Flypaper

Michael Hansen

In the overwhelming majority of American classrooms, pupils are divided roughly equally among teachers of the same grade in the same school. Parceling them out uniformly is viewed as fair to teachers—and doing otherwise might be seen as unfair. Parents might wonder, too. But what if more students were assigned to the most effective teachers, leaving fewer in classrooms presided over by weaker instructors? What would be the impact of such a practice on student achievement?
 
That’s the intriguing question that Right-sizing the Classroom: Making the Most of Great Teacherstackles. The idea is straightforward: Give the better teachers more kids and weaker teachers fewer—then see what happens. It’s a common-sense option with many supporters (including Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, sundry wonks, most parents, and even teachers themselves).
 
Using data from North Carolina, economist Michael Hansen, a senior researcher at the American Institutes for Research, looks at what right-sizing the classroom can mean for academic achievement. In brief, he found that as the best teachers teach larger classes and the weakest teach progressively smaller ones, the net result is improved student learning—for all students, not just those who moved.
 
At the eighth-grade level,

  • Assigning up to twelve more students than average to effective teachers can produce gains equivalent to adding two-and-a-half extra weeks of school;
  • Three-quarters of the potential gain (from moving twelve students) can be realized by moving just six; and
  • The potential gains from moving a handful of students to the most effective teachers is comparable to the
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Note: This post is part of our series, "Netflix Academy: The best educational videos available for streaming." Be sure to check out our previous Netflix Academy posts on dinosaurs; aquatic life; insects; Ancient Asian Cultures; the Maya, Inca, and Aztec; Native American culturesChristopher Columbus and the Age of Discovery; the American foundersmovie adaptations of classic children’s books; and American folk heroes. Thanks to research interns Melissa Reynolds and Singer Crawford for their help in compiling these lists.

Who doesn’t love frogs? And not just Kermit the Frog and Frog from Frog and Toad are Friends, though they are great too. The real-life, breathing, swimming, kicking amphibians that amaze us all as they morph from tadpole to adult. For a little kid, not much beats the thrill of hunting for tadpoles in a summer stream or watching them grow in a classroom aquarium. But for times of the year when that’s impractical, here are some great, free videos that will allow your children to bone-up* on frogs, toads. salamanders, and other amphibians.

The best streaming videos on frogs and other amphibians

1. Creepy & Crawly Critters Collection, Episode 5: Prince of the Pond

Creepy & Crawly Critters Collection, Episode 5: "Prince of the Pond"You may not be able to turn one into a prince, but Frogs are...

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It’s silly season for the Common Core debate, and I’m not referring to the latest outlandish claims from folks on the far right. It appears that Common Core Dystopia Disorder has infected some of our usually rational and levelheaded friends in the think-tank community, too.

Jay Greene, I’m talking first and foremost about you. Jay thinks he’s found a smoking gun, proof that we supporters of the Common Core, especially those of us at Fordham, have been dishonest when we’ve claimed that the standards don’t “prescribe” a particular curriculum, because of a recent report in which we fret that educators aren’t embracing the “instructional shifts” promoted by the Common Core:

Common Core doesn’t dictate curriculum or pedagogy Checker assured us, it only requires that “everybody’s schools use the same academic targets and metrics to track their academic performance” and “then those schools can and should be freed up to ‘run themselves’ in the ways that matter most: budget, staffing, curriculum, schedule, and more.”

Also,

These were the promises the Fordham folks made when they were courting us on adopting Common Core, but now that we’re married, they’ve changed their tune. No longer do they bring us flowers, write love-poems, or assure us that Common Core in no way dictates how schools should teach or what they should teach — their pedagogy and curriculum. Instead, Fordham and their friends are now judging schools on whether they are properly implementing ”instructional shifts—ways in which...

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Note: This post is part of our series, "Netflix Academy: The best educational videos available for streaming." Be sure to check out our previous Netflix Academy posts on dinosaurs; aquatic life; insects; the Maya, Inca, and Aztec; Native American culturesChristopher Columbus and the Age of Discovery; the American foundersmovie adaptations of classic children’s books; and American folk heroes. Thanks to research interns Melissa Reynolds and Singer Crawford for their help in compiling these lists.

Perhaps it’s a sign of my middle age, but I can’t recall learning a thing about ancient Asian civilizations until college, when I happened to take an Eastern Civilizations course. What a shame. Just as the histories of the Egyptians, the Maya, and the Mesopotamians are chock-full of fascinating stories and characters, so too is the history of China, India, and the rest of Asia. Enjoy these movies and shows that bring them to life.

The best streaming videos on ancient Asian civilizations

1. Secrets of the Dead: China's Terracotta Warriors

Secrets of the Dead: China's Terracotta WarriorsThis episode of PBS’s “Secrets of the Dead” explores the origins of 8,000 lavishly painted terracotta warriors that guard the tomb of an ancient Chinese emperor.

Length: 53 minutes

Rating: TV-PG

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Louisiana State Superintendent John White continues to impress. Check out this really interesting attempt to create new options for the state’s kids—it’s called the Call to Action. Educators and a range of organizations get the chance to submit proposals in a number of areas—charters, nonpublic, leadership development, early childhood, and more. It’s totally fascinating, and I can’t wait to see what becomes of this.

I’ve worked for five different government bodies now. Those experiences, I think, have grounded me, helping me understand how to actually get things done instead of just talking about pie-in-the-sky ideas. So I was a bit surprised to be cast as an unrealistic ideologue in this post by CRPE’s Robin Lake. But maybe I have bad self awareness—you make the call! Either way, Robin and Paul Hill continue to deserve enormous credit for their groundbreaking ideas about public education delivery and their dogged work to implement them.

There’s a new, interesting research paper out called “Student Achievement within a Portfolio Management Model: Early Results from New Orleans.” If you follow NOLA developments and/or the broader discussions about portfolio districts and TUSSotF, you’ll find it worthwhile. You’ll learn more about the general landscape of schools (district vs. RSD; direct-run vs. charter) as well as the differences in performance. I was surprised to see such positive results from the district’s schools—heck, there’s an RSD because Orleans Parish was so dysfunctional. But after checking in with a NOLA expert,...

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Joshua Dunn

Yesterday, Colorado’s voters resoundingly rejected Amendment 66, which had promised to vastly increase funding for Colorado schools and create a world-class system of education. Voters, with some justification, think Colorado already has good schools and were not in the mood to approve the largest tax hike in state history.

Much can be taken away from the results. First, despite being well funded and organized, a greater margin of voters said “no thanks” to Amendment 66 than a smaller proposed education tax increase in 2011, Proposition 103: That measure failed with 63 percent of Colorado voters rejecting it, while Amendment 66 (if the current, almost-complete results hold up) failed by 66 percent. The supporters of Amendment 66 raised over $10 million, including $1 million donations apiece from Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg, which allowed supporters to vastly outspend opponents of the measure. The lucky citizens of Colorado were subjected to seemingly endless ads about how, for a very small price per family, we could do things like add art classes and gym. Of course, the fool’s gold but always-enticing “reducing class sizes” was thrown in for good measure.

Second, the results are a huge repudiation of the Democratic leadership in Denver. Just a few months ago, two Democratic state senators, including the Senate president, were the first recalled public officials in Colorado history. One gets the sense that some of the vote on Amendment 66 was a carryover from the general public anger over how many measures, such as...

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I’m a big fan of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA). They do great work to help charter authorizers significantly improve their practices. I speak from firsthand experience—they partnered with the charter office at the New Jersey Department of Education while I was there and substantially improved our work.

But NACSA is more than a provider of technical assistance. In important ways, they help advance reform thinking. The latest example is their excellent recent report on accountability for “alternative” charter schools (or “alternative education campuses”—AECs). Such schools serve very high-risk student populations, including those in the juvenile justice system, with substance abuse problems, who are persistently truant, and more. Accordingly, these schools often fail to perform well on standard measures of student achievement, making it difficult for authorizers to fairly and accurately assess their performance. AECs disproportionately fail to make AYP and are disproportionately represented in states’ bottom 5 percent of schools.

But it might be the case that, despite low test scores, lots of AECs are doing great work. For these schools, because they’ve been identified for attention via state accountability systems, they’re unnecessarily subjected to intrusive state interventions. Currently, only seven states have sought to remedy this situation, creating separate accountability systems for alternative schools. But the ball is most certainly in the court of state governments.

Since states are creating their own new accountability systems via ESEA waivers, they must tackle this issue if AECs are to...

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Bill de Blasio’s public-education agenda consists of seven boasts (things he says he’s already done, part of his record as public advocate) and nineteen plans for future changes (“policies, agendas, and programs” that he promises to “work tirelessly to implement”). Minus the overlap, they add up to two dozen ideas. Here’s how I score them:

Potentially worthwhile, but over-the-top or unaffordable: These five notions include his preschool promise. The problem? Preschool could do considerable good for some very needy kids, but the universal version he’s espousing is a costly, unnecessary windfall for hundreds of thousands of middle-class parents and apt to result in a program that’s too skimpy to really benefit the children who need it most. (Note, too, that the city’s current pre-K programs are under-enrolled.)

Much the same can be said for universal after-school programs for middle schoolers, considering that plenty of parents already have this worked out. A serious education reformer would instead expand learning time by lengthening the school day and year. But the unions won’t like that.

As for universal school breakfasts and arts education, believe it or not, a lot of kids really do get fed before leaving for school, and art, worthy as it is, mustn’t crowd out the three R’s before children have mastered them.

Overdue reforms (if he puts teeth in them): I count...

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One of the most important and interesting questions I get about my book, The Urban School System of the Future, is whether I think its analysis and recommendations apply to non-urban districts. Though my thinking on this is still developing, my current response is as follows: When it comes to suburban districts, yes, much, but not all, is applicable; rural districts, however, are a different story (more on this in the weeks to come).

If you’re interested in the subject of reform in different contexts, you might want to read AEI’s recent report about Douglas County, an affluent district outside of Denver. It tells the story of a school board and district leadership, in an attempt to move their district from good to great, embracing a right-leaning agenda and some of the initiatives traditionally associated with reforming struggling urban districts, including improved teacher-evaluation systems, new educator-salary programs, and expanded parental choice. The choice aspect of the paper is especially interesting—the district has been resourceful in its use of the state charter law.

But the other reason to read the report is that the politics of the Douglas reform effort are intense. Though this Politico article on the topic is tendentious (a few paragraphs in, it’s clear the reforms aren’t going to get a sympathetic treatment), you’ll find a number of very interesting facts, themes, and questions, including the propriety of disclosing who funds such reports (for example, my organization, Bellwether Education Partners, always discloses relevant relationships—you can...

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Note: This post is part of our series, "Netflix Academy: The best educational videos available for streaming." Be sure to check out our previous Netflix Academy posts on dinosaurs; the American foundersaquatic life; the Maya, Inca, and AztecNative American culturesChristopher Columbus and the Age of Discovery; and movie adaptations of classic children’s books. Thanks to research interns Melissa Reynolds and Singer Crawford for their help in compiling these lists.

One reason I love the Core Knowledge Sequence is because of its commitment to building a common American culture. Even pop culture isn’t so common anymore, what with our ever-splintering media environment. But surely all American kids, no matter their backgrounds or zip codes, should learn about our country’s folk heroes: Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, Annie Oakley, and many more. Here are some videos and movies to get you started.

The best streaming videos on Daniel Boone, Annie Oakley, and other American folk heroes

1. Daniel Boone, Trail Blazer

Daniel Boone, Trail Blazer

Daniel Boone leads settlers into Kentucky, but he must battle Shawnee Indians who have been persuaded by a French renegade that Boone and the settlers are there to kill them and steal their land.

Length: 85 minutes

Rating: PG

2. Daniel Boone & The

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