Flypaper

Max Eden

The recent Fordham Institute study on self-discipline and Catholic education ought to surprise no one. It finds that students in Catholic schools are more likely, regardless of demographics, to exhibit self-control and are, according to teachers, less likely to act out and be disruptive. The data do not allow for an experimental research design. But it represents more compelling evidence than is on offer for other pillars of education reformers’ faith, like higher standards and test-based teacher evaluation. The strongest hypothesis for why Catholic school students are better behaved: Their teachers appeal to a higher authority, in whom parents trust.

Such a notion may be somewhat foreign to technocratic education reformers, who—especially on school discipline—adhere to a secularized gospel of social justice. But this new evidence of a thing previously unseen in the research literature ought to scramble the traditional orthodoxies on school discipline and school choice.

For one, it raises the question of whether the expansion of charter schools has really been a net-positive for urban students of color. Charter school critics traditionally focus on the alleged, but broadly undemonstrated, harm that charters do to traditional public schools. But as research conducted by my former...

 
 
Morgan Polikoff

In recent years, momentum has been building behind the idea that curriculum materials, including textbooks, represent a powerful lever for education reform. And yet, as the Fordham Institute’s Mike Petrilli noted recently, no more than 10 or 15 percent of schools are using materials that have been found by outlets like EdReports to be high-quality and aligned to state standards. Why, Petrilli asked, are these numbers so low?

As I write in a new Brookings Institution report, The challenges of curriculum materials as a reform lever, there are many reasons why districts flunk this basic test.

First, school districts have complex, highly ceremonial practices when it comes to textbook adoptions. In the interviews my team conducted for the report, we found that virtually all districts have processes that involve a) one or more committees of teachers, b) evaluation of textbooks against complex rubrics, c) multi-week pilots, and d) one or more formal votes before reaching a final decision.

Second, even if districts adopt strong materials, that’s no guarantee that teachers will actually use them. The fact is that, while many teachers still use textbooks, large proportions of teachers use them as simply one resource among many. This finding...

 
 
Apoorva Panidapu

According to Apoorva Panidapu’s parents, their thirteen-year old daughter is a joyous person both on the face of it and to the core. Her most noticeable features are her radiant smile and her remarkable speed (except when it comes to chores).

For her parents, it seems that Apoorva is always in perpetual motion as she tries to satisfy her insatiable curiosity. By three years old, she was devouring one book after another, her father remembers. Apoorva is just so excited about so many things, including drawing, music, writing, speech and debate, Kung Fu, problem solving, teaching others, and everything in between. She can recite more than two hundred digits of Pi rapid fire, and she can memorize a deck of cards in fifteen minutes. “We don’t need a calculator when she’s around, or RAM for that matter, because her speed and memory are super charged for puzzles, codes, and theorems,” her mother confesses with a shy smile.

Recently, viewers all over the world got to see Apoorva’s love of learning on NBC’s Genius Junior, where she shared her passion for mathematics and competition. Apoorva was her team’s 'Super Brain for Number Cruncher' in the preliminary, semi-final, and...

 
 

While people scream from the rooftops about how wrong and unfair the Janus ruling is, let’s pause for a moment and at least acknowledge that, in the context of the teachers’ unions, almost no one is even talking about what’s best for kids in any of their passion filled proclamations about the destruction of the middle class. And if the well-being of children—who are mandated by law to attend school—isn’t front and center, I don’t want to hear the wailing.

The U.S. Supreme Court was asked to consider whether collective-bargaining is inherently political. And any honest person knows that it is. And that’s why the justices voted 5-4 to say that it violates workers’ rights to compel them to pay union fees against their will. “When speech is compelled…additional damage is done,” Alito wrote. “In that situation, individuals are coerced into betraying their convictions. Forcing free and independent individuals to endorse ideas they find objectionable is always demeaning….”

Decisions about budgets, contracts, teacher placements, tenure rules, seniority, and pensions are purely political because they speak to our values, priorities, and beliefs about how best to be good stewards of public dollars when it comes to fulfilling our legal and...

 
 

A-to-F school rating systems have come under fire in Ohio and remain a hotly debated topic elsewhere. Proponents usually argue that they provide clear information that parents and communities can easily digest, while also motivating schools to improve. Critics often claim that such blunt ratings could damage schools’ reputations or demoralize educators should they receive poor grades. But what does the research have to say?

A recent study by Rebecca Dizon-Ross examines the impacts of A–F school accountability in New York City (NYC) on teacher turnover and quality, as estimated by value added measures. Under the leadership of former mayor Michael Bloomberg and school chancellor Joel Klein, NYC began in fall 2007 to assign A–F school grades and link low ratings to consequences. Prior research has already shown that these accountability reforms led to higher student achievement, with gains concentrated among children attending low-rated schools. Dizon-Ross studies teacher workforce patterns in 2008–09 and 2009–10 and uses a regression discontinuity design that focuses on schools near letter grade cutoffs to gauge the effects of receiving lower accountability ratings.

The analysis finds that NYC’s policy reforms reduced teacher turnover and likely increased teacher quality among...

 
 

Upwards of 3.6 million high school seniors graduated this year, and most of them left twelfth grade with a reasonable complement of the knowledge and skills we expect of those taking their first steps into adulthood—be that college, career or technical training, military service, even a fruitful “gap year.” Most—but not all. Recent scandals in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and elsewhere have made clear that far too many young people are being shuttled through secondary school with little regard for whether they leave with the requisite skills.

Pressure to boost graduation rates plays a role—but so do complex motivations like empathy and fear for kids’ future well-being. It’s these latter impulses that lead folks to believe that easing expectations, at least for especially disadvantaged students, is a victimless act, maybe even a noble one. “These struggling students will be even worse off without diplomas!” such a person might declare. “So what if they missed some days of school? They made it this far, and we can’t mess with their futures. Let’s get them across the finish line.”

But step back a moment and you will see the harm. Awarding diplomas to students who miss weeks of school diminishes...

 
 

I wrote last month about states’ lengthy struggle to turn around low-performing schools. Most federally funded strategies have been unsuccessful, and states have hired specialists and retrained school staff instead of instituting fundamental reforms.

But states have the freedom under ESSA to try creative strategies to fix their worst schools, as Nelson Smith and I argue in the latest issue of NASBE’s The Standard. The law grants them significant deference, and $1.1 billion in the current fiscal year, to achieve this goal. States should wield these to adopt or adapt three approaches already in use for going beyond cosmetic remedies for troubled schools. And state boards are among the entities best poised to effect this change.

The first approach—a particularly promising one—is charter expansion, wherein schools identified for comprehensive or targeted support are replaced by or converted into charter schools. Second is a state turnaround district, in which the state withdraws control of struggling schools from their home districts and creates a state-managed entity that assumes responsibility for getting those schools to an acceptable level of performance over some period. And the third approach includes state-led but district-based solutions, where a state-appointed individual or entity...

 
 

As school districts across the nation realize that one-size-fits-all models are outdated, interest is growing in portfolio style districts made up of high-quality, diverse, and autonomous public schools. One such district is Denver Public Schools (DPS). In a recent report, A+ Colorado, a nonprofit education advocacy organization, took a closer look at how diverse the district’s options are, examining whether its portfolio model provides an equal variety of options for students in all areas of the city. The report also examines option diversity by grade band, and considers whether specific school models correlate with higher or lower performance. Though specific to Denver, the analysis serves as a good model for other states and districts that wish to examine the diversity of their school portfolios, as well as locales looking to increase the diversity of their school offerings.

The data examined for the study was publicly available from DPS. The materials included 2018 enrollment guides, including enrollment projections; school websites; and the district’s new School Finder tool. Researchers used the Shannon-Wiener Diversity Index to give a quantitative value to relative diversity of a given community by calculating a maximum possible level of diversity and comparing it to the actual level. Most...

 
 
Matthew A. Kraft

Nine years, $575 million dollars, and 500-plus pages later, what have we learned about the Gates Foundation’s ambitious efforts to improve teacher effectiveness through evaluation and human capital reforms? The headlines about the RAND Corporation’s recently released final report have focused on the lack of any consistent effects on student outcomes, but the real story here is the many insights about implementation—what actually happened on the ground—based on rich qualitative and survey data. Here are some of my key takeaways from the report.

The study evaluated the Gates’s Intensive Partnership initiative with three school districts and four charter management organizations, which lasted from 2009 to 2015 and provided $575 million in total funding ($800–$3,500 per pupil). In exchange, participating districts/CMOs committed to implementing major reforms to their teacher recruitment, screening, evaluation, and compensation systems.

In many ways this initiative should be viewed as a proof of concept. The participating districts/CMOs were specifically selected because of their strong commitment to the reforms, and they had unprecedented financial support. Their efforts provide a rare window into whether evaluation and human capital reforms work under very favorable circumstances—a truer test of the reforms themselves.

Despite the strong initial buy-in and generous funding,...

 
 

The octet of D.C.-area private school heads who boasted a few days ago that their pricey bastions of teaching and learning will no longer offer Advanced Placement courses made much of how the home-grown classes that will replace AP “allow for authentic engagement with the world and demonstrate respect for students’ intellectual curiosity and interests.”

That’s apt to resonate with the upper-middle class parents whose children fill most of the seats at places like Sidwell Friends, St. Albans, and Landon—and whose per-child tuition payments next year will mostly be north of $40,000. Their kids are apt to do fine in college and beyond, with or without AP. (They’d probably do fine with or without the pricey private education!) For the vast majority of American families, however, desperate for quality schooling and solid college prospects for their own children, this whole maneuver looks, well, snobby and smug.

It’s also slightly off-base and disingenuous. Off-base because, in contrast to the school heads’ assertion that AP courses “emphasize breadth over depth,” the College Board has been systematically overhauling and replacing its thirty-eight AP course frameworks and exams to emphasize concepts and “big ideas” as well as “essential knowledge,” and...

 
 

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