Flypaper

Teenagers declaring “I’m bored” is as timeless as a John Hughes film, but may mask a serious problem: Among high school students who consider dropping out, approximately 50 percent cite a lack of engagement with school as a primary reason, and 42 percent report that they don’t see value in the work they are asked to do. In a recent Fordham study, What Teens Want: A National Survey of High School Student Engagement, we found that many students are not being served effectively by the traditional “one size fits all” comprehensive high school. At the same time, there’s growing support for giving adolescents more educational choices.

To explore what keeps these schools from proliferating and how obstacles can be overcome, Fordham, along the American Federation for Children, invited Tamar Jacoby, president of Opportunity America, Kevin Teasley, president of the Greater Educational Opportunities (GEO) Foundation, Jon Valant, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, and Zach Verriden, executive director of HOPE Christian Schools (Wisconsin Region) to participate in a panel discussion on August twenty-second, moderated by senior vice president for research, Amber Northern.

Speaking from their unique perspectives, the four panelists covered various issues within high school...

Terry Ryan

Competition or cooperation? The district-charter school debate has swung back and forth between these alternative strategies since the first public charter schools opened twenty-five years ago. No group has striven harder over that period to find a workable balance than the Seattle-based Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE). Better Together: Ensuring Quality District Schools in Times of Charter Growth and Declining Enrollment is CRPE’s latest effort to bring a moderate, research-based middle-ground to the fraught charter/district relationship that is still too often defined by acrimony, blame, and zero-sum arguments.

Better Together builds on CRPE’s deep expertise in establishing and promoting “District-Charter Collaboration Compacts.” It grows out of the conversation of “more than two dozen policymakers, practitioners, researchers and advocates” that took place at CRPE’s behest in January. Can school districts and charter schools co-exist, even cooperate, in cities with overall declining student enrollments? Is there a “grand bargain” to be struck that could benefit both sectors while—most important—serving the best interests of students, voters, and taxpayers?

District-charter collaboration is especially challenging in communities with declining student enrollments. In Rust Belt cities like Detroit, Cleveland, St. Louis, Philadelphia, and Dayton, the district population has declined by tens or hundreds...

We’ve known for a while—thanks to the National Assessment and other measures—that American primary-secondary students aren’t learning a heckuva lot of civics, never mind that social studies is taught everywhere and taking high school civics is a widespread graduation requirement. Indeed, the Education Commission of the States reports that:

  • “Every state requires students to complete coursework in civics or social studies in order to graduate….
  • Thirty-seven states require students to demonstrate proficiency through assessment in civics or social studies. [and]
  • Seventeen states include civic learning in their accountability frameworks.”

That it isn’t working very well was obvious when, for example, NAEP assessed civics in 2006 and found that fewer than a quarter of high school seniors could supply a satisfactory answer to a question about the means by which citizens can change laws. Or when the Annenberg Public Policy Center surveyed American adults in 2014 and found that only 36 percent could name the three branches of the U.S. government.

That it isn’t working very well on a long-term basis is painfully evident from the recent behavior, voting patterns, and discourse of millions of American adults, including some at the highest levels of government.

Fortunately, there’s continuing awareness...

Research confirms what common sense dictates: Students learn less when their teachers aren’t there. According to multiple studies, a ten-day increase in teacher absence results in at least ten fewer days of learning for students.

Clearly, some absences are unavoidable—teachers are only human. But compared to their counterparts in other industries and other countries, U.S. teachers seem to have poor attendance. On average, they miss about eight school days a year due to sick and personal leave (in addition to the breaks they get for school vacations and national holidays); meanwhile, the average U.S. worker takes about three-and-a-half sick days a year. Yet the first of these averages obscures the degree to which absenteeism is concentrated among a subset of teachers.

In Teacher Absenteeism in Charter and Traditional Public Schools, Fordham senior research and policy associate David Griffith takes an unprecedented look at teacher chronic absenteeism rates in charter and traditional public schools—that is, the percentage of teachers who miss at least eleven days of school, excluding professional development days and field trips.

His major findings include the following:

  • Nationally, teachers in traditional public schools are almost three times as likely to be chronically absent as teachers in charter
  • ...

As I document in Fordham’s newest study, Teacher Absenteeism in Charter and Traditional Public Schools, data from the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Education show that 28.3 percent of teachers in traditional public schools miss eleven or more days of school for illness or personal reasons. In contrast, the corresponding figure for teachers in charter schools is 10.3 percent.

While OCR describes these teachers as “frequently” absent, the report uses the term “chronically” absent, consistent with much of the initial coverage of these data. But regardless of your preferred adverb, research shows that teacher absenteeism matters: Specifically, a ten-day increase in teacher absenteeism is associated with the loss of about six to ten days of learning in English language arts and about fifteen to twenty-five days of learning in math. In other words, kids learn almost nothing—and possibly less than nothing—when their teacher of record isn’t there.

To put those numbers in perspective, imagine a hypothetical high school with 1,000 students and fifty full-time teachers. Based on the national average, we would expect about thirteen of those teachers to be chronically absent each year, meaning that between them they would miss at least...

In an essay in the new issue of The Atlantic, titled “Americans Have Given Up on Public Schools. That’s a Mistake,” Erika Christakis frets over the “dystopian narrative” that she says dominates conversations about public schools, which she insists are “nothing close to the cesspools portrayed by political hyperbole.” Her complaint refers not only to the disdain for public education expressed by President Trump and education secretary Betsy DeVos. But, she notes, “Their words and proposals have brought to a boil something that’s been simmering for a while—the denigration of our public schools, and a growing neglect of their role as an incubator of citizens.”

Christakis is a well-regarded expert on early childhood education and the author, most recently, of The Importance of Being Little (2015), which pushed back aggressively against the vision of preschool as preparation for academics, and in favor of discovery learning and play. It may, however, be her fate to be best remembered for the email she wrote two years ago while a guest lecturer at Yale, wherein she challenged students to decide for themselves what Halloween costumes to wear over the advice of college administrators who were warning them against “cultural appropriation”—donning costumes...

Robin Lake

For those in the charter movement who have viewed chartering as a systemic reform strategy (not just an escape hatch for some kids), the prevalent theory of action for the last ten to fifteen years has been a “tipping point” strategy. The idea was to concentrate growth in targeted cities until districts either responded to competition or were entirely replaced by charters.

Looked good on paper. Sadly, though, things are not going as expected. Here’s why: 

First, as charters hit significant market share, political opposition grows exponentially. School boards and superintendents are faced with a situation where they lose enrollment so quickly that the only thing they can do is close schools, lay off teachers according to seniority not quality (thanks to “last in, first out” requirements), increase class sizes, and slash their central office staffing and support levels. In some cities, districts also face an increasing concentration of the students hardest and most costly to educate, those with severe special needs, those who speak little to no English, those with the most severe behavior and mental health challenges and the least parental support. This combination of factors often triggers a slow death spiral that paralyzes politically bound superintendents and...

Dual credit courses continue to gain in popularity. After all, why wouldn’t students want to earn free college credit while still in high school? But do these courses pay dividends several years later? A new study in Educational Researcher examines whether students who took dual credit classes were more likely to get a college degree and whether differences existed based on the selectivity of the institution they attended.

Researchers from the University of Illinois examined data from the Illinois high school class of 2003. Specifically, they analyzed the impact of dual credit participation on postsecondary completion within seven years of graduating from high school. They were ultimately able to match nearly 9,000 dual-credit participants to an equal number of nonparticipants within the same high school and with a similar student profile, so as to control for various school and student-level variables. This analytic technique, known as “nearest neighbor propensity score matching,” means that students are matched at the baseline on variables such as demographics, family income, ACT scores, and high school GPA, among others. In addition, dual enrollment and non-dual-enrollment students are matched only from those who enrolled in postsecondary education. Barron’s college ratings are used to bucket institutions...

Last week was an important one for new D.C. Public Schools chancellor Antwan Wilson. The American Institutes for Research published a new report on DCPS’s progress since 2013, and the district released its new strategic plan. While the city’s charter sector has increasingly become a national model, DCPS wants to show that its latest efforts to improve have, too, been fruitful. The top-level findings of the AIR report provide the district with plenty of fodder for positive press releases, but a closer look reveals continued disappointments for D.C.’s neediest students.

First, the good news. Between 2003 and 2015, Average fourth grade NAEP scale scores rose twenty-six and twenty-seven points in English language arts and math, respectively, narrowing the gap with other large urban district schools. Eighth grade NAEP scores also improved, but did not narrow gaps compared to other urban districts. Black and Hispanic students made impressive gains on the PARCC assessment, new to D.C. in 2015, in just two years. Black students improved proficiency levels by as much as 7 percentage points in middle school ELA, while Hispanic students saw impressive results including, a large 10-percentage-point proficiency gain in elementary math. Additionally, overall graduation rates jumped 13...

On September 5, 2017, Chester E. Finn, Jr. appeared on C-SPAN’s “After Words” to interview David Osborne about his new book, Reinventing America’s Schools: Creating a 21st Century Education System. As the network describes:

He talked about the success of schools in cities such as Newark, Memphis, Denver, Oakland, and Cleveland modeling the charter school system in New Orleans, which was a part of the rebuild after Hurricane Katrina. New Orleans reconstructed their school system through the states Recovery School District (RSD) program, turning their public schools into charter schools over time. Results are showing improved test scores, graduation and dropout rates, and school performance scores. Mr. Osborne argued that regardless of what we call schools every public school should be treated like a charter school, with autonomy, performance accountability, parental choice, and diversity of school design.

Watch now:

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