Flypaper

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...

If the latest polls are to be believed, Hillary Clinton may be heading toward a landslide victory, especially as far as the Electoral College is concerned. If that happens, it will likely reverberate through down-ballot races—for the Senate and House of Representatives but also for gubernatorial and state legislative offices, too. The conventional wisdom is that disaffected moderate Republican voters may stay home, hurting GOP chances across the board.

What if this scenario comes to pass? What would it mean for education reform?

In short: It ain’t good.

The reason, in my view, is that the politicians most likely to stand up for smart, robust education reforms—expanding charter schools but also holding them accountable, for example, or setting high standards and empowering educators to meet them as they see fit—are mainstream conservative Republicans. These are the folks who have led the push for expanded parental choice, who held the line on the Common Core when the going got tough, and are willing to make investments in education as long as they are tied to results.

And these are precisely the sorts of Republicans likely to succumb to a wave election, representing, as they do, swingy suburban...

Melody Arabo

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.

For teachers looking for high-quality online reading resources, Lexia Reading Core5 (Core5) is one promising—yet pricey—option. Let us examine the site’s key features, strengths, and weaknesses and how it might be useful to classroom teachers.

Usability, features, and functions

Core5 can be accessed on a web browser, an iPad or Android tablet, or installed locally on a computer. It offers clear and sufficient guidance for teachers on how to set up and implement the program and then gather data on student performance. The site is well organized and easy for both teachers and pupils to use because it moves students through the activities step by step (and cleverly adapts based on their performance). It is also likely to keep kids engaged, thanks to its colorful background, pictures, and music.

In the free-trial version of Core5, I had limited access to four levels of the student program: beginning mid-Kindergarten, beginning second grade, beginning fourth grade, and beginning fifth grade (though, as described previously,...

Melody Arabo

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.

Many educators struggle with finding resources that can help educators teach reading skills in a comprehensive yet individualized way. In a typical elementary classroom of thirty or more students, children can range in ability so much that instruction must be drastically differentiated to meet each pupil’s needs. As a third-grade teacher, I am constantly on the hunt for tools that can minimize my preparation time and maximize instructional time with kids. Lexia Reading Core5 is a promising reading program that can help teachers meet those goals.

Overview

According to its website, Lexia Reading Core5 “supports educators in providing differentiated literacy instruction for students of all abilities in grades pre-K–5” (as defined by Carol Tomlinson, differentiated instruction is “an approach to teaching that advocates active planning for student differences in classrooms”). The site also includes embedded assessments that deliver “norm-referenced performance data and analysis without interrupting the flow of instruction to administer a test” (norm referenced is a type of test that reveals whether...

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