Flypaper

Those who follow federal education policy or work on education at the state level are well aware of a few big changes wrought by the Trump team (with some help from Congress) in its first hundred days, including wiping out the late Obama ESSA accountability regs and easing off on bathroom access rules.

But another quintet of recent ed-related developments in Washington begs for attention by anyone wondering what may actually be changing (or hoping or fearing that change will occur) in our schools and for our children in the Trump era.

First, the latest IES evaluation of the D.C. school-voucher program, which showed that voucher users lost ground (compared with non-users) during their first year in private schools, when judged by test scores. This isn’t going to stop Congress from reauthorizing and re-funding the program, mind you, but it’s already been seized on by voucher haters and added to a spate of recent statewide studies in Louisiana, Ohio, and Indiana that found little or no gain for the voucher kids. (Choice boosters though we are, Fordham is responsible for commissioning the Ohio study.) There are beaucoup reasons why the new D.C. study ought not be...

Slowly, slowly, a small but persuasive body of work is emerging which raises curriculum to an object of pressing concern for educators, and expresses long overdue appreciation for the idea that the instructional materials we put in front of children actually matter to student outcomes. A welcome addition to this emerging corpus is a new Aspen Institute paper by Ross Wiener and Susan Pimentel, which makes a compelling case—equally overdue—that professional development and teacher training ought to be connected to curriculum. A primary role of school systems, states, districts, and charter-management organizations, the pair write, “is to create the conditions in schools through which teachers can become experts at teaching the curriculum they are using and adapting instruction to the needs of their particular students.”

Note the italics, which are Weiner’s and Pimental’s, not mine. It underscores that regardless of how unremarkable this may sound to lay readers (“Wait. Teachers should be expert at teaching their curriculum? Aren’t they already!?”), what the duo are suggesting is something new, even revolutionary. Sadly, it is.

Practice What You Teach begins with a discussion of research demonstrating the frustrating state of teacher “PD,” which, like the sitcom Seinfeld, is a...

A new Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis study examines a simple yet largely unexamined question: How does school transportation relate to student absences?

Author Michael Gottfried asks whether children who take the school bus to kindergarten have fewer absences, and if there are key differences by child and family characteristics. Apparently elementary school absenteeism is highest in kindergarten, though we don’t exactly know why. In fact, prior research has suggested that at least 25 percent of all kindergarteners miss about a month of school. We know that absences in general are linked to lower test scores, higher chances of grade retention, more difficulty with social development, and other negative outcomes.

The study uses data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten Class of 2010–11, which includes nationally representative cohort of children in public-school kindergarten in 2010–11. Data were collected in the fall and again in the spring of that year, mostly from surveys of teachers and parents and from direct assessments of students. The author deploys an array of control variables relating to the child (like race, gender, and whether the parent considered their child to be healthy), entry skills in kindergarten, kindergarten and pre-K experiences (such as distance from...

A new EdChoice report examines the potential effect of charter schools on family relocation and urban revitalization. The authors focus on the Orange County School of the Arts (OCSA) in Santa Ana, a charter school serving grades 7–12 that was established as part of an urban renewal effort in one of the poorest places in Southern California. Families with school-age children were avoiding the area, worsening its economic issues. Indeed, they appeared to be fleeing. Compared to all of Orange County, 11 percent fewer elementary school kids lived in Santa Ana than would be expected based on the number of preschool children. The question, then, was whether a charter school could draw families (and school employees) into the area and stimulate the local economy.

The authors looked at home residence data for 7,000 students who attended OCSA between 2000–01 and 2013–14, and separated them into students who started at OCSA in ninth grade and those who enrolled in one of the other five grades.

Of those 7,000 students, 1,217 changed addresses after being admitted, with 55 percent of them relocating closer to the school. For students who entered the school in ninth grade, their families were 50 to 59 percent...

Kevin D. Besnoy

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the May 2017 issue of Teaching for High Potential. Research from Mathematica and CREDO have shown disappointing results for online schools, though the studies do not address how well or poorly they serve gifted students.

Over the past twenty years, the world of online learning has exploded with roughly 5 million of the country’s 54 million K–12 students having taken at least one online or virtual class during the 2015–2016 school year. While there are some advantages to virtual schools, we must seek answers to important questions about the type of education our gifted and talented students are receiving in these settings. Given that nearly all of the learning takes place online, what types of digital-personal interactions do our students experience? How do we evaluate a virtual learning environment to determine if it is right for gifted children or programs?

What is Virtual Education?

Effective K–12 online learning environments are comprised of a variety of places, pedagogies, and policies. Unfortunately, educators do not agree as to how best to define each of these elements, and politicians cannot find consensus as to how best to evaluate the return on investment of taxpayers’...

Lyall Swim

Editor’s note: This is the third article in a series that outlines some foundational principles for successful adoption of innovative education reforms. The final post will look at the importance of location and defining success for innovation adoption.

Consider two education-related political campaign slogans:

  1. “Things at our schools are going to get worse before they get better.”
  2. “My education reforms are so innovative that they going to be YUUGGE, but…they could also be a major disaster. Only time will tell. Vote for [fill in the candidate’s name]!”

Can you imagine a candidate using either? Neither can I. Yet these two slogans represent two critical realities of innovation adoption.

As the first one indicates, innovations represent a change from the status quo, and these changes and transitions can be messy. In addition, as noted by Christensen’s work on disruptive innovation, the more disruptive an innovation, the more likely it is that the initial results or direction of the performance curve will be down, not up.

In many ways, the changes initiated when an innovation is adopted are reminiscent of cleaning out one’s garage. At first there you determine that things need to get better, and you’ve got...

By next week, sixteen states and the District of Columbia will have submitted plans to the U.S. Department of Education to meet their obligations under the Every Student Succeeds Act. These publicly available documents describe how states will satisfy a number of ESSA’s requirements, including those concerning testing, school improvement, and accountability. Unfortunately, just as states mostly squandered ESSA's school improvement flexibility, most of these first seventeen plans don’t do enough to hold schools accountable for meeting the educational needs of high achievers—especially those growing up in poverty.

ESSA affords states a critical opportunity to right many wrongs of No Child Left Behind. A strong accountability system signals to schools that the progress of all students is important, but NCLB failed at this by creating incentives for schools to focus their energy almost exclusively on helping low-performing students get over a modest proficiency bar, while neglecting those who were likely to pass state reading and math tests regardless of what happens in the classroom. This may be why the United States has seen significant achievement growth and improved graduation rates for its lowest performers over the last twenty years but lesser gains for its top students.

The...

A new report from the RAND Corporation examines trends across twenty-seven counties in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia where fracking is a booming business. This is the second of five periodic reports from RAND that track workforce, economic, and educational trends (the previous one is available here). The reports are commissioned by the Appalachian Partnership Initiative, whose aim is “to build the pool of local workers for jobs in the energy and advanced manufacturing sectors” across the tristate region.

This paper uses Census Bureau statistics to highlight a few key workforce trends:

  • From 2000 to 2014, the working age-population (age eighteen to sixty-four) declined in twenty of the twenty-seven counties across this region.
  • Wages were strong for workers in the extraction industries, which include oil and gas along with mining. Across this region, the average wage for employees in this industry was $58,290, higher than the averages in other fields such as health care ($28,690) or manufacturing ($43,967).
  • Within the extraction industry, workers with higher-level education received higher wages: In 2015, college graduates (bachelor’s or above) earned about 37 percent more than those without a high school diploma.
  • Roughly half of the workers in the extraction industry possess
  • ...

About 95 percent of public school districts pay teachers according to years of experience and degrees earned—a traditional “step and lane” salary schedule. The other 5 percent have captured a great deal of attention, “spurring rapid growth in the number of research studies” and prompting this meta-analysis of the merit pay literature. Researchers at Vanderbilt pulled data from a few dozen merit pay studies to determine the answers to two primary questions: Do performance-pay programs have an impact on student test scores? And to what extent does program design matter—e.g., individual incentives versus group incentives?

The studies chosen for the meta-analysis went through a rigorous selection process. Analysts reviewed almost 20,000 records via social science databases like ERIC or NBER, ultimately choosing forty-four studies on teacher merit pay in the U.S. and internationally. Almost half were from peer-reviewed publications; all of them met standards for sound research design. Twenty-five percent were randomized control trials; the remainder were quasi-experimental designs. The studies came from a twenty-seven-year period (1989–2016), with most of them occurring after 2005 and with an average treatment effect of four years—in other words, the individual performance pay program under study was on average four years old.

The studies...

A new publication by Advance CTE touts parental and student satisfaction with Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs.

The short six-page report describes the findings of a March 2017 survey that asked 252 ninth through twelfth grade CTE students and their parents for their opinions about this pathway. For comparison, the authors asked similar questions to a group of 514 “prospective” students and their parents who “demonstrat[ed] some degree of interest after hearing a brief description of CTE”.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the survey found that CTE students and parents love CTE. Students reported 88 percent overall satisfaction, while 96 percent of their parents responded favorably. In comparison, only 76 percent of prospective students were satisfied with their overall school experience, while 79 percent of their parents liked their kid’s schooling. Statistically significant differences persist down the list of questions, nearly all showing that CTE students and parents were the more satisfied group.

I suspect these findings may be due, in part, to the prospective group feeling like the grass is greener on the other side. After all, they took the survey after being told about CTE by a CTE advocacy organization. Additionally, the authors admit that while their sample is...

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