Flypaper

Jeremy Noonan

The Big Shortcut,” a striking eight-part series in Slate, reveals the broad scope of our public education system’s abuses of online credit recovery courses to boost graduation rates. Indeed, the series portrays an educational travesty of epic proportions, whose flagrant problems have rapidly proliferated as institutions at local, state, and federal levels have done little to address them.

One such group of institutions that should be doing a better job is accrediting agencies. Accreditation agencies have been around for decades, with a mission of ensuring quality control and academic integrity in our schools. That makes them perfect institutions to push back against the scourge of online credit recovery, whereby schools hand out dubious credits to students who click through watered down online courses. Yet some of these agencies appear to be not only missing in action, but complicit in this burgeoning scandal.

To illustrate this problem, herein are three accreditation standards used by AdvancED, one of the country’s largest accreditors, claiming as clients 34,000 schools worldwide that educate more than 20 million students—including the Georgia school district in which I live and where I have worked (and whose credit recovery abuses I have reported here). My district’s...

Richard Vineyard

There is a healthy national debate about charter school accountability: What is the appropriate balance between performance-based measures and parental choice? There are good arguments for both viewpoints, and the charter movement will emerge stronger because of this discourse. But advocates on both sides should be troubled by a situation currently brewing in my home state of Nevada.

The Nevada State Public Charter School Authority (SPCSA) is on the verge of closing the Nevada Connections Academy (NCA), an online K–12 charter school serving 3,300 students, based on a single data point, the school’s four-year adjusted cohort graduation rate (ACGR). In an August 23 hearing, the SPCSA decided that the school’s proposed plan to cure its low graduation rate was insufficient. A further hearing was scheduled for October, at which time the SPCSA will decide whether to close the school or reconstitute the school’s board.

The SPCSA justifies the action by citing a new provision in Nevada charter law that allows but does not require a charter school authorizer to close or reconstitute the board of a charter school if it has an ACGR of less than 60 percent.

At first glance, this may seem reasonable. After all, a 60 percent...

The impacts of school closures on student achievement have been studied in various locales, including Louisiana, Michigan, New York City, and our home state of Ohio. But a new report from Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) is the most expansive analysis on this topic to date. Analysts examine 1,204 district and 318 charter school closures across twenty-six states occurring between 2006–07 and 2012–13. The study focuses on low-achieving schools—those whose students’ math and reading scores were in the bottom quintile in their respective states prior to closure. Most of the closures took place in urban areas—69 percent across both district and charter sectors. 

CREDO offers a comprehensive view of closures in these states, including the patterns of closures and their academic impacts on students. Though not an experimental analysis, by matching students on observable characteristics and baseline achievement, CREDO does offer solid evidence on the impacts of closure. There were a few striking findings.

First, the schools that closed were on downward trajectories prior to shutting. The analysis found that average math and reading achievement were deteriorating across these schools, as was average student enrollment. The enrollment data suggest that market-oriented...

Charter opponents have long claimed that charter schools siphon resources away from the traditional public school system. The ideological motivation for this line of reasoning is clear when touted by teachers unions and their friends: i.e., calling charters parasitic unless they conform to traditional school practices, including mandatory unionization, makes that bias obvious.

But what impact do charter schools actually have on traditional public schools and the students who remain there? Are such loaded accusations deserved? Or might the presence of charters improve student outcomes through competition or as effective charter practices spill over into district schools?  

Recent research from Temple University professor Sarah Cordes sheds needed light on this question. Cordes examined the impact of charter schools in close proximity to, or even co-located with, traditional public schools (TPS) in New York City over a fourteen-year time span. Her analysis departed from previous research examining charter effects at the district level or across a much-wider radius (up to 10 miles, versus Cordes’ one-mile radius), and was also the first peer-reviewed study of the academic impacts of co-location. Data came from 900,000 students in grades three through five. The study design (a difference-in-differences model) was similar to...

Tina Long, Dennis Tiede, and Ben Lindquist

Over the last twenty-six years, a growing number of entrepreneurial educators have begun reinventing public education by starting thousands of public charter schools. These new schools have helped school districts nationwide—who authorize four out of every five charter schools—build the capacity to serve the most heterogeneous cross-section of learners in the world. As the school-age population continues to diversify in rural, suburban, and urban communities alike, more excellent public education options are badly needed. What will it take to create these distinctive, high quality options? 

Combined, the three of us have started ten new public charter schools in three regions of the country— the Pacific Northwest, the Midwest, and the Mid-South. These schools have been authorized by such public agencies as the Reynolds School District in East Portland, the Chicago Board of Education, and the Arkansas State Board of Education. At least seven of the ten schools have opened in the highest poverty neighborhoods in their respective metropolitan areas. Through our experiences, we have learned—sometimes the hard way—how best to engineer a strong school startup.

Here are six of the twelve school startup lessons that we agree are key to success (click here to read the other six):

1....

Kevin D. Besnoy

In 2015, two agencies (Mathematica Policy Institute and the Center for Research on Education Outcomes) published separate findings about the impact of online charter schools on students’ academic growth. The purpose of both reports was twofold: first, to inform local education agencies and policy makers about the growth of the online charter school movement, and second, to engage the general public in an in-depth discussion about the role that online schools should have in K–12 education. In short, both publications report disappointing academic growth for students enrolled in online schools. While they did not address the growth of gifted students enrolled in those schools, their findings must be further researched through robust empirical studies.

Most gifted students enrolled in public schools who are taking online classes are not classified as full-time virtual students, meaning that they are attending a traditional brick-and-mortar school and taking two or less online classes. This hybrid approach is a viable option for gifted programs unable to hire teachers with specialized expertise, too few gifted students identified in the school to justify a teacher for advanced classes, or programs looking to offer a curriculum that meets gifted students’ needs. Whatever the reason for leveraging online classes...

By Elliot Regenstein

Education reformers are committed to educational opportunities that provide upward mobility for the children who need it most. Early learning has been shown to improve long-term student outcomes, especially for the most vulnerable, so it should be a key component of that strategy—but it won’t be if we don’t even know which kids are having which early learning experiences, let alone what long-term effects those experiences are having. For states to effectively manage high-quality early learning requires data, and accordingly a comprehensive education reform agenda should include advocating for states to build and utilize better early childhood data systems.

Reformers know that high quality doesn’t happen automatically at any level of education. And just as in K–12, in early learning good information is key to great teaching and measuring impacts. So, education reformers, can you answer the following questions about early learning in your state?

  • Are there kids enrolled in both Head Start and state preschool? And how many of those kids are also enrolled in a child care program?
  • How does enrolling in more than one of those programs impact long-term outcomes?
  • Many states are measuring the quality of early learning programs, including Head Start, preschool, and child care—which
  • ...

Peter Greene, the author of the aptly named “Curmudgucation” blog, had a post the other day lambasting a classroom management system which, assuming he’s representing it accurately, rates kindergarteners’ behavior on a spectrum from “Democracy” and “Cooperation/Compliance” down to “Bullying” and “Bossing” and—the lowest level—”Anarchy.” The post was vintage Greene, who works in mockery and derision the way Matisse worked in oils.

In the midst of his takedown, however, came an observation that stopped me in my tracks: “Here's the thing to remember about discipline systems at school—every one of them codifies somebody's value system, sets in rules and regulations judgments like ‘being compliant is good’ or ‘a good student is one who questions authority,’” Greene wrote. “When a system codifies love of compliance (and can't distinguish between compliance and cooperation) and negative labeling of any sort of age-appropriate behavior (five year olds running! zounds!!), my eyebrows go up.”

Mine too, but not for the same reasons as Greene, one of the blogosphere’s staunchest defenders of traditional public schools. A thirty-five-year veteran teacher, he’s also a deeply informed and tireless critic of reform. So it’s no small irony that in shaking his fist at the education idiocy du jour...

Last month, The Economist ran a terrific combination feature and editorial on educational technology and how, properly deployed, it can transform the old Prussian model of schooling that most of the world has followed since the eighteenth century.

It seems that fascination with the potential of technology to improve education has been around at least since psychologist Sidney Pressey devised a “teaching machine” in 1928 that he expected to liberate students and teachers from “educational drudgery.” It “had a paper drum displaying multiple-choice questions. Pressing the right key moved the drum on,” with candy used to incentivize kids to keep going.

B.F. Skinner, the behavioral psychologist famous for “Skinner boxes,” created his own version of teaching machines in the 1950’s but, after a brief fad, everyone went back to the Prussian model.

Today, despite a rough start for full-time virtual schooling, we’re pumped about the potential of technology to boost education—excited by promising models of blended learning, thrilled by the soaring example of the Khan Academy, and encouraged by the big bucks (from Zuckerberg et al.) going into the personalizing of primary-secondary education.

That’s in the United States. The Economist astutely points out that technology can be...

Confronted with the paradox of a simultaneous rise in high school graduation and college remediation rates, researchers from The Alliance for Excellent Education examined diploma pathways across the country for evidence as to how well they match college or career expectations. They found that far too many students leave high school with diplomas that do not signal preparedness for what comes next.

The Alliance’s new report looked at all fifty states and the District of Columbia and found that there were 98 different pathways to diplomas for the Class of 2014. Slightly less than half were deemed sufficient to prepare students for college or careers (CCR diploma pathways). While college and career ready can be defined in a number of ways, the Alliance’s criteria for a CCR diploma are: 1) Any pathway that requires students to complete four years of grade-level ELA, three years of math through Algebra II or Integrated Math III; and 2) Any pathways promulgated by state institutions of higher education that fully align with admissions requirements into those institutions. All of their analyses follow from these requisites.

The most frequent reason for a rating of “non-CCR” for a diploma pathway was a mismatch between...

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