Flypaper

A new report seeks to probe the impact of state takeovers of entire low performing districts—which don’t occur often and therefore have a limited evidence base. Analysts examined the results of one such takeover in Lawrence, Massachusetts, a midsized industrial city thirty miles north of Boston that is rife with deep poverty and whose primary school district includes roughly 80 percent of students who are English language learners.

The district enrolled approximately 13,000 students in twenty-eight schools in fall 2011, when the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education classified Lawrence Public Schools (LPS) as a “level 5” district, the lowest rating in the state’s accountability system, and placed it into receivership. The receiver, a former Boston Public Schools deputy superintendent, took over in 2012 and was granted broad discretion to—inter alia—alter the teachers’ collective bargaining agreement, require staff to reapply for their positions, and extend the school day or year.

The turnaround strategy had five major components: 1) setting ambitious performance targets; 2) increasing school autonomy by reducing spending on the central office by $6.6 million in the first two years, pushing funds down to the school level, and providing different levels of autonomy and support based on each...

A short new report by A+ Colorado evaluates the recent gains of Denver Public Schools (DPS) in a way that education leaders elsewhere might beneficially heed.

First, we see that more DPS students met grade level proficiency for Math and ELA in 2016 than in 2015. Then the authors list the highest achieving schools, as well as those schools that made the biggest jumps in proficiency rates. A scatter plot shows a demographic index and elementary school ELA proficiency rates. Here the serious thinking begins.

We see that a large number of DPS schools are besting their peers around the state with comparable demographics. This doesn’t necessarily mean they’re doing great. For example, Knapp Elementary, a district-run school, had fewer than 35 percent of its students read and write at grade level, yet it’s far above the state average for schools with similar concentrations of poor and multilingual students. Knapp also makes the podium when the authors rank schools by growth rates.

The authors conclude by showing the rate at which Denver needs to improve to meet its 2020 goals, and we see how much heavy lifting lies ahead. From 2015 to 2016, DPS increased the number of...

This study uses the attendance records of over 50,000 middle and high school students in a major California school district to gauge the prevalence of “part-day absenteeism”—how often students miss some of the school day but not all of it.

Overall, the authors find that part-day absenteeism is responsible for at least as many missed classes as full-day absenteeism, and that the inclusion of part-day absences raises the chronic absenteeism rate from 9 percent to 24 percent for students in grades six through twelve. On average, students in these grades were absent for all of 4.2 percent of school days and part of 12.2 percent of school days. However, while almost half of full-day absences were excused, 92 percent of part-day absences were unexcused.

Interestingly, although both full- and part-day absenteeism show a jump at the transition from middle school to high school, full-day absenteeism declines from that point onward while part-day absenteeism remains elevated in grades ten and eleven before increasing again in grade twelve. Across all grades, absenteeism varies considerably by time of day. For example, the absenteeism rate for the first and last periods of the day is around 5 percent, while the absenteeism rate for third...

Few people would disagree that Secretary DeVos's tenure is off to a rocky start. Much of this is not her fault; working for President Trump is proving to be a challenge for just about everyone, all the more so in a field where he is so widely despised. Some sort of restart is clearly needed.

To get ideas about what that might look like, I reached out to five friends, all of them public relations professionals who work in education. They have served Democrats and Republicans, previous Administrations, and officials at the local, state, and federal levels. Here are their thoughts. We’ll start with a few who asked to stay off the record.

Anonymous #1

I’d suggest a couple of things:

  1. A very different listening tour that is less public (although partly public) where she actually listens instead of just pipes up when she hears what she wants. Have her publicly wrestle with things that don’t fit in her world view.
  2. Embrace common accountability for all schools, which is the only bridge from where she’s been to where she can potentially have credibility.
  3. Do her homework. She seems very Trump-like as she makes statements or does visits. I suppose
  4. ...

Editor's note: This is the third essay of a three-part series (parts one and two can be found here) that examines the major challenges facing education reformers. The author adapted these essays from his keynote address at the Yale School of Management’s Education Leadership Conference in April.

In previous columns, I wrote about the political and policy problems we face as people fighting for change in the education space. But that’s only part of what ails our reform effort.

We also have a partisan problem.

This may be the one that’s easiest to see—though it is perhaps toughest to fix—and it spilled out into the street in the wake of Hillary Clinton’s presidential defeat. It now charges the national debate, around all policy, with a third-rail-like electricity on both sides of the aisle.

Party allegiance is the new litmus test not just for political philosophy, but for personal belief and social inclusion. Answering the wrong way on the wrong question not just on reform—but on anything—carries the weight of possible ostracism from both the left and the right. My own lens on this is through the tribe of Democrats, because those are the primaries in which I vote and the...

Matthew Di Carlo

Despite the recent repeal of federal guidelines for states’ compliance with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), states are steadily submitting their proposals, and they are rightfully receiving some attention. The policies in these proposals will have far-reaching consequences for the future of school accountability (among many other types of policies), as well as, of course, for educators and students in U.S. public schools.

There are plenty of positive signs in these proposals, which are indicative of progress in the role of proper measurement in school accountability policy. It is important to recognize this progress, but impossible not to see that ESSA perpetuates long-standing measurement problems that were institutionalized under No Child Left Behind (NCLB). These issues, particularly the ongoing failure to distinguish between student and school performance, continue to dominate accountability policy to this day. Part of the confusion stems from the fact that school and student performance are not independent of each other. For example, a test score by itself gauges student performance, but it also reflects, at least in part, school effectiveness (i.e., the score might have been higher or lower had the student attended a different school).

Both student and school performance measures have an...

City Academy High School in St. Paul, Minnesota, will celebrate a milestone in September: twenty-five years as the nation's first charter school. During that quarter century, charter school growth has been remarkable. Today, forty-four states and Washington, D.C. contain some seven thousand of these independently operated public schools, serving nearly 3 million students. Remarkably, charters account for the entire growth in U.S. K–12 public school enrollments since 2006.

Confusion abounds among educators and the broader public about the purpose of charter schools and how these independent public schools relate to school district improvement efforts. A mainline view sees them "as the research and development arm" of K–12 public education, crediting Albert Shanker, former leader of the American Federation of Teachers, with most fully envisioning this perspective. Yes, Shanker endorsed this approach, but that hardly exhausts what he—and others—thought about chartering more than twenty-five years ago when chartering was hatched.

Our analysis argues there are three ways chartering is, in the 1996 words of Ted Kolderie, perhaps its foremost theorist, "about system reform ... a way for the state to cause the district system to improve." In short, charters are research and development laboratories for districts; competitors to districts; and...

It’s one thing to behave badly. It’s another thing to take an official vote in support of behaving badly. But, lo and behold, that is precisely what the Massachusetts Teachers Association did last weekend at their annual meeting of delegates. And so a magnanimous gesture on the part of two retired delegates ended in a way that can only be described as classless and pathetic.

Mike Antonucci explains:

New Business Item #7 was introduced by retired delegates, and it called upon the union to “formally congratulate and recognize Sydney Chaffee,” the 2017 National Teacher of the Year. MTA was directed to “send a written letter of congratulations to Sydney Chaffee, and recognize her accomplishment via appropriate social media.”

Until this year, the National Teacher of the Year had never hailed from Massachusetts. Sydney Chaffee changed that, and she’s worthy of celebration and recognition. Common sense, right? Like, who in their right mind would be against that?

Meet the Massachusetts Teachers Association. They decided, by way of an official vote, that they would not congratulate Chaffee for being named the 2017 National Teacher of the Year.

Never mind that she works with a high needs population, fights for...

Editor's note: This is the second essay of a three-part series (parts one and three can be found here) that examines the major challenges facing education reformers. The author adapted these essays from his keynote address at the Yale School of Management’s Education Leadership Conference in April.

In my last column, I wrote about the policy problem we face as people fighting for change in the education space. But that’s only part of what ails our reform effort.

We also have a political problem.

By that, I mean our policies have not reached a scale where they cannot easily be undone, or a breadth where their diversity of support makes them easier to get behind. And make no mistake, the threat posed by these conditions is as real as it is existential.

Politics is a numbers game, and you need politicians to actually change how the public square interacts with the policies we hold close. So let’s be honest—when a politician reviews your proposal, he or she is asking a fundamental and self-interested question: Does this get me more friends or make me more enemies?

If the answer is that something consistently makes more enemies, it’s going to...

As I travel the country, working with educators and policymakers on improving services for gifted students, I’m usually struck by two themes, one encouraging and the other worrisome. On the positive side, people are starting to understand that advanced achievement matters and have become passionate about addressing excellence gaps—the yawning divides in advanced achievement between various racial and socioeconomic groups. But on the negative side, I’m routinely disappointed by how often that enthusiasm fades when we start talking about solutions. The conversation goes something like this:

Ability grouping? “Not in our district, people don’t believe in it.” Universal screening? “Too expensive.” Use of local norms? “Politically tricky. Pass.” Teacher and administrator training? “Preparation programs will never do it, and we don’t have the bandwidth at the district level.” And the kicker, which is so common that I’ve become numb to it: “This is an important topic, but my urban/rural district doesn’t have any bright kids” (a comment I’ve heard from principals, superintendents, and even a state school chief).

So although we have research-based strategies that shrink excellence gaps and raise overall levels of excellence, we rarely see a district tackle this problem.

This phenomenon has grown so frustrating for me...

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