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In recent years, pre-Kindergarten has become a rather popular idea among policymakers and the public. The latest cases in point include the Columbus mayor’s announcement of a new $5 million initiative to provide quality pre-K. Meanwhile, just last week, Cleveland-area entities announced a massive $35 million, two-year plan to expand access to quality pre-K. Yet, as Ohio’s policymakers enthusiastically tout pre-K, they should understand that it isn’t necessarily an educational slam dunk. Consider Grover “Russ” Whitehurst’s excellent summary of the research.[1] Whitehurst analyzes thirteen pre-K studies from the 1960s to the present, grading the quality of the research and reporting the impact of the program. Whitehurst begins with a look at two widely cited studies from the 1960s and 1970s, Perry Preschool and Abecedarian, both of which found positive, long-term impacts for participants. So far so good, but Whitehurst reminds us that Perry and Abecedarian studies were evaluations of small single-site programs. (Perry, for example, had just fifty-eight participants.) This limits the ability to infer that large-scale pre-K programs would confer similar benefits. As he moves into studies from recent years, Whitehurst reports less positive findings on large-scale pre-K programs. In his view, the two strongest pre-K studies have been the Head Start and the Tennessee Voluntary Pre-K program evaluations. The Head Start evaluation found no effect of pre-K, while in Tennessee there was evidence of slightly negative effects on child outcomes. To conclude, Whitehurst writes, “[The] best available evidence raises serious doubts...

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Breakthrough Schools’ head honcho Alan Rosskamm testified before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce in Washington, D.C. last week. The hearing was titled “Raising the Bar: The Role of Charter Schools in K–12 Education,” and Rosskamm knows a thing or two about doing just that.

  • Ahead of the testimony, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) released a statement lauding Rosskamm and the Breakthrough teachers for their work in providing high-quality education for their students.
  • The Cleveland Plain Dealer also previewed Rosskamm’s testimony ahead of time, noting the strength of the partnership between Breakthrough and Cleveland Metropolitan School District, which has—to the benefit of students and families—helped to break down the long-standing barriers between charters and district schools.

Vocational education is also in the news:

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Here are some of the best edu-reads I’ve come across recently.

Think the teacher-pension issue is only for green-eyeshade types? Think again! My colleagues at Bellwether, Chad Aldeman and Andy Rotherham, have written an informative—and worrisome—report on the current state of play of educator retirement benefits and its implications for the profession and taxpayers. Get this: about half of all public schoolteachers won’t qualify for even a minimal pension. How in the world is that possible? Read the report.

You may also think that “school productivity”—how to get the biggest bang for our education buck—is only for accountants and actuaries. But Paul Hill has written a very good piece for the George W. Bush Institute on how smart governance changes can both make the most of our scarce resources and improve student learning. The report isn’t spreadsheets and pivot tables; it’s an interesting argument for changes in mindset, policy, and practice.

The always-excellent Center for Reinventing Public Education has produced a terrific short white paper on common enrollment systems, namely how to facilitate choice across a city with multiple school sectors. The brief describes how such systems are working in Denver and New Orleans, including the tough issues such systems have to address and how well they ultimately match students to their most preferred schools. I believe the march toward sector agnosticism is inexorable. A common enrollment system is almost certainly part of the urban school system of the future, so if you track K–12 developments...

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Research has repeatedly found that being a firstborn can come with advantages—they tend to be natural leaders, have higher IQ’s, and are often chosen to portray James Bond. They also perform better in school. This new NBER study sheds light on why this is so, testing the conventional wisdom that earlier-born siblings put more effort in school and perform better than their later-born siblings partly because their parents are more strict with them. Using the 1979 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (which includes data from parent surveys), they track outcomes for children as they transition between the ages of 10 and 14. Three key findings: First, there is a clear association between school performance and birth order. For example, 34 percent of firstborns are viewed by their mothers as “one of the best in the class,” versus 27 percent of those coming fourth in birth order. Likewise, just 7 percent of firstborns are considered below the middle or at the bottom of the class, compared to 11 percent of fourth-borns. (The analysts use GPAs on school transcripts to validate the moms’ self-reported data regarding how their children perform in school.) Early birth order is also associated with higher scores on standardized math and reading tests. Second, parents regulate earlier-born siblings’ television-viewing and homework-completing behaviors more intensely. Third, the more younger siblings a child has, the more likely are his parents to closely supervise him in the event that he brings home low performance on...

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Perhaps New York mayor Bill de Blasio is starting to see that attacking charter schools is a better Democratic-primary strategy than governing philosophy. This turn of events can be illustrated by his appearance earlier this week on MSNBC’s Morning Joe show, where he encountered a surprisingly sharp round of questioning from the roundtable of (left-leaning) hosts on the matter. The New York Times notes that de Blasio is softening his rhetoric and reaching out to charter groups “more sympathetic” to his administration. With his approval rating already down to 39 percent—just ten weeks after taking office—here’s hoping Hizzoner will stop antagonizing charter schools altogether.

The Kansas Supreme Court ruled on an important school funding case this week, finding that the state’s legislature does, in fact, have the authority to make budgetary decisions—but that it also must maintain an educational system that meets constitutional requirements. In Education Next, Eric Hanushek contends that the court got it right. Unlike previous rulings in the state, the court indicated that the “total spending is not the touchstone for determining adequacy”; rather, the skills of students ought to be so.

In a new Huffington Post article, Diane Ravitch argues that the “reform” narrative is a fraud: NAEP scores and graduation rates are at their highest point in history for both whites and minorities, the dropout rate is at a historic low, and so on. But in this week’s Education Gadfly Show podcast, Mike Petrilli looks at the...

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The SXSWedu portion of the famously cool SXSW festival is the oddball segment, as evidenced by the early start and the attendees actually wearing suits. Besides the un-SXSW vibe of SXSWedu, there were a ton of takeaways for policy wonks. Here are four key ones:

  1. Wendy Kopp, founder of Teacher For America and Teach For All, not only takes tough questions from the audience (including many former TFA corps members), she took the no-silver-bullets route—that no one policy is the answer for our education crisis. She identified teacher-preparation reform as the 2013–14 flavor of the school year: fix the teachers and you’ll fix the schools. But most impressively, she told a tech-savvy audience that putting a tablet into every child’s hands isn’t going to do squat for improving our schools.
  2. A marriage between school choice and non-cognitive skills has a lot of potential. Many are reluctant to open their arms to teaching the “touchy-feely” stuff in our schools, especially as we continue to underperform academically. But non-cognitive skills matter. Bryan Contreras from KIPP Houston described the network’s home visits, summer camps, and mentoring programs. Contreras convinced me that these efforts at “social and emotional learning” are clear-headed parts of KIPP’s strategy for preparing students for success in college and life. It would be no easy task to scale these for all students at all schools, but charter schools (and private schools) can lead the way on innovative ways to provide non-cognitive skills to more low-income kids.
  3. Data security was
  4. ...
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The SXSWedu portion of the famously cool SXSW festival is the oddball segment, as evidenced by the early start and the attendees actually wearing suits. Besides the un-SXSW vibe of SXSWedu, there were a ton of takeaways for policy wonks. Here are four key ones:

  1. Wendy Kopp, founder of Teacher For America and Teach For All, not only takes tough questions from the audience (including many former TFA corps members), she took the no-silver-bullets route—that no one policy is the answer for our education crisis. She identified teacher-preparation reform as the 2013–14 flavor of the school year: fix the teachers and you’ll fix the schools. But most impressively, she told a tech-savvy audience that putting a tablet into every child’s hands isn’t going to do squat for improving our schools.
  2. A marriage between school choice and non-cognitive skills has a lot of potential. Many are reluctant to open their arms to teaching the “touchy-feely” stuff in our schools, especially as we continue to underperform academically. But non-cognitive skills matter. Bryan Contreras from KIPP Houston described the network’s home visits, summer camps, and mentoring programs. Contreras convinced me that these efforts at “social and emotional learning” are clear-headed parts of KIPP’s strategy for preparing students for success in college and life. It would be no easy task to scale these for all students at all schools, but charter schools (and private schools) can lead the way on innovative ways to provide non-cognitive skills to more low-income kids.
  3. Data security was
  4. ...
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Last week, Chris Cerf stepped down after three extraordinarily successful years as New Jersey’s commissioner of education. Education observers in the Garden State and beyond will remember his tenure for its major initiatives.

He secured a Race to the Top 3 grant and one of the first ESEA waivers. He successfully led the charge for the overhaul of the state’s outdated tenure statute and launched a new teacher-evaluation pilot program. He negotiated a new labor contract in Newark, and he had the state intervene in the tragically low-performing Camden school district. He dramatically improved chartering in the state, authorizing dozens of new schools while closing 10 persistently low performers. And he was a stalwart for both Common Core and PARCC.

Cerf’s accomplishments are undeniable. But in the fine tradition of blogging, I need to make this about me.

To wit, no single person has had a larger or more positive influence on my professional development. I learned mountains from Chris Cerf about leadership in general and, more specifically, how to bring about change as the whipping winds of politics (and worse) swirl around you.

As fate would have it, our adventure and all I took from it came an inch from being aborted. We met during the darkest period of my professional career. I had been offered the job as New Jersey’s deputy commissioner by Cerf’s predecessor.

I quit my job, moved my wife and two-week old baby away from family in Maryland, bought a house, and began...

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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 dinosaursaquatic lifeinsectsfrogs and other amphibians; reptilesAncient Asian Cultures; the early American civilizations; Ancient GreeceNative American culturesChristopher Columbus and the Age of DiscoveryColonial America and the Revolutionary Warthe American founders;  movie adaptations of classic children’s books; and American folk heroes.

Where I live near Washington, D.C., the long, cold, snowy winter and late spring haven’t deterred the songbirds from making their vernal voices heard. Not only are these incredible creatures beautiful (visually and vocally), but they also are our modern link to the age of the dinosaurs and feature prominently in art, music, and culture throughout human history. Here are some videos to help teach your kids about our feathered friends.

Special thanks to research interns Andrew McDonnell, Elisabeth Hoyson, and Liz McInerney for helping to compile these lists.

Best videos on birds

1. Nature Adventures: Unique Birds of the Prairie

Nature AdventuresTodd and Terri explore the Great Plains in search of unique bird species. They show you that not all birds live in nests, as they get up close to burrowing owls near the Badlands of South Dakota. Plus they examine red tailed hawks and long...

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Education Gadfly Weekly

Opinion + Analysis: 
Opinion
Last week President Obama announced a five-year, $200 million charitable initiative called My Brother’s Keeper to help young African American men. The program seeks to address the many disparities in outcomes for black men, including large gaps with white men regarding high-school graduation rates...
Opinion
The K–12 education world brims with debates and dichotomies that get us into all manner of needless quarrels and cul-de-sacs, thus messing up every reform initiative and retarding progress. In every case, both sides are certain that they speak the whole truth; convinced that opposing views are...
Briefly Noted
Big changes are on the way for College Board’s SAT college-admission test . The headlines announce that the timed essay will be revamped and become optional , that the scoring scale will return to 1600 , and that the test will no longer focus so heavily on “obscure” words (when’s the last time you...
Reviews: 
Journal Article
Do the characteristics of a school and its neighborhood affect whether prospective teachers apply to teach there? To answer this question, analysts attended three large job fairs for Chicago Public Schools in Summer 2006 and compiled extensive data on the preferences and demographics of the 4,000...
Report
The National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) has emerged as one of the nation’s staunchest proponents of charter-school quality. In November 2012, it launched its ambitious One Million Lives campaign , the purpose of which is “to bend the quality curve upward.” Among the key...
Gadfly Studios: 
Podcast
Mike and Dara “Let It Go” with student free speech, Obama’s federal budget request, and Louisiana’s CTE revamp. Amber confirms the obvious: location matters to prospective teachers. Amber's Research Minute “ New Evidence on Teacher Labor Supply ,” by Mimi Engel, Brian A. Jacob, and F. Chris Curran...

Last week President Obama announced a five-year, $200 million charitable initiative called My Brother’s Keeper to help young African American men. The program seeks to address the many disparities in outcomes for black men, including large gaps with white men regarding high-school graduation rates, college enrollment and completion rates, lifetime earnings, longevity, and the likelihood of incarceration. According to The New York...

The K–12 education world brims with debates and dichotomies that get us into all manner of needless quarrels and cul-de-sacs, thus messing up every reform initiative and retarding progress. In every case, both sides are certain that they speak the whole truth; convinced that opposing views are misguided, perhaps even evil; and insistent that changes the system needs will go awry unless their side prevails.

These philosophical tug-of-wars lead to paralysis akin to what we witness today in Congress and many legislatures. Of them we ask, “Why can’t you compromise, split the difference, make a deal, take the best of both positions, and get something done?”

The ten education dichotomies outlined below should be seen in similar light: neither side owns the truth—and what would do kids the greatest good is an intelligent middle ground that melds the best of both views....

Do the characteristics of a school and its neighborhood affect whether prospective teachers apply to teach there? To answer this question, analysts attended three large job fairs for Chicago Public Schools in Summer 2006 and compiled extensive data on the preferences and demographics of the 4,000 attending applicants, as well as where they lived in relation to the schools in which they expressed interest. Here are four key findings: First, schools with a larger proportion of white or Asian students had more job fair applicants—a 10 percentage point increase in white or Asian students is associated, on average, with four more applicants per school. Similarly, an increase in free-lunch-eligible students of 10 percentage points is associated with four fewer applicants per school per job fair. Second, African American candidates are more likely to...

The National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) has emerged as one of the nation’s staunchest proponents of charter-school quality. In November 2012, it launched its ambitious One Million Lives campaign, the purpose of which is “to bend the quality curve upward.” Among the key strategies to improve quality, while maintaining growth, is to close as many as a thousand low-performing charter schools and to open two thousand high-performing ones. Under the closure-replication strategy, NACSA calculates that one million additional children will enroll in a high-performing school by 2018. In the Year One update, NACSA reports that the campaign is off to a strong start. The upshot: as a result of proactive authorizing practices, 491 promising, new charter schools...

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