Flypaper

Michele Cahill, Leah Hamilton

In Mike’s post on Monday, he asks if our schools have “an answer” for students who are unprepared for high school—a group that makes up, as he says, as much as 80–90 percent of students. He also points out, correctly, that all that many districts offer these students is a chance to muddle through four years (or more) in a large, comprehensive high school, in hopes of earning a diploma that by no means signals readiness for college or a career. It is an indictment of our educational system that many do not achieve even that.

Fortunately, there are models out there that show that it is indeed possible to structure high schools to do much more for underprepared students. A recent book by Greg Duncan and Richard Murnane, Restoring Opportunity: The Crisis of Inequality and the Challenge of American Educationfor example, describes what the authors call “high schools that improve life chances,” pointing in particular to small, nonselective high schools created in New York City by the Department of Education and New Visions for Public Schools. Explicitly designed according to a set of design principles that stress academic rigor and personalization, attention to youth development, strong community partnerships, and accountability for results, these schools have produced powerful results for students—many of whom fall squarely within the cohort of the “underprepared.” 

Extensive studies of these same schools by two independent teams of researchers, one from Duke and MIT and one from MDRC, found that it is indeed possible to provide...

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The Philanthropy Roundtable recently released an exceptional publication produced by an exceptional author.

Even though it’s meant to be straightforward guide for donors interested in charter schooling, were I teaching a course on K–12 policy and reform, it would be an assigned reading. Throughout From Promising to Proven, author Karl Zinsmeister provides thorough, trenchant analysis of this remarkable sector of public education. At its best, it serves as a fitting, even moving, encomium to the vision and work of the civically minded social entrepreneurs who’ve brought it to life.

This short book works masterfully on three levels.

On the surface, it is exactly what the doctor ordered if you’re a charter-intrigued philanthropist. It explains chartering practice and policy and describes the activities of the field’s leading organizations.

A cursory tour of the guidebook will leave the reader wiser about the distinctive characteristics of charter schools (autonomous, accountable, choice-based), its innovations (longer days and years, new approaches to staffing), and key strengths (increasing parental engagement, empowering educators).

The reader will also become familiar with the most important nonprofits in this space. These include direct-service providers (e.g., Building Excellent Schools, the Mind Trust, Charter School Partners), human-capital organizations (e.g., Relay, Sposato, the Ryan Fellowship), advocacy groups (e.g., charter associations, BAEO, 50CAN, Stand for Children), and foundations and intermediaries (e.g., the Walton Family Foundation, Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, Choose to Succeed, New Schools for New Orleans).

The guidebook also offers an extensive treatment of the sector’s most challenging policy issues,...

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Some music scholars believe that 50 years ago, the blues—the primordial indigenous American musical form—was on the brink of extinction. Its progenitors were fading away, mainstream America was uninterested, and the unsympathetic forces of musical evolution were marching on.

But across the pond, in the 1950s and early 1960s, a gang of teenaged Brits, hailing from a nation still reeling from World War II’s devastation, happened upon imported records by U.S. blues legends like of Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters. These lads, connecting with the music’s enigmatic blend of sadness and hubris, studied with awe.

Years later, they would make it to our shores, with names like Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page, reintroducing the United States to something of its own creation and using it to plot an extraordinary path forward.

In 1993, Massachusetts passed the “Education Reform Act,” legislation that touched every important area of K–12 policy: increasing funding, toughening standards, upping accountability, introducing chartering, reforming teacher preparation, and more. It was arguably the most important state-level action of the standards-and-accountability movement.

Beyond it’s comprehensiveness, two aspects of the law stand out. First, over the next two decades, regardless of political party, the state’s leadership (governors, education commissioners, and state board members) remained faithful to its vision. Second, it helped Massachusetts emerge as one of the nation’s highest-performing states: as of 2013, according to the Nation’s Report Card and international assessments...

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We know from international data—PISA, TIMSS, and so on—that other countries produce more “high achievers” than we do (at least in relation to the size of their pupil populations). And it’s no secret that in the U.S., academic achievement tends to correlate with socioeconomic status, hence producing far too few high achievers within the low-income population. But is this a uniquely American problem? How do we compare to other countries?

To begin to answer these questions, Chester Finn and I looked more closely at the PISA 2012 results (in conjunction with a study we’re conducting on how other advanced countries educate their high-ability students). The OECD has a socioeconomic indicator it uses in connection with PISA results called the Index of Economic, Social, and Cultural Status (ESCS). Like most SES gauges that depend heavily on student self-reporting, it’s far from perfect, but to the best of our knowledge it’s no worse than most. In any case, it’s one of the few socioeconomic indicators that allow for cross-national education comparisons. It is derived from parents’ occupational status, educational level, and home possessions,[1] and it can be split into quartiles for a given country, wherein the bottom quarter has the lowest SES and the top quarter has the highest.

PISA results are reported, inter alia, according to seven proficiency levels, ranging from zero to six. Levels 5 and 6 are the highest. To get a feel for this demarcation, approximately...

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Of all of the responses to my “you’re-not-college-material” post, there’s one I find most compelling—and worrying. Namely, kids who aren’t “college material” aren’t “career- and technical-education material” either. Springpoint’s JoEllen Lynch says it well:

It’s a myth that CTE meets the needs of low performing kids from low performing schools. So, it depends on what problem we are trying to solve. Are we just looking for more models for students who enter high school fully prepared, or are we trying to create models that will address the needs of kids who are not? I think many people feel that CTE is an answer for the unprepared; this notion is not based on data or an understanding of the demands of good CTE schools.

I stand corrected. Since I wrote my Slate piece, I’ve learned much more about high quality CTE programs, including one I visited in Fordham’s hometown of Dayton, Ohio (the Ponitz Career Technology Center). This high school (with close ties to Dayton’s excellent community college) is even selective, only accepting incoming freshmen who score proficient on Ohio’s math or reading tests and who stayed out of trouble in middle school.

Assuming that Dayton is not an outlier and that Lynch is correct, this raises an obvious question: if CTE is not “an answer for the unprepared,” what is?

Cue RiShawn Biddle of Dropout Nation. Biddle was not happy with my “college-material” essay, arguing that it earned me...

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Laura McGiffert Slover

More than one million students. Sixteen thousand schools. Nearly 10,000 test items. This spring is a critical milestone, as PARCC states make history by participating in field tests. More than the numbers, however, the successful field tests mark a huge shift in how we do testing in this country.

PARCC states are creating tests worth taking, made up of texts worth reading and problems worth solving. They are designed to give teachers information and tools they can use to customize teaching and learning for each student, and give students test questions and tasks that are meaningful –the kind that great teachers routinely ask students. As a former teacher, I know that good testing, the kind that measures students’ ability to apply concepts, isn’t a loss of instructional time – it’s an opportunity to learn. That’s what we are aiming for with PARCC – learning experiences, not just memorizing facts and filling in bubbles.

The PARCC assessments mark the end of “test prep.” Good instruction will be the only way to truly prepare students for the assessments. Memorization, drill and test-taking strategies will no longer siphon time from instruction. As students work through well-constructed problems, they are asked to draw upon what they’ve learned and apply it to solve problems. Results will help teachers assist kids who are struggling and help identify those who are well on their way toward demonstrating the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in the next grades and in whichever pathways they choose after high school....

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South Carolina has taken today’s testing drama to new heights. A few years back, the governor, chief, and state board chair all agreed to have the Palmetto State become a governing board member of the Smarter Balanced (SBAC) testing consortia. But as other states withdrew and new testing options emerged, the state legislature no longer saw participation in a consortium as necessary. So several bills have been filed to force an SBAC departure. The state chief, hoping to find accord with the legislature, recommended that the state board vote to willingly withdraw. The board voted against. Now the state chief has discovered the he has the power to withdraw without the state board’s blessing. Read this letter from the chief to the board. Remarkable stuff.

Indiana is now the latest state to release disappointing results from a new teacher-evaluation system. Though many of us hoped the Widget Effect would disappear, it’s becoming clear that changing statutes and regulations are only a small part of the equation.  

In Tennessee, it’s been tough reform sledding of late. The state’s cutting-edge policy on tying certification to value-added scores is no more. Now it looks like the state may back out of PARCC and issue an RFP for future tests. On the upside, new charter-school legislation is making its way to the governor’s desk; it would enable the state board of education to authorize charter schools rejected by local school districts. Of course,...

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The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act in 2002 was the apotheosis of the standards-assessments-accountability movement, which had been building for about two decades.

Some loved it, believing this latest reauthorization of the LBJ-era Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) finally put the spotlight on high-need kids and our nation’s ongoing inability to provide them with a great education. Advocates point to the steady closing of the achievement gap during the law’s period of influence as evidence that it was producing the results desired.

But many others viewed NCLB as the ultimate distortion of K–12 accountability. It emanated from Washington, unrealistically aspired to 100 percent proficiency, labeled too many schools “in need of improvement,” and—sin of all sins—was obsessed with assessments.

If NCLB represented the farthest point of the testing pendulum’s swing to the right, many forces beyond gravity alone are now pulling it leftward.

Congress’s inability to reauthorize the law (now about seven years late) is a clear indication that many members are uncomfortable with the law’s contours.

The “opt-out” movement, whereby parents decide to free their students from the administration of ESEA-related tests, shows that, at least to some degree, families have misgivings about assessments.

And in a growing number of states—most recently in Tennessee—legislators are moving to end their relationships with the two Common Core–aligned assessment consortia.

If the success of tactics and short-term wins are the measuring stick, the anti-testing crowd has reason to celebrate. They appear to be ascendant....

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A very important education reform announcement occurred last week, but you probably missed it because of the surprising and unfortunate paucity of coverage.

In hindsight, we may come to see this news as a turning point in our nation’s generations-long effort to ensure low-income inner-city kids have access to great schools.

Early Wednesday, finalists were named for the 2014 Broad Prize for Urban Education. For more than a decade, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation have given an annual award to the urban district with the best performance and most impressive academic gains.

Traditionally, the naming of finalists and the selection of a winner are celebratory events. They’ve been used as opportunities to shine a light on districts distinguishing themselves from the otherwise discouraging universe of urban school systems. The award has been widely viewed as a much-needed feel-good moment that, not unimportantly, brings with it major scholarship money for students.

For some time now, however, roiling waters have been visible just below the surface. Yes (and by definition), there will always be a “best” among any class, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is deserving of praise; that is, it might be good in relative terms but not absolute ones.

Said another way, is the best urban district good enough?

This year, to their enormous credit, the foundation and its selection committee openly addressed this issue. Their conclusion is that it’s time to reassess.

The press release, possibly the most introspective I’ve...

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I try to avoid reading Paul Krugman’s columns because they almost always make me angry, and anger is not something I particularly enjoy. Yet I couldn’t help myself this morning, and the experience proved my point. In discussing the decision of many red states to decline Medicaid expansion under ObamaCare, he writes that “it appears to be motivated by pure spite.” He goes on to quote one of the “architects” of the law: “The Medicaid-rejection states ‘are willing to sacrifice billions of dollars of injections into their economy in order to punish poor people. It really is just almost awesome in its evilness.’”

Then read Charles Krauthammer’s column about the summary execution of Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich for holding a position on gay marriage, six years ago, that a majority of Californians also held, as did a certain candidate for president (ahem, Barack Obama). “What’s at play,” writes Krauthammer, “is sheer ideological prejudice—and the enforcement of the new totalitarian norm that declares, unilaterally, certain issues to be closed.” And it’s not just about gay marriage; there is similar close-mindedness about global warming and contraception, Krauthammer writes.

What’s fascinating is that, not so long ago, it was conservatives who were famous for their “moral clarity” while liberals prided themselves in their “nuance.” But where’s the nuance in Paul Krugman’s views? Isn’t it possible that the states rejected Medicaid because they knew that a few years from now they’d be on the hook for picking up the coverage...

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