Flypaper

For the past year and a half, I’ve been honored to represent the State Board of Education on the Maryland Commission on Innovation & Excellence in Education, which released its preliminary report this week. Much heavy lifting lies ahead as Commission members work with staff and consultants to put flesh on the bones of our broad policy recommendations and to cost them out.

The Commission has been brilliantly led by former University of Maryland chancellor William (Brit) Kirwan, ably staffed by the state’s Department of Legislative Services, and informed and inspired by its consultants at the National Center on Education and the Economy. But it’s also been constrained in the ways that any gathering of “stakeholders” is, i.e., by the turf-protecting and interest-advancing of groups with huge stakes in the current system. Hence it has oscillated between truly bold ideas for how K–12 education in Maryland should change and defensive angst over the real-world implications of those changes for districts, school boards, administrators, teachers, taxpayers, and more.

Chairman Kirwan has grappled with this dilemma with finesse, humor, humility, and diplomacy, but there’s no avoiding the fact that our preliminary report contains both important accomplishments and worrisome weaknesses. And there’s...

 
 

Non-cognitive skills are an increasingly popular topic in education. These include capabilities like perseverance, grit, self-efficacy, work ethic, and conscientiousness. Research shows that possessing them can affect both scholastic and life outcomes.

Their popularity and apparent effectiveness have led to calls on schools to pay more attention to these non-cognitive factors. These calls were answered in part by ESSA, which requires states to have an indicator of “school quality or student success” that goes beyond state standardized test scores and graduation rates. Sometimes referred to as the “nonacademic indicator,” the inclusion of this measure in federal requirements opened the door for schools to focus, at least in part, on non-cognitive skills. California’s CORE districts, for example, use a social-emotional learning metric that measures four non-cognitive competencies with student surveys.

But incorporating non-cognitive skills into schools is still quite difficult. Paul Tough, author of the widely-cited How Children Succeed, explained why in a 2016 Atlantic article:     

But here’s the problem: For all our talk about noncognitive skills, nobody has yet found a reliable way to teach kids to be grittier or more resilient. And it has become clear, at the same time, that the educators...

 
 

Recent stories have cast doubt on the stratospheric graduation rates reported in myriad states, including accounts in Alabama, California, Georgia, Florida, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, Texas—and of course Washington, D.C., where one-third of recently awarded diplomas are reportedly attributable to educators violating district policies related to pupil absences and credit recovery.

These are just the scandals we know about. “This is sad and infuriating and, as local education reporters across the country know, not at all uncommon,” tweeted Erica L. Green, an education reporter at the New York Times, when the D.C. scandal broke. Green used to cover education for the Baltimore Sun. And what we need today is for more folks on more school beats to investigate whether similar malfeasance is occurring in their districts and states—because such behavior is almost certainly more widespread than has yet seen the light of day.

If it is, we must identify causes and propose solutions. The issue is not measurement and accountability writ large, as our friends Lindsey Burke and Max Eden proposed recently. People cheat on Wall Street too, but that doesn’t mean companies should stop reporting quarterly earnings...

 
 

The Chicago Public School district (CPS) has been in education news many times over the years, and not typically for its successes. Yet a recent report produced jointly by the Joyce and Spencer Foundations claims that, far from being a poster child for dysfunction, the district is helping students make gains that are among the fastest in the nation. The report presents data and outcomes from a November 2017 conference hosted by the two foundations, in which civic and educational leaders in Chicago met to explore research on the city’s progress, identify possible drivers of the improvement, and reflect on next steps for the district.

The report’s authors primarily rely on a Stanford University study by Sean Reardon as proof of CPS’s progress. The research examines growth of Chicago scores on state tests from 2009 to 2014. Comparing the yearly gains of students in CPS to the two thousand largest districts in the country, Reardon found that CPS elementary school students grew faster than those in most other districts and states. On average, Chicago students achieved six years of growth during the five years between third and eighth grade; the black-white achievement gap held steady because the two groups grew...

 
 

The selective outrage of partisan ideologues in the education space is a well-known phenomenon and nowhere is that more on display than in the muted reaction to the scandal surrounding the 2017 graduation rate that has been unraveling in Washington in recent weeks. With the release of the final report of the audit ordered by the city’s mayor, Muriel Bowser, we know, unequivocally, that more than one-third of the Washington public schools’ class of 2017—a total of nine-hundred students—were only granted diplomas because their teachers and administrators flouted attendance policies and misused credit-recovery programs.

One would think that the loudest accountability hawks in the education reform movement would be beside themselves, writing op-eds, and taking the battle to Twitter in the name of justice for students. But as the details of the graduation-rate investigation by NPR and Washington’s local public radio station (WAMU) have emerged, these avatars of accountability have been uncharacteristically silent. The very same folks who are quick to jump on the slightest whisper of wrongdoing in virtual charters and voucher programs, for example, have suddenly lost their aversion to dishonesty and fraud. When the reforms they support are carried out by people they like and align...

 
 
Martin Robinson

Today’s identity politics has another interesting feature: It teaches students to think in a way antithetical to what a liberal arts education should do. When I was at Yale in the 1980s, I was given so many tools for understanding the world. By the time I graduated, I could think about things as a Utilitarian or a Kantian, as a Freudian or a behaviorist, as a computer scientist or a humanist. I was given many lenses to apply to any one situation. But nowadays, students who major in departments that prioritize social justice over the disinterested pursuit of truth are given just one lens—power—and told to apply it to all situations. Everything is about power. Every situation is to be analyzed in terms of the bad people acting to preserve their power and privilege over the good people. This is not an education. This is induction into a cult, a fundamentalist religion, a paranoid worldview that separates people from each other and sends them down the road to alienation, anxiety, and intellectual impotence.

Jonathan Haidt

A good education doesn’t offer one lens through which to see ourselves and the world, rather it offers a great...

 
 

As teacher evaluation systems evolve around the nation—decreasing the importance of student growth scores in favor of more reliance on classroom observations—how best to support principals in observing and giving feedback on teacher performance will gain importance. While research may play a part in determining best practices going forward, a recent report from the Institute of Education Sciences is more of a cautionary tale than an exemplar.

The study involved 339 New Mexico principals who were scheduled to observe their teachers for the first of multiple times in the early part of the 2015-2016 school year. According to the state’s evaluation framework, principals are required to score teachers on a 22-item rubric after each observation and to hold a feedback conference within ten days of each observation. This was the first year of full implementation of the state’s new evaluation system, which ultimately assigned ratings to every teacher in the state based on classroom observations, student growth data, surveys, and other factors. This study explored whether providing a detailed checklist to principals could improve the quality of the post-observation conferences.

To carry out the experiment, the researchers randomly assigned half of the principals to a control group, while those...

 
 

Chris Yaluma’s and my recent Fordham report on gifted education in high-poverty schools shows that the U.S. still has a long ways to go before it closes the “gifted gap,” the disparity in participation in gifted programs among student groups. Even in the earliest grades, black and Hispanic students participate in these programs at much lower rates than their white and Asian peers. But what is the rationale for gifted education in the first place? For those of us who are concerned about persistent inequities in American society and in our schools, “gifted education,” which through its name (somewhat offensively) implies that God or nature has “gifted” a special few, requires a strong justification.

While I would welcome a name change, I believe strongly in gifted education for one main reason: Kids in the same grade are not all at the same level for each subject. This may be intuitive; every child is a snowflake! But the differences within each grade are greater than you might think.

One recent study found a range of more than eleven grade levels in reading fluency and comprehension among fourth graders in a small group of diverse elementary schools. This is...

 
 

In recent years, as the pendulum of public opinion surrounding school discipline has swung from zero tolerance to restorative justice, policymakers, school leaders, advocates, opinion-shapers, and interest groups have struggled to solve inherently difficult problems: To what extent are such policies actually altering school practice? Are those alterations doing good or harm? And what are the pros and cons of limiting—or even banning—suspensions for certain forms of misconduct?

To address these questions, Fordham hosted a two-panel event on January 26 examining how to handle student misbehavior and the policies behind school discipline reform.

The first panel, moderated by Fordham senior vice president for research Amber Northern, featured Matthew Steinberg and Abigail Gray, the respective authors of “The Academic and Behavioral Consequences of Discipline Policy Reform” and “Discipline in Context: Suspension, Climate, and PBIS in the School District of Philadelphia.”

That discussion was followed by a lively debate between Cami Anderson, former superintendent in Newark and founder of the Discipline Revolution Project; Kristen Harper, director for policy development at Child Trends; Laura Jimenez, director of standards and accountability at the Center for American Progress; and Mike Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Alia Wong,...

 
 

Did you hear the one about a curriculum with fifty years of research that actually demonstrates its effectiveness? There’s a new meta-analysis in the peer-reviewed journal the Review of Educational Research that looks at over five hundred articles, dissertations, and research studies and documents a half-century of “strong positive results” for a curriculum regardless of school, setting, grade, student poverty status, race, and ethnicity, and across subjects and grades.

Ready for the punchline? That curriculum is called “Direct Instruction.

Hey, wait. Where’s everybody going? I’m telling you, Direct Instruction is the Rodney Dangerfield of education. It gets no respect.

I know what you’re thinking. “Direct Instruction? DISTAR, Corrective Reading and Reading Mastery? Basal programs? Scripted curriculum? That stuff’s been around since the Earth cooled. It’s not just old school, it’s the oldest school. Who cares about ‘DI’ when there’s so much cool, cutting edge, and disruptive stuff going on education? This is the age of ed tech, personalized learning, and competency-based progressions. The future is here and it’s OER, social media integration, virtual reality, and makerspaces. Direct instruction!? You gotta be kidding me. See you at SXSW EDU!”

Hold on and look again. The central assumption of DI is...

 
 

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