Flypaper

By Peter Cunningham

One of the oldest tricks in politics is to project your own flaws onto your opponents. Teachers union leader Randi Weingarten put this age-old tactic to use in a speech to her members last week, accusing the school choice movement of one of the most enduring shortcomings of the traditional public school system: segregation.

No institution in America has done more to perpetuate segregation than public schools. Until 1954, segregated schools were legal in America, and it was the standard practice in much of the South.

Less recognized, but equally pernicious, is the structural segregation all across America, where zoned school systems maintain racial and economic segregation. Some parents of color have been jailed for trying to enroll their children in schools where they don’t live.

Today, one of America’s most segregated school systems is in New York City, where Randi Weingarten once ran the teachers union. As a recent fight on the Upper West Side of Manhattan shows, even white progressive parents resist integration.

School systems across America and the colleges and universities that prepare teachers have also done a terrible job recruiting people of color into the teaching profession and an even worse job keeping the few they...

New findings from an upcoming study from Michael Hurwitz of the College Board and Jason Lee of the University of Georgia show that, while high school grades have been rising for decades, SAT scores have continued to fall. It’s not that achievement is strengthening; it’s that grades are inflating, particularly among high schools enrolling our most advantaged students.

The study was born of (1) variation between high schools on the awarding of grades and a suspicion that students are not making the kind of gains that their GPAs suggest; (2) a general increase in A’s, which makes it harder to identify high achievers; and (2) how this complicates colleges’ admissions decisions.

The authors sought to document trends in grade inflation and the suppression of GPA-based class rank information over the past two decades. They examined high school GPAs among SAT test takers reported on the College Board’s Student Data Questionnaire, as well as descriptive data from three federal surveys: the National Educational Longitudinal Survey of 1988, the Educational Longitudinal Survey of 2002, and the High School Longitudinal Survey of 2009. They also looked at the high school class ranks of incoming freshmen, as reported by colleges through the Annual Survey...

Fordham’s recent report What Teens Want: A National Survey of High School Student Engagement found that almost all high school students want to do well in school, but that many are motivated differently. More specifically, the nationally representative survey identifies six “engagement profiles,” each constituting 15–19 percent of America’s high school population: Subject Lovers, Emotionals, Hand Raisers, Social Butterflies, Teacher Responders, and Deep Thinkers.

As the report explains, these profiles showcase a student’s dominant, or primary, mode of engagement (not her only mode, of course; students are obviously motivated to learn through multiple channels). Thus no single school-type will optimally engage all six pupils types—nor will one instructional model, strategy, curriculum, or pedagogy. Many traditional, one-size-fits-all public schools, for example, don’t have the resources or expertise to provide tailored classrooms. Therefore a better approach is providing students and families with a wide range of school types or models, so parents and children can find the one that best fits their needs. Or perhaps even a total re-imagination of the public high school, wherein we create curated classrooms and content based in part on how a student is best motivated to learn and excel.

Consider the authors’ characterization of...

Tyne Watts

I attended my first summer camp at six years old. After that experience, I looked forward to attending every year. At summer camp, I was exposed to new things with friendly staff in a positive environment. During one year of summer camp, the academic enrichment was so great that I was able to test out of the traditional second grade math program when school started. My school created a special math program for me and a few other students who attended the same summer camp with me. Two years later, I found myself being identified as a gifted student and math is one of my favorite subjects. Even though all camps don’t offer academic enrichment, they do expose kids to lots of new concepts and ideas that are valuable. I think all kids deserve stimulating opportunities like that during the summer.

Maryland’s Governor Larry Hogan issued an executive order in 2016 mandating that all Maryland public schools start after Labor Day. The executive order cites the August heat and state economic deprivation as reasons for the mandate. Starting school later may help Maryland’s workforce and economy thrive, but it also creates additional stress for working parents who can’t stay...

Confusion abounds as the U.S. Department of Education continues to send mixed signals to states regarding their obligations under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), especially when it comes to school accountability. One question is what’s allowed—and what’s required—with respect to the “academic achievement indicator.” Herewith is an explanation of what’s permitted, what’s smart policy, and how states can avoid triggering federal pushback.

Proficiency rates: Allowed but to be avoided

ESSA Section 1111(c) plainly says that state accountability systems must gauge students’ “academic achievement,” and that this must be measured, at least in part, “by proficiency on...annual assessments.” The simplest—but worst—way to do this is to keep using No Child Left Behind–era proficiency rates. Yet eight of the first seventeen ESSA plans submitted to the Department of Education did just that. Yes, it’s undoubtedly permitted and won’t elicit any pushback from the feds. But it’s also unwise and inequitable.

Measuring school quality via proficiency rates encourages educators to focus on “bubble kids,” those just below or above the proficiency cutoff, to the detriment of other students. But they aren’t the only children who should matter to states. Among those neglected when proficiency...

The era of hyperactive education policymaking is about to come to an end.

That might be hard to believe, given this summer’s high-decibel policy disputes, both in Washington and in the states. The implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA); debates about a potential large-scale federal school-choice initiative; and deep disagreements about civil rights enforcement continue to captivate—and roil—all of us involved in education policy, in D.C. and around the nation.

But peek around the corner, and the picture looks much different. ESSA plans will be approved, and states will go on their merry ways. The Trump Choice proposal will almost surely be DOA in Congress. The Office for Civil Rights will take a new tack, and that will be that. The Department of Education will go back to being a sleepy little agency. And at the state level? There will be perennial fights over funding, charter expansion, and the teacher pipeline, but what’s the next big issue to captivate lawmakers on the education front? There isn’t one.

None of this is news to the big national foundations, which have played such a critical role in policy reform in recent decades. For that, they mostly deserve our thanks,...

By Ed Jones

David Brooks's recent essay, “How We Are Ruining America,” has touched a nerve with a lot of people, Robert Pondiscio among them.

As Robert puts it:

There is a language of power. It is the language of privileged parents, affluent communities, and elite universities. It’s the language of David Brooks. But he’d do well to recognize that you don’t learn that language in those places. They don’t let you in until or unless you demonstrate command of it.

All good, and a dozen years ago, I'd have left it at that. The mission of education reform, I thought, is getting more poor kids and minorities into college, which offers first-generation access to the type of high-paying entry work I enjoyed at age twenty-two. It also brings political and cultural power.

Yet Robert also uses another term, the “language of upward mobility.” Getting that right, teaching more kids that language, is a different task today than it was in 2000.

Allow me to paint you a different picture of power.

As the summer temperatures climb, the outdoors beckon, and I find myself near waterside marinas. From the Cleveland-Toledo Lake Erie coast, to the Pittsburgh-to-Cincinnati Ohio River banks, to...

By Max Eden

Last week, Senator Lamar Alexander fired a shot across the bow of the U.S. Department of Education, suggesting that acting assistant secretary for elementary & secondary education Jason Botel “hasn’t read [The Every Student Succeeds Act] carefully.”

Alexander apparently decided to keep his powder dry a month ago after the Department released the “Feedback That Shook The World,” telling Delaware that its plan to use student performance on Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exams as a metric for college readiness was out of line, and declaring that the state’s goals for boosting proficiency rates were not “ambitious enough” to merit approval. AEI’s Rick Hess likened the Botel letter to an exercise in Soviet bureaucracy, and Fordham’s Mike Petrilli called it “mind boggling” given Secretary DeVos’s insistence that she’d allow states significant flexibility.

After the initial rumblings around its mid-June letters to Delaware, New Mexico, and Nevada, the Department appeared to back down. It issued a FAQ telling states that they didn’t necessarily have to make every change that Botel had demanded for their plans to be approved. And its next round of state feedback took on a different tone. The first three letters had been...

As the term implies, “personalized learning” (PL) tailors educational approaches to an individual student’s needs, strengths, interests, and aspirations. This may sound abstract to many, but a new report paints a clearer picture of personalized learning as used in practice. RAND Corporation analysts examine PL implementation and student outcomes across forty U.S. schools receiving a Next Generation Learning Challenge (NGLC) grant. Most of these schools were less than three years old when RAND began its study in 2012, and thirty-one are charters. Together, the NGLC schools enroll roughly 10,600 students, primarily low income or minority. 

“In its ideal form,” RAND analysts write, “PL allows for greater variety in what students are working on at any moment, while still setting ambitious goals for each student’s progress.” Researchers explore the strengths and challenges of PL implementation—how schools are working to meet these ideals—mainly via surveys of educators and students in NGLC schools. As a point of comparison, analysts draw survey data from a national sample of non-NGLC schools. They organize their findings around four marks of PL implementation: the use of learner profiles, personalized learning paths, competency based progression, and flexible learning environments. Here are some of the main findings....

The Fordham Institute, among others, has long worried that the country’s focus on the “proficiency gap” is leading schools to ignore the “excellence gap”—the divide between white students and students of color at the highest levels of achievement. Now comes good news that this gap can in fact be narrowed. January’s issue of Gifted Child Quarterly features a 2016 longitudinal study by Paula Olszewski-Kubilius et al. that details the outcomes of Project Excite—a STEM enrichment program for “high-potential” black and Latino students in suburban Illinois.

This study addresses the general thrust of previous research that suggests black-white and Latino-white achievement gaps widen faster among high-achieving students, particularly in math and science. The authors indicate that these findings reflect the compounding nature of advantage and disadvantage. Think of compound interest: The further ahead you are, the faster you climb. Knowing this, Project Excite adopts an approach that financial advisors shout from the rooftops: Start early and invest consistently.

Between 2000 and 2013, researchers tracked the performances and outcomes of 361 Project Excite participants. Each cohort consists of third graders from five schools in a suburban Illinois school district. Acceptance into the program is based on math, non-verbal reasoning, reading skills, teacher...

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