Flypaper

For decades, education technophiles have envisioned a future wherein gee-whiz devices and engaging digital applications whisk students away from the doldrums of traditional classroom instruction and into a fun world of beeping computers, self-paced lessons, and cloud-based collaboration.

That may yet come to pass—and at some outlier schools, is already here—but don’t be surprised if the true transformative power of education technology is most evident when it comes to something old-fashioned: basic education research. The declining cost and easy availability of substantial computing power may enable us finally to unlock the black box of the classroom, giving scholars and teachers much more insight into what is and isn’t working. Technology can do more than just keep students engaged; it can equip teachers, school and district leaders, and policymakers with the sort of insights and analytics that can help them make better decisions for students.

A Challenging Research Subject

Studying the actual behavior of teachers and students has always been a difficult and expensive proposition. The most respected approach involves putting lots of trained observers—often graduate students—in the back of classrooms. There, they typically watch closely and code various aspects of teaching and learning, or collect video, take it back to...

A new study by RAND examines teachers’ support of their state standards and tests. It’s a nationally representative sample of K–12 teachers, and though educators from all subjects were surveyed, the report focuses only on the responses of math and English language arts (ELA) teachers. It also compares responses from educators who were surveyed in 2015 and 2016 on a subset of repeated questions and looks into how certain teacher and school characteristics are related to teacher support or lack thereof. The survey has a response rate of 45 percent.

There are key five findings. First, nearly 90 percent of both ELA and math teachers support the use of state standards for instruction. Slightly higher percentages believe that math and ELA standards provide a foundation for postsecondary preparation for students and that they support alignment of the curriculum from grade to grade. However, among those same teachers, only about a third say they support the use of current statewide tests to measure mastery of the state standards in their respective subject area.

Second, though standards enjoy wide support from teachers overall, teachers in schools with more lower-income students are even more likely to support the use of state standards in...

Rates of college completion for Hispanic students have lagged over the past decade even while the number of Hispanic high school graduates has grown. This—combined with issues of disproportionate poverty in Hispanic communities, their growing share of the college-age population, and concerns about racial and economic inequities—has led to an Education Next study examining what might be done to help more Hispanic students enroll in and graduate from college.

The authors examine the effects of the National Hispanic Recognition Program (NHRP), an intervention undertaken by the College Board to recognize outstanding Hispanic high-school students and encourage them to enroll in college. The initiative identifies the highest performing 2.5 percent of Hispanic students across six geographic regions in the United States. Student eligibility for the award is determined by their eleventh grade Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test scores, holding a GPA of at least 3.5, and having an ethnicity that is at least one-quarter Hispanic. The NHRP is an intervention that changes two key features of a Hispanic student’s high-school experience: one, the College Board notifies students and school staff about the existence of the NHRP; and, two, with the student’s permission, they share a list of NRHP honorees with...

Sandy Kress

Eli Broad just announced his retirement from leadership in his foundation. I want to use the occasion to pay tribute to him and express gratitude for all he has done to improve the nation’s schools. In my view, he was without peer among major philanthropists in making a positive difference in this arena.

First, I want to focus precisely on his dedication to the reform effort and his decision to be a partner with others in the cause, rather than being merely a “lone ranger.” This is no small thing. I recall with sadness the many instances in which very rich benefactors came on the scene with “magic bullets,” their own solutions to fix the schools. They’d throw millions, if not billions, at implementing favored solutions. And, of course, needed talent and energy would go flying in the direction of dollars, weakening and diluting the energy that was required to stay on course in sustaining effective reform.

Not so with Eli Broad. Don’t get me wrong. He had a mind of his own and could be tough in pushing his ideas. But he always worked with a sense of mutuality within the scope of the overall reform movement.

I’ll never...

Christine Campbell

Across the country, in Atlanta, Camden, Indianapolis and at least ten other cities, more schools are operating under a kind of partnership school model: a “third way” governance strategy that breaks through district-charter divides. Some education leaders, like Fordham Institute president Mike Petrilli, think this approach should be avoided at all costs. But others, myself included, see it as a potentially promising way to turn around struggling schools or increase the number of quality school options in a neighborhood.

Partnership schools might be thought of as the next stage in district-charter collaboration or a key component in implementing a portfolio management strategy. With a few mature exceptions, most of these arrangements are relatively new. The theory behind what their role is and how well it delivers is largely untested, and student outcomes have not been expressly studied. A new CRPE brief offers a lay of the land on this promising approach and outlines questions that policymakers and researchers should consider as more of these partnerships grow.

Partnership schools, like charter schools, enjoy more freedom than a traditional district-run school. But partnership schools are legally distinct from charter schools. In some cases, districts can open them through...

Roy Ghosh

I wanted to be the Selena Gomez of Science. The Justin Bieber of biology. The Emma Watson of…well, you understand. I wanted adulation for being a Science Olympian. There was just something about the recognition from having one’s work appreciated by adoring fans that I wanted. I sought validation for all the work in my labs.

Believe it or not, I somehow thought it was going to happen easily. Of course, Taylor Swift entertains millions of people and writes songs for others. She is in public and her job is to make others happy. I honestly did not see why tiny breakthroughs in the creases of the scientific world for an audience of gray-haired standard bearers in peer-reviewed publications didn’t earn me my own Grammy and fan club as well.

I did not easily give up on the idea. I tried building my own venue, a compact lab in my basement, and began reaching out to people beyond school. I created a winning team of student scientists to compete in the National Science Olympiad (NSO)—it had the word “national” in it after all. Our team was quickly a force with which to be reckoned.

Yet none of our accomplishments got...

Marc Tucker

In last week’s blog, I pointed out that, when the first PISA results were released in 2001, students in Germany and the United States both performed at about the average for all countries in the survey, but Germany reacted with what came to be known as “PISA Shock” and the U.S. shrugged. In the years that have gone by since then, Germany has risen sharply in the rankings, while the U.S. remains in the middle, having improved not at all. The Germans, I said, leaped into action while we continued to sleepwalk through history.

That blog elicited two very interesting responses, one from Checker Finn and the other from Mike Petrilli, that I want to discuss in this blog.

This from Checker: “Our ‘PISA shock’ was A Nation at Risk, and the U.S. has been struggling/stumbling/fumbling/striving to fix its schools ever since. PISA may be…one form of education shock…but it’s not the only kind there is.”

And this from Mike: “…I don't think it's fair to argue that we’ve been sleepwalking since 2000. No Child Left Behind, circa 2002, was a very big deal. Perhaps it was wrong-headed, but it was a major shift in national policy. And it...

I named my blog “Good School Hunting” not because I’m necessarily a big fan of the actor Matt Damon, but because I thought the Boston-based storyline of Damon’s debut movie, “Good Will Hunting,” suited a New England–based blog written by a mom who believes every kid deserves an awesome school. And I really did like that movie. 

So, sure, it was a bit disappointing to learn that one of Damon’s pet causes is opposing school choice and accountability, two issues near and dear to the heart of this former teacher, school committee member, and mother of three boys who currently attend both traditional and charter public schools.

Adding insult to injury, I quickly discovered that Damon—one of the loudest and most well known proponents of public education—sends his own children to private school. “I pay for a private education and I’m trying to get the one that most matches the public education that I had,” he told the Guardian, “but that kind of progressive education no longer exists in the public system. It’s unfair.”

Damon’s entire experience raising his four daughters has been one of wealth and privilege. He can’t easily empathize with low-income parents whose zip codes...

It’s the chicken-or-the-egg question at the heart of the education-reform wars: Can education help young people overcome poverty, or must we defeat poverty before more young people from disadvantaged circumstances can successfully learn?

You don’t have to be a sunny-side-up optimist (or even a hard-boiled pessimist) to get that the right answer to this riddle is “yes.” Yes, education can help young people overcome an impoverished childhood, and yes we need to supplement great schools with smart anti-poverty efforts, too. The best schools—public, private, and charter—do this already, identifying and seeking to furnish the out-of-school “social supports” that will help their kids and their families thrive, while preparing them academically for postsecondary learning and beyond.

A recent article by Rachel Cohen in The Atlantic, however, scrambles this narrative, claiming (in the title at least) that “Education Isn't the Key to a Good Income.” One might surmise that Cohen has found evidence of thousands of young people who grew up poor, succeeded in school and college, and still failed to find good-paying jobs. Alas, that’s not what she found at all—probably because that almost never happens. What she did find was a study by Jesse Rothstein that looked at...

Most American public school teachers are paid according to salary schedules that take into account their years of experience and number of degrees earned. This compensation approach has been criticized because it doesn’t anchor teacher pay to instructional effectiveness or other factors that merit consideration (e.g., specializing in harder-to-staff fields or working in high-needs schools). Instead, teacher pay depends on factors that research suggests are not closely tied to student achievement. Now a new study by Michael Hansen and Diana Quintero of the Brookings Institution takes a different look at teacher salary schedules, this time through the lens of equitable pay and patterns of school funding.

In terms of wage distribution, the analysts find that public school teacher pay is more equitable relative to other occupations. Using the Theil Index—a measure of equity—they find that teacher pay is more evenly distributed than for doctors or lawyers and just slightly more equitable than for nurses or social workers. This is not surprising, as salary schedules tend to fit teacher pay within a relatively narrow range; for instance, salaries for Columbus, Ohio, educators range from about $40,000 to $90,000. Within the teaching profession, the pay differences...

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