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This dense yet eminently Tweetable report offers factoid after factoid to describe the state of child welfare in America—and, by default, the challenges facing education reformers and others. The compendium pulls from twenty-plus federal sources and highlights seven categories of child welfare, including education; health; economic circumstance; and family, social, and physical environments. In 2012, for example, 64 percent of children ages zero to seventeen lived with both parents. (Just 4 percent lived solely with their fathers—the same proportion as lived with no parents at all.) Two percent of eighth graders—and 9 percent of twelfth graders—reported smoking a cigarette daily. And 8 percent of youth from sixteen to nineteen are neither enrolled in school nor working. While the report is a belt-notch above 200 pages, the education section is digestible—if not groundbreaking: The authors report that reading to young children positively affects school success (happily, 83 percent of those ages three through five who weren’t yet enrolled in preschool were read to in the home at least three times per week). Hispanics continue to make strong gains in reading and math. But NAEP reading scores in general have improved little—save at the eighth-grade level. While not new, these are still notable findings—and a great reminder not just of the work ahead on the education-reform front but also the context in which those efforts occur.

SOURCE: Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, America’s Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2013 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, July 2013)....

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StudentsFirst has made a thoughtful contribution to the burgeoning literature on school governance with its new policy brief Change the Leadership, Change the Rules: Improving Schools and Districts through Mayoral and State Governance. In it, the group argues that school boards have been largely ineffective in urban areas and examines two main alternatives: mayoral control and state control—the latter preferably via the “recovery district” model. It’s a short and snappy synopsis.

The Brookings Institute’s Hamilton Project has produced another worthy read: Thirteen Economic Facts about Social Mobility and the Role of Education is organized around three theses: inequality is on the rise against a backdrop of low social mobility; the U.S. is experiencing a growing divide in educational investments and outcomes based on family income; and education and smart interventions can help—such as those outlined in Caroline Hoxby’s Expanding College Opportunities project and Ben Castleman’s Summer Melt study. While the facts themselves are not new, the report offers an accessible and logical assemblage. Dig in!

On Monday, Michigan governor Rick Snyder chose finance expert Jack Martin to succeed Roy Roberts as emergency manager of Detroit Public Schools (DPS). Martin enters the ring with four decades of private- and public-sector experience under his belt, including stints as CFO of the U.S. Department of Education and emergency manager of Highland Park Schools (another troubled school district in the Detroit metro area). What’s more, he is himself a DPS graduate. Martin is surely well credentialed and...

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Traditional school districts and public charter schools are often positioned as competitors, rivals, even enemies. But must they? In February 2010, the Gates Foundation established the District-Charter Collaboration Compact initiative to promote peace and join these two forces in the real battle: improving educational outcomes. This interim report—naught more than a status update, but instructional nonetheless—documents these efforts to date. Sixteen cities participated in the first round, sharing things like physical resources, facilities, and instructional best practices and developing a common enrollment system, expedited by $100,000 Gates grants to each community. Progress on Compact commitments (including a special education collaborative in New York and shared professional development in Boston) has been “episodic,” however, rocked by things like leadership transitions (in Chicago, for instance, initial progress made under Superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard has slowed since his exit) and local anti-charter sentiment. Still, the update lauds the fact that district leaders in all sixteen cities report improved dialogue. In December 2012, seven of the sixteen communities—Hartford, Denver, New York City, Boston, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Spring Branch, Texas—were granted additional funds, totaling close to $25 million, to continue the work.

SOURCE: Sarah Yatsko, Elizabeth Cooley Nelson, and Robin Lake, District-Charter Collaboration Compact: Interim Report (Seattle, WA: Center on Reinventing Public Education, June 2013).

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GadflyBusted! The Big Apple’s “transfer” high schools—the city’s schools-of-last-resort for struggling teens—saw more students drop out than graduate in 2011–12—seventy-eight more at the forty-four such schools surveyed, to be exact. By contrast, last year at the same forty-four schools, 619 more students graduated than dropped out. The schools’ principals attributed the flop to midyear changes in graduation requirements (tightened to match state requirements), while city officials—claiming that their own policy changes were “minor”—cited increased Regents standards, instead. For our take, see this week’s Education Gadfly Show.

School districts considering arming their teachers and administrators may need to think twice: Insurance carriers have threatened to raise their premiums or revoke their coverage altogether. This is not universal (Texas, for instance, has made it fairly easy for districts to arm employees and insurance providers have hardly batted an eye—now, whether these employees can actually use their weapons is another matter altogether); nevertheless, it is certainly an important development in the guns-in-schools debate.

As contentious as the New York City mayoral race is, the turbulence in K–12 education facing the new leader is more. New York City public schools must deal with implementation of the Common Core standards and the hard-fought (and still-controversial) teacher-evaluation system—and let’s not forget the conundrums of whether or not to continue the Bloomberg-Kline-era reforms, whether to close the city’s failing schools, whether to allow charters and traditional...

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A British schoolteacher, Daisy Christodoulou, has just published a short, pungent e-book called Seven Myths about Education. It’s a must-read for anyone in a position to influence our low-performing public school system. The book’s focus is on British education, but it deserves to be nominated as a “best book of 2013″ on American education, because there’s not a farthing’s worth of difference in how the British and American educational systems are being hindered by a slogan-monopoly of high-sounding ideas—brilliantly deconstructed in this book.

Photo by Christos Tsoumplekas
There's not a farthing's worth of difference in how the British and American educational systems are being hindered by a slogan-monopoly of high-sounding ideas. 

Ms. Christodoulou has unusual credentials. She’s an experienced classroom teacher, she currently directs a nonprofit educational foundation in London, and she is a scholar of impressive powers who has mastered the relevant research literature in educational history and cognitive psychology. Her writing is clear and effective. Speaking as a teacher to teachers, she may be able to change their minds. As an expert scholar and writer, she also has a good chance of enlightening administrators, legislators, and concerned citizens.

Ms. Christodoulou believes that such enlightenment is the great practical need these days, because the chief barriers to effective school reform are not the usual accused: bad teacher unions,...

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The missed opportunity in the education of gifted students runs up and down the system, including into and beyond the college gate. Last December, Caroline Hoxby and Christopher Avery showed that there are far more high-achieving, low-income students than previously thought—but that these young people, unaware of their options, often do not even apply to selective colleges. Now, Hoxby and Sarah Turner report on a well-crafted intervention aimed at closing the information gap. It’s called the Expanding College Opportunities (ECO) Project. After sending and emailing customized informational packets (which consisted of college-specific information and application fee waivers, alongside guidance on how to apply to selective colleges, on the net cost of college, and on colleges’ varying graduation rates—all at $6 a pop) to high-achieving seniors (10,000 of them in 2010–11, with a control group of 2,500, and 15,000 in 2011–12, with a control group of 3,000), the authors saw positive results: Compared to the control group, recipient students were 20 percent more likely to apply to public and private schools with similarly high-achieving students. And in this Hamilton Project paper, the authors outline ways to bring this initiative to scale: First, in order to scale up the number of students reached, the ECO project will need to team up with credible, established institutions, such as the College Board and ACT. Second, because the Census recently stopped gathering data on incomes, housing values, occupations, and adults’ education, the authors propose that the federal government allow them access to other sources...

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GadflyAn Atlantic article by sociology professor Richard Greenwald examines Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s education legacy, concluding that while the Big Apple’s education sector has certainly seen progress (graduation rates have increased 39 percent since 2005, for example, and Bloomberg has made a concerted effort to rebuild the decrepit physical infrastructure), there have also been setbacks (e.g., problems with test administration). Instead, the author suggests that Bloomberg claim the mantle of “recycling mayor”—or perhaps “alternative-transportation mayor” instead.

A survey of 200 Idaho teachers found that most don’t need convincing to bring educational technology into the classroom—they just need training. Eighty-four percent said the pros of ed tech outweighed the cons and that they are currently using or planning to use ed tech in their classrooms. However, 80 percent either didn’t know of social-media technologies like Skype and Twitter or employ them rarely or never—and only 21 percent of those surveyed employ games, simulations, or virtual laboratories in their classrooms on a monthly basis.

After accepting the New York City teacher union’s endorsement, mayoral candidate Bill Thompson is carefully constructing his stance on education policy. Due in part to the involvement of his campaign chairwoman, State Board of Regents chancellor Merryl Tisch, he has fostered a relationship with charter advocates and Randi Weingarten. We’ll see how he handles this balancing act.

Chris Walters, a Virginia native and newly minted Massachusetts Institute of Technology PhD, has...

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There are a number of laudable statistics found in this year’s Diplomas Count: At 75 percent, the U.S. graduation rate in 2010 hit its highest point since 1973—the most recent year for which data are available—marking an 8 percentage point boost from ten years earlier. Further, Hispanics boasted a 16 percentage-point rate improvement; African Americans, a 13 percentage-point bump, which halved the white-Hispanic graduation-rate gap and cut the white–African American gap by 30 percent during that same time period. Yet this year’s report focuses on a depressing corollary point: We’re failing our youth who have already dropped out. Currently, 1.8 million young adults, or 6.5 percent of those aged sixteen to twenty-one, are neither enrolled in school nor have they received their diploma. And we have no comprehensive public-policy strategy to bring these youth back to school or get them college- or career-ready. Still, the report profiles a handful of dropout-recovery programs—run by districts, CMOs, or nonprofits—that are working to reengage would-be students. It’s tough stuff: One Boston-based nonprofit brought 501 of the 867 students it contacted back to the classroom in 2011–12, for example. Among them, fewer than 100 graduated at the end of the year. The message? Progress is good, but there’s no rest for the weary.

SOURCE: Education Week, Diplomas Count 2013: Second Chances: Turning Dropouts into Graduates (Bethesda, MD: Editorial Projects in Education, June 2013)....

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In this new NBER working paper, Jason Grissom and colleagues explore the implications of involuntary teacher transfers (or those in which educators are shuffled from one school to another without say) in Miami Dade County’s public schools. Specifically, analysts examined which types of schools made use of—and accepted teachers from—the transfer policy, “the characteristics of transferred teachers and their replacements, and whether the transfers affected productivity, at least in terms of teacher absences and value added. First, they examined involuntary transfers from 2009 through 2012, finding that seventy-three (of 370) of the district’s schools transferred at least one teacher in at least one of those years, totaling 375 teacher transfers. Schools that used the policy tended to be far lower achieving and tended to serve higher percentages of African American students and those with free-and-reduced-price-lunch than schools that did not. The involuntarily transferred teachers were sent to higher-achieving schools than those they left (on average, they were moved from D to B schools on Florida’s A–F grading system). With regards to teacher characteristics, the booted educators were relatively experienced, with 60 percent having five or more years of teaching under their belts and only 8 percent having one year or less. They were absent more often than other teachers—and in mathematics, they had significantly lower value-added scores than those who were not transferred. Importantly, their replacements tended to be younger, less experienced, and generally higher performing (though the sample size for this particular analysis was small). Finally, the authors found...

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GadflyNew York City’s graduation rate dipped very slightly in 2012—information that was hailed as a win by Mayor Bloomberg, given that the class of 2012 was the first cohort not given the option to graduate with an easier-to-obtain “local diploma.”

The United Federation of Teachers has announced its support for former city comptroller Bill Thompson’s bid for mayor of New York City—the union’s first endorsement in a mayoral election in more than a decade. But have no fear, ye other candidates—Mayor Bloomberg has derisively dubbed the union endorsement a “kiss of death” (to which the union responded by likening Bloomberg’s approval as “worse than a zombie attack”). And Gotham politics continue.

Earlier this week, New Hampshire Superior Court judge John Lewis bucked U.S. Supreme Court precedent and ruled that the state’s tax-credit-scholarship program directed public money to religious schools, in violation of the state constitution’s Blaine Amendment—a provision banning government aid to “sectarian” schools that has its roots in the anti-Catholic bigotry pervasive in the late 1800s. (Blaine Amendments still exist in thirty-six other states.) Judge Lewis’s ruling marks the first time a tax-credit-scholarship program has been struck down on these grounds. Previously, the U.S. Supreme Court had determined that tax-credit-scholarship money never reaches the state treasury and thus cannot be considered public. An appeal in the...

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