Flypaper

Laura Cassidy, M.D.

After Hurricane Katrina, charter schools became the dominant system in New Orleans, as city dwellings were destroyed by water and the school system was devastated by corruption. The takeover was swift, and the concept moved westward to Baton Rouge, where this wave of change allowed Louisiana Key Academy (LKA), a charter school whose board I lead, to open its doors in August 2013 to serve children with characteristics of dyslexia.

Although opportunities were always available to families with money, the concept of a school with our mission was new to public education. We were able to break ground thanks to support from parents of dyslexics and educators that had taught privately or tutored children with dyslexia. Today, LKA serves 340 students in first through seventh grade, and employs thirteen teachers who will sit for their Certified Academic Language Therapy exam in January, after compiling years of applicable course work and practicum. Five more will sit in the summer.

Unfortunately, it was—and is—an uphill battle because the school isn’t embraced by the wider educational policy world. Some don’t believe dyslexia is enough on which to build a charter, others define it very narrowly, and still others say the system works just...

 
 

There’s been a lot of talk about “blue waves” and “red walls,” but what will November 6 mean for federal and state education policies? Days away from the crescendo, the answer may depend in part on where you get your news. Some argue that education will be a top-tier issue; others are decidedly less sanguine. The media hype and enthusiasm at the national level belies its importance in some states more than others.

In no small measure, the upcoming midterms will be a referendum on the current administration; uniquely so given the president’s willingness to flaunt previously held conventions. Education’s place has been largely limited to the usual suspects (e.g., Arizona, Oklahoma) as key players in red-state teacher unrest. This has led to a record number of teachers running for state office in those states, but based on the campaign mailers I’ve received here in my home state of Colorado, office seekers don't believe education will drive voters to the polls.

My locally elected representatives have killed trees and spilled ink to highlight their local roots and attention to other bread-and-butter issues like taxes and health care. I’ve also seen one-sentence slogans about restoring civility to government,...

 
 

A recent Atlantic article by Amy Lueck critical of school choice rightly celebrates the civic purpose of the traditional American public high school, “not only as an academic training ground, but also as a center for community and activity in American cities.” Shared experiences like school dances, football games, pep rallies, and protests, as well as the uniting of families from different backgrounds, can be beneficial for those involved, and high schools facilitate them better than most civic and social institutions.

But she’s wrong in believing that working to give children and parents more options “reflects a distrust of education as a communal goal, not just an individual one.” Lueck erred in accusing school choice of “dismantling” this model. Proponents are not “leaving the public high school for greener pastures,” and the realization of our goals would not be an “abandonment of the American high school” or “the democratic project of the ‘common school’ that helped shape the American city.”

That is because the “common school” that Lueck idealizes—a single public high school for every teenager in a given community—ceased generations ago for many families, and is not a necessary condition for the communal benefits she espouses. Worse, as...

 
 
Anne Hyslop

Recently, Mike Petrilli wrote about the Alliance for Excellent Education’s analysis of state ESSA plans in which we found that twelve states do not ensure subgroups are universally included in school ratings. While acknowledging that this could be an issue, Mike, with an assist from Aaron Churchill, used Ohio data to make the case that we were (mostly) crying wolf: Including subgroups in school ratings doesn’t matter because subgroup performance is almost always reflected in schoolwide averages, at least when using value-added measures. Specifically, Mike and Aaron showed how school-level growth data for “all students” in Ohio tends to be strongly correlated with school-level growth data for “Black” and “low-income” students. Very few schools would have received both an “A” or “B” grade for “all students” growth and a “D” or ”F” for the specific subgroup’s growth. Mike concluded that we “should stop fretting about this particular aspect of state accountability systems” and move on.

I agree that there are other aspects of accountability that should be investigated, and All4Ed has plans to do so as ESSA implementation continues. And I agree that I’m an uber-wonk (thanks, I think?). But I disagree that All4Ed and other advocates for...

 
 

Last Saturday was cold, grey, and dismal in Philadelphia. I spent the day warming my soul inside a Jesuit high school among a disparate group of teachers, researchers, academics, and school leaders at a ResearchED conference, the fourth one held in the United States. If you’re not familiar with ResearchEd—and I’d wager you’re not—allow me to introduce you. It’s the best education initiative you’ve never heard of. It’s big in England and deserves to be as big here in the colonies.

ResearchEd started five years ago almost on a lark, the brainchild of an engaging and gregarious English high school teacher named Tom Bennett. Frustrated by the relative rarity of evidence-based practice in education in the U.K., Bennett took to Twitter (he almost makes it respectable) and asked if anyone would get involved if he ran a conference on it. Enough hands went up that ResearchEd was launched—a zero capital, break-even inaugural event staffed entirely by volunteers. Five years later there have been ResearchEd events in thirteen countries with 22,000 unique attendees, according to Bennett, who says the last U.K. event drew 1,350 with half again that number on a waiting list to purchase a ticket. I’ve written previously...

 
 

A recent RAND report examines how math and English language arts teachers’ use of instructional materials and knowledge of state standards and standards-aligned practices have changed during the Common Core era.

Researchers Julia H. Kaufman, V. Darleen Opfer, Michelle Bongard, and Joseph D. Pane used the results of surveys administered in 2015, 2016, and 2017 to the American Teacher Panel (ATP), a randomly-selected, nationally-representative group of full-time K–12 public school teachers. Responses from different years were aggregated, and then disaggregated, based on whether a teacher’s state referenced Common Core in its standards and/or used standards-aligned resources, as well as by students’ “vulnerability” (determined by the percentage who received free or reduced-price lunch, were English language learners, or had individualized education plans). The authors also controlled for teacher characteristics such as gender and professional experience, as well as school characteristics such as size and the student population’s overall socioeconomic status.

In many ways, the RAND report is similar to Fordham’s own: Reading and Writing Instruction in America’s Schools. In particular, both used the American Teacher Panel (though not the exact same teachers). And both sought to capture changes in teachers’ attitudes and practices, though the timelines differed, since we compared...

 
 

Academic standards have become the foundation on which much of contemporary U.S. public education rests. They dictate the knowledge and skills that students are expected to master, grade by grade, and communicate those expectations to educators, parents, curriculum writers, and other stakeholders. When they’re inadequate, the entire education edifice is shaky—and student achievement is apt to be uneven and weak.

The truth is that some standards are far better than others and deserve to be celebrated, emulated, and implemented.

We at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute have been reviewing state standards for over twenty years, including for a recent analysis that revisits the Common Core and assesses the math and English language arts (ELA) standards of states that never adopted it, or that have significantly altered it. After completing their reviews, our teams of experts assigned each set of standards one of four ratings: strong, good, weak, or inadequate.

Unfortunately, our reviewers found that most states that changed the Common Core weakened their standards in the process. In contrast, the Common Core itself has weathered well. Both the math and English standards earned a “strong” score, as did Texas’s math standards. That should reassure the dozens of states that...

 
 

As “career and technical education” (CTE) continues to get more attention from policymakers, education leaders, and the media, one valuable component of CTE often gets overlooked: apprenticeships. The Obama and Trump administrations both made efforts to boost interest in these career pathways, but participation remains low compared to other postsecondary options. In a report from the American Enterprise Institute, Jorge Klor de Alva and Mark Schneider survey the current state of apprenticeships in the U.S. and conclude that community colleges are best positioned to fertilize this particular landscape.

The authors pull from a variety of data sources to synthesize an overview of the current state of apprenticeship programs in the U.S. and internationally. They gather demographic information about apprentices from Department of Labor (DOL) databases and from a 2012 Mathematica study on the social benefits of apprenticeships. They also draw inspiration from a number of international surveys and case studies.

There exists no formal definition of an apprenticeship, but de Alva and Schneider consider it a formal program that includes both paid on-the-job training and a set of related coursework. They find that most states require at least 2,000 hours of supervised work experience and 144 hours of additional...

 
 

“Parental engagement” is one of those self-evidently appealing ideas for improving education. Who doesn’t want to engage parents? What child isn’t well served by more of it? Yet doing it well is hard, because it means shooting straight with parents about how their daughters and sons are performing, and committing to making hard changes and expending real resources to help those children do better. It’s not a program. It’s a promise: to be honest and do right by all kids.

Schools that take parental engagement seriously first look at how they are communicating to parents about their children. What most requires clear communication is student performance, for which there are two time-honored means of sharing news—good or bad—with moms and dads: report cards and parent-teacher conferences. Every school, then, should ask itself: Are we maximizing the impact of these communications vehicles? The honest answer in many communities? Probably not.

Start with report cards. A new Fordham study by American University professor Seth Gershenson examined the relationship between scores on a high school end-of-course algebra exam and student grades. While test scores and grades are certainly meant to measure different aspects of a student’s academic performance, we might be concerned...

 
 

At the height of the battle to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court a few weeks ago, a California math teacher took to Twitter, as many of us are wont to do, to vent. “I’m a teacher, and I don’t know what I’m going to say to my students if Kavanaugh gets confirmed,” fumed Nicholas Ponticello. “Do I tell them that this country doesn’t take sexual assault seriously? Do I tell them that truth and integrity don’t matter? What do I say?”

The Tweet was “liked” 27,000 times and re-tweeted 8,000 more. The education news website The 74 followed up with an unusually credulous piece on how to navigate “tricky” subjects on politically contentious subjects, while eliding almost entirely the point that Ponticello was not seeking advice on lesson plans or curriculum resources—he was taking sides in a politically contentious debate, and one far afield from high school math.

Teachers, like every American citizen, are free to express their political views in a variety of public forums like Twitter and Facebook. But a series of court decisions have made it clear that a very different standard applies inside publicly funded K–12 classrooms, where teachers have far less...

 
 

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