Flypaper

Lisa Hansel

Harriet Tubman will grace the front of our $20 bill—a long-overdue tribute to a woman who lived up to the best of American values. But do most Americans know who she was? Anecdotal evidence and test scores indicate that they don’t.

She was not some footnote figure that only historians should know. Tubman repeatedly displayed astounding courage—and achieved heroic successes—in two of our nation’s greatest fights for freedom and equality: ending slavery and giving women the right to vote.

But perhaps this widespread ignorance is not our fellow citizens’ fault. When would they have learned of Tubman? A nationally representative survey of elementary teachers shows that in from kindergarten to the sixth grade, an average of just 16–21 minutes a day are spent on social studies (and a mere 19–24 minutes on science). Given students’ utter lack of preparation, our middle and high school teachers would find it challenging to engage students in meaningful or memorable studies in history, geography, and civics.

It’s tempting to blame the elementary teachers. But that’s simplistic at best. Elementary teachers are, by and large, doing what they have been taught and responding to the signals sent by federal and state accountability policies.

The heart of this problem is that...

If you caught your pediatrician Googling "upset stomach remedies" before deciding how to treat your child and home-brewing medications over an office sink, you might start looking for a new pediatrician. So how would you feel if you learned that Google and Pinterest are where your child's teacher goes to look for instructional materials?

Well, brace yourself, because that's exactly what's happening. And no, your child's teacher is not an exception. A new study from the RAND Corporation finds that nearly every teacher in America—99 percent of elementary teachers, 96 percent of secondary school teachers—draws upon "materials I developed and/or selected myself" in teaching English language arts. And where do they find materials? The most common answer among elementary school teachers is Google (94 percent), followed by Pinterest (87 percent). The numbers are virtually the same for math.

But don't blame teachers. These data, for reasons both good and bad, reveal a dirty little secret about American education. In many districts and schools—maybe even most—the efficacy of the instructional materials put in front of children is an afterthought. For teachers, it makes an already hard job nearly impossible to do well.

Expecting teachers to be expert pedagogues and instructional...

Claire Voorhees

Editor's note: This is the fourth post in Fordham's 2016 Wonkathon. We've asked assorted education policy experts to answer this question: What are the "sleeper provisions" of ESSA that might encourage the further expansion of parental choice, at least if advocates seize the opportunity? Prior entries can be found herehere, and here.

Education reformers and policy makers across the nation have spent the months since the Every Student Succeeds Act’s (ESSA) passage debating the merits of various approaches to identifying low-performing schools—which indicators, how much weight, indexes or no indexes? We’ve spent a lot less time debating an even more important question: What are states going to do once those schools are identified? At the Foundation for Excellence in Education (ExcelinEd) we’re hopeful that states will leverage the power of parental choice to spur rapid and dramatic turnaround in their lowest-performing districts and schools.

But in April 2016, we surveyed nearly one hundred of our state education reform partners on their plans for ESSA implementation. Respondents represented legislatures, state departments of education, state boards of education, governors’ offices, and advocacy organizations from over thirty states. Among other questions, we asked them which supports and interventions they anticipated their states would provide...

Mike Magee

Editor's note: This is the third post in Fordham's 2016 Wonkathon. We've asked assorted education policy experts to answer this question: What are the "sleeper provisions" of ESSA that might encourage the further expansion of parental choice, at least if advocates seize the opportunity? Prior entries can be found here and here.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) includes a new provision championed by Chiefs for Change that will provide SEAs and LEAs with the resources to support direct student services (DSS). Through a 3 percent discretionary state reservation of Title I funding, states will be allowed to work with districts to rethink the use of a portion of Title I funds. The hope is that this will generate innovative approaches to bringing value and service to educators, families, students, and taxpayers. This new authority follows initiatives that Chiefs for Change members have taken in recent years to expand parental choice options as a means of improving student academic achievement. If all states take advantage of the new provision, over $425 million annually would be available to involve families in choosing personalized, outcomes-driven services for their children. These funds are made available in addition to the 7 percent set-aside for school improvement activities....

Max Eden

Editor's note: This is the second post in Fordham's 2016 Wonkathon. We've asked assorted education policy experts to answer this question: What are the "sleeper provisions" of ESSA that might encourage the further expansion of parental choice, at least if advocates seize the opportunity? The first entry can be found here.

The anti-school-choice crowd can’t stop kvetching about corporate reformers trying to make a killing by privatizing public education. It’s an emotionally powerful argument, but an economically illiterate one. The “billionaire boys club” and hedge fund plutocrats no doubt have many more profitable prospects than philanthropically funding nonprofit charter management organizations.

And that’s kind of a shame, really. The private sector can deploy more resources more flexibly and at greater scale than the bureaucratic public sector. But the incentives haven’t been aligned for private investors to do well for themselves by doing good for kids—until ESSA.

There’s a “sleeper provision” in ESSA that holds the potential to reshape secondary education by enabling “pay-for-success” (PFS) partnerships for dropout prevention.

Despite its potential, PFS is still largely unknown to even the most seasoned education wonks, and only a handful of pilot programs are operating at the moment. PFS is an innovative funding tool that...

Lesley Lavery

Editor's note: This is the first post in Fordham's 2016 Wonkathon. We've asked assorted education policy experts to answer this question: What are the "sleeper provisions" of ESSA that might encourage the further expansion of parental choice, at least if advocates seize the opportunity? 

At the end of 2015, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was signed into law with bipartisan support. Though the logic and mechanics of the policy distinguish it from its predecessor, the No Child Left Behind Act, it is difficult to tell how and whether ESSA will create increased agency for students and their families. Parents’ interactions with policy opportunities depend on their demand for diverse and academically rigorous options, their ability to find and sort through materials on school quality and fit, and the supply of diverse schooling options within and outside of traditional public school districts. Answers to the following questions should help policy observers gauge ESSA’s likelihood of altering student enrollment patterns:

Does ESSA create or encourage new and different school models and approaches (i.e., will ESSA spur school variation within states)?

ESSA grants states considerable leeway in setting standards and goals and designing systems and supports best suited to the needs of their...

President Obama signed the new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), in December 2015. Since then, there’s been a flurry of discussion around rule making and the differences between ESSA and NCLB. One new feature is a provision that permits states to award money to districts for direct student services (DSS), an umbrella term that includes a wide range of individualized academic services intended to improve student achievement.

Starting in 2017–18, ESSA permits states to reserve up to 3 percent of their Title I funds to distribute to districts interested in providing direct student services. A recent report from Chiefs for Change estimates that, based on fiscal year 2017 Title I estimates, the funding available for direct student services ranges from just over $1 million in Wyoming to over $54 million in California. There are, of course, a few stipulations: If states opt to reserve these funds, 99 percent of the total must be distributed directly to districts (presumably through a competitive grant program). Districts are empowered to choose whether or not to apply for a grant and how to spend any awarded dollars, though state-created grant applications could allow states to nudge districts in certain directions. States must also prioritize districts...

Editor's note: This post is the sixth and final entry in an ongoing discussion between Fordham's Michael Petrilli and the University of Arkansas's Jay Greene that seeks to answer this question: Are math and reading test results strong enough indicators of school quality that regulators can rely on them to determine which schools should be closed and which should be expanded—even if parental demand is inconsistent with test results? Prior entries can be found herehereherehere, and here.

Shoot, Jay, maybe I should have quit while we were ahead—or at least while we were closer to rapprochement.

Let me admit to being perplexed by your latest post, which has an Alice in Wonderland aspect to it—a suggestion that down is up and up is down. “Short-term changes in test scores are not very good predictors of success,” you write. But that’s not at all what the research I’ve pointed to shows.

Start with the David Deming study of Texas’s 1990s-era accountability system. Low-performing Lone Star State schools faced low ratings and responded by doing something to boost the achievement of their low-performing students. That yielded short-term test-score gains, which were related to positive long-term outcomes. This is the sort of thing we’d...

Editor's note: This post is the fifth in an ongoing discussion between Fordham's Michael Petrilli and the University of Arkansas's Jay Greene that seeks to answer this question: Are math and reading test results strong enough indicators of school quality that regulators can rely on them to determine which schools should be closed and which should be expanded—even if parental demand is inconsistent with test results? Prior entries can be found hereherehere, and here.

Mike, you say that we agree on the limitations of using test results for judging school quality, but I’m not sure how true that is. In order not to get too bogged down in the details of that question, I’ll try to keep this reply as brief as possible.

First, the evidence you’re citing actually supports the opposite of what you are arguing. You mention the Project Star study showing that test scores in kindergarten correlated with later life outcomes as proof that test scores are reliable indicators of school or program quality. But you don’t emphasize an important point: Whatever benefits students experienced in kindergarten that resulted in higher test scores, they did not cause higher test scores in later grades—even though they produced better later-life outcomes....

I have two requests. The first is modest. The second is…well, let’s focus on the first for the time being.

Please go to your calendar and block off thirty minutes. You can call the item “Districts and the Achievement Gap.” It’s easy work; you’ll just need to do look at some pictures.

A new project by a team of researchers associated with Stanford’s Center for Education Policy Analysis has produced a database that includes school district test scores, poverty rates, and racial demographics (report on the database’s creation here).

short article in the New York Times explains some of the findings that emerge when you start analyzing the data. But the major contributions of the article are its two interactive graphics.

The first displays the well-known relationship between family income and student achievement: Students from more affluent families have higher average achievement levels. The upshot, per the article, is that “children in the school districts with the highest concentrations of poverty score an average of more than four grade levels below children in the richest districts.” The graphic allows you to search for any traditional school district in America. I did a quick comparison of one of New Jersey’s highest-performing and one of...

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