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  • The Authoritarian Challenge: The Concordance Between Trump And Putin

    by Eric Chenoweth on September 22, 2017

    Our guest author today is Eric Chenoweth, co-director of the Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe and primary author of ASI’s Democracy Web civic education resource. This post was adapted from a longer essay, which can be found here.

    Since November 8, 2016, American citizens and international observers have faced a startling new situation. On that day, the United States, the longest continuous representative democracy in the modern world, elected the seemingly authoritarian-minded Donald J. Trump to a four-year presidential term. Trump, a man with little apparent knowledge of, experience in, or appreciation for either representative government or America‘s international treaties and alliances, promised to upend U.S. domestic and foreign policy and reshape the international order. He has succeeded.

    In the face of the decade-long rise of dictatorial leaders and nationalist and chauvinist parties in a number of countries around the globe, Trump’s election brought broad acknowledgement of a crisis of world democracy. Given its position and role in the world, the United States is now center stage in that crisis.

    One of the most troublesome aspects of the election was that the rules of the U.S. Constitution awarded Trump victory based on the preference of a minority of voters using an antique and unique electoral college system that overrode a substantial national vote margin in favor of the election’s loser. Notwithstanding Hillary Clinton’s supposed unpopularity, the Democratic Party candidate won 2.85 million more votes in the national ballot, 48 percent to 46 percent, while Trump’s electoral college victory was determined in three decisive states by a total of 77,000 votes (out of 13.4 million). Putting aside that the results were influenced by foreign intervention (see below), the election process itself should be a cause for serious concern over the state of American democracy. For the second time in recent U.S. history, a national minority government has been imposed on the majority. No other democracy elects national leadership in such a manner. Yet, there is still little discussion of addressing this structural weakness in our political system.[1]

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  • The Theory And Practice Of School Closures

    by Matthew Di Carlo on September 13, 2017

    The idea of closing “low performing schools” has undeniable appeal, at least in theory. The basic notion is that some schools are so dysfunctional that they cannot be saved and may be doing irreparable harm to their students every day they are open. Thus, it is argued, closing such schools and sending their students elsewhere is the best option – even if students end up in “average” schools, proponents argue, they will be better off.

    Such closures are very controversial, however, and for good reason. For one thing, given adequate time and resources, schools may improve – i.e., there are less drastic interventions that might be equally (or more) effective as a way to help students. Moreover, closing a school represents a disruption in students’ lives (and often, by the way, to the larger community). In this sense, any closure must offer cumulative positive effects sufficient to offset an initial negative effect. Much depends on how and why schools are identified for closure, and the quality of the schools that displaced students attend. In practice, then, closure is a fairly risky policy, both educationally and (perhaps especially) politically. This disconnect between the appeal of theoretical school closures and the actual risks, in practice, may help explain why U.S. educational policy has been designed such that many schools operate at some risk of closure, but relatively few ever end up shutting their doors.

    Despite the always contentious debates about the risks and merits of closing “low performing schools,” there has not been a tremendous amount of strong evidence about effects (in part because such closures have been somewhat rare). A new report by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) helps fill the gap, using a very large dataset to examine the test-based impact of school closures (among other things). The results speak directly to the closure debate, in both specific and general terms, but interpreting them is complicated by the fact that this analysis evaluates what is at best a policy done poorly.

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  • What Are "Segregated Schools?"

    by Matthew Di Carlo on August 23, 2017

    The conventional wisdom in education circles is that U.S. schools are “resegregating” (see here and here for examples). The basis for these claims is usually some form of the following empirical statement: An increasing proportion of schools serve predominantly minority student populations (e.g., GAO 2016). In other words, there are more “segregated schools.”

    Underlying the characterization of this finding as “resegregation” is one of the longstanding methodological debates in education and other fields today: How to measure segregation (Massey and Denton 1988). And, as is often the case with these debates, it’s not just about methodology, but also about larger conceptual issues. We might very casually address these important issues by posing a framing question: Is a school that serves 90-95 percent minority students necessarily a “segregated school?”

    Most people would answer yes. And, putting aside the semantic distinction that it is students rather than schools that are segregated, they would be correct. But there is a lot of nuance here that is actually important.

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  • Where Do Achievement Gaps Come From?

    by Matthew Di Carlo on August 10, 2017

    For almost two decades now, educational accountability policy in the U.S. has included a focus on the performance of student subgroups, such as those defined by race and ethnicity, income, or special education status. The (very sensible) logic behind this focus is the simple fact that aggregate performance measures, whether at the state-, district-, or school levels, often mask large gaps between subgroups.

    Yet one of the unintended consequences of this subgroup focus has been confusion among both policymakers and the public as to how to interpret and use subgroup indicators in formal school accountability systems, particularly when those indicators are expressed as simple “achievement gaps” or “gap closing” measures. This is not only because achievement gaps can narrow for undesirable reasons and widen for desirable reasons, but also because many gaps exist prior to entry into the school (or district). If, for instance, a large Hispanic/White achievement gap for a given cohort exists at the start of kindergarten, it is misleading and potentially damaging to hold a school accountable for the persistence of that gap in later grades – particularly in cases where public policy has failed to provide the extra resources and supports that might help lower-performing students make accelerated achievement gains every year. In addition, the coarseness of current educational variables, particularly those usually used as income proxies, limits the detail and utility of some subgroup measures.

    A helpful and timely little analysis by David Figlio and Krzystof Karbownik, published by the Brookings Institution, addresses some of these issues, and the findings have clear policy implications.

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  • Where Al Shanker Stood: School Vouchers

    by Shanker Institute Staff on August 2, 2017

    With all of the recent debate about school voucher proposals, we decided to reprint this January 1997 New York Times column by Al Shanker in which he discusses inconsistencies in many conservatives' position on vouchers.

    \We are used to seeing conservatives go all out in support of vouchers. But what about a conservative who argues against providing public money to send students to religious and other private schools? Timothy Lamer, whose op-ed piece, "A Conservative Case Against School Choice," recently appeared in the Washington Post (November 6, 1996), is such a novelty. Lamer thinks that conservatives who push for vouchers are ignoring or distorting their principles. He intends his article as a wake-up call to conservatives, but it should suggest to members of the public generally that there is something fishy about the conservative crusade for vouchers. How come conservatives are pushing something so alien to their usual point of view?

    Here are some voucher arguments advanced by push-for-vouchers conservatives that go against the conservative grain:

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  • For Florida's School Grading System, A Smart Change With Unexpected Effects

    by Matthew Di Carlo on July 13, 2017

    Last year, we discussed a small but potentially meaningful change that Florida made to its school grading system, one that might have attenuated a long-standing tendency of its student “gains” measures, by design, to favor schools that serve more advantaged students. Unfortunately, this result doesn’t seem to have been achieved.

    Prior to 2014-15, one of the criteria by which Florida students could be counted as having “made gains” was scoring as proficient or better in two consecutive years, without having dropped a level (e.g., from advanced to proficient). Put simply, this meant that students scoring above the proficiency threshold would be counted as making “gains,” even if they in fact made only average or even below average progress, so long as they stayed above the line. As a result of this somewhat crude “growth” measure, schools serving large proportions of students scoring above the proficiency line (i.e., schools in affluent neighborhoods) were virtually guaranteed to receive strong “gains” scores. Such “double counting” in the “gains” measures likely contributed to a very strong relationship between schools’ grades and their students’ socio-economic status (as gauged, albeit roughly, by subsidized lunch eligibility rates).

    Florida, to its credit, changed this “double counting” rule effective in 2014-15. Students who score as proficient in two consecutive years are no longer automatically counted as making “gains.” They must also exhibit some score growth in order to receive the designation.

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  • ESSA: An Opportunity For Research-Practice Partnerships To Support Districts And States

    by Bill Penuel & Caitlin C. Farrell on July 5, 2017

    Our guest authors today are Bill Penuel, professor of learning sciences and human development in the School of Education at the University of Colorado Boulder, and Caitlin C. Farrell, director of the National Center of Research in Policy and Practice (NCRPP) at the University of Colorado Boulder. This piece is adapted from the authors’ chapter in Teaching in Context: The Social Side of Education Reform, edited by Esther Quintero (Harvard Education Press, 2017).

    Many parts of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) call on schools, districts, and states to select “evidence-based programs.” Many state plans now being developed include strategies for meeting these provisions of the law. These state plans in development vary widely. Some mainly pass through responsibilities for selecting evidence-based programs to districts. Other states are considering ways to integrate continuous improvement research that would focus on studying the implementation of evidence-based programs.

    Our book chapter in Teaching in Context: The Social Side of Reform presents a number of scenarios where long-term research-practice partnerships (RPPs) have helped districts select, adapt, and design evidence-based programs. RPPs are long-term, mutually beneficial relationships between practitioners and researchers around problems of practice. This promising strategy has been growing in popularity in recent years, and there is now even a network of RPPs to support exchange among them.

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  • The Teacher Testimony Project: Mobilizing And Lifting The Voices Of Teachers Of Color

    by Conra D. Gist on June 21, 2017

    Our guest author today is Conra D. Gist, an assistant professor of curriculum and instruction at the University of Arkansas, and 2016-2017 Spencer/National Academy of Education Post-Doctoral Fellow. The following blog describes the genesis of the Teacher Testimony Project, an American Educational Research Association (AERA) Education Service Project designed to work with aspiring and current Teachers of Color.

    Given the wealth of research indicating the value Teachers of Color* add to the teaching profession (Villegas and Irvine 2010), it is always surprising to encounter critiques that overlook their contributions. Yet, the Teacher Testimony Project was developed in a hostile political climate in which a deficit narrative began to arise about a grow-your-own program committed to their recruitment and retention.  This was troubling since numerous education scholars have noted the potential of home-grown programs to address teacher shortages (Learning Policy Institute 2016) and high attrition (Shanker Institute 2015), as well as to increase the likelihood of producing community minded teachers with cultural capital that benefits students’ learning experiences (Sleeter and Milner 2011). Scholarship further indicates that Teachers of Color often have knowledge of community and ethics of care (Skinner et al. 2011), positively impact academic and nonacademic outcomes for students of color (Gershenson et al. 2016), and have commitments to racial and social justice (Gist 2014).  Despite this research base, the negative rhetoric that began circulating about these teachers threatened to misrepresent their strengths and contributions. Thus, a pressing question arose: how could Teachers of Color reframe the discourse in ways that are authentic to their strengths and lived experiences?

    One answer seemed to be the development and circulation of teacher testimonies.  As a critical education scholar, I created the Teacher Testimony Project to: (a) document and feature teacher testimonies by Teachers of Color committed to social justice efforts in education; (b) develop qualitative maps of unseen resources and strengths being invested in schools and local communities by Teachers of Color; (c) challenge and debunk deficit perspectives about the value that community-based Teachers of Color add to the teaching profession; (d) create communal spaces of healing and renewal for Teachers of Color through the writing and sharing of testimonies; and (e) center the voices of Teachers of Color to speak the truth about the ways in which they can work to be change agents in their communities.

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  • Domino Effect: The AFL-CIO And The End Of Communism

    by Paweł Zyzak on June 15, 2017

    Our guest author today is Paweł Zyzak, an award-winning Polish historian, civic activist, and currently an advisor to the Polish Investment and Trade Agency. The following is drawn from a recent talk about his new book, Efekt Domina: Czy Ameryka Obaliła Komunizm w Polsce? (Domino Effect: Did the United States of America Overthrow Communism?).

    Surprisingly, the Polish publishing industry has very few works on the topic of Washington’s policies towards communist Poland. There are a few reprints of books by American authors dealing with Polish issues, but these are hardly Polish experts and they focus on secondary issues, such as John Paul II’s cooperation with Ronald Reagan or the CIA’s support for Solidarity, which is in fact hard to trace. Or, for example, Empowering Revolution: America, Poland, and the End of the Cold War (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2014), in which Greg Domber tells mainly an official version of the Reagan Administration.

    Thus, mine is the first history published in Poland to recognize the American labor movement and the American anti-communist Left as having a rightful place in bringing about the Polish transition from communism. Thanks to a grant from the Albert Shanker Institute, I was able to reach all available American archives and historical witnesses, as well as articles and studies on the AFL-CIO’s activities and the American government’s policies towards Poland. And thus my book, which one might say is a “missing link,” deals with not only Poland’s modern history, but America’s as well.

    Poland was indeed an element in the political strategy of the Reagan administration as part of the destabilization of the Soviet empire (at least during President Reagan’s first term), but the title of my book (Efekt Domina) recognizes that it was the AFL-CIO‘s leadership that argued Poland was the place from which the domino effect leading to the collapse of the Eastern Bloc would originate. And it was the AFL-CIO leadership that actually had the decisive impact in bringing that about.

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  • Diversity Offers A Clear Path To Brighter Futures For All Children

    by John B. King Jr. on June 8, 2017

    Our guest author today is John B. King Jr., president and CEO of The Education Trust, and former U.S. Secretary of Education during the Obama Administration. This essay was originally published as part of the materials for our June 2017 conversation, "School Integration by Race & Class: A Movement Reborn?" It was also published on the blog of The Education Trust.

    Our children live in a more diverse country than ever before. And America is projected to become even more racially and ethnically diverse in the coming decades.

    In fact, by some estimates, by 2055, the U.S. will not have a single racial or ethnic majority. This shift in our population will happen in our lifetimes — or, for many of us, at least in our children’s lifetimes. In some communities, this already may be a reality. We also know that today, for the first time, our public schools now serve a majority of students of color.

    But despite the increasing diversity of our communities and our nation, our schools are segregated by both race and class.

    Indeed, more than 60 years after the Brown vs. Board of Education decision that declared “separate but equal” schools unconstitutional, American public schools in many areas are more segregated now than in previous decades.

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