Flypaper

As I document in Fordham’s newest study, Teacher Absenteeism in Charter and Traditional Public Schools, data from the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Education show that 28.3 percent of teachers in traditional public schools miss eleven or more days of school for illness or personal reasons. In contrast, the corresponding figure for teachers in charter schools is 10.3 percent.

While OCR describes these teachers as “frequently” absent, the report uses the term “chronically” absent, consistent with much of the initial coverage of these data. But regardless of your preferred adverb, research shows that teacher absenteeism matters: Specifically, a ten-day increase in teacher absenteeism is associated with the loss of about six to ten days of learning in English language arts and about fifteen to twenty-five days of learning in math. In other words, kids learn almost nothing—and possibly less than nothing—when their teacher of record isn’t there.

To put those numbers in perspective, imagine a hypothetical high school with 1,000 students and fifty full-time teachers. Based on the national average, we would expect about thirteen of those teachers to be chronically absent each year, meaning that between them they would miss at least...

In an essay in the new issue of The Atlantic, titled “Americans Have Given Up on Public Schools. That’s a Mistake,” Erika Christakis frets over the “dystopian narrative” that she says dominates conversations about public schools, which she insists are “nothing close to the cesspools portrayed by political hyperbole.” Her complaint refers not only to the disdain for public education expressed by President Trump and education secretary Betsy DeVos. But, she notes, “Their words and proposals have brought to a boil something that’s been simmering for a while—the denigration of our public schools, and a growing neglect of their role as an incubator of citizens.”

Christakis is a well-regarded expert on early childhood education and the author, most recently, of The Importance of Being Little (2015), which pushed back aggressively against the vision of preschool as preparation for academics, and in favor of discovery learning and play. It may, however, be her fate to be best remembered for the email she wrote two years ago while a guest lecturer at Yale, wherein she challenged students to decide for themselves what Halloween costumes to wear over the advice of college administrators who were warning them against “cultural appropriation”—donning costumes...

Robin Lake

For those in the charter movement who have viewed chartering as a systemic reform strategy (not just an escape hatch for some kids), the prevalent theory of action for the last ten to fifteen years has been a “tipping point” strategy. The idea was to concentrate growth in targeted cities until districts either responded to competition or were entirely replaced by charters.

Looked good on paper. Sadly, though, things are not going as expected. Here’s why: 

First, as charters hit significant market share, political opposition grows exponentially. School boards and superintendents are faced with a situation where they lose enrollment so quickly that the only thing they can do is close schools, lay off teachers according to seniority not quality (thanks to “last in, first out” requirements), increase class sizes, and slash their central office staffing and support levels. In some cities, districts also face an increasing concentration of the students hardest and most costly to educate, those with severe special needs, those who speak little to no English, those with the most severe behavior and mental health challenges and the least parental support. This combination of factors often triggers a slow death spiral that paralyzes politically bound superintendents and...

Dual credit courses continue to gain in popularity. After all, why wouldn’t students want to earn free college credit while still in high school? But do these courses pay dividends several years later? A new study in Educational Researcher examines whether students who took dual credit classes were more likely to get a college degree and whether differences existed based on the selectivity of the institution they attended.

Researchers from the University of Illinois examined data from the Illinois high school class of 2003. Specifically, they analyzed the impact of dual credit participation on postsecondary completion within seven years of graduating from high school. They were ultimately able to match nearly 9,000 dual-credit participants to an equal number of nonparticipants within the same high school and with a similar student profile, so as to control for various school and student-level variables. This analytic technique, known as “nearest neighbor propensity score matching,” means that students are matched at the baseline on variables such as demographics, family income, ACT scores, and high school GPA, among others. In addition, dual enrollment and non-dual-enrollment students are matched only from those who enrolled in postsecondary education. Barron’s college ratings are used to bucket institutions...

Last week was an important one for new D.C. Public Schools chancellor Antwan Wilson. The American Institutes for Research published a new report on DCPS’s progress since 2013, and the district released its new strategic plan. While the city’s charter sector has increasingly become a national model, DCPS wants to show that its latest efforts to improve have, too, been fruitful. The top-level findings of the AIR report provide the district with plenty of fodder for positive press releases, but a closer look reveals continued disappointments for D.C.’s neediest students.

First, the good news. Between 2003 and 2015, Average fourth grade NAEP scale scores rose twenty-six and twenty-seven points in English language arts and math, respectively, narrowing the gap with other large urban district schools. Eighth grade NAEP scores also improved, but did not narrow gaps compared to other urban districts. Black and Hispanic students made impressive gains on the PARCC assessment, new to D.C. in 2015, in just two years. Black students improved proficiency levels by as much as 7 percentage points in middle school ELA, while Hispanic students saw impressive results including, a large 10-percentage-point proficiency gain in elementary math. Additionally, overall graduation rates jumped 13...

On September 5, 2017, Chester E. Finn, Jr. appeared on C-SPAN’s “After Words” to interview David Osborne about his new book, Reinventing America’s Schools: Creating a 21st Century Education System. As the network describes:

He talked about the success of schools in cities such as Newark, Memphis, Denver, Oakland, and Cleveland modeling the charter school system in New Orleans, which was a part of the rebuild after Hurricane Katrina. New Orleans reconstructed their school system through the states Recovery School District (RSD) program, turning their public schools into charter schools over time. Results are showing improved test scores, graduation and dropout rates, and school performance scores. Mr. Osborne argued that regardless of what we call schools every public school should be treated like a charter school, with autonomy, performance accountability, parental choice, and diversity of school design.

Watch now:

...

Eric Kalenze

In a time when education’s practitioners, scholars, and reformers seem to be finding less and less common ground, the issue of education’s resistance to evidence-informed practices is uniquely unifying.

A wide range of education thinkers, for instance, from cognitive scientists to ed historians to practical researchers, calls it out all the time, and they’ve done so over several decades and from numerous points around the world. And in the U.S. especially, policymakers have loosed various (though sadly toothless) bureaucratic hounds over the past two decades to encourage better research literacy and application.

Unified as all these policy and scholarly forces are on the question of evidence-supported practice, not much seems to be changing at the school level. Indeed, at the practical level, education to a large extent remains—as Mike Petrilli put so well last year for Fordham—“a field in which habit, intuition, and incumbency continue to play at least as large a role as research and data analysis.”

And, as my book Education is Upside-Down argues, until the right—as in research-verified, not intuitively appealing—changes are made at the practical levels, it’d probably be wise to not get our hopes up about all those big-“R” reform things...

Yesterday, Maryland governor Larry Hogan notified the State Board of Education (on which I serve*) and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos that he will not sign the state’s ESSA accountability plan, which is due in Washington on Monday. The previous day, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker notified his state superintendent of public instruction that he won’t sign that one, either.

Both of these Republican chief executives focused their criticisms of their states’ ESSA accountability plans on a similar shortcoming: the wimpiness of their treatment of low-performing schools. In Walker’s words:

Your bureaucratic proposal does little to challenge the status quo for the benefit of Wisconsin’s students. For example, under the law, a “rigorous intervention” is required for low-performing schools. In your plan, schools may simply implement an improvement plan created under the supervision of the Department of Public Instruction. I hope you will agree that adding layers of bureaucratic paperwork does little to help low-performing schools.

Here’s how Hogan put it, referring to legislation passed by the Democratic-majority legislature that put sharp limits on what could be in Maryland’s plan:

Chapter 29 stymies any attempt to hold schools accountable for student performance and includes provisions aimed at preserving...

Tim Marzullo

I remember a meeting when Backyard Brains was just beginning in early 2009, when we were receiving guidance from the Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Michigan. We were just finishing up graduate school and learning the actual mechanics of forming a startup company, something very new to us—the basic things: how to incorporate, how to find customers, how to scale a prototype into a product, and how to raise funding with government technology grants or venture capital. We were two recent PhDs with a couple prototypes, some cockroaches, a bit of presentation chutzpah, but not much else than that.

During a meeting on ideas to formalize the business and begin sales, an engineering advisor said, “I love the cockroach, but you guys need a better logo. Engineers are not creative, so hire a design student to help you with it.”

Working with designers to develop a logo is useful and certainly uncontroversial advice, but the comment that “engineers are not creative” hit me like a punch, and I remember little else that occurred in that meeting.

Engineers are not creative? And this was an engineer saying this?! Any time I look at any machine that does its function...

David Osborne, known for his best-selling Reinventing Government, is out with a new book, Reinventing America’s Schools. To promote it, he is blitzing the country and filling the nation’s newspapers with an argument that is familiar yet powerful: High quality charter schools are the best hope for urban education, so states and cities should do everything in their power to allow them to grow and prosper, and school districts should embrace them as well.

Meanwhile, the District of Columbia’s new superintendent, Antwan Wilson, is out with a strategic plan that is also familiar and powerful, but not exactly aligned with Osborne’s vision. That’s because it doesn’t embrace charters, or even charter-like, schools. Though Wilson hints at granting principals more “autonomy to innovate,” there’s no “portfolio management” or talk about the system “steering instead of rowing.” Rather, in its call for “excellence, equity, and love,” it seeks to maintain DCPS’s reputation as one of the fastest-improving urban districts in the land—one that embraces the kind of systemic, top-down approach that Osborne abhors.

The question, for me at least, is whether D.C. and its recent success is sui generis, or is an exception that proves that...

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