Flypaper

Accountability for schools of choice is a topic forever in the news—and in dispute. The latest combatant is none other than Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who made clear in a recent interview with the Associated Press that she favors letting the market work its will and trusting parents to judge whether a school is worth attending. In this context, she was referring specifically to private schools insofar as they participate in publicly financed voucher or tax-credit-scholarship programs. (Yes, yes, I understand the argument that if it’s done via tax credits it’s not actual public financing. But that begs the political and policy questions that dog such programs and those who want more of them.)

When it comes to charter schools, the Secretary acknowledged that authorizers play a role alongside parents, though she picked the dubious case of Michigan, her home state, to illustrate the point. The Wolverine State certainly has some top-notch authorizers, and they have indeed closed down some failing charter schools, yet the overall track record of Michigan charters is too spotty—at least in the eyes of those who value academic achievement and fiscal probity—to warrant citing it as a stellar example of quality control via...

Which teachers remain teaching in their original schools, who transfers to other schools, and who exits teaching altogether obviously has implications for the quality of the teaching workforce. A new study conducted by Tim Sass and Li Feng examines how teacher quality (as measured by value-added data) and teacher mobility are related.

Analysts utilize teacher quality and mobility data in Florida from the 2000–01 school year to 2003–04. Specifically, they use matched student-teacher panel data that includes math and reading teachers in grades 4–10, for whom they have current and prior-year student achievement data.

They find that, for both math and reading, the average quality of teachers who stay at their initial schools is higher than teachers who switch schools within their initial district, move to another district, or leave public school teaching altogether. Moreover, better-than-average and worse-than-average teachers (those in the top and bottom quartiles, respectively) both have a higher likelihood of leaving teaching compared to middling teachers. Analysts say this is consistent with “schools losing their best teachers to more attractive outside options and losing their worst teachers who may be better suited to other occupations.”

They also find that, as the share of peer teachers with more...

Spoiler Alert: If you’re looking for an objective review of this new paper from Chiefs for Change, you’re not going to get it from me. The idea advanced here—that content-rich, standards-aligned, and high-quality curricula may be the last, best, and truest arrow left in education reform’s quiver—is one that I’ve argued for years, and which E.D. Hirsch, Jr. has championed since shortly after the earth cooled. So what’s newsworthy here may be less what’s being said and more who’s saying it. Chiefs for Change is an organization comprised of district and state-level education leaders who collectively oversee schools systems attended by over 5 million kids in more than 10,000 schools. If some critical mass of those schools pursue the strategies recommend here, ensuring that “high-quality standards are matched with high-quality materials in a way that respects local control and supports strong student outcomes,” then a tipping point is near at hand.

Americans can always be counted upon to do the right thing, Churchill is said to have quipped, after exhausting all other options. That may explain curriculum’s emergence as a serious reform lever. But it is no accident that curriculum has been largely an afterthought in efforts to...

The big news out of this year’s Education Next poll is the sharp decline in support for charter schools, even among Republicans, which is going to leave us wonks scratching our heads for months. But don’t miss the findings on what we used to call “standards-based reform.” Support for common standards has rebounded, with proponents outnumbering opponents three to one. And a strong plurality of Americans want states—and not the feds, and not local school boards—to set academic standards, determine whether a school is failing, and if so, determine how to fix it.

Perhaps not coincidentally, this is precisely where Congress landed two years ago when it passed the Every Student Succeeds Act. Lawmakers pushed key decisions to the states and, in some cases, to local communities. But there were limits. When it came to standards-setting and testing, the feds made it clear that states could not delegate their responsibilities. Uniform, statewide systems are still required, just as they have been for over twenty years.

Alas, someone needs to explain that to Arizona and New Hampshire. While both states deserve plaudits for innovative moves in recent...

Ashley Berner

The possibility of a new federal tax credit for private-school choice has highlighted the lack of legal protections for LGBT students in school settings. This absence stands in marked contrast to the extensive legislative and judicial mandates on schooling and race, as Michael Petrilli noted recently. Each protected class of U.S. citizens—racial minorities or individuals with disabilities, for instance—has its own distinctive historical contours and interacts with education in distinctive ways. It is possible, though not easy, to create single-sex public schools or charter schools that serve autistic children, but the prohibitions on racial discrimination are absolute.

The Supreme Court did not stop with Brown v. Board of Education (1954), after all. Later rulings reinforced its principles by limiting the practices of private schools, too, even those that had made a religious-liberty case for segregation.

  • In 1973, the Court ruled that Mississippi could lend textbooks in secular subjects to religious schools, but not if they discriminated on racial grounds (Norwood v. Harrison).
  • In 1976, the Court held that private schools could not hold racially discriminatory admissions policies without violating federal law (Runyon v. McCrary).
  • In 1983, the Court upheld the IRS’s revocation of the federal tax exemption from Bob
  • ...
M. René Islas

As the ink dries on the recently enacted gifted education law, Public Law 17–82, Connecticut has the opportunity to lead the nation in empowering local school administrators and teachers in how to best serve our gifted and talented students.

The field of education knows what works to serve gifted and talented students, including how best to identify these students, how to appropriately use acceleration strategies and how to best prepare teachers to work with this population. Best practice guidelines called for in the law will offer direction and clarity to districts on gifted education practices; guidance many practitioners lack today.

To move this forward, we encourage state officials to follow three important steps.

First, they should remove policy barriers to learning and establish a sound statewide policy on acceleration. Research demonstrates that acceleration strategiessuch as advancing students an entire grade or in certain subjectsare one of the most effective approaches to help ensure all children, regardless of background, receive quality gifted and talented programing.

Acceleration strategies allow students to access advanced content, skills, or understanding before their expected age or grade level. Rather than load students up with more content they have already mastered, acceleration helps truly challenge these...

My memory is a little hazy, but I’m pretty sure the first time I heard the term “Nazi” was when I was nine or ten and watching the “Blues Brothers” on TV. All I remember is that the neo-Nazis were having a parade, and getting in the Blues Brothers’ way, and the whole thing was treated as farce. They were clearly a bunch of losers and idiots, not even worthy of fear. They were a punchline, the butt of a joke.

Of course, as I got older, the ugly, evil reality of Nazis, the KKK, and white supremacists became clear to me, thanks in large part to Mr. Klein at Parkway West Senior High School, and his World History and AP U.S. History courses. I’m pretty sure Mr. Klein didn’t just care about making us “college and career ready”; he wanted us to understand the full scope of humanity’s history, both the wonders of our cultural achievements and the depravity of totalitarianism. Today I feel a special sense of gratitude for Mr. Klein, and all his compatriots in social studies departments across the country, who gave us the gift of understanding the beauty, and evil, of which humans are capable....

Kate Walsh

If you're anything like me, you can't help but grow really discouraged at what seems like a lack of progress toward improving public education. I’ll admit there are days when I just want to throw in the towel.

I keep noticing, though, that there is actually a substantial amount of good news about American education that never seems to get any traction in either traditional or social media. I also suspect education reformers are so accustomed to calling out the bad news in order to incite action that we fail to appreciate the importance of good news. I’ve discussed this previously, but feel the need to revisit it as there’s been a spat of generally unheralded good news.

There is new clear evidence that we are making slow, gradual gains adding up to significant change. Though you almost had to read between the lines to appreciate the genuinely good news in a recent Department of Education report, “The Status and Trends in the Education of Racial and Ethnic Groups,” and good news it was, indisputably. It cited the following progress:

  • Since 1992, on the fourth grade NAEP reading assessment, the white-black score gap narrowed from 32 points to
  • ...

When you think about education, it’s worth asking two questions over and over again: Why is this thing the way it is? And does it have to stay this way?

One thing you hear often in education is that your ZIP code shouldn’t determine your educational destiny. This is something even folks who say they oppose “education reform” ostensibly believe.

So if that’s true, why is your house the overwhelming predictor of the sort of education you will receive?

I am willing to concede that during the early days of public education—open to all, paid for by taxpayers, and free at the point of delivery, as Sir Ken Robinson describes it—it might have made sense to organize compulsory schooling for children around small localities, principally because, in the absence of state and federal revenue streams or even state mandates and responsibility for education, taxing a community via its wealth in property probably made sense.

It was also probably easier to ask your neighbor to chip in on the financing of the local common school than it would have been to get someone from another town to do it. This was a policy decision grounded in localism and local identity,...

What if we could scale up evidence-based practices, shift the reform conversation in a more positive direction, and boost student outcomes, all at the same time?

Might you be interested?

No, this is not the pitch of a carnival barker or snake oil salesman, but a crazy (or maybe crazy smart?) idea for a new non-profit initiative.

Presenting the National Award for Excellence in Elementary Education, the N-A-Triple-E. (I clearly haven’t paid for any branding help as yet.)

Though it would be a massive undertaking, the core idea is simple: Develop a national recognition program for excellent elementary schools (with middle and high schools to follow) in the district, charter, and private sectors. As with the federal Blue Ribbon Schools program, schools would be recognized for strong results in student achievement. But applicants would also go through an intensive process, not unlike a UK-style inspectorate, resulting in a comprehensive analysis and holistic review of their practices. Only schools that can demonstrate a commitment to striving for excellence in all aspects of their enterprises, from curriculum to talent development to parent engagement and on and on, would win the prestigious award.

First the why, then we’ll tackle the how....

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