Flypaper

The Rand Corporation’s provocative policy brief on “truth decay” points to failings in the education system as one of a quartet of causes of today’s widening inability among Americans to distinguish between fact and fiction. Authors Jennifer Kavanagh and Michael Rich write that “The growing number of demands and fiscal constraints on the educational system have reduced the emphasis on civic education, media literacy, and critical thinking. Without proper training,” they add, “many students do not learn how to identify disinformation and misleading information, and are susceptible to disseminating it themselves.”

That truth matters should be obvious, and any blurring of the line between truth and falsehood, fact and fiction, news and “fake news” should alarm us all. “Where basic facts and well-supported analyses of these facts were once generally accepted,” the RAND team soberly declares, “disagreement about even objective facts and well-supported analyses has swelled in recent years.”

I well recall the much-quoted aphorism of my own mentor, the late Daniel P. Moynihan, that “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.” When there’s no agreement on the facts, we’re left with just opinion—spin, if you will—and opinion masquerading as information.

That’s...

A blog post by Kate Walsh, the longtime leader of the National Council on Teacher Quality, asks if the education reform movement has “lost its way.” She’s overtired of conferences where reformers “plead for forgiveness for our narrow-minded approach” and agree to “exchange our convictions for anything that will suggest just how broad-minded we now are—as long as we de-emphasize academic goals.” If we expand the scope of reform efforts “to include the social, economic, racial, and political contexts of students’ lives, we'll surely be more successful,” she writes, taking care not to be dismissive of those goals, but noting how “their collective impact leaves me limp and rudderless, rather than inspired. This job was hard enough.”

Just so. I recall making a similar argument myself once.

It’s worse than even Walsh’s dour post admits. If shares in the education reform movement could be purchased in the stock market, neutral analysts would grade them “underperform” and probably “sell.” We’ve seen gains in student outcomes particularly among disadvantaged subgroups. But those gains have been mostly in math and almost entirely in the younger grades. The “historic” rate of high school graduation is frothy at best, fraudulent at...

News of Catholic school closures has become so commonplace over the past few decades that it’s almost not news anymore. What was once a vibrant nationwide school system serving five million students a year has become a struggling sector serving fewer than half that number. Last week, the Archdiocese of Chicago announced its plan to close another five schools at the end of this year, citing declining enrollment and financial challenges. One of these schools has been serving students on Chicago’s South Side for over 115 years. In Memphis, the diocese announced yesterday that all nine of its inner-city Jubilee Schools will close this year. It’s long been clear that something has to change.

The starting point is recognizing just how important Catholic schools are to our communities—even beyond the students who are enrolled. Research out of the University of Notre Dame found that, when urban Catholic schools close, entire communities suffer. In Chicago, residents of neighborhoods where Catholic schools closed had “less cohesive and more disorderly communities than residents of neighborhoods with open Catholic schools.” The research team also found that, “while serious crime declined across the city between 1999-2005, it declined more slowly in police beats...

Due to the size of its charter sector and the high-profile test score gains of some of the city’s charter networks, New York City, with America’s largest school district, has featured prominently in recent charter debates. A new study by Sarah Cordes in Education Next examines how the city’s charter schools affect nearby district schools.

Cordes examines data on state test scores, grade retention, demographics, and school expenditures for 876,731 students in grades three through five over the fourteen-year period from 1996–2010, looking at 584 district schools within one mile of a charter school. She analyzes changes in test score performance of individual students at district schools before and after charters open nearby.

The study finds students in district schools performed 0.02 standard deviations higher, a small but statistically significant gain, in math and reading on annual statewide tests after charters opened within one half mile, while students in co-located district schools, housed in the same building as a charter, performed even better: 0.06 and 0.08 standard deviations higher on reading and math tests, respectively. Cordes finds no positive or negative effects on students in district schools between one half and three miles away. The improvement in test scores was...

In 2009, Public Impact launched the Opportunity Culture initiative, which identifies ways for effective teachers to take on roles that enable them to positively affect many more students.

For example, under the multiclassroom leadership model, a highly effective teacher is placed in charge of a team of teachers and is accountable for the learning of all the students who are taught by her team. This multiclassroom leader is responsible for supervising instruction, evaluating and developing teachers’ skills, and facilitating team collaboration and planning. The team leaders are either not assigned students or given a light teaching load that enables them to focus on their mentorship role. The other model used in the study’s data—the time-swap model—uses learning stations facilitated by paraprofessionals to enable effective teachers to lead instruction for more students.

Earlier this month, CALDER released a working paper that examined the relationship between Public Impact partner districts that adopted these staffing models and student achievement in math and reading. Data was drawn from three public school districts: Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in North Carolina, which contributed nearly 90 percent of the students in the research sample, Cabarrus County Schools in North Carolina, and the Syracuse City School District in New...

Kate Walsh

The fall conference season is well behind us, but a bad taste in my mouth lingers.

I’m struggling with the seismic shift in tone at these conferences, where education advocates traditionally assembled to give each other pep talks. In a few short years, we’ve gone from thinking we were right about everything—granted, that was kind of obnoxious—to adopting a rather pathetic and unattractive lament, professing just how wrong we’ve been about everything. I guess I prefer smug to self-flagellation.

Many advocates appear to be abandoning our once shared convictions about what it takes to lift children out of poverty, the very wellspring of the movement’s power and mass appeal. For years, we had stuck hard and fast to a sensible, winnable, and research-based strategy: improve student learning. Teach children to read. That is how we tackle society’s inequities.

Now having donned our hair shirts, these conferences have become both our confessional where we plead for forgiveness for our narrow-minded approach and our penance, where we agree to exchange our convictions for anything that will suggest just how broad-minded we now are—as long as we de-emphasize academic goals.

Sitting through the more fiery conference sessions, I could imagine how organizers made...

Title I, ESSA, parent engagement. Or just “blah blah blah.” At least that’s what most parents hear when those words get thrown around with zero explanation of what they even mean.

These terms and many others blend into the noise that is parenthood in 2018. It’s our job as education advocates, educators, and policymakers to not just explain but humanize these concepts so that the average parent has the information they need to understand the basics of what is happening and, subsequently, the confidence to engage in a system that can feel overwhelming and even unwelcoming.

And the key to doing that lies in one simple word: relationships.

The 1 percent

Schools that serve a high percentage of low-income students are often referred to as Title I schools because they receive additional federal funds. One percent of these funds, according to past and current education law, must be spent on parent engagement, but we are kidding ourselves if we think parent engagement is about money.

It isn’t.

We are also kidding ourselves if we think that 1 percent of Title I dollars is a lot of money.

It isn’t.

It’s approximately $160 million for the whole...

Max Eden

Is disparate impact analysis an appropriate tool for the federal government to use to investigate school discipline practices? As debate over the fate of the Obama administration’s school discipline policy heats up, expert opinion sharply diverges on this question. Allison Brown and Marlyn Tillman argued recently in USA Today that it’s altogether appropriate. Michael Petrilli argued here in Flypaper that it’s a bad fit. This debate is interesting, but it’s based on a false premise. Properly understood in our nation’s jurisprudence, the Obama Administration’s 2014 “Dear Colleague” letter did not apply disparate impact doctrine. 

Disparate impact theory is the notion that an apparently neutral policy that has a disproportionate impact on a particular group may indicate the existence of discrimination. It’s an evidentiary tool, not a substantive standard. Even its strongest proponents would never claim that any policy leading to different outcomes for different groups constitutes unlawful discrimination. It’s hard to imagine how any law could possibly be legal under that standard. It also doesn’t hold that any policy leading to different outcomes is presumptively unlawful discrimination. The rule of law could not possibly hold under the presumption that federal bureaucrats could find virtually any law unlawful...

How to evaluate teachers is a perennial question that is especially relevant now that ESSA has loosened requirements on state teacher evaluation systems. A recent U.S. Department of Education study examines whether increasing the frequency and detail of written and oral feedback offered to teachers and principals improves teaching practice and student achievement.

The authors studied math and English language arts teachers at sixty-three elementary and middle schools in eight large, primarily urban school districts. Each educator was observed four times a year for two years, once by a school administrator and three times by study-hired observers, followed up each time with an in-person conference, plus a written report with ratings and feedback. The system used to deliver this feedback differed, however, between districts. Four used the Classroom Assessment and Scoring System (CLASS) and four used Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching (FFT). Teachers also received annual student growth reports that included their value-added scores. Participating principals were evaluated based on twice-yearly teacher surveys examining their instructional leadership and teacher-principal trust.

Both teachers and principals reported finding the feedback more helpful than previous district feedback. A majority of principals described it as more practical and objective, and most...

Designing school funding policy is a delicate juggling act for state leaders. Contentious issues include deciding the responsibilities of local and state governments; determining efficient and fair ways to allocate funds; and ensuring economically friendly tax policies while raising sufficient revenue. Those seeking a firmer grasp of these topics should read a recent policy brief by Urban Institute researchers Matthew Chingos and Kristin Blagg that summarizes funding across the U.S. Three points in particular are worth highlighting.

First, the analysts show that state governments have increased their contributions to public education since the 1930s. When that decade began, local revenues constituted the lion’s share of schools’ finances, contributing more than eighty cents of every dollar. Since then an increasing percentage has come from states. In most states today, local and state contributions each constitute about 45 percent of school funding; the federal government supplies the remaining ten percent. Yet these funding statistics, authoritative as they may be, arguably understate the true role of state governments in financing public education. In Ohio, for example, districts must levy a minimum 2 percent property tax in order to receive state funds. While these revenues are deemed “local,” they are integral to the...

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