Sharif El-Mekki

I’m concerned about the growing backlash against what are referred to as “no excuses” schools. Too often, critics depict overly-rigid approaches to discipline that pave the road from school to prison.

I agree that too much rigidity can be problematic and can harm efforts to build community in a school. But I am also nervous that the pendulum will, as often happens in education, swing too far to the other extreme.

“No Excuses” Worked for Me

I have a slightly different opinion of both the origin and role of no-excuses policies in schools. As a student who attended a school that had a no-excuses policy, I benefitted from it tremendously, and so did my classmates.

We were taught to be self-disciplined, inspired by the Black Panthers and a long list of Freedom Fighters on whose shoulders we stood (Malcolm, Martin, Fannie, Huey, Sojourner, Ella—the list goes on). At a very early age, we knew these civil rights legends we dreamt of emulating didn’t make a ton of excuses.

Our teachers knew that the Black children in front of them needed to work twice as hard in order to gain any ground....

Jennifer Cross, Ph.D., and Stephen Schroth, Ph.D

Mastery-based learning, also called competency-based or proficiency-based learning, is a program of personalized, differentiated education where students’ progress is based on their successful achievement of learning objectives, rather than prescribed “seat time” in a specific grade level. Typically, these programs require students to demonstrate proficiency through frequent assessments before advancing to the next learning activity or objective. Several states, such as Iowa and New Hampshire, are currently exploring the implementation of competency-based education programs in their districts, which will improve educational opportunities for gifted children in the regular classroom—but only if administered properly.

While mastery-based learning is more likely to be considered for secondary school students, with the proper supports, schools at all levels can successfully put mastery-based learning programs in place. Important considerations include:

  • Students in mastery-based programs should receive differentiation according to their individual learning needs.
  • Assessments that demonstrate degree of mastery must be grounded in the disciplines that they measure—not other skills, such as teacher-pleasing behaviors.
  • Technology may be used as the platform for student learning (online courses) and for the assessment of student progress, but not exclusively; students still require teacher interaction and guidance.
  • The program offers a continuum of services to gifted children as they
  • ...

Find out why Fordham’s Mike Petrilli might have his school-reformer card repealed. Watch this two minute clip, from a Progressive Policy Institute panel on ESSA accountability, about why expecting all students to attain college and career readiness would be a big mistake.

View the entire event here

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 that provides in-depth reviews of several promising digital tools for English language arts classrooms.

Curriculet is tagged as “the best independent reading program available. Period.” But does it live it up to its promise? Let’s take a look at its key strengths and weaknesses.

Organization and content

Curriculet’s content is organized logically and is well written and clear, for students and teachers alike. However, though there is a basic search function to locate book titles, it could be greatly improved by enhanced sorting and refining options (such as filtering by individual grade and cost simultaneously).

Because the books come from reputable publishers, I found all of them to be high quality and age appropriate (they are digital versions of the same books that can be bought in bookstores). There are a wide range of text types, as called for by the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), and the questions and tasks are very text dependent (that is, they require students to refer back to the text to answer). Unfortunately, Curriculet does not currently provide questions, videos, and...

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 that provides in-depth reviews of several promising digital tools for English language arts classrooms.

It’s October and you’re finally settling in to the school year. You’ve gotten to know your students, assessed their reading levels, and planned diligently for instruction. Now you just need the right tools—more specifically, a range of text that can meet their needs. Enter Curriculet.

Curriculet is an online digital library of books and news articles intended to be used as independent reading to supplement any curriculum. According to its website, “More than 1,000,000 students and teachers in 10,000 schools love to learn and read on Curriculet,” and its resources are accessible on all devices. With books and articles geared toward grades 3–12, Curriculet strengthens a classroom library by offering online books and texts that teachers can individually or collectively assign to students.

Curriculet’s website has a clean and professional feel, with colorful photographs and a brief introductory video explaining the site’s purpose and content. Its partners include well-known book and textbook publishers, such as Simon & Schuster and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt....

Regular readers know that I’m something of an apologist for “screen time,” at least within limits. That’s because there are lots of great shows, documentaries, and apps out there that can engage young minds, build critical content knowledge, and even help to create connections across the many chasms so prevalent in America today. That’s why, in the past, I’ve offered a list of the best children’s TV shows, created a collection of educational videos available for streaming, and put forward some of my favorite educational apps. (Traditionalists, fear not: I’ve also compiled a list of 100 great children’s books, The Kindergarten Canon.)

But it struck me recently that I’ve never weighed in with a list of television shows to watch as a family. That’s on my mind, as my boys are now six and nine, and thus old enough to enjoy shows that I might like too—programs that don’t make me want to poke my eyes out. (Dora, I’m looking at you.)

So this summer I reached out to friends and colleagues, and looked around on the Internet, for input on what other parents with school-age kids like to watch with their children...

A new study by the Learning Policy Institute examines past and current trends in the teacher workforce to predict future educator supply levels. The study also examines motivations behind teacher attrition and suggests several policy options to mitigate the effects of teacher shortages.

The report pulls from several databases to analyze the current teaching job market. Using data from 2011–12 and 2012–13, it predicts trends in teacher supply and demand levels through the year 2025 and argues that shortages will sharply increase over the next ten years. While LPI’s study provides valuable information, the authors caution that their predictions cannot take into account future policy decisions, changes in the economy, or other unforeseeable events.

During the Great Recession, demand for teachers decreased as class sizes expanded and teaching vacancies went unfilled due to large cuts in school budgets. By 2014, however, demand quickly began to rise—schools started to return to pre-recession teacher-pupil ratios, programs cut during the recession were restored, and student enrollment levels were predicted to grow after remaining stagnant for several years. Since then, districts have struggled to find enough teachers to staff their schools. Rural schools as well as schools with high-minority and high-poverty student populations...

This report from A+ Colorado examines Denver’s ProComp (Professional Compensation System for Teachers), a system forged collaboratively between the district and teachers union in 2005 that was on the vanguard of reforming teacher pay scales. The analysis is timely for Denver Public Schools and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, who are back at the negotiating table (the current agreement expires in December 2017).

The A+ report outlines the urgency of getting ProComp’s next iteration right. Denver loses about half of newly-hired teachers within the first three years—a turnover rate that is costly not only for the district, which must recruit, hire, and train new teachers, but for the students who are taught by inexperienced educators (research shows that effectiveness increases greatly in the first five years). Denver Public Schools also faces another challenge in that Denver’s cost of living has increased sharply. The report notes that more than half of all renters face “serious cost burdens,” meaning they spend more than 30 percent of income on housing. The situation is worse for homeowners or would-be homeowners. Thus, ProComp is a critical part of “making DPS an attractive place to teach.” 

ProComp was revolutionary at its outset. Funded in...

Next week Chester E. Finn, Jr., Bruno Manno, and Brandon Wright’s book Charter Schools at the Crossroads: Predicaments, Paradoxes, Possibilities will be released. Timed to the twenty-fifth anniversary of Minnesota’s passage of the nation’s first charter law, it takes a thorough look at what’s worked—and what hasn’t—in the charter movement's journey from a disruptive innovation to the source of school choice for almost three million kids in forty-two states. In anticipation of the release, we have created a timeline to illustrate chartering's history, as well as the Fordham Institute’s prolific commentary on, work in, and support of the sector. From early trailblazers to the emergence of outstanding networks such as KIPP and Success Academy, we invite you to explore charter schools' revolutionary and sometimes controversial past. Let's remember it as we look toward what chartering's future may hold.

Charter Schools at the Crossroads by Chester E. Finn, Jr., Bruno V. Manno, and Brandon L. Wright will be released October 25, 2016.

Timeline of Charter School History

Scroll left and right through significant events.


David Steiner

NOTE: The publication of a recent Flypaper post arguing that growth measures (like “value added” or “student growth percentiles”) are a fairer way to evaluate schools than are proficiency measures drew quick reaction both inside and outside of Fordham. Here we present a "letter to the editor" in response to the initial blog post, lightly edited.

To the editors:

I find your argument that state accountability systems should increase the weight of growth indicators, as against proficiency indicators, perplexing. Here is a summary as to why.

The most basic difficulty with the growth models you recommend is this: they attempt to estimate a school’s average contribution to students’ achievement based on past achievement within a given state and a comparison group in that state. Such a growth measure is norm-based rather than criteria-based, i.e., relative to other students in other schools as opposed to an external standard. Assigning such a heavy weight to relative growth may end up removing a school from funding and other support even if its students perform far more poorly than students in schools that would be identified for intervention.  

To focus on the details: The first problem in your recommendation is its lack...