Top Stories: 1 / 7–13 / 2014

NCLB turns 12….  The War on Poverty is 50….  Some good news and mixed news for NYC charters….  Mr. de Blasio goes to Albany…. Is Alt. Cert. worth it?…  Are classrooms really overcrowded?…. Rick Hess’ Edu-Scholars list…

Charter Students Don’t Transfer More Often Than Other Students

Al Baker, public education reporter at the New York Times, cites a new study showing that students at charter schools are more likely to stay at their schools than are students at nearby traditional public schools. This holds true regardless of students’ gender, race/ethnicity, poverty or English learner status. The one major exception is special education students. About 80 percent of children with special needs left charter schools in the three years, vs. 50 percent of those in public schools. The study, released last week by the Independent Budget Office, tracked 3,000 children who started kindergarten in 53 charter schools in September 2008 and 7,200 children in 116 traditional schools.

New Standardized Tests: Mixed Results For NYC Charters

As widely reported last summer, in this first year of tests aligned to the Common Core Standards in math and English Language Arts (ELA), New York’s state test results dropped dramatically in grades 3-8 across the board. This was true in both charter schools as well as other public schools in New York City and State. Examining the statistics, the New York City Charter School Center reports that in citywide charters, students scored at least Proficient at a higher rate in math than students in citywide district schools (34.8 percent vs. 29.6 percent), but at a lower rate in ELA (25.0 percent vs. 26.4 percent). But there are some promising statistics for charter schools: 79 percent of charters in the city posted higher proficiency rates in Math than their district and charter “peer” schools, while 54 percent posted higher rates than their peer schools in ELA.

What do “Promise Zones” have to do with Education?

On January 9, President Barack Obama announced the first five “Promise Zones”—San Antonio, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Southeastern Kentucky and the Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma—an interagency collaboration aimed at bolstering economic development in high poverty communities. The U.S. Department of Education, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Justice and the Department of Agriculture will all have a piece of the action, reports Alyson Klein, a reporter for Education Week and co-author of the blog Politics K-12. What are the Promise Zones that have already won Education Department grants doing with the money? Klein reports that Los Angeles is planning a partnership between the Youth Policy Institute and the Los Angeles Unified School District to expand its “Full Service Community School” program from seven to 45 schools by 2019. And United Way of San Antonio & Bexar County, Inc. is proposing a new on focus on instruction of science, technology, engineering and math in pre-kindergarten through high school. Click here for a fact sheet on the Promise Zones Initiative and the key strategies for all Zones.

Universal Pre-K


Dueling Pre-K Plans in New York

In his State of the State address last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo voiced support for universal pre-K—New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s signature issue. ” And while we remake our class rooms for tomorrow, we must get young minds engaged as early as possible…. It is time for New York State to have universal full day pre-K statewide,” Cuomo said. However, writes David Howard King in the Gotham Gazette, “he didn’t say how the state would finance it.” The governor’s State of the State policy book also fails to say how that goal would be financed, King reports. “The fact that Cuomo’s mention of pre-K came after a long discussion about tax cuts made it seem all the less likely that he will support de Blasio’s plan to raise taxes on New York City’s wealthy. The state legislature would have to allow the city to implement such a tax.” To read a transcript of the governor’s 2014 State of the State address, click here.

De Blasio’s “Charm Offensive” in Albany

Just one week on the job, Mayor Bill de Blasio went to the state capital to show that as far as the Legislature is concerned, he is the anti-Michael Bloomberg, CBS 2’s Marcia Kramer reports. While Bloomberg was known for trying to shove his agenda down lawmakers’ throats—as he did with his failed West Side stadium plan and congestion pricing—de Blasio launched a charm offensive. “With all due respect to Mayor Bloomberg, this is about showing respect to the leadership in Albany,” de Blasio said. The new mayor climbed up and down the capital building’s massive staircases to meet with various groups of lawmakers, but his main goal was to drum up support for a tax on the wealthy to pay for universal pre-kindergarten and other educational programs.

Are Some School Discipline Policies Too Harsh?

The Obama Administration recommendation that schools abandon overly zealous discipline policies for students—a.k.a. “zero tolerance rules”—was the subject of debate last week PBS’ Newshour. According to journalist Judy Woodruff, “The new guidance calls for clearer distinctions about the role of safety personnel and making sure school administrators handle routine discipline problems, instead of turning them over to law enforcement.” Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said: “This whole idea of discipline, of changing what used to be infractions that got you sent to the vice principal’s office and criminalizing them has essentially introduced the criminal justice system into our schools, to the detriment of our children.” However, Chester Finn of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation disagreed. “If all that the administration had done was to offer school guidelines on how to handle discipline better, this probably would be a positive step. But there’s a huge iron fist inside this glove,” Finn said. “This is fundamentally a civil rights enforcement step, of the kind that is ultimately going to weaken discipline in our schools, at a very time when things like Newtown ought to have us seeking better order in our schools, rather than discouraging school systems from enforcing discipline.”

Have We Won or Lost the War on Poverty?

Fifty years ago this month, President Lyndon B. Johnson issued a call to arms against poverty. Given the high poverty rate in America today, it may be tempting to think that Johnson’s War on Poverty has been a huge failure. (According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the official poverty rate in 2012 was 15.0 percent, 2.5 percentage points higher than in 2007.) Needless to say, the anniversary has generated a host of commentaries.

***Marketplace takes a look at the debate, not only over whether the U.S. has won or lost the war, but whether the country as a whole is gaining ground or retreating.
***Journalist and author Nicholas Kristoff, writing in the New York Times, takes a cautious but optimistic view of the progress that has been made over the past half century. “The first lesson of the war on poverty is that we can make progress against poverty, but that it’s an uphill slog,” he writes. “Critics are right that antipoverty work is difficult and that dependency can be a problem. But the premise of so much of today’s opposition to food stamps and other benefits—that government assistance inevitably fails—is just wrong. And child poverty is as unconscionable in a rich nation today as it was half a century ago.”
***Writing on the Economic Policy Institute’s “Working Economics” blog, Richard Rothstein discusses evidence that the concentration of poverty, with many black families living in desperately poor neighborhoods for multiple generations, hinders the upward mobility of many African-American youth. “It is now well understood that many characteristics of children from low-income families—poor health, housing instability, inadequate pre-literacy experiences when young and inadequate after-school enrichment opportunities when older—make it difficult to take advantage of even the best classroom instruction,” Rothstein, a research associate of the Economic Policy Institute and senior fellow at the University of California (Berkeley) School of Law, writes.
***David Bornstein, journalist and author of three books on social entrepreneurship, writes in the New York Times that while it’s hard to see the improvements, we’re actually getting smarter about what works and what doesn’t. “In many ways,” he writes, “We have become far more thoughtful and systematic in our efforts to address social problems.”


Happy Birthday, NCLB!


Fordham Event Covers a Broad Range of Issues

No Child Left Behind, the controversial federal education law requiring all students to reach proficiency in math and reading, turns 12 this month. Michael Petrilli of the Education Gadfly recently chatted with Kathleen Porter-Magee, senior advisor for policy and instruction at the College Board, and Matthew M. Chingos, a fellow in the Brookings Institution’s Brown Center on Education Policy, on lessons learned (and not).

DFER Thinks…

Democrats For Education Reform (DFER), a political reform organization that supports leaders in the Democratic party who champion school reform, released a statement last week marking the anniversary. “The challenge of passing a law that forced that type of scrutiny of underperforming schools was just as tough as the challenges facing current reform efforts on issues like standards, assessments, choice, teacher evaluation, and tenure. And the political fights are just as worthy and winnable,” said Policy Director Charles Barone. “The lesson from NCLB is that those pushing back may change the pace of education reform, but not its inexorable march forward.” To view DFER’s infographic on how NCLB has changed the education policy landscape, click here.

Rep. Kline Says…

Taking an opposing point of view, House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-Minn.) believes that “our children deserve better” than NCLB. “No Child Left Behind ushered in a new era for the nation’s schools, helping identify student achievement gaps and provide critical data to parents and students. However, schools and students still face significant challenges–challenges that simply cannot be fixed with an arbitrary federal waiver program,” he said in a statement issued on January 8. “I call on Senate leaders to recognize the urgent need for education reform and bring comprehensive education legislation up for a vote as soon as possible.”


Rick Hess’ Edu-Scholar Rankings

The RHSU “Edu-Scholar” Public Influence rankings—honoring the 200 university-based education scholars who had the biggest influence on the nation’s education discourse last year—were just unveiled. Who were the top scorers? According to the American Enterprise Institute’s Rick Hess, who compiled the rankings, “All are familiar edu-names, with long careers featuring influential scholarship, track records of comment on public developments, and outsized public and professional roles.” In order, the top five were Linda Darling-Hammond of Stanford, Diane Ravitch of NYU, Howard Gardner of Harvard, Eric Hanushek of Stanford and Tony Wagner of Harvard. “The rankings offer a useful, if imperfect, gauge of the public influence edu-scholars had in 2013. The rubric reflects both a scholar’s body of academic work—encompassing the breadth and influence of their scholarship—and their footprint on the public discourse last year,” says Hess. “Notable, if not too surprising, is that the top ten are all veteran, accomplished scholars who have each authored a number of (frequently influential) books, accumulated bodies of heavily cited scholarly work, and are often seen in the public square and working with state and district leaders.” For more on how the list was compiled and ranked, click here.


What’s an “Instructional Leader”?

“What does it mean for an administrator to be an ‘instructional leader?’” asks Daniel Willingham, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, in a recent blog post. Scholars have long argued that principals should be instructional leaders, but few studies have empirically linked specific instructional leadership behaviors to school performance. Willingham cites a new study that may shed some light on the subject. Instead of simply asking principals, “How important is instructional leadership to you?” or having them complete time diaries, researchers actually followed 100 principals from the Miami-Dade County district around for full-day observations over three school years. They found that principals spent, on average, 12.6 percent of their time on activities related to instruction. Surprisingly, time spent on instructional functions did not predict student learning. However, time spent coaching teachers—especially in math—was associated with better student outcomes; so too time spent evaluating teachers and curriculum. But informal classroom walkthroughs—the most common activity—negatively predicted student growth, particularly in high schools.

The 21st Paragraph

Mike Antonucci comments on Motoko Rich’s December story in the New York Times on overcrowding in the classroom and a shrinking public school workforce. “Let’s skip all the way down to the 21st and 22nd paragraphs, where Rich finally placed these numbers in some sort of context,” writes Antonucci on his blog. “Working teachers make up only about half of the public education workforce. The number of non-teachers also expanded apace. No one likes to lose a job, but when you expand a workforce by 46 percent, then cut it by 3.5 percent, it shouldn’t stimulate tears of regret.”

What the Public Wants: Small Class Sizes, Technology and Choice

According to a newly released study sponsored by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, the public considers smaller class sizes to be the most effective education reform measure. The next most popular options are increasing technology in schools, followed by school accountability and school vouchers. The least popular measures? Reducing the influence of teachers’ unions, paying teachers based partially on student performance, and finally, lengthening the school day. When it comes to school choice models, tax-credit reimbursements for educational expenses and tax-credit scholarships provided by nonprofits tie for first choice. Education savings accounts, a new policy provided only in Arizona, is third. Among vouchers, a “universal” plan in which all families could participate has the strongest support, followed by vouchers for students with disabilities. Vouchers solely for low-income families—a model that has become law in North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin over the past three years—are the least popular.

Stay Tuned: What the Public Wants after it is “Informed”

According to an Education Next press release: “In a webinar on Tuesday, Jan. 14th at 1 pm, Professors Paul E. Peterson of Harvard University and Michael B. Henderson of the University of Mississippi will present an analysis of new survey data showing how Americans’ evaluations of their local schools and their opinions on school spending, merit pay, vouchers, and other education reform issues, change when armed with information. Joining the webinar discussion will also be Eric A. Hanushek, Paul and Jean Hanna Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. The webinar coincides with the release of the full study, `Information Fuels Support for School Reform,’ by Michael B. Henderson, William G. Howell, and Paul E. Peterson, which will be available on Education Next on the same day.

What the NYT Learned About Twitter

With more and more consumers finding their way to the New York Times through Twitter, the Nieman Journalism Lab reports, editors at the Times recently took stock of what works, and what doesn’t, on @nytimes. In an analysis of clickthroughs and retweets, the social media team at the Times found that (1) clarity in headlines and tweets works better than being clever or obscure; (2) great articles, videos, slideshows, graphics and blog posts don’t need to be read only at the very moment they’re published—some of the most popular articles turn out to be retweets; and (3) sometimes a story buried deep in the paper, targeted toward a niche audience, draws the most social media attention.

Is Alt. Cert. Worth It?

How do alternatively certified teachers compare to traditionally trained teachers in terms of effectiveness? James V. Shuls, the director of education policy at the Show-Me Institute, and Julie R. Trivitt recently sought to find out by doing an analysis of Arkansas data. The results, published in Education Policy, found the differences between the two groups to be negligible. “There is indeed value in teacher training programs, but there is also value in alternative routes to the classroom. Each route has its benefits and its drawbacks. That is why Julie and I conclude that ‘teachers, and students, would be best served by equipping schools with more authority to hire the individuals they believe are qualified for the job and to certify those individuals who meet the expectations in the classroom,’” writes Shuls, in a guest post on Jay P. Greene’s blog. “Expand routes to the classroom and let local school leaders do their job. Let’s let them decide which teacher is the right fit for their school.”

Parents’ Coalition of Montgomery County

When the Parents’ Coalition of Montgomery Country took a close look at data from the fall final exam grade distribution for high school students in seven different math classes, they were in for a shock. A majority of students taking Algebra I, Geometry, Bridge to Algebra 2 and Algebra 2 received an E (the new F) on their end-of-semester exams last January, while just under a half (48 percent) of Pre-Calculus students failed the exams. Students taking honors-level math students fared somewhat better: only 36 percent of Honors Geometry students and 30 percent of Honors Algebra students received failing grades on the exams. “Is another MCPS ‘work group’ really the answer, or should this be a public discussion by our elected Board of Education members at the public Board table?” the parents’ group asks.


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