Melody Arabo

Editor’s note: This article is part of the series The Right Tool for the Job: Improving Reading and Writing in the Classroom that provides in-depth reviews of several promising digital tools for English language arts classrooms.

It’s October and you’re finally settling in to the school year. You’ve gotten to know your students, assessed their reading levels, and planned diligently for instruction. Now you just need the right tools—more specifically, a range of text that can meet their needs. Enter Curriculet.

Curriculet is an online digital library of books and news articles intended to be used as independent reading to supplement any curriculum. According to its website, “More than 1,000,000 students and teachers in 10,000 schools love to learn and read on Curriculet,” and its resources are accessible on all devices. With books and articles geared toward grades 3–12, Curriculet strengthens a classroom library by offering online books and texts that teachers can individually or collectively assign to students. (Note: Curriculet was recently acquired by the Waterford Research Institute, a nonprofit edtech and research center. While all resources are still currently available, future plans for the site are forthcoming.)

Curriculet’s website has a clean and professional feel, with...

Regular readers know that I’m something of an apologist for “screen time,” at least within limits. That’s because there are lots of great shows, documentaries, and apps out there that can engage young minds, build critical content knowledge, and even help to create connections across the many chasms so prevalent in America today. That’s why, in the past, I’ve offered a list of the best children’s TV shows, created a collection of educational videos available for streaming, and put forward some of my favorite educational apps. (Traditionalists, fear not: I’ve also compiled a list of 100 great children’s books, The Kindergarten Canon.)

But it struck me recently that I’ve never weighed in with a list of television shows to watch as a family. That’s on my mind, as my boys are now six and nine, and thus old enough to enjoy shows that I might like too—programs that don’t make me want to poke my eyes out. (Dora, I’m looking at you.)

So this summer I reached out to friends and colleagues, and looked around on the Internet, for input on what other parents with school-age kids like to watch with their children...

A new study by the Learning Policy Institute examines past and current trends in the teacher workforce to predict future educator supply levels. The study also examines motivations behind teacher attrition and suggests several policy options to mitigate the effects of teacher shortages.

The report pulls from several databases to analyze the current teaching job market. Using data from 2011–12 and 2012–13, it predicts trends in teacher supply and demand levels through the year 2025 and argues that shortages will sharply increase over the next ten years. While LPI’s study provides valuable information, the authors caution that their predictions cannot take into account future policy decisions, changes in the economy, or other unforeseeable events.

During the Great Recession, demand for teachers decreased as class sizes expanded and teaching vacancies went unfilled due to large cuts in school budgets. By 2014, however, demand quickly began to rise—schools started to return to pre-recession teacher-pupil ratios, programs cut during the recession were restored, and student enrollment levels were predicted to grow after remaining stagnant for several years. Since then, districts have struggled to find enough teachers to staff their schools. Rural schools as well as schools with high-minority and high-poverty student populations...

This report from A+ Colorado examines Denver’s ProComp (Professional Compensation System for Teachers), a system forged collaboratively between the district and teachers union in 2005 that was on the vanguard of reforming teacher pay scales. The analysis is timely for Denver Public Schools and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, who are back at the negotiating table (the current agreement expires in December 2017).

The A+ report outlines the urgency of getting ProComp’s next iteration right. Denver loses about half of newly-hired teachers within the first three years—a turnover rate that is costly not only for the district, which must recruit, hire, and train new teachers, but for the students who are taught by inexperienced educators (research shows that effectiveness increases greatly in the first five years). Denver Public Schools also faces another challenge in that Denver’s cost of living has increased sharply. The report notes that more than half of all renters face “serious cost burdens,” meaning they spend more than 30 percent of income on housing. The situation is worse for homeowners or would-be homeowners. Thus, ProComp is a critical part of “making DPS an attractive place to teach.” 

ProComp was revolutionary at its outset. Funded in...

Next week Chester E. Finn, Jr., Bruno Manno, and Brandon Wright’s book Charter Schools at the Crossroads: Predicaments, Paradoxes, Possibilities will be released. Timed to the twenty-fifth anniversary of Minnesota’s passage of the nation’s first charter law, it takes a thorough look at what’s worked—and what hasn’t—in the charter movement's journey from a disruptive innovation to the source of school choice for almost three million kids in forty-two states. In anticipation of the release, we have created a timeline to illustrate chartering's history, as well as the Fordham Institute’s prolific commentary on, work in, and support of the sector. From early trailblazers to the emergence of outstanding networks such as KIPP and Success Academy, we invite you to explore charter schools' revolutionary and sometimes controversial past. Let's remember it as we look toward what chartering's future may hold.

Charter Schools at the Crossroads by Chester E. Finn, Jr., Bruno V. Manno, and Brandon L. Wright will be released October 25, 2016.

Timeline of Charter School History

Scroll left and right through significant events.


David Steiner

NOTE: The publication of a recent Flypaper post arguing that growth measures (like “value added” or “student growth percentiles”) are a fairer way to evaluate schools than are proficiency measures drew quick reaction both inside and outside of Fordham. Here we present a "letter to the editor" in response to the initial blog post, lightly edited.

To the editors:

I find your argument that state accountability systems should increase the weight of growth indicators, as against proficiency indicators, perplexing. Here is a summary as to why.

The most basic difficulty with the growth models you recommend is this: they attempt to estimate a school’s average contribution to students’ achievement based on past achievement within a given state and a comparison group in that state. Such a growth measure is norm-based rather than criteria-based, i.e., relative to other students in other schools as opposed to an external standard. Assigning such a heavy weight to relative growth may end up removing a school from funding and other support even if its students perform far more poorly than students in schools that would be identified for intervention.  

To focus on the details: The first problem in your recommendation is its lack...

The University of Mount Union in Alliance, Ohio is home to one of the most successful college football programs in America. The Purple Raiders have won twelve national championships since 1993 and have appeared in the title game eleven years in a row—a record of excellence matched by few collegiate teams in any sport.

If you’re wondering why you’ve never heard of Mount Union, why they’re not mentioned in the same breath as football powerhouses like Alabama, Notre Dame or Ohio State, which has only one national championship in the last ten years, you’re not alone. It’s because Mount Union plays in Division III. They are not in the same league, literally, as the big Division I teams chasing bowl berths and the chance to be crowned national champs on New Year’s Day.

Mount Union and Ohio State both play football, but it’s barely the same game. If Mount Union were to square off against even a mediocre Division I football team, it would almost certainly be crushed. If your sights are set on a career in the NFL, there is a long list of Ohio schools that offer you better odds. Not just Ohio State, which had fifty-six alumni...

Naomi Rubin DeVeaux

Public charter school boards are often overlooked when it comes to assessing who and what contributes to public charter school quality. Yet these boards play an essential role. They provide the strategic vision for the school, hire leaders to run the school, hold those leaders accountable for academic success, and provide financial oversight. My colleagues and I at the D.C. Public Charter School Board (DC PCSB), Washington, D.C.’s single public charter school authorizer, are in regular contact with public charter school board members as we carry out our responsibilities in approving new schools, providing oversight, permitting expansions and replications, and (when necessary) closing public charter schools.

The Fordham Institute’s new report Charter School Boards in the Nation’s Capital provides an important perspective about the composition and practices of boards, and how some of those practices align with strong school results. Another blog post recently summarized the report’s methods and findings, but a couple of points jumped out at me as an authorizer.

Firstly, the study confirms what we see anecdotally—that schools with strong academic outcomes have engaged, trained, and informed board members. They know their school: the demographics of their students and their strengths and weaknesses. We see...

The central problem with making growth the polestar of accountability systems, as Mike and Aaron argue, is that it is only convincing if one is rating schools from the perspective of a charter authorizer or local superintendent who wants to know whether a given school is boosting the achievement of its pupils, worsening their achievement, or holding it in some kind of steady state. To parents choosing among schools, to families deciding where to live, to taxpayers attempting to gauge the ROI on schools they’re supporting, and to policy makers concerned with big-picture questions such as how their education system is doing when compared with those in another city, state, or country, that information is only marginally helpful—and potentially quite misleading.

Worse still, it’s potentially very misleading to the kids who attend a given school and to their parents, as it can immerse them in a Lake Wobegon of complacency and false reality.

It’s certainly true, as Mike and Aaron say, that achievement tends to correlate with family wealth and with prior academic achievement. It’s therefore also true that judging a school’s effectiveness entirely on the basis of its students’ achievement as measured on test scores is unfair because,...

Juliet Squire

In Charter School Boards in the Nation’s Capital, my co-author Allison Crean Davis and I provide a wealth of new information on charter boards in Washington, D.C.—but one simple fact merits further consideration: Sixty-two different boards oversee the schools that enroll nearly half of the city’s children. Individually, each charter board makes consequential decisions for their school. Collectively, their decisions shape the evolution of the entire sector.

School-level governance means charter boards can act quickly, approve the roll-out (or roll-back) of programs in response to feedback, and even address individual student or parent concerns. Decisions at this scale can be faster, more responsive, and less bureaucratic than those at the district or state level. In short, it is far easier to change the course of a speedboat than the Queen Mary (or the Titanic, depending on your optimism regarding district reform efforts).

Depending on a school’s particular challenges, one charter board may spend a great deal of time and energy debating whether and how to increase the salaries of their teachers. Another may focus on student recruitment and retention. A third may spend most of its time searching for their next school leader. The open responses to our...