Lyall Swim

Editor’s note: This is the third article in a series that outlines some foundational principles for successful adoption of innovative education reforms. The final post will look at the importance of location and defining success for innovation adoption.

Consider two education-related political campaign slogans:

  1. “Things at our schools are going to get worse before they get better.”
  2. “My education reforms are so innovative that they going to be YUUGGE, but…they could also be a major disaster. Only time will tell. Vote for [fill in the candidate’s name]!”

Can you imagine a candidate using either? Neither can I. Yet these two slogans represent two critical realities of innovation adoption.

As the first one indicates, innovations represent a change from the status quo, and these changes and transitions can be messy. In addition, as noted by Christensen’s work on disruptive innovation, the more disruptive an innovation, the more likely it is that the initial results or direction of the performance curve will be down, not up.

In many ways, the changes initiated when an innovation is adopted are reminiscent of cleaning out one’s garage. At first there you determine that things need to get better, and you’ve got...

By next week, sixteen states and the District of Columbia will have submitted plans to the U.S. Department of Education to meet their obligations under the Every Student Succeeds Act. These publicly available documents describe how states will satisfy a number of ESSA’s requirements, including those concerning testing, school improvement, and accountability. Unfortunately, just as states mostly squandered ESSA's school improvement flexibility, most of these first seventeen plans don’t do enough to hold schools accountable for meeting the educational needs of high achievers—especially those growing up in poverty.

ESSA affords states a critical opportunity to right many wrongs of No Child Left Behind. A strong accountability system signals to schools that the progress of all students is important, but NCLB failed at this by creating incentives for schools to focus their energy almost exclusively on helping low-performing students get over a modest proficiency bar, while neglecting those who were likely to pass state reading and math tests regardless of what happens in the classroom. This may be why the United States has seen significant achievement growth and improved graduation rates for its lowest performers over the last twenty years but lesser gains for its top students.


A new report from the RAND Corporation examines trends across twenty-seven counties in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia where fracking is a booming business. This is the second of five periodic reports from RAND that track workforce, economic, and educational trends (the previous one is available here). The reports are commissioned by the Appalachian Partnership Initiative, whose aim is “to build the pool of local workers for jobs in the energy and advanced manufacturing sectors” across the tristate region.

This paper uses Census Bureau statistics to highlight a few key workforce trends:

  • From 2000 to 2014, the working age-population (age eighteen to sixty-four) declined in twenty of the twenty-seven counties across this region.
  • Wages were strong for workers in the extraction industries, which include oil and gas along with mining. Across this region, the average wage for employees in this industry was $58,290, higher than the averages in other fields such as health care ($28,690) or manufacturing ($43,967).
  • Within the extraction industry, workers with higher-level education received higher wages: In 2015, college graduates (bachelor’s or above) earned about 37 percent more than those without a high school diploma.
  • Roughly half of the workers in the extraction industry possess
  • ...

About 95 percent of public school districts pay teachers according to years of experience and degrees earned—a traditional “step and lane” salary schedule. The other 5 percent have captured a great deal of attention, “spurring rapid growth in the number of research studies” and prompting this meta-analysis of the merit pay literature. Researchers at Vanderbilt pulled data from a few dozen merit pay studies to determine the answers to two primary questions: Do performance-pay programs have an impact on student test scores? And to what extent does program design matter—e.g., individual incentives versus group incentives?

The studies chosen for the meta-analysis went through a rigorous selection process. Analysts reviewed almost 20,000 records via social science databases like ERIC or NBER, ultimately choosing forty-four studies on teacher merit pay in the U.S. and internationally. Almost half were from peer-reviewed publications; all of them met standards for sound research design. Twenty-five percent were randomized control trials; the remainder were quasi-experimental designs. The studies came from a twenty-seven-year period (1989–2016), with most of them occurring after 2005 and with an average treatment effect of four years—in other words, the individual performance pay program under study was on average four years old.

The studies...

A new publication by Advance CTE touts parental and student satisfaction with Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs.

The short six-page report describes the findings of a March 2017 survey that asked 252 ninth through twelfth grade CTE students and their parents for their opinions about this pathway. For comparison, the authors asked similar questions to a group of 514 “prospective” students and their parents who “demonstrat[ed] some degree of interest after hearing a brief description of CTE”.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the survey found that CTE students and parents love CTE. Students reported 88 percent overall satisfaction, while 96 percent of their parents responded favorably. In comparison, only 76 percent of prospective students were satisfied with their overall school experience, while 79 percent of their parents liked their kid’s schooling. Statistically significant differences persist down the list of questions, nearly all showing that CTE students and parents were the more satisfied group.

I suspect these findings may be due, in part, to the prospective group feeling like the grass is greener on the other side. After all, they took the survey after being told about CTE by a CTE advocacy organization. Additionally, the authors admit that while their sample is...

Featuring Michael J. Petrilli, Richard D. Kahlenberg, and Kyle Spencer

Editor's note: The following remarks from Fordham Institute president Michael Petrilli opened a debate hosted by The Century Foundation and NYU Wagner School on April 25, 2017, titled “Debates of the Century @NYU Wagner: School Vouchers,” part of an ongoing series showcasing thoughtful, informed dialogue from experts. The question posed was whether public funds should be used to support private school vouchers. Mike, who was for the motion, faced off against Richard D. Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation, who was against it. Kyle Spencer, an award-winning journalist and frequent New York Times contributor, moderated. The video of this discussion is also embedded below.

This is going to be a nuanced debate because Rick and I, like most Americans, don't come at this with extreme positions.

Rick doesn't believe that kids should be forced to attend the school their district assigns to them, usually the one closest to their house, or that private schools should be illegal. I don't believe that tax dollars should flow to schools without any accountability for results. We both believe in school choice—in allowing kids to choose publicly funded schools beyond their neighborhood public school. The question is how wide those choices...

Kevin Hesla

Renewed concerns over student privacy have led to an increasing amount of test score data being masked or suppressed across a number of states. While it is important for state agencies and schools to protect student privacy, these new rules make it harder for parents, educators, researchers, and advocacy organizations to have a clear picture of what is happening in the public education system. This can impede efforts to identify problems, to generate strategies for improvement, or to properly advocate for the most disadvantaged students.

Perhaps most critically, a lack of good data makes it far more difficult—or even impossible—to make comparisons across various school models or demographic groups, or to identify clear trends from year to year at the school level.

One example of new data masking and suppression rules comes from the Colorado Department of Education (CDE). Beginning with the 2014–15 PARCC results, CDE implemented new “complimentary suppression” rules that allow CDE to hide assessment results for small groups of students. At the same time that these rules were implemented, school level totals (which by definition are for larger groups of students) were also eliminated. This means that the majority of smaller schools have no publicly available test...

Richard J. Wenning and Damian W. Betebenner

David Griffith recently praised Colorado’s ESSA plan and how it addresses growth. While doing so, he discourages states from including growth-to-standard (criterion-referenced growth) in education accountability systems under ESSA. We agree with his general sentiment that Colorado’s plan is laudable, but we worry that arguments against using growth-to-standard measures to rate schools obscures the important role that these measures should play in communicating with parents, teachers, and the public.

David’s objections specifically concern school rating systems, but accountability systems also evaluate the educational outcomes of states, districts, and—most importantly, in our view—individual students. Some of the data the systems collect are used to rate or grade these various entities, while other information is simply reported to teachers, administrators, parents, and the public at large. Both of these purposes are important.

Our view is that any accountability system committed to standards-based outcomes (e.g. college and career ready by exit) must insure that indicators used in that system are consistent with those outcomes. Growth-to-standard is relevant for exactly that reason. It allows us to connect indicators that measure the growth for all students—which are by and large norm-referenced and divorced from any standard—to each student’s readiness for college or career. Checker...

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” It turns out this adage applies not just to global politics, but also to state education policies, and groups on both the left and the right should take heed.

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is among the most lamented education policies in recent memory, and few of NCLB’s provisions received as much scorn as its singular focus on grade-level proficiency as the sole measure of school performance. Researchers and practitioners alike faulted the fetishizing of proficiency for things like:

  • Encouraging schools to focus their attention on students close to the proficiency cut (the “bubble kids”) as opposed to all students, including high- and low-achievers.
  • Incentivizing states to lower their definitions of “proficiency” over time.
  • Resulting in unreliable ratings of school performance that were highly sensitive to the cut scores chosen.
  • Misrepresenting both school “effectiveness” (since proficiency is so highly correlated with student characteristics) and “achievement gaps” (since the magnitude of gaps again depends tremendously on where the proficiency cut is set).
  • Throwing away vast quantities of useful information by essentially turning every child into a 1 (proficient) or a 0 (not).

(For more details on these criticisms...

Elliot Regenstein and Maia Connors

Fordham’s recent report, Leveraging ESSA to Support Quality-School Growth, lays out some school improvement strategies that states should strongly consider. But in analyzing how to strengthen school improvement, there are really two separate questions to ponder. First, are states correctly diagnosing why a school isn’t meeting its students’ needs? And second, if they are, are they then responding with the correct solutions?

To date, elementary-school improvement has suffered from a massive problem of misdiagnosis. Fortunately, ESSA scraps school-improvement grants and their narrowly prescribed requirements for a 7 percent set-aside of states Title I money, giving states much more freedom to better figure out what lies at the core of a school’s poor performance—and which interventions will actually lead to durable school improvement.

To better understand the problem, let’s look at the data from two high-poverty schools. Figure 1 compares the percentage of students in each school who meet state standards on the state’s required assessments:

Figure 1. Percentage of students exceeding state standards in two schools, by grade and subject

Identical, right? Not so fast. At School A, a kindergarten readiness assessment indicated that 15 percent of kids...