Flypaper

A new policy paper from the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) explores how state education agencies (SEAs) can take advantage of their unique position to foster improved district-charter collaboration.

The authors lament, as did we in a recent report, that district and charter leaders are too often tearing chunks out of one another rather than finding ways to work together. Whether the endgame should be an all-charter system, as in New Orleans, or some kind of side-by-side system, as in Washington, D.C., most cities will have to find a working balance between the two sectors.

The paper makes a series of policy recommendations for how SEAs could facilitate this balance and act on the increased authority granted to them by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). They could, for example, use their unique position to tie financial and accountability incentives to collaboration efforts, provide cover for school districts in places where local politics are toxic, and remove state legal impediments to district-charter collaboration. ESSA also gives states the more flexibility to allot funding, design accountability systems, and adopt other constructive policies (like unified enrollment or facilities sharing) that promote district-charter collaboration.

The authors then point to examples like Florida’s...

A new analysis from the National Council on Teacher Quality and the Brookings Institution examines the demographic gap between the current teaching workforce and students; its causes; ways to close it; and whether it will grow or shrink in the future. To do this, researchers pulled together data from a wide variety of sources, including the Census and National Center for Education Statistics, and used both descriptive analyses and projections.

Research clearly shows that regular interactions between students and adults of their own and different races is beneficial for academic achievement and behavior. Thus, the authors take as given that having a diverse workforce, in which teacher demographics mirror those of the student population, is a common goal for schools. (At the same time, the authors acknowledge that diversity does not supersede teacher quality as a driver of positive outcomes.)

The authors find that the pool of available minority teachers does not match the diversity of students now, and they predict that the mismatch will grow in the future. Minority students make up half of the public school student population, while minority teachers constitute only 18 percent of the workforce. The gap is particularly large for Hispanic students—at present, 26...

According to this report from the Center for American Progress, high school seniors are more likely to read young adult staples like The Fault in Our Stars and Divergent than Shakespeare’s Macbeth or Hamlet. As surprises go, this is roughly the equivalent of learning that Americans choose beer and chicken wings over quinoa and kale smoothies. The trouble is that this lightweight fare (the inevitable result of student self-selection) leaves students ill-prepared for the rigors of college reading.

There is “a stark gap between the complexity of texts that high school students are reading and of those that they will confront in college and their careers,” notes Melissa Lazarin, the report’s author and a CAP senior policy advisor. “Students reading at the average level of high school texts…may be comfortable with as little as 5 percent of university-level texts and with only one-quarter of the texts that they would encounter in the military or the workplace.” Common Core was supposed to help close these gaps, so what’s happening? The new standards are giving students “regular practice with complex and grade-level appropriate texts, using more informational texts, and practicing more evidence-based writing,” she observes. They are also “influencing the way teachers approach instruction.” But despite these encouraging signs,...

Capped by recent reports that Superintendent Dallas Dance wants to drop the "gifted and talented" label altogether, Baltimore County Public Schools' recent undoing of its elementary gifted education program is a classic example of moving American K–12 schooling in the wrong direction—and doing so in the name of equity.

Last year, BCPS jettisoned its decades-long practice of funneling high-achieving second graders into separate, accelerated math and reading classes. Many stayed on that path through high school, but it was deemed unfair because it smacks of "tracking" and gifted classrooms didn't contain enough minority youngsters.

Instead, high achievers will now remain in classes with their lower-achieving peers in grades 3–5, increasing the burden on teachers, who must "differentiate" instruction for all levels in classes with as many as twenty-five pupils.

Teachers try to cope by placing students in groups within their classrooms, differentiating by achievement or ability, and then doing their best to instruct each group in the skills and knowledge prescribed for that grade. Six times each year, they can rearrange groups based on children's progress (or struggle) in each subject.

The impetus for this change was the view that too many kids—particularly minority children—were relegated to low-level coursework with no hope...

Dear Mark and Priscilla,

Apologies for again interrupting your summer peace, but my respected friend Marc Tucker—in his open letter to you taking issue with my earlier missive—sorely misinterpreted or misstated one of my central points. I must at least try to set the record straight (I’ll also take the liberty of demurring from Marc’s well-intended advice in a couple of other areas).

First, to correct the record: Marc has me “urg[ing] you [and Chan Zuckerberg] to provide scholarships, supplemental learning opportunities, and great summer programs for poor kids from low-income communities.”

Wrong, wrong, and wrong. Marc’s a smart guy who is deeply informed about many things and often right about them. But he should have read my piece more closely, Common Core-style. Here’s what I wrote:

If a philanthropist wants simply to “do good” in the education space, none of this matters. It’s a no-brainer to underwrite a building, a professorship, a scholarship, a summer program, a lecture series, a roomful of laptops, a field trip, or a gala recognition dinner. You can get thanked, praised, photographed, tweeted about, or liked on Facebook…. All those sorts of things are easy and generally without controversy, much less rancor.

But it wasn’t—and...

Sally Krisel

The games of the thirty-first Olympiad are over. Maybe now I will be able to catch up on my sleep! For two weeks I stayed up way too late, spellbound by the competition between the world’s greatest athletes. I loved the world records, the close finishes, the upsets, the rivalries, and the camaraderie. I loved the emotion. But even more than these, I loved the stories—stories of athletes who excelled against the odds, who came back to compete after everyone said they were too old, who sacrificed so much to be Olympians. The stories of individual athletes kept me awake even after I was finally able to turn off the TV. As I replayed in my head the accounts of various athletes’ journeys to Rio, I reflected on the parallels between elite-level athletics and gifted education, and I thought how much we could learn about developing exceptional ability from what we saw during those two weeks.

Let’s consider just two of the athletes who delighted us during the games—Simone Biles, now the most decorated American gymnast in history, and Michelle Carter, American record holder and gold medalist in the shot put. At first glance, could two women be any more different? Biles,...

Marc Tucker

Dear Mark and Priscilla:

In a recent open letter, the Fordham Institute's Checker Finn warns you against trying to reform our public school districts, which he describes as impossible to change, even with the scale of funding that you can bring to the table. The old wisdom, he says, was that private foundations could be “pilot fish” for government, charting a path with independent money that could then leverage large amounts of public money. But even when the leviathan Gates Foundation, acting in concert with the Broad Foundation, joined forces with the Arnie Duncan’s U.S. Department of Education, trading staff and ideas back and forth, nothing much, he says, was achieved.

Better, Finn says, to “just avoid government entirely.” You should be using your resources to “press for change outside the district structure.” He means, he says, charter schools. But he says you should be thinking about chartering in a larger sense, with entities that will “advance the education of kids with all sorts of different needs, interests, and possibilities…Likewise with alternative pathways into education.” He cites as examples Teach For America and New Leaders.

Finn notes that advocates from both the right and the left lament the separation...

Don Hirsch has done it again. Never mind that he’s eighty-eight. Why Knowledge Matters: Rescuing Our Children from Failed Educational Theories, his fifth book on education reform—there were at least five earlier ones in his original field of English literature, criticism, and composition—is as clear and trenchant as Cultural Literacy was in 1987. And it is arguably even more needed, as there’s ample evidence that the “knowledge” part of K–12 education has been backsliding even as we’ve seen slight improvement on the skills side.

There’s the curricular narrowing associated with our reading-and-math obsession and the accountability regimes attached thereto. There’s the perverse effect of Google and other technologies leading us to assume that we “can always look it up.” And most perniciously—it is the theme of Why Knowledge Matters—there’s what Hirsch terms “the tyranny of three ideas” that steer educators in the wrong direction.

Here, in short form, are the mistaken ideas:

  • Early education should be age-appropriate and seen as part of a “natural development process.” (“Early education” in Hirsch’s world isn’t preschool; it’s kindergarten and the first several grades of school.)
  • Early education should be individualized as far as possible.
  • The main aim of education is to develop critical thinking and other
  • ...

The surprising best seller Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis has become something of a cause célèbre on the grounds that it explains the appeal of Donald Trump to the white underclass (from which author J.D. Vance emerged). Writing in the American Conservative, Rod Dreher aptly notes that the book "does for poor white people what Ta-Nehisi Coates's book did for poor black people: give them voice and presence in the public square."

The book should also be required reading among those of us in education policy. It reminds us of the roles that institutions play (and fail to play) in the lives of our young people, and further suggests that education reform cannot be an exclusively race-based movement if its goal is to arrest generational poverty. Poverty is a "family tradition" among Vance's people, white Americans of Scots-Irish descent who were once "day laborers in the Southern slave economy, sharecroppers after that, coal miners after that, and machinists and millworkers during more recent times."

Vance emerges as something of an emissary to elite America from Fishtown, the fictional composite of lower-class white America that Charles Murray described in his 2012 book Coming Apart. This growing segment of American...

Michael B. Horn

In Enrollment and Achievement in Ohio’s Virtual Charter Schools, the Fordham Institute takes a robust, nuanced look at Ohio’s substantial number of e-schools (more commonly known as full-time virtual charter schools). The report paints a troubling picture of these schools’ performance and offers valuable policy recommendations for driving K–12 online learning toward a better future. But readers should note that it also suffers from four significant limitations that are shared by most other studies of virtual charters. This is not the analysts’ fault; it’s intrinsic to the data that are currently available to measure the outcomes of e-school students.

First, the study does not control for course-taking patterns. It usefully reports that students in Ohio’s full-time virtual schools are “more likely to enroll in basic and remedial math courses” than students in brick-and-mortar schools. It would seem plausible—though the authors don’t mention it—that this might have an adverse impact on pupil achievement as gauged by state tests. Determining why so many more students take lower-level math courses in the virtual environment is an important next step to build on this research.

Second, the state tests given in and before 2013—those whose results were used in the Fordham report—exhibit a serious...

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