Flypaper

Doug Tuthill

Maybe it’s all the sugar sand and palm trees, but I often feel disconnected from the gloomy national commentary on efforts to improve public education. Mike Petrilli’s recent lament, well-articulated as it was, is the latest example. Mike bemoaned a “lost decade” of achievement, “glum” policymakers and philanthropists, and “much friction, fractiousness, and furor” in the wake of failed reform.

Mike! You need a mojito! Education reform may be in a funk across America, but not in Florida. Not for education reformers who believe that expanding educational options, and giving both parents and teachers more power and freedom, is the linchpin to lasting progress.

In Florida, the past few years have been especially sunny. School choice continues to evolve into the new normal. A growing army of choice parents and teachers is increasingly visible and vocal. Policymakers continue to mash the pedal. At the same time, the evidence about academic outcomes keeps getting better.

The Florida experience suggests that putting more emphasis on accountability through choice, rather than through regulations only, will get us down the reform road further and faster. We certainly have enormous challenges in the Sunshine State, but the biggest one may be managing the pace...

 
 

Expanding universal pre-K is high on the list of many education advocates, despite the fact that evidence of its impact is based on “thin empirical gruel.” If we’re going to forge ahead anyway, a new study in the Economics of Education Review addresses a key question: What type of curriculum works best in these settings?

Analysts use experimental data to determine which preschool curricula are most effective in pre-K classrooms, which spanned public preschools, private childcare, and Head Start programs primarily serving low-income families. The study pooled data from the Preschool Curriculum Evaluation Research Initiative Study, which began in 2003 and required evaluations of fourteen early-childhood-education curricula in preschool centers. Each of those grantees was responsible for collecting various data for independent evaluations, but this is the first time that those data have been pooled across all of the single evaluations, with a sample comprising roughly 2,000 children.

Each grantee randomly assigned whole schools or classrooms within schools to either treatment or control curricula. There were three broad types of curricula to which they assigned. First is the whole-child curricula, defined as what most Head Start centers use, which is based on child-centered active learning...

 
 
Jonathan Plucker, Ph.D.

A disappointingly flawed Education Week story on San Francisco initiatives to reduce advanced learning opportunities in middle school math has garnered lots of attention. It’s called “A Bold Effort to End Algebra Tracking Shows Promise,” and was written by Stephen Sawchuk, who has a well-deserved reputation for being an excellent reporter. I was out of the country when it appeared, and I assumed it would burn itself out by now. But alas, Ed Week continues to circulate the article, and people continue to talk about it.

Advocates for advanced learning can learn a lot from the piece, both about how the media tends to cover topics related to advanced learning and how educators often justify anti-excellence policies. In rereading the article, my attention was drawn to Sawchuk’s many anti-intellectual dog whistles more than underlying problems with the district’s policies. Others have noted those problems—perhaps none better than Kurt Vonnegut in his short story “Harrison Bergeron”—so I’ll focus on the dog whistles.

1. The headline

Journalists usually don’t write the headlines that accompany their piece, but there’s nothing “bold” about the policy change described in the story. As I discuss below, the city’s “effort to end algebra tracking” is...

 
 
Hanna Skandera and Kira Orange Jones

Editor’s note: Fordham President Michael J. Petrilli recently published a long-form article titled, “Where Education Reform Goes from Here.” Others have responded to that essay, and this post furthers that conversation.

In his recent post, Mike Petrilli gets a lot right. By asking, "Where does education reform go from here?" he poses a crucial question that's been on our minds for a while. Education reform, as we've come to know it, is at a critical juncture.

Originally founded by a bipartisan coalition on common ground of equity, accountability, choice, and autonomy, new fissures have emerged. Our increasingly polarized politics have highlighted and expanded divisions in what was always a collective of strange bedfellows.

While we agree that "this is no time to declare defeat or embrace defeatism," we find Mike's suggestions don’t go far enough. We call for more audacious ideas to fuel faster progress. And we call on courageous leaders to ignite and coalesce the next phase of the education reform movement, building on the hard lessons learned over the past two decades.

Naturally, we honor the path that's gotten us this far. Through increased transparency and accountability, we now have more information...

 
 
Bill Jackson

Editor’s note: Fordham President Michael J. Petrilli recently published a long-form article titled, “Where Education Reform Goes from Here.” Others have responded to that essay, and this post furthers that conversation.

In his recent essay, “Where Education Reform Goes From Here,” Mike Petrilli offers a solid menu of ideas for state and local policymakers who want to stay the course on school choice and accountability, improve teaching, and radically redesign high school. Personally, I find many of his ideas compelling. If I were a state policymaker, I’d be tempted to go big or go home, as Peter Cunningham suggested, and I’d be poring through Sandy Kress’ evidence about what works.

And yet I think something important is missing from Mike’s perspective: Looking ahead, I think we need to look much more at the how of education reform. For example, which of Mike’s ideas might be implemented by whom, and why?

The big, successful change efforts in American history have started with grassroots personal and spiritual change, continued to gain life in local institutions, and then and only then reshaped state and national policies. The abolition of slavery, the growth of universal primary and...

 
 

A couple of years ago, I had the honor of interviewing for a vacancy on my local school board. Working at an education think tank, especially one that supports school choice, leads many to assume I’m not supportive of traditional public schools. They are mistaken. My three kids have all attended their neighborhood schools, and my school district is a critical part of my community. So serving on the board seemed like an amazing opportunity to give back to that community and learn more about the challenges school boards face.

I didn’t anticipate receiving, and ultimately didn’t get, the position, but the interview process was positive and educational. Being a school board member is clearly hard work. Most members have full-time jobs, but they still spend a significant amount of time participating in and preparing for full board and committee meetings, attending other community-related obligations, and representing the board at school-sponsored events. And that’s only part of the work. Members also play an important role in contract negotiations and spearheading efforts to pass school levies—and do it all for shockingly little pay. School board service is not for the faint of heart.

My short-lived candidacy, and day job as an...

 
 

Editor’s note: Fordham President Michael J. Petrilli recently published a long-form article titled, “Where Education Reform Goes from Here.” Others have responded to that essay, and this post furthers that conversation.

“If you don’t bring parents and families along with you, you’re building a sandcastle by the sea.”

Keri Rodrigues, Massachusetts Parents United

There are so many flaws in how we do education in America, but perhaps one of the most consistent mistakes we make at the school, district, and policy level is the way we ignore parents and deny them a seat at the table when their voices are so important and desperately needed.

Mike Petrilli’s recent piece “Where Education Reform Goes from Here”—which I liked very much—makes this same mistake. He lays out what policymakers and practitioners can and should do moving forward but fails to mention the important role that parents can—and must— play.

Parents are rarely education experts. We don’t usually know the size of the local school budget or the difference between “supplement” and “supplant,” and we certainly aren’t debating the Obama discipline guidance at our summer cookouts and in the stands at baseball games.

But parents are an...

 
 

In case you have a lot of time on your hands and have been following the recent exchange about civics education between the Brown Center team at Brookings and myself, allow me to set the record straight.

Although their rejoinder to my original critique of their 2018 report was polite—suggesting that civilized discourse may still be possible in the rude times in which we live—it was wrong on two counts.

The first is a minor matter of fact. They term their response “brief.” But its 938 words compares with the 659 in my original piece. That wouldn’t deserve mention save for the matter of facts. Facts is what they charge me with being obsessed about. And it’s true that I find in their report, as well as in the C3 social studies framework that undergirds it, a marked lack of enthusiasm for facts. So let me start with the fact that their “brief” response is not, in fact, brief. It’s almost half again longer than what I wrote! What does this say about them—and their grasp on what’s a fact and what’s not?

But enough wordplay. Their second—and major—error is to accuse me of Gradgrind-like worship of...

 
 
with Ann M. Duffett, Ph.D.

Since 2010, when most states adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), the Thomas B. Fordham Institute has been committed to monitoring their implementation. One of our initial reports, written in 2013 by lead author Tim Shanahan, surveyed middle and high school English language arts (ELA) teachers and found broad support for the CCSS-ELA, yet highlighted several red flags.

Five years later, the CCSS (or close facsimiles) are still in place in most states. And given that high expectations only matter when reflected in classroom practice, we owe it to teachers to continue supporting their efforts to implement these more rigorous standards.

Accordingly, we’re back with another nationally representative survey of ELA teachers.

Reading and Writing Instruction in America’s Schools, authored by Fordham’s senior research and policy associate David Griffith and FDR Group’s Ann Duffett, suggests real progress in implementing state ELA standards, but also—like the baseline 2013 report—real cause for concern. For example, middle and high school teachers are asking more text-dependent questions and report that students’ ability to accurately cite evidence from the text has improved—both of which are in line with the CCSS-ELA. Yet they have also become more likely to assign texts based on...

 
 
By Timothy Shanahan

Back in the 1930s, Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney always seemed to be putting on a show. They were going to be sent to a farm to work for the summer in Babes in Arms, but they wanted to go to Broadway instead—and they did!

I love that whole idea of Judy and Mickey with their teenage backs to the wall, singing and dancing their way to success (and into our hearts). Younger folks might prefer a more recent analogy—like Footloose—but then I’d have to be a younger blogger who is less than six degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon.

I’m not the only one who appreciates the spunk and eventual success manifest in these films.

Just look at the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). The idea was that American education was on the ropes, so let’s adopt high standards that will set college- and workplace-ready goals for U.S. schools and…

And hey, kids, let’s roll up those sleeves, dance and sing like crazy until the world is a better place and everyone can read and write well enough to learn and work and participate in our techno-centric civic and social life. Oh boy, I can’t wait for the...

 
 

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