November 2017
  • Coast to Coast EduClips: 7 Storylines We’re Watching in 7 of America’s Biggest School Districts

    By The 74 | November 29, 2017

    After returning from Thanksgiving break, anxious educators turned their eyes this week to the fate of the tax bill in Congress.

    The bill, currently on the Senate floor, touches on many contentious educational issues, including whether to continue federal deductions for state and local taxes, a change that could upend school finances. Legislators also need to hash out differences on deductions for teachers’ out-of-pocket expenses and school choice. The 74’s Carolyn Phenicie explores the multiple educational issues wrapped up in the legislation. Read her analysis here.

    Meanwhile, across the country, very different issues are driving local education conversations. Here are seven storylines we’re watching this week from states that are home to America’s dozen biggest school districts — and more than 4 million public school students:

    Illinois — An in-depth study of Chicago’s charter schools finds good news beyond tests scores.

    Texas — More than 20,000 children in Houston remain homeless following Hurricane Harvey.

    Florida — Florida public school enrollment jumps by 8,000 after Hurricane Maria’s devastation of Puerto Rico.

    California — New California law expands access to subsidized childcare for low-income parents.

    Pennsylvania — Universal Companies, which helped reshape Philadelphia schools, suspended its president and CEO after federal agents raided his home and office.

    Nevada — After outcry, Nevada officials delay controversial vote on gender diversity regulation.

    New York — New York City pins the elusive goal of integration on a Lower East Side elementary school.

    Get more of the day’s most important education links delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up for the Morning Newsletter

  • My School’s Great, but American Education? Not So Much. New Poll on U.S. Attitudes Suggests Public Perception ‘in a State of Flux’

    By Kevin Mahnken | November 29, 2017

    Americans remain as conflicted as ever on K-12 schooling and the proper role of the federal government in it, according to a new poll from the research and advocacy group EdChoice. Respondents generally saw the nation’s education system as being on the wrong course and were skeptical of the government’s capacity to correct it — but parents also gave high marks to their local schools and approved many federal education initiatives, such as those aimed at students with disabilities.

    At a panel discussion of the findings Wednesday at the conservative American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., experts said that the public’s mix of pessimism, satisfaction, and uncertainty likely reflects a moment of transition in national policy. With states reclaiming power from Washington under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and parents pushing for greater influence in their children’s schooling, consensus could remain elusive for some time.

    Given the ascent of a new president who has publicly backed the radical expansion of school choice programs nationwide, as well as uncertainty closer to home as states begin to implement their accountability plans under ESSA, Bellwether Education analyst Juliet Squire argued that the national education conversation could be driving some of the public’s ambivalence.

    “The dialogue on public education is in a state of flux. There’s a lot happening, and it’s fairly opaque,” she said.

    The poll is the fifth annual survey conducted by EdChoice, an Indianapolis-based organization that supports school choice policies such as private school vouchers, charter schools, and education savings accounts. Together with similar surveys published by the magazine Education Next and the teachers professional group Phi Delta Kappan, it serves as a barometer of public attitudes on overall school quality and individual education initiatives.

    As with those polls, the EdChoice survey often reveals confusion from respondents on important policy details, as well as contradictory views that may hinge more on how questions are ordered or phrased than actual substance.


    What Do Americans Think of School Choice? Depends on How You Ask the Question

    Fifty-five percent of respondents said that American K-12 education was headed on the wrong track — down from 62 percent last year. By comparison, 27 percent said that it was going in the right direction. As is often the case in polls on education, however, healthy majorities of parents approved of public, private, and charter schools. Ninety-three percent of parents said they were satisfied with their local private schools, and nearly 80 percent said they were satisfied with district schools.

    (Photo credit: EdChoice)

    Panel member Marc Porter Magee, CEO of education reform group 50CAN, cautioned against drawing sweeping conclusions based on such widely voiced pessimism.

    “I think it would be a mistake to overinterpret a general response like that: ‘Education is on the wrong track,’ ” he said.

    Porter Magee pointed instead to parents’ stated preferences for schooling options for their kids, which indicate a huge mismatch. While 83 percent of parents reported that their children were enrolled in district schools, just 33 percent said they would explicitly select that option if given choices. Forty-two percent said they would opt for private schools, though only 10 percent said their children were currently enrolled in them.

    (Photo credit: EdChoice)

    “Parents don’t care about the politics or your party; parents just want what’s best for their children,” said Gwen Samuel, a public school parent and head of the Connecticut Parents Union. Lamenting the state of education politics, she repeatedly argued that parents wanted greater power and more choice.

    Samuel went on to compare the work of the U.S. government in desegregating schools during the civil rights movement to its role overseeing them today. Although minority parents like her had become accustomed to accepting direction from the government, she said, the time for passive acceptance was over.

    “Parents can no longer blindly trust systems,” she said.

    Judging from polling responses, that opinion seems to be widely shared. While 47 percent of EdChoice’s sample said that the federal government should take a major role in education, 48 percent said that it should have a minor role, or none at all. Just 42 percent said they could trust the federal government some or most of the time, compared with 53 percent who said they trusted it occasionally or never.

    And yet, in another apparent contradiction, strong majorities said that they favored federal funding for disabled or low-income students, as well as federal support for state and local education agencies and federal protection enforcement of civil rights statutes in schools.

    (Photo credit: EdChoice)

  • Teachers Tried to Halt Abuses at Lauded DC High School Where More Than Half of Graduates Missed Weeks of Class

    By Laura Fay | November 29, 2017

    Updated Nov. 30

    A major scandal that erupted at a Washington, D.C., high school where more than half of graduates missed weeks of school and all graduating seniors were accepted to college despite not completing coursework might have been avoided if administrators had listened to teachers’ concerns.

    One former teacher, Morgan Williams, said a student failed her class, but a school administrator called her during her maternity leave and asked her to raise the grade to a D “to get him out of there.”

    Ballou High School was once applauded as a struggling school where students overcame poverty and other obstacles to graduate and receive college acceptance offers. But an investigation by WAMU and NPR reveals a school where administrators passed students along even if they did not attend class or keep up with coursework, despite teachers’ resistance to systemic grade inflation. Students interviewed said they knew they would pass no matter what and are now struggling with college coursework.

    “To not prepare them is not ethical,” one current teacher told reporter Kate McGee.

    Mayor Muriel Bowser and D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Antwan Wilson told NPR they stand behind the school’s decision to let the students graduate. They said Wednesday in a press conference that the district will review policies related to attendance and graduation rates.
    Read Full Post

  • Report: When Black Students and White Students Fight, Blacks Receive Harsher Punishments

    By Kevin Mahnken | November 28, 2017

    Photo Education Research Alliance for New Orleans

    Students who are black or poor are suspended at much higher rates than those who are white or affluent, according to a new study of school discipline trends in Louisiana. Even in specific fights that involve one black student and one white student, the black student typically receives a slightly more severe penalty.

    The study and accompanying policy brief, both published by Tulane University’s Education Research Alliance for New Orleans, examined data from over 1 million disciplinary incidents logged between the 2000–01 and 2013–14 school years. It contributes to the growing body of research suggesting that intentional or inadvertent biases result in harsher punishments for minority children.

    On average, black students were twice as likely as whites to be suspended for a behavioral infraction over the course of a school year, while low-income students were suspended about 1.75 times as often as more affluent ones. Both black and low-income students were also more likely to be suspended multiple times during a given year, with the disparities evident for both violent and nonviolent infractions.

    The study was released at a moment of flux in the national conversation around exclusionary discipline practices like out-of-school suspension. This month, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos heard from educators who voiced reservations about Obama-era policies advising schools to examine their discipline policies. Some have claimed that the move to curb suspensions and address what activists call the “school-to-prison pipeline” has resulted in ungovernable schools where kids don’t always feel safe.


    Is DeVos Near Ending School Discipline Reform After Talks on Race, Safety?

    (Photo: Education Research Alliance for New Orleans)

    Even with the benefit of nearly 15 years of data, the research team issued a caveat on the difficulties of drawing conclusions around disparate impact. Discipline statistics rely on behavioral reports submitted by schools. Without observing individual behaviors, the authors warn, it is difficult to determine whether certain groups receive preferential treatment.

    And yet some figures, drawn from incidents involving participants from different groups, draw a clearer picture, the authors found.

    In fights involving one black student and one white student, the difference in punishment was smaller but still statistically significant: Black students are given a slightly longer suspension than whites involved in the same fight — about one extra day out of school for every 20 such incidents.

    “While the magnitude of the difference may appear small in isolation, interpreting this finding is still challenging,” the authors write. “This analysis is still vulnerable to the possibility that black and white students behaved differently in these fights — and therefore warranted different punishments. However, we believe this analysis provides the most credible look in our data at whether discriminatory practices exist.”

    The authors note that the data at the heart of their study shouldn’t yield blanket inferences about the prevalence of racial and socioeconomic discrimination in K-12 schools — only a look at the outcomes of interracial fights. But if well-reported interracial fights are shown to yield disproportionate punishments for minority students, it could indicate more evidence of prejudice in other areas.

    “Given that we find that direct discrimination occurs in this context, with a black and white student receiving different punishments for the same exact incident, it seems likely that direct discrimination would occur where discipline disparities are less visible,” they conclude.

  • Collaboration to Nowhere? Report Shows U.S. Teens Rank 13th Internationally in Team Problem-Solving — but Only 35th in Math

    By Laura Fay | November 28, 2017

    Photo Education Images/UIG via Getty Images

    Despite America’s international reputation for frontier individualism, U.S. teens turn out to be team players on a global scale, scoring well above the international average on a newly published assessment of collaborative skills.

    U.S. students ranked 13th out of 52 countries on a section that measured “collaborative problem solving” on the Programme for International Student Assessment, known as PISA, in 2015. The results were released last week.

    Cause for celebration? Not so fast.

    Officials at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which administers PISA annually to 15-year-olds, noted a strong correlation between collaboration scores and math scores in most countries. Singapore, Japan, and Hong Kong, the top three countries for collaboration, were all in the top five for math, with Singapore scoring the highest on both portions.

    But the U.S. was an outlier, scoring high on collaboration, yet placing 35th out of 60 in math in 2015. The U.S. scored 18th in science and 15th in reading.

    The low scores of U.S. students on PISA has historically been a source of much hand-wringing among educators. U.S. students routinely rank near or below the average in math — and are far outpaced by students in other industrialized countries on individual academic tests.


    More Money, More Problems (Solved Correctly): New Study Shows American Kids Do Better on Tests If You Pay for Answers

    The report notes that organized sports can help students collaborate, so the prevalence of youth athletics may have given Americans an edge that they did not have in the academic portions.

    In every country, girls outscored boys on the collaborative test. In the U.S., girls scored 26 points higher, close to the mean international difference of 29 points between the sexes.

    This was the first year the assessment included a collaborative portion. In an editorial note, the report’s authors emphasized the importance of collaboration in the workplace.

    (Data: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development)

    Other key findings:

    • Singapore topped the rankings in all areas: math, reading, science literacy, and collaborative problem-solving.
    • Students who report playing video games outside of school scored lower on collaboration, while those who access the internet or social networks outside of school scored slightly higher.
    • Students who played sports or took part in physical education classes had more positive views of collaboration than those who did not.


    6 Reasons Why Singapore Math Might Just Be the Better Way

  • First, the FCC Targeted ‘Net Neutrality.’ Could the E-rate Program, and Subsidized School Internet, Be Next?

    By Laura Fay | November 27, 2017

    About 85 percent of school districts meet basic internet connectivity goals set by the Federal Communications Commission that allow them to use tools like Khan Academy and Google Classroom in all of their schools, a new study finds.

    The Consortium for School Networking study comes as educators are urging the FCC to continue funding E-rate, the federal program that provides subsidies and discounts for school internet infrastructure and service. Earlier this month, almost 200 school and district leaders, and more than 50 education organizations, sent letters asking the FCC to continue its annual $1 billion spending on Wi-Fi and internet infrastructure, known as Category Two spending.

    Both letters argue that funding for E-rate should continue beyond 2019, the date set by a 2014 FCC order.

    The FCC has embarked on a series of bold moves that could upend long-standing internet policy. Just last week, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai took aim at net neutrality, issuing a plan to dismantle regulations that ensure equal access to the internet. The plan would allow internet service companies to charge users more for some content and curtail access to some websites.

    The Trump administration has yet to stake out a position on the E-rate program, and the letters the FCC solicited are the first sign it may seek a change. This has stoked fears among some educators that the FCC may roll back the program at a moment it has started to yield important dividends.

    “Category Two services that support high-speed internet access, including access to reliable Wi-Fi, are vital for providing all students with a quality education to prepare them for today’s modern economy,” the letter from district leaders said.

    Even though many schools have significantly updated their internet infrastructure since the 2014 FCC action, connectivity gaps remain, according to the study, published by the Consortium for School Networking, an association of school technology leaders. Four percent of districts surveyed still have no schools that meet the FCC’s short-term goal, and about 11 percent have some schools that are not connected to the internet at all, according to the study, which surveyed 445 districts across the country this fall.

    “Overall, much work and continued commitment are necessary to connect students to high-capacity broadband, particularly in the hardest-to-reach communities,” Keith Krueger, CEO of the Consortium for School Networking, told The 74 by email. “The FCC, as well as our local, state and national leaders, must keep their foot on the gas.”

    Schools with high percentages of students eligible for free and reduced lunch, a typical marker of poverty, tend to lack service at higher rates than those at more affluent schools, John Harrington, CEO of Funds for Learning, told The 74. The report supports a study released earlier this year by Education SuperHighway, a nonprofit organization that supports better internet access in classrooms, showing that schools in 45 states lack sufficient internet service.

    When it updated the E-rate program in 2014, the FCC set both long- and short-term goals. The short-term goal is reaching 100 megabits (Mbps) per second, the bandwidth threshold that allows for basic Web-based classroom activities such as watching Khan Academy videos. The Consortium study found that only 16 percent of districts surveyed met the FCC’s long-term goal of 1 gigabit (Gbps) per second per 1,000 students in all of their schools, which allows for what experts call a “media-rich” environment in every classroom.

    Data: Consortium for School Networking

    With that additional bandwidth, much more is possible in digital learning, such as a virtual reality museum or laboratory tour, Harrington said.

    “I don’t think we’ve been able to really understand that potential because it’s really not been there yet,” Harrington told The 74. “Once that bandwidth is there and once you’ve got hundreds of thousands of teachers and millions of students [who] are playing with and exploring it — man, they’re going to uncover uses and things that probably none of us have really guessed yet. But it takes getting that bandwidth there to even unlock those opportunities.”


    39 Million Students Get High-Speed Internet, but Some Schools Still Struggle to Close the Digital Divide

    Since 2014, school and library connectivity rates have soared. However, cost remains the most frequently cited barrier to schools connecting or increasing their bandwidth, the survey found.

    Over the past five years, cost has remained the most common barrier to increasing access in schools. (Photo: Consortium for School Networking)

    FCC Chairman Pai has said he wants to simplify E-rate applications and has criticized parts of the program, but his intentions for future funding are unclear. The ambiguity has stoked fears that without continued funding, schools may lose ground in their pursuit of expanded connectivity.

    “We welcomed the chairman’s interest in simplifying the application process, but we remain deeply concerned the FCC is considering early changes to the program’s Category Two investments,” said Krueger. “Many school districts are counting on the five-year budget cycle that was considered under the FCC’s 2014 modernization of the program. However, the Commission’s recent Category Two inquiry indicates a desired change might be on the horizon.”


    74 Interview: Rory Kennedy’s New Documentary Delves Into Digital Divide Hurting America’s Poorest Students

  • New Report Shows Chicago’s Charter Schools Yield Higher Test Scores — and College Enrollment

    By Kevin Mahnken | November 27, 2017

    Photo University of Chicago Consortium on School Research

    New research on Chicago’s public high schools shows that charter school students not only score higher on standardized tests than their counterparts in traditional district schools, but also do markedly better on a range of post-secondary results like college enrollment and persistence.

    Even while providing new evidence of Chicago charters’ superior performance on many measures of school quality, however, the data also bring happy tidings for the city’s public schools as a whole: The gap between school sectors in indicators like school environment and teacher collaboration is closing, due mostly to recent improvement from district schools.

    The study, authored by Julia Gwynne and Paul Moore of the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research, examined the instructional practices, enrollment and transfer data, and academic outcomes of Chicago’s 34 charter high schools (and 13 combination elementary/high schools) and comparable district schools.

    About 22 percent of the city’s 109,000 high schoolers attend charters. Of those high schools, about half belong to the high-performing Noble Network, which has already produced over 10,000 alumni.


    Noble Network of Charter Schools: It’s Not Just About Going to College, but About Global Perspective & Leaving Chicago

    The district/charter comparison is in some ways quite flattering to charters. Affirming earlier research conducted by Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes, the authors find that charter students score substantially higher than their district school counterparts on both the ACT and the ACT-aligned PLAN exam, given in 10th grade.

    Charter freshmen demonstrate a 93 percent attendance rate — five points higher than district students, or equivalent to about eight days of school. That’s a critical difference in a city where the rate of chronic truancy is nearly 35 percent. School attendance has become such a driving concern that Illinois officially listed chronic absenteeism on its ESSA plan as its nonacademic school quality indicator.

    But the charter sector’s most impressive accomplishment of all is its comparative success in ushering students to and through college. While charter and district students graduate with roughly the same frequency, charter students enroll in four-year colleges nearly twice as often. They are much more likely to matriculate to very selective schools, and although college persistence is low in both instances (as it is for many urban students around the country), former charter students complete at least four semesters of higher education more than 50 percent more often than their district counterparts.

    To explain these disparities, Gwynne and Moore examined instructional practices and school environment data in both charter and district schools, finding noteworthy differences.

    Overall, both students and teachers at charter schools provided more positive accounts of their schools. Students were more likely to say that they trusted teachers and felt safe. Teachers, in turn, placed more trust in their colleagues and felt a greater sense of collective responsibility for student development and school improvement. They were also much more likely to expect their students to continue their education after graduation and take affirmative steps to promote college readiness.

    Happily, the gulf between charters and district schools seemed to narrow over the four years the study was conducted. The charter sector’s advantages in teacher trust and collaboration, parent trust and involvement, student safety, future orientation, student-teacher trust, and expectations for post-secondary education all faded as district schools improved.

    “Were charter schools’ scores on these measures going down in 2013 and 2014 or were scores for non-charter, non-selective schools going up?” the authors ask. “In general, smaller differences in 2013 and 2014 were due to increases in scores for non-charter, non-selective schools rather than decreases in scores for charter schools.”

    Coupled with new research — also released this month — showing rising test scores for the city’s elementary and middle schoolers, the study suggests meaningful progress for Chicago schools as a whole, even as charters lead the way for now.

  • When Academic Gaps Spiral Year After Year: The Harrowing ‘Jenga’ of Lost Student Skills — Captured in One Chart

    By Beth Hawkins | November 27, 2017

    If a picture is worth 1,000 words, then perhaps a PowerPoint slide can be worth 168 missing skills.

    During a recent Education Reform Now confab in Washington, D.C., Joel Rose walked attendees through a system for improving math instruction developed by the nonprofit he founded, New Classrooms. Broadly sketched, the program helps teachers reach a classroom crowded with students who have vastly different levels of understanding of both the day’s lesson and the background needed to digest it.

    A former fifth-grade teacher, Rose led the creation of School of One, a personalized middle school math program developed by the New York City Department of Education. New Classrooms’ current effort, Teach to One, is an outgrowth of that eight-year-old effort, in which students receive a daily “playlist” of skills they work on with teachers, peers, and online tutorials.

    One slide in his deck in particular ought to be “borrowed” liberally and often for its ability to communicate, visually and succinctly, the often vexing abstraction of how struggling students fall further and further behind.

    We’ve heard it a thousand times if we’ve heard it once: The academic gap between disadvantaged and affluent kids starts out small in the early years and compounds as a student progresses through school. By the time a young person living in poverty, with a disability, or learning English is in high school, it’s often a yawning chasm.

    It’s practically educational dicta. But how many non-teachers understand how that gap opens and what widens it? And how many educators have truly absorbed the drip-drop impact of the small deficits they let go during their daily triage?

    Rose started describing the bottom left hand corner of the slide. A purple box labeled “5th grade” represents the 37 math skills students are expected to acquire and master by the end of that school year, and on which they will be tested on state accountability exams.

    A lavender box underneath represents the 34 skills those students were expected to master in earlier grades – knowledge they will need to pass the end-of-year assessment of the fifth-grade curriculum. Which of those 34 underlying skills an individual student will have missed and which they’ve mastered can be a potluck proposition for a teacher at the start of the school year.

    This presents a dilemma in terms of prioritizing: Keep the class moving on the 37 fifth-grade skills (or “standards,” in edu-jargon) as a group, or go back and figure out each student’s patchwork quilt of understanding? In most classrooms, the former wins out for any number of reasons ranging from “My job is to teach fifth grade, not K-4,” to the basic calculus of a high number of kids and a small number of spare minutes.

    As the purple and lavender boxes advance up and to the right, the number of potential missed skills grows exponentially, reaching 168 when a student reaches high school math.

    Ninth grade is, of course, pivotal. One F in ninth grade decreases a student’s chances of graduating by 30 percentage points; two F’s, and the chance drops by 50 percentage points, from 85 percent to 33 percent. Fewer than a fourth of students who aren’t on track that year will graduate high school.

    Think of it as something akin to Jenga: If too many planks are missing at the base you won’t be able to build very far. Indeed the process of trying to wedge missing-skills planks into wobbly understandings is often referred to as “scaffolding.”

    Rose’s Teach to One is one of myriad systems for using technology to help teachers resolve the tension between probing for missing foundational skills and making sure all 37 of fifth grade’s skills get taught. The University of Chicago’s Urban Education Institute has an early-years literacy equivalent, STEP, that has built-in strategies for helping, say, a second-grade teacher back-fill a kindergarten skill.

    Two separate studies by Teachers College at Columbia University found that students participating in New York City’s School of One — which became the independent, nonprofit Teach to One in 2011 — gained the equivalent of 1.2 extra years of math knowledge in a single academic year and learned at 1.5 times the pace of their peers.

    Yes, we ask today’s teachers to do far more than their predecessors. Good thing we have much more sophisticated tools to offer them.

  • How Will America’s New Education Law Make Your School Better? 5 Experts on How States Are Using ESSA to Make Districts More Accountable

    By Blair Mann | November 27, 2017

    This article is part of The 74’s ongoing coverage of the Every Student Succeeds Act, and the new law’s implementation across all 50 states and the District of Columbia. You can follow our complete coverage here — and see state-by-state updates via our interactive ESSA map at

    Earlier this year, the Collaborative for Student Success and Bellwether Education Partners brought together more than 30 education experts – with state and national experience, Republicans and Democrats – to independently review the first 17 state ESSA plans submitted to the U.S. Department of Education.

    While the results of that review can be found at, peer reviewers also shared their thoughts on different aspects of state ESSA plans — topics like what they were looking for, what they wished they had seen, and what they’re hoping to see in the second round. We’re sharing those thoughts as we lead up to the review of ESSA plans submitted by the 34 second-round states.

    Reviewers had many different perspectives — and priorities — coming into the review. So, we asked them: What do states’ new education plans say about how they will create more accountable schools?

    Here’s what they had to say:

    1. Gini Pupo-Walker, Conexión Américas: Clearer school ratings, more transparent reporting

    “ESSA plans that provide clear ratings systems, which are accompanied by transparent and easy-to-understand reporting, will provide an important focal point for school, parent, and community conversations. These ratings will prompt action at the local school level, and inform the allocation of resources, focus for teacher training and hiring, and creation of programs for interventions and supports. With clear ratings and reporting, it will be possible for teachers, parents, and stakeholders to learn and hopefully inform any changes in programs and priorities, which will be evident in every classroom in the state.”

    2. Natasha Ushomirsky, The Education Trust: Measures of school performance that prioritize student outcomes

    “Most states have selected solid measures of school performance that prioritize student outcomes, while providing a more holistic picture of students’ experiences in schools. For example, in addition to assessment results and graduation rates, many states are looking at chronic absenteeism rates and measures of college/career readiness. A strong ESSA plan would build on this foundation by making sure that school ratings are based on how a school performs on these measures for each group of students it serves, including low-income students, students of color, students with disabilities, and English learners.”

    3. Lisa Graham Keegan, senior education policy adviser to John McCain’s presidential campaign: Strong plans of action, built on rich data

    “The most impressive state plans were those that already had a strong plan of action in place, great data on their progress or challenges, and were explaining that within the context of ESSA. Those state leaders are well positioned to use ESSA resources to support the work they were already committed to.”

    4. Donna Johnson, Delaware State Board of Education: Creating better systems to share ideas and solve problems

    “Some states have proposed taking a comprehensive approach to supporting schools to better meet the needs of students and to help turn around low-performing schools. Some states have proposed creating leadership development academies to support and develop stronger instructional leaders for underperforming schools, while others have proposed developing similar school cohorts so that schools can learn from and share with other schools sharing similar demographic makeup. Some states have also proposed achievement or innovation districts where schools with the most historical underperformance can work together with additional supports and structures in place to facilitate more school-based decision making and leadership to help facilitate direct improvement. These types of ideas and initiatives are ones to watch and see if the results align with the visionary ideas put on paper.”

    5. David Mansouri, Tennessee State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE): Strong and reliable measures of student success and school quality

    “We’ve been encouraged by the number of states that are using a strong and reliable measure for the student success and school quality indicator. For example, several states are including college and career readiness in their school accountability system, in addition to things like chronic absenteeism and school discipline. Importantly, we also saw states engage meaningfully with stakeholders including educators, parents, and school district leaders in creating state plans.”

  • San Francisco Schools: NAACP Urges ‘State of Emergency’ Over City’s Stark Racial Achievement Gap

    By Laura Fay | November 27, 2017

    Photo Innovate Public Schools

    The San Francisco NAACP is urging the city school board to declare a state of emergency to spotlight the city’s stark racial gap in student achievement.

    Despite several interventions designed to increase achievement among African-American students, the gap has lingered for more than 25 years, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Although the city is one of the highest-scoring urban districts in the state overall, 74 percent of black students did not meet state standards in at least one subject area in the 2015–16 school year. African-American students represented 7 percent of the district’s students in 2015–16.

    More than half of Latino and Pacific Islander students in San Francisco also failed to meet the standards that year. By contrast, only 14.6 percent of whites and 16 percent of Asian Americans did not reach the standards in one subject. A recent analysis by Innovate Public Schools also showed wide racial disparities even among students who were not from low-income families.

    The NAACP’s request comes on the heels of a recent decision by the San Francisco Board of Education to deny a charter application for the high-performing charter network KIPP to open a new elementary school in one of the city’s poorest and most heavily African-American neighborhoods. KIPP leaders have said they will appeal the decision to the State Board of Education and hope to open the school in 2018, The 74 reported.


    Despite Startling Achievement Gaps, San Francisco Board Rejects Bid to Bring KIPP School to Poor Neighborhood

    “It’s not that the children are failing,” said San Francisco NAACP president Amos Brown. “We are failing. This board is failing. This city government is failing. And you have professionals in the school district who have woefully failed when it comes to respecting the worth and the dignity of African-American students.”

    “Now it’s time for us to fess up and show some fruits of repentance,” he said. “And at the top of the list: Declare a state of emergency.”

    (Photo: Innovate Public Schools)

    The emergency declaration is a symbolic action intended to “trigger a more urgent response and infusion of district resources,”, a nonprofit news site covering California politics, reported.

    This would not be the first time the NAACP has pressed the district to address long-standing racial disparities in San Francisco’s schools. In the 1970s, the civil rights organization sued the school district for alleged discrimination, resulting in a desegregation order. Those efforts halted in the early 2000s with a lawsuit brought by Chinese American parents.

    Superintendent Vincent Matthews also decried the city’s achievement gap and cited several reasons for it, including inexperienced teachers and high poverty rates among African Americans.

    “Why the focus on African-American students?” Matthews said. “African-American students have the largest achievement gap district-wide between schools and within schools. The gap has been persistent in the last 25 years.”


    Is DeVos Near Ending School Discipline Reform After Talks on Race, Safety?

  • Coast to Coast EduClips: 7 Storylines We’re Watching in 7 of America’s Biggest School Districts

    By The 74 | November 21, 2017

    The education headlines this week have been dominated by talk of school discipline.

    After decades of research pointing to racial disparities in the way schools suspend and expel kids, the Obama administration issued a warning to education leaders across the country: Eliminate discriminatory policies or face the consequences. That “Dear Colleague” letter, issued in 2014, informed school districts that their discipline policies constituted “unlawful discrimination” under federal civil rights law if they didn’t explicitly mention race but had a “disproportionate and unjustified effect on students of a particular race.” Critics contend that the guidance forced districts to adopt “racial quotas” and caused chaos in schools across the country.

    Now with President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos at the helm of federal policymaking, the guidance document’s biggest critics are fighting for a big change. Tuesday morning, The 74’s Mark Keierleber published a long look back at the research on racial disparities in school discipline, investigating the platforms of recent Education Department hires and appointees and interviewing key advocates on both sides of the debate as federal officials weigh changes to one of the Obama administration’s signature education legacies. Read his feature here.

    Meanwhile, across the country, very different issues are driving local education conversations. Here are seven storylines we’re watching this week from states that are home to America’s dozen biggest school districts — and more than 4 million public school students:

    New York — Renewal Schools: More than half of New York City’s Renewal Schools’ are falling short on graduation rates

    California — Leading Democratic candidates for governor throw support behind universal preschool

    Illinois — State’s lieutenant governor looks to boost rural schools through expanding online classrooms

    FloridaMiami seeks graduation-test waiver for hurricane-displaced students

    Nevada — State officials admit that funding mistakes hurt school districts

    Texas — Held Back: Some Houston-area schools have high retention rates for elementary students

    Virginia — State becomes first in nation to require computer science education

    Get more of the day’s most important education links delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up for the Morning Newsletter

  • Experts Predict 5 Ways America’s New Education Law Will Improve the Average School Day

    By Blair Mann | November 20, 2017

    This article is part of The 74’s ongoing coverage of the Every Student Succeeds Act, and the new law’s implementation across all 50 states and the District of Columbia. You can follow our complete coverage here — and see state-by-state updates via our interactive ESSA map at

    Earlier this year, the Collaborative for Student Success and Bellwether Education Partners brought together more than 30 education experts — with state and national experience, Republicans and Democrats — to independently review the first 17 state ESSA plans submitted to the U.S. Department of Education.

    While the results of that review can be found at, peer reviewers also shared their thoughts on different aspects of state ESSA plans – topics like what they were looking for, what they wished they had seen, and what they’re hoping to see in the second round. In a new series, we’ll be sharing those thoughts as we lead up to the review of ESSA plans submitted by the 34 second-round states.

    Reviewers had many different perspectives — and priorities — coming into the review. So, we asked them: Share how states’ ESSA plans could actually impact what kids experience in the classroom.

    Here’s what they had to say:

    1. Shanna Peeples, 2015 National Teacher of the Year: Better classrooms leaders — and more freedom for them to measure the ‘whole child’

    “Each state-level ESSA plan, as a document, creates a shared understanding among everyone in a community about how best to harness the potential of each child into lifelong learning and success. Two of ESSA’s most important impacts on the classroom are its flexibility in assessment and its encouragement of teacher leadership. More control over assessment means that districts will have opportunities to measure the whole child beyond one day’s narrow test score. Encouraging teacher leadership motivates and inspires teachers to see themselves as people who affect the community beyond their classroom and therefore creates commitment to daily excellence as a model for their colleagues.”

    2. Alice Johnson Cain, Teach Plus: Teachers who are even more focused on helping every one of their students grow

    “States that recognize that their educators are indispensable partners every step of the way and prioritize educators’ growth and development can impact classrooms through a commitment to equity and real sense of urgency to do right by all students. With high expectations for all students, schools can measure progress against those expectations in a fair, logical, and understandable way; and states that demonstrate a sophisticated understanding of how to infuse data across the system can provide a clear, accurate measure of how schools are doing and how they could do better — all feeding into evidence-based interventions that will yield better results for students.”

    3. Gini Pupo-Walker, Conexión Américas: A deeper commitment in better serving English language learners

    “State plans must now rate how well schools and districts are moving English learners towards English language proficiency. In many cases this will be the first time that teachers, parents, and stakeholders will have this information. In many schools across the country, there are only a handful of English learner classrooms — and so it will be essential for teachers, parents, and partners to come together to address student progress towards proficiency and to create meaningful changes when necessary in order to ensure students are on track.”

    4. Rashidah Morgan, Education First: Greater transparency about school quality, which will ultimately empower parents to make more knowledgeable choices about schools

    “A parent’s understanding of two important factors — how the state will determine whether a school is good or not, and how the state would support schools that were not high-performing — also informs which schools he/she chooses for his/her child. State plans that do not include sufficient support for schools that need to improve risk negatively impacting students — like those who are of color, are English learners, or have disabilities — which would be evidenced by classroom performance as well as social and emotional health. State decisions on these issues impact the makeup of schools’ community and the children who will attend classes together.

    “Additionally, children are impacted most directly by the teacher in their classroom. If state plans don’t ensure students have equitable access to the most effective teachers, students will surely feel the impact in their classroom.”

    5. Virginia Gentles, senior adviser for education reform policy and advocacy organizations: Clearer school ratings that will better inform parents and incentivize educators to do better

    “For the states that are committed to developing or maintaining quality accountability systems, the ESSA plans describe the summative ratings — for example, schools receiving A–F letter grades — states will use to clearly communicate school performance to parents. Principals and teachers know that classroom-level activities ultimately determine the school rating. If the plans are implemented as described, parents and schools ideally will see a commitment to quality instruction in the classrooms designed to result in higher school performance ratings.

  • Philadelphia School Reform Commission Votes to Abolish Itself After 16 Years

    By Kevin Mahnken | November 20, 2017

    Members of Philadelphia’s state-sanctioned School Reform Commission — a controversial five-member panel that has governed the city’s public schools in lieu of a school board for the past 16 years — moved to abolish that body in a historic vote on Thursday, triggering both exultation and concern from local education observers.

    The disbandment clears the way for the appointment of a new school board, which will take control over the district at the end of the 2017–18 school year. Members would be appointed by the mayor, though a forthcoming referendum will likely give the city council approval over his selections. Members of the new board will face immediate challenges, including declining public school enrollment and significant structural deficits.

    Still, many Philadelphians cheered the vote at the end of last week. Parents, activists, and teachers gathered at the district’s headquarters to celebrate the return of the district to local control. The commission is widely seen as an imposition on municipal autonomy; a 2015 Pew survey revealed that just 11 percent of Philadelphians supported its existence.

    “The takeover was a massive educational experiment on black and brown and immigrant children — from reckless charter expansion to mass school closings,” Councilwoman Helen Gym told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “These were strategies not backed by any educational research, they didn’t solve the existing and terrible problems within the district, and they hurt far too many children. Today, we recognize that we need to chart a new path.”

    Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, called the move “a huge victory for the people of Philadelphia.”

    Not all board members voted for abolition. Former chairman Bill Green, an energetic reformer and son of a Philadelphia mayor, cast the lone dissenting vote. Farah Jimenez abstained, warning that the precarious nature of the district’s finances called for caution going forward. Budget officials say that the school system could face a nearly $1 billion deficit by 2022.

    The development follows a trend of big-city districts reverting to local control years after takeovers by state legislators. This January, the first fully empowered school board in seven years was seated in Detroit, and Newark re-emerged from 22 years of state control in September.


    New Jersey Gives Newark Green Light to Resume Local Control of Schools After 20 Years in Receivership

    The commission was created in 2001 as a compromise between city officials and state lawmakers, who wanted more of a say in a district that was $200 million in debt. Philadelphia is one of the most academically troubled major districts in the country, a problem made all the more intractable by the yawning gaps in per-pupil school funding across the state of Pennsylvania.

    Many figures in the city opposed its creation, viewing the panel as technocratic overreach. The mayor was allowed to nominate two members of the SRC, while the state’s governor was given three nominations. The imbalance rankled locals, particularly the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, which has opposed budget cuts and education reform measures like the expansion of charter schools.

    The cutbacks imposed by the SRC and Superintendent William Hite — another oft-criticized figure among the city’s labor activists — became a particularly painful bone of contention, as nearly 4,000 workers were laid off in 2013 and 2014 and 24 school buildings were closed. But the architects of the retrenchment say they were necessary steps to keep the district’s lights on.

    In return for granting the state such a generous measure of control, it’s not clear that the city profited. An analysis conducted by the state’s department of education shows that per-pupil funding in Philadelphia has remained essentially stagnant in the SRC era, even as the majority of the district’s pupils live below the poverty line.

    With the election of Democratic Governor Tom Wolf in 2014, the stage was set for a change. A political ally of the teachers union, Wolf promised as a candidate to ditch the SRC. The 2015 ascent of Mayor Jim Kenney, who also won the union’s endorsement, made the unwinding almost inevitable.

    In an op-ed, former SRC chairman Green counseled incoming board members to take lessons from the reform commission.

    “A new school board and the city could face hard choices if the state no longer has a say in district governance,” he wrote. “When you tell the state to get lost, it just might.”

  • More Money, More Problems (Solved Correctly): New Study Shows American Kids Do Better on Tests If You Pay for Answers

    By Kevin Mahnken | November 19, 2017

    Photo National Bureau of Economic Research

    Much of American students’ poor showing on international math assessments can be explained by an absence of motivation to do well on low-stakes tests rather than a lack of learning, according to a new study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

    In an experiment that reproduced math problems from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) test — an influential barometer of international education administered every three years — American students who were offered money for correct answers worked harder and answered more questions right, while Chinese students’ performance was unchanged by the incentive. Among the Americans, male students were more galvanized than girls by the promise of a reward.

    The study sheds light on a long-simmering debate over the perennial underperformance of U.S. students on international tests. The United States was assessed 35th in math out of 60 countries on the PISA exam in 2016. Then–Education Secretary John King warned, “We’re losing ground.”


    U.S. Students’ Math Scores Drop on International Exam, World Ranking Falls to No. 35

    The study was conducted by a team of American and Chinese academics including Uri Gneezy and John List, co-authors of an acclaimed book on behavioral economics.

    Students from two schools in the U.S. (one a high-performing boarding school, one a large public high school that enrolled both low-performing and average students) and three in Shanghai (one below average in academics, one slightly above average, and one far above average) were given a 25-minute test of 25 math questions that had previously been used on PISA. Just before the test, some of the students were given envelopes filled with 25 one-dollar bills and told that a dollar would be removed for every incorrect or unanswered question.

    In the United States, students who were offered the money scored noticeably better than the control group. But the performance of the Chinese students did not improve.

    “In response to incentives, performance among Shanghai students does not change while the scores of U.S. students increase substantially,” the authors write. “Under incentives, U.S. students attempt more questions (particularly towards the end of the test) and are more likely to answer those questions correctly.”

    (Photo: National Bureau of Economic Research)

    If the effects of the experiment carried over to nationwide PISA participants, the research team estimates that American performance would improve by 22 to 24 points. That’s roughly the equivalent of moving from our 36th-place finish (out of 65) on the 2012 exam to a 19th-place result.

    A leap of that magnitude might significantly change narratives around our dismal scores compared with international competition. After decades of being shown up by most of the developed world, Americans have grown accustomed to dark prophecies of academic decline.

    But those results might be more indicative of apathy than ignorance. Tests like PISA — which have no impact on students’ grades or school accountability measures — aren’t taken as seriously as federally mandated assessments or the SAT.

    “The degree to which test results actually reflect differences in ability and learning may be critically overstated if gaps in intrinsic motivation to perform well on the test are not understood in comparisons across students,” the authors write.

    The boost in scores was not identical across all American student groups. Those predicted to score around the U.S. average saw the greatest improvement, while those predicted to perform below average gained little advantage from financial incentive.

    A gender difference prevailed as well: While scores for American girls increased by about one question out of 25, American boys’ scores improved by 1.76 questions. This imbalance was also present in Shanghai, where boys saw an improvement of 1.13 questions and girls experienced negligible impact.

    “Interpreted through the lens of our overall findings, these results suggest that boys in particular lack intrinsic motivation to do well on low-stakes tests,” the authors conclude.

  • Early Education Is a Game Changer: New Report Shows That Reaching Infants and Toddlers Reduces Special Education Placement, Leads to Soaring Graduation Rates

    By Kevin Mahnken | November 16, 2017

    Photo American Educational Research Association

    Access to early-childhood education significantly reduces students’ chances of being placed in special education or held back in school and increases their prospects of graduating high school, according to new research published by the American Educational Research Association. The report synthesizes evidence of the lasting, long-term benefits of high-quality preschool programs, which have often been dismissed as transient.

    Authors from Harvard, New York University, the University of California, the University of Washington, and the University of Wisconsin contributed to the brief, a meta-analysis of 22 experimental early-childhood-education studies conducted between 1960 and 2016. Although previous research reviews had focused on programs targeting 3- and 4-year-olds, the AERA brief examined services offered to children between birth and age 5.

    The results were impressive: The programs reduced subsequent special education placement for participating students by 8.1 percentage points, reduced the chances of being held back by 8.3 percentage points, and boosted high school graduation by 11.4 percentage points. Though high-quality preschool is generally thought to accelerate cognitive and language development in the near term, the researchers conclude that its effects can be detected as late as high school.

    (Photo: American Educational Research Association)

    “These results suggest that classroom-based ECE programs for children under five can lead to significant and substantial decreases in special education placement and grade retention and increases in high school graduation rates,” they write.

    Tallying the financial blow of children’s academic struggles, the brief presents a case for greater public investment in early education. The estimated cost of placing a student in special education classes is roughly $8,000, and holding a student back a grade costs about $12,000, according to the report. Meanwhile, each of the 373,000 American high schoolers who drop out each year earn almost $700,000 less over the course of their careers than peers with diplomas.

    Although providing excellent preschool programs to the millions of children currently without them is an expensive proposition, economists have recently argued that later-life payoffs — better health, lower rates of incarceration, and higher earnings for participants — justify the costs many times over. In a study of two of the oldest and most famous preschool experiments, the Carolina Abecedarian Project and the Carolina Approach to Responsive Education, Nobel Prize–winning economist James Heckman estimated that the programs yielded $7.30 of benefit for each dollar spent.


    Intensive Preschool Programs Can Yield Massive Returns, Especially for Boys, Nobel Laureate’s Study Shows

    Yet even as states have contributed millions of dollars in new spending on preschool systems, skeptics like the Brookings Institution’s Russ Whitehurst believe that the impact of the programs is unlikely to be retained once they are scaled up to serve millions more children.

    Others have pointed to evidence of “fadeout,” a phenomenon by which the positive impacts of preschool dissipate in the years following completion. One Michigan lawmaker, whose nomination to a post in the Department of Education was withdrawn after a cache of his old blog posts were criticized, denounced the federal Head Start early childhood initiative as “a sham program” this month.

    “There have been a number of independent studies over the years that have concluded that these program children come to school with no more social or cognitive abilities than their non-program counterparts,” he wrote in one post. “So why then do we continue to pay for this failure?”

    But the authors conclude that nearly 60 years of experimental studies indicate clear results from such programs that last into at least adolescence.

    In fact, the effects on special education and retention were found to be greater when researchers followed up years later than they were at the end of the early-childhood programs in question.

  • School Lockdown Credited with Saving Children’s Lives During California Shooting Rampage

    By Laura Fay | November 15, 2017

    Photo Elijah Nouvelage/AFP/Getty Images

    A school lockdown appears to have saved the lives of numerous students during Tuesday’s deadly shooting rampage in northern California.

    Tehama County Assistant Sheriff Phil Johnston said the staff took “monumental” action that saved children’s lives.

    “This incident, as tragic and as bad as it is, could have been so much worse if it wasn’t for the quick thinking and staff at our elementary school,” he said.

    Safety experts have advocated lockdowns, which involve securing and sometimes barricading classroom doors, since the 1999 massacre at Colorado’s Columbine High School.

    Police could find no motive for the Tuesday’s school attack, part of a larger shooting spree that left five dead, including the gunman. One child was injured at the Rancho Tehama Elementary, a small K-5 school in Corning, California, two hours north of Sacramento that employs only four teachers, according to its website.


    After Sandy Hook Massacre, Designing Schools for Safety

    Within minutes of hearing gunshots around 8 a.m., staff put the school on lockdown. The gunman, wielding a semiautomatic weapon, entered the building and tried to get into classrooms, but locked doors kept him out. A witness said the school secretary yelled for everyone to get inside and students “cowered under desks” to stay safe.Thwarted, the gunman returned to a stolen car and drove away until police found and killed him in an exchange of gunfire.

    The superintendent of the school district, Richard Fitzpatrick, called the response of his staff “absolutely heroic.” The school was on lockdown within two minutes of the first gunshots, he said.

    Here’s what we know about the shooting so far:

    1 Five are dead, including the shooter, identified as Kevin Janson Neal, 44, The New York Times reported. Two children were wounded, one in the school and the other in a vehicle, but none were killed. At least 8 others were injured.

    2 The gunman began shooting just before 8 a.m. Tuesday in the neighborhood near his home in remote Rancho Tehama Reserve, killing two there, authorities said. Witnesses said he drove away in a stolen pickup truck, continuing to shoot from inside the vehicle. He got out of the truck and fired several rounds at the school, authorities said. He entered the building, but when he found his entrance to classrooms blocked, got into a vehicle and continued shooting as he drove away. Police pursued him, pushing his vehicle off the road and exchanging gunfire, ultimately killing him. — KCRTV

    3 The victims appear to have been selected at random. Assistant Sheriff Johnston said authorities had not found a connection between the gunman and anyone at the school. The rampage may have begun with a neighborhood dispute. Neighbors told reporters the gunman was known to fire off gunshots near his home and allegedly stabbed a neighbor in the past.

    4 Authorities recovered a semi-automatic rifle and two handguns believed to have been used by the gunman.

    5 Rancho Tehama Elementary School is closed until further notice, according to a statement on the district website. “The District will make alternate arrangements for student instruction,” the statement says.

    The shooter fired into a classroom window, hitting a child in the chest and foot, a parent who was in the room at the time told KCRTV.

    “Within a minute, we were all buckled in our classrooms and all of a sudden there were gunshots going for a good 20-25 minutes. My window was hit by a few shots and a student was injured in my classroom. He got nailed somehow, it happened all so fast,” the parent, Coy Ferreira. He said 14 children were in the room at the time.


    Counselors Offer Clarity, Support to Young Classmates of Victims of Sutherland Springs Rampage

  • Report: Dozens of Arts Programs Could Receive Funding Under Federal Education Law

    By Kevin Mahnken | November 14, 2017

    Photo American Institutes for Research

    Dozens of “arts integration” programs, which employ artistic expression as a means of teaching a variety of subjects, are eligible for federal funding under the Every Student Succeeds Act, according to a new study from the American Institutes for Research. More investigation into the efficacy of the method is needed, the authors report, but 10 such programs have already been shown to meet ESSA’s highest evidentiary standards.

    Arts integration is a curricular strategy that combines fine-arts activities with instruction in other content areas. Teachers might use rhyming songs in a lesson about fractions, design a writing exercise around analysis of a Rembrandt painting, or stage a play to help build reading skills. It can be used to organize individual classroom exercises or inform an entire school model, and teachers use it with students from kindergarten through high school.

    “These funding opportunities can be used to support activities such as teacher professional development, school improvement efforts, supports for English learners, arts integration courses, instructional materials, extended learning time programs,” the authors write. “They can also be used to support arts-focused charter or magnet schools.”

    The 10 programs that meet with highest tiers of evidence, including preschool arts enrichment services and field trips to museums and the theater, could be especially promising candidates.

    Extra revenue is particularly important at a moment when arts funding has yet to recover from recession-era declines. Over a nearly decade-long period when schools in many states were struggling to keep teachers paid and buses running, music and art classes were often among the first to be cut. In March, when President Trump’s proposed budget called for deep cuts to federal arts and humanities agencies, many feared for the thousands of classroom programs across the country underwritten by the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.


    An Arts Education Crisis? How Potential Federal Cuts Could Decimate School Arts Programs

    In the AIR study, conducted for the Wallace Foundation, researchers reviewed 135 studies of arts integration conducted since 2000. Their goals were to determine whether various programs were sufficiently rigorous to merit federal funding under ESSA and to isolate their average impact on student performance.

    In all, 44 separate interventions, ranging from poetry-writing to origami to live theater, met with ESSA’s four tiers of evidentiary rigor. Most only met the lowest level, Tier IV. But studies of 10 arts integration programs actually cleared Tiers I–III (“promising evidence,” “moderate evidence,” and “strong evidence”), which require proof of statistically significant effects.

    Even those interventions that cleared the lowest bar of Tier IV are judged by the authors to be potentially worthy of federal funds available under ESSA. While those made up the majority of the programs deemed eligible for funding, a handful also withstood scrutiny under Tiers I–III.

    (Photo: American Institutes for Research)

    The authors warn that, with their conclusions often based around the outcome of a single study, more research is required into the impact of arts instruction on specific student populations and subject areas.

  • How Will America’s New Education Law Change Your School? 5 Experts Pick the Most Important Issue Parents Should Be Monitoring in States’ ESSA Plans

    By Blair Mann | November 14, 2017

    Photo Education Images/UIG via Getty Images

    Earlier this year, the Collaborative for Student Success and Bellwether Education Partners brought together more than 30 education experts — with state and national experience, Republicans and Democrats — to independently review the first 17 state ESSA plans submitted to the U.S. Department of Education.

    While the results of that review can be found at, peer reviewers also shared their thoughts on different aspects of state ESSA plans — topics like what they were looking for, what they wished they had seen, and what they’re hoping to see in the second round. In a new series, we’ll be sharing those thoughts as we lead up to the review of ESSA plans submitted by the 34 second-round states.

    Reviewers had many different perspectives — and priorities — coming into the review. So, we asked them: Which element of the states’ ESSA plans should parents be watching most closely?

    Here’s what they had to say.

    1. Dale Chu, formerly of America Succeeds: How will schools create opportunities for every student?

    “I look at things through three buckets: excellence, equity, and opportunity. Were states looking for opportunities to expand all three of those things? So, for example, when you think about excellence and whether or not students are performing well in one area — you could really look for that through their long-term goals that were provided by each state. When it comes to equity, certainly what the states are proposing in regard to the performance of all of their students in the state as well as specific subgroups, especially those subgroups that have traditionally been marginalized by society. And then opportunity — there’s a lot of areas, certainly around funding and then how states are proposing to use federal dollars to promote greater opportunities among students.”

    2. Terry Holliday, former Kentucky commissioner of education: How will schools tie classroom achievement to broader visions of college and career?

    “I was looking for states that have clearly been able to align their state vision, their long-term goals, accountability indicators, and being able to utilize the flexibility within ESSA to merge all the different title plans into an integrated system that would drive toward their vision.

    “Most of the states have a vision of college and career readiness for all; they voice it in different ways, but that is the common vision. And I was looking for how the states were using the flexibility and innovative ability to align their plans and strategies across all the title areas, not just Title I.”

    3. Lindsay Jones, National Center for Learning Disabilities: How will schools support their students with disabilities and engage their parents?

    “Two areas of focus. How seamlessly did they involve students with disabilities? If you’re a kid with a learning disability, you’re spending your entire day almost with a generalist teacher. So, the way to ensure that your state is planning for you from the get-go is really important for your education.

    “And then I was really focused on how will parents know how their schools are performing. What are they proposing for accountability metrics and how are they going to report out on those…. Parents have very little time; they need to make important decisions for their kids, and too much data can be overwhelming for them.”

    4.Gerard Robinson, former Virginia secretary of education and former Florida commissioner of education: How will schools bridge the achievement gap and find a way to lift up the students struggling most?

    “I didn’t have one big area of focus, but there was something I particularly wanted to make sure was addressed: how were they going to close the achievement gap and how were they going to address the students in the lowest-performing 5 percent. Those students are the ones who superintendents, teachers, others have to pay a great deal of attention to. So, I did want to see what states had to say on it.”

    5. Conor Williams, New America Foundation: How will schools engage students who don’t speak English at home?

    “The historic divisions of equity in the U.S. are race and class. Those are the ones we spend the most time thinking about as a field and for good reason. However, the demographics of the U.S. are shifting. About 22 percent of our student speak a non-English language at home. If you are not looking at equity through a language lens, in addition to race and class, then you are missing an enormous part of the population … If we don’t think about it, then we can’t really be serious about pushing for equitable opportunities for all students.”

  • Teacher Voice: Taking Away $250 Tax Deduction for School Supplies Speaks Volumes About How We Value Teachers

    By Emily Langhorne | November 14, 2017

    Updated Nov. 15

    The Senate on Tuesday released a revised version of its tax reform bill which not only restored the teacher tax deduction for classroom supplies but doubled it from $250 to $500, Education Week reported. The GOP tax bill approved by the House Ways and Means Committee last week eliminated the deduction. The two bills will eventually have to be reconciled.

    When I was a teacher, I didn’t have a “cute” classroom. My colleague upstairs designed a reading space for students, complete with comfortable seats, a special carpet, and twinkle lights.

    I was lucky if my posters stayed on the wall (which often they didn’t because of the school’s erratic temperature changes).

    Regardless, most students loved my class as much as they loved my colleague’s. I think they actually developed an affectionate spot for the chaos of the room. Some generously told me that it mirrored the personality of my energetic teaching.

    Despite outward appearances, both my colleague and I spent hundreds of our own dollars, as well as a lot of our free time, to make our classes fun and welcoming places where students wanted to go to learn.

    My colleague’s expenses were obvious. She created a place where children want to go to read. That’s money well spent.

    My expenses weren’t so obvious. You couldn’t tell from looking around my classroom, but it was also money well spent. No amount of colorful paper or pretty lights would have helped me keep a tidy and cute classroom, but I too purchased things to keep my students engaged in learning. These were my hidden costs of teaching.

    I stocked my classroom library — a concept strongly encouraged but not funded by our district — with books I thought my students would want to read, like Looking for Alaska and Feed, rather than leftovers from the “one dollar/free” bins.

    Even though I taught English, I purchased and put up a beautiful world map when I realized my ninth-grade students didn’t know that Great Britain was an island.

    At the beginning of the year, students bonded over naming the classroom fish (Finley), and they took turns feeding him. They did the same when I bought the second fish (Dobby the House Fish) and a better fish tank, after the first one — the fish, not that tank — died.

    I created a game for vocabulary practice that used board games and a cowbell. It was as delightfully bizarre as it sounds. It was also effective, though: the students learned their roots and words. They had to do their homework if they wanted to play.

    Before winter break, we did a community-building activity involving toothpicks, marshmallows, and paper plates. 145 students participated. It was a competition to design and build igloos. On the daily agenda, I labeled it “spatial reasoning test,” just to mess with the kids before class started.

    There was more too, of course. I didn’t regret a penny I spent (well, except for the third fish, Little Sebastian; alas, there’s a time to cut your losses) because I believed that my work mattered, that every creative choice I made had an impact on the lives of students.

    Unfortunately, the GOP’s tax plan just sent teachers a different and disheartening message: Your work doesn’t matter. We don’t value your money. We don’t value your time. We don’t value your dedication to children.

    The GOP’s tax plan cuts the $250 deduction that teachers were allowed to take to compensate for their personal spending on school and classroom supplies.

    For me, the subtext behind this move is equally as upsetting as the monetary loss that comes from eliminating the deduction.

    Many teachers actually spend a lot more than $250 on their classrooms, but the deduction embodies a symbol that society values teachers, their ingenuity, and the sacrifices that they make out of their commitment to the kids.

    Allowing the GOP to cut this deduction will send a strong message about the value that we, as a nation, place on those who attempt to make a profession out of educating America’s youth.

    It’s no secret that teachers make a lot less money than other similarly educated professionals. After all, no one goes into teaching for the money, but, surprisingly, teachers also don’t leave teaching because of the money.

    The pay wasn’t the reason I left teaching. I left teaching because I felt that, despite my education and expertise, society didn’t regard the work I did as equal in value to that of other professions requiring similar education levels and skills.

    Teachers teach because they love their students and their subject matter. That’s always the silver lining, but, for many people, being a teacher means knowing that policymakers don’t include your voice in their decisions. Parents, school districts, and school boards undermine your authority and take away your autonomy in the classroom. You won’t receive raises based on your merit, and tenure laws not only protect the jobs of your ill-qualified colleagues, but also ensure that they receive larger paychecks.

    For a lot of teachers, the GOP’s slight will be just another in a very long list of unacknowledged frustrations. It’s another sign that those who should regard teachers as equals actually don’t respect their profession. Politicians either praise teachers as heroes or use them as scapegoats, but they rarely listen to them or support their professionalism.

    We live in a society where school districts increasingly expect teachers to have a master’s degree and simultaneously expect these educated professionals to sacrifice the right to go to the bathroom. It’s not surprising that we have a hard time attracting talented people to the profession.

    Ultimately, our country needs a strong education system to be successful, and a strong education system needs the best teachers. Shouldn’t the federal government work to incentivize the best candidates to go into teaching, not further discourage them?

    When I told my students I was leaving teaching, a few started to cry. One student was particularly upset. I tried to comfort her by reminding her that I wouldn’t even be her teacher the next year, but she kept crying and saying: “You don’t understand.”

    Maybe she’s right. Maybe we don’t understand. Maybe the only people who truly value and understand the importance of having good teachers are the ones who experience the difference they make on a daily basis. Indeed, they’re the ones that stand to lose the most as the nation continues to struggle to recruit highly qualified people into teaching.

    Unfortunately, they have no voice, and the people that do are speaking loud and clear in a familiar tone that reminds me of why I left the profession.

  • As More States Green-Light Recreational Pot, Educators Adapt Prevention Efforts

    By Laura Fay | November 14, 2017

    Photo Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images

    With California poised to become the sixth state to allow recreational use of marijuana, educators are grappling with how to adapt their anti-drug policies to a new reality where pot is sold at local dispensaries and advertised on billboards.

    The state will follow in the footsteps of Colorado by using taxes from marijuana sales to fund education and prevention efforts for kids.

    California will begin issuing licenses in January for the legal sale of recreational marijuana. The law, known as Proposition 64, will allow adults 21 and over to possess, purchase, consume, and share up to an ounce of marijuana.

    Three other states plan to allow recreational use by 2019, and many more have eased up on prohibition by allowing medical marijuana.

    It can be difficult for administrators to explain to kids why it’s OK for adults — sometimes just three years older than a high school senior — to use marijuana and not them.

    “[Teens] think that if it’s legal, it must be OK,” said Pam Luna, a consultant with the RAND Corporation.

    Stanton Glantz, a professor at the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine who focuses on tobacco, e-cigarette, and marijuana issues, said the marketing of marijuana complicates the issue. A RAND study released last year shows that marijuana advertising is associated with a higher likelihood of use one year later.

    “It’s just everywhere now, and the market hasn’t been fully opened,” Glantz told NPR. “It’s the same thing as alcohol and cigarette advertising. It is all directed at normalizing it and presenting it as a fun thing to do.”

    To aid the conversation, California’s Department of Public Health recently launched a website called “Let’s Talk Cannabis” to answer frequently asked questions and provide information for youth and parents.

    California will also set aside 60 percent of tax revenue from marijuana sales for youth drug prevention, education, and treatment, according to BallotPedia, which provides information about elections and politics.

    In Colorado, schools are using taxes collected from marijuana sales to pay for additional school nurses, counselors, and social workers to aid in prevention efforts and intervene early when problems arise, according to the Denver Post.

    Researchers believe students are more likely to use marijuana when they believe it is safe, so education about the dangers can discourage use among students, as it has with alcohol and tobacco, said Richard Miech, a research professor at the University of Michigan, who recently worked on a study about adolescent marijuana use and teens.

    “We’ve seen tremendous declines in adolescent use of both substances over the past two decades, so we have examples to work from,” Miech told U.S. News.


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