Matthew Levey

Drafting state learning standards is a task simultaneously critical and thankless. In New York, where I opened an elementary school a few years ago, we are once again revising our standards.

This also means that interest groups are assaulting our regulators like rival politicians with a week to go before Election Day. A first grade parent who works for our state regulator told me that, between the drafting of ESSA compliance plans and the revised standards, few can tell which end is up. “Each group advocates for mom and apple pie,” she observed. Sure, poverty prevents kids from succeeding in many cases. “But educators are pragmatic,” she continued. “They want practices they can implement.”

One idea that works wonders is using texts of increasing complexity to push students’ critical thinking. New York’s proposed English language arts standards do not go far enough in underlining the central nature of text complexity to student progress.

An issue brief from Knowledge Matters sums up decades of research: “Preparing students to read college-level complex text is…a challenge for our whole school system. Only a rigorous K–12 education that teaches broad knowledge and skills, and thoughtfully includes a range of texts in every grade...

If there is one thing that has haunted me over the years as an educator (now former) and as a mother, it is the disparity in expectations for students that glaringly breaks down around race and class. And Rhode Island is no exception. While students of means are often pushed to write thesis statements—and defend them!—in the early grades, black and brown children are far too often consigned to years of book reports and worksheets that don’t push their thinking or provide them with the opportunity to prove how incredibly smart and capable they are.

Well, cue the confetti and hallelujahs because Roger Williams Middle School is changing that. That’s right. Sixth grade students on the south side of Providence are part of a pilot program designed to offer advanced coursework—the Advanced Academics Program—and they are proving to be more than up to the task. In fact, the demand is greater than the number of seats available. Students are selected for the program based on attendance, teacher recommendation, and standardized test scores and there are currently more qualified students than there are spots in the program.

Shaking off that deficit mentality

The south side of Providence is known as...

Last week, the U.S. Department of Education released the results of its most recent national science test for fourth, eighth, and twelfth graders—the 2015 National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP). There’s a bit of good news, in that average scores are up slightly in the fourth and eighth grades and race-based achievement gaps narrowed slightly since 2009.

This was what Peggy Carr, acting commissioner of the agency responsible for assessment, seized on, as reported by the Washington Post. “This is exactly what we like to see,” she proclaimed, “all students improving but students at the bottom of the distribution making faster gains.”

Her statement erred in at least two important ways. First, it’s simply not true that all students improved. Twelfth grade was, regrettably, flat. And more importantly, our development of high achieving students might be, too.

It’s true that in fourth and eighth grade, if you define “high achievers” as those who score in the top ten percent, then the scores of such students have risen, including those of low-income and minority students. But we should be wary of such a definition. Recall that NAEP also reports student and state performance against three “achievement levels,” dubbed Basic,...

Tabitha Pacheco

Editor’s note: This article is part of the series The Right Tool for the Job: Improving Reading and Writing in the Classroom, which provides in-depth reviews of promising digital tools for English language arts classrooms.

If you are in the market for online writing worksheets, check out Quill. The site is essentially an online database of digital worksheets aligned to the Common Core English language arts (ELA) writing standards. This tool offers many advantages but also raises several concerns.

The positives

Teachers will find Quill very easy to use. They can sort activities based on grade level, type of activity (writing or editing), or writing and grammatical concepts (such as adjectives and adverbs, comma usage, commonly confused words, prepositions, and punctuation). They can assign students an individual activity, a premade pack—put together by the site—that bundles several activities keyed to a single grammar concept, or a custom pack devised by the teacher that tailors activities to the needs of the class or individual students. These activities are simple to assign to one student or the whole class. Plus, assigning them as homework means that teachers don’t need to worry about worksheets being lost in backpacks.

Teachers can sign...

Tabitha Pacheco

Editor’s note: This article is part of the series The Right Tool for the Job: Improving Reading and Writing in the Classroom, which provides in-depth reviews of promising digital tools for English language arts classrooms.

As an educator, I’m always looking for new tools to enhance my teaching and engage my students. In my search for online supplemental curricula, I found a plethora of online resources for reading and math but struggled to find online writing tools. One welcome exception—and a particularly promising writing tool—is Quill.

Quill is a free online website that provides learning activities for students in grammar, vocabulary, and writing skills. It’s essentially a database of digital worksheets aligned to the Common Core writing standards. According to its customer-service representative, over 21,000 teachers and 285,000 students use Quill. The site includes a basic package, which is free, and a teacher premium package, which costs eighty dollars per year. The main difference is the level of detail provided in the student reports available to teachers (more on that later).

The site includes (in the free version) over 150 writing activities designed for grades 1–12. The activities are said to align with forty-two of the English language...

Ohio’s charter school movement has faced a number of challenges over the past decade. A myriad of school closings and allegations of financial misconduct contributed to it being dubbed the Wild, Wild West of charter schools. Making matters worse, a comprehensive analysis in 2014 by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) found that, on average, Ohio charter students lost fourteen days of learning in reading and forty-three days of learning in math over the course of the school year compared to similar students in traditional public schools. To its credit, the Ohio General Assembly recognized these problems and in October 2015 passed House Bill 2 (HB 2)—a comprehensive reform of the Buckeye State’s charter school laws.

While HB 2 has only been in effect since February, there are already signs that the movement is changing for the better in response to the new law. Unfortunately, despite great strides forward, there is one group of charter schools in Ohio that’s still causing serious heartburn for charter school proponents and critics alike: full-time virtual charter schools. Attendance issues, a nasty court battle, the possibility that the state’s largest e-school (ECOT—The Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow) could have to...

America’s devotion to local control of schools is dying, but it is also being reborn as a new faith in charter schools. These independently operated public schools—nearly 7,000 across the country, and counting—provide a much-needed option for almost three million youngsters in forty-two states and Washington, D.C.

The prevailing arrangement in America’s 14,000 school systems starts with an elected board. The board appoints a superintendent, who manages more-or-less uniform public schools staffed by a unionized workforce of government employees. This setup may have functioned well for an agrarian and small-town society in which people spent their entire lives in one place, towns paid for their own schools, and those schools met most of the workforce needs of the local community.

This arrangement does not perform nearly so well in a country of mobile and cosmopolitan citizens, where states make most education rules and furnish the greatest share of the money, where government intrudes in myriad ways, and where discontent with education outcomes is rampant. It doesn’t meet the requirements of people who change neighborhoods and cities as well as jobs and careers, and it’s ill-suited for an era of fervent agitation about equalizing—and compensating for—the treatment of children from...

To ensure that pupils aren’t stuck in chronically low-performing schools, policymakers are increasingly turning to strategies such as permanent closure or charter-school takeovers. But do these strategies benefit students? A couple recent studies, including our own from Ohio and one from New York City, have found that closing troubled schools improves outcomes. Meanwhile, just one study from Tennessee has examined charter takeovers, and its results were mostly inconclusive.

A new study from Louisiana adds to this research, examining whether closures and charter takeovers improve student outcomes. The analysis uses student-level data and statistical methods to examine the impact of such interventions on students’ state test scores, graduation rates, and matriculation to college. The study focuses on New Orleans and Baton Rouge, with the interventions occurring between 2008 and 2014. During this period, fourteen schools were closed and seventeen were taken over by charter management organizations. Most of these schools—twenty-six of the thirty-one—were located in New Orleans. The five Baton Rouge schools were all high schools.

The study finds that students tend to earn higher test scores after their schools are closed or taken over. In New Orleans, the impact of the interventions was positive and statistically...

A new CALDER study by David Figlio and colleagues examines the implementation of Florida’s third-grade reading guarantee. The analysts study whether the policy is enforced differently based on a student’s socioeconomic status. The short answer: yes.

Florida legislators enacted a statewide grade retention policy in 2002 requiring that, in the absence of an exemption, students were not to be promoted from third to fourth grade unless they met a minimum reading standard (i.e., meeting the “level 2” benchmark or higher on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) reading exam). However, there are several reasons why a student might qualify for an exemption and be promoted, despite not having reached the requisite level: they have limited English proficiency and have received fewer than two years of instruction in an English as a second language program; have certain disabilities; or have received reading remediation for two years and have already been retained twice between kindergarten and third grade. Moreover, students can also obtain an exemption by demonstrating acceptable reading performance on a reading test other than FCAT that has been approved by the State Board, such as scoring in the fifty-first percentile or above on the Stanford-10, or by demonstrating reading proficiency...

This report from the Council for a Strong America provides an alarming snapshot of how ill-prepared many of the nation’s young adults are to become productive members of society.

The Council is an 8,500-member coalition comprised of law enforcement leaders, retired admirals and generals, business executives, pastors, and coaches and athletes. Its inaugural “Citizen-Readiness Index” gives more than three quarters of states a C or below on the index, due to staggering numbers of young people who are 1) unprepared for the workforce, 2) involved in crime, and/or 3) unqualified for the military. (Eligibility to enter the military depends on a range of factors, including physical fitness and attainment of a high school diploma.)

Nationwide, almost a third of our young people (31 percent) are disqualified from serving in the military due to obesity alone. Factoring in drug abuse, crime (more than 25 percent of young adults have an arrest record), and “educational shortcomings” raises that number to 70 percent. These data are shocking and should remind everyone of the stakes at hand. Given the proven and widely known negative correlation between educational attainment and crime, drug use, unemployment, and other negative life events, it is all the more...