Flypaper

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....

Michael H. Miller

Students at the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology produce the highest SAT and ACT scores in the nation. All of the students take at least one Advanced Placement exam, with 97 percent of them scoring well enough to receive college credit. But those high scores don’t come without intellectual cost. In taking preparatory courses for the SAT and ACT, or in preparing for the myriad AP and state tests, students often default to formulaic writing. In doing so, there is an inevitable closing of the mind; the traditional essay becomes the only acceptable mode of response, and oversimplified, superficial, and binary answers are the result.

The good news is that creative writing and standardized testing are not mutually exclusive. By encouraging students to consider multiple genre possibilities in responding to writing prompts, teachers can lead students toward more complex and creative thinking.

An early autumn harvest of five-paragraph nonfiction

In September, our English department gave each eleventh-grade student in the school sixty minutes to respond to the following Virginia End-of-Course (EOC) Writing Test prompt: “Thomas Jefferson wrote, ‘Determine never to be idle….It is wonderful how much may be done if we are always doing.’ Do we accomplish...

Susan Aud Pendergrass

A high school diploma is a critical marker in the transition to adulthood that affects labor participation, social mobility, and opportunities for success. The good news is that high school graduation rates reached an all-time high of 82 percent in spring 2014. The overall graduation rate for charter public schools, however, fell short of that number by ten points. We know that charter schools have unique characteristics that occasionally don’t hold up well under cursory examination, and when we take a closer look, we find that there is actually a lot of good news about charter school high school graduation rates.

In 2010, America’s Promise launched the GradNation campaign in an effort to raise the percentage of high school students who graduate with a regular high school diploma in four years to more than 90 percent. As part of their campaign, the group publishes an annual report, Building a Grad Nation: Progress and Challenge in Ending the High School Dropout Epidemic, focusing both on schools that have reached that 90 percent threshold and those that graduate 67 percent or fewer of their students on time (once referred to as “dropout factories”). We analyzed the same data to examine these two thresholds for...

Editor's note: This article was first published on April 23, 2015. It was updated on June 7, 2016, when Hillary Clinton became the Democratic Party’s presumptive nominee for the 2016 presidential election.

Hillary Clinton is America’s first woman to be a presidential nominee for a major political party. In November, she and Tim Kaine will take on the Republican Party's Donald Trump and Mike Pence and the Libertarian Party’s Gary Johnson and William Weld. Clinton has been a public figure since 1979, when she became the First Lady of Arkansas, so she has said much about education over the last thirty-seven years. Here are some of her more recent views:

1. Common Core: “Well, I have always supported national standards. I've always believed that we need to have some basis on which to determine whether we're making progress, vis-à-vis other countries who all have national standards. And I've also been involved in the past, not recently, in promoting such an approach and I know Common Core started out as a, actually non-partisan, not bi-partisan, a non-partisan effort that was endorsed very much across the political spectrum…What went wrong? I think the roll-out was disastrous…Remember a lot of states...

William Weld, the former governor of Massachusetts, is the Libertarian Party’s vice presidential candidate, running alongside Gary Johnson. The duo will face off in November against Republican Party's Donald Trump and Mike Pence and Democratic Party's Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine. Here are some of Weld’s views on education.

  1. Common Core: “The Common Core proposes that we go to informational texts rather than literature, that we cut back on useless appendages like Dickens and Wharton and Arthur Conan Doyle and Mark Twain in exchange for global awareness and media literacy, cross-cultural flexibility and adaptability. These are our new standards. I don’t know about no more Little Dorrit, no more Dombey and Son, no more Ethan Frome, no more Study in Scarlet, no more Speckled Band, no more Hound of the Baskervilles, not even The League of Red-Headed Men—not to mention Huckleberry Finn, the greatest American novel. So I’m not so sure about the Common Core approach to things. It kind of looks to me like an apology for muddleheaded mediocrity.” June 2013.
  2. Common Core, part 2: “My suggestion to [Massachusetts] Governor Patrick and the leadership would be: By all means, adopt the Common Core lock, stock, and barrel, and just add the MCAS and all our standards and all our
  3. ...
Kevin R. Kosar

As Flypaper readers know all too well, newly arrived Education Secretary John B. King, Jr., is in hot water with Congress, state governors, and various school reformers. The Department of Education is moving forward with rules that would turn the Every Student Succeeds Act’s “supplement not supplant” provision into a cudgel to force states to equalize school spending.

In a statement released last month, King made matters worse by trying to justify the department's overreach as keeping with the legislation’s history—going back to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965—as a civil-rights measure:

Six decades after Brown v. Board, we have failed to close opportunity and achievement gaps for our African-American and Latino students at every level of education. And in far too many schools, we continue to offer them less—less access to the best teachers and the most challenging courses; less access to the services and supports that affluent students often take for granted; and less access to what it takes to succeed academically.

So we have urgent work to do as a country to truly provide equitable educational opportunities for all students. But we believe we stand better positioned to move...

This is the third 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 in this fall by Harvard Education Press. Read the others here, here, here, here.

As noted in our first essay, chartering evolved from many theories, responded to many needs, sought to solve many problems, and embodied many hopes. These diverse tributaries flooded the charter stream with an abundance of different life forms. Yet one species has emerged at the top of the food chain, and its prominence has brought some risk to the ecosystem.

Charter schools today primarily serve poor and minority children, the kids who typically fare worst in big district school systems. Many state charter laws give priority to schools focused on at-risk students. Some states confine chartering to urban areas. And disadvantaged families typically enjoy fewer excellent school options, so they are more apt to choose charters when possible.

The “no-excuses” model has emerged as the most effective strategy for giving these kids a fresh lease...

[T]here are a myriad of strategies out there that ostensibly can make a difference for our children, but no matter which ones we pursue, their potential impact will be diminished if we do not find ways to empower poor parents to be able to exercise influence on the nature and direction of their children’s education. For me, the height of hypocrisy in America is to hear people whose children are taken care of, to oppose choices for poor parents.…I hear Clinton and Gore and all these people get up, talking about why we got to protect the existing system. Where do they send their kids? How can a teacher tell a poor parent, “I would never put my child in this school that your child is in, but you ought to keep your child here”? If it’s not good enough for their children, how in the world is it good enough for anybody’s children?

            –Howard Fuller, 1998

Howard Fuller’s famous, inaugural “Change the Complexion of the Room" speech was delivered on the occasion of the Center for Education Reform’s (CER) fifth anniversary. I had invited Howard precisely because I thought he’d “school” the growing education reform movement about why they...

Implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is looming on the horizon, and education leaders and policy makers are in need of accurate information regarding stakeholder perceptions and opinions. The Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) recently answered that call by releasing a comprehensive survey of perceptions of K–12 assessment. The survey asked a range of assessment-related questions to superintendents, principals, teachers, parents, and students.    

Some of the results are unsurprising. For instance, more than seven in ten teachers, principals, and superintendents say that students spend too much time taking assessments. Their opinions on specific tests vary, however. Six in ten teachers rate their states’ accountability tests as fair or poor, but most gave a thumbs-up to both formative assessments and classroom tests and quizzes developed by teachers. The approval gap between state tests and other assessments is most likely due to their perceived usefulness. While state tests give a summative picture of student performance, they aren’t designed to provide diagnostic information or inform instruction—functions that classroom tests and formative assessments perform well. (Of course, let’s not forget that NWEA makes millions of dollars selling a formative assessment.)

In contrast to teachers and administrators, three out of four students and approximately half...

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