School Reform

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Over the next year, Sosne Kondé Policy Solutions will be compiling relevant articles about the following education reform topics:

  • Structural or institutional changes to schools
  • Administrators
  • Teachers
  • Curriculum

Stay tuned!

September 6, 2016 – THE POTENTIAL POLICY IMPLICATIONS OF INCLUSION

One of the foundations of federal special education law is that students with disabilities should be educated “to the maximum extent appropriate” with their peers who do not have disabilities.  But some researchers have recently found that young children without disabilities are negatively affected when they’re educated in the same classrooms as students with emotional and behavioral disabilities.  This recent research is consistent with previous findings that the negative spillover effects were more “robust and larger for reading” and had more of an impact on African-American and Hispanic non-disabled students in low-income schools.  Strong teachers with special education experience and classroom management, for example, can mitigate the spillover effects.  While these findings are relatively new and still very controversial, administrators may want to evaluate their classrooms’ environments, ad take into account any related policy implications.  Read more.

September 7, 2016 – ARE STUDENT-CENTERED HIGH SCHOOLS THE ANSWER?

The Nellie May Foundation published a study of twelve student-centered learning practices across New England high schools. Today, schools and communities across the country are advancing a framework known as student-centered learning, which questions traditional concepts of where, when, and how learning happens. Rather than simply sitting through lectures, students use class time for interactive projects and thoughtful discourse. Learners complete internships for credit and run their own parent-teacher conferences. They advance by demonstrating understanding of material at their own pace, which can help them obtain those 21st Century skills policymakers hope for education reform.

September 13, 2016 – THE IMPACT OF ZERO TOLERANCE OVERCORRECTION

“Restorative justice” emphasizes correction and counseling over punishment, and seeks to replace strict zero-tolerance discipline policies with collaborative opportunities for restitution. Its primary goal is to keep students in school rather than suspending or expelling them.  This is particularly important because students removed from schools have a higher likelihood of ending up in the juvenile and adult criminal-justice system, a phenomenon generally referred to as the school-to-prison pipeline.  But policymakers are now questioning whether the overcorrection is negatively affecting the rest of the classroom and hindering educational achievement.  Read the article here.

September 14, 2016 – PROJECT-BASED LEARNING

Personalized learning occurs in “project-based learning” programs, when projects are authentic to students’ lives and concerns and they are given opportunities for voice and choice. This is a different kind of “personalization” than the more commonly-promoted exercises done on a computer, but it’s just as important.  Read more about how to make it high-quality.

September 14, 2016 – 21ST CENTURY SKILLS

The Partnership for 21st Century Learning (P21), announced the fall 2016-2017 21st Century Learning Exemplars. Designed to identify learning environments where students obtain an authentic 21st Century learning experience, the Exemplar Program offers the opportunity for innovative practices found locally to be showcased at a national level. read more about the Exemplars and about P21’s mission.

September 20, 2016 – CHARTER SCHOOL LEADERSHIP MATTERS

In the debate over whether charter schools are more effective than traditional schools, one observation is clear:  Certain charter schools are better than others.  But why?  This article suggests that it’s the leadership, expertise, and training that matters.  So how do we replicate their strong examples nationwide?

September 23, 2016 – THE STATE OF OUR CITIES’ EDUCATION

The George W. Bush Institute published the State of Our Cities this week with the hope that it will provide mayors, policymakers and other stakeholders with comparable information to better assess their city’s schools and student outcomes and then draw their own conclusions about the most effective ways to make improvements.  According to the Education Reform Initiative, by understanding the major factors that impact city education systems, as well as their most prominent challenges, local policymakers can more effectively engage with key stakeholders to implement solutions that close achievement gaps and improve public education for all students.

September 27, 2016 – CALIFORNIA’s NEW APPROACH TO SCHOOL TURNAROUNDS

California is trying a new approach and budgeting $24 million a year to assist school districts, voluntarily, to turn around low-performing schools.  For more information on the new California Collaboration for Educational Excellence, read here.

September 27, 2016 – TARGETED APPROACH TO HELP STRUGGLING SUBGROUPS

Even high-performing schools must be systematic in their improvement strategies if they have a subgroup of students who are struggling.  Lessons gleaned from years of research and from the Obama Administration’s School Improvement Grants (SIG) Program have provided takeaways for school leaders and others who are embarking on school turnarounds.  Using resources from WestED, Public Impact, and Education Resource Strategies, prime focus areas included (1) leadership, (2) talent development, (3) instructional transformation, (4) culture (including high expectations from the community), and (5) strong district support.  Read about some examples here.

September 27, 2016  – ESSA’S LOCAL APPROACH TO SCHOOL TURNAROUNDS

When it comes to school improvement, ESSA’s locally-driven approach represents a U-turn from both “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB) and from the Obama administration’s waivers.  NCLB called for schools that repeatedly missed achievement targets to allow students to transfer to a better-performing school or to access free tutoring.  However, few parents took advantage of those opportunities.  For instance, by the 2011-12 school year, just 10.9% of eligible students nationally were receiving free tutoring, and just 1.1% of students took advantage of public school choice, according to the Education Department.  Moving forward, ESSA requires states to identify the bottom 5% of schools in need of “comprehensive improvement” for the 2017-2018 school year. The district must have an evidence-based plan to overhaul the school, one that would be monitored by the state.  For the 2018-2019 school year, states also need to identify schools in need of “targeted improvement,” if they have struggling subgroups, such as English language Learners, students in special education, racial or ethnic minorities, or disadvantaged children.  For those schools, the school can come up with the plan of interventions, which would be monitored by the district.  The local approach is being lauded, however, it is also a challenge, noted a former Department of Education expert, as districts and schools “are often too busy putting out daily fires to be thinking about how to make big systemic, sustainable change.  School/districts are not often equipped to manage performance or drive for results while also effectively [managing] the everyday challenges that exist with underperforming schools. … Low-performing schools and districts often struggle with high staff turnover and burnout. That can make it tough to investigate outside-the-box interventions and implement a long-term plan.”  Read more about how the new school turnaround rules will apply.

September 27, 2016 – TACKLING SCHOOL CLIMATE & STUDENT BEHAVIOR AS A ROUTE TO IMPROVEMENT

School administrators often look at school climate and behavior issues as part of a comprehensive approach to fixing low-performing schools. ESSA specifically cites a framework that officials can use to build their efforts—multi-tiered systems of support.  A method known as positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS) is a way for school personnel to organize evidence-based practices meant to improve social behaviors schoolwide.  PBIS generally is organized into three tiers: universal supports, targeted supports, and individual supports. Read more here, including a detailed description of the three tiers from the Technical Assistance Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports.

September 28, 2016 – THE IMPORTANCE OF SCHOOL LEADERSHIP

This article, written by school leadership expert Laura Dukess, describes why training administrators is so important.  Research shows that principals account for 25 percent of a school’s total impact on achievement and that student achievement in schools led by highly effective principals can be as much as 20 points higher than at schools led by “average” principals. If we want to improve schools, we have to improve their principals. Yet in most public policy debates around education, the professional development of principals is often little more than an afterthought.  Dukess concludes, “We need to spend time and energy on the students, families, and teachers. But we must not forget the principals who lead them: Sometimes, the catalyst for the change we need must come from the top.”

September 28, 2016 – EVIDENCE-BASED INTERVENTIONS FOR SCHOOL TURNAROUND

ESSA requires districts and schools to use “evidence-based” interventions, however, this requirement highlights the need for more research on interventions at schools with a wider array of contexts.  The pool of high-quality research on education programs remains relatively small, sporadic, and focused on shorter-term gains for students. What Works Clearinghouse has compiled 10,000 studies on various interventions, however, only 29 showed significant effects.  Even there, the average effect was small. . “It’s not just the sheer volume of programs; there hasn’t been a wider effort to tie these [intervention evaluations] together in any way,” says the lead on the American Educational Research Association study. “It’s not like some grand designer said, ‘Do we have enough interventions in reading, in math, in different grade levels? It’s field-generated. … People have been focusing on their parts of the elephant, and I’m not sure there would be a whole elephant if you brought them all together.”  Moreover, there are three designated levels of evidence:  strong, moderate, and promising.  These levels were partially modeled from the Obama administration’s Investing in Innovation competitive grants (i3), but only 43 projects met the grant’s “moderate-evidence” bar, and less than 10 have satisfied the “strong evidence” standard.  “The few interventions that have established strong bases of evidence and use over time, such as Success for All and Reading Recovery, … created comprehensive infrastructure to implement programs in a wide variety of schools; trained and retrained staff that turned over; and sustained ongoing improvement and evaluation of the programs.  Read more.  According to the article, new or updated resources include:

  • What Works Clearinghouse, from U.S. Department of Education, which has evaluated more than 10,000 studies on different educational programs and interventions.  The revamped database includes a search tool to allow educators to search for studies based on the topic and grade level, but also on the demographic characteristics of the students who used the intervention and whether the schools studied were urban or rural, among other things.
  • National Study on Research Use Among School and District Leaders.  The National Center for Research in Policy and Practice is producing a series of reports based on a nationally representative survey of 733 school and district leaders from 45 states and 485 districts. The group is reporting on how and when district and school leaders use evidence to make decisions and how states can provide better resources and supports to help them use research more effectively.
  • Randomized Controlled Trials (RCTs),in which researchers randomly assign participants to use an intervention, will be utilized more by the U.S. Department of Education. In particular, DOE is making free software available that will help districts perform small-scale experimental and quasi-experimental studies in the regular course of implementing a program.
  • State Guide to Evidence Use, made by the Florida Center for Reading Research at Florida State University, will be available in late 2016. The guide is a self-study walk-through for states to plan their own evidence standards and school improvement strategies, applying the ESSA levels of evidence. The lab plans to devise a similar guide for districts on how to apply their state evidence levels to district school improvement decisions.
  • Results First Clearinghouse Database, by the Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative, is a search tool that aggregates results from several evidence databases, including those for child-welfare, juvenile-justice, mental-health, and social-services interventions. For administrators looking for nonacademic or community-related interventions, this tool can provide a broader array of interventions.

October 5, 2016  – US DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION ISSUES ESSA GUIDANCE ON EVIDENCE-BASED SCHOOL IMPROVEMENT

The U.S. Department of Education developed guidance to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), now that states and districts have more flexibility to approach school improvement.  Most importantly, states, districts, and schools need to use “evidence-based” interventions.  To read an article from September 16th on the new guidance and resources to find and evaluate those interventions, see here.  On October 5th, Education Week issued an updated article, which summarizes the Department’s 11-page guidance and provides links to its “Moving the Needle” special report on school improvement strategies in the age of ESSA.

October 6, 2016 – SCHOOL TURNAROUND SPECIALISTS

Since 2000, the The Rensselaerville Institute has been conducting successful school turnarounds. Find out more about TRI.

October 6, 2016 – REVIEWING DIGITAL ARTS TOOLS FOR LANGUAGE ARTS

With all the talk about curriculum development, the sheer amount of new technological tools can be overwhelming for teachers for teachers to determine which ones are effective. As an ever-changing resource, now teachers are evaluating and writing reviews for other teachers. The non-profit organization, EdReports.org, has been analyzing K-12 math textbooks and has now moved onto English/language arts materials. Individual states, researchers, and the company Learning List have been reviewing textbooks, too.  Expanding from textbooks to tech tools, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a Washington-based think tank, is now providing in-depth reviews of several promising digital tools.  Their team of teachers will evaluate the alignment, quality, and usefulness of nine K-12 English/language arts (ELA)/literacy instructional tools.  Read here for an Education Week summary.

October 7, 2016 – TEACHER TURNOVER

Education leaders are grappling with the many challenges to teaching in high-priority schools, especially the increasing problem of teacher turnover.  In addition, according to the Learning Policy Institute, between 2009 and 2014, 35 percent fewer students are entering teacher preparation programs nationally, so it makes it more difficult to replace teachers who leave.  Read this article about how teacher turnover stymies student achievement in Delaware.  Also see the 2007 report by the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, which tracked the high costs of teacher turnover in five districts, estimating that the costs ranged from $4366 per teacher leaving in the small community of Jemez Valley, NM to $17,000 per leaver in Chicago – costing Chicago over $86 million each year.

November 2, 2016 – PRINCIPALS WORK LONG WEEKS; MAY IMPACT TURNOVER 

According to the first nationally representative study of how principals use their time, on average, principals work nearly 60 hours a week, with leaders of high-poverty schools racking up even more time.  The federal Regional Education Laboratory for Northeast and Islands released the study last month.  Read the Education Week summary here.

November 4, 2016 – IMPORTANCE OF TRUST IN SCHOOL IMPROVEMENT EFFORTS

A lack of trust among adults can affect students. Research by the Consortium on Chicago School Research showed back in 2000 that teachers in schools with flat or declining student test scores are more likely to say that they do not trust one another. In contrast, in schools where teachers report strong trust and cooperation among adults, students said they felt safe and cared for, as well as more academically challenged. And stronger student test scores often bear this out. For a recent opinion piece on the subject, read here.

November 9, 2016 – CHANGING FACE OF LITERACY

Education Week dedicated an entire issue to the “Changing Face of Literacy” – including how children learn to read and what is taught in the classroom.

November 9, 2016 – GRANTS FOR INNOVATION

Described here, the U.S. Department of Education selected its last i3 Innovation grant winners.  “Educators are constantly developing new ideas to better assist their students, and i3 empowers educators to develop these approaches into practices that can benefit schools and districts across the country,” said U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. in a statement on the awards.  More on the “Building Assets, Reducing Risk” program, see March 2016 article.

November 16, 2016 – POSITIVE CLIMATE AFFECTS STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT

Authors of the analysis, published this month in the Review of Educational Research, examined 78 school-climate-research studies published between 2000 and 2015 to detect trends.  All but one of those studies found a relationship between improved school climate and student achievement.  Read the Education Week article or The Journal article here.

November 23, 2016 – FOCUS ON INSTRUCTIONAL CHOICE (NOT SCHOOL CHOICE)

This piece by the Christensen Institute promotes a robust supply of personalized instructional options within schools as the most potent driver of combating stubborn achievement gaps and graduating more students college and career ready.

November 28, 2016 – DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION ISSUES FINAL ESSA ACCOUNTABILITY REGULATIONS

The Obama administration’s final accountability rules for the Every Student Succeeds Act, issued Monday, give states greater flexibility on school ratings, schools with high testing opt-out rates, and in other areas than an earlier draft version, released in May.  For more, read here.

November 29, 2016 – WAYS LEADERS CAN SUPPORT INNOVATION

Schools often try to plan their way to innovation:  devise a strategy, roll it out to teachers, and support a high-fidelity implementation.  In most cases, however, teachers figure it out through a cycle of experimentation, reflection, and adjustment.  Offered by two MIT professors, this online course “Launching Innovation in Schools” guides school leaders through four principles of launching and sustaining innovation in schools:  creating a research and development budget, supporting opportunities for team learning, creating spaces for broader teacher sharing and learning, and building consensus around a shared vision and shared instructional language.  For more, see here.

November 30, 2016 – PBS VIDEO  – DO CHARTER SCHOOLS HELP OR HURT?

According to this PBS video, the fight over charter schools has been building in the African-American community. These schools, which often operate in high-poverty areas and serve children of color, are viewed as a lifeline by many parents.  Inspired by a “non excuses school,” children can apply good behavior and strong academics, says one speaker.  But the nation’s oldest civil rights organization, the NAACP is calling for a moratorium on these independently managed public schools.  The video notes that charter schools have a mixed record, with suggestions that they cherry-pick the best students and have higher rates of suspension of children of color.

November 30, 2016 – TEACHER PREPARATION PROGRAMS IN MICHIGAN

The Woodrow Wilson Michigan Teaching Fellowship program, funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, has been working with six Michigan universities to build “rigorous, highly selective, clinically-based programs integrating disciplinary content and pedagogical instruction.” A recent program evaluation found that the Michigan initiative is finding success getting good science, technology, engineering, and math teachers in front of the students who need them the most.  For more information, read here.

November 30, 2016 – CONSEQUENCES OF CHARTER SCHOOL EXPANSION

This Economic Policy Institute report highlights patterns of charter school expansion across several large and mid-size U.S. cities since 2000.

November 30, 2016 – IMPORTANCE OF ARTS EDUCATION

Read here for five strategies for a successful arts education program.

November 2016 – 1-TO-1 COACHING OF TEACHERS 

A meta-analysis by Harvard University points to one-on-one coaching as a promising strategy for helping current teachers improve. “The results of [our analysis] suggest that teacher coaching programs hold real promise for improving teachers’ instructional practice and, in turn, students’ academic achievement,” the authors conclude. Sounds good, but the researchers note two big catches: It’s likely quite expensive to carry out, and delivering it to large numbers of teachers may diminish the quality. They defined “coaching” as “instructional experts work[ing] with teachers to discuss classroom practice in a way that is “individualized, intensive, sustained, context-specific, and focused.”  The researchers examined 37 past studies meeting this definition that looked at how coaching directly affected teachers’ performance, their students’ achievement, or both.

December 6, 2016 – DIFFICULTY IN USING ESSA’S EVIDENCE REQUIREMENTS TO SPUR BEST PRACTICES 

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) includes provisions and guidance that encourage educators to select evidence-based improvement strategies and interventions.  This article details some challenges inherent in proper implementation, including the challenges of cataloging interventions due to limited research results and the need for better research literacy of education decision-makers.  See more here.

December 7, 2016 – IDEA PHARR ACADEMY 

Dolores Gonzalez, the Chief Program Officer of IDEA Public Schools, a network of 51 charter schools, mostly in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, created a successful pre-K program that brought every student to graded level in Kindergarten and an “Advanced Placement For All Initiative,” which requires all IDEA students to take 11 Advanced Placement courses before they graduate.  Last year, 29% of the incoming seniors were “AP Scholars,” which means that they received high enough scores on 3 AP exams to receive college credit. Read more here.

December 8, 2016 – THE DIFFICULTY IN MEASURING TEACHER EFFECTIVENESS, WHICH IS BASED MOSTLY ON TEACHER OBSERVATIONS

As part of its Evidence Speaks series, The Brookings Institution released a report on the ineffectiveness of teacher observations as part of evaluating teachers, “The system is spending time and effort rating teachers using criteria that do not have a basis in research showing how teaching practices improve student learning.”  Learn more here.

December 9, 2016 – IMPROVING THE TEACHER WORKFORCE

The Brown Center Chalkboard, a weekly series of new analyses of policy, research, and practice relevant to U.S. education, re-launched in July 2015 as a Brookings blog. Contributors are committed to bringing evidence to bear on the debates around education policy in America.  This week, the dean of the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education and a senior fellow at the Center on Children and Families write a memo with research-based suggestions to improve the teacher workforce, especially in high-poverty schools.

December 13, 2016 – ACCREDITATION OF TEACHER PREPARATION PROGRAMS

Created in 2010, the Council for Accreditation of Education Preparation (CAEP), unveiled its ambitious standards for accreditation of teacher preparation programs in 2013. In December 2016,  CAEP accredited 17 teacher education programs of the 21 that submitted applications. While national accreditation of teacher-preparation programs is not mandatory in many states, 29 states have so far said they plan to use CAEP to evaluate the quality of their programs. (The 21 programs that applied for this round came from 14 states.).  For more details, read here.

December 13, 2016 – TEACHER EDUCATION PROGRAMS

The National Council for Teacher Quality (NCTQ) published a review of 875 undergraduate elementary education programs in its “Landscapes in Teacher Preparation,” in December 2016. The review suggests that teacher preparation programs are improved, but that there is a long way to go.  Read the Education Week summary.

December 28, 2016 – HIRING PRACTICES OF TEACHERS

The Center for American Progress released a report that looked at 200 public school districts nationwide and where they go wrong with their hiring practices of teachers. The findings are especially relevant now in light of the teacher shortages that many school districts are suffering. Read here.

December 28, 2016 – EDUCATION SPENDING

According New York Times December 12th article, spending DOES improve education outcomes.  Two new studies address the funding-performance issue:

  • Recently, the National Bureau of Economic Research found that states earmarking additional money for their lowest-income school districts post greater academic improvement over those districts than states that do not.
  • Additionally, the Quarterly Journal of Economics found that more money resulted in students staying in school longer and earning more as adults. See Education Next article.

Educators, politicians and unions have battled in court over that crucial question for decades, most recently in a sweeping decision this fall in Connecticut, where a judge ordered the state to revamp nearly every facet of its education policies, from graduation requirements to special education, along with its school funding. See also Wall Street Journal article about Connecticut spending clash.  Nonetheless, Education Week blogger Walt Gardner’s blog suggests that more money alone will not do very much.  Instead, it’s how and where the money is spent that matters.  Read here

December 30, 2016 – SUMMARY OF ESSA ACCOUNTABILITY PROVISIONS

See Education Week summary for a basic summary of ESSA’s main provisions.

December 30, 2016 – STATE BUDGETS IMPACT IMPLEMENTATION OF ESSA

The big job of retooling state education systems will take staff resources and funding, both of which are squeezed in states across the country. More here.

January 2017 – CHARTER SCHOOLS IN THE SPRINGFIELD EMPOWERMENT ZONE

The Progressive Policy Institute (PPI) published a report about the Springfield Empowerment Zone Partnership and charter schools.  Written by Eric Schnurer, President of Public Works, the report describes the Springfield Empowerment Zone Partnership (SEZP), an attempt to create within the public schools the conditions that make charter schools successful, without the poisonous politics that often accompany expanding charters. The school district has contracted with a nonprofit board, a 501(c)3 organization, to oversee struggling middle schools. That board, which acts as a buffer between schools and district management, has empowered nine schools with autonomy and accountability, while bringing in an outside school management organization to run one of them.

January 10, 2016 – ARTS EDUCATION 

Students benefit from adding arts to their curriculum, especially when learning debate from the Hamilton musical. Watch the PBS video on the subject.

January 11, 2017 – SCHOOL CLIMATE 

While the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) still requires states to test and report on student achievement, it also mandates that states include at least one non-academic indicator of school quality or student success within the accountability system. According to an article in The 74, authors advocate that states should focus on improvements in “school climate” as the most likely way to improve schooling inequities and inform school improvement efforts in a comprehensive and meaningful way, “School climate describes the broad context in which learning occurs, focusing on physical safety, emotional safety, school connectedness, student engagement, interpersonal relationships, the instructional environment and the physical environment. Research demonstrates that positive school climate has been associated with improved student academic and psychological outcomes, as well as teacher self-efficacy and job satisfaction; schools with positive climates are also more likely to have reduced rates of suspensions, peer harassment, behavior problems and substance abuse.”

January 11, 2017 – THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION LEGACY

For a brief, but comprehensive analysis of President Obama’s education legacy, read this Education Week article.  In summary, his Race to the Top and School Improvement Grant programs have shown minimal impact on student outcomes.  Moreover, in 2015, NAEP scores fell in math and reading for the first time in more than 20 years.  The Obama Administration got pushback from its focus on testing, common core standards, state data systems, and teacher evaluations.  This ultimately resulted in Congressional passage of the newest reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), in December 2015, which returned more flexibility to the states and LEAs.  There is good news.  Graduation rates are at an all-time high of 83.2%, the graduation gap is closing between white and minority students, and students nationwide have access to broadband (ConnectEd).  Due partially to the Investing in Innovation grants, results from research and evidence-based tools are available for future use, and schools are rethinking how they educate special education students and English Language Learners (ELL).  Read U.S. Secretary of Education King’s Exit Memo or watch a PBS NewsHour video on the subject.

January 12, 2017 – IMPORTANT TOPICS IN LITERACY

While digital literacy and standards are considered “hot” topics, “Parent engagement, access to books and content, literacy in resource-limited settings, teacher professional learning and development, and early literacy, on the other hand, were rated as significantly more ‘important’ than ‘hot,’ according to the International Literacy Association survey.

January 12, 2017 – PAY GAP ROSE BETWEEN COLLEGE GRADUATES AND EVERYONE ELSE, TRAINING FOR “MIDDLE-INCOME” JOBS MAY HELP

College graduates, on average, earned 56 percent more than high school graduates in 2015, according to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI). This is the largest such gap in EPI’s figures dating to 1973.  According to the article, since 2009, college-educated workers have captured most of the new jobs and enjoyed pay gains. Non-college grads, by contrast, have faced dwindling job opportunities and an overall 3 percent decline in income, EPI’s data shows. “Yet few experts think the solution is simply to send more students to four-year colleges. Many young people either don’t want to spend more years in school or aren’t prepared to do so. Already, four in every 10 college students drop out before graduating – often with debt loads they will struggle to repay without a degree.  Rather, labor economists say, many high school grads would benefit from a more comprehensive approach to obtaining skills, especially involving technology, that are increasingly in demand.” Some of these trends might eventually reverse themselves if more high school grads acquire the skills needed for higher-paying work. Though many “middle-income” jobs, including such health care jobs as X-ray technicians and phlebotomists, as well as computer-controlled manufacturing and some office occupations, like paralegals, do not require college, nearly all require some post-high school education or training, according to a Georgetown University economist.

January 15, 2017 – VOCATIONAL EDUCATION TRAINS STUDENTS FOR “MIDDLE-LEVEL” JOBS

In Walt Gardner’s weekly blog, he notes that “Career and Technical Education programs are gaining in popularity.  The reality is that middle-skills jobs accounted for 54 percent of the job market.  That surpassed the number of both high-skills and low-skills jobs combined.”

January 17, 2017 – SUBSTITUTE TEACHER SHORTAGE

For a brief article about the problems school districts are having recruiting substitute teachers, read here.

January 2017 – GUIDE ON EVIDENCE-BASED IMPROVEMENT STRATEGIES

WestEd published detailed guidance on “Evidence-Based Improvement” to encourage evidence-based decision-making as standard practice. WestEd notes that the guide provides an initial set of  six tools to help states and school districts understand and plan for implementing evidence-based improvement strategies:

January 17, 2017 – HIGHER ADMINISTRATION COSTS OF NEW ORLEANS SCHOOL REFORMS 

A policy brief by the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans, an initiative of Tulane University, showed that the post-Katrina school reforms may be 66 percent higher in administrative costs as compared to other districts with similar spending patterns before Katrina.  The authors wondered if the increased administration costs were due to a lack of economies of scale or whether the charter school model being implemented in New Orleans involved higher management costs and perhaps a more top-heavy approach.  Costs aside, the reforms seem to have worked, as noted in this policy brief about student outcomes.

January 24, 2017 – SCHOOL IMPROVEMENT GRANTS HAD NO IMPACT

As noted by the Obama Administration itself, the $7 billion spent by the U.S. Department of Education in School Improvement Grants (SIG) had no impact on students’ achievement or graduation rates.  The SIG program awarded funds to the nation’s lowest-performing schools that agreed to implement one of four school intervention models:

  • Transformation – fire principal, evaluate teachers, and improve school through comprehensive curriculum reform, professional development, extended learning time, and giving new principal more flexibility and control;
  • Turnaround – fire principal, fire at least 50% of staff, adopt a new governance structure, and improve the school through curriculum change, professional development, lengthening the school day, and giving new principal more flexibility and control;
  • Restart as a charter school; or
  • Closure.

Working with partners American Institutes for Research (AIR) and Social Policy Research Associates, Mathematica Policy Research conducted the SIG multi-year study for the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES).  The sample included 480 low-performing schools located in 60 districts from 22 states.  Read here for the executive summary and the entire report.  A number of news organizations have reported this result as well.  It will likely have political and budgetary effects in the new Administration.

  • Mathematica Policy Research –1/18/2017
  • Education Writers Association (EWA) – 1/18/2017
  • Education Next – 1/18/2017
  • American Institutes for Research (AIR) – 1/19/2017
  • Washington Post – 1/19/2017
  • Education Week – 1/24/2017
  • A 2014 study by AIR, Case Studies of Schools Receiving School Improvement Grants, examines the first year of SIG implementation (2010–11) in a diverse sample of 25 schools from 13 districts and 6 states. In 19 of the 25 schools, the improvement strategies and actions in the first year of SIG were a continuation of activities or plans that predated SIG.  All but one of the 25 schools perceived improvement in at least some areas, most often a safe and orderly school climate, and teacher collaboration. Schools that perceived the most improvements were more likely to have experienced a disruption from past practice, and to have principals with higher levels of strategic leadership. (3/26/2016) Based on this report, AIR experts suggested that schools focus less on prescribed turnaround requirements and instead “focus on the adults,” improving the human capital in the school building.  (3/9/2016)

The Washington Post article clarified that the study only focused on the 2010-2013 time-period, where the U.S. Department of Education spent $3.5 billion on the SIG program.  Because interim studies suggested that the four prescribed approaches were not having much effect, the Department changed the options to include more flexibility to use other evidence-based intervention strategies to turn around low-performing schools since 2013.

In May 2013, the Center for Public Education released a descriptive report of the studies at the time, distinguishing between the different turnaround models.

The Brookings Institution wrote a related report on the impact of School Improvement Grants (SIG), suggesting a more nuanced approach to the results.  The report about the SIG program, which was aimed at improving the nation’s lowest performing schools, called into question the viability of improving low-performing schools at scale. The report stated that, “Implementing a SIG-funded model had no impact on math or reading test scores, high school graduation, or college enrollment.” A more careful read of the report, however, shows that the research was not able to tell whether the SIG funding affected any of these outcomes. The effects would have had to be unrealistically large for the study to have been able to detect them. The difference between the report’s conclusion that there was no effect and the more appropriate conclusion that they were not able to detect an effect is an important one, especially in light of state-specific research showing some success of the SIG program.  Two studies from California show not only that schools improved student learning outcomes as a result of participating in the SIG program, but also some of the mechanisms by which this improvement occurred. In particular, rich data on SIG schools in one of the studies shows that schools improved both by differentially retaining their most experienced teachers and by providing teachers with increased supports for instructional improvement such as opportunities to visit each other’s classrooms and to receive meaningful feedback on their teaching practice from school leaders.

January 24, 2017 – SCHOOL INFRASTRUCTURE PROPOSAL 

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer of New York, along with Sens. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Tom Carper of Delaware, Maria Cantwell of Washington state, Bill Nelson of Florida, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and Ron Wyden of Oregon proposed a school infrastructure plan.  The “Blueprint to Rebuild America’s Infrastructure and Create 15 Million Jobs” indicates that the $75 billion for U.S. public schools would create 975,000 jobs and create a “State-of-the-Art Environment” for students.  Read the Education Week article or the Washington Post article about the entire infrastructure proposal.

January 24, 2017 – PRINCIPALS CAN HELP REDUCE TEACHER TURNOVER 

According to a new study discussed in this New America article, school principals can have a positive impact on reducing teacher turnover.

January 24, 2017 – NEW HERITAGE FOUNDATION CENTER FOR EDUCATION POLICY

The Heritage Foundation is establishing a Center for Education Policy under the auspices of its Institute for Family, Community, and Opportunity. According to new director Lindsey Burke, “Our Center will lead policy conversations at the federal and state levels in making education student-centered, by working to restore state and local control of education and advancing policies that create choices for all families See more.

January 24, 2017 – EXTENDED OR RESTRUCTURED LEARNING TIME

The Center on Education Policy at George Washington University released a study on “More and Better Learning Time” (MBLT), sponsored by the Ford Foundation, and including case studies in Denver, Los Angeles, and Rochester.  The extended or restructured learning time provided more higher-quality instruction and enrichment, student choice of learning experiences, and robust community engagement.

January 25, 2017 – PRINCIPAL STANDARDS 

New “principal standards” (officially called Professional Standards for Educational Leaders, as set forth in 2015) are being applied more regularly, for instance, in the state of Missouri.  Read a full collection of stories from Education Week.

January 26 2017 – SCHOOL VOUCHERS

Education Week produced a special report on school vouchers, Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), and tax credit scholarships, including an analysis of the Milwaukee and District of Columbia programs, as well as research by the Center on Education Policy.

January 27, 2017 – TRAINING PROGRAMS FILLING PRINCIPALS’ SKILLS GAPS

“Niche” or “micro-credentialing” programs are providing specialized training for new principals to improve skills in equity, business, social-emotional learning, science of improvement, early elementary grades.  Read more.

February 2, 2017 – PRINCIPALS ESTABLISH CULTURE OF EXCELLENCE

In a blog by Rick Hess on cultivating educational excellence, he focuses on the importance of principals in their creation of a “responsible and professional culture,” often conducting “unpopular, but important” actions regarding their teachers.

February 6, 2017 – MASSACHUSETTS TURNAROUND PRACTICES RESEARCH

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (ESE) published a blog about its findings, resources, and implication for incorporating evidence-based practices under ESSA to turnaround schools.  In 2014, ESE released research that examined common practices and conditions in turnaround schools that saw rapid improvements in student achievement, contrasting them with schools that did not see such gains.  In summary, the research showed that four key Turnaround Practices were essential to successful school turnaround efforts:

  • Leadership, shared responsibility, and effective collaboration
  • Intentional practices for improving instruction
  • Student-specific supports and instruction to all students
  • School climate and culture
In response to those findings, ESE aligned many of its processes and support structures for low-performing schools to the Turnaround Practices framework, in order to help schools implement these practices with fidelity. ESE revised and framed its statutorily-mandated school turnaround planning tools, School Improvement Grant (known as the School Redesign Grant, or SRG, in Massachusetts) application and renewal processes, turnaround school Monitoring Site Visit protocol, and many statewide assistance services for schools and districts, in order to help schools focus on and implement practices that have been shown to be effective.

February 7, 2017 – BARRIERS TO ENTRY FOR BILINGUAL TEACHERS  

A new report by New America’s Dual Language Learners National Work Group finds reported shortages of bilingual, dual-immersion, and English-as-a-second language teachers in more than 30 states and the District of Columbia.

February 7, 2017 – TEACHER PENSIONS  

Fordham Institute produced a new report on teachers’ pensions, [No] Money in the Bank, which addresses which states’ pension programs penalize teachers.

February 7, 2017 – SCHOOL CLIMATE AFFECTS ACADEMICS

A new study by the WestEd Regional Educational Laboratory examined the relationship between school climate and academic performance in two different ways: (1) by comparing the academic performance of different schools with different levels of school climate and (2) by examining how changes in a school’s climate were associated with changes in its students’ academic.

February 7, 2017 – BETSY DEVOS CONFIRMED AS U.S. SECRETARY OF EDUCATION

After an all-night filibuster and contentious floor fight, Vice President Mike Pence was needed to break the 50-50 tie to approve Betsy DeVos as U.S. Secretary of Education on February 7, 2017.  Policy issues included deregulation, special education, charters, and vouchers, among others.  Review the following media reports on the confirmation here: Education Week (including an article about others’ reactions), New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, The Economist’s Democracy in America Blog, and Fox News.  Think tanks and organizations also weighed in with their perspectives, i.e. The Broookings Institution, Heritage FoundationThomas B. Fordham Institute video and written commentary, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Parents & Teachers Association (PTA), and the Cato Institute.

February 8, 2017 – NEW SCHOOL LEADERSHIP INSTITUTE IN TEXAS

A new school leadership institute in Texas, the Holdsworth Center for Excellence in Education Leadership, will start with its first program with six districts in June. Ruth Simmons, a former president of Smith College and Brown University, will lead the 17-member board of directors.  Read more here.

February 8, 2017 – STUDENT ON TEACHER OWNERSHIP & SCHOOL REFORMS

The Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University published a report on how teacher ownership can lead to meaningful school reforms.  The report focused on schools within the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) that are working to transform and ameliorate educational inequalities by broadening students’ learning opportunities through the implementation of one or more of three approaches – Community Schools, Linked Learning, and Promise Neighborhoods.

February 14, 2017 – TEACHER SHORTAGE IN CALIFORNIA

According to an updated study by California’s Learning Institute, the teacher shortage is worsening, and as such, will continue to disproportionately impact students in low-income communities and students in high-minority communities, with especially severe consequences in special education, mathematics, and science, and bilingual education. Most of the school districts reported that they responded to shortage conditions by hiring teachers with substandard credentials or permits—that is, teachers who have not yet completed the subject matter and teacher preparation requirements for a full credential. The situation will not improve in the short term, as the study noted, “Despite a 10% increase in teacher preparation enrollments between 2013–14 and 2014–15, the number of teaching candidates enrolled in 2014–15 was just one quarter of the number enrolled in 2001–02.”

February 15, 2017 – STATE LEADERSHIP POLICIES

In partnership with the Consortium for Policy Research in Education (CPRE), the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) convened a study group in 2015 to examine ways states can better support school leaders and sustain a school leadership pipeline. In its report, Successful Leaders for Successful Schools: Building and Maintaining a Quality Workforce, the group proposed a State Leadership Development Policy framework to help guide state boards as they create policies around leadership development.  A new companion piece, State Leadership Development Policies-An Analysis of 50 States and Territories presents school leadership development policies and practices across all 50 states.  This new analysis is based upon interviews with state board members and staff members from state education agencies to learn about their states’ school leadership development policies and practices and identify the organizational and individual supports that states have established.

February 15, 2017 – TEACHERS’ ABILITY TO CROSS STATE LINES

An article from The74 details how too many teachers leave the profession when they move across state lines because of complicated state certification and reciprocity rules and practices.

February 16, 2017 – PLACE_BASED EDUCATION

Place-Based Education (PBE) is an approach to education that takes advantage of geography to make learning authentic, meaningful and engaging for learners. PBE is defined as an immersive learning experience that “places students in local heritage, cultures, landscapes, opportunities and experiences–using these as a foundation for the study of language arts, mathematics, social studies, science and other subjects across the curriculum.” Simply put, it connects learning to communities and the world around us. The new definition situates PBE inside global conversations about innovative instructional approaches that enable student agency, boost access and opportunity, prioritize deeper learning and personalize learning. Getting Smart, advisory and advocacy services, launched a thought leadership campaign around PBE, including  blog series, social media campaign, podcasts, publications, and its new infographic to promote Place-Based Learning.

February 16, 2017 – RECENT VOUCHER STUDIES

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute recently hosted an event that explored possible causes for the varying results from the voucher studies, as noted here.

February 17, 2017 – EXCELinED PLAYBOOK FOR SCHOOL INNOVATION

ExcelinEd ESSA Playbook Series provides state policymakers clear recommendations, practical advice and resources on four core areas of the Every Student Succeeds Act: A-F School Accountability, School Interventions, Innovation and the Weighted Student Funding Pilot. This Playbook can help states identify innovative approaches to improve K-12 public education.

February 17, 2017 – INTERACTIVE TOOL FOR PRINCIPALS

To support and guide principals in this process, the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) and Center on Great Teachers and Leaders (GTL Center) collaborated to develop a new interactive tool. In it, principals will find actionable talking points to use with their states and districts to promote a well-rounded and complete education model in seven areas, from standards to early learning. The tool also offers broader suggestions and resources for engaging and communicating with state and district leaders around ESSA.

February 21, 2017 – CHARTERS WILL WORK 

In light of the Trump Administration’s focus on vouchers, this City Journal article makes the case for public charter schools, based on evidence that students in many cities do better, on average, when they attend charters, i.e. Boston, New Orleans, and Newark.

February 21, 2017 – NEW FRAMEWORK ON SCHOOL TURNAROUNDS FROM WestEd 

The Center on School Turnaround at WestEd (CST) is released the “Four Domains for Rapid School Improvement” framework. This framework was developed to assist states, districts, and schools in leading and managing improvement efforts. The framework shares the critical practices of successful school turnaround, in four areas of focus, that research and experience suggest are central to rapid and significant improvement:

  • turnaround leadership,
  • talent development,
  • instructional transformation, and
  • culture shift.

The framework also offers examples of how each practice would be put into action at each level of the system.  What educators and policymakers have learned during the past fifteen years of intense focus on turnaround is that the always-challenging endeavor of significantly improving the performance of individual schools is most likely to be successful when receiving support from beyond the individual school and its community.

February 22, 2017 – SCHOOL TURNAROUND EXPERT – MEMPHIS, TN 

People describe Superintendent Sharon Griffin, Superintendent, Shelby County Schools (which include Memphis, TN) with a sense of urgency and no-excuses mindset, boundless energy, working 100 hours a week, poring over data with staff and community members to understand the school’s population, culture, and academic challenges.  She can “exploit a community’s assets and attack its liabilities.”  Through the Innovation Zone (iZONE) of 21 low-performing schools, Griffin’s reforms included:

  • Professional development for teachers
  • An extra hour of instruction every day
  • Teachers’ $1000 signing bonuses
  • $1000 bonus for meeting district benchmarks
  • All students receive iPads
  • Principals have free reign to hire their staff
  • Wraparound services funded by local non-profits

As is often the case, the only problem with trying to scale the work of this Education Week “Leader to Learn From,” is that it is “hard to replicate Griffin’s passion, leadership style and division’s nimble and custom-built infrastructure.” Read more here.

February 22, 2017 – TEACHER PENSION CRISIS

The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ)and EducationCounsel released Lifting the Pension Fog: What teachers and taxpayers need to know about the teacher pension crisis. The report evaluates state teacher pension policies against a forward looking and sustainable approach to teacher retirement benefits in four key areas: sustainability, flexibility, neutrality, and for the first time, transparency. It includes policy profiles and tailored recommendations for each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. It finds that, despite huge teacher pension debt, most states are not taking action to resolve this pension crisis. The report highlights recommendations for what states can do to better support the security and interests of teachers and taxpayers alike.

February 28, 2017 – SCHOOL TURNAROUNDS GLOBALLY

This article compares how Finland, Canada, Japan, Singapore, and Shanghai handle poorly performing schools.  Their first response is to provide “support, not sanctions.” Read here.

March 1, 2017 – TEACHERS LEAVE AFTER REMOVAL OF TENURE PROTECTIONS 

In 2012, the Louisiana legislature weakened teacher tenure, resulting in the loss of up to 1,700 public school teachers in the following two years, according to a new study by the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans at Tulane University.

March 2, 2017 – SUPERINTENDENT OF THE YEAR – DISTRICT TURNAROUND 

Matthew Utterback, Superintendent of the North Clackamas School District, Milwaukie, Oregon was awarded “Superintendent of the Year” by the School Superintendents Association (AASA) for his closing of achievement gaps, strategic direction and development plan, and increases in the graduation rate from 66 % to 83 %. Read more.  More on the four finalists, read and see their videos.   For the list of former superintendents of the year, read here.

March 2, 2017 – DEBATE OVER CHARTERS

For a debate between proponents and critics of charter schools, read here. Alternatively, read the commentary about whether the debate over charter schools is just a distraction.

March 5, 2017 – SCHOOL CLIMATE SURVEY

The benefits of a positive school climate have been known for decades – increases in students’ academic achievement, fewer disciplinary incidents, and improved teacher retention.  To improve schools’ ability to measure school climate, this guest blog from Panorama Education and its Panorama Student Survey to measure school climate.

March 8, 2017 – GREAT DISTRICTS FOR TEACHERS? 

According to the National Council on Teacher Quality, the top districts for recruiting, supporting, and retaining great teachers are Boston; Broward County, Fla.; Denver; the District of Columbia; Gwinnett County, Ga.; New York City; Pinellas County, Fla.; and Pittsburgh, Pa.

March 9, 2017 – CONGRESS OVERTURNS ESSA ACCOUNTABILITY RULES

With a 50-49 vote in March 2017, the Senate approved joint resolutions on Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) accountability and on teacher-preparation programs.  In February 2017, the House of Representatives had already approved the joint resolution to overturn the ESSA accountability rules issued by President Barack Obama’s administration. Those rules, which became final in November 2016, were intended to outline the states’ timeline for addressing underperforming schools.  Groups supporting the move argue that it would free schools from unnecessary burdens of the ESSA regulations issued by the Obama Administration in November 2016.  Groups including the National Governors Association and AASA, the School Superintendents Association, hailed the move.  While opponents contend that overturning the rules could hurt vulnerable students and create turmoil in states and districts trying to finalize their transition to ESSA (passed in 2015). That same week in February, the House had also already approved the resolution overturn final rules issued in October on teacher-preparation programs.   Back in January 2017, soon after his inauguration, President Trump had paused the implementation of the Obama Administration regulations. See Education Week article about the Senate’s actions.  For more details on the impact of this action, see this Education Week article and this March 20th article.  Click here a List of ESSA Resources from Education Week’s Politics K-12.

March 30, 2017 – SCHOOL TURNAROUND OPTIONS FOR THE STATES 

To help guide efforts, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and Education Cities partnered to create Leveraging ESSA to Support Quality-School Growth, offering insight into evidence-based school-improvement turnaround efforts that have been successful throughout the country. The report deconstructs key provisions in ESSA and suggests three promising approaches that can be supported via the Title I set-aside:

  • Charter expansion: where states support the creation of new, high-quality charter schools to serve communities with low-performing district schools;
  • State turnaround districts: where a state withdraws control of struggling schools from their districts and consolidates them under a state-led entity; and
  • State-led, district-based solutions: where a state vests authority over existing districts or individual schools in a single individual who enjoys many of the powers usually exercised by district superintendents and school boards.

March 2017 – PLAYBOOK FOR REDESIGNING SCHOOLS – SAN JOSE, CA

A new “playbook” for redesigning schools by Cross & Joftus draws on lessons learned by San Jose Unified School District’s efforts to redesign a handful of schools starting in 2012. Read more.

April 4, 2017 – TEACHER EVALUATIONS

This Education Week commentary describes how the Colorado Bill 10-191 required 50% of teacher evaluations to be based upon student academic growth, how it was implemented, and the four reasons it failed to change results.  Despite the new requirements, 88% of teachers were still rated effective or highly effective, and less than 1 % were deemed ineffective.  Written by the head of A+ Colorado, a community-based “action tank” for education reform, she suggests the following missteps: (1) student growth is still poorly measured, (2) few fully embraced the new system (Denver and Harrison were exceptions), (3) leadership did not like to give “bad” evaluations (see 2016 Brown University study), and (4) the charter schools waived out.

April 7, 2017 – SCHOOL CLIMATE FROM UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO CONSORTIUM ON SCHOOL RESEARCH

The University of Chicago Consortium on School Research set forth a “5 Essentials” Framework to evaluate school climate.  Read here how one principal describes its impact.

April 7, 2017 – US SUPREME COURT JUSTICE NEIL GORSUCH MAY IMPACT EDUCATION POLICY 

On April 7, 2017, the Senate confirmed Trump-nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch as U.S. Supreme Court Justice, replacing the late Antonin Scalia. Previously, Education Week had published a summary of some of his education-related opinions.

April 10, 2017 – MICROSCHOOLS

School districts are experimenting with pilot “microschools,” for 15 – 150 students.  Read the Education Week article for examples.

April 11, 2017 – TEACHER MERIT PAY

According to a study by a Vanderbilt University professor, merit pay for teachers can lead to higher test scores for students.

April 12, 2017 – CHARTERS ARE MORE EFFECTIVE THAN INCOME INTEGRATION

In this article, Chester E. Finn, Jr. of the Fordham Institute describes an essay and research by Amy Wax that demonstrates that “no excuse” charters produce stronger results than income integration.

University of Pennsylvania law professor Amy Wax has a provocative lead essay.  in the latest issue of National Affairs about boosting the educational opportunities of poor and minority youngsters. She compares and contrasts the “no excuses” model of charter schools with “diversity” initiatives -mainly socio-economic mixing à la Rick Kahlenberg – and finds the former possibly more effective and definitely more politically viable. “Educational efficacy,” she writes, “is not the only consideration in deciding which of these strategies should be favored and how much society should invest in each. In assessing the feasibility of these models, pragmatic and political considerations loom large.”

Professor Wax doesn’t overstate the results of no-excuses charters, candidly acknowledging the lack of long term data on such key measures as college completions. She also shares the surprising (at least to me) factoid that few graduates of Eva Moskowitz’s acclaimed no-excuses charter middle schools have gained admission to New York City’s selective-admission high schools. (None in 2014 or 2015, just six last year.) She admits that it’s hard to “scale” the no-excuses model, largely due to the paucity of capable, committed staff-and she recognizes the teacher burnout problem. On balance, however, she tends toward the view that no-excuses schools will turn out to have stronger impact on kids’ life prospects than efforts at forced diversity via economic integration.

April 13, 2017 – GROWTH IN NUMBER OF TEACHERS

According to a new analysis by the National Center on Education Statistics, the American teaching force has grown significantly, becoming less experienced but more diverse in the past 25 years. Based on data from the federal Schools and Staffing Survey, researchers found the teaching pool nationwide grew by 46 percent from 1987 to 2012—twice the growth rate of student enrollment. The number of teachers in high-poverty schools more than tripled during that time, while the number of teachers at wealthier schools fell somewhat. Teachers of English as a second language saw the most dramatic growth; while there were only about 6,000 in 1988, by 2012 there were more than 71,000 in classrooms nationwide – a 1000 % increase. Read more.

April 17, 2017 – PERSONALIZED LEARNING PLAYBOOK TO HELP RURAL COMMUNITIES

Future Ready Schools, a project of the Alliance for Excellent Education, a national advocacy organization for K-12 students, supports and provides resources for districts implementing personalized learning programs.  A new guidebook from Future Ready Schools explores how “personalized learning” could benefit rural students specifically, and offers implementation strategies tailored for rural districts. The framework addresses technical concerns, like infrastructure and data privacy, but also gives advice on building human networks, covering professional development and community partnerships. Read a summary here.

April 17, 2017 – 21st CENTURY SCHOOL DISTRICTS

Read here for an interesting Education Week article about the organization of school districts, the role of superintendents, personalized learning, and the 21st Century.

April 18, 2017 – PER PUPIL SPENDING PER SCHOOL – NEW RULES

Districts and schools set up to address ESSA’s requirement to report per pupil spending per school. Read more.

April 20, 2017 – ARIZONA EXPANDED ITS VOUCHER PROGRAM

Read this Arizona Republic article about Arizona’s expanded voucher program.

April 21, 2017 – NEW STATE ESSA PLANS

Described in an Education Week update, twelve states and the District of Columbia have submitted plans for implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The law gives states significant new leeway to set student achievement goals and calls for looking beyond test scores in gauging school performance.  Also see the article from April 17th with an early look at state priorities as seen through their state ESSA plans.

April 2017 – SPRINGFIELD EMPOWERMENT ZONE PARTNERSHIP – SCHOOL TURNAROUND

A new case study by the Center for Reinventing Public Education  (CRPE) profiles the Springfield Empowerment Zone Partnership (SEZP), a unique school turnaround effort in Springfield, MA. The authors examine how SEZP has changed the way schools are resourced, staffed, and overseen, and how the approach compares to more conventional turnaround strategies. Key findings include:

  • SEZP brought together a package of reforms aimed at generating improvement and a new governance model that gives schools much greater freedom to change without needing to ask permission or fear regulatory second-guessing.
  • SEZP offers a “middle way” between other school turnaround strategies: providing more local participation and less controversy compared to either state takeovers or chartering, and committing more deeply to school autonomy, tailored support, and choice of talent compared to conventional district-led turnarounds.
  • Thus far, SEZP has seen less controversy and more goodwill than many other turnaround efforts, but whether the strategy results in improved student outcomes remains to be seen.

April 25, 2017 – CHARTER SCHOOL APPLICATIONS

Studying 542 applications for charter schools in four states, the researchers from Basis Policy Research flagged three factors linked to mediocre early test scores: (1) not having named a school leader or hired a management organization; (2) providing little direct support for at-risk students; and (2) using a child-centered curriculum, such as Montessori or Waldorf.  The researchers calculated that these factors substantially boosted the probability of poor performance. The authors noted the study’s limitations. For example, child-centered programs, by definition, may focus less on student test scores and that applicants could game the system by naming any school leader in the application.  Meaningful takeaways, however, are consistent with other research that emphasize a strong leader and student supports. Read more in this Real Clear Education article.

April 25, 2017 – TEACHER PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT

School districts, like Lake County, FL and Long Beach, CA, are personalizing and evaluating their professional development programs for teachers. Read the Education Week article.

April 25, 2017 – PRIVATE SCHOOL VOUCHERS DEBATE – a video 

The Century Foundation and NYU Wagner School held a debate called “Debates of the Century @NYU Wagner: School Vouchers,” part of an ongoing series showcasing thoughtful, informed dialogue from experts. The question posed was whether public funds should be used to support private school vouchers. Michael Petrilli, who supported the motion, debated Richard D. Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation, who opposed it.  Read the opening remarks and watch the video.

April 25, 2017 – A $20 BILLION FEDERAL SCHOOL CHOICE TAX-CREDIT PROGRAM – VIDEO DISCUSSION

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, Education Next, and the Hoover Institution teamed up to bring forth two pointed discussions, each centered around a critical question about a federal voucher program.

  • First: To do or not to do? Neal McCluskey and Thomas Carroll debated the merits of a federal tax credit scholarship program.
  • Second: National, or state-by-state? Darla Romfo and Travis Pillow tackled the question of whether the initiative should require states to opt-in and set the rules, or if a federal tax credit should allow for K-12 scholarships nationwide.

 Click on the link and then go to the bottom of the page for the video.

April 26, 2017 – CURRICULUM RESOURCES FOR TEACHERS – COMMON CORE PROVIDES RESOURCES

In a paper called (Un)Commonly Connected by the American Educational Research Association, researchers mapped the resources used by teachers in states using Common Core standards.  See more here.

April 26, 2017 – CREATIVITY IN THE CLASSROOM

This article mentions five ways to increase opportunities for creativity in the classroom: music, social interaction, technology, hands-on learning, and choice.

April 30, 2017 – USING SCHOOL CLIMATE AS PART OF ACCOUNTABILITY

As noted in this The 74Million article, for 20 years, Chicago Public Schools surveyed teachers and students on things like safety, the learning environment, and professional support. However, few other states do so.  Even fewer use that data as part of their accountability measures.  Only three states – Illinois, Nevada, and New Mexico – have school climate surveys as part of their “fifth indicator,” a new accountability tool in the Every Student Succeeds Act that lets states grade schools on measures other than reading and math scores. The others are turning to measures like chronic absenteeism, suspension rates, or college and career readiness instead.  “It’s not an easy thing to put into the accountability system if you’re not already doing it statewide,” said Linda Darling-Hammond, president and CEO of the Learning Policy Institute and co-author of a recent report on the place of social and emotional learning in accountability systems.

May 1, 2017 – #ShowTheEvidence: BUILDING A MOVEMENT AROUND RESEARCH, IMPACT IN EDTECH

Teachers and students are increasingly using digital tools and platforms to support learning inside and outside the classroom every day. There are 3.6 million teachers using “edtech,” and approximately one in four college students take online courses – four times as many as a decade earlier. The key question is: What can we do to make sure that the education technology being developed and deployed today fits the needs of 21st-century learners? According to this essay by The 74Million, everyone has a role to play in ensuring that the money spent in edtech (estimated at $13.2 billion in 2016 for K-12) lives up to the promise of enabling more educators, schools, and colleges to genuinely improve outcomes for students and help close persistent equity gaps.

This is the first in a series of essays surrounding the EdTech Efficacy Research Symposium, a gathering of 275 researchers, teachers, entrepreneurs, professors, administrators, and philanthropists to discuss the role efficacy research should play in guiding the development and implementation of education technologies. This series was produced in partnership with Pearson, a co-sponsor of the symposium co-hosted by the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education, Digital Promise, and the Jefferson Education Accelerator.

May 2017 – TOOLKIT FOR PROFESSIONAL LEARNING

Learning Forward, a professional learning association has produced a toolkit to help states use ESSA to advance learning and improvement systems, including a focus on stakeholder engagement in the development of the state and district plans.

Spring 2017 – MEASURING WHAT MATTERS: HOW DATA ARE MAKING A DIFFERENCE

McCrel International’s magazine, Changing Schools, published its Spring 2017 edition about data.  Educators have an abundance of data at their disposal these days, but how can they make sure they are using them in a way that improves teaching and learning? This issue of Changing Schools looks at the new and expanded ways that data are making a difference today, including: the use of surveys to collect valuable stakeholder feedback; the increased flexibility of ESSA; how teacher collaboration makes formative assessment more effective; ensuring data are actionable; and the importance of mindsets in getting all stakeholders excited about data.

May 2, 2017 – DATA WARS

In an analysis by Andrew Rotherham, Bellwether Education Partners, he notes that, in education, data are often viewed as a risk, not an opportunity. Debates that used to, at best, be fought out over school-level results can now be argued with student-level data. Research into topics such as charter school performance, teacher effectiveness and the impact of various interventions is now informed by data and evidence linked to individual students.

May 2, 2017 – SCHOOL TRANSPORTATION

Miles to Go: Bringing School Transportation into the 21st Century, by Bellweather Education Partners, provides a comprehensive review of school transportation at a national level, identifying the handful of dominant models schools rely on and examining these systems through three lenses:

  • Efficiency-how well does school transportation work in moving students to and from school safely, efficiently, and cost-effectively?
  • Education-how well do school transportation systems support the educational mission of schools? How equitably?
  • Environment-how well do school transportation systems fare in mitigating their negative impact on the environment?

The answers are pretty grim – school transportation is a drag on district budgets, doesn’t do a great job in many places of efficiently getting kids where they need to go and supporting equitable access to high quality schools, and has largely failed to take advantage of technologies that can mitigate environmental harm at any kind of scale.  The report recommends some changes at the state and district level that could improve how school transportation systems function. It also explores the idea that it may be time to consider whether schools should get out of the transportation business altogether.

May 2017 – NEW VOUCHER STUDY – Washington, DC

In the city of Washington, D.C., the federal government gives scholarships to underprivileged children to attend private schools. The goal of the voucher program is to help ensure low-income youth aren’t tethered to their often under-resourced and under-performing neighborhood schools.  But the reportEvaluation of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program: Impacts After One Year” – found largely negative results for students who participated in the District of Columbia’s Opportunity Scholarship Program, suggesting that many of the program’s beneficiaries might actually fare better if they turn down the private-school money.  According to an article in The Atlantic, the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) compared test scores for two groups of students: students who, through a lottery process, were selected to receive vouchers, and students who applied for yet didn’t receive them. The study compared the progress of both groups of students from spring of 2012 to 2014 and found that, a year after they applied for the scholarship, math scores were lower for students who won vouchers. What’s more, after narrowing the pool of students down to those in kindergarten through fifth grade, both reading and math scores were lower for students who won vouchers.

May 2, 2017 – D.C. SCHOOL VOUCHER PROGRAM – UNDERFUNDED?

The Institute for Education Sciences at the U.S. Department of Education released a study (see above) last week showing that students randomly selected to receive a voucher under the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program had lower math achievement after one year compared to students who were not selected. These are discouraging results for school choice advocates, for Republicans in Congress who are trying to reauthorize the federally-funded program, for school choice supporter and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, and for the DCOSP program specifically. These results are clear evidence that, at least on some measures, the program not only failed to boost students’ performance, but actually made it worse. By comparing students who won a scholarship through a random lottery to those who did not, the study establishes that the differences between them were actually caused by the program. However, this American Enterprise Institute (AEI) article argues that the issue is not with the vouchers themselves.  At only $8000 for use in grades K-8 and $12,000 for use in grades 9-12, the more expensive and established schools remain out of reach.

May 2017 – MORE ON THE DC VOUCHER STUDY

The National Coalition for Public Education (NCPE) published a summary of the DC voucher study’s results in 2017, as well as a Debunking Myths from 2015.

For background information, see the 2013 Washington Post article on the voucher program as well as the Government Accountability Office (GAO) report from 2013 and an NEA summary of the 2007 GAO report.

May 4, 2017 – SIGNIFICANT IMPACT FROM MORE BLACK TEACHERS IN CLASSROOMS

New research shows clear effects from more black teachers in the classrooms. The study, issued last month by researchers at Johns Hopkins University, found that low-income black students who have just one black teacher in grades 3-5 are more likely to graduate and consider college, their likelihood of dropping out reduced by 29 %. This is especially true for low-income black boys, whose dropout rates fall by a whopping 39 % when a black teacher leads the class. This is consistent with a 2004 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, which found that when black teachers taught black students from kindergarten to 3rd grade, the gap in children’s reading and math scores closed, respectively, by 71 % and 65 %.  However, in public schools nationwide, roughly 7 % of teachers are black. “We must make the recruiting and retaining of black teachers a top priority,” says the author.  Read here.

May 4, 2017 – SPIKE IN TEACH FOR AMERICA APPLICANTS

According to this Chalkbeat article based on a Politico report Teach for America is reporting a more than 30 percent spike in applicants – from 37,000 last year to 49,000 this year. The increase comes after several years of steady declines in the number of applicants pursuing a spot in the organization, which places bright college grads in some of the nation’s most impoverished schools.

May 9, 2017 – EFFICIENCY CAN COST EDUCATION

Andrew Smarick of American Enterprise Institute (AEI), in his publication, Efficiency Can Cost Education, provides reasons to resist (or at least be skeptical of) efforts to drive “efficiency” in public education:

One of the biggest reasons is that any attempt to maximize efficiency automatically elevates the role of performance metrics. Once we decide which indicators are going to define success and then set people off to find the swiftest and cheapest way to get those outcomes, we can begin to distort complex enterprises. Other outcomes become expendable, even if those outcomes are important. This phenomenon has been studied in lots of other fields. Yes, you can dramatically increase the lumber production of a forest by planting a single type of tree and arranging them in tidy lines. But that ultimately kills the forest. You can arrange a city’s buildings, streets and homes to maximize commuting efficiency. But that can diminish the city’s livability. You can more efficiently house low-income people by razing old neighborhoods and replacing them with public-housing skyscrapers. But that destroys social capital.

May 2017 – BROAD PRIZE FOR TOP CHARTER SCHOOLS

The Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools honors the nation’s top charter management organization (CMO) at the National Charter Schools Conference (NCSC).  The finalists include:

  • DSST Public Schools in Colorado
  • Harmony Public Schools in Texas
  • Success Academy Charter Schools in New York

Visit www.broadprize.org to learn more about each of the three finalists. The award announcement will be made at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools annual meeting the week of June 11-14 in Washington, DC.

May 2017 – PODCAST SERIES ON ESSA

Whiteboard Advisors teamed up with Frontline Education to create a podcast series about the new federal K-12 education law, Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The series includes four segments that address key changes between NCLB and ESSA, the framework of evidence, equity, and efficacy that should guide decision-making, ways to provide a well-rounded education, and how to support teachers and leaders.  Learn more on their blog.

May 2017 – ACHIEVE’s 2016 ANNUAL REPORT

To celebrate its 20th anniversary, Achieve’s launched four strategic priorities to guide its efforts going forward. In accordance with these priorities, Achieve published policy research and analysis, provided tools and trainings to states, districts, and educators, led advocacy efforts for college- and career-ready policies, and worked to amplify its voice as a leader in the college- and career-ready agenda. Read the 2016 Achieve Annual Report.

May 2017 – ESSA STATE PLANS POSTED BY U.S. DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION

The U.S. Department of Education is posting ESSA state plans. They are linking to plans as they are considered complete and sent for peer review.   

May 2017 – NEW STUDIES SUGGEST THAT CURRICULUM AND TEXTBOOKS MATTER

According to this The 74Million article, the idea that schools can get better simply by improving the content of what they teach may seem at once novel and obvious in an education policy debate dominated by heated battles over school choice, integration, funding, and teacher tenure.  But a significant body of research suggests that choosing better curriculum – often meaning textbooks – can lead to notable gains in student achievement. “Multiple research studies meeting the highest bar for methodological rigor find substantial learning impacts from the adoption of specific curricula. The impact on student learning can be profound,” wrote Johns Hopkins University’s David Steiner in a review of research.

  • Take recent studies in California: One Brookings Institution analysis found that elementary school students who used a specific math textbook made larger gains on tests than students who used other books. The impact of switching to a better textbook was comparable to results from a separate California study on the impact of reducing class size by 10 students.
  • Another analysis found that simply allocating extra money (around $100 per student) for textbooks – which was required in a class-action lawsuit settlement – can bump up elementary school test scores (though there was no noticeable impact in middle or high school).

May 2017 – ASCD STREAMS PROFESSIONAL LEARNING VIDEOS

ASCD is excited to announce the launch of ASCD Streaming  [http://streaming.ascd.org/], a new video platform that gives educators the flexibility to stream trusted ASCD professional learning videos when they want, where they want. Short- and long-term rental options are available, as are individual title, annual, and enterprise subscriptions. Flexibility in mobile platform accessibility offers subscribers instant access in today’s fast-paced world of professional learning. More than 40 titles of affordably priced content are currently available, including best-selling Differentiated Instruction in Action and award-winning Motivating Black Males to Achieve in School and in Life.  Additional titles are forthcoming.

May 2017 – SCHOOL DISCIPLINE

School districts across the country have dramatically altered how they deal with student misbehavior. From Los Angeles to Chicago to New York City, schools have reduced the frequency with which they give out-of-school suspensions, saying taking students out of the classroom does more harm than good.  A recent analysis of California schools found that suspensions there declined precipitously across all ethnic groups between 2013 and 2015.  Now a few years in, it remains hotly debated whether moving away from suspensions and adopting alternative approaches like restorative justice has been positive for students and schools. Using anecdotal evidence and surveys, critics claim that restricting suspensions may have a deleterious effect on school safety and climate, particularly without support, resources, or broader structural reforms. That’s the argument put forth in a report focusing on New York City by Max Eden, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank that held an April 27 panel on the topic. Read a summary here.

May 2017 – LINK BETWEEN CURRICULUM, PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT, & TEACHER TRAINING

Robert Pondiscio of the Fordham Institute highlights a new Aspen Institute paper about the importance of curriculum, professional development, and teacher training, and the linkage between them:

Very slowly, a small but persuasive body of work is emerging which raises curriculum to an object of pressing concern for educators, and expresses long overdue appreciation for the idea that the instructional materials we put in front of children actually matter to student outcomes. A welcome addition to this emerging corpus is a new Aspen Institute paper by Ross Wiener and Susan Pimentel, which makes a compelling case – equally overdue – that professional development and teacher training ought to be connected to curriculum. A primary role of school systems, states, districts, and charter-management organizations, the pair write, “is to create the conditions in schools through which teachers can become experts at teaching the curriculum they are using and adapting instruction to the needs of their particular students.”

Read more here.

May 11, 2017 – NCTQ REPORT EVALUATES UNDERGRADUATE PROGRAMS THAT PREPARE HIGH SCHOOL TEACHERS

The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) released its new rankings of programs preparing high school teachers, which follow up on its December release of elementary teachers’ program rankings. These rankings reveal the top and bottom teacher training programs in the nation, what makes some programs successful, and how secondary programs have changed since NCTQ last reviewed them in 2014. This report is the only comparison of teacher preparation programs across the nation and highlights the urgent need for many of these programs to improve. It evaluates these programs on their coverage of key topics in teaching, inclusion of subject-specific content, selection of aspiring teachers, and student teaching requirements, among others.

May 17, 2017 – VOCATIONAL EDUCATION BILL APPROVED BY HOUSE COMMITTEE

The U.S. House Education and Workforce Committee approved a bipartisan bill to reauthorize the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, which focuses on vocational education. The legislation is tailored to give states more flexibility in their plans for Perkins funds and for prioritizing programs that meet their particular workforce environments. Read here.

May 25, 2017 – LEADERS AS “PROBLEM FINDERS”

This this Education Week blog, the authors detail ways that principals and other school leaders can pro-actively find problems and their underlying causes, “The problem solvers of the future are those who see and identify problems before they arise.”