Flypaper

Is there a more annoying manifestation of our political and cultural divisions than the debate over school discipline? On the Left is the “restorative justice” crowd, clamoring for an end to “exclusionary” practices before critical questions about the impact of this step have been answered; on the Right are the “no-excuses” folks, asserting the necessity and efficacy of suspensions based on the blithe assumption that they promote order and safety.

At times, both sides seem to view dialogue and consequences as mutually exclusive, even though common sense suggests they might be usefully combined. Any decent parent penalizes bad behavior and insists on an apology when one is warranted (as do many educators). Yet at the policy level, in loco parentis is too bipolar for that. For the discipline doves, disparate suspension rates are proof not just of racial bias (which is only part of the story), but of the indefensible and counterproductive nature of punishment generally. (Never mind that this logic would obviate the need for courts and prisons if applied outside the schoolhouse.) For the hawks, no policy is too shortsighted and socio-emotionally indifferent to rationalize by invoking the sanctity of the learning environment. The possibility that suspended students might return to class...

“In a private meeting at the White House in 2014, Mr. Obama told a group of young black activists that change was ‘hard and incremental,’ one participant said at the time. When some activists at that meeting said they felt that their voices were not being heard, Mr. Obama replied, “You are sitting in the Oval Office, talking to the president of the United States.”

—“Obama Says Movements Like Black Lives Matter ‘Can’t Just Keep on Yelling,’” The New York Times, April 23, 2016

At the opening plenary session of the New Schools Venture Fund meeting in San Francisco earlier this month, CEO Stacy Childress promised attendees that the meeting was going to “push” them to explore issues of race, equity, and education. For some, it was a face push. The session featured a panel discussion between a top Teach For America executive active in the Black Lives Matter movement, an activist concerned with the plight of undocumented youth, and a USC sociology professor who brought half of the audience to its feet with a remark (as paraphrased by someone in the room) that “the story of America is the story of progressive social movements, government, affirmative action, the GI bill, and...

Sally C. Krisel

If you had a magic wand and could change one thing to ensure the availability of great gifted education services for students in your community, what would it be? A state mandate? More funding? A wide array of service requirements based on what we know about giftedness and best practices for promoting the development of high-ability learners?

In the absence of a magic wand, I might suggest that the next best thing is a robust state policy related to gifted education. Gifted education policies provide a framework for identification, services, teacher preparedness, accountability for student learning, and program evaluation. Together, these elements should define comprehensive, equitable opportunities for high-achieving and high-potential students. A coherent set of state policies not only define issues and practices that are essential to the delivery of high-quality programs for gifted students; they also provide parents, teachers, and other gifted education advocates with leverage to demand appropriate services for gifted and talented students in their communities. Well-crafted state policies also serve as tools for local policy development, assisting boards of education, educational leaders, and parent advocates as they seek to improve their own policies.

In my career as a gifted education professional at the classroom, district,...

Rachel Skerritt

As the instructional leaders within schools, principals hold the key to education reform. The principal serves as the mission driver and resource strategist for families, community partners, faculty, staff, and students. In DC Public Schools, these duties bring enormous rewards, but also immense pressure: Principals have implemented rigorous common assignments across content areas and grade levels; launched a successful teacher-leader initiative that allows strong educators to assume leadership roles and remain in the classroom; and helped DCPS achieve the status of fastest-improving urban school district (twice) on the most recent NAEP assessments—all while doing the daily work of schooling.

The DCPS principal force understands the impact of every decision related to instruction, hiring, operations, and community building. And with the myriad skills needed to manage the demands of a busy campus, it is essential that DCPS build a pipeline of strong talent to lead our 115 schools for years to come. This was the impetus for starting an internal principal training program at DC Public Schools.

In 2013, the Mary Jane Patterson (MJP) Fellowship was established. Named after the district’s first African American principal, the program prepares high-performing DCPS educators for principal positions in DCPS schools. Fellows complete an eighteen-month, cohort-based series...

This is the second in a series of essays marking the twenty-fifth anniversary of America’s first charter school law. These commentaries are informed and inspired by our forthcoming book (co-authored with Bruno V. Manno), Charter Schools at the Crossroads: Predicaments, Paradoxes, Possibilities, to be published this fall by Harvard Education Press. Read the other essays here, here, here, and here.

Supporting charter schools requires tough love. It isn’t enough to create them and let kids attend them. They also need to be run with integrity; their books need to balance; their pupils must be safe; and above all, their academic achievement has to be strong, especially when gauged by student growth.

Some of America’s highest-achieving schools are charters, but so are some of its worst. Averaging across all 6,800 of them, some critics declare that their performance is roughly equal to their district counterparts. But such a superficial analysis ignores their variability—the reality that they range from dismal to superb. Let’s look a little more closely.

State variance

A quarter-century in, charter schools are still absent from seven states, and seventeen other jurisdictions have fewer than fifty each. Forty-four states have charter-enabling laws on the books, but...

Louisiana has decided that all New Orleans charter schools now overseen by the state’s Recovery School District will be placed under the control of the local school board.

The new law was advanced by leaders I admire. It accomplishes the invaluable goal of giving the city’s voters more control. It also has a number of very smart provisions to protect school autonomy and preserve parents’ ability to choose from a variety of schools. Neerav Kingsland supports the plan and explains its many valuable components. Robin Lake and Ashley Jochim have a smart, measured assessment, and AEI has a short, prudent analysis. This New York Times article explains the law’s logic, and this Times-Picayune article offers valuable context.

However, if I were in the Louisiana legislature, I would’ve voted against it. In my view, it undermines the most important reform of the post-Katrina era and sets an unfortunate precedent for other cities. There are ways to return control to the voters while maintaining NOLA’s status as America’s most promising city for K–12 transformation.

The real story of NOLA’s decade of reforms isn’t just that most of its public schools are now charters. It’s that NOLA separated...

A new policy brief from the National Alliance for Public Charter schools takes up the contentious issue of “backfilling”—the practice of enrolling new students when existing ones leave. Should charter schools be engaged in backfilling? If so, when do they enroll those students? At prescribed entry points? At will? Or never?

The paper highlights a range of existing approaches to backfilling taken by states, authorizers, and charter operators. Massachusetts passed legislation requiring all charters in the state to fill any vacancy up to February 15 except seats in the second half of a school’s grade span. For example, if a Bay State K–5 charter school has a vacancy in grades K–2 before February 15, they are compelled to fill it; if a seat goes empty in grades 3–5, it’s at the school’s discretion. Washington, D.C. is playing with a new funding model that creates strong financial incentives to backfill. “The goal is to allow for multiple membership counts at all public schools so schools can be compensated for the students currently enrolled, as opposed to those who never showed up or who left mid-year,” the report notes. At the authorizer level, Indiana’s Public Charter School Board requires charters to use...

As regular readers know, I’m in the middle of a series of posts exploring how education reformers can work to improve learning besides pushing for policy changes. One way is to spur “disruptive innovations” that target students, parents, and/or teachers directly.

Clay Christensen and his acolytes would surely disagree with my use of that term. His definition goes as follows: “A process by which a product or service takes root initially in simple applications at the bottom of a market and then relentlessly moves up market, eventually displacing established competitors.”

I’m ambitious, but not quite that ambitious. Sure, I’d love to disrupt the traditional education bureaucracy and replace it with a system of high-performing charter schools. That might be doable one day—at least in our major cities and inner-ring suburbs, where student need is greatest, the population is dense, and existing district schools are the least defensible. But in America’s affluent suburbs, exurbs, small towns, and rural areas, I think the “system” is here to stay for the foreseeable future. There’s just not enough appetite in those places for something very different.

What I’m interested in today is how to work around that system and cut out its middle men (and women), such...

A recent report by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) investigates San Diego Unified School District’s (SDUSD) new graduation policy requiring students in the class of 2016 and beyond to receive a passing grade on a sequence of college preparatory courses (commonly called the “a–g” sequence, with each letter referring to a different subject area). This aligns the district’s graduation requirements with admissions eligibility at California State University (CSU) and University of California (UC) member schools, which officials hope will increase rates of college entry and completion—especially for underrepresented communities.

Authors collected data from student administrative records and conducted a comparative analysis to evaluate the likely impact of the new policy. They used students who graduated between 2011 and 2015—who completed the courses that are now graduation requirements—as a baseline for measuring the impact of the a–g sequence on course-taking patterns, graduation rates, and eligibility to attend schools that make up the CSU and UC systems. Researchers also examined the course sequence’s effect on college access for historically underachieving subgroups in the class of 2016. They used individual student’s grade-six characteristics to determine the likelihood of completing the a–g sequence and then compared these estimates to each student’s actual a–g...

A new study by Pat Wolf and a few of his graduate students is a formal meta-analysis of the impacts of voucher programs on math and reading achievement. It attempts to set the voucher record straight in the face of conflicting messages coming out of academia, think tanks, and the press.

The authors go through a litany of prior reviews of voucher achievement effects and deem them insufficient, primarily because they include less rigorous studies or omit relevant, rigorous studies. Moreover, they result in divergent conclusions, vacillating from no effect to positive effect to a mix.

Wolf’s meta-analysis, however, includes only experimental studies or randomized control trials—the “gold standard.” They include all such studies ever conducted on voucher programs (both inside and outside the United States) that focused on participant effects and measured test score outcomes in either math or reading, which they found primarily through a comprehensive search of library databases and Google Scholar. (Studies that used outcomes such as graduation rates and college attainment were excluded, as were those not published in English or with English translations.) Included programs could be publicly  or privately funded, or funded indirectly via tax credit scholarships. Ultimately, nineteen studies representing eleven programs met these...

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