Flypaper

My friend Tom Loveless is right about most things, and he’s certainly right that scoring “proficient” on NAEP has nothing to do with being “on grade level.” He’s also right that Campbell Brown missed this point.

But Tom, alas, is quite wrong about the value of NAEP’s trio of “achievement levels” (basic, proficient, advanced). And he’s worse than wrong to get into any sort of defense of “grade level,” as if that concept had any valid meaning or true value for education reform.

In his words, Tom’s post sought “to convince readers of two things: One, proficient on NAEP does not mean grade-level performance. It’s significantly above that. Two, using NAEP’s proficient level as a basis for education policy is a bad idea.”

We agree on the first point, not on the second—and not on his implicit argument that there is merit in basing education policy on “grade-level” thinking.

Unless one is talking about academic standards—Common Core or otherwise—or about the cut scores on high-stakes, end-of-year, criterion-referenced exams like PARCC and Smarter Balanced, “grade level” has no meaning at all. It’s a misnomer that we adopted during decades of using norm-referenced tests. These were “normed” such that the average...

Thomas P. Hébert

During my first year at the University of South Carolina, I often purchased a morning cup of coffee in the university’s student union. Early one morning, I spotted a young man dressed in a business suit and bow tie carrying on an animated conversation with a group of undergraduates. I had regularly encountered the young gentleman—with his ubiquitous bow tie—as I traveled across campus. Eventually I learned he was Chase Mizzell, a leader in the university’s student government. As an avid reader of the school’s daily newspaper, I was able to follow this charismatic young man’s political career.

In reading the Daily Gamecock, I discovered that Chase was an Honors College student from Folly Beach, South Carolina, and a sophomore enrolled in the international business program. I learned that during his freshman year, he was having lunch in the restaurant in the Honors Residence Hall and noticed extra food being carried away at the end of the lunch shift. He asked food service employees what became of the leftovers and discovered that they were thrown away. Chase knew immediately that he wanted to change that. Realizing that the city of Columbia faced the challenges of a growing homeless population, Chase began...

Though it sometimes appears that Education Secretary John King didn’t get the memo, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) represents a significant devolution of authority from the federal government to the states. This is a praiseworthy development that, in our view, better fits America’s constitutional principles of federalism and opens up many areas of education policy for innovation and improvement.

That devolution includes the heart of ESSA: school-level accountability. States now enjoy a freer hand to decide how they want to rate (or “grade”) their schools and determine which are worthy of either praise or aggressive intervention. The new law doesn’t give states carte blanche; they can’t move away from student achievement as a major indicator of quality, for example. But they certainly have more leeway than under No Child Left Behind.

So what forms might—and should—this take? How might states approach the particular challenge of redesigning their accountability systems? The contestants in our “accountability design competition” in February surfaced ideas aplenty and made many promising suggestions. With a few months of reflection on them, we see that there are competing camps or worldviews when it comes to ESSA accountability (much as there are regarding school choice). We see...

The ten-dollar founding father without a father,
Got a lot farther by working a lot harder,
By being a lot smarter,
By being a self-starter
John Laurens on Alexander Hamilton, Hamilton

Seven years ago at the White House, Lin-Manuel Miranda described the premise of his still unfinished musical. And an esteemed crowd laughed.

Miranda explained that he’d be performing a song from his project “about the life of someone who embodies hip hop.” Standing on a stage in the storied East Room—where the 1964 Civil Rights Act was signed, where Gerald Ford took the presidential oath of office—Miranda had to improvise, “You laugh, but it’s true...” The gathered glitterati thought “Alexander Hamilton” was a punch line.

Miranda is now revered. He’s on the cover of Rolling Stone. He won a MacArthur “genius” grant. His production, Hamilton, won a Grammy and a Pulitzer. Sunday it won 11 of the 16 Tony awards for which it was nominated. But before all of that, there was the White-House laugh.

But so it goes with virtually every big idea worth having. As Einstein said, “If at first the...

Lisa Hansel

If there were just one thing I could say to fans of open educational resources (OER) and personalized learning, it would be this: “Atomized units of knowledge don’t build anything.” That quote comes from an education reformer who used to teach in a high-powered classical school. She and her colleagues delivered the type of rigorous, well-rounded, and carefully sequenced education that has produced thoughtful leaders and scholars for thousands of years; schooling of that sort is often dismissed as too hard for most kids or too twentieth-century for today.

Sadly, in dismissing the classical or liberal arts approach, we’ve also unintentionally thwarted our most sacred goal: that all students become strong readers. As the last several decades of literacy research clearly demonstrate, reading comprehension requires a very broad base of academic knowledge and a massive vocabulary. In short, to be a good reader, you have to know all of the terms and ideas that writers will use without providing definitions or explanations (e.g., Supreme Court, solar system, David and Goliath, etc.). This base of knowledge, which literate adults are assumed to have and children therefore need to accumulate, is enormous. We must be highly efficient in order to give them all...

This report examines the measures of school performance—such as reading and math proficiency rates—that are included in existing state accountability systems and provisionally assesses their alignment with the requirements of the newly minted Every Student Succeeds Act.

Nationwide, the report identifies a total of sixty unique measures—though no individual state uses more than twenty-six, or fewer than four—that they divide into seven categories: achievement, growth, English language acquisition, early warning, persistence, college- and career ready, and “other.”

This schema allows them to generate some useful statistics. For example, all fifty states and the District of Columbia measure achievement in English language arts and math, and many also measure achievement in science (twenty-seven states plus D.C.), social studies (fourteen states), or writing (five states). Similarly, forty-five states plus D.C. measure growth in ELA and math, yet only eight make the attempt in science, and only three in social studies.

At the high school level, forty-nine states plus D.C. include four-year graduation rates. Many also include other persistence measures, such as an extended-year cohort graduate rate (thirty-seven states) or dropout rate (eleven states). Furthermore, thirty states include some other measure of college and career readiness, such as participation in or performance on...

Public Impact and EdPlex have released a new websiteprocess guide, and set of resources for charter school authorizers to support school restarts. Restarts occur when an underperforming school is closed and a new school with new management opens to serve the same students. The restart strategy differs from other major interventions, such as transformation (replace school leader, implement research-based strategies), turnaround (replace school leader and at least 50 percent of staff, implement new instructional model), and school closure. According to the authors of the guide, restarts are the more effective strategy: closures negatively affect student attendance and achievement, while preliminary research shows better student outcomes in restarts than transformations or turnarounds. A key issue with turnarounds is finding great school leaders and teachers. Done well, restarts can mean rapid improvement for low-performing schools (we acknowledge, however, that some believe that a core part of the charter model is simply closing failing schools, period). 

 The resources and process guide in particular are meant to increase the likelihood of restart success and sustainability by providing authorizers with a practical “how-to” for getting the job done. The guide consists of nine steps, from the planning stage through post-opening, that include community engagement, recruiting,...

In April, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report examining recent trends in the racial and socioeconomic composition of America’s public schools. Between the 2000–01 and 2013–14 school years, the study finds, the fraction of U.S. schools that were both high-poverty (75 percent or more eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, or FRPL) and high-minority (75 percent or more African American or Hispanic students) rose from 9 to 16 percent.

While the GAO analysts caution that their analyses “should not be used to make conclusions about the presence or absence of unlawful discrimination,” to headline writers at the Washington PostUSA Today, and the Los Angeles Times, the findings suggest “resegregation” in American schools. The Post editorial board declared a “resurgence of resegregation.” But is this a fair interpretation?

There are at least two problems with drawing such a conclusion. The first is that the GAO analysis doesn’t take into account overall demographic trends. During this time period, student demographics were changing in America. As a share of the national student population, Hispanic students increased from 16 percent to 25 percent from 2000 to 2014 (though African American pupils remained virtually unchanged as a fraction of the population). Due to the increase in...

In a series of recent posts, I’ve been examining what we reformers (and our friends in philanthropy) might do to spur better outcomes for kids besides obsessing over laws and regulations. I’ve looked at the promise of building new systems through charters or ESAs, as well as "disruptive innovations" that target students directly. Let me continue in that vein by looking at efforts to go around “the system” and put useful tools directly into the hands of parents and teachers.

Power to the parents

A major theme in education reform has always been the imperative to give real authority to the consumers—and, inevitably, take some of it from the providers. Standards, testing, and accountability have been pitched in part as mechanisms to get objective information to parents (and taxpayers) unfiltered by the spin of local administrators and elected officials. School choice, too, is all about vesting parents with a real say in the education of their children.

What else might be done to empower and inform parents? One of the most impressive creations of the reform era is GreatSchools.org. By providing clear, understandable information that is accessed by somewhere between one-third and one-half of the nation’s parents in any given year, GreatSchools has arguably...

This is the fourth in a series of essays marking the twenty-fifth anniversary of America’s first charter school law. These commentaries are informed and inspired by our forthcoming book (co-authored with Bruno V. Manno), Charter Schools at the Crossroads: Predicaments, Paradoxes, Possibilities, to be published this fall by Harvard Education Press. Read the other essays herehere, here, and here.

Our first essay paid homage to chartering’s origins, a prominent strand of which was the mounting awareness that K–12 education’s “one best system” was not meeting the educational needs of every child. One response, via the policy mechanism that became known as “chartering,” was to create a lightly regulated marketplace of diverse and generally autonomous schools that would strive to ensure high-quality education for all children—especially boys and girls in poverty—and empower families to determine what school best suits their singular needs. That was the theory, and a noble one it was. If only it had worked as well as its architects hoped.

In general, the charter marketplace—where it’s had the freedom and capacity to grow in response to demand—has done pretty well at responding to families’ non-educational priorities, such as safety, convenience, and a welcoming atmosphere....

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