Flypaper

Last month, Emily Hanford of American Public Media filed a withering indictment of reading instruction in U.S. schools. Her radio documentary, “Hard Words,” exposed how much “decades of scientific research” have taught us about reading—and how little of it has reached classroom practice via teacher training. Her conclusion was simple and unsparing: “Schools aren’t teaching reading in ways that line up with the science.”

Hanford is echoing arguments that have been made by a generation of researchers and advocates, but timing is everything: I can’t recall a similar reaction to any other recent piece about classroom practice. And it has legs. It’s been a month since the documentary was posted, but I’m still seeing teachers sharing and discussing it on social media daily. One such response, posted to the Facebook page of Decoding Dyslexia-Arkansas, was a letter from teacher Patricia C. James to the dean of the Arkansas State University, where she graduated with a double major in Elementary Education and Special Education. James wrote that, while her teacher preparation was mostly very good, she was “totally unprepared to teach reading, especially to the struggling readers that I had at the beginning of my career...

 
 
John White

Editor’s note: Last week, leaders from many of the nation’s leading education reform organizations gathered in New Orleans for the twelfth annual Policy Innovators in Education Network conference. Louisiana’s State Superintendent of Education, John White, gave the keynote remarks. Here they are, edited slightly for readability.

Louisiana is a state that still bears very deep scars of the most horrific conditions that were perpetrated on behalf of nearly half of its population for centuries: enslavement, segregation, institutional racism. It’s a state that is digging itself very visibly out of a nineteenth-century economy and scraping to get into a twentieth- and twenty-first-century economy. Louisiana is a place of extraordinary assets, yet it’s also a place of tremendous struggle.

But the fact is, you can go into any corner in Louisiana today and you can see in its schools, in its Head Starts, in its childcare centers, in its vocational programs, and in its community colleges a level of professionalism, and a level of acumen, that would have been unimaginable here in the 1990s. Unimaginable in a state with schools that were not racially integrated forty years ago that you would see the level of professionalism, the skill, and the learning...

 
 
Neerav Kingsland

Over the past decade, I’ve deepened my belief in the power of letting educators form non-profits to run public schools. Both experience (walking into amazing public schools) and research (a track record of reading and math gains) have shown me that non-profits are an incredibly valuable tool in making public education better.

I’ve also deepened my belief in unified enrollment systems. They can give families a lot of information about public schools and make enrolling in public schools much easier.

I do not have deep confidence in my views on accountability. I often find myself moving up and down the spectrum of: no accountability (just let parents choose), to accountability-lite (require testing, share this information, but don’t intervene), to accountability heavy (require testing, give schools letter grades, intervene in lowest performing schools).

I think reasonable arguments can be made for all three approaches.

Recent NWEA Research

NWEA just published a new report using a national data set from the tests they license to schools. Many schools we work with use these tests. I’m not expert enough in statistics to evaluate the reliability of their findings, but the report raised some important issues.

Absolute test scores are highly correlated with...

 
 
David Osborne

Marc Tucker has written recent columns, one of them reprinted in The Education Gadfly Weekly, that make a very important point: Public education systems developed back in the Industrial Era are not well suited to today’s world. He argues that other countries, which started building their mass education systems much later than we did, have been able to mold them with modern realities in mind. Unfortunately, he adds, the adults who benefit from our outdated public education systems have held us back from emulating these countries because they fight to preserve the old ways.

Tucker would have us emulate Singapore and Shanghai:

In both cases, a great effort is made to place first-rate teachers and administrators in the schools serving the most disadvantaged. The expectations for students are set very high for all students and the students are given a curriculum that is matched to those standards. But the teachers are given much more time to work with each other to develop highly effective lessons and effective teaching techniques so the students can reach those higher standards. Their approach to formative evaluation provides teachers with the skills needed to figure out whether every student in the...

 
 

Just as Jackie Chan reintroduced many of us to Edwin Starr’s classic anthem, Emily Hanford did something remarkably similar last month with education research. Her hard-hitting report on our national resignation to childhood illiteracy was one of the best pieces of education journalism in recent memory. If you were one of the few who missed it, the upshot of Hanford’s stellar radio documentary was that many teachers today are still in the dark when it comes to the sizable research base on effective reading pedagogy.

It’s unsettling to think that educators in 2018 wouldn’t know about (or worse, actively resist) the remunerative power of explicit and systematic phonics instruction, but the research described in Hanford’s piece was neither novel nor surprising. In fact, her sources have been readily available since the disco era. I used this same information to launch one of the nation’s first no-excuses charter elementary schools nearly fifteen years ago. What made Hanford’s piece stand out was the explanatory tack she took in spotlighting the bizarre fallout of the now defunct reading wars that persist to this day.

Back in the early aughts, the no-excuses model was primarily a middle...

 
 

From the outside, Heather’s daughter was doing just fine at her suburban district school. “Teagan picked up concepts quickly and was one of her teachers’ favorite students,” said Heather. It was no surprise then, that she was identified as gifted.

While Teagan was excelling academically, she was having other challenges. “The older she got, the more anxiety she had about school,” said Heather. Teagan loved the academic side of school but found herself becoming increasingly isolated, especially at lunch and recess. Still, she found a close group of friends and was managing her way through elementary school, even if she was not being challenged to her full potential.

Things were very different for her younger brother, Cael. Even in preschool, it was clear that he was profoundly gifted. “When he got excited by a topic, he went really deep into it. Way beyond what you would see in a typical four-year- old,” said Heather. Given his love of learning, he was looking forward to Kindergarten, but school was a struggle for him from day one.

Cael was well above grade level in the subjects he found interesting. Yet it was nearly impossible to engage him in other subjects, and he...

 
 

High-quality curriculum is among the most cost-effective tools available to school districts to boost student achievement. Investing in it sounds like a no-brainer, but as a new study from the Center for American Progress demonstrates, school districts still struggle to do so. Authors Lisette Partelow and Sarah Shapiro discovered that only a handful of the nation’s thirty largest school districts are using high quality materials in most of their classrooms.

Partelow and Shapiro scoured the websites of each of these thirty school districts, which collectively enroll more than six million students, to determine which math and English language arts (ELA) curriculums they use at the fourth- and eighth-grade levels. They emailed each district to verify and round out the information, ending with twenty-six full profiles. To evaluate the quality of each curriculum, the researchers used two respected rating systems: EdReports and Louisiana’s annotated reviews of curricular resources. EdReports evaluates a curriculum by its usability and its alignment to college-ready standards, while the Louisiana Department of Education reviews materials for their alignment to the Louisiana Student Standards. Each has its own three-level grading system—Green, Yellow, and Red for EdReports, and Tiers I–III for Louisiana. There is significant overlap...

 
 

The demand side of voucher programs is often studied, as are student outcomes. Far less analyzed is the supply side of the equation—why private schools do or don’t participate in publicly funded voucher programs. A recent analysis released by the Cato Institute looks to redress that balance. Unfortunately, the effort founders due to the limitations of the study design.

Researchers Corey DeAngelis and Blake Hoarty sensibly theorize that when the costs of participation (increased regulation imposed on schools by the state) outweigh the benefits of greater enrollment and more revenue, private schools will opt not to participate. That is, they’ll refuse to accept voucher students. The researchers further theorize that lower-quality schools will have more incentive to participate due to the need for funding and will more readily accept regulation in order to gain the additional funding. If true, this would tend to reduce access to high quality educational options rather than expanding access.

DeAngelis and Hoarty reviewed two voucher programs: the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) and Ohio’s Educational Choice Scholarship Program (EdChoice). These were chosen because they are two of three such programs with the highest regulatory burden upon them, according to a Fordham-sponsored report published in...

 
 
Chris Minnich

When educators and the communities they serve know how much, or how little, students are learning during the year, they stand a much better chance of helping those kids reach their potential. This is especially true among historically marginalized communities, in which schools may receive fairer treatment if we rated them based on students’ academic growth from year to year, in addition to the levels at which they’re achieving. Too many states and districts only consider the latter, which is strongly correlated with students’ socioeconomic statuses, so schools’ ratings are unduly based on the population of kids they serve, not what’s happening in their classrooms. Instead, we ought to—and can—differentiate between schools with low achievement and high growth and those with low achievement and low growth.

And since the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015, many states have designed and implemented accountability plans that do just this by measuring and prioritizing growth. For example, it accounts for two-thirds of the core academic indicators on which schools in Illinois are judged. And in Georgia, it’s 50 percent. Indeed, the accountability plans of all fifty states and the District of Columbia, all of which the Department of Education has...

 
 

This is the final entry in a three-part series looking how American high schoolers feel about our education system, and how engaged they are in their classroom. Each iteration is based on the findings of Fordham’s What Teens Want from Their Schools, a report published last year based on a survey of students from forty-eight states and the District of Columbia who representing all types of schools—traditional public, public magnet, parochial, independent, and charter.

The first explored how young people feel about different activities, from teacher lectures, to group projects, to student presentations. (The general answer? Not very enthusiastic, but it depends on individual teachers and classrooms.) The second looked at what students say about their own approaches and attitudes toward school. (Teens are—surprise!—inconsistent, and a lot of students who are phoning it in at least some of the time.) This one discusses the ways in which different student groups and students at different types of schools report different levels of engagement.

Although high schoolers are often are uninterested in classroom activities and frequently put in less than their best effort, there’s much variance between individual students and student groups. These differences sometimes correlate...

 
 

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