Flypaper

In Fordham’s fifth annual Wonkathon, policy experts submitted twenty-three entries—a Wonkathon record—addressing whether our high school graduation requirements need to change, in light of diploma scandals in D.C., Maryland, and elsewhere:

A recent investigation revealed that several high schools in Washington, D.C., skirted district rules to graduate large numbers of their students who didn’t meet the standards for earning diplomas. As Erica Green of the New York Times and others have argued, this type of malfeasance isn’t limited to the nation’s capital. It happened in neighboring Prince George’s County, Maryland, and there are reasons to believe it’s happening in plenty of other places.

It’s not hard to understand why. For a decade now, federal policy has required states to measure graduation rates uniformly, to set ambitious goals for raising those rates, and to hold high schools accountable for meeting such goals. But the same local administrators who have been charged with getting more students across the graduation stage also have considerable leeway—via course grades, credit recovery programs, and shadier practices—in determining whether students have earned the privilege.

Given how many children enter American high schools far below grade level, and noting how many states...

 
 

There is a teacher under fire in California and knowing what I know of her alleged “transgression”, I wish my own kids could be in her class. Julianne Benzel of Rocklin High School did what every teacher should be doing—especially in Social Studies—during a week of nationwide student protest.

She pushed the thinking of her students and encouraged them to confront the complexities of political speech when it occurs during the school day and involves students walking out of school. And she has been placed on administrative leave because of it.

If the reports are true, Benzel in no way discouraged her students from walking out. She simply asked the same question that I and others asked in the lead up to the national walkout this past Wednesday.

Are schools prepared to allow students to walk out of school to protest another, perhaps less popular, viewpoint? In looking for a comparably emotional and divisive issue to cite as an example, she chose abortion.

If the local and national reporting is correct, the human resources department sent her a letter telling her not to come to work because of a discussion she held with students about the danger...

 
 

The 26,000+ members and supporters of the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) should feel pretty good about their efforts and the fruits they have produced in education policy. Together we have successfully inspired change by helping legislators and the public understand the nature and unique needs of gifted children and the supportive environments they need for learning.

A little over two years ago, NAGC embarked on a focused plan to build awareness and increase support for the unique needs of these children. The NAGC Board of Director's bold plan of action to Change Minds, Change Policies, and Change Practices set out to achieve a vision where giftedness and high potential are universally valued, fully recognized, and actively nurtured.

I am pleased to report on two visible markers that show the movement is gaining traction and producing results that are bringing this vision to fruition.

First, the U.S. Department of Education prioritized the needs of students and children with "unique gifts and talents."  Specifically, Priority 5 of the Final Supplemental Priorities and Definitions for Discretionary Grant Programs emphasizes the need for programs that develop “ opportunities for students who are gifted and talented (as...

 
 
David Wakelyn

Editor's note: This post is a submission to Fordham's 2018 Wonkathon. We asked assorted education policy experts whether our graduation requirements need to change, in light of diploma scandals in D.C., Maryland, and elsewhere. Other entries can be found here.

Imagine Rip Van Winkle earned a diploma from a New York high school in 1998 and worked as a printer before falling asleep. Waking up twenty years later, he wouldn’t have the skills to do his old job. In a world of rapidly advancing technologies changing most job requirements, high school is not a good end point for anyone’s learning.

Projections by Moody’s Mark Zandi confirm that more than half of all jobs by 2030 will require at least an associate degree. But supply isn’t keeping up with the demand. Only 41 percent of Americans ages twenty-five to sixty-four have at least an A.A. While some policy analysts argue that “college isn’t for everyone,” and journalists regularly write stories about the recent bachelor’s-degree-holders stuck in a low-skill job, the data shows that’s very rare. Americans are undereducated. This widens inequality and causes us to lose out on economic productivity.

The question of what standards...

 
 

The recent closing of the ten Jubilee Schools in Memphis has rumbled through the Catholic schools world like an earthquake.

Those who fear the worst about the future of urban Catholic education now believe they are right. Those who felt we had turned a corner were shaken free of any illusions that incremental change will be enough. Everyone has been left on edge. We know that the next few years may well be our last chance to ensure we can continue providing high-quality educational opportunities for generations of students to come.

One of the things that has been so painful about the Jubilee news is that there is no doubt that these schools are worth saving. The “Catholic School Advantage” has been proven time and again, and it’s as strong today as it has been over the past two-hundred years.

But the harsh truth is that results aren’t enough. If we want to preserve urban Catholic education—particularly in states where we are still fighting for school choice—we need not only great, faith-filled educators, but also savvy fiscal experts and business leaders who can help build sustainable institutions in a fiercely competitive environment.

We have...

 
 
Susan Pendergrass

In addition to fielding questions about what a charter school is, and whether charters are private or public schools, I’m often asked: Aren’t charter schools intended for failing urban districts serving low-income students of color? They do serve those communities well, but let’s talk about who else they serve.

While it’s true that over half of all charter schools are in urban districts, in the 2015–16 school year there were nearly 1,800 suburban charter schools and over 1,200 in small towns and rural communities.

It turns out that curriculum really matters to middle-income parents, and many gravitate to charter schools because they offer educational models that aren’t available in traditional public schools. Some of these models are more rigorous, some are more open and creative, and some offer unique programs. There are hundreds of examples of outstanding suburban and rural charter schools, but I’ll offer just a few to ponder.

Take the BASIS charter schools: In the 2017 US News rankings of the top 10 public high schools, nine were charter schools and five of these were BASIS charter schools. BASIS currently operates 20 charter schools in Arizona, Texas, and Washington, DC. Most of them are suburban, and they serve populations that reflect their communities. Like all...

 
 

One of the most compelling reasons offered at the time for developing new Common Core–aligned tests was that they would allow educators and policymakers to compare the effectiveness of schools across state lines. And nearly all states initially wanted in: At their inception, forty-six states originally joined one of the two consortia established to create common CCSS-aligned tests, PARCC (the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.

Eight years down the road, however, consortia membership is faltering, and fewer than half of states remain members in either group.

A new resource released last month by Education First (in the form of PowerPoint slides) summarizes this dramatic rise and fall of consortia membership over the past decade, assesses the current state of state assessments, and identifies national trends to determine where the field is headed.

As the report describes, the once narrowing national testing landscape is rapidly diversifying: “Every year between 2013 and 2015, five to six states left PARCC and three states left Smarter Balanced.” States are instead opting to partner with vendors such as American Institutes for Research (AIR) and Pearson to develop their own tests, particularly for K–8 assessments....

 
 
Laura Slover

Editor's note: This post is a submission to Fordham's 2018 Wonkathon. We asked assorted education policy experts whether our graduation requirements need to change, in light of diploma scandals in D.C., Maryland, and elsewhere. Other entries can be found here.

A decade ago, the nation came to a consensus that all students should graduate from high school ready for college, career, and citizenship. Every state adopted standards that spelled out what “readiness” means and new assessments to measure students’ progress toward that goal. Unfortunately, graduation requirements were weakened, and many students are attaining diplomas without being of college-, career-, or civically-ready.

What can we do to ensure graduation means something? The debate and ideas generated by this 2018 Wonathhon brought out my personal wonkiness earned though experience as an educator, a school board member, a policymaker, and finally, a leader of an organization focused on the greater goal—success for all students. Lots of smart people have worthy ideas about how to make the shift. Some argue we need to advance a competency-based system that places value on what a student has learned—not whether they have sat in a school building for four years. I agree. Others have argued...

 
 
Nancy C. Herrera

Editor's note: This post is a submission to Fordham's 2018 Wonkathon. We asked assorted education policy experts whether our graduation requirements need to change, in light of diploma scandals in D.C., Maryland, and elsewhere. Other entries can be found here.

Exactly two years ago, in March 2016, I was in the trenches as a high school special education teacher. I would leap from classroom to classroom, borrowing them from the general education teachers during their prep time. I was trying to balance my job as an expert in mathematics, life science, and physical science with learning the ropes of classroom management and Individualized Education Plan (IEP) creation and implementation. I was exhausted and determined, but in the end, I didn’t have what it takes. One day, my graduate school professors realized I was more of a one-track mind, better at working one-on-one than a classroom full of kids. The next day, I left the trenches for good, leaving myself exposed but confident in using my experiences to shape our nation’s education policies.

If schools are to raise outcomes for every student, they need to provide more one-on-one counseling interactions that leave them with a set of actionable goals....

 
 

The commentariat is feasting on Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s 60 Minutes interview with Lesley Stahl, calling it brutal, botched, and an example of why we shouldn’t elevate inexperienced billionaires to positions of public trust. And those are the kinder depictions.

Like everyone in education reform, I wish she had made a stronger defense of charter schools, showed more knowledge of how things are going in her home state of Michigan, and made it clear that, although student achievement rose dramatically in the late 1990s and early 2000s, it has been mostly stagnant since then.

But more than anything, I regret that she gave such lackluster answers to Stahl’s questions about school discipline. We’re about to have a big national debate about the Obama-era school discipline policy, and it’s essential that she and other administration officials be capable of explaining the issues at hand.

Let’s play Monday morning quarterback and suggest some better ways the secretary could have better handled Stahl’s (loaded) questions.

STAHL: So you've been on the job now over a year. What have you done that you're most proud of?

DEVOS: We've begun looking at and rolling back a lot of the overreach of the federal government...

 
 

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