Trusting Teachers with School SuccessThis book awakens an established but sparingly practiced and often unknown initiative in K–12 education: teacher autonomy. Authors profile eleven schools (seven of them charters and three of them in Minnesota, a pioneer in the "teacher-led-schools" initiative) that embrace teacher autonomy to differing degrees and study the policies and practices by which they operate. Ten criteria are used to judge the autonomy level of the teachers including their agency over: staff hiring and firing decisions, budget allocations, curriculum design, and school-wide discipline policies. Written for teachers, the book—a worthwhile primer on what teacher autonomy is and what its many forms look like—offers an illustrative blueprint for one manner in which teachers may be empowered, rather than alienated or demonized, by the reform movement. Still, the book unconvincingly handles one key component of a worthy teacher-autonomy policy: Before you give teachers the keys to the castle, make sure you have royalty in the profession.

SOURCE: Kim Farris-Berg and Edward Dirswager with Amy Junge, Trusting Teachers with School Success (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2012).


Spanning a manageable 2,000 pages, this sixth edition of the National Council on Teacher Quality’s (NCTQ’s) annual teacher-policy yearbook focuses attention on states’ teacher-preparation policies (one of five areas tracked by NCTQ as part of this initiative). And, once again, NCTQ finds them wanting. Across the items investigated (including the rigor of admission requirements in teaching programs, student-teaching expectations, and accountability systems linked to the performance of prep programs’ alumni when they reach the classroom), the U.S. averages a D-plus. Only four states earn respectable marks (still a meager B-minus): Alabama, Florida, Indiana, and Tennessee. Three others (Alaska, Montana, and Wyoming) earn Fs. Looking closely at specific policies is even more depressing: Just three states (Indiana, Minnesota, and Tennessee) require high school teachers to pass content-area tests in their subjects without allowing loopholes (most of which are for math and science teachers). And Texas is the only state that norms its admissions exam to the general college-bound population (all others norm it to the prospective teaching population, setting a lower bar than for other college and university students). Still, NCTQ acknowledges that states are slowly moving in the right direction. In 2007, when the organization began scrutinizing these data, no state held its prep programs accountable for the quality of their graduates; today, eight do. And since 2011, fourteen states (including Ohio) have improved their teacher-preparation policies in some way. Kudos to NCTQ for continuing to spotlight one of education reform’s greatest ironies: that the work to improve the...


In his second inaugural address, President Barack Obama mentioned two pieces of his K–12 policy agenda: his plans to train new math and science teachers and his plans to improve school safety. Politics K–12 notes that inaugural addresses are not typically policy-laden, so one can fairly infer that these two items top his second-term to-do list. In this week’s Education Gadfly Show, Mike Petrilli—self-professed “koala dad”—expresses unease over placing STEM education on a pedestal over all other subjects.

Last Friday, a federal appeals court upheld Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s public-sector-union reforms in full, rejecting the unions’ charges that the law violated the Equal Protection clause and the First Amendment. But according to the School Law blog, the practical effect of the ruling is “unclear” due to litigation in a separate state court. We will be watching.

A fresh batch of federal data shows that the U.S. public high school graduation rate rose to 78.2 percent in 2010—a thirty-five-year high. But before you bake Arne Duncan a cake and sing “For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow,” be sure to listen to this week’s Education Gadfly Show for a wee slice of humble pie. Has our fixation on graduation rates incentivized schools to cheapen the value of diplomas—say, with bogus credit-recovery programs?

After the ouster of Indiana State Superintendent Tony Bennett (who, subsequently, was snapped up by Florida), Hoosier Republicans began to push for the state to withdraw from the Common...


Ohio’s teacher preparation programs, especially those run by public universities, select mediocre students. So say the data from the Ohio Board of Regents recent release of data on the performance of Ohio’s teacher preparation programs. This is the first publication of data on teacher preparation programs (or “ed schools”) that is required under House Bill 1 (2009).

Among the data released are admissions data, value-added scores of teachers who graduated, and teacher licensure exam scores. These data vastly improve the information we have about the quality of teacher preparation programs—and the students who attend them.

One indicator of the quality of the preparation program is the average ACT scores of admitted students. A higher average ACT score indicates greater selectivity and, most likely, higher program quality.[1] The chart below ranks the average ACT scores of students who were admitted in fall 2012. I exclude three universities because they have less than ten students in their teacher preparation program. In addition, 16 universities didn’t report an average ACT score and one ACT score appears to be an error. These teacher preparation programs vary in size, enrolling anywhere between 13 and 1,687 students.

Source: Ohio Board of Regents. Note: Public institutions are colored in red; private institutions are colored in blue. The range of ACT scores is 1 (low) and 36 (high). The statewide average ACT composite score for students admitted into a teacher preparation...


On Wednesday afternoon, President Obama recommended a package of national reforms aimed at preventing tragedies like last month’s in Newtown, Connecticut. Amidst the high-profile ban on assault weapons and mandatory background checks on all gun buyers, he included a slew of proposals designed to help schools prepare for and respond to violent threats and improve access to quality mental-health services, including new money for new school counselors and training in identifying students with mental disabilities. And the President’s approval ratings leaped in response.

In the least surprising news since the New York Times told us that SAT scores correlate with family incomes, Arne Duncan has announced he will stay on as Secretary of Education during President Obama’s second term. (We can also blame the New York Times for tantalizing us with the faint hope that he would take on a much more surprising role.)

A new study found that students who struggle on college-readiness tests use different brain processes for simple problems than do high-achievers. Researchers asked forty-three students to perform basic arithmetic while having their brains scanned via magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). It turns out that low-performing students’ brains seemed to be performing calculations to solve the basic problems, while high-performing students appeared to solve the equations by rote memory. To our eye, this research buttresses the Common Core’s call for “automaticity” of math facts in the early grades.

A group of professors at Columbia University’s Teachers College...

Bill and Melinda Gates
Bill and Melinda Gates funded possibly the most important K–12 research study of this generation.
Photo by Kjetil Ree.

The final report from the Gates-funded “Measures of Effective Teaching” project may prove to be the most important K–12 research study of this generation.

Many others have summarized its findings and opined on its various features, so I’ll only do that lightly here, spending more time on its implications. (See here for Amber and Daniela’s very good synthesis and here for the Washington Post story.)

It’s hard to believe that it’s taken this long for our field to undertake a research project of this level of sophistication on arguably the most important and confounding aspect of K–12 practice and policy: educator effectiveness.

The upshot is that we know far more than before about how to assess a teacher’s ability to improve the learning of students in his/her classroom. That means we now have the power to identify—in every state, district, and school—the teachers likeliest to help kids learn. The consequences for policy are profound.

We don’t yet know enough about how to find individuals who will eventually become great educators or how to train people to get there, but at least now we’re not flying blind. Some will argue that we weren’t flying blind...


Some of Ohio’s largest school districts are embracing charter schools as part of their overall district reform strategies. Mayor Jackson’s education reform plan in Cleveland calls for tripling “the number of Cleveland students enrolled in high-performing district and charter schools from the approximately 11,000 students currently enrolled in these schools to approximately 33,000 by 2018-19.” In Columbus, Mayor Coleman’s “education commission” is exploring ways to encourage “the growth of high performing charter schools.” In Cincinnati the district recently announced a new partnership with the charter operator Carpe Diem (a high-performing blended-learning charter school model based in Arizona).

Fordham has long-advocated, along with groups like the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools, for better cooperation and creative partnerships between school districts and quality charter schools. As far back as 2007, we argued for a “Portfolio Governance Approach to Meeting the Needs of All Dayton Children.”

Great school leaders are high in demand and portfolio districts compete aggressively for them

Unfortunately Dayton couldn’t run with the concept in 2007, but fast forward to 2013, and according to a new book by Paul Hill, Christine Campbell, and Betheny Gross entitled Strife and Progress: Portfolio Strategies for Managing Urban Schools, there are now close to 30 urban school districts across the country pursuing “the portfolio strategy.” According to Hill, Campbell and Gross leading portfolio districts “support existing schools that are succeeding with the children they serve, close unproductive schools, create new ones similar to schools that have already proven effective,...


After three years, $45 million, and a staggering amount of video content, the Gates Foundation has released the third and final set of reports on its ambitious Measurements in Effective Teaching (MET) project (the first two iterations are reviewed here and here). The project attempted to ascertain whether it’s possible to measure educator effectiveness reliably—and, if so, how to do it. According to the project’s top-notch army of researchers (led by Tom Kane), it ain’t easy but it can be done and done well.

First, the research team used predictive data from the 2009–10 school year to randomly assign about 800 teachers in grades four through eight to classrooms (within their original schools) for 2010–11. The data showed a strong correlation between the predicted achievement of teachers’ students and their actual scores, as well as the magnitude of success. That the study randomly assigned teachers offers credence to the researchers’ contention that teachers’ success can be determined (and isn’t merely a byproduct of the quality of students who enter their classrooms in September). Second, they conducted a series of weightings to determine the ideal mix of past student-achievement data (value-added metrics, or VAM), classroom observations, and student surveys to identify the most effective teachers. Ultimately, the authors determined that a model that relies on VAM for between 33 and 50 percent of total teacher evaluation is best, with student surveys comprising 25 percent and classroom observations the rest.

Though the MET analysts concede that the best...


Achieve released the second draft of the Next Generation Science Standards this week. Project-leader Stephen told Education Week that the new draft is quite different from the old one. Here’s hoping that’s true. Stay tuned for a review from our own science experts.

In a study released at last weekend’s American Economics Association conference, researchers argue that mandatory vaccination programs—in addition to reducing morbidity rates from the relevant childhood diseases—effectively increase students’ likelihood of graduating from high school, possibly because of the weeks of school that ailing kids would miss. Interestingly, this effect was twice as strong among minority students.

The tiff over teacher evaluations in New York City turned into an all-out brawl after Mayor Bloomberg likened the United Federation of Teachers to the NRA in his weekly radio show last Friday. The timing of this particular analogy may have been unfortunate. Still and all, the overarching point he sought to make was valid: Teacher-union leaders, like those of some other interest groups, might be out of sync with their membership. Bloomberg seems to have fallen victim to an old political landmine: Telling the truth.

Last week, the Atlantic ran a moving story by the mother of an autistic child whose public school teachers, despite the best of intentions, were largely unequipped to help him. In the end, the best option for her child was homeschooling—what she describes as a tough,...