Halting a Runaway Train: Reforming Teacher Pensions for the 21st Century
When it comes to public-sector pensions, writes lead author Michael B. Lafferty in this report, “A major public-policy (and public-finance) problem has been defined and measured, debated and deliberated, but not yet solved. Except where it has been.” As recounted in Halting a Runaway Train: Reforming Teacher Pensions for the 21st Century, these exceptions turn out to be revealing—and encouraging. As leaders around the country struggle to overhaul America’s controversial and precarious public-sector pensions, this study draws on examples from diverse fields to provide a primer on successful pension reform. Download to find valuable lessons for policymakers, workers, and taxpayers looking for timely solutions to a dire problem.
In the Media
Review of the National Research Council's Framework for K-12 Science Education
Representatives from twenty states are hard at work developing Next Generation Science Standards—and using as their starting point the National Research Council’s recently released Framework for K-12 Science Education. This review of that framework, by Paul R. Gross, applauds its content but warns that it could wind up sending standards-writers off track. This appraisal finds much to praise in the Framework but also raises important concerns about a document that may significantly shape K-12 science education in the U.S. for years to come.
Do High Flyers Maintain Their Altitude? Performance Trends of Top Students
"Do High Flyers Maintain Their Altitude? Performance Trends of Top Students," is the first study to examine the performance of America’s highest-achieving children over time at the individual-student level. Produced in partnership with the Northwest Evaluation Association, it finds that many high-achieving students struggle to maintain their elite performance over the years and often fail to improve their reading ability at the same rate as their average and below-average classmates. The study raises troubling questions: Is our obsession with closing achievement gaps and “leaving no child behind” coming at the expense of our “talented tenth”—and America’s future international competitiveness? Read on to learn more.
What people are saying
"This study is important, very important!" - Jim Bohannon The Jim Bohannon Show
"This report attempts to answer the critical and largely-neglected question of how high-performing students are faring in the NCLB-era classroom. The findings speak to the messy and inconvenient reality that individual students’ abilities are not fixed, nor their development predictable. For better and worse, changes in a learner’s academic achievement occur both because and in spite of what and how he or she is taught." - Jessica Hockett is an education consultant and Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) faculty member specializing in differentiated instruction, curriculum design for academically diverse classrooms, and education for gifted and talented learners.
“The NWEA team is to be congratulated for making clear the costs and implications of this effort, and for posing squarely the thorny, unpleasant questions that would-be reformers have consistently sought to avoid.” - Frederick M. Hess is resident scholar and director of education studies at the American Enterprise Institute.
“This new study demonstrates the importance of appropriate testing and assessment for gifted students–assessment that will give educators and parents solid information on students progress from year to year.” - Paula Olszewski-Kubilius is director of Northwestern University’s Center for Talent Development (CTD) and a professor in the School of Education and Social Policy. http://ctdblog.northwestern.edu/
"It is my hope that this report debunks, once and for all, the absurdity that high-achieving students will do fine without appropriate services delivered by teachers trained in gifted education strategies." - National Association for Gifted Children.
In the Media
Teaching about 9/11 in 2011: What Our Children Need to Know
Any number of organizations are offering advice about what to teach schoolchildren about the events of September 11, 2001, yet most sorely miss the mark. Fordham's publication, "Teaching about 9/11 in 2011: What Our Children Need to Know," highlights the danger of slighting history and patriotism in the rush to teach children about tolerance and multiculturalism. It combines ten short essays by distinguished educators, scholars, and public officials from our 2003 report, "Terrorists, Despots, and Democracy: What Our Children Need to Know," essays that feel more timely than ever, and includes a new introduction by Chester E. Finn, Jr. reflecting on how the lessons of these essays apply today.
In the Media
The Common Core and the Future of Student Assessment in Ohio
Ohio committed itself to embracing higher standards that cross state lines when it joined 45 other states and the District of Columbia in adopting the Common Core standards in math and English language arts (ELA) in June 2010.
But, adopting rigorous academic standards is just the first step in a long journey. High academic standards do not automatically translate into stronger student performance. These higher standards must be accompanied by adequate, on-going training for current and future teachers, principals, and district leaders to understand the new standards; new, aligned curriculum at the local level; and aligned and well-designed assessments.
Ohio could ultimately develop its own assessments, though that is costly, challenging, and time consuming. And even if Ohio were able to muster the money and capacity to develop its own rigorous, content-aligned assessments, it would not be able to compare Ohio students and schools with those in other states and the nation as a whole. Further, Ohio would have to go it alone in terms of developing curricula, professional development tools, and computer systems.
Alternately, Ohio can move forward with one of two voluntary consortia of states working, with nearly $200 million of Race to the Top funding apiece, to develop Common Core assessments: the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) and the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC). (Ohio is presently a member of both but a decision-maker in neither.) This primer outlines the characteristics of SBAC and PARCC and raises implementation concerns for Ohio as it moves forward with this decision.
2010-11 Ohio Report Card Analysis
In 2010-11, 40 percent of public school students (enrolled in both district and charter schools) in Ohio's eight major urban areas attended a school rated D or F by the state. This is an improvement from the previous year, when 47 percent of students attended such schools.
The percent of students attending schools rated A or B has remained roughly the same. However, the percent of students in these cities attending a school that has met or exceeded "expected growth" (according to Ohio's value-added metric) has risen significantly, from 67 percent in 2009-10 to 78 percent in 2010-11.
City by City Analyses:
After the Budget, What Next? Ohio's Education Policy Priorities
The debates surrounding Ohio’s biennial budget and other education-related legislation during the first half of 2011 were intense, and it’s no wonder. The state headed into the year facing a historic deficit, federal stimulus money was vanishing, and school districts were preparing for draconian cuts. Meanwhile, despite decades of reform efforts and increases in school funding, Ohio’s academic performance has remained largely stagnant, with barely one-third of the state’s students scoring proficient or better in either math or reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Achievement gaps continued to yawn between black and white students and between disadvantaged youngsters and their better-off peers.
Revised considerably by the General Assembly, Governor Kasich’s budget plan (House Bill 153), a 5,000-page document that both funded the Buckeye State through fiscal year 2013 and included dozens of education-policy changes, was signed into law on June 30. The Ohio House and Senate were also engaged during the spring in passing other legislation that impacts schools.
It’s time to take stock. To what extent have Ohio’s leaders met the challenges and opportunities before them in K-12 education? What needs to happen next?
Charting a New Course to Retirement: How Charter Schools Handle Teacher Pensions
In this "Ed Short" from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, Amanda Olberg and Michael Podgursky examine how public charter schools handle pensions for their teachers. Some states give these schools the freedom to opt out of the traditional teacher-pension system; when given that option, how many charter schools take it? Olberg and Podgursky examine data from six charter-heavy states and find that charter participation rates in traditional pension systems vary greatly—from over 90 percent in California to less than one out of every four charters in Florida. As for what happens when schools choose not to participate in state pension plans, the authors find that they most often provide their teachers with defined-contribution plans (401(k) or 403(b)) with employer matches similar to those for private-sector professionals. But some opt-out charters offer no alternative retirement plans for their teachers (18 percent in Florida, 24 percent in Arizona).
In the Media
Shifting Trends in Special Education
In this Fordham Institute paper, analysts examine public data and find that the national proportion of students with disabilities peaked in 2004-05 and has been declining since. This overall trend masks interesting variations; for example, proportions of students with specific learning disabilities, mental retardation, and emotional disturbances have declined, while the proportions of students with autism, developmental delays, and other health impairments have increased notably. Meanwhile, at the state level, Rhode Island, New York, and Massachusetts have the highest rates of disability identification, while Texas, Idaho, and Colorado have the lowest. The ratio of special-education teachers and paraprofessionals to special-education students also varies widely from state to state—so much so that our analysts question the accuracy of the data reported by states to the federal government.
In the Media
ESEA Briefing Book
Political leaders hope to act soon to renew and fix the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, also known as No Child Left Behind). In this important paper, Thomas B. Fordham Institute President Chester E. Finn, Jr. and Executive Vice President Michael J. Petrilli identify 10 big issues that must be resolved in order to get a bill across the finish line, and explore the major options under consideration for each one. Should states be required to adopt academic standards tied to college and career readiness? Should the new law provide greater flexibility to states and districts? These are just a few of the areas discussed. Finn and Petrilli also present their own bold yet “reform realist” solutions for ESEA. Read on to learn more.
The 10 big issues
Issue #1 College and career readiness - Should states be required to adopt academic standards tied to college and career readiness (such as the Common Core)?
Issue #2 Cut scores - What requirements, if any, should be placed upon states with respect to achievement standards (i.e., "cut scores")?
Issue #3 Growth measures - Should states be required to develop assessments that enable measures of individual student growth?
Issue #4 Science and History - Must states develop standards and assessments in additional subjects beyond English/language arts and math?
Issue #5 School ratings - Should Adequate Yearly Progress be maintained, revised, or scrapped?
Issue #6 Interventions - What requirements, if any, should be placed on states in terms of rewarding and sanctioning schools and turning around the lowest performers?
Issue #7 Teacher effectiveness - Should Congress regulate teacher credentials (as with the current "highly qualified teachers" mandate) and/or require the evaluation of teacher effectiveness?
Issue #8 Comparability - Should school districts be required to demonstrate comparability of services between Title I and non-title I schools, and if so, may they point to a uniform salary schedule in order to do so?
Issue #9 Flexibility - Should the new ESEA provide greater flexibility to states and school districts to deviate from the law's requirements?
Issue #10 Competitive grants - Should reform-oriented competitive grant programs, including Race to the Top and Investing in Innovation (I-3), be authorized in the new ESEA?