Flypaper

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously quipped, but they are not entitled to their own facts. This idea animates "The Learning Landscape," a new, accessible, and engaging effort by Bellwether Education Partners to ground contemporary education debates in, well, facts.

A robust document, it’s divided into six “chapters” on student achievement; accountability, standards, and assessment; school finance; teacher effectiveness; charter schools; and philanthropy in K–12 education. Data on these topics can be found elsewhere, of course. Where this report shines is in offering critical context behind current debates, and doing so in an admirably even-handed fashion. For example, the section on charter schools tracks the sector’s growth and student demographics and offers state-by-state data on charter school adoption and market share (among many other topics). But it also takes a clear-eyed look at for-profit operators, the mixed performance of charters, and other thorny issues weighing on charter effectiveness. (Online charters are a hot-button topic that could have used more discussion). Sidebars on “Why Some Charters Fail” and case studies on issues facing individual cities lend the report heft and authority, along with discussions on authorizing, accountability, and funding. In similar fashion, the chapter on standards and...

In recent years, more and more districts have encouraged students to take Advanced Placement (AP) courses because they’re more challenging and can earn them college credit. And according to the College Board, this encouragement has translated to more course taking: “Over the past decade, the number of students who graduate from high school having taken rigorous AP courses has nearly doubled, and the number of low-income students taking AP has more than quadrupled.”

Enter a new study that examines what role grade-weighting AP courses might have played in this uptick in participation (for example, a district might assign 5.0 grade points for an A in an AP course but 4.0 grade points in a regular class).

The authors conducted a survey of over nine hundred traditional public high schools in Texas, inquiring whether they had weighting systems for AP courses; if so, when they began; and what changes have occurred in their systems since then. Twenty-eight schools that had increased their weights made up the “treatment group,” including rural, urban, and suburban schools scattered around the Lone Star State. The control group was drawn from traditional public schools with school-level data available before any weight changes occurred. It was then...

Dear Mark and Priscilla,

Please allow an aging education reformer to offer some unsolicited advice regarding the work of the new Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

Almost twenty years ago, I wrote a long public letter to Bill Gates that drew lessons from earlier philanthropic efforts in K–12 education—including many billions of dollars wasted by the likes of Ford, Rockefeller, and Annenberg. In it, I offered suggestions for the most useful work that the then-new Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation might do in this realm, particularly by advancing the (also new) concept of charter schools.

In fact, Gates has done—and continues to do—good work in the charter sector. Much of what his foundation has undertaken in the K–12 realm, however, has fallen prey to the classic temptation to try to reform school districts. You—Mark—apparently succumbed to that same temptation when you committed $100 million to the renewal of public education in Newark, by way of both district and charter schools. Smart fellow that you are, you’ve acknowledged that the charter part of this generous gift has done some good (whereas the district part, not so much). You’ve probably read Dale Russakoff’s provocative book about what went wrong in Newark; she notes that you...

A major development of recent years has been the explosive growth of online learning in K–12 education. Sometimes it takes the form of “blended learning,” with students receiving a mix of online and face-to-face instruction. Students may also learn via web-based resources like the Khan Academy, or by enrolling in distance-learning “independent study” courses. In addition, an increasing number of pupils are taking the plunge into fully online schools: In 2015, an estimated 275,000 students enrolled in full-time virtual charter schools across twenty-five states.

The Internet has obviously opened a new frontier of instructional possibilities. Much less certain is whether such opportunities are actually improving achievement, especially for the types of students who enroll in virtual schools. In Enrollment and Achievement in Ohio's Virtual Charter Schools, we at Fordham examined this issue using data from our home state of Ohio, where online charter schools (“e-schools”) are a rapidly growing segment of K–12 education. Today they enroll more than thirty-five thousand students, one of the country’s largest populations of full-time online students. Ohio e-school enrollment has grown 60 percent over the last four years, a rate greater than any other type of public school. But even since they launched, e-schools...

M. René Islas

Earlier this year, in his final State of the Union address, President Barak Obama asked, “How do we give everyone a fair shot at opportunity in this new economy?” Education is a powerful tool to help do that. However, we know that this is not necessarily the case for children with extraordinary gifts and talents—particularly those bright students who are racial and ethnic minorities, economically disadvantaged, or learning English as a second language.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) makes positive steps toward improving the learning lives of the 3–5 million gifted students (who account for between 6 and 10 percent of the U.S. student population). An upcoming paper by Matthew C. Makel, Michael S. Matthews, Scott J. Peters, Karen Rambo-Hernandez, and Jonathan A. Plucker, leading researchers in the field of gifted education, shows that 15–45 percent of these students enter the late elementary classroom each fall already performing at least one year ahead of expectations.

In his recent letter to U.S. Education Secretary John King, NAGC Board President George Betts said, “The failure to support our best students, including supporting those who have the ability to become high achievers and challenging those who already are above grade level, has...

It used to be that when people talked about urban school success stories, Catholic schools were at the center of the discussion. Twenty years ago, Cardinal John O’Connor, then archbishop of New York, all but dared public school leaders to send their hardest-to-teach students to archdiocesan schools. “Send me the lowest-performing 5 percent of children presently in the public schools,” O’Connor declared, “and I will put them in Catholic schools—where they will succeed.”

Such was the audacity of urban Catholic school leaders back then. We were confident. Our schools routinely outperformed neighborhood public schools. Our results were stronger—and longer-lasting—and our success came at a bargain price.In fact, it was the historic success of urban Catholic schools that fed the reform movement in general and the charter school movement in particular. Catholic schools were proving what was possible, and entrepreneurial young education leaders were quick to seize the opportunity to do the same in the public sector.

Over the past two decades, that confident leadership has been shaken by declining enrollment and financial struggles. Some in the reform sector and elsewhere have even taken to writing off urban Catholic schools as a relic of a bygone day.

At the same time, efforts from...

Editor's note: This post reproduces a letter sent to Secretary of Education John King on July 29. 

Dear Mr. Secretary:

I am writing to suggest two very specific changes to the proposed rule that your department published on May 31, 2016, regarding the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), and its provisions for school-level accountability.

  1. For the “academic achievement” indicator mandated by ESSA, do not require states to use proficiency rates.
     
  2. Allow states to provide evidence that their proposed “other indicators of student success or school quality” are related to improved graduation, college completion, employment, civic engagement, and/or military readiness rates as alternatives to achievement.

These two tweaks will maintain the law’s strong focus on results while allowing states to develop accountability systems that are maximally fair and useful to educators, parents, and the public.

Recommendation #1: Make states report proficiency rates, but don’t require their use for the “academic achievement” indicator.

As Morgan Polikoff and dozens of scholars and policy analysts explained in a letter submitted to your department on July 22, proficiency rates are extremely poor measures of school quality. Other approaches—such as proficiency indices or scale scores—would meet ESSA’s mandate for measuring proficiency without encouraging schools...

A few weeks from now, my wife and I will pack our only child and all her gear into the back of our rapidly aging Ford Escape with a big new college decal on the back window. We will drive her across five states and 500 miles to Chapel Hill, N.C. Interstate 95 will henceforth be known in our home as the Trail of Tears.

There is nothing novel about my family’s bittersweet road trip. And despite how anachronistic and inefficient college has become, I expect and hope that the sight of cars packed to the windows with bedding, clothes, and the trappings of teenage life will remain a late summer fixture on America’s highways for generations to come.

Few spheres of American life are more ripe for disruption by technology and price pressures than our higher education system. College can be difficult to defend in the face of runaway tuition, crushing debt, and educational outcomes of questionable value. Undergraduate teaching is too often treated as an afterthought at major research universities. The next scandal with big-time college sports is never far away. Good jobs requiring technical skills go unfilled while philosophy majors make cappuccinos at Starbucks. Students still pile...

Erika Sanzi

It’s no secret that principals are pretty stoked when students who transfer into their schools have a history of high scores on required annual tests. School leaders feel great pressure to perform in the public eye, and having a few more kids to bump those numbers up is certainly a welcome surprise.

It’s usually light hearted and all in good fun when they say, “ooh, we’ll gladly take her,” knowing that with each academically strong test taker, their overall school profile is likely to at least hold steady and hopefully even improve. The more 4s and 5s their students get on PARCC or Smarter Balanced, the better they look to district and state leaders, as well as parents, reporters, prospective home buyers, and the community at large.

I have no problem with a school leader wanting to land a good headline for performing well in every way, including on mandated tests. Who wouldn’t want a new kid coming in who scored double 5s on PARCC last year?

But this relationship needs to be a reciprocal one in which all parties get what they need. And in far too many schools, that symbiosis is missing.

The high achieving test...

As readers may recall, I’m in the middle of a series of posts about ways we can improve our schools beyond changing public policy. If this is only mildly familiar, it might be because of the hiatus since my last contribution, which is due to my procrastinating. And for good reason, I believe: I have very mixed feelings about the argument I’m about to make.

The argument is simple: If we want to improve our schools and school systems, we need to do much better at recruiting, developing, placing, and supporting effective leaders. That much is plain common sense, and not very controversial. Various strains of “effective schools” research going back decades find that leadership is essential for excellence.

Where I get hung up, though, is with the idea that great leaders can make schools—and especially school districts—work well, given the dysfunction of the larger system within which they must work, and the Gordian knot that’s been tied by decades of contradictory, often compromising, laws and regulations, not to mention the impossible politics often created by unruly elected school boards. (A knot that reform—especially charter schooling—has tried to cut.)

Strong leaders are surely better...

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