Curriculum & Instruction

We all love teachers but do we all love ed reformers?

Mike and Kathleen wonder why education can’t stay out of the debates and pick the top edu-initiatives on the ballot. Amber describes the spectacular growth in non-teaching staff.

Amber's Research Minute

The School Staffing Surge: Decades of Employment Growth in America’s Public Schools by Benjamin Scafidi (Indianapolis, IN: The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, October 2012). - Download PDF

Dayton has a long tradition of innovation (think airplanes, pull-tabs, electric starters, cash registers, and even teacher unions). Yet, as the innovations of one era slip into obsolescence in the next, it should come as no surprise that the Gem City has struggled economically in recent decades. The hope for Dayton’s revival comes from innovation. And this time the innovation is in education—how  we prepare people for the jobs of today and tomorrow.

By 2018, it is estimated that almost two-thirds of jobs in America will require at least a sub-baccalaureate credential. A sub-baccalaureate credential is a post-secondary credential that includes awards like certificates, associate degrees, state-issued education credentials, corporate certificates and badges among others. Dayton, according to a fantastic piece in the Lumina Foundation’s fall edition of Focus Magazine, is quickly becoming a national leader in preparing “sub-baccalaureate graduates.”

Dayton’s economic struggles peaked in 2009 and the scale of the pain was captured by The New York Times, which  reported that the area faced a vortex of “economic and social change.” The Times continued, reporting that  “the area’s job total has fallen 12 percent since 2000, while about half of its factory jobs –...

The day after Superintendent Gene Harris announced her 2013 retirement from the Columbus City Schools (CCS) last month, Mayor Michael Coleman declared he’d play a greater role in improving the city’s schools. The district has been plagued in recent months by a data-tampering scandal and its unrelenting news coverage, and academic achievement has been stagnant for several years now. Coleman and City Council President Andrew Ginther have launched what is effectively the start of the post-Gene Harris era with a briefing about the district from Eric Fingerhut, corporate Vice President of Battelle's Education and STEM Learning business and the Mayor’s newly appointed education advisor; Mark Real, founder of; and John Stanford, deputy superintendent of CCS. The briefing is one of four intended to bring city leaders up to speed on the state of the city’s schools and related issues.

So what did they learn? There were at least three major takeaways.

The city’s footprint is significantly larger than the district’s. The distinction between kids who live in the City of Columbus and those who live within the boundaries of Columbus City Schools (CCS) is important – and something most residents and observers would find surprising. Columbus’s population has doubled since 1950...

Last week, Fordham and the ESC of Central Ohio welcomed Nate Levenson to the Buckeye State for a series of conversations with district and Educational Service Center superintendents, state policymakers, and education organizations that represent both traditional districts and charter schools. Levenson spoke about his ideas for making special education more efficient and of greater quality, which are laid out in his recent report Applying Systems Thinking to Improve Special Education in Ohio.

Throughout his time in Ohio, Levenson emphasized the following points:

1. The compliance-driven culture of special education needs to change. Compliance is ingrained deeply into the culture of special education. Because compliance is so worrisome for special education directors, it leads to perverse incentives; for example, the incentive to “over-identify” students as special needs and the incentive for special education training and professional development to focus on compliance rather than pedagogy and actual student learning.

2. Schools could become more efficient and provide higher-quality services by subcontracting special education services. Ohio’s Educational Service Centers, social service agencies, and non-profit and for-profit companies could provide a “dream team” of special education specialists that districts could bid for. Districts would therefore reduce the...

With the Kasich Administration’s push for improved literacy skills among Ohio’s elementary students, many educators and analysts are keeping a keen eye on the development and assessment of reading programs. One national program, Project Sit Together and Read (STAR), is examined in the new research study by Shayne Piasta, Increasing Young Children’s Contact with Print during Shared Reading: Longitudinal Effects on Literacy Achievement. Piasta’s research measures the program’s effects on student literacy in pre-k to second grade. (See the U.S. Department of Education's review of the study.)

Project STAR is designed to develop students’ reading, spelling, and vocabulary skills. Teachers read aloud to students, but also use techniques to encourage kids to pay attention to the print on book pages. For example, a teacher may ask students about words or use a finger to follow along as words are read.

To measure the impact of these print focused techniques, researchers compared three groups in 85 preschool classrooms, composed mostly of socioeconomically disadvantaged...

In this policy brief from The Future of Children organization, authors Ron Haskins, Richard Murnane, Isabel Sawhill, and Catherine Snow start from the premise that the United States has a two-part “literacy problem”: (1) the current reading skills of U.S. children are “inadequate for the heightened literacy demands of the twenty-first-century economy,” and (2) the widening literacy gap between students from high- and low-income families virtually ensures a permanent impediment to economic mobility for those students left behind.

In Can Academic Standards Boost Literacy and Close the Achievement Gap?, the authors suggest that adoption of the Common Core Standards is an important first step. In fact, they argue “If American children were to master the Common Core, they would fare better in international comparisons, the American economy would receive a boost, and the literacy achievement gap between disadvantaged and advantaged children might narrow somewhat…giving them a better opportunity to compete.” But standards by themselves, the authors argue, have very little effect on achievement and must be backed up by assessments, comprehensive reporting, curriculum fully aligned with the Common Core, and most importantly high-quality teaching to support all of the above.

The authors are not alone in...

It’s all French to me

Rick and Mike pick apart an egregious example of Continental Achievement-Gap mania and take on differing proficiency goals based on student race and ethnicity. Amber asks if we’d be better off spending our edu-dollars in very different ways.

Amber's Research Minute

How Do Public Investments in Children Vary with Age? A Kids' Share Analysis of Expenditures in 2008 and 2011 by Age Group by The Urban Institute - Download PDF

The statistics, though jarring, are not novel: In 2009, only 58 percent of students who had enrolled in four-year colleges graduated within six years (just 79 percent persisted through their first year of post-secondary schooling). Just one-third of those who matriculated at two-year institutions completed their degree within three years (two-thirds persisted to year two). The figures are even starker for low-income students; even high-performing youngsters from this demographic struggle. This report from the National School Boards Association (NSBA) offers tangible recommendations for what can be done to reverse this trend. Using data from the Educational Longitudinal Study, NSBA authors track characteristics of students who successfully persist through year two of post-secondary schooling. Controlling for prior achievement and socioeconomic status, NSBA finds three traits of high schoolers that predict greater success in college: taking upper-level math courses (students of low socioeconomic status who took pre-calculus or calculus were 44 percent more likely to persist to year two than those who took only algebra or geometry), enrolling in AP or IB courses (even if the student did not pass the associated exam), and consistently meeting with academic advisors....

1984 in 2012?

Aaron Churchill drops by to explain Ohio’s attendance foibles and debate the merits of another kind of student tracking. Amber asks if super sub-groups are all that super.

Amber's Research Minute

Shining a Light or Fumbling in the Dark? The Effects of NCLB’s Subgroup-Specific Accountability on Student Achievement by Douglas Lee Lauen & S. Michael Gaddis for EEPA

When charter schools first emerged twenty years ago, they represented a revolution, ushering in a new era that put educational choice, innovation, and autonomy front and center in the effort to improve our schools. While charters have always been very diverse in characteristics and outcomes, it wasn’t long before a particular kind of gap-closing, “No Excuses” charter grabbed the lion’s share of public attention. But in this rush to crown and invest in a few “winners,” have we turned our back on the push for innovation that was meant to be at the core of the charter experiment?

It’s become increasingly obvious that charters have hit a wall in their quest to put their students on the path to college.

Of course, the top charter management organizations got this level of attention the old fashioned way: they earned it. The best CMOs—like KIPP, Uncommon Schools, and Achievement First—have done amazing work. The teachers work long hours and do—often quite literally—whatever it takes to give students the kinds of opportunities they’ve had.

But, while charters have made important strides, it’s become increasingly obvious that they’ve also hit a wall in their quest to put their students on the path to college....