Flypaper

Susan Pendergrass

In addition to fielding questions about what a charter school is, and whether charters are private or public schools, I’m often asked: Aren’t charter schools intended for failing urban districts serving low-income students of color? They do serve those communities well, but let’s talk about who else they serve.

While it’s true that over half of all charter schools are in urban districts, in the 2015–16 school year there were nearly 1,800 suburban charter schools and over 1,200 in small towns and rural communities.

It turns out that curriculum really matters to middle-income parents, and many gravitate to charter schools because they offer educational models that aren’t available in traditional public schools. Some of these models are more rigorous, some are more open and creative, and some offer unique programs. There are hundreds of examples of outstanding suburban and rural charter schools, but I’ll offer just a few to ponder.

Take the BASIS charter schools: In the 2017 US News rankings of the top 10 public high schools, nine were charter schools and five of these were BASIS charter schools. BASIS currently operates 20 charter schools in Arizona, Texas, and Washington, DC. Most of them are suburban, and they serve populations that reflect their communities. Like all...

 
 

One of the most compelling reasons offered at the time for developing new Common Core–aligned tests was that they would allow educators and policymakers to compare the effectiveness of schools across state lines. And nearly all states initially wanted in: At their inception, forty-six states originally joined one of the two consortia established to create common CCSS-aligned tests, PARCC (the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.

Eight years down the road, however, consortia membership is faltering, and fewer than half of states remain members in either group.

A new resource released last month by Education First (in the form of PowerPoint slides) summarizes this dramatic rise and fall of consortia membership over the past decade, assesses the current state of state assessments, and identifies national trends to determine where the field is headed.

As the report describes, the once narrowing national testing landscape is rapidly diversifying: “Every year between 2013 and 2015, five to six states left PARCC and three states left Smarter Balanced.” States are instead opting to partner with vendors such as American Institutes for Research (AIR) and Pearson to develop their own tests, particularly for K–8 assessments....

 
 
Laura Slover

Editor's note: This post is a submission to Fordham's 2018 Wonkathon. We asked assorted education policy experts whether our graduation requirements need to change, in light of diploma scandals in D.C., Maryland, and elsewhere. Other entries can be found here.

A decade ago, the nation came to a consensus that all students should graduate from high school ready for college, career, and citizenship. Every state adopted standards that spelled out what “readiness” means and new assessments to measure students’ progress toward that goal. Unfortunately, graduation requirements were weakened, and many students are attaining diplomas without being of college-, career-, or civically-ready.

What can we do to ensure graduation means something? The debate and ideas generated by this 2018 Wonathhon brought out my personal wonkiness earned though experience as an educator, a school board member, a policymaker, and finally, a leader of an organization focused on the greater goal—success for all students. Lots of smart people have worthy ideas about how to make the shift. Some argue we need to advance a competency-based system that places value on what a student has learned—not whether they have sat in a school building for four years. I agree. Others have argued...

 
 
Nancy C. Herrera

Editor's note: This post is a submission to Fordham's 2018 Wonkathon. We asked assorted education policy experts whether our graduation requirements need to change, in light of diploma scandals in D.C., Maryland, and elsewhere. Other entries can be found here.

Exactly two years ago, in March 2016, I was in the trenches as a high school special education teacher. I would leap from classroom to classroom, borrowing them from the general education teachers during their prep time. I was trying to balance my job as an expert in mathematics, life science, and physical science with learning the ropes of classroom management and Individualized Education Plan (IEP) creation and implementation. I was exhausted and determined, but in the end, I didn’t have what it takes. One day, my graduate school professors realized I was more of a one-track mind, better at working one-on-one than a classroom full of kids. The next day, I left the trenches for good, leaving myself exposed but confident in using my experiences to shape our nation’s education policies.

If schools are to raise outcomes for every student, they need to provide more one-on-one counseling interactions that leave them with a set of actionable goals....

 
 

The commentariat is feasting on Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s 60 Minutes interview with Lesley Stahl, calling it brutal, botched, and an example of why we shouldn’t elevate inexperienced billionaires to positions of public trust. And those are the kinder depictions.

Like everyone in education reform, I wish she had made a stronger defense of charter schools, showed more knowledge of how things are going in her home state of Michigan, and made it clear that, although student achievement rose dramatically in the late 1990s and early 2000s, it has been mostly stagnant since then.

But more than anything, I regret that she gave such lackluster answers to Stahl’s questions about school discipline. We’re about to have a big national debate about the Obama-era school discipline policy, and it’s essential that she and other administration officials be capable of explaining the issues at hand.

Let’s play Monday morning quarterback and suggest some better ways the secretary could have better handled Stahl’s (loaded) questions.

STAHL: So you've been on the job now over a year. What have you done that you're most proud of?

DEVOS: We've begun looking at and rolling back a lot of the overreach of the federal government...

 
 

This Wednesday, students are walking out of America’s schools in protest of gun violence. It’s projected that 2,500 schools will participate. As I scan Facebook and Twitter and listen to the parents sitting in the bleachers with me at my kids’ sporting events, one thing is clear: There is no agreement over how schools should handle these walkouts.

I have no problem with my children, though a bit young now, walking out of school to protest an issue that is important to them—though I’d certainly expect it to be an issue that they’ve taken the time to research and understand. I would, however, have a problem if their decision to walk out of school was officially sanctioned by the school and free from consequences.

Sacrifice is part of what makes protest so powerful.

It is certainly true that the movement around school safety and greater gun control has tremendous momentum at the moment and the upcoming school walkouts—and the schools’ varying responses to them—are evidence of the tremendous political pressure school leaders and community leaders feel in the wake of the shooting in Parkland, Florida.

While there appears to be confusion on the part of parents and...

 
 
Eric Lerum

Editor's note: This post is a submission to Fordham's 2018 Wonkathon. We asked assorted education policy experts whether our graduation requirements need to change, in light of diploma scandals in D.C., Maryland, and elsewhere. Other entries can be found here.

Whenever a classmate would question the question, my favorite law school professor would say, “Don’t fight the hypothetical.” It’s a good premise for intellectual exercises—like a Wonkathon—and so I’ll begin by answering the question directly before getting to the deeper issue at hand.

Standards for graduating high school

There should be just two overarching standards for high school graduation.

First, every student must demonstrate academic competency. No diploma (*spoiler alert—or certificate or credit) will carry a graduate far without high competency in core academics because every student must be a lifelong learner. Others can debate how to demonstrate that competency and in which specific subjects, but those debates should not overshadow or water down the critical premise: If a student is not prepared to continue learning, then she is not prepared to graduate.

Second, every student must demonstrate that they can apply the skills they’ve learned in a post–high school setting. Employers are constantly telling us that how...

 
 
Amy Valentine

Editor's note: This post is a submission to Fordham's 2018 Wonkathon. We asked assorted education policy experts whether our graduation requirements need to change, in light of diploma scandals in D.C., Maryland, and elsewhere. Other entries can be found here.

The national high school graduation rate has risen from 73 percent to 84 percent in the decade since 2006, which is good news. But the veracity of this increase has been called into question, in part because twelfth grade NAEP reading and math scores have stayed flat during this time.

There’s more than a little suspicion that at least some of the grad rate increase is a by-product of the heightened focus on grad rate by states and districts over this period, which gave schools and teachers the incentive to let marginal students earn course credits. Unlike many other academic metrics, the standards for student grades and course credits are subjective, and are largely determined at the school level.

Yet ESSA doubles down on graduation rate as a core academic performance metric. States are required to include it in their accountability framework, and it is also the sole metric states must use to identify high schools eligible for...

 
 
Joanne Jacobs

Editor's note: This post is a submission to Fordham's 2018 Wonkathon. We asked assorted education policy experts whether our graduation requirements need to change, in light of diploma scandals in D.C., Maryland, and elsewhere. Other entries can be found here.

Years ago, I was asked to speak to school officials and parents who were rethinking their district’s graduation requirements. They wanted outside opinion on what should be required.

I suggested they talk to employers who hired high school graduates and to community college instructors. What knowledge and skills did an eighteen-year-old need to qualify for an entry-level job and pass an entry-level class? That should be the requirement.

The district was trying to focus on the “whole child” and was considering adding a requirement covering emotional health, good citizenship, love of learning—stuff like that. An earnest man asked what I thought.

“Imagine a student who’s a miserable human being,” I said. “He hates school, doesn’t get along with people, isn’t a nice guy, but he’s passes all his classes with A’s. Now imagine denying him a diploma.”

A shudder went through the audience.

“You wouldn’t do that,” I said. “So don’t require it.”

That’s still my advice. Don’t...

 
 
Daniel Weisberg

Editor's note: This post is a submission to Fordham's 2018 Wonkathon. We asked assorted education policy experts whether our graduation requirements need to change, in light of diploma scandals in D.C., Maryland, and elsewhere. Other entries can be found here.

A high school diploma should be more than just a piece of paper. It’s a promise we make to our children: Put in the hard work to earn one, and you’ll be on the path to achieve your goals in life. By that standard, we in public education are lying to hundreds of thousands of students every year.

The problem extends far beyond the handful of cities accused of manipulating their graduation rates. Nationwide, fewer than half of all high school graduates are prepared to earn even a “C” in their college courses, based on SAT and ACT data. About 40 percent of those who enroll in college are placed in remedial classes, where they spend time and money learning skills they were told they’d already mastered. And most who take a remedial class won’t go on to earn a degree.

Graduates who opt for a career straight out of high school aren’t faring much better....

 
 

Pages