The U.S. Needs a National Policy on Education

teachers collage recordChristopher Cross has written an insightful piece for Teachers College Record, focusing on the need to establish a national policy on education so that there is a clear understanding of our national priority and appropriate roles for states and the federal government.

An excerpt:

We have no stated national commitment to education, no understanding about the division of responsibilities and accountability between the federal government and states.

We have no clear expectation for what constitutes an education that is equitable. We have no priority for education as a human right. Yes, there are federal policies in place, as detailed below; however, all of these policies have arisen as a result of forces essentially external to education, such as national defense, civil rights, and the war on poverty.

There is a significant agenda of issues that needs discussion and resolution. For example, the following issues need to be resolved:

* How can the traditional state responsibility for education be cast in ways that recognizes state autonomy, but also contributes to achieving nationwide educational excellence?

* What are the appropriate and strongest roles for both the federal government and the states to play in the development, maintenance, improvement, and administration of educational systems and institutions?

* In which areas are states and the federal government in disagreement or working at cross-purposes-putting all levels at risk of failing to achieve our collective national goal of improving outcomes for all children?

* How do we stimulate both state and federal innovation, document and replicate successful strategies, facilitate cross-state collaboration, and support the adoption of evidence-based reforms?

* Can we agree upon a national goal, such as:  Providing opportunity for the education of everyone is one of the highest responsibilities of the states and of the nation to preserve a free and open society, to retain the nation’s economic health and democratic institutions, and to assure that Americans may live and enjoy a safe and secure existence.

To address these issues, the nation needs a blue ribbon panel of leaders in fields that range beyond the usual suspects who engage in almost every education conversation. These additional constituencies should include labor leaders, business CEOs, representatives of various racial and religious groups and the military, government, and scientific fields.

Although this panel would operate at the national level, parallel committees could be created in every state so that the views and recommendations that emanate from every part of the land could be incorporated in the final work of the national panel. The goal would be to issue a set of findings-not recommendations-tailored to each level of policy making that could be used to provide guidance and cover legislative and executive bodies at the state and federal levels, as they move forward with the re-authorizations and the development of both new laws and policies.

Findings might include:

* Defining the primary role of the federal government relative to the states and the need for capacity-building. Fostering a robust discussion around the fact that while research and data sharing is best done at the federal level, innovation should be fostered at all levels.

* Educating decision makers on ways financial resources can be deployed more effectively and efficiently by such things as amending laws to use common definitions of program eligibility, and allowing the delivery of services in all public facilities such as schools, community centers, and public health locations-highlighting how common standards and assessments are vital to assuring the maintenance of an educated workforce and competitive economy.
These findings could be key elements of creating a framework for the re-authorization of federal laws such as ESEA, IDEA, and Perkins, and could guide states in their policy development. If we do not engage in this dialogue, stress will continue to dominate the education system-assuring that professionals in the education field are continually buffeted by the winds of policy change.

For more, see


Developing Workplaces Where Teachers Stay, Improve and Succeed

Professors Matthew Kraft and John Papay discuss research showing that the school contexts in which teachers work have a profound influence on their effectiveness. Below are excerpts from their article:

An emerging body of research now shows that the contexts in which teachers work profoundly shape teachers’ job decisions and their effectiveness. Put simply, teachers who work in supportive contexts stay in the classroom longer, and improve at faster rates, than their peers in less-supportive environments. And, what appear to matter most about the school context are not the traditional working conditions we often think of, such as modern facilities and well-equipped classrooms. Instead, aspects that are difficult to observe and measure seem to be most influential, including the quality of relationships and collaboration among staff, the responsiveness of school administrators, and the academic and behavioral expectations for students.

The high rates of teacher turnover we observe in schools that serve large populations of low-income and minority students are largely explained by the poor working conditions in these schools – not the students they serve. The chart below demonstrates how, in Massachusetts, teachers are over three times more likely to report intentions to transfer away from a school with poor working conditions (bottom percentiles) than one with strong working conditions (top percentiles). The finding that teachers’ views of their working conditions are strong predictors of whether or not they stay in a school has been replicated in a wide range districts and states, including Massachusetts, as we show in the figure below, as well as California, North Carolina, New York City, and Chicago.
graph222In supportive schools, teachers not only tend to stay, but they also improve at much greater rates over time. In a recent study, we tracked teachers in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools for up to ten years and examined how their individual effectiveness (as measured by contributions to student achievement) changed over time. We found that teachers working in schools with strong professional environments improved, over 10 years, 38 percent more than teachers in schools with weak professional environments. Here, we used six measures drawn from teacher surveys to characterize the environment: consistent order and discipline; opportunities for peer collaboration; supportive principal leadership; effective professional development; a school culture characterized by trust; and a fair teacher evaluation process providing meaningful feedback.

These findings, and a growing body of evidence, make clear that the school context matters a great deal for teachers and, as a result, for their students.

So, what can be done to improve school context? The researchers offer a few suggestions:

  • orderly, disciplined learning environments
  • student support services that attend to social and emotional needs
  • schoolwide efforts to engage parents
  • peer collaboration
  • feedback from peers and administrators
  • instructional support

Importantly, school principals play a key role in establishing productive professional environments in schools. They are the ones who establish these organizational supports and build school-wide cultures. Hiring principals who have the ability to identify organizational weaknesses, establish school-wide systems to support teachers and students, and galvanize the collective buy-in and involvement of all teachers is a central lever for improving the teaching and learning environment.

To read the full article, see:


Developing Teachers’ Understanding of the Social Contexts of their Classrooms

asi albertIn a piece for the Albert Shanker Institute, researcher John Lane contends that in teachers’ typical learning opportunities, reforms are reduced to a set of strategies that “work” across settings, and in which the contexts of teaching become an unwanted entanglement. He argues that teachers would benefit from opportunities to learn about the social dynamics of classrooms — it is those dynamics, after all, that affect their own reform efforts and teacher practice more broadly.

Following is an excerpt from the article:

Reforms and the learning opportunities that accompany them have virtually ignored local, situated knowledge of social contexts, or treated the social dynamics of the classroom as a personal matter that must be worked out by individual teachers. Perhaps this is in deference to the superior knowledge of the local practitioner, or maybe presenting conditions on proven “research-based” strategies introduces a complication that cannot easily be resolved. In either case, teachers are left without a critical understanding of the social dynamics, common to many classrooms, that often stand in the way of reforms.

As Cusick (1973) once pointed out, teachers are paid to provide instruction and not to perform sociological experiments, but, as a consequence, teachers are often confused when their instructional plans go awry. I am not suggesting that providing teachers opportunities to connect with the considerable sociological literature about life in classrooms would solve all their problems, or that all teachers need to moonlight as sociologists. I am merely suggesting that access to and consideration of this knowledge might help some teachers in the difficult work of adapting reforms to their local contexts, and the particulars of their students, classrooms, and schools.

So, what can be done to address these challenges and make sure that teacher learning also focuses on social contexts rather exclusively on explicit skill acquisition? Convincing professional development providers to move away from isolated teaching strategies and toward developing a better understanding of the context of teaching is likely to be an uphill battle, particularly since teachers are not clamoring for this sort of content. I think researchers could help with these challenges. First, researchers could act locally by sharing their research with schools and helping teachers, principals, and district administrators see a productive link between professional development focusing on social contexts and improved teaching and learning in their classrooms. Researchers could also establish a website discussing and sharing resources and tools that teachers could use to understand and address the social complexities of their classrooms and of schooling. Such a site could, for example, allow teachers to select from a variety of topics like “Teachers’ Dependence of Their Students” or “Understanding Student Groups.” It is not difficult to imagine a “social context website” that teachers might use in ways similar to how they currently get a wide variety of ideas from Pinterest.

To read the full article, see:


If Everyone Loves ESEA Disaggregation, Why Is Cross-Tabbing Such a Problem?

screenshot-edreformnow org 2015-07-10 15-48-52Cross-tabbing refers to looking at education data for disadvantaged students across different categories, such as race and gender combined.

Charles Barone offers us a useful example:

Black males are many times more likely to be subject to corporal punishment – in school – than black females. Averages for black students across gender hide this phenomenon. Cross-tabbing data in this example can help identify, and inform efforts to overhaul, troubling school discipline policies.

Since the 1990s, it has been official federal policy to require states to disaggregate student data to provide a closer look at how minority and disadvantaged students are performing. What is still at issue is whether the next ESEA reauthorization, whether it might happen under the Obama Administration or the next administration, would take that same data and use cross-tabbing to uncover further skeletons in the American educational equity closet.

Barone, writing for Ed Reform Now, reminds his readers of the crucial role that Presidents play in decisions such as this. Presidents can help improve American education by pushing through politically unpopular reforms, and he hopes that the current administration will push to allow cross-tabbing.

For more information, please follow this link:


Dramatic Improvement in Education Systems: What It Takes

face 23On Education Week‘s Top Performers blog, Marc Tucker explores what it takes to achieve dramatic improvement in education systems.

Tucker writes: The nations with the best-performing education systems have two things in common that have nothing to do with the specific education policies and practices they have embraced.  The first has to do with the goals they have chosen to embrace.  The second has to do with the conditions that are needed for paradigmatic change in education systems.  The two are intimately related.

To illustrate my point, I will choose a few of the countries that are now or have recently been among the top ten performers on the PISA surveys of student achievement.  Each of these countries experienced some cataclysmic economic threat that served to catalyze political developments that made it possible for the political leaders of all parties to create a broad national consensus around the need for a new education paradigm.

Take Australia.  In the late 1980s, Britain joined the European Union.  To do that, it was required by the EU to terminate the web of special mercantile economic relationships that tied it to the former Commonwealth countries.  Australia’s economy was highly dependent on those relationships.  Its leaders woke up one day to the prospect of economic disaster when the special economic relationship came to an end.  A far-sighted Australian labor leader organized a delegation of business, labor and union leaders to benchmark the world’s leading economies to seek a solution.  They came back to Australia convinced that the Australian economy would tank unless two things happened: Australia diversified its products and its customers and, at the same time, made the right strategic investments in the skills of its workforce to become a world leader in high value-added products and services.  The benchmarkers succeeded in producing a consensus that bridged the two major parties on these points that lasted for years.

Finland went through a similar experience.  It, too, had a special economic relationship that held the key to its economy, in that case its relationship with the Soviet Union, on which its economy was highly dependent.  When the Soviet Union suddenly fell apart, the economic relationship dissolved and the Finnish economy went into a tailspin far worse than the one it experienced in the 1930s.  The Finnish elders of all parties came together to rally the country around two key ideas.  The first was the need to make Finland a high-tech economy, built around telecommunications, and the other was to call on the best of its young people to become school teachers as an act of patriotism, to make sure that Finland would have the world class technical workforce needed to realize the dream of technological leadership.  Finland had a lot going for it in education before this happened, but this crisis and the Finnish leadership’s response to it contributed in a very important way to Finland’s rise to world leadership in education.

Almost every country that leads the list of top performers in education has a story like this to tell, a story in which the leaders of the country were able to remodel the national education system on new principles as a matter of urgent national necessity, an urgency perceived by almost everyone, an urgency that made it possible not just to install new policies and practices, but whole new paradigms, often as a matter of national survival.

It is also true, and very important, that in most—but not all—of these cases, that sense of urgency to build a new education system on a new paradigm was linked to a new vision of the society these countries wanted to build.  For different reasons, at different times, these top-performing countries came to a consensus on the kind of economy they wanted.   [T]hey decided at a certain point that they were not going to compete internally or in international trade on the price of their labor, but rather on the quality of the goods and services they offered to each other and to the world.  They wanted broadly shared prosperity.  They understood that no nation can get rich as its citizens get or remain poor.  They understood that the only way a country can provide broadly shared prosperity is to create an economy in which the whole workforce is adding a great deal of value to the things it makes and the services it provides, and the only way that will happen is if everyone, at every level of the workforce, is deeply educated and highly trained.  So they decided, in effect, to compete on the quality, not the price, of their labor.  The commitment to education and training is an ineluctable consequence of the commitment to broadly shared prosperity.

Is Is the United States ready to make such a commitment?

To To read the whole blog visit:


Free Webinar on Engaging Families in Partnership Programs to Promote Student Success

WOAMN AND GIRLFamily engagement positively affects a range of student outcomes, including grades, behavior, enrollment in higher level programs, graduation, and college attendance.

REL Mid-Atlantic is offering a free webinar titled Engaging Families in Partnership Programs to Promote Student Success. During this webinar led by Dr. Joyce Epstein, Director of the Center on School, Family, and Community Partnerships and the National Network of Partnership Schools, you will:

  • Learn what the research says about family engagement and student outcomes
  • Discuss strategies for promoting parent involvement
  • Explore ways that educators can organize, strengthen, and sustain programs of school, family, and community partnerships

You can receive a certificate of attendance for attending this webinar.

August 27, 2015

3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. ET

Learn more and register:


How does multitasking change the way kids learn?

M(IN ShiftWe’ve become a perpetual multitasking culture. Our brains aren’t good at this, especially when we’re trying to learn new information. But of all the things that make it hard for us to learn, multitasking is one of the very few that is entirely within our control.

Living rooms, dens, kitchens, even bedrooms: Investigators followed students into the spaces where homework gets done. Pens poised over their “study observation forms,” the observers watched intently as the students—in middle school, high school, and college, 263 in all—opened their books and turned on their computers.

For a quarter of an hour, the investigators from the lab of Larry Rosen, a psychology professor at California State University-Dominguez Hills, marked down once a minute what the students were doing as they studied. A checklist on the form included: reading a book, writing on paper, typing on the computer—and also using email, looking at Facebook, engaging in instant messaging, texting, talking on the phone, watching television, listening to music, surfing the web. Sitting unobtrusively at the back of the room, the observers counted the number of windows open on the students’ screens and noted whether the students were wearing ear-buds.

Although the students had been told at the outset that they should “study something important, including homework, an upcoming examination or project, or reading a book for a course,” it wasn’t long before their attention drifted: Students’ “on-task behavior” started declining around the two-minute mark as they began responding to arriving texts or checking their Facebook feeds. By the time the 15 minutes were up, they had spent only about 65 percent of the observation period actually doing their schoolwork.

Evidence from psychology, cognitive science, and neuroscience suggests that when students multitask while doing schoolwork, their learning is far spottier and shallower than if the work had their full attention. They understand and remember less, and they have greater difficulty transferring their learning to new contexts. So detrimental is this practice that some researchers are proposing that a new prerequisite for academic and even professional success—the new marshmallow test of self-discipline—is the ability to resist a blinking inbox or a buzzing phone.

For the full report, see


NewSchools Venture Fund Launches NewSchools Catapult

newschoolsNewSchools Venture Fund has announced the launch NewSchools Catapult, the first endeavor of its new national strategy. Its goal over the next several years is to propel successive waves of education entrepreneurs to launch new schools – the kinds of audacious, life-altering schools that can truly prepare students to pursue their most ambitious dreams.

The focus is on schools that serve significant numbers of underserved students in grades PreK-12 and will be operated by (a) early-stage charter networks for which this would be their first or second school or (b) district-operated schools with sufficient autonomy and support to realize their vision.

To help prepare school teams at similar stages to plan and launch successfully, NewSchools Catapult has been separated into two distinct phases:

  •   Phase 1: Invent: A 6-10 month program designed to support school teams during the year prior to launching a new school. Teams selected for this phase will receive financial support (averaging around $100,000), targeted assistance and a cohort experience with others at a similar stage of development. All teams who participate in Invent will be working toward developing an application for Launch, though some will decide to postpone or abandon their launch plans.
  •   Phase 2: Launch: A highly competitive 2 1/2 year program designed to support school teams for the months leading up to launch through their second year of operation. In addition to continuing to receive ongoing assistance and a cohort experience, teams selected for this phase will receive financial support (investments vary widely based on factors such as seat count and local funding conditions, but averaging around $400,000).

School teams with aspirations to launch a new school in fall 2016 can use the Invent 2015 application to apply. Later this fall, NSVF will release the Launch 2016 application, which will provide a larger investment to support the first two years of a new school that opens in fall 2016. Schools that receive an Invent 2015 investment will receive priority for this program.

Learn more and apply here:



Addressing the College Readiness Challenge in High-Poverty Schools

claspStudents in high-poverty schools lack the supports needed to become college ready, according to a report from CLASP. Course, Counselor, and Teacher Gaps: Addressing the College Readiness Challenge in High-Poverty High Schools analyzes the nation’s 100 largest school districts, focusing on “high-poverty schools” (where at least 75 percent of students live in poverty) and “low-poverty schools” (where 0 to 25 percent of students live in poverty). The report identifies major gaps in school resources and their impact on youth.

More than half of all public school children live in low-income families. As the number of poor children has risen, so has the number of children who attend high-poverty schools. According to 2012 data, the most recent available, 1 in 5 children attend a school where at least 75 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, up from 12 percent just 12 years ago. Concentrated poverty is most prevalent in urban areas, where 34 percent of students attend high-poverty schools. Given the racial/ethnic makeup of our nation’s urban centers, many of these students are children of color.

The highest-poverty schools lack resources and supports, making postsecondary preparation very challenging. These schools have the least skilled teachers, offer a less rigorous curriculum, and provide limited or no access to school counselors. Consequently, students in high-poverty school are less likely to enroll in college or training programs that lead to viable careers. Those who do enroll often need remedial academic support, creating financial barriers.

CLASP’s report details specific resource disparities in the nation’s 100 largest schools districts:

  • 14.5 percent of teachers in high-poverty high schools are in their first or second year, compared to 9.5 percent in low-poverty schools.
  • 88.5 percent of teachers in high-poverty high schools are certified, compared to 96.5 percent in low-poverty schools.
  • 69 percent of high-poverty high schools offer physics, compared to 90 percent of low-poverty high schools.
  • Only 41 percent of high-poverty high schools offer calculus, compared to 85 percent of low-poverty schools.

Disparities in education for students in high-poverty schools cannot continue. The U.S. must provide each child with a quality education that prepares them for college and careers. If we fail to do so, students and families will remain trapped in poverty, low-income communities will suffer, and the nation’s economy will be placed at severe risk. There are many opportunities at the federal, state, and district levels to address this problem with systemic, sustainable policies. We simply need to act.

Read the report at:


New Videos Feature Innovative Efforts to Build Strong Principal Pipelines

logo-WallaceFdnThe Wallace Foundation has released seven short videos featuring six school district superintendents talking about key innovations to emerge from a major national initiative to develop larger numbers of highly effective principals – and one video that offers advice to other superintendents who might want to build their own strong principal pipelines.

The two-minute videos of each superintendent highlight new practices to develop leaders and manage career paths more intentionally, including crafting clear standards for principals, developing strong partnerships with local university preparation programs, grooming assistant principals, revamping hiring processes and stepping up support for new principals.

These are among the innovations that were outlined in an independent report called Building a Stronger Principalship: Districts Taking Charge of the Principal Pipeline, which was released in January and is the third in a six-part series in a multi-year evaluation of The Wallace Foundation’s $75-million Principal Pipeline Initiative. Policy Studies Associates and the RAND Corporation are conducting the evaluation.

In one six-minute video, the superintendents offered advice to other districts who are just embarking on building a principal pipeline. One bit of advice: Be patient. “It’s not a one-year effort. It’s not a two-year effort. This is a 10, 12, 15-year effort to take someone from where they wish to be a school leader to where they truly are a very effective leader of an organization as large and complex, as challenging, as rewarding as a school,” says Tom Boasberg, superintendent of Denver Public Schools.

Besides Boasberg, the other superintendents are Ann Clark of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, Alvin Wilbanks of Gwinnett County (Ga.) Public Schools, Carmen Fariña of New York City Schools, Jeff Eakins of Hillsborough County (Fla.) Public Schools; and Kevin Maxwell of Prince George’s County (Md.) Public Schools.

The interviews were captured on video at a recent Wallace convening of the districts participating in the pipeline initiative.

To view the videos: