Top Stories 11/6-12/2013

The election’s over… Boston and NYC couldn’t be more different… NAEP’s in… Bloomberg: champion of the poor… Catholics don’t like Common Core… Model Pre-K in Oklahoma… Urban education meets rural education… Rocky Mountain high… and more


Top Stories

Post-election Roundup

What do last week’s state and local elections mean for K-12 education? Michele McNeil of Education Week says we can expect to see big changes in Boston and New York City’s school systems and more public school funding in Virginia. In addition, we’ll likely be hearing a lot more about the presidential aspirations of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie—a noted foe of teachers’ unions.  Colorado voters, meanwhile, resoundingly said no, by a nearly 2-to-1 margin, to Amendment 66, a ballot initiative that would have overhauled the state’s education funding system, promising smaller class sizes and full-day kindergarten; this, despite backing of the National Education Association and donations of $1 million apiece from Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg. Rocky Mountain (high) voters passed Proposition AA, however, approving a tax on the now legal recreational consumption of marijuana in the state; more than a third of the revenue raised will help fund school construction.


New Mayors in New York and Boston

According to Lesli Maxwell of Education Week, the election of new mayors in Boston and New York could bode well for early childhood education, as both candidates campaigned on expanding access to pre-K. The similarities end there, however. In New York Bill de Blasio’s landslide victory is already being viewed as a repudiation of many of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s education reform policies, most notably, Bloomberg’s outspoken promotion of charter schools, which the leftist mayor-elect has criticized. In Boston, according to New York Times reporter Katharine Q. Seelye mayor-elect Martin J. Walsh, who is the founding and current board member of Neighborhood House Public Charter School in Dorchester, MA., has made education reform a top priority.


The new Mayor of NYC: the Editorial Pages

The NY Times:

Mayor-elect de Blasio “has a delicate balance to strike: keeping the city’s vast machinery running smoothly while changing its direction,” according to a post-election Times editorial.

The NY Post:

After two decades of fighting city hall, the leaders of the Working Family Party (a grassroots, community and labor-based party that was founded in New York in 1998 and now has “sister” chapters in seven other states) have high hopes—and even higher expectations—for the new mayor.

The NY Daily News

In less than two months, Bill de Blasio will assume leadership of the world’s most important city. At that time, he will have to begin delivering on his educational campaign promises, which include moving away from Michael Bloomberg’s aggressive education reforms and establishing universal pre-K financed by a tax on the wealthy. Throughout the campaign, de Blasio left largely unresolved how he will actually improve public school performance. The time for “clarity is fast-approaching and inescapable,” says a Daily News editorial. “Fuzzy-wuzzy will not do.”


And Then There’s Checker Finn: Slicing and Dicing De Blasio’s Education Agenda

Of mayor-elect de Blasio’s two dozen or so education reform proposals, some are “potentially sound,” while others—such as his call for across-the-board class-size reduction; building more facilities; and making it more difficult for charter schools to operate in city facilities—“would do more harm than good,” writes Chester Finn of the Thomas Fordham Institute. In the end, “De Blasio would’ve done more to persuade education-reformers that he’s serious if he’d dispensed with 24-point agendas and instead said who he’d hire as schools chancellor.”



Denver’s Planned New Data System to Identify Students Who Struggle Before They Fail

Writing in EdNews Colorado, Kate Schimel reports on a new tracking system in Denver that will be used to predict whether students, as young as kindergarten age, are on track to be college and career ready. The system, which won’t be in place for at least another year, will use seven so-called “gateways,” or benchmarks, to give parents, teachers and principals a concrete understanding of how a student is progressing as he or she goes from kindergarten to graduation. “If one of the goals of the program is better college readiness for Denver students, the district’s own data shows it has a long way to go,” Schimel notes. “Kindergarten is the only area where more than 50 percent of students pass the gateway.”


Bloomberg, Champion of the Poor?

While oftentimes criticized for neglecting New York City’s poor, Michael Bloomberg actually mounted “bold and unprecedented antipoverty measures,” University of Pennsylvania professor Michael Katz writes in the New York Times. Particularly impressive, says Katz, is CUNY’s Accelerated Study in Associate Programs, which removes barriers to graduation by offering students an array of academic and financial supports. The three-year graduation rate for the 2007 cohort was 55 percent, compared with 24 percent for a demographically comparable group.


In Public Education, Edge Still Goes to Rich

The United States is one of the few advanced countries that invests more money and educational resources on affluent students rather than on those from disadvantaged families, writes Eduardo Porter in the New York Times. “If education is a poor child’s best shot at rising up the ladder of prosperity,” he asks, “why do public resources devoted to education lean so decisively in favor of the better off?”


“Privatization of Education Won’t Erase Savage Inequalities”

Commenting on Porter’s piece, Jan Ressenger, former chair of the National Council of Churches Committee on Public Education, argues against school choice: “Our historic vision of public schools as the heart of our neighborhoods—schools that are publicly owned and publicly accountable—is a far better bet for our poorest children and for our society.”


Hope versus Giving Up

In these two essays, Mike Goldstein, a founder of Match Education and since May the chief academic officer at Bridge International Academies, a network of nursery and primary schools in Kenya delivering high-quality education for just $5 a month, examines the idea of whether some kids’ low test scores might be attributed not to lack of content knowledge but rather to “giving up.”


NAEP: What the 2013 Results Mean

The Report

The grades are mixed for the newly released “The Nation’s Report Card.” According to the report, which gives a snapshot of fourth- and eighth-grade math and reading proficiency across the country, American students have made some progress since 2011 (the last time the exams were administered). But the gains were modest, with fewer than half of students scoring proficient or better. Also troubling is the fact that the gap between white and minority scores continues to persist. Note: For the first time, there’s an interactive website that lets educators and parents shift through the data in different ways, including by state, ethnicity and gender. They can also test themselves with actual NAEP questions.

3 from RiShawn Biddle at Dropout Nation

Maryland Tops NAEP Dishonor Roll

How does the Old Line State do so well on the federal exam of student achievement? By excluding at least 60 percent of kids condemned to special ed and English Language Learner ghettos from the test.

More NAEP: Bureau of Indian Education Edition

The federal exam of student achievement provides additional examples of how the federal school system heaps educational abuse upon Native students.

NAEP Shows Need to Do Better

Good news – and clarion calls – from the results of this year’s federal exam of student progress.

Big Gains for DC and Tennessee in Math and Reading

The Hechinger Report blog notes that the big winners in the NAEP results are the schoolchildren in the District of Columbia and the state of Tennessee, which showed huge gains in math and reading—up to seven points on some tests. While these results are impressive, there is still a lot of room for continued improvement: Tennessee falls below the national average. And the District ranks dead last on NAEP.

DFER: “Bold Reforms Yield Big Returns”

The NAEP results can teach us some very valuable lessons about education reform—“that real change is hard work” and “that hard work can bring about real change,” say the Democrats For Education Reform. “Most important, DC and Tennessee show that all children can learn if the system has high expectations for them and if it ensures that they have effective teachers.”

California Ranks Near the Bottom on NAEP

Lillian Mongeau, who covers early childhood education for EdSource, reports that California ranks among the ten lowest states in the country on NAEP. What’s more, the gap between white and Latino students is slightly larger in California than in other states on all measures except eighth grade reading.


Think You Did Well on the SAT?

When it comes to the SAT, many parents mistakenly believe that boosting their kids’ self-esteem will lead to higher scores. But “post-test taking feelings are usually unreliable indicators of performance,” writes Time contributor Debbie Stier, author of the forthcoming book, The Perfect Score Project: Uncovering the Secret of the SAT. Indeed, studies (such as here and here) have linked overconfidence to lower test scores and under-confidence with higher scores.


Catholic Scholars Argue That Common Core Would Lower Standards

In a letter to the nation’s bishops last month, more than 100 Catholic education officials urged church leaders to reject the Common Core. In response to critics, they say that Catholic school standards actually exceed the Common Core.


Teachers who Teach Teachers

Reporting on two new studies (here and here), Scott Jaschik, editor and one of the founders of Inside Higher Ed, says that schools of education need to make significant changes in the way they evaluate faculty members—both on or off the tenure track.


How a Teen Whiz Kid is Changing the Way We Read

Nick D’Aloisio is no ordinary teenager. The 17-year-old British-Australian entrepreneur, who is WSJ. Magazine‘s Technology Innovator of the Year, became an overnight millionaire earlier this year when he sold his news-reading app, Summly, to Yahoo for an estimated $30 million. The app—which summarizes news stories into a format viewable on smartphones—attracted the interest of investors around the world. Investors realized that “an app that could deliver brief, accurate summaries would be hugely valuable in a world where we read everything—from news stories to corporate reports—on our phones on the go,” writes Seth Stevenson in the Wall Street Journal.


How Peacemaking Changed an Inner-City School

For decades, John Paul Jones Middle School in Philadelphia was known as “Jones’ Jail.” Students were disruptive; drugs and physical violence were rampant; and at the end of the school day, police cars lined up to protect the neighborhood form a rush of 800 students fleeing the school, write Carolyn Schodt and Stacey Cruise in an article in Community Works Journal. In 2012, the school was recognized as a Renaissance School. The bars covering the school windows and metal detectors were removed, the armed guards were asked not to return and the school was renamed the Memphis Street Academy Charter School.  Today, violent incidents at the school have dropped dramatically, three-quarter of students feel safe in the classroom and 95 percent of students hope to graduate from college one day.


Education Trust has a new “Equity Line”

Ed Trust’s new blog—The Equity Line—promotes high academic achievement for all students at all levels, from pre-K through college.


Why I Wrote a Parent-Trigger Law

Former California State Senator Gloria Romero explains why she wrote the first “parent-trigger law,” which allows a majority of parents in a failing school to vote on a method to restructure the school. “I acted,” she says, “because I understood that education is the civil rights issue of our time and the key to the American dream.”


Charters that Nourish Intellect and Character

Great Hearts and BASIS, with schools in the Southwest, are examples of a new kind of publicly financed charter school that is beginning to emerge—academically rigorous institutions that rely on infusions of private money and parents’ contributions to supplement their programs. Critics fear they may keep away low-income students.


Moving Top Teachers to Struggling Schools Boosts Test Scores

Offering high-performing teachers large financial incentives ($20,000 paid over two years) to move to low-performing schools helped raise math and reading test scores of elementary students by four to 10 percentile points, according to a new study. In addition, most of the teachers stayed on after the bonus payments ended, helping to improve teacher retention rates. What’s more, the program proved to be more cost-effective than other interventions, such as reducing class size: the estimated savings exceeded $40,000 per grade.


Oklahoma’s Model For Universal Pre-K
In 1998, Oklahoma passed a law providing for free access to pre-kindergarten for all four-year-olds.  “The idea is that even the poorest child in Oklahoma should have access to the kind of nurturing that is routine in middle-class homes. That way, impoverished children don’t begin elementary school far behind the starting line—and then give up,” writes Nicholas D. Kristof in the New York Times. Repeated studies suggest that early education programs pay for themselves, says Kristof. “It’s promising that here in Oklahoma, early education isn’t seen as a Republican or Democratic initiative. It is simply considered an experiment that works.”


The College Admission Game Starts Very Early For Some Kids

What motivates young kids (some not old enough for first grade) and their parents to devote time and resources to competitive activities like chess, dance or lacrosse? The answer: to help them stand out and get into a good college or university—even though it may be more than a decade away, says Hilary Levey Friedman, author of the book, Playing to Win: Raising Children in a Competitive Culture. Nowadays, some families are focusing as much effort on extracurricular achievement as on academics.


The Evolving Geography of Education Reform

Andy Smarick, author of The Urban School System of the Future: Applying the Principles and Lessons of Chartering, says that many, but not all, of the reforms that work for urban districts apply to suburban districts as well. On the other hand, he says, rural districts “are a different story.”


Rural Education Needs to be Rewritten

Although 20 percent of Americans live, work, and learn in rural communities, rural areas seem to play a small role in conversations about improving education—“a situation that must change,” Secretary Arne Duncan said in a major in a major address at the Rural Education National Forum on October 31 in Ohio. Read the Secretary’s speech here.


Lost and Found

January 2012: Has the Accountability Movement Run Its Course?

Ten years after George W. Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act, experts are still struggling to make sense of its impact and legacy. Where do we go from here—does the accountability movement keep on trucking on, with or without NCLB? Is it time for something new? Or is accountability something that has to be a part of the fabric of the education system, regardless of what other reforms get layered on top? Three leading experts wrestled with these and other questions at a January 2012 panel discussion at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute: Hoover Institute economist Eric Hanushek, DFER’s Charles Barone and former NCES commissioner Mark Schneider, author of a Fordham analysis of the effects of consequential accountability. Schneider likened the accountability movement to a “meteor slamming into the school system… providing a fundamental platform upon which other things need to be built.” In Hanushek’s view, NCLB is a great experiment that was flawed. And Barone contends that any discussion about accountability amounts to a “spin war, with people using the numbers to push their position.”




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