self-conscious display as “the multi-million-dollar Cambridge law professor poppin’ a brewski.”

Here we go again. Brace yourself for many more of these de rigueur and unconvincing Joe (and Jane) Sixpack displays as the 2020 election cycle gets underway in earnest. For my own sanity, I have no intention of paying any serious attention to presidential politics until at least the calendar year in which the race will be decided....

 
 
Kevin Teasley

Over the past thirty years, I’ve witnessed one education reform effort after another. We’ve had standards-testing-accountability, school choice in innumerable forms, curriculum reform, teacher reform, and much more. All have been worthwhile and should continue. However, while we persist on these paths, I suggest we also look at reforming where our students are educated in the first place. To take a lyric from the hit show “Hamilton”: Are our kids “in the room where it happens”? They should be.

In Gary, Indiana, we started a school in 2005. We started with the same methods as other college-prep schools—counsel kids about the importance of college, show them the varying incomes of those who attain different levels of degrees (high school, associate, bachelor’s, master’s, etc.), take them on college tours, help them with FAFSA and scholarship applications, provide support on ACT and SAT, and more. In the end, however, our efforts fell short of our goal. Many students were still not going to college or succeeding there.

So I started researching the issue. Many of our students told me they didn’t believe they were college material and that they were in high school for the social scene or athletics. Few told me...

 
 

Just before Christmas (or about ten thousand news cycles ago) the Trump administration took the widely anticipated step of reversing the Obama administration’s much-debated guidance on school discipline, the essential goal of which was to pressure school districts to address the well-documented and longstanding racial disparities in suspensions and expulsions.

The context for that decision—and in particular, the spurious link between federal policy and the tragic Parkland massacre—put yours truly in an unusually tight spot, even for a guy who splits his time between liberal politics and a conservative education think tank. Yet despite the nightmarish politics, I agree with the decision more than I disagree with it. At best, pressuring districts to equalize their suspension rates is a recipe for gamed data and an overly politicized debate. And at worst, it could have unintended and potentially serious consequences for students (though the latter are speculative).

Regardless, the decision is a setback for discipline reformers, a group I would be happy to join if it would get its act together. So where should reformers go from here? What strategy should they pursue in a country that somehow elected both Barack Obama and Donald Trump?

Herewith is my unsolicited advice...

 
 

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