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 Happened To Teacher Quality?

    Starting around 2005 and up until a few years ago, education policy discourse and policymaking was dominated by the issue of improving “teacher quality.” We don’t really hear too much about it the past couple of years, or at least not nearly as much. One of the major reasons why is that the vast majority of states have enacted policies ostensibly designed to improve teacher quality.

    Thanks in no small part to the Race to the Top grant program, and the subsequent ESEA waiver program, virtually all states reformed their teacher evaluation systems, the “flagship” policy of the teacher quality push. Many of these states also tied their new evaluation results to high stakes personnel decisions, such as granting tenure, dismissals, layoffs, and compensation. Predictably, the details of these new systems vary quite a bit, both within and between states. Many advocates are unsatisfied with how the new policies were designed, and one could write a book on all the different issues. Yet it would be tough to deny that this national policy effort was among the fastest shifts in recent educational history, particularly given the controversy surrounding it.

    So, what happened to all the attention to teacher quality? It was put into practice. The evidence on its effects is already emerging, but this will take a while, and so it is still a quiet time in teacher quality land, at least compared to the previous 5-7 years. Even so, there are already many lessons out there, too many for a post. Looking back, though, one big picture lesson – and definitely not a new one – is about how the evaluation reform effort stands out (in a very competitive field) for the degree to which it was driven by the promise of immediate, large results.

  • Guns Do Kill: They Don’t Belong Near Schools

    “When is enough enough?” – Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers

    “We call BS.” – Emma González, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School senior

    A new year, a new bloody record: Wednesday, February 14, 2018 now marks the deadliest high school shooting in the history of the United States, surpassing the infamous Columbine High School massacre of April 1999. In another expression of senseless violence, at least 17 people lost their lives when a former student opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Broward County, Florida.

    While the people of Broward County struggle to heal, how can the country as a whole heal? With the calendar year less than seven weeks old (a period that included the end of many winter breaks), the Broward County massacre already marked the 17th school shooting of the year. Only in the United States do school shootings happen so frequently. And even here, that rate exceeds the number of school shootings through the 14th day of February in each previous year since 2013, when Everytown for Gun Safety started keeping count, and far exceeds the average of 9.2 school shootings through February 14 between 2013 and 2017. The Gun Violence Archive, which has compiled statistics since 2014 and uses a more restrictive definition of school shootings that excludes incidents that took place after hours, also counts the Broward County massacre as the 17th school shooting this year (and provides a slightly higher average of 9.25 school shootings through February 14 between 2014 and 2017).

    This is a nation at peace domestically. How many gravestones, crosses and urns should there be marking the remains of schoolchildren and educators slain by guns of war?

  • What Do Schools Fostering A Teacher “Growth Mindset” Look Like?

    Our guest authors today are Stefanie Reinhorn, Susan Moore Johnson, and Nicole Simon. Reinhorn is an independent consultant working with school systems on Instructional Rounds and school improvement.  Johnson is the Jerome T Murphy Research Professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.  Simon is a director in the Office of K-16 Initiatives at the City University of New York. The authors are researchers at The Project on the Next Generation of Teachers at Harvard Graduate School of Education. 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).

    Carol Dweck’s theories about motivation and development have become mainstream in schools since her book, Mindset, was published in 2006.  It is common to hear administrators, teachers, parents, and even students talk about helping young learners adopt a “growth mindset” --expecting and embracing the idea of developing knowledge and skills over time, rather than assuming individuals are born with fixed abilities.  Yet, school leaders and teachers scarcely talk about how to adopt a growth mindset for themselves—one that assumes that educators, not only the students they teach, can improve with support and practice. Many teachers find it hard to imagine working in a school with a professional culture designed to cultivate their development, rather than one in which their effectiveness is judged and addressed with rewards and sanctions.  However, these schools do exist.

    In our research (see herehere and here*), we selected and studied six high-performing, high-poverty urban schools so that we could understand how these schools were beating the odds. Specifically, we wondered what they did to attract and develop teachers, and how teachers experienced working there. These schools, all located in one Massachusetts city, included: one traditional district school; two district turnaround schools; two state charter schools; and one charter-sponsored restart school. Based on interviews with 142 teachers and administrators, we concluded that all six schools fostered and supported a “growth mindset” for their educators.

  • The Social Side Of Capability: Improving Educational Performance By Attending To Teachers’ And School Leaders’ Interactions About Instruction

    Our guest authors today are Matthew Shirrell, James P. Spillane, Megan Hopkins, and Tracy Sweet. Shirrell is an Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership and Administration in the Graduate School of Education and Human Development at George Washington University. Spillane is the Spencer T. and Ann W. Olin Professor in Learning and Organizational Change at the School of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern University. Hopkins is Assistant Professor of Education Studies at the University of California, San Diego. Sweet is an Assistant Professor in the Measurement, Statistics and Evaluation program in the Department of Human Development and Quantitative Methodology at the University of Maryland. 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).

    The last two decades have witnessed numerous educational reforms focused on measuring the performance of teachers and school leaders. Although these reforms have produced a number of important insights, efforts to measure teacher and school leader performance have often overlooked the fact that performance is not simply an individual matter, but also a social one. Theory and research dating back to the last century suggest that individuals use their social relationships to access resources that can improve their capability and, in turn, their performance. Scholars refer to such real or potential resources accessed through relationships as “social capital,” and research in schools has demonstrated the importance of this social capital to a variety of key school processes and outcomes, such as instructional improvement and student performance.

    We know that social relationships are the necessary building blocks of this social capital; we also know that social relationships within schools (as in other settings) don’t arise simply by chance. Over the last decade, we have studied the factors that predict social relationships both within and between schools by examining interactions about instruction among school and school system staff. As suggested by social capital theory, such interactions are important because they facilitate access to social resources such as advice and information. Thus, understanding the predictors of these interactions can help us determine what it might take to build social capital in our schools and school systems. In this post, we briefly highlight two major insights from our work; for more details, see our chapter in Teaching in Context.

  • Three Questions Underlying The Debate About School Choice And Segregation

    The question of school choice and segregation has been a common recurring theme in education policy over the past 5-10 years (most recently in response to this Associated Press story).

    Critics claim that school choice, specifically charter schools and private school vouchers, exacerbate segregation by income and especially race and ethnicity, primarily because more motivated parents with greater resources will exercise choice. Choice supporters, on the other hand, counter-argue that regular public schools are highly segregated due to the lack of choice (i.e., due to school assignment based on residence), and that school choice, which severs that tie, might lead to greater integration.

    Given the proliferation of charter schools (and, to a lesser extent, vouchers) over the past 20 years, this is clearly an important debate. Yet the issue of choice and segregation entails three major underlying empirical questions that are sometimes blurred. It may be useful to discuss them briefly.

  • Promoting Productive Collaboration Through Inquiry: The Limits Of Policy Mandates

    Our guest author today is Robert Shand, the Novice G. Fawcett Postdoctoral Researcher in Educational Studies at The Ohio State University. His research focuses on the economics of education, teacher collaboration and professional development, and how teachers and school leaders make decisions based on data and research to improve student outcomes.

    In some ways, it is hard to dispute the traditional view that K-12 teaching is a professionally solitary activity. At the end of the day, most instruction still occurs with a single teacher standing in front of a classroom. When I tell folks that I study teacher collaboration for a living, some are puzzled – other than team teaching, what would teachers even collaborate about? Some former colleagues from my time as a middle and high school teacher even bristle at the growing demands by administrators that they collaborate. These former colleagues no doubt envision pointless meetings, contrived team-based scenarios, and freeloading colleagues trying to offload their work onto others.

    Despite these negative preconceptions, there is growing evidence that meaningful work with colleagues can enhance teacher productivity, effectiveness, and professional growth, and even increase job satisfaction. Teachers can share ideas and instructional strategies, divide the work of developing curriculum, learn from colleagues, and analyze data and evidence to solve instructional problems and help meet diverse student needs. The evidence for the potential benefits of collaboration is so compelling, and collaborative work in education is becoming so pervasive, that the Every Student Succeeds Act legally redefines professional development to include “collaborative” as part of the definition.

  • Quality Teaching Needs Quality Support

    Our guest authors today are Ulana Ainsworth, a special education teacher at Curtis Guild Elementary School in Boston, MA and Jodie Olivo, a fifth grade teacher at Nathanael Greene Elementary School in Pawtucket, RI.

    Among the most underserved populations in education are teachers themselves. Until now, most applications of technology in the schools have focused on students. Student access is critical, but leaving out the most critical person in the room –the teacher –is a huge mistake. Working with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and other education leaders, IBM committed to changing that this fall with the launch of Teacher Advisor With Watson, a totally free online tool that uses IBM’s innovative artificial intelligence technology. IBM’s Teacher Advisor enables teachers to deepen their knowledge of key math concepts, access high-quality vetted math lessons and acclaimed teaching strategies, along with annotated video all integrated together, giving teachers the unique ability to tailor those lessons to meet their individual classroom needs.

    IBM technologists worked directly with teachers and other education experts over a two-year period to develop this new tool. TeacherAdvisor.org will help strengthen teachers’ ability to instruct students with varying degrees of preparation in elementary school math – the gateway to learning more complex concepts. The technology has been trained by some of the nation’s leading math experts. And with more training and teacher more use by teachers, Teacher Advisor will continue to learn and improve.

  • A Closer Look At Our Report On Public And Private School Segregation In DC

    Last week, we released our research brief on segregation by race and ethnicity in the District of Columbia. The analysis is unique insofar as it includes regular public schools, charter schools, and private schools, thus providing a comprehensive look at segregation in our nation’s capital.

    Private schools serve only about 17 percent of D.C.’s students, but almost 60 percent of its white students. This means that any analysis of segregation in D.C. that excludes private schools may be missing a pretty big part of the picture. Our brief includes estimates of segregation, using different types of measures, within the private and public sectors (including D.C.’s large charter school sector). Unsurprisingly, we find high levels of segregation in both sectors, using multiple race and ethnicity comparisons. Yet, while segregation in both sectors is extensive, it is not substantially higher in one or the other.

    But one of our most interesting findings, which we’d like to discuss here, is that between 25-40 percent of total citywide segregation is actually found between the public and private sectors. This is not a particularly intuitive finding to interpret, so a quick explanation may be useful.

  • The Theory And Practice Of School Closures

    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.