Flypaper

The surprising best seller Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis has become something of a cause célèbre on the grounds that it explains the appeal of Donald Trump to the white underclass (from which author J.D. Vance emerged). Writing in the American Conservative, Rod Dreher aptly notes that the book "does for poor white people what Ta-Nehisi Coates's book did for poor black people: give them voice and presence in the public square."

The book should also be required reading among those of us in education policy. It reminds us of the roles that institutions play (and fail to play) in the lives of our young people, and further suggests that education reform cannot be an exclusively race-based movement if its goal is to arrest generational poverty. Poverty is a "family tradition" among Vance's people, white Americans of Scots-Irish descent who were once "day laborers in the Southern slave economy, sharecroppers after that, coal miners after that, and machinists and millworkers during more recent times."

Vance emerges as something of an emissary to elite America from Fishtown, the fictional composite of lower-class white America that Charles Murray described in his 2012 book Coming Apart. This growing segment of American...

Michael B. Horn

In Enrollment and Achievement in Ohio’s Virtual Charter Schools, the Fordham Institute takes a robust, nuanced look at Ohio’s substantial number of e-schools (more commonly known as full-time virtual charter schools). The report paints a troubling picture of these schools’ performance and offers valuable policy recommendations for driving K–12 online learning toward a better future. But readers should note that it also suffers from four significant limitations that are shared by most other studies of virtual charters. This is not the analysts’ fault; it’s intrinsic to the data that are currently available to measure the outcomes of e-school students.

First, the study does not control for course-taking patterns. It usefully reports that students in Ohio’s full-time virtual schools are “more likely to enroll in basic and remedial math courses” than students in brick-and-mortar schools. It would seem plausible—though the authors don’t mention it—that this might have an adverse impact on pupil achievement as gauged by state tests. Determining why so many more students take lower-level math courses in the virtual environment is an important next step to build on this research.

Second, the state tests given in and before 2013—those whose results were used in the Fordham report—exhibit a serious...

In Educational Entrepreneurship Today, edited by Frederick M. Hess and Michael Q. McShane, a gaggle of authors examines how entrepreneurship can fuel the engine of educational innovation. The authors paint a complex portrait of risk, reward, and regulation.

The book defines educational entrepreneurship as “risk-taking behavior intended to boost school productivity or offer new services in a manner that makes a lasting difference for students.” The authors remind us that the very premise of entrepreneurship is novel within education. Typical initiatives in this realm are-risk averse because failure may harm children. Yet recent years have provided plenty of examples of entrepreneurial effort.

One theme throughout the book is that the structure of organizations and initiatives matter, although the authors differ on what structure is best. Some favor small, precisely targeted programs like the Tiny School Project, which focuses on testing educational ideas on a micro level. Others focus on scaling successful initiatives, such as the KIPP charter network’s growth from a single classroom to over two hundred schools across the country.

Entrepreneurial ventures like Teach For America, TNTP, the Broad Residency, and New Leaders for New Schools have both grown and become pipelines for educational talent to undertake yet more initiatives. The...

A new Mathematica study examines whether school-level value-added measures adequately capture principals’ effectiveness. Many districts hold them accountable for their schools’ academic performance; this study probes that assumption by asking an important question: Does school-level value added actually reflect the principal’s contribution, or does it mostly reflect other school-level influences (such as neighborhood safety) that are outside the principal’s control?

The authors use longitudinal data from the Pennsylvania Department of Education to study school and principal effectiveness for grades 4–8 from 2007–08 to 2012–13. They include in the data set principals who have been involved in a leadership transition—meaning that, during the analysis period, they started leading a school they had not led before or were replaced by incoming principals. The authors compare departing principals with successors who assumed their positions during 2009–10 to 2012–13. (Alarmingly, 41 percent of schools serving students between the fourth and eighth grades experienced such leadership changes during the study window.) To disentangle the principal’s contribution to growth from the effect of other school-level factors, they sought to isolate the portion of the principal’s impact that is consistent across time and across different samples of students—i.e., the effects on student achievement that principals persistently demonstrate.

Here’s the bottom line: School-level...

Felicia A. Dixon

Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose. — Bill Gates

How do you define success? Is it the accomplishment of one’s goals? Is it the attainment of wealth, position, honors? Is it happiness? Is it all of these, selected from a number of definitions on Wikipedia?

Perhaps more important to teachers of the gifted is this question: How do we view success for our students? Do we see it as an individual entity for each student, determined by the growth in thought and sophistication evident in the work submitted? Or do we have one predetermined definition of success against which each student’s individual efforts are measured? 

On the first day of class with gifted adolescents, do we treat them as successful individuals? Or does the student have to earn success in our class in order to merit such a distinction?   

We all know students who have not been overtly successful. Perhaps they have chosen a less-than-prestigious career and are viewed as not reaching their potential. Counseling psychologist Barbara Kerr attended a prestigious school for the “best and brightest” young people in St. Louis. She was fearful of facing her high school classmates at...

Michael Podgursky

The Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a D.C. think tank aligned with teacher unions, has released yet another in a series of reports purporting to show that public school teachers are “underpaid.”

Many papers, articles, and reports have been written attempting to compare teacher to non-teacher compensation. Making such comparisons presents many challenges. Obviously, working conditions and hours of work differ (e.g., teachers have summers off and a shorter on-site workday), as do job security and the mix of salary and benefits.

However, in today’s economy, there is one very big difference that is not so visible to the naked eye but was cleverly pointed out in a study by Jason Richwine and Andrew Biggs several years ago. The pension benefits for public school teachers (and most public employees) are far more generous than for private sector professionals. Moreover, the way that the U.S. Department of Labor measures those teacher pension benefits greatly understates this gap because the Labor Department underprices the teacher benefit.

The vast majority of private sector professionals have individual retirement savings accounts to which employers make a contribution. These are called “defined contribution accounts” and go by tax code names such as 401(k) or 403(b)....

Michael W. Kirst

I am glad that Finn agrees with my views on the limitations of a single number to report school status. Parents are used to student report cards that have several metrics and do not see the need to oversimplify their child’s performance with a single grade or number.

His comments on the new accountability system for California’s state law on school finance are, however, premature and uninformed. The document he refers to is a preliminary policy document not meant to be disseminated to the general public or parents. The document he cites is similar to the concept of an operating system of a new smart phone. The actual user interface (e.g., a phone) comes later. While California will act on the broad policy dimensions in September, the public reporting design will not appear until later. Some metrics will be top down from the state, but others will be locally designed using, for example, surveys vetted by the state.

However, this is a difficult task and will require continuous improvement. The California accountability law contains eight state priorities, twenty-two metrics, and thirteen subgroups. ESSA has many dimensions and subgroups as well, so some patience with the people charged with implementing...

Ohio Auditor of State Dave Yost calls for “learning-based” funding approach for e-schools

COLUMBUS (OH) – Today, Auditor of State Dave Yost opened a two-day charter summit by issuing a challenge to charter advocates and policy makers: Overhaul e-school funding. Specifically, Yost urged a major shift in the way the state pays e-schools—from funding based on enrollment and attendance to a modernized, competency-based funding model. This approach, already being piloted in a few states, would provide payments to e-schools when their students demonstrate learning rather than simply by awarding funding based on “time in a chair.”

“As Auditor Yost points out, online students can learn anytime, anywhere,” said Chad L. Aldis, Vice President for Ohio Policy and Advocacy. “Unfortunately, seat-time funding policies are not well-aligned to online learning. Competency-based funding would place the emphasis where it belongs—on student learning and mastery, rather than on whether a child is logged into a computer.”

Auditor Yost called on the legislature to rework the funding structure with the goal of producing an “educated citizen.” While putting forward several principles to guide the debate, Yost made clear to summit attendees that the experience and expertise of charter leaders would be needed in crafting...

Dave Yost

On August 11, 2016, Ohio’s elected state auditor delivered the following remarks during the opening of the Ohio Charter School Summit. His comments address the state’s well-documented struggles with online education head on and offer practical, learning-focused ideas for improving the sector.

We are here, very simply, because we care about educating our children and understand one very simple truth: not all children are the same. And here is a second truth that is like it: not all schools are the same.

Put another way, not all kids can learn in a given school, and not all schools will be able to teach a given child.

All the other arguments in favor of school choice—innovation, competition, efficiency—all of them are secondary to this one idea, that we owe to our children their best opportunity to learn. It is the first principle. School choice is not a policy option, it is the only logical conclusion—a conclusion that is proven and measured in the lives of these young people we met a few minutes ago, and many more like them.

Your work, your lives, and this conference are all about increasing the number of these shining stars in...

Charter school performance is a mixed bag: some charters outdo their neighborhood district schools, others show no difference, and some do worse. A new Mathematica meta-analysis attempts to identify the characteristics common to each of these groups. What, in other words, makes a high-performing charter schools so effective?

As author Phillip Gleason notes, it is difficult to carry out studies of this nature. Much of the data are based on observation, so determining causation is essentially impossible. Observation also takes time and costs money, which usually necessitates small sample sizes. And many of the “practices” being studied are abstract concepts, such as principal quality, that are difficult to measure quantitatively and objectively.

To mitigate these impediments, Gleason compiled seven studies that used different methods—including observational study, survey administration, and lottery-based designs (comparing students who won a spot via charter lotteries to those who did not)—to study charters schools around the country. The sample sizes in each of these studies range from twenty-nine to seventy-six schools.  

Three charter characteristics were found to be linked to high student achievement in many studies (therefore showing a ‘strong association,” according to Gleason—a term he never defines quantitatively): longer school days and/or school years; a...

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