Flypaper

The Obama administration’s $4.35 billion competitive grant program, Race to the Top (RTT), intended to encourage reform and improve student outcomes in K–12 education by awarding competitive grants to states that agreed to implement certain policies and practices, including creating state data systems and adopting common standards. A new report from the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES) analyzes the implementation of RTT and evaluates its impact on student achievement. The study was conducted by Mathematica in partnership with American Institutes for Research (AIR) and Social Policy Research Associates (SPR).

The analysts collected information on state education policies and student achievement through phone interviews with state education agency representatives (conducted Spring 2013) and state-level test scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress from 2003–15. They then compared these data amongst three types of states: Early RTT states which received Round 1 or Round 2 grants in 2010 (twelve states), later RTT states that received Round 3 grants in 2011 (seven states), and non-RTT states that did not receive grants (thirty-two states).

In Spring 2013, those states which received first or second round grants in 2010 reported using more RTT endorsed policies than non-RTT states in four...

“If schools continue to embrace the potential benefits that accompany surveillance technology,” assert the authors of a new report issued by the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE), “state policymakers must be prepared to confront, and potentially regulate, the privacy consequences of that surveillance.” And thus they define the fulcrum on which this seesaw of a report rests.

Authors J. William Tucker and Amelia Vance do not exaggerate the breadth of education technology that can be used for “surveillance,” either by design or incidentally, citing numerous examples that range from the commonplace to ideas that Big Brother would love. We are all familiar with cameras monitoring public areas in school buildings, but as police use of body cameras increases, school resource officers will likely be equipped with them as well. The authors note that a district in Iowa even issued body cameras to school administrators. (Our own Mike Petrilli wondered a few years about putting cameras in every classroom.)

Cameras have been commonplace inside and outside of school buses for years, but now student swipe cards and GPS bus tracking mean that comings and goings can be pinpointed with increasing accuracy. Web content filters...

Mike Pence was elected Vice President of the United States on November 9, 2016, alongside President-elect Donald Trump. Here are his views on education.

1. Charter schools: “We want to eliminate low income and location as barriers to receiving a quality education, and public charter schools are an essential element of achieving that objective.” July 2015.

2. Vouchers: “This is a school that has greatly benefited by our educational voucher program, opening doors of opportunity to kids that might not otherwise be able to enjoy the kind of education they have here. We've increased our investment in our traditional public schools, we've raised the foundation under our charter schools, and we've lifted the cap on our voucher program." (Said while visiting St. Charles Borromeo Catholic School.) May 2015.

3. School accountability: “We grade our children every week, and we can grade our schools every year, but those grades should fairly reflect the efforts of our students and teachers as we transition to higher standards and a new exam.” October 2015.

4. Indiana’s abandonment of the Common Core: “I believe when we reach the end of this process there are going to be many other states around the...

Wisconsin is the birthplace of the school-choice movement. In the pantheon of education reform shine names like Wisconsin State Representative Polly Williams, Dr. Howard Fuller, and Governor Tommy Thompson. These pioneers gained bipartisan support by providing a targeted, prudent solution for Wisconsin parents: the educational voucher. This tool has since helped tens of thousands of families take control of education and achieve their dreams. And in Wisconsin, it combines with two other parental choice programs to serve thirty-four thousand students.

Recently, however, some growing pains in the voucher program have knocked some of the shine off of the other two. The hippest policy wonks are enamored with a new set of ideas that are supposed to help parents get the best for their kids. It’s been a while since Wisconsin was on the cutting edge.

During a talk in Milwaukee last year on his book New and Better Schools, Michael McShane was put on the spot by an audience member who asked whether Wisconsin was still a leader in education reform. McShane found a graceful way to say “no.” He pointed to the growth of Indiana’s Choice Scholarship Program, tax credit scholarships in places like Florida, and the success in...

The most disadvantaged children in Massachusetts stand to benefit most if the state’s tight cap on charter schools is loosened—a policy decision that will face Bay State voters on Election Day. Charters serving poor kids significantly outperform their district-operated counterparts in Massachusetts, and their effects are strongest for students who need them most—low achievers, English language learners, minority youngsters, and special-education students.

Passed in 1993, Massachusetts’s charter school law was among the nation’s first. From day one, the state’s charter sector has had two defining characteristics. The first is high-quality schools. The second is tight limits on how many there can be and how many students can attend them. Partly because the charters are so good, and partly because their current district schools are so unsatisfactory, tens of thousands of Bay State kids are now on charter waiting lists. According to the most recent data, 75 of the state’s 82 charter schools had lists totaling more than 37,000 individual students—more than actually attend the schools today. 

When the need is so great, the demand so strong, and the supply so skimpy, why not allow more charter schools to serve more children? Why has the cap-loosening become...

M. René Islas and Rudy Crew

Imagine being a student who is academically gifted but whose abilities are not easily identified by teachers.

Then imagine that instead of being identified for testing to determine if you are gifted, you are passed over or, even worse, identified as having behavioral challenges and being in need of special-education services.

Sadly, this scenario is the norm for the tremendous numbers of children who have untapped giftedness but who are not afforded access to gifted programs and services simply because they are not viewed as kids who ultimately could benefit from the gifted program.

For too long, policymakers and many in education have turned a blind eye to the reality that gifted students exist in all populations and communities and that giftedness is not determined by one's skin color, native language or ZIP code.

Recent research out of New York University confirmed these biases. In a study where educators reviewed case studies, participants were more likely to spot attributes of giftedness in white students, recommending a referral for gifted education evaluation, than they were for black students with the same characteristics.

Additionally, researchers at the National Research Center on Gifted Education have found that it is virtually impossible for a...

One important decision facing many voters on Election Day is whether to approve their school districts’ tax requests. These referenda represent a unique intersection between direct democracy and public finance; unlike most tax policies, which are set by legislatures, voters have, in large part, the opportunity to decide their own property-tax rates.

Some citizens will enter the voting booth well-informed about these tax issues, but for others, the question printed on the ballot might be all they know. Voters have busy lives and they may not always carefully follow their district’s finances and tax issues. This means that the ballot itself ought to clearly and fairly present the proposition to voters. In our home state of Ohio, State law prescribes certain standard ballot language, but districts have some discretion in how the proposition is written. County boards of elections and the Secretary of State approve the final language. How does the actual language read? Is it impartial? Can it be easily understood?

Let’s take a look at a couple high-profile ballot issues facing voters in November, using the Buckeye State as an example. First, here is the tax-issue posed to Cincinnati...

Ruth Wattenberg

It’s now a fairly well established fact that under No Child Left Behind, and to some extent during the years leading up to it, instructional time spent on reading in schools grew—at the expense of social studies and science (and probably the arts).

There was a certain logic at work. In most states, accountability was based mainly on reading and math tests—not science, history or geography tests. And the reading standards on which the tests were based were typically free of subject-matter content—focusing instead on such generic reading “skills” as syntax, finding the main idea, and identifying author’s point of view. From the perspective of teachers and administrators, focusing precious instructional time on these generic reading comprehension skills rather than the subject matter would seem to make sense.

Unfortunately, as anyone who is familiar with E.D. Hirsch’s work knows, this approach is counterproductive because reading comprehension depends hugely on the background knowledge that the reader brings to the text. Knowledge builds vocabulary, and when the reader doesn’t understand the words in a text, comprehension suffers. More broadly, background knowledge lets us tap into our existing knowledge to make sense of the words we read. To use an example...

Prior research has shown that one of the most important indicators of effective teachers is that they know their subject matter. This study, by American Institutes for Research (AIR), examines whether content-intensive math professional development (PD) can impact that subject matter knowledge, as well as teachers’ instructional practice and their students’ achievement.

Analysts study a popular PD program called Intel Math, which is focused on deepening teachers’ knowledge of K–8 mathematics. It offers ninety-three hours of total PD time—eighty hours of which was delivered over the summer of 2013, with the other thirteen delivered during the 2013–14 school year. The PD focuses on the conceptual foundations of math and its interconnectedness across grades K–8. Teachers also get time to analyze student work on topics covered in the PD and receive video-based coaching during which they get individual feedback, particularly on the quality and clarity of their mathematical explanations.

Roughly 220 fourth-grade teachers from ninety-four schools in six districts and five states participated and were randomly assigned within schools to either the treatment group that received the PD or the control group that did not, receiving instead business-as-usual professional development.

One of the three key findings is that the professional...

Education leaders and policymakers should be just as concerned about what happens to young people after they exit their schools, I would argue, as they are about what happens to these students before they cross the dais on graduation day. Do they have the momentum, the skills, the confidence, and the know-how to stride right into success in postsecondary education or a decently paying job? Are they ready to be engaged citizens in our democracy and good parents? Such leaders should say to themselves: I know I don’t have direct leverage after these kids graduate, but am I doing everything I can during the four or eight or twelve years when I do have some influence to prepare them for the leap into adulthood and—let us hope—the middle class?

If that makes sense to you—if you believe in “beginning with the end in mind”—then Coming of Age in the Other America should be at the top of your back-to-school reading list. To be clear, this is not an education book. Schools are treated superficially, mentioned only in passing; education reform is completely invisible. But educators and education policy wonks should read it nonetheless, because it provides one of the most...

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