Flypaper

I respect Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, am glad to be a long-time citizen of his state, agree with most of his policies and priorities, and appreciate his appointing me to the State Board of Education. But in all seriousness, and as many others have already noted, he shouldn’t monkey with school calendars.

I understand that state attorney general Brian Frosh (until recently my neighbor) is examining the question of whether the Governor’s executive order is binding. I have no view on that, except that I would hate for the whole matter to become a political football. To me, it’s a solemn issue of sound education policy.  

Viewed that way, I see two main reasons why requiring (almost) all Maryland public schools to start after Labor Day and end by June 15 is misguided.

First, setting calendars that work for particular communities is a quintessential element of “local control.” Maryland leaves many matters to localities that I believe would be better decided for the state as a whole, but this one—like personnel decisions, instructional methods, and school closings (and openings)—is one that’s best decided close to home and adjusted to local circumstances. All sorts of variables bear on...

A report recently released by the Economic Studies program at the Brookings Institution delves into the complex process behind designing and scoring cognitive assessments. Author Brian Jacobs illuminates the difficult choices developers face when creating tests—and how those choices impact test results.

Understanding exam scores should be a simple enough task. A student is given a test, he answers a percentage of questions correctly, and he receives a score based on that percentage. Yet for modern cognitive assessments (think SAT, SBAC, and PARCC), the design and scoring processes are much more complicated.

Instead of simple fractions, these tests use complex statistical models to measure and score student achievement. These models—and other elements, such as test length—alter the distribution (or the spread) of reported test scores. Therefore, when creating a test, designers are responsible for making decisions regarding test length and scoring models that impact exam results and consequently affect future education policy.

Test designers can choose from a variety of statistical models to create a scoring system for a cognitive assessment. Each model distributes test scores in a different way, but the purpose behind each is the same: reduce the margin of error and provide a more accurate representation of...

This new study, the product of a partnership between District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) and researchers at New York University and the University of Maryland (including Dr. June Ahn, author of our recent report Enrollment and Achievement in Ohio's Virtual Charter Schools), examines how students’ use of educational software affects their achievement.

In 2012, DCPS began to implement a web-based mathematics program called “First in Math” (FIM) for students in grades K–8. The initiative consisted of games centered on basic computational skills and concepts like fractions or decimals. The authors examine student-level usage data, including how much time students spent on the FIM system, which modules they completed, and what achievements (like points, collecting “badges,” or unlocking bonus games) they earned at various points in the school year. That information was combined with student-level data, such as gender, English language learner status, special education status, race, grade level, and achievement on the mathematics component of the DC-Comprehensive Assessment System (DC-CAS). The final sample included approximately 9,200 students in Grades 4–8 during the 2012–13 school year.

The analysis reveals some intriguing findings. Time spent using FIM had a small but significant positive relationship with performance on standardized mathematics assessments, even...

A new Mathematica study revisits the effects of pay-for-performance on educators. It evaluates the Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF), which was established by Congress in 2006 and provides grants to support performance-based compensation for teachers and principals in high-need schools.

The TIF program has four components: measuring teacher and principal effectiveness using both student growth and classroom observations; offering bonuses based on effectiveness; enhancing pay for taking on additional roles or responsibilities; and providing professional development to help educators understand the pay-for-performance system.

From 2006 to 2012, the United States Department of Education awarded $1.8 billion to support 131 TIF grants. Mathematica’s study examines implementation of all sixty-two 2010 TIF grantees during the 2013–14 school year (for most of the grantees, this was three years into implementation).

It also separately reports impacts for a ten-district subset of 2010 grantees that participated in a random assignment study. Treatment schools were meant to all four TIF program components; they also received guidance on how to structure the bonuses, including admonitions that the bonuses should be substantial, differentiated, and challenging to earn. Control schools didn’t receive this guidance and were instead meant to implement every component except for the performance bonuses (they did receive...

Many years after the adoption of new academic standards in most states, frustrated teachers and administrators across the country still decry the dearth of Common Core-aligned curricular materials. One survey conducted by the Center on Education Policy (CEP) in 2014 found that 90 percent of surveyed districts reported having major or minor problems finding such resources. More recent studies conducted by Morgan Polikoff and Bill Schmidt also conclude that the majority of textbooks marketed as being aligned with Common Core actually have “substantial alignment problems.”

In response to this persistent lack of high-quality, standards-aligned materials, organizations such as EdReports and agencies like the Louisiana Department of Education have begun providing educators with free, independent reviews of curricular resources. Other groups have developed rubrics and evaluation tools intended to help state, district, and school leaders vet the quality and alignment of textbooks, units, and lesson plans (including EQuIPIMET, and Student Achievement Partners’ “Publishers’ Criteria”). Even Amazon has entered the curricular stage, recently announcing the launch of a new platform for educators that will feature free curricular resources and teacher ratings and reviews.

To date, however, very little information exists on the quality and content of digital learning tools intended to supplement a full curriculum. What does exist...

School failure is no longer the United States’ most pressing educational problem—mediocrity is. Both Trump and Clinton could do a lot of good by changing the tone of the education reform debate—and backing it up with a few discrete changes in policy. Specifically, they could shift the conversation from “failure” and focus it instead on “excellence.”

This is particularly the case for Trump, who found himself in hot water recently for saying to African Americans, “You live in your poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs, 58 percent of your youth is unemployed.” Understandably, much of the black community took offense to his inaccurate assertions on poverty and employment. But his claim about schools is problematic too.

For sure, we’re used to hearing that, and some of us are used to saying it. Indeed, many schools serving African Americans (and Latinos and low-income students) haven’t been very good. Some are still failing. But the truth is that they have gotten better over the past two decades—a lot better. The typical African American fourth grader is reading and doing math two grade levels ahead of where the previous generation was back in the 1990s. That’s enormous progress.

That’s...

Joy M. Scott-Carrol, PhD

At one point in my childhood, I was one of the top five children in my elementary school class. At another point, I was an underachiever. I was a high-achieving child during a time where gifted education programs had yet to be implemented in our neighborhood public schools or clearly defined by educators. Teacher education programs back then were not designed to train teachers on identifying high potential or gifted children by the characteristics they exhibit in classrooms. Likewise, unless parents were exceptionally intuitive or highly educated, they too were uninformed on how to identify and advocate for their gifted children. The result was that I was sometimes reprimanded and, therefore, discouraged from expressing my intelligence and creativity. Rather than being shown how to channel my energy into something productive, I was shut down and told to be quiet.

I still have my second grade report card, on which my teacher wrote, “Joy(ce) talks too much.” I am sure it was not her intention, but my teacher caused long-term damage to my self-esteem and willingness to speak up. Through college, I was hesitant to contribute to classroom discussions even though I had much to add. In hindsight, it was not...

Now that the Every Student Succeeds Act opens the door to new approaches, the education policy community is rightfully interested in helping states overhaul their school accountability systems. I co-authored Fordham’s contribution to the cause, High Stakes for High Achievers, which looks at ways that these systems can signal to schools that all students (including high-flying ones) matter. We weigh in on the use of proficiency rates (avoid!), growth models (yes!), and other mechanisms for making low-income high achievers more visible. Other groups are making proposals about the “other indicators of student success or school quality” allowed by ESSA (i.e., indicators other than test scores); debates are raging about whether states must issue “summative” ratings for schools or use a “dashboard” of data instead.

These discussions are all well and good, but they assume that school report cards and ratings still matter—that parents, taxpayers, real estate agents, and others will see them and respond in ways that will put heat on our system to improve.

We might want to question that assumption. Because if school report cards continue to serve as a lever for reform, people need to be able to find them, and understand them. That...

Editor's note: This article was first published on June 18, 2015. It was last updated on September 12, 2016, to include new statements. Read similar posts for Trump's running mate Mike Pence, the Democratic Party's Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine, the Libertarian Party's Gary Johnson and William Weld, and the Green Party's Jill Klein.

Since Donald Trump announced his campaign on June 16, 2015, he has addressed many of today’s biggest education policy issues. But he’s also been talking about a number of these topics for more than a decade. For example, in The America We Deserve, published in 2000, he wrote about citizenship education, teachers unions, and school safety. And ten years later, in Think Like a Champion, he touched on American history and comprehensive education. Here are some of his views, with recent quotes first:

1. School choice: “As president, I will establish the national goal of providing school choice to every American child living in poverty. If we can put a man on the moon, dig out the Panama Canal and win two world wars, then I have no doubt that we as a nation can provide school choice to...

Steve V. Coxon

America’s pipeline for STEM talent is happily expanding, but many groups remain severely underrepresented. This leads to huge disparities in the applicant pool for STEM careers. One reason is clear: family wealth.

Poverty squanders a wealth of STEM potential in childhood. In 2012, 21 percent of children in the U.S. lived in poverty, and that number is increasing. Poverty restricts academic promise in a variety of ways, including inadequate healthcare, lack of access to high-quality preschool and day care, a paucity of school resources, fewer good teachers, and increased school bureaucracy. Despite these disadvantages, there are still more than a million poor children nationwide who rank in the top quartile academically when they start school. Unfortunately, only about half of these children will remain there by the end of fifth grade, and they are twice as likely to drop out of high school as their middle class peer of the same ability. While many have the potential to pursue STEM, the odds are stacked against them.

To ensure that children from low-income families are included in the STEM talent pipeline, we need to start early, provide engaging STEM activities beyond the school day, and connect with families. Certainly by age...

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