Flypaper

Tyne Watts

I attended my first summer camp at six years old. After that experience, I looked forward to attending every year. At summer camp, I was exposed to new things with friendly staff in a positive environment. During one year of summer camp, the academic enrichment was so great that I was able to test out of the traditional second grade math program when school started. My school created a special math program for me and a few other students who attended the same summer camp with me. Two years later, I found myself being identified as a gifted student and math is one of my favorite subjects. Even though all camps don’t offer academic enrichment, they do expose kids to lots of new concepts and ideas that are valuable. I think all kids deserve stimulating opportunities like that during the summer.

Maryland’s Governor Larry Hogan issued an executive order in 2016 mandating that all Maryland public schools start after Labor Day. The executive order cites the August heat and state economic deprivation as reasons for the mandate. Starting school later may help Maryland’s workforce and economy thrive, but it also creates additional stress for working parents who can’t stay...

Confusion abounds as the U.S. Department of Education continues to send mixed signals to states regarding their obligations under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), especially when it comes to school accountability. One question is what’s allowed—and what’s required—with respect to the “academic achievement indicator.” Herewith is an explanation of what’s permitted, what’s smart policy, and how states can avoid triggering federal pushback.

Proficiency rates: Allowed but to be avoided

ESSA Section 1111(c) plainly says that state accountability systems must gauge students’ “academic achievement,” and that this must be measured, at least in part, “by proficiency on...annual assessments.” The simplest—but worst—way to do this is to keep using No Child Left Behind–era proficiency rates. Yet eight of the first seventeen ESSA plans submitted to the Department of Education did just that. Yes, it’s undoubtedly permitted and won’t elicit any pushback from the feds. But it’s also unwise and inequitable.

Measuring school quality via proficiency rates encourages educators to focus on “bubble kids,” those just below or above the proficiency cutoff, to the detriment of other students. But they aren’t the only children who should matter to states. Among those neglected when proficiency...

The era of hyperactive education policymaking is about to come to an end.

That might be hard to believe, given this summer’s high-decibel policy disputes, both in Washington and in the states. The implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA); debates about a potential large-scale federal school-choice initiative; and deep disagreements about civil rights enforcement continue to captivate—and roil—all of us involved in education policy, in D.C. and around the nation.

But peek around the corner, and the picture looks much different. ESSA plans will be approved, and states will go on their merry ways. The Trump Choice proposal will almost surely be DOA in Congress. The Office for Civil Rights will take a new tack, and that will be that. The Department of Education will go back to being a sleepy little agency. And at the state level? There will be perennial fights over funding, charter expansion, and the teacher pipeline, but what’s the next big issue to captivate lawmakers on the education front? There isn’t one.

None of this is news to the big national foundations, which have played such a critical role in policy reform in recent decades. For that, they mostly deserve our thanks,...

By Ed Jones

David Brooks's recent essay, “How We Are Ruining America,” has touched a nerve with a lot of people, Robert Pondiscio among them.

As Robert puts it:

There is a language of power. It is the language of privileged parents, affluent communities, and elite universities. It’s the language of David Brooks. But he’d do well to recognize that you don’t learn that language in those places. They don’t let you in until or unless you demonstrate command of it.

All good, and a dozen years ago, I'd have left it at that. The mission of education reform, I thought, is getting more poor kids and minorities into college, which offers first-generation access to the type of high-paying entry work I enjoyed at age twenty-two. It also brings political and cultural power.

Yet Robert also uses another term, the “language of upward mobility.” Getting that right, teaching more kids that language, is a different task today than it was in 2000.

Allow me to paint you a different picture of power.

As the summer temperatures climb, the outdoors beckon, and I find myself near waterside marinas. From the Cleveland-Toledo Lake Erie coast, to the Pittsburgh-to-Cincinnati Ohio River banks, to...

By Max Eden

Last week, Senator Lamar Alexander fired a shot across the bow of the U.S. Department of Education, suggesting that acting assistant secretary for elementary & secondary education Jason Botel “hasn’t read [The Every Student Succeeds Act] carefully.”

Alexander apparently decided to keep his powder dry a month ago after the Department released the “Feedback That Shook The World,” telling Delaware that its plan to use student performance on Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exams as a metric for college readiness was out of line, and declaring that the state’s goals for boosting proficiency rates were not “ambitious enough” to merit approval. AEI’s Rick Hess likened the Botel letter to an exercise in Soviet bureaucracy, and Fordham’s Mike Petrilli called it “mind boggling” given Secretary DeVos’s insistence that she’d allow states significant flexibility.

After the initial rumblings around its mid-June letters to Delaware, New Mexico, and Nevada, the Department appeared to back down. It issued a FAQ telling states that they didn’t necessarily have to make every change that Botel had demanded for their plans to be approved. And its next round of state feedback took on a different tone. The first three letters had been...

As the term implies, “personalized learning” (PL) tailors educational approaches to an individual student’s needs, strengths, interests, and aspirations. This may sound abstract to many, but a new report paints a clearer picture of personalized learning as used in practice. RAND Corporation analysts examine PL implementation and student outcomes across forty U.S. schools receiving a Next Generation Learning Challenge (NGLC) grant. Most of these schools were less than three years old when RAND began its study in 2012, and thirty-one are charters. Together, the NGLC schools enroll roughly 10,600 students, primarily low income or minority. 

“In its ideal form,” RAND analysts write, “PL allows for greater variety in what students are working on at any moment, while still setting ambitious goals for each student’s progress.” Researchers explore the strengths and challenges of PL implementation—how schools are working to meet these ideals—mainly via surveys of educators and students in NGLC schools. As a point of comparison, analysts draw survey data from a national sample of non-NGLC schools. They organize their findings around four marks of PL implementation: the use of learner profiles, personalized learning paths, competency based progression, and flexible learning environments. Here are some of the main findings....

The Fordham Institute, among others, has long worried that the country’s focus on the “proficiency gap” is leading schools to ignore the “excellence gap”—the divide between white students and students of color at the highest levels of achievement. Now comes good news that this gap can in fact be narrowed. January’s issue of Gifted Child Quarterly features a 2016 longitudinal study by Paula Olszewski-Kubilius et al. that details the outcomes of Project Excite—a STEM enrichment program for “high-potential” black and Latino students in suburban Illinois.

This study addresses the general thrust of previous research that suggests black-white and Latino-white achievement gaps widen faster among high-achieving students, particularly in math and science. The authors indicate that these findings reflect the compounding nature of advantage and disadvantage. Think of compound interest: The further ahead you are, the faster you climb. Knowing this, Project Excite adopts an approach that financial advisors shout from the rooftops: Start early and invest consistently.

Between 2000 and 2013, researchers tracked the performances and outcomes of 361 Project Excite participants. Each cohort consists of third graders from five schools in a suburban Illinois school district. Acceptance into the program is based on math, non-verbal reasoning, reading skills, teacher...

Alex Medler

Focusing on specific challenges would improve today’s polarized fight over charter school oversight, in which name calling too often replaces the demanding work of understanding each other or solving shared problems. In previous rounds of charged conflict, I have found that shared work is the best remedy for ideological polarization.

Indeed, on the ground, the messy work of charter school policy and authorizing is rarely accomplished through strict adherence to ideology. Concepts and ideology considered without real-world applications tend to feel hollow. Most of the time, decisions are made by local people working to solve common problems. And whatever people choose, future work should stay messy and inclusive.

Consider recent debates about burdensome charter applications and overregulation. Two talking points have gotten plenty of air time: “We should get rid of five-hundred page charter applications”; and “We must reverse the reregulation of charters.” I nod in sympathy every time I hear them. But these notions also often lack detail and nuance. If, for example, a speaker intends them to mean we ought to reverse course on the past decades’ progress on authorizer rigor, students’ rights, or performance management, I stop nodding.

Instead, I believe that the charter application process could...

We are ruining America, notes dour New York Times columnist David Brooks, suddenly and considerably alarmed by a standard feature of American life, if not human nature—the tendency of the privileged and powerful to guard jealously every advantage they have been handed or earned. Brooks takes up his pen to offer a stinging rebuke: Members of the college-educated class, he writes, “have become amazingly good at making sure their children retain their privileged status. They have also become devastatingly good at making sure the children of other classes have limited chances to join their ranks.”

Brooks focuses his concern on the parenting style of privileged Americans, coining a brilliant neologism in the process, “pediacracy,” by which he means the determination of affluent parents to give their kids a leg up. “As soon as they get money, they turn it into investments in their kids,” he writes. Next come zoning laws that keep the poor and poorly educated out of well-off neighborhoods and excellent schools. Finally there’s access to elite colleges that cement the grip of top quintile families on the brass ring of their advantage.

Brooks, I think, confuses effects for causes. Mating, motherhood, and Middlebury are not the...

A recent report from the Brookings Institution explores the pros and cons of online education.

Online classes have the potential to bring otherwise unavailable educational opportunities to a broad range of students, tailoring courses’ content and pacing to each individual learner’s needs. For example, the report’s authors point to the latest “intelligent” tutoring systems, which can assess students’ weaknesses, diagnose why they are making these errors, and adjust the coursework accordingly.

Despite these promises, however, many of today’s online courses may be causing more harm than good, especially for low-performing students. This report reconfirms yet again what numerous studies have previously shown—that online schools consistently underperform the brick-and-mortar variety.

The Brookings report analyzes an online college, but many of its lessons apply to K–12 education, as well. Authors use data from DeVry University, a for-profit college at which every class is offered online and in-person. The average student takes two-thirds of her courses online, and online and in-person versions of a given classes are mostly identical, as “both follow the same syllabus and use the same textbook; class sizes are approximately the same; [and] both use the same assignments, quizzes, tests, and grading rubrics.”

The authors find that taking...

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