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It doesn’t take a degree in psychology to acknowledge that humans are complex beings; how often does a friend, colleague or family member do something you perceive to be simply inexplicable? Given our diverse nature, it should come as no surprise that educating children is not an exact science; each one is unique. Ultimately, they are the result of their background, family and economic circumstances, and life experiences. A student’s potential and capacity for achievement rests with our country’s capacity to recognize and respond to these systemic challenges, perhaps even embrace them, to support the whole child. Consider the following statistics highlighting the challenges our country faces: ...

Ask practitioners and administrations on the ground in the education system about state education agencies (SEAs), and you may encounter skepticism. SEAs need not be considered antiquated bodies, as they are the heart of leadership in a state’s education system. SEAs monitor compliance and accountability, but they also provide support for policy design and implementation. These entities are well positioned to use high quality research in policy and practice, but there is variation in efficacy and capacity for doing so among states; an understanding of how SEAs use research provides useful insights when it comes to best practices. ...

Candidly, and not surprisingly, I’m delighted that Barack Obama was elected to a second term as President of the United States.  As someone whose entire professional career has been devoted to public education and life-long learning, I believe that President Obama’s values and priorities are closer to mine than his opponent’s are.  

Having stated my delight in the President’s re-election, I also want to enumerate my hopes for his administration’s leadership in strengthening and improving public K-12 education over the next four years. I fervently hope that:

  • The President, Secretary of Education, and administration leaders will STOP saying that our public school system is failing.  We all know that there are serious inequities in the current system that need to be addressed and that a collective effort needs to be made to increase the rigor of instruction in many of our schools.  But, most public schools in this country do a good job; indeed, a better job than has ever been done before.
  • The President, Secretary of Education and their spokespersons will STOP saying that the current teaching force is largely recruited from the weakest students in any
  • ...

A new report, Democratic School Turnarounds: Pursuing Equity and Learning from Evidence, suggests that government agencies and policy-makers, including the U.S. Department of Education, should rely more on research to guide their efforts in school reform and turnaround strategies.  The report, authored by Tina Trujillo at the University of California, Berkeley and Michelle Renee of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University, and produced by the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) at the University of Colorado, Boulder, asserts that research shows that the top-down, punitive reform efforts that are currently in vogue are ineffective and cause more harm than good in turning around troubled schools.

While the current administration’s efforts to improve troubled schools are well-meaning, the reform strategies mandated destabilize schools and exacerbate the problems troubled schools already exhibit of high staff turnover and frequent change in leadership.  The administration’s efforts to turn around 5,000 of the nation’s lowest performing schools through creation of the federal School Improvement Grant program (SIG) channeled increased federal dollars into states and struggling schools under the condition that a narrow choice of ...

Few would argue with the notion that public education in America needs to improve to ensure that our country remains prosperous in the coming years. And we should look wherever we can for ideas on how we can increase student achievement for each child in the nation.

One possible source for these ideas: charter schools. Last week, the Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution released “Learning from the Successes and Failures of Charter Schools,” in which Roland Fryer discusses his efforts to learn what works in the world of charter schooling and implement it in traditional public schools.

By studying 35 charter schools of varying performance levels in New York City, Fryer and his colleagues identified five practices that are consistently found in higher-achieving schools and that together explain roughly half the difference in effectiveness between charter schools:

  • More human capital (how often schools give teachers feedback on their instructional practice)
  • Data-driven instruction (whether teachers alter instruction to

Toppenish High School, in south central Washington State, is a rural high-poverty school with 99% of students qualifying for free and reduced lunch and a 95% minority student body. The community’s economy rests primarily on agriculture and tourism, two sectors suffering from the recent downturn.

Schools with such profiles in such communities are often ones that grapple with inadequate funding, find student groups struggling on standardized tests and have lower graduation and college-going rates. But proving that great school leadership is a key component of beating such odds, Principal Trevor Greene has set high goals and invested in key improvement strategies that are showing amazing results for Toppenish High School. He was recently recognized as MetLife/NASSP’s 2013 National High School Principal of the Year. ...

McDowell County Public Schools have been in the news a lot recently and for good reason. They are part of an exciting partnership that brings together public and private partners to revitalize the rural West Virginia community in which they are located.

McDowell faces an uphill battle, especially where statistics are concerned. Once a vibrant coal mining community with more than 120,000 people, McDowell experienced a mass exodus and decline after the industry collapsed in the early 1960s. Today, the county has around 22,000 residents with a median household income of $22,000. For the past decade, McDowell County has ranked last in the state in education, over 40% of students don’t live with their biological parents and 72% of students live in households without gainful employment. Roads are in a poor state of repair, making transportation difficult, many homes lack running water and medical care is hard to find. Significant problems for schools come with these realities – property taxes generate low revenue to fund schools, teachers are hard to recruit and keep, and resources of all kinds are scarce. ...

Consider a community in which people cannot own property. Where housing consists of trailers or old manufactured homes packed closely together, with options for food and shopping very limited. Where a large population of feral animals poses a consistent threat. With high crime rates, high alcoholism, high gang activity. Would you want to live – or teach – there?

Alchesay High School in Whiteriver, Arizona (part of the White Mountain Apache Reservation) is located in such a community. Prior to the arrival of Principal Roy Sandoval in the summer of 2010, the school had the lowest math scores in the state, a 47% graduation rate, and a large population of 18-20 year-old students with less than five credits. There were 291 on-campus drug and alcohol incidents in the 2009 school year (SY2009), and “bootleggers” were selling alcohol to students from land adjoining the campus. There was great rancor and mistrust between teachers and administrators. ...

Have we hit a plateau in student achievement in this nation? In a paper released today, Mark Schneider suggests that yes, we have.

Schneider was asked to study student achievement in Texas over the past few years, at the time their Governor Rick Perry was a leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. Education Secretary Arne Duncan had suggested that Perry ran an inadequate school system, and the Fordham Institute wanted to determine whether or not that was true.

As Schneider reviews, Texas’ performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) over the past few years has been relatively flat, after a few years of rapid improvement. But in his research, Schneider uncovered a larger trend. And rather than blame stagnant performance on the governor, he suggests that it’s somewhat inevitable.

There’s a concept in biology known as punctuated equilibrium. It posits that systems typically exist in a steady state (equilibrium) in which little change occurs. Occasionally there is a shock to a system from ...

Are school start times, grade level configurations and teacher assignments low hanging fruit for school improvement efforts?

The University of Michigan’s Brian Jacob and Columbia Business School’s Jonah Rockoff think so. At The Hamilton Project’s recent forum on how to improve student performance in K-12 education, they joined a conversation on their recent paper Organizing Schools to Improve Student Achievement, which discussed how these “mundane” reforms could lead to substantial achievement gains at relatively low cost and avoid the fierce political battles that erupt anytime we mention charter schools, teacher tenure or new academic standards.

The authors reviewed the evidence on each of the three reforms they propose, calculating the possible academic benefit of each and converting it to lifetime earnings gains per student. They also estimate the potential costs of implementing each, coming up with a benefit/cost ratio suggesting that districts seriously consider enacting them.*

For example, their review of the research suggests that starting secondary schools later in the day results in an estimated benefit in lifetime earnings per student of $17,500. They also find that implementing this reform is relatively cheap, costing $0 to $1,950 per student (depending on context; transportation costs were thought to be the largest component here), making the benefit/cost ratio 9:1 or more.

Of course, the politics of this issue can get sticky. In a panel discussion, former Charlotte-Mecklenburg Superintendent Peter Gorman pointed out that when his district tried to move middle school start times, there was great concern about ...

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