K-12 Education

  • What Do We Really Know About High School Dropout Rates & What Can Be Done To Improve Them?

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    The reliability of the data on high school dropout and graduation rates and the best way to calculate them have recently become the subject of intense debate, often generating more heat than light. What are the hidden assumptions and implications behind the dueling methodologies? What can we say with some certainty about how many students leave school prior to graduation, when, and why? And, more importantly, what do we really know about the policies and programs that are most effective in preventing dropouts and promoting school success?

  • Performance-Based Pay in Public Education

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    Across the country, policymakers are promoting or implementing plans to encourage excellent teaching by linking some portion of teachers’ pay to their performance or to the performance of their schools or students. While these proposals have generated a lot of heated discussion, most of the debate has centered around issues of theory or politics, not efficacy. What is the empirical evidence on the effects of performance-based pay plans, in general? In the public sector? In education? And what can research and experience tell us about the factors that make the implementation of some plans more or less successful?

  • Background Knowledge & Reading Proficiency

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    Research has demonstrated that students’ vocabulary and background knowledge are vital to reading comprehension, and that poor children and struggling readers are disproportionately disadvantaged by this fact. What are the implications of these findings for improving curriculum and instruction at the elementary and secondary levels? And how do schools impart this knowledge to students who don’t read well enough to acquire it from the written word?

  • Improving the Teaching and Learning of Mathematics

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    Despite the continuing “math wars” debates, there is an emerging consensus on the need for U.S. math teachers to improve both their content and pedagogical knowledge. Key researchers (who were selected using an informal peer review process) have been asked to provide an overview on recent research about what mathematics teachers ned to know and be able to do to improve the performance of all students.

  • Reading Disabilities, Reading Difficulties & School-Based Interventions that Work

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    The importance of early reading success to later educational achievement has now become common wisdom. Federal agencies, state governments, and individual schools and districts across the country have initiated programs to improve beginning reading instruction, including strategies to identify struggling readers as early as possible. But what comes next? Once a reading problem is detected, can it actually be averted? And, if so, with what “treatment”? In recent years, neuroscientists and reading researchers have pursued a preventive model of reading instruction that could also be wildly successful. What does this research tell us about what goes on in the brain of a struggling reader, before and after intervention? And how can schools and districts translate this research into classroom materials and strategies that really work to prevent reading failure?

  • Bridging the Gap Between State Standards and Classroom Achievement: A Forum

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    Unless states step in to help turn standards into the tools that schools need, the promise of standards-based reform will be lost. That was the message of a March 2002 national forum for state educators, policymakers, teacher unionists, and business leaders on the challenges of curriculum and professional development to meaningful standards-based reform. The event was cosponsored by the Albert Shanker Institute and Achieve, Inc.

  • What Are "Segregated Schools?"

    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.

  • Where Do Achievement Gaps Come From?

    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.

  • Where Al Shanker Stood: School Vouchers

    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:

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

    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.

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

    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.

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

    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.

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

    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.

  • Improving Accountability Measurement Under ESSA

    Despite the recent repeal of federal guidelines for states’ compliance with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), states are steadily submitting their proposals, and they are rightfully receiving some attention. The policies in these proposals will have far-reaching consequences for the future of school accountability (among many other types of policies), as well as, of course, for educators and students in U.S. public schools.

    There are plenty of positive signs in these proposals, which are indicative of progress in the role of proper measurement in school accountability policy. It is important to recognize this progress, but impossible not to see that ESSA perpetuates long-standing measurement problems that were institutionalized under No Child Left Behind (NCLB). These issues, particularly the ongoing failure to distinguish between student and school performance, continue to dominate accountability policy to this day. Part of the confusion stems from the fact that school and student performance are not independent of each other. For example, a test score, by itself, gauges student performance, but it also reflects, at least in part, school effectiveness (i.e., the score might have been higher or lower had the student attended a different school).

    Both student and school performance measures have an important role to play in accountability, but distinguishing between them is crucial. States’ ESSA proposals make the distinction in some respects but not in others. The result may end up being accountability systems that, while better than those under NCLB, are still severely hampered by improper inference and misaligned incentives. Let’s take a look at some of the key areas where we find these issues manifested.

  • Organizing For Adaptive Change Management

    Our guest author today is Joshua P. Starr, chief executive officer of PDK International. This piece was originally published in Phi Delta Kappan, and it is adapted from his chapter in Teaching in Context: The Social Side of Education Reform, edited by Esther Quintero (Harvard Education Press, 2017).

    One day, when I was a district superintendent, I visited two high schools we had identified as “needing improvement.” I was there to share our strategy to help them boost student achievement and also give teachers and staff a chance to air their thoughts and concerns. The schools faced similar challenges, and they served similar student populations, but the comments I heard on my visits were totally different.

    At one school, faculty complained that students lacked respect for authority, had been poorly prepared by their middle schools, and were being raised by parents who didn’t value education. In short, they pointed to problems beyond their control. They wanted me to remove the kids who were giving them the most trouble, and they also wanted more money.

    At the other school, teachers and staff told me about their collective struggle to improve instruction, talked about their desire for more professional learning, and described how they were challenging and changing their own beliefs about student abilities. That is, they found specific problems lurking in their own teaching practices and believed they had to learn and grow so they could serve students better.

  • Preparing Future Leaders For Building Relationships

    Our guest author today is Corrie Stone-Johnson, Associate Professor of Educational Administration at the University at Buffalo. She is Associate Editor of the journal Leadership and Policy in Schools published by Taylor & Francis. Her research in educational change and leadership examines the social contexts and organizational cultures within which teachers, leaders, and school support staff experience and enact change. 

    While many “types” of leadership models, such as instructional leadership, transformative leadership, or moral leadership, have demonstrated positive effects on student learning, one common feature of high-quality leadership is that principals lead not by themselves but “with and through others” (Hargreaves and Harris 2010, p. 36), taking responsibility not just for success and failure but for developing the relationships needed to foster such success. Robust empirical evidence indicates that strong relationships between teachers are a key lever for a variety of important outcomes, including successful and sustainable change, teacher commitment, and student achievement. Relationships matter because they help to create social capital, which Leana and Pil define as the “glue that holds a school together.” The noted benefits of teacher social capital include student achievement gains above and beyond those attributable to teacher experience and instructional ability (see here). In schools where teachers collaborate, students do better in math and reading (see here) and teachers both stay and improve at greater rates (see here).

    Social capital, or the value that inheres in the relationships among people (as opposed to the attributes of individuals), is developed in networks. Networks are important for the exchange of resources and they can be influenced by intentional strategies that build upon the existing relationships (or lack thereof) between and among district and school leaders —see here. There is no doubt that strong networks—to the extent that they generate trust and facilitate professional and organizational learning – can be a successful vehicle for student achievement and teacher retention. But—and this is very important—networks do not just happen; rather, they are the result of deliberate efforts undertaken by school administrators. Starratt (2004, 2005) argues that not only is a leader responsible to multiple stakeholders in the building, the district level and the community, he or she is also responsible for developing relationships with each of these stakeholders.