The Education Gadfly


"They [states] were told to focus on one-time investments as much as possible. At the same time, the Department of Education sold this as a job and reform package...They say on one hand, preserve and create jobs. On the other hand, they talk about education reform."

-Chad Aleman, Policy Analyst at Education Sector

"Are states following stimulus plan rules for schools?"



Age before which it would be illegal to drop out of school in Massachussetts, under a new proposal to be announced today.

"Law urged to make teens stay in school"



Fordham, along with Catalyst Ohio and the FDR Group, conducted a survey this past spring that measured Ohioans' attitudes on a variety of education issues (note: the sample was 1,002 randomly selected Ohio residents and was the third of its kind -??following 2005 and 2007 surveys). When asked about teacher efficacy as it relates to impacting poor students, the Fordham poll found a relatively even split among respondents. Slightly fewer Ohio residents (46 percent) identified with the statement "good teachers lead even students who are poor and have uninvolved parents to learn what they are supposed to" than the statement "It is too hard even for good teachers to overcome these barriers" (48 percent).

These survey results indicate that roughly half of Ohioans think good teachers can make a difference in student lives despite obstacles such as poverty, while the other half holds to the more traditional view that socioeconomics??has more weight??than teachers when it comes to impacting student learning.


Views on teacher efficacy from "Checked Out: Ohioans Views' on Education 2009" survey



* Numbers do not add to 100 due to...


I'll be away from Flypaper for the next two days at the annual meeting of the White House Fellows Association, but before departing I wanted to use this opportunity to encourage our talented readers to consider applying for this astonishingly valuable program.

You can read all about it here, but in short, it was created by President Johnson, and for the last 45 years it's been preparing youngish (mid-career) professions to take and excel in greater leadership roles in public life. Those selected spend a year working for a top federal government leader (typically in the White House or for a member of the cabinet), partaking in amazing professional development activities, and learning about leadership, service, and our nation's institutions.

Former Fellows are scattered throughout the??top ranks of the??current administration (e.g.??Director of National Intelligence??Dennis Blair) and previous ones (e.g. former Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao and??Secretary of State Colin Powell). They also hold some of the military's top posts and positions in academia, business, philanthropy, and more.

A person or two from the education world has been part of the small group selected (14-15 usually) in each of the last several years.??This year's cohort has...

The Education Gadfly


"We're getting a bit more particular...We are learning more about what it means to be prepared to open a school, and these schools just didn't live up to expectations."

-Brian Allen, chairman of the Utah State Charter School Board

Associated Press: Just 2 of 7 Utah Charter Schools Given Green Light



Number of students in Los Angeles Unified School District, out of a total 680,000, who failed to show up as expected at the beginning of this school year..

Los Angeles Times: L.A. Unified takes anti-truancy effort door-to-door

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Here's an interesting article about Harlem Success Academy, a??New York City charter school whose kindergarten field trip to a farm is more than a cute story about pumpkins and cows.

"The schools haul their students to a farm each year, hoping to expose them to rural life and lift their [test] scores," since questions on New York state tests often center on "livestock, crops, and other staples of the rural experience." A Harlem Success Academy teacher explains, "[the students] are good at reciting and remembering things, but they can't make the connection unless you show it to them."

For most students growing up in urban environments, state test questions that include passages about milking, plowing, cornstalks, and pumpkins are foreign and therefore more challenging, and "educators have long known that prior knowledge of a subject can significantly improve a child's performance on tests."

Though there's no way of knowing the precise impact that such field trips will have on Harlem Success students' test results, this charter school is right to emphasize the importance of content and background knowledge, especially for young readers. Such "real-world" learning might...

The Education Gadfly


"Why would you sign a memorandum of understanding with a country that's so far behind us on average results and on dealing with low socio-economic students and minority students?"

-Trevor Cobbold, spokesman for Save Our Schools, an Aussie public education advocacy group

"Australia, US in school deal"



Duration, in hours, of a Washington, DC City Council hearing on recent teacher layoffs in the District.?? Almost all of the attendees spoke out against the layoffs.

"Anger Over Layoffs Vented in 18-Hour Hearing"


I'm usually not the first person to throw my hands up in response to extracurricular programming being cut from schools. If something's got to go in this economic climate, better to be athletics and arts than social studies testing or early college academy high schools.??

Still, it's disconcerting that Ohio schools districts like Reynoldsburg have no junior varsity sports programs left, in part because families can't afford the required $500 athletic fees. And South-Western schools-who have already lost athletic and extracurricular programs- are in the news again as they hinge their hopes on the upcoming November levy. Even if it passes, athletes will still have to pay $150 per sport and there are no waivers for low-income students. For Big Walnut schools, pay-to-play fees could rise to as high as $300 if voters don't pass the upcoming levy.

Why care about cuts to sports programs? I admit that as a lifelong soccer player, I lack neutrality. But more important than my bias is the fact that many student athletes spend years getting good at their sport because it provides a pathway to college. College access can broaden exponentially for student athletes, particularly those whose families...


I just finished reading Diane Ravitch's 2000 book??Left Back: A Century of Failed School Reforms. I recommend it strongly.

Though I'm currently focusing intently on changing education systems, Left Back is an excellent history of the century-long war over what goes on inside our public school classrooms. Our current debates over expectations, standards, assessments, innovation, and more have a long, fascinating, and (at times) shameful pedigree. In short, we didn't get where we are today randomly or by accident.

Ravitch's lesson is a modest, even sage one: We need to avoid new "movements" like the plague and give "more attention to fundamental, time-tested truths."

Massive changes in curricula and pedagogy should be based on solid research and careful field-tested demonstration before they are imposed on entire school districts and states. There has been no shortage of innovation in American education; what is needed before broad implementation of any innovation is clear evidence of its effectiveness.

I find myself disagreeing with many of Dr. Ravitch's current policy views (e.g. charters, assessments), but there's a great deal to be learned from this history and her conclusions. I certainly now better understand the roots of her criticisms of the Race...

The Education Gadfly


"K-12 education has come under pressure that it has not seen in decades. The only bright note is the money provided under the ARRA."

-Arturo Perez, fiscal analyst for the National Conference of State Legislatures

"States Feeling Fiscal Squeeze Despite Stimulus"



Percent of Washington, DC public school students attending charter schools this year. Charter school enrollment is up 9% from last year.

"Charter School Enrollment In the District Is Up Again"


Today's New York Times reports on a new RAND study evaluating the Big Apple's attempts to end "social promotion," the egregious practice of simply passing students on to the next grade regardless of whether they're ready academically. I'm not familiar enough with the program to know more than what the Times describes-that it began in 2004 with 3rd graders, has since expanded through at least 5th grade, and under it "students who score at the lowest level in state English and math tests have to repeat the grade unless they can pass the exam after summer school." This study focused on 5th graders, and found that:

students who were kept in the fifth grade for an additional year showed significant improvement in standardized tests over the next three years compared with low-performing students before the policy went into effect.

These results sound (on the surface) to be consistent with prior studies showing the benefits of retention in Chicago (2003) and Florida (2006).

New York City focuses, appropriately so, ??on giving these students extra attention-e.g., Saturday classes, one-on-one tutoring. And one of the biggest concerns about retention, that these students will be emotionally...