Robert Harris

In the U.S., the substitute teacher industry is big business, with approximately $3.5 billion expended annually. Office-temp agencies, advertising agencies, software developers, recruiters, educational training providers, and others (including but not limited to the substitute teachers themselves) continue to cash-in on the substitute teaching labor market with great economic success while, on the other hand, school districts continue to fail at providing students with the academic supports they need when their regular teachers are absent from school.

Back in the day, when a teacher called-in sick, a school principal hired a well-regarded adult from within the community to fill-in for the day. Since dedicated teachers rarely missed a day of school, paying a member of the community (perhaps a retired teacher) to supervise a classroom of students for one day made perfect sense.

Today, after successful lobbying by teachers’ unions, educators now have expanded sick, personal, and other leave provisions in their collective bargaining agreements. Unfortunately, some teachers view these contractual benefits as entitlements rather than as leaves for necessity, and they have little compunction about taking advantage of them quite liberally, regardless of the actual nature of their absence from school. As it is a well-established union doctrine to...

Now that states have submitted plans to the U.S. Department of Education as part of their obligations under the Every Student Succeeds Act, what happens next? And which states are most likely to see significant achievement gains in the coming years?

To answer these questions, Fordham hosted “The ESSA Achievement Challenge,” an event featuring Matthew Ladner, senior research fellow at the Charles Koch Institute (representing Arizona); Candice McQueen, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Education; Glen Price, chief deputy superintendent of public instruction for the California Department of Education; and John White, state superintendent of the Louisiana Department of Education. Each made the case that their respective state’s plan will lead to the greatest student success.

We kicked off the festivities by asking the audience to vote for the state most likely to make significant progress in the years ahead, and Louisiana won out. But would this hold up after each state’s defense?

Going first, Matthew Ladner focused on Arizona’s prioritization of school choice. First highlighting the positive impact of competition on all schools, he described what he called, “Arizona’s virtuous K–12 cycle,” with parental choice leading low-performing schools to shutter and high performing ones to replicate. While illustrating...

High-achieving, well-behaved students learning to code, reciting Shakespeare, engaging in debates about the validity of climate science or the merits of Columbus Day, and taking advanced courses in a welcoming atmosphere—if this is what you see when you’re walking the hallways, it makes sense to call this a good school. Many experts, however, see schools differently. To them, the impact of the teachers and curriculum on the school’s students is the most important thing. In line with this vision, experts and policy wonks tend to lobby for greater focus on student growth measures when holding schools accountable, while families care most about the overall proficiency of the student body. Who is right?

The debate between “growth” and “proficiency” generates a lot of conversation in the education policy world, but what appear to be irreconcilable differences can be resolved if we acknowledge that each metric maps to a valid view of school quality, and that both types of metrics can serve worthwhile, if distinct, functions.

The wonk’s perspective

We wonks—the policy nerds, bureaucrats, and legislators who argue about and, ultimately, design the school ratings formulas that determine whether the school down the block...

In part 1 of this two-part essay, I argued that if we want to empower our scholars to truly be on the path to college completion, charter school leaders should use the occasion of the sector’s silver anniversary to stop measuring student performance against the worst outcomes of the frayed traditional public school system. It’s a sector that’s long produced dismal district, city, and state test averages and graduation rates.

Consider, for example, my home state of New York, which is regularly guilty of these comparisons based on low expectations:

  • City: In Rochester, New York, a criminally low 7.6 and 7.9 percent of all students citywide passed the state’s 2016–17 English language arts and math exams, respectively. And of the eleven charter schools in Rochester, only eight exceeded the city’s 8 percent average passage rate on both assessments. Hardly a cause for celebration.
  • District: In Community School District 8 in the South Bronx, 63 percent of all boys who started ninth grade in 2011 never graduated high school at all. And over the last three years, an average of 11.9 percent of eighth grade boys in District 8 passed the state math exam. So how does
  • ...
Patricia Levesque

Personalized learning presents a vital opportunity to provide rigorous, high-quality instruction while addressing students’ diverse educational experiences and pursuing their unique strengths, interests, and needs. Coupled with flexibility in pace and delivery, personalized learning is grounded in the idea of students progressing when they demonstrate mastery of skills and knowledge, regardless of the time, place, or pace at which such mastery occurs. For some students, it means removing artificial barriers to their engagement with more advanced work. For many others, it means providing tailored support as well as the time and opportunity to close learning gaps rather than leaving them behind year after year.

As interest in personalized learning has grown, so have efforts to take this new educational model to scale. Consider the recent spate of personalized learning initiatives launched in states like Florida, Nevada, Idaho, Utah, North Dakota, and Illinois (to name just a few). ExcelinEd has been excited and proud to be a partner with and supporter of many of these efforts. We see many examples around the country of schools implementing personalized learning—illustrations of the promise that this model holds to improve students’ lives and put each of them on a pathway...

We’ve always known about the giant schism on the Left when it comes to school choice, but we are now seeing a divide emerge on the Right around the same issue. And while most of the conversation and debate has been around accountability measures like test scores and graduation rates, there is another potential red flag that no one seems to be talking about.

For some, mostly of the more libertarian ilk, a parent’s satisfaction is all the accountability we need, and any kind of regulation or forced accountability measures are nothing more than unnecessary government intrusion. For others, there has to be a minimum standard that every school must meet before any parent should be able to choose it.

It’s not only a philosophical conundrum but also a moral one, and it has taken on even greater urgency in our current climate of “fake news” and “alternative facts.” We know certain things to be true and certain things to be false and wrong, and we need to teach these to children. So while we can and should debate ideology and policy, we can’t abdicate our responsibility of having an educated citizenry. Zero...

Don’t be misled by the provocative title and subtitle of John Merrow's new book, Addicted to Reform: A 12-Step Program to Rescue Public Education, which might lead one to expect in these pages a back-to-the-future, Diane Ravitch–like defense of the education status quo—and which likely account for the book’s fawning jacket blurbs by Jonathan Kozol and by Lily Eskelsen García of the National Education Association, among others. Delve in and you find that Merrow, a veteran education journalist and PBS NewsHour habitué, is not exactly that sort of anti-reformer. Rather, he’s a sort of discombobulated radical who seeks many worthy changes in the American K–12 enterprise but whose “plan,” for all its dozen steps, isn’t likely to result in the overhaul he wants.

No devotee of the status quo, Merrow rightly reveres E. D. Hirsch and wants more schools to adopt a knowledge-rich curriculum. When it comes to making kids more independent and giving them “freedom to fail,” he even begins to resemble U.S. Senator Ben Sasse. His precepts also comport overall with those of Eva Moskowitz, the CEO of New York City’s Success Academy charter schools. He seeks a total reconstruction of teacher preparation and compensation, even of...

It might be the most common mistake in education writing and policy analysis today: declaring that a majority of public school students in the U.S. hail from “low income” families—or, even worse, that half of public school kids are “poor.” Let’s put a stake through the heart of these claims because they are simply not true—and paint a distorted picture of the challenges America’s schools are up against.

The problem starts with the use of the free-and-reduced-price lunch program (FRL) as a marker of economic disadvantage. Generally, students living at 130 percent of the poverty level or below are eligible for free lunches; those at 185 percent or below can get a reduced price lunch. This was always a crude and imperfect indicator, but as Matt Chingos explained last year, for two reasons it’s now completely divorced from reality.

First, Congress expanded “direct certification,” under which students are deemed FRL eligible because they receive other forms of public support, such as food stamps. Second, Congress expanded “community eligibility,” which allows schools with at least 40 percent of students identified as eligible for FRL through direct-certification-type means to provide free lunches to all of their...

A new study examines the effects of No Child Left Behind on children’s socioemotional outcomes. Prior studies have found that consequential accountability systems like NCLB have yielded positive gains in achievement; others have shown that they narrow the curriculum by focusing on tested subjects. But very few have looked at the potential impact of the legislation on socioemotional or “non-cognitive” outcomes.

The authors use student-reported survey data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Survey-Kindergarten Cohort of 1998–99 (also called ECLS-K), which is nationally representative. Data used for the study were collected in the spring of students’ third and fifth grade years—the same time of year that students typically take standardized tests. Note that NCLB legislation was signed in January 2002 in the middle of the third-grade year for the sample. During spring of that year, students took tests that established baseline scores for judging school performance in subsequent years. Schools could fail to make adequate yearly progress (AYP) in 2002–03 (students’ fourth grade year); thus, by the time that they were surveyed during the fifth grade year in spring 2004, NCLB consequences were widely in effect. Authors use a “differences in differences” strategy where they compare states that already...

Last month the Urban Institute added to the rapidly accumulating body of conflicting evidence about the impacts of private school choice on student achievement. While early studies showed positive effects on test scores, more recent evidence from Indiana, Louisiana, and Ohio showed private school choice programs having neutral to negative effects. This report differs from most of its predecessors by measuring long-term outcomes, namely college enrollment and attainment. Urban’s investigation of the Florida Tax Credit (FTC) scholarship program is the first study to look at these outcomes at the state level, and the results are encouraging.

While not a traditional voucher system, the FTC program allows Florida taxpayers to receive a 100 percent tax credit for donations to scholarship funding organizations, which provide tuition assistance for low-income students to attend private schools. Participants in the program must have family incomes of up to 260 percent of the US poverty threshold and receive scholarships worth up to $6000. Started during the 2002–03 school year, FTC is now the largest private school choice program in the country, with 100,000 current participants.

Analysts compare FTC participants to non-FTC students, controlling for test scores, age, gender, race or ethnicity,...