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The appointment of former educator and experienced administrator Carmen Fariña as the new chancellor of New York City’s one-million-student public school system has been met with cautious optimism from several fronts, spanning from those who hope she will soften de Blasio’s stance against charter schools to those who hope the opposite. Gadfly, however, is deeply concerned about her recent comments—specifically, her contention that facts are learned “maybe to take tests, but we learn thinking to get on in life. As anyone who understands the past thirty years of cognitive science knows, that’s as false a dichotomy as they come. Gaining knowledge and learning to think critically, rather than being mutually exclusive, are in fact dependent upon one another. Gotham’s students need more knowledge, not less.

Call it a Christmas present to value-added haters: Over the holiday season, news broke that an error in the District of Columbia’s Mathematica-designed value-added model—specifically, the calculation of teachers’ “individual value-added” score, which constitutes 35 percent of teachers’ score under the city’s IMPACT evaluation system—led to mistaken job evaluations for forty-four teachers, one of whom lost their his or her job as a result. In a statement issued just before the winter break, district official Jason Kamras announced that the twenty-two teachers who should have received higher IMPACT scores will “receive all benefits (such as bonuses) that go with the scores,” while the twenty-two who...

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In the first podcast of the year, Mike and Brickman discuss NCLB’s goal of universal proficiency, an error in D.C.’s IMPACT evaluation scores, and the correct pronunciation of Fariña. Amber is no good with marbles—but great at educating us about student mobility. Amber's Research Minute “ Reducing...

It’s that time of year when we guilt ourselves into better behavior—vowing to lead a more abstemious lifestyle, go to the gym more often, improve personal finances...

Way too hard.

Here’s a New Year’s resolution you can follow through on: five good edu-reads to start the year off right!

If you care about accountability systems, you really must read the new report by New America’s Anne Hyslop, “It’s All Relative.” The study shows the major difference between the NCLB era and the waiver era in 16 states. There are way too many lessons to be captured in this short blurb—each table and figure deserves a paragraph—but the overarching takeaway is that states with waivers are addressing struggling schools very differently than they had over the previous decade. That might not turn out to be a good thing.

The KIPP Foundation’s CEO posted a blog on seven exciting developments for the nation’s largest CMO during 2013. The highlights: they now have 141 schools serving 50,000 kids; they continue to serve high-need students and get great results; more than 4,500 alumni are in college; and the organization is making strides to make school leadership more sustainable.

Check out a good article in Education Next about Rhode Island’s innovative “Mayoral Academies,” a model that gets teams of mayors involved in starting and attracting high-performing charter schools. The story of its beginnings and evolution is interesting and should serve as an example for policymakers in other states.

CRPE...

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Tomorrow morning, some of you are going to feel bad about yourselves for tonight’s debauch. Not much I can do for headaches and queasy stomachs, but I can help you insulate your self-esteem: Read these five things before the festivities. You’ll head into the evening knowing you smartened yourself up. And tomorrow, when someone looks at your haggard visage and says, “Last year went out with a bang, huh?” you can say, “Yes, indeed. I did some high-quality edu-reading.”

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This year, readers beat a trail to our blogs for Common Core content; six out of ten of Fordham’s top ten blog posts in 2013 were from Common Core Watch, moderated by Kathleen Porter-Magee. These included posts on real lessons we can learn from Finland, calling out Pearson’s conflicts of interest in New York, four fundamental misunderstandings associated with the anti-testing movement, the case for why conservatives should support the Common Core, the false promise of leveled literacy programs, and why criticisms of the Common Core mathematics standards don’t add up.

Mike Petrilli’s point-by-point rebuttal of an anti–Common Core Wall Street Journal op-ed also made the cut, as did Andy Smarick’s controversial interview with former CEO of Chicago Public Schools Jean-Claude Brizard and a roundtable reaction to the Tony Bennett flap. But the number-one spot went to none of these contentious education-policy topics; instead, the Fordham Institute’s most read blog entry was a list of Mike Petrilli’s top-ten television shows for young children. Go figure.

The following, for your enjoyment, are our ten most read blog posts of 2013. Happy holidays to all!

...
1. The 10 Best Television Shows for Young Children
Michael J. Petrilli
March 11, 2013
 @MichaelPetrilli
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Happy holidays from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute!

For more Gadfly shenanigans…

To learn more about what the Gadfly really says, check out the most recent issue of the Education Gadfly Weekly. And have a happy New Year!

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From NYC Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio’s pledge to provide universal preschool to bipartisan legislation proposing federally funded preschool grants, we have witnessed in 2013 new momentum toward expanding access to early-childhood programs. Yet this evaluation of Tennessee’s Voluntary Prekindergarten program (TN-VPK)—the second in a series conducted by Vanderbilt’s Peabody Research Institute and the Tennessee Department of Education—may cause some second thoughts. TN-VPK is a full-day, one-year, voluntary preschool program aimed at improving the school readiness of the state’s most disadvantaged four-year-olds. The initial evaluation found that the program succeeds in that mission: by the end of the preschool year, participating students made significant cognitive achievement gains when compared to eligible students who applied to TN-VPK but were not accepted (due to space limitations). The new study, however, which sought to evaluate the program’s long-term effects in both cognitive and non-cognitive domains, found that achievement gains made in preschool essentially disappeared when measured at the end of Kindergarten and again at the end of first grade. Though surely disappointing, these findings accord with many earlier studies of preschool effects (most conspicuously a raft of HeadStart evaluations), most of which indicate that cognitive gains made by disadvantaged preschool students are not sustained once in school. The news is not all glum, however: the study found some worthwhile non-cognitive benefits, such as improved attendance rates and lower Kindergarten retention rates, which compelling research indicates also contribute to longer-term education success. Nor has the final chapter been written on preschool....

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Earlier this week, the New York Times featured an editorial on gifted education, noting that even our best students were in the middle of the pack in the recent PISA results. (Mike Petrilli pointed this out two weeks earlier.) The Times went on to discuss how our younger students generally fare better on global tests than our older students, indicative of our failure to nurture high flyers as they progress in education, and made four recommendations for improving gifted education: increasing government funding, expanding accelerated learning (including the possibility of online and video learning in rural areas), early college admission, and psychological coaching (citing research that suggests gifted kids should receive mentorship in order to learn how to handle stress, setbacks, and criticism). Stay tuned for additional lessons on how our international peers educate their high-ability youngsters.

Large school districts in California worry that they will lose out on state funding because of a new rule about verifying students’ poverty status. Part of California’s revamped school-funding system significantly weighted by income, this particular rule requires parents to turn in documentation on their own income status that the district then compiles. The problem is, parents seem reluctant to divulge such personal information or are confused about the paperwork.

The Louisiana legislative auditor this week said the state’s voucher program has too few quality controls. Namely, auditor Daryl Purpera said the legislature should ensure...

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Anyone with even a passing interest in science fiction, or in the latest advances out of Silicon Valley, surely gets a kick thinking about Google’s self-driving cars, now under development and ready for road testing. Imagine: you could spend even more of your day staring at a screen or writing with your thumbs if you didn’t have to pay attention to traffic during your commute to work!

But amid all the buzz and brouhaha, an important point has gone unmade: while auto-piloted autos will surely make life more convenient for many adults, they will be nothing short of revolutionary for adolescents (and their parents). They will change the teen (and tween) years as we know them.

Why is that? Here’s a basic fact: most adolescents are ready for independent mobility well before they are qualified to operate a car. Those lucky to live in a city already know this. Many parents let their twelve-year-olds ride a train or city bus or a bike to school or a friend’s house; some even let their ten-year-olds do so. But of course these kids can’t drive the family car. But soon they will.

Well, not “drive.” But sit in the back as a robot takes them to school, or soccer practice, or karate class. Think about what this means for the parents. No more schlepping tweens around town, no more spending years with “chauffeur” as your primary job description.

Of course, this raises many questions, all of which deserve answers. How old must children be...

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