Flypaper

Baltimore, also known as Charm City for those who grew up there, is my hometown. When I was a kid, Mayor Kurt Schmoke used his inaugural address to declare that education was one of his top priorities: “It would make me the proudest if one day it could simply be said that this is a city that reads.”

Thirty years of strife and lackluster education have, instead—in my mind as well as the minds of many others—given Baltimore a very different name that’s impossible to shake: “The City That Burned.”

So it strikes me as surreal that at its national convention in Charm City, a place where the fight for black opportunity may burn hottest, the NAACP issued its latest set of cold edicts to kill America’s—and Baltimore’s—charter schools. It’s offered a set of black-and-white notions, which would end the concept of chartering as we know it, in a town now infamous for the name Gray. You’d have to look the other way to miss the irony.

I participated in a debate on the organization’s charter school moratorium hosted by the NYC Bar Association just a few weeks ago. The NAACP board member, a former Goldman Sachs executive, participating in...

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) grants states more authority over their school accountability systems than did No Child Left Behind (NCLB)—meaning that states now have a greater opportunity to design improved school ratings. In Fordham’s new report, Rating the Ratings: Analyzing the First 17 ESSA Accountability Plans, we examine whether states are making the most of the moment.

In our view, three of the most important improvements that states can make are to ensure that their accountability systems:

  1. Assign annual ratings to schools that are clear and intuitive for parents, educators, and the public;
  2. Encourage schools to focus on all students, not just their low performers; and
  3. Fairly measure and judge all schools, including those with high rates of poverty.

Based on these three objectives, we rate states’ planned accountability systems using the most recent publicly available information. States can earn grades of strong, medium, or weak in each.

Table 1 shows the results for the seventeen plans that have been submitted to the U.S. Department of Education, sixteen of which have enough information for us to rate.

Table 1. Results for states that have submitted plans to the U.S. Department of Education

I am 200 percent in favor of personalized learning, defined as enabling every child to move through the prescribed curriculum at his or her own speed, progressing on the basis of individual mastery of important skills and knowledge rather than in lockstep according to age, grade level, and end-of-year assessments. (I’m 200 percent opposed to the “let everyone learn whatever they want to whenever they want to learn it” version.)

There is nothing beneficial to kids about declaring that every ten-year-old belongs in something called “fifth grade” and that all will proceed to “sixth grade” when they get a year older, get passing marks from their teachers, and perform acceptably on “grade-level” tests at year’s end.

That’s not how it worked in the one-room schoolhouses of yesteryear, and it’s oblivious to the many ways that children differ from each other, the ways their modes and rates of learning differ, how widely their starting achievement levels differ, and how their interests, brains, and outside circumstances often cause them to learn different subjects at unequal speeds—and to move faster and slower, deeper or shallower, at different points in their lives, even at different points within a “school year.”

Yet we’ve organized conventional...

“It was one of the most powerful visits I’ve ever taken,” said Sheila Briggs, an assistant state superintendent with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. She was describing a visit last fall to Lake Pontchartrain Elementary School, a low-income school in St. John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana, about thirty miles northwest of New Orleans. “The ability to hear what the state education agency was doing and then go into classrooms and see direct evidence was phenomenal,” Briggs gushed. “I’ve never seen anything like it anywhere else.”

Officials of state education agencies are not known for hyperbole. Maintaining data systems, drafting rules and regulations, and monitoring compliance are not the stuff of breathless raves—especially in Louisiana, whose education system has long ranked near the bottom nationwide on measures of student achievement and high-school graduation rates. Yet in the last year, education leaders from across the country have beaten a path to the Pelican State to see what they might learn from education superintendent John White, assistant superintendent of academics Rebecca Kockler, and their colleagues. Together, this team has quietly engineered a system of curriculum-driven reforms that have prompted Louisiana’s public school teachers to change the quality of their instruction in measurable...

By Peter Cunningham

One of the oldest tricks in politics is to project your own flaws onto your opponents. Teachers union leader Randi Weingarten put this age-old tactic to use in a speech to her members last week, accusing the school choice movement of one of the most enduring shortcomings of the traditional public school system: segregation.

No institution in America has done more to perpetuate segregation than public schools. Until 1954, segregated schools were legal in America, and it was the standard practice in much of the South.

Less recognized, but equally pernicious, is the structural segregation all across America, where zoned school systems maintain racial and economic segregation. Some parents of color have been jailed for trying to enroll their children in schools where they don’t live.

Today, one of America’s most segregated school systems is in New York City, where Randi Weingarten once ran the teachers union. As a recent fight on the Upper West Side of Manhattan shows, even white progressive parents resist integration.

School systems across America and the colleges and universities that prepare teachers have also done a terrible job recruiting people of color into the teaching profession and an even worse job keeping the few they...

New findings from an upcoming study from Michael Hurwitz of the College Board and Jason Lee of the University of Georgia show that, while high school grades have been rising for decades, SAT scores have continued to fall. It’s not that achievement is strengthening; it’s that grades are inflating, particularly among high schools enrolling our most advantaged students.

The study was born of (1) variation between high schools on the awarding of grades and a suspicion that students are not making the kind of gains that their GPAs suggest; (2) a general increase in A’s, which makes it harder to identify high achievers; and (2) how this complicates colleges’ admissions decisions.

The authors sought to document trends in grade inflation and the suppression of GPA-based class rank information over the past two decades. They examined high school GPAs among SAT test takers reported on the College Board’s Student Data Questionnaire, as well as descriptive data from three federal surveys: the National Educational Longitudinal Survey of 1988, the Educational Longitudinal Survey of 2002, and the High School Longitudinal Survey of 2009. They also looked at the high school class ranks of incoming freshmen, as reported by colleges through the Annual Survey...

Fordham’s recent report What Teens Want: A National Survey of High School Student Engagement found that almost all high school students want to do well in school, but that many are motivated differently. More specifically, the nationally representative survey identifies six “engagement profiles,” each constituting 15–19 percent of America’s high school population: Subject Lovers, Emotionals, Hand Raisers, Social Butterflies, Teacher Responders, and Deep Thinkers.

As the report explains, these profiles showcase a student’s dominant, or primary, mode of engagement (not her only mode, of course; students are obviously motivated to learn through multiple channels). Thus no single school-type will optimally engage all six pupils types—nor will one instructional model, strategy, curriculum, or pedagogy. Many traditional, one-size-fits-all public schools, for example, don’t have the resources or expertise to provide tailored classrooms. Therefore a better approach is providing students and families with a wide range of school types or models, so parents and children can find the one that best fits their needs. Or perhaps even a total re-imagination of the public high school, wherein we create curated classrooms and content based in part on how a student is best motivated to learn and excel.

Consider the authors’ characterization of...

Tyne Watts

I attended my first summer camp at six years old. After that experience, I looked forward to attending every year. At summer camp, I was exposed to new things with friendly staff in a positive environment. During one year of summer camp, the academic enrichment was so great that I was able to test out of the traditional second grade math program when school started. My school created a special math program for me and a few other students who attended the same summer camp with me. Two years later, I found myself being identified as a gifted student and math is one of my favorite subjects. Even though all camps don’t offer academic enrichment, they do expose kids to lots of new concepts and ideas that are valuable. I think all kids deserve stimulating opportunities like that during the summer.

Maryland’s Governor Larry Hogan issued an executive order in 2016 mandating that all Maryland public schools start after Labor Day. The executive order cites the August heat and state economic deprivation as reasons for the mandate. Starting school later may help Maryland’s workforce and economy thrive, but it also creates additional stress for working parents who can’t stay...

Confusion abounds as the U.S. Department of Education continues to send mixed signals to states regarding their obligations under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), especially when it comes to school accountability. One question is what’s allowed—and what’s required—with respect to the “academic achievement indicator.” Herewith is an explanation of what’s permitted, what’s smart policy, and how states can avoid triggering federal pushback.

Proficiency rates: Allowed but to be avoided

ESSA Section 1111(c) plainly says that state accountability systems must gauge students’ “academic achievement,” and that this must be measured, at least in part, “by proficiency on...annual assessments.” The simplest—but worst—way to do this is to keep using No Child Left Behind–era proficiency rates. Yet eight of the first seventeen ESSA plans submitted to the Department of Education did just that. Yes, it’s undoubtedly permitted and won’t elicit any pushback from the feds. But it’s also unwise and inequitable.

Measuring school quality via proficiency rates encourages educators to focus on “bubble kids,” those just below or above the proficiency cutoff, to the detriment of other students. But they aren’t the only children who should matter to states. Among those neglected when proficiency...

The era of hyperactive education policymaking is about to come to an end.

That might be hard to believe, given this summer’s high-decibel policy disputes, both in Washington and in the states. The implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA); debates about a potential large-scale federal school-choice initiative; and deep disagreements about civil rights enforcement continue to captivate—and roil—all of us involved in education policy, in D.C. and around the nation.

But peek around the corner, and the picture looks much different. ESSA plans will be approved, and states will go on their merry ways. The Trump Choice proposal will almost surely be DOA in Congress. The Office for Civil Rights will take a new tack, and that will be that. The Department of Education will go back to being a sleepy little agency. And at the state level? There will be perennial fights over funding, charter expansion, and the teacher pipeline, but what’s the next big issue to captivate lawmakers on the education front? There isn’t one.

None of this is news to the big national foundations, which have played such a critical role in policy reform in recent decades. For that, they mostly deserve our thanks,...

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