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Discussions about standards tend to focus on either the caliber of standards themselves or how well teachers understand them, but a third aspect of quality standards-based instruction is the support districts and schools give teachers to implement standards. Good standards-based instruction requires supports like aligned curricula and textbooks, professional development, and knowledgeable leadership. A recent RAND study finds deficiencies in two such supports: school leader knowledge of standards and the quality and alignment of classroom materials.

Researchers Julia Kaufman and Tiffany Tsai surveyed 1,349 members of the nationally representative American School Leader Panel (ASLP) in October 2016, and received responses from 422, or 31 percent. The survey asked what materials schools recommended or required in English language arts (ELA) and math, and compared responses to a report from EdReports, a nonprofit that has reviewed popular instructional materials for quality and alignment with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). RAND researchers used these reviews to calculate a “percent alignment” for all EdReports-rated materials. The ASLP survey also asked questions to assess school leaders’ knowledge about approaches and content in key areas aligned with the CCSS (and most non-CCSS state standards): use of close reading and complex texts for ELA and grade-level...

 
 
Travis Pillow

Florida is one of the leading states in the nation for public school choice. Its charter schools are widespread, often serving rural or suburban areas. Nevertheless, the state is home to more than its share of charter school “deserts,” according to a new report from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

The charter-friendly think tank used data from the U.S. Census Bureau to map high-poverty areas around the county. It counted a string of three Census tracts with high or moderate poverty levels and no charter schools as a desert. Florida is home to twenty such areas.

Looking at the report and the three urban areas it highlights offers several takeaways for Florida’s charter school movement.

This is why ‘Hope’ matters.

When House Speaker Richard Corcoran started pushing his Schools of Hope proposal, he pointed to the dearth of proven charter school operators in Florida’s most disadvantaged communities. One Fordham map zooms in on South Florida and helps illustrate his point.

Map 1. Charter school deserts in the Miami Metro Area

A star represents a charter school. An oval represents a charter school desert....

 
 

For weeks now, I’ve been debating Patrick Wolf, Michael McShane, and Collin Hitt about the relationship between short-term test score changes and long-term student outcomes, like college enrollment and graduation. Most recently I proposed three hypotheses that those of us who support test-based accountability—for schools of choice and beyond—would embrace. Now let’s see how the evidence stacks up against them.

To be clear, this is a slightly different exercise from asking whether test-based accountability policies lead to stronger outcomes in terms of student achievement. That’s an important endeavor too, and studies like Thomas Dee’s and Brian Jacob’s evaluation of accountability systems under No Child Left Behind indicate that the answer is yes.

But that’s not quite what we’re after, because those studies show that holding schools accountable for raising test scores…results in higher test scores. What we want to know is whether higher test scores—or, more accurately, stronger test score growth—relates to better outcomes for students in the real world.

So let’s take it one hypothesis at a time.

1. Students who learn dramatically more at school, as measured by valid and reliable assessments, will go on to graduate from high school, enroll in and complete...

 
 
Anna Egalite

In June 2003, the Library of Congress completed its $10 million purchase of the only known copy of the 1507 world map by Martin Waldseemüller, making it the most expensive map ever purchased. Considered a milestone in cartography, Waldseemüller’s map is the first work of any kind to depict the New World as a separate continent, which he named “America” in recognition of the Italian sailor who documented his travels there in colorful detail, Amerigo Vespucci. “America’s birth certificate” signaled a significant shift in how Europeans viewed the world and understood their place in it.

Of course, today, it’s easy to overlook the many ways cartography enhances our daily lives. Our maps are digital, connected to satellites in space that beam directions directly to the device in our hand so that, even in a foreign country, the disembodied voice of a digital assistant guarantees we will not feel disoriented.

The accessibility and prevalence of modern-day GPS doesn’t diminish the power of maps, however, which have always represented more than simple navigation aids. Maps tell stories, they reflect our values and priorities, they can be empowering, and they can identify disparities. That latter quality is what has caught my...

 
 
Amy Ruck Kagan

At NACSA, I lead a team that works directly with hundreds of charter school authorizers across the country. I interact with many of them on a day-to-day basis, and they’re all driven by a commitment to ensure that every child has access to quality schools, regardless of zip codes. They know that great charter schools can transform children’s lives and that too many neighborhoods are void of quality educational opportunities.

Doing the work thoughtfully and meeting this critical demand requires the right tools and supporting data. Our research finds that the best authorizers are obsessed with data: They actively and intentionally seek out new information about their schools and communities, and they incorporate it into their decisionmaking when it’s appropriate. When this information is accessible, authorizers have the power to do something about the charter deserts within their communities.

One piece of this data puzzle might be a new report from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, Charter School Deserts: High-Poverty Neighborhoods with Limited Educational Options. It seeks to help authorizers and those in the charter sector answer the question: What high-need areas in my city or state lack elementary charter schools?

The report maps the location of elementary...

 
 
Dale Chu

I’ll admit it: When the NAEP results landed last month, I had to fight off the urge to issue a statement. In hindsight, it was probably for the best, as a lot of people much smarter than me have since weighed in. I don’t have much more to add, but I can share some perspective through the lens of one state that I have some firsthand knowledge of: Indiana.

Even though it’s difficult to draw causal inferences based on one assessment, I still think it’s instructive to understand where the state was headed directionally during a period of putative success and what it was doing to get there. By virtually any measure (both serious ones and those less so), Indiana had until very recently been making improvements, and I would submit that these gains weren’t purely serendipitous. There are real lessons to be had in what was happening concurrently in the state while it was making its strides. But first, it’s important to have some context.

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Indiana’s governor and state superintendent are arguably two of the most powerful positions when it comes to state education policy—and both are elected partisan offices. Ten years ago, Governor Mitch...

 
 

It’s hard not to sympathize with the striking teachers in several states. They’re not very well paid, inflation is creeping up, a lot of classrooms are crowded with kids and lacking in textbooks and supplies, and a number of state and local budgets for school operations are extremely tight and sometimes declining.

All that is true. It’s also true that, while U.S. kids and parents generally like and respect the teachers they know best, American schoolteachers as an occupational class don’t enjoy the status and esteem conferred upon their peers in some other countries. It’s wholly understandable that a number of them are dissatisfied with their lot. They show it in other ways besides wearing red, shutting down schools, and marching around. Particularly in schools serving disadvantaged youngsters, the places where we most need experienced teachers, there’s a great deal of turnover—both departures for less challenged schools and abandonment of the field altogether.

But several other things are also true, and they need to be kept in mind as we observe the sea of red, watch interviews with angry or teary teachers, and wonder what...

 
 

There’s chronic and growing disenchantment with the quality of university-based teacher education schools and their ability to adequately prepare the nation’s teachers. The discord reached new heights with Arthur Levine’s groundbreaking 2006 report that found that “current teacher education programs are largely ill-equipped to prepare current and future teachers for new realities.” Five years later, Cory Koedel conducted an eye-opening study on grade inflation, which found that “students who take education classes at universities receive significantly higher grades than students who take classes in every other academic discipline.”

Enough, said The National Council on Teacher Quality, which decided about the same time that it would cast much-needed light on the caliber of teacher training in American universities. After a comprehensive analysis of over 1,000 programs, including in-depth reviews of university syllabi and other programmatic materials, it issued for the first time in 2013 a highly visible and contentious report that ranked teacher education programs, known as the Teacher Prep Review.

This new CALDER study conducted by Dan Goldhaber and the aforementioned Cory Koedel examines whether teacher education programs were responsive to these publicly-released evaluation ratings. Specifically, would they respond to an “information experiment” designed to...

 
 

One of the animating spirits of the rise of STEM education is the push for innovation—new technologies, new applications, new solutions to intractable problems. But is cultivating that creative ability as common an outcome in students as tech enthusiasts would lead us to believe? A recent study by a team of researchers from the University of California San Diego (UCSD) attempted to determine whether a gift for innovative thinking is merely something that prompts students to choose STEM classes, or whether it can be cultivated among those who believe they do not have that gift. The conclusion is that with billions of dollars of investment in STEM, American K–12 education could be putting its eggs in an unstable basket.

The locus of their work was an app-design contest open to all undergraduate students taking classes at UCSD’s Jacobs School of Engineering, whose winners would be determined by a panel of tech entrepreneurs and executives. Prize money was offered for the top three finishers, and the winners need not have progressed as far as a useable electronic prototype in order to compete; judges would be looking at things such as written plans and design mock-ups as seriously as they would...

 
 

Last month I published a five-part critique of a recent AEI paper by Collin Hitt, Michael McShane, and Patrick Wolf that looked at the connection (or lack thereof) between test scores and long-term outcomes in school choice programs. Not surprisingly, last week Pat responded with a forceful rebuttal. I think many of his points missed the mark, as I noted on Twitter. But this one I liked:

The first rule of science is that you can’t prove a negative. The second rule of science is that the burden of proof is always on the person claiming that a relationship between two factors actually exists. One develops a theoretical hypothesis, such as “The achievement effects from school choice evaluations reliably predict their attainment effects.” One then collects as much good data as possible to test that hypothesis, certainly employing an expansive definition of school choice unless and until you have an overwhelming number of cases. One then conducts appropriate statistical tests on the data. If the results are largely consistent with the hypothesis, then one conditionally accepts the hypothesis: “Hey, it looks like achievement effects might predict attainment effects just as hypothesized.” If the results are...

 
 

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