Flypaper

Elliot Regenstein

Congressional leaders have taken pride in pointing out that early learning plays a more prominent role in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) than it did under No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Early learning has made historic advances during President Obama’s tenure, and Secretary of Education John King has gone out of his way to talk about its value. Given all that, you would think that the Department of Education’s proposed rules for school accountability and improvement systems would reinforce the importance of early learning—but in fact, they appear to do just the opposite.

Accountability under ESSA

Under NCLB, test-based proficiency in grades three and up was the primary driver of elementary school accountability. State systems generally didn’t say anything about what went on in the K–2 years, so many school districts and schools understandably ignored those years in their improvement efforts.

ESSA changed that by requiring states to include an accountability indicator of school quality or student success that isn’t based on test scores. Accountability metrics are arguably the most important opportunity embedded in ESSA to advance early learning and improve the early elementary grades. Many of the law’s changes clarify that early learning is a permissible use of funds;...

Shortly after Ohio lawmakers enacted a new voucher program in 2005, the state budget office wrote in its fiscal analysis, “The Educational Choice Scholarships are not only intended to offer another route for student success, but also to impel the administration and teaching staff of a failing school building to improve upon their students’ academic performance.” As economist Milton Friedman had theorized decades earlier, Ohio legislators believed that increased choice and competition would boost education outcomes across the board. “Competition” in the words of Stanford’s Caroline Hoxby, “would be the proverbial rising tide that lifts all boats.”

Today, the EdChoice program provides publicly funded vouchers (or “scholarships”) to more than eighteen thousand Buckeye students, youngsters previously assigned to some of the state’s lowest-performing schools, located primarily in low-income urban communities.[1] That much is known. Yet remarkably little else is known about the program. Which children are using EdChoice when given the opportunity? Is the initiative faithfully working as its founders intended? Are participating students blossoming academically in their private schools of choice? Does the increased competition associated with EdChoice lead to improvements in the public schools that these kids left?

The present study utilizes longitudinal...

Despite its age, this 2014 study examining high-achievers’ lack of reading growth during the school year is still relevant today—especially during summer vacation.

Researchers examined differences in reading growth between high-achieving and average-achieving students during the school year and the summer. They used student scores on the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) assessment, which is administered twice during each school year and tests skills such as reading comprehension and word association.

Using national and local norms to identify high-achievers, the analysts used a sample comprising two thousand schools with 171,380 students. They tracked each from the beginning of grade three until the start of grade six, looking at their scores on seven tests from fall 2006 to fall 2009. Students were excluded if they missed a test or changed schools during the observation years. Approximately eight hundred schools and forty-thousand students met the criteria.

The key findings: Reading growth among average-achieving students was rapid from September to June, but it slowed down as the year went on and virtually halted over the summer. High-achievers saw less growth than average students did during the school year, yet that rate remained almost constant during the summer (meaning they didn’t experience the drop-off...

A new case study by the Center on Reinventing Public Education examines how the cities of Washington, D.C., and New Orleans are approaching discipline so that suspensions or expulsions are “more appropriately and fairly applied while still respecting schools’ autonomy.”

The report describes how D.C.’s sole authorizer, the D.C. Public Charter School Board (PCSB), was interested in reducing charter schools’ out-of-school suspensions and expulsions—likely in the wake of accusations that they were suspending or expelling students unfairly or more often than district schools. (Across the country, schools have also been accused of racial bias when they suspend “disproportionate” numbers of minority students.) So in partnership with DCPS and other city leaders, they decided to release “School Equity Reports” that document school-level data on suspensions, expulsions, student exit, and mid-year enrollment.

The authors found that between 2012–13 and 2014–15, the average suspension rate across all city schools dropped from 12 to 10 percent, and suspensions for students with special needs fell from 23 to 19 percent (they don’t have reliable baseline data from before then). Examining comparable schools from 2012 to 2014, additional analyses show that the citywide declines in short-term suspension rates (meaning less than ten days) were driven mostly by charter schools....

Like Mom and apple pie, everyone loves and believes in a well-rounded education. Ensuring that every child gets one, however, has proven to be a challenge of Herculean magnitude—despite compelling evidence that it’s precisely what disadvantaged students most desperately need to close persistent achievement gaps and compete academically with their more fortunate peers. Enter the Every Student Succeeds Act. As this report from Scott D. Jones and Emily Workman of the Education Commission of the States (ECS) notes, while concerns about providing children a well-rounded education “have not received the same degree of attention as hot-button issues like equitable funding and accountability indicators, it could be considered a foundational element of the new federal law.”

Foundational, perhaps. But is it enforceable? Education Secretary John King has lately been using the bully pulpit to promote the virtues of a well-rounded education. “States now have the opportunity to broaden their definition of educational excellence, to include providing students strong learning experiences in science, social studies, world languages, and the arts,” King is quoted as saying by the ECS authors. “That’s a huge and welcome change.”

Yes and no. In truth, states have always had the “opportunity” to broaden their definition of educational...

Last month, on the heels of the Supreme Court's decision in Fisher v. University of Texas, the hashtag ‪#‎BeckyWithTheBadGrades began trending on Twitter. If you're not sure what that phrase means or why it was so hotly discussed on social media, don't despair. You're not poorly educated, misinformed, or illiterate. But you're probably missing a bit of cultural knowledge common among young people, particularly young people of color. The clever hashtag offers a lesson in the value of cultural literacy—often a touchy subject in education—but with a nifty twist: This time, it's our students who got a cultural reference that left many adults scratching their heads.

#BeckyWithTheBadGrades, for the uninitiated, is a reference to a song from Beyoncé's new album Lemonade. Her song "Sorry" ends with the singer telling a faithless lover, "Better call Becky with the good hair." Explains Emma Pettit of the Chronicle of Higher Education: "'Becky' is a term for a stereotypical white woman, and the mention of her "good hair" alludes to society's elevation of whiteness....Thus 'Becky with the good hair' became a succinct phrase on the Internet to call out white privilege." Fisher, who argued that the university denied her admission...

Helping lots more young Americans get “to and through” four-year college degrees is a major goal of public policy and philanthropy. In 2009, President Obama set the target of leading the world in college completion by 2020. The Lumina Foundation aspires to increase the proportion of Americans with high-quality degrees, certificates, and other credentials to 60 percent by 2025. And the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has spent over seven years and half a billion dollars on strategies aimed at increasing college completion.

All of this has led to energetic initiatives inside and outside government to reform the higher education system and provide additional supports to first-generation students—the so-called “completion agenda.”

That’s all well and good. But as I’ve argued before, even these heroic efforts are unlikely to add up to much until we dramatically boost the number of young Americans who are ready for college in the first place. The best evidence of this proposition comes from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which set a “college-prepared” level on its twelfth-grade assessments a few years ago (in addition to basic, proficient, and advanced). Chart 1 displays the percentage of twelfth-grade students nationally who have reached NAEP’s “college-prepared” level in reading and...

M. René Islas

Children with extraordinary gifts and talents experience drastically different needs. We parents, teachers, and advocates often get nervous calling attention to bright children, and we often fall into the trap of working under the radar or even making ourselves invisible.

When we do this, we pull smart kids into the shadows with us. Hiding hasn’t worked in the past and won’t work in the future. A new approach is required to meet the needs of gifted children. We should borrow the strategies and tactics that other movements—such as civil rights protesters, suffragettes, and environmental activists—have successfully used to inspire social change. It is imperative that we emerge from the shadows and work openly on behalf of gifted children.

As advocates, we must try new strategies and tactics to help society fully understand the nature and needs of gifted children, to create supportive environments for their learning, and to implement research-based practices that help them capitalize on their talents.

In short, we must change minds, change policies, and change practice. The National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) will drive initiatives to accomplish these important goals through our action and collaboration.

Change Minds

The first goal is to dispel common myths, to expand the...

Paul Hill

Editor's note: This is the first entry in our forum on charter school discipline practices. Mike Petrilli's introductory post is here.

The ongoing exchange about suspensions and expulsions in charter schools needs to be seen from the school’s perspective. As a school of choice, a charter has two obligations: to maintain a climate conducive to learning, as it promises the families who choose it, and to do all it can to meet the needs of the students it has admitted. These can provoke tension when individual children disrupt others' learning or threaten to tear down the norms of diligence that support instructional programs.

This tension is inherent to K–12 schools (even advantaged private ones). Some private schools protect their overall climate by quickly suspending or expelling kids who get out of line. But most, committed to the kids they have admitted, act much more deliberately. They give students help and many chances. Suspensions are never ruled out because they are very effective in getting some parents’ attention. But because they are understood as harmful, suspensions are brief and seldom repeated. If parents don’t respond the first time, the school tries something else.

Expulsions are never totally off the table for...

At the National Charter Schools Conference last week, Secretary of Education John King challenged U.S. charter operators to rethink their approach to discipline and “lead the way on professional reflection and growth.” Though I’ve frequently expressed my worries about the rush to reform the nation’s approach to school discipline, the secretary’s comments were measured and constructive. I was particularly struck by his insistence that there not be any “hard and fast rules or directives.” (He might want to share the speech with his own Office for Civil Rights, which could be renamed the Office for Hard and Fast Rules and Directives.)

Helping charter schools examine and improve their discipline practices is praiseworthy; making them change their approach via top-down dictates is not. (Though I’m really talking about suspensions; expulsions are a different matter, as we do need to worry about open-enrollment public schools pushing kids out.) In my view, it’s totally inappropriate for regulators—especially the feds, but also school authorizers—to get heavy-handed on the suspensions issue, for at least five reasons:

  1. The school discipline data collected by the Office for Civil Rights are notoriously fishy; attaching stakes to them will make them even more so because people work to report the data
  2. ...

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