Almost thirty years ago, in February 1989, the political scientist Francis Fukuyama gave a talk that was later turned into an article that was later turned into a book, with the provocative title, “The End of History?” With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, western-style liberalism had triumphed over Communism, and had already fended off Fascism.
Almost thirty years ago, in February 1989, the political scientist Francis Fukuyama gave a talk that was later turned into an article that was later turned into a book, with the provocative title, “The End of History?” With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, western-style liberalism had triumphed over Communism, and had already fended off Fascism. As a recent article in the New Yorker noted:
If you imagined history as the process by which liberal institutions—representative government, free markets, and consumerist culture—become universal, it might be possible to say that history had reached its goal…. There would be a “Common Marketization” of international relations and the world would achieve homeostasis.
It’s a strange time to be using The End of History as an analogy because, as we now know, the end of the Cold War was not the End of History at all, but the end of just one chapter.
But it is fair to say that for a decade or two the world did achieve some sort of homeostasis, perhaps a break from history instead of its end. Democracy was on the move, global trade boomed, and the world became a freer, more prosperous place.
So what does this have to do with education?
We are now at the End of Education Policy, in the same way that we were at the End of History back in 1989. Our own Cold War pitted reformers against traditional education groups; we have fought each other to a draw, and reached something approaching homeostasis. Resistance to education reform has not collapsed like the Soviet Union did. Far from it. But there have been major changes that are now institutionalized and won’t be easily undone, at least for the next decade.
Namely: We are not going back to a time when urban school districts had the “exclusive franchise” to operate schools within their geographic boundaries. Public charter schools now serve over three million students, many of them in our large cities, cities where 20, 30, 40, and even 50 percent of the students are now in charter schools. These charter schools are not going away. Another half a million students are in private schools thanks to the support of taxpayer funding or tax credit scholarships. Those scholarships are not going away either. At the same time, the meteoric growth of these initiatives has slowed. Numbers are no longer leaping forward but are merely ticking up.
Meanwhile, alternative certification programs now produce at least a fifth of all new teachers. We are not going back to a time when traditional, university-based teacher preparation programs had the exclusive right to train teachers.
And even testing—that hated policy with no natural constituency—is now entrenched, at least until the Every Student Succeeds Act comes up for reauthorization. It appears, knock on wood, that the testing backlash is starting to recede, thanks, I would argue, to policymakers addressing many of the concerns of the testing critics. The underlying academic standards are stronger and clearer; the tests are more sophisticated and rigorous, and encourage better teaching; and the state accountability systems that turn test results into school ratings are fairer and easier to understand; and teacher evaluation systems have been mostly defanged. And truth be told, school accountability systems no longer have much to do with “accountability,” but are really about “transparency”—telling parents and taxpayers and educators the truth of how their schools and students are performing, but mostly leaving it to local communities to decide what to do about underperformance, if anything. All of this has made testing and accountability, if not popular, at least less unpopular.
So we have reached a homeostasis in education policy, characterized by clearer and fairer but lighter touch accountability systems; the incremental growth of school choice options for families; but no appetite for big and bold new initiatives.
To be sure, there are still fights—battles in state legislatures between reform advocates and their opponents, and sometimes little skirmishes in Congress, but they are at the margins. Should we spend a little more or a little less? Grow the charter sector a bit or shrink it a smidge? Add some regulations or reduce some? Throw out PARCC or keep it? Use A–F grades or something less clear? Add indicators around social and emotional learning or stick mostly to test scores?
Those are important but, compared to the broad policy shifts of the ed reform era, small ball. What’s important to acknowledge is that the period of big new policy initiatives stemming from Washington or the state capitols appears to be over, at least for now.
Our “End of History” will not last forever. It is fleeting. But it provides a real opportunity while it is here.
The opportunity is, for us as a field, to finish what we started, for us to usher in a Golden Age of Educational Practice. To implement the higher standards with fidelity. To improve teacher preparation and development. To strengthen charter school oversight and quality. To make the promise of high quality Career and Technical Education real.
It’s not a moment too soon. As my colleague Robert Pondiscio has long argued, a focus on education practice is sorely needed. That’s because, despite real progress in recent decades, we are still so far from where we need to go. Reading and math achievement rose dramatically in the late 1990s and early 2000s, especially for the lowest-income and lowest performing students. But it’s been mostly flat since then; the latest NAEP scores marked a “Lost Decade” for educational progress. And while high school graduation rates are higher than ever—in part because of those achievement gains ten or fifteen years ago—more than half of our students graduate from high school without the academic preparation to succeed in what’s next. More than half. They aren’t ready for a four-year university program. They aren’t ready for a one year or two year technical training program. They aren’t ready to take a good paying job. They are not ready.
So while policymakers might be taking a break from education policy, we cannot afford to take a break from educational improvement.
But how? How can we get 14,000 local school systems, and 7,000 charter schools, rowing in the direction of better outcomes for kids, if big new policy initiatives are off the table?
In coming weeks I will explore those questions, and welcome others to do the same. The challenge is to think big enough so that initiatives might have an impact at scale—to move the needle on the Nation’s Report Card; or to lead to a significant increase in postsecondary completion rates, especially for low-income students and students of color; or to boost the number of young people prepared to earn a family-sustaining wage, thanks to strong education and training. Once you start thinking about continental scale, and take policy off the table, there are no easy answers. Though I do believe there are some possibilities, especially if philanthropists are willing to come to the table.
But it can’t just be wishful thinking. Let’s go back to Francis Fukuyama. Imagine if we had spent the 1990s helping Russia make a successful transition to a real democracy, or working to cushion the working classes in the U.S. and Europe from the ill effects of global trade, or paying more attention to the growing risks from radical fundamentalists around the world? We might not face our current predicaments.
So too with our opportunity. If we take a break from the hard work of educational improvement, if we accept another “lost decade” of academic achievement, we will be giving up on the futures of millions of kids, and we will set the stage for another era of top-down policies that may or may not help our schools. We cannot afford to fritter away these years. We must continue to act.
The leadership for this Golden Age of Educational Practice is not coming from Washington, and it’s not coming from the states. It needs to come from each of us.
You’ve seen plenty of comments and speculations on what last week’s election means for K–12 education (or will mean if they ever finish counting the ballots and filing lawsuits.) But not until this week did you see the conclusion by my friend Jay Mathews that education should be left to the teachers and the politicians should butt out.
Jay is right about more or less everything. But would you really leave war exclusively to the soldiers or entrust health care entirely to doctors? I’ll wager not. Yes, of course they’re on the front lines. They have to do the heavy lifting and incur the casualties—and we should all be grateful, the more so because they (well, infantrymen, not neurosurgeons!) get little compensation for it. That does not, however, mean they should be in charge of the big policy decisions or left to do their own thing without guidance from policy types.
We don’t expect military units to do their own thing in the field, or decide which fields to enter. (If they did, I doubt you’d find them guarding the Mexican border right now.) It’s true that one of the innovations in Iraq was to give greater autonomy to officers in the field, but that came with lots of training, support, and coordination. And those are officers, not nineteen-year-olds with deadly weapons. As for medicine, we expect doctors to be professionals and make sound judgments on behalf of patients, but we also expect them to follow professional guidelines based on evidence, and to operate—for better and worse—within the constraints and economics of a thousand policies and regulations bearing on licensure, reimbursement, and more.
In the state I know best—Maryland—leaving it to the teachers doesn’t mean entrusting it to that nice Ms. Reynolds in Jemma’s sixth grade classroom. It means turning it over to a potent statewide teachers union that pulls innumerable legislative strings, which is enough to overrule or counteract just about every serious reformist impulse that tiptoes into Annapolis.
Maryland is not alone. The main reason that new blue majorities are a threat to education reform in places like the New York State Senate is precisely because of the influence wielded by teacher unions, influence that, sadly (if understandably), gets wielded 99.9 percent of the time on behalf of organized adult interests, the kind that thrive within the system as it is today, not the interests of children or taxpayers who may be ill-served by that system.
What’s more, elected officials can make good things happen that wouldn’t otherwise happen. (Sure, they also sometimes make bad things happen.) They are why millions of kids and families now have school choices they wouldn’t otherwise have. Jay points to charter schools as creations of teachers, and at the micro-level he’s substantially correct, but there’d be no charter schools if there were no policies created by politicians (in the face of opposition by teacher unions). They are also why we have explicit statewide academic standards and metrics for knowing how well our schools, districts, and children are doing against them. They are why we have at least a semblance of accountability by which changes get made—well, undertaken—in chronically bad schools.
Elected officials are also to be thanked for much of the huge spread over the past several decades of the Advanced Placement program that Jay Mathews has often lauded, including in his recent column. Were it not for state (and sometimes even federal) policies and programs that promote and subsidize AP, there’d be far less of it. The same can be said for dual credit. Publicly-financed pre-school. And much more.
Yes, the politicians must be kept in their proper lanes, not put in charge of what Ms. Reynolds teaches during fourth period on Tuesday or how she grades Jemma’s book review. But a balance needs to be struck. There’s no perfect way to govern education—and we have many different structures for doing this across the country’s fifty states and 14,000 districts—and that’s without even getting into structures such as charter authorizers that don’t fit smoothly under either of those headings. But almost all of them entail a form of “civilian control” over what goes on in schools, the resources available to schools, and the rules by which schools connect with their employees, their clients and the taxpayers who foot most of the bill. That’s as it should be.
Mrs. Reynolds is indispensible. But so are the policy folks, even though they, too, periodically screw up. And in order to have policies and policy folks, we’re destined to live with politicians and endure elections such as the one we’re presently trying to get finished with. Hurrah for teachers—but education is too important to be entrusted exclusively to them. Please reconsider, Jay!
For the first three weeks of the year, Erin Woods did not say a word to her students during precalculus class, and they were furious. She was their tutor last year, and they knew she was great at Math, so why would she not help them? In fact, she was under strict orders from me to observe and observe only.
Erin is a Math Fellow at City on a Hill Charter Public Schools, for which I am the Director of Teacher Development and Licensure, and was in her first weeks of City on a Hill’s Urban Teaching Fellowship. As a fellow, her priority for the first three weeks was to learn by watching every move of her mentor, Joanie Decopain. During those crucial weeks of putting in place classroom expectations and the systems and routines that students will follow for the whole year, Erin watched silently and absorbed every detail.
Pure observation—so rare for teachers who have thousands of interactions with their students every day—allows teaching fellows to pause and reflect on “teacher moves” that might otherwise go undetected and unexamined. As an observer, Erin took notes on what she saw and recorded questions to bring to Joanie for debriefing. When Joanie chose to stop the class to reset expectations, for instance, Erin asked how she chose that moment to do it.
Researchers have suggested that teachers make four educational decisions every minute or more than 1,500 educational decisions every day. That is not something a new teacher can be expected to do well without the proper training and practice. Many teachers have no idea of the demands they will face until the moment they are in front of their own classroom and either sink or swim.
The Urban Teaching Fellowship at City on a Hill is based on the notion that great teaching is something you learn through authentic experience and practice. Fellows complete an Ed.M in Curriculum and Instruction at Boston University while serving as full-time faculty members at City on a Hill. For four months, they ramp up gradually from observation to working with small groups and leading chunks of class. After the first three weeks of learning through observation, fellows are released to engage with students and take on select teaching responsibilities. In January, fellows take over as the lead teacher for two classes, and at that point the mentor teacher leaves the room and returns just once a week for observation and feedback.
A few years ago, Joanie was a fellow herself, and she is committed to passing on what she learned now that she is a mentor. From her perspective, the strength of the program is the relationship between the fellow and the mentor. Of her experience with her mentor Allison Curran, now the Math Instructional Content Specialist for the City on a Hill Network, Joanie says, “We knew we were in it together. We were going to be together for the whole year. We had goals we were both working on, and we helped each other achieve those goals.”
Now that she is a mentor, Joanie is discovering that she has plenty to learn from that experience as well. Erin often observes interpersonal dynamics going on in the classroom that she puts on Joanie’s radar for the next day. This gives Joanie the opportunity to reflect aloud and problem solve with a thought partner who also knows the students well. Being a mentor puts a teacher in the vulnerable position of being observed every day, sometimes at their best but sometimes at their worst too. Joanie says, “It’s a risk, but it allows me as a mentor to grow as a teacher too.”
The Urban Teaching Fellowship embodies the belief that teaching is a complex craft that requires training and practice. What does Erin have to say about that?
“Students cannot achieve excellence if they do not have teachers who can get them there, and teachers cannot achieve excellence for themselves or their students if there is no model they can learn from.”
Erin frequently expresses her gratitude for Joanie’s mentoring, but the real beneficiaries of Joanie’s expertise will be Erin’s students next year. They will have a teacher who is ready on Day 1, and they will learn more because of it.
Carrie Wagner is the Director of Teacher Development and Licensure at City on a Hill Charter Public Schools.
This article was originally published on the blog of the National Association for Public Charter Schoools.
When West Virginia teachers walked out on strike this February, education received a lot of attention in the national news media. Reports on strikes around the country over the next few months provided some unusually vivid insight into the way reporters think, talk, and write about education. Frederick M. Hess and RJ Martin at the American Enterprise Institute took advantage of this opportunity to publish a study on coverage of the strikes; they found headlines to be “remarkably impartial”—although details embedded later in most of the articles skewed treatment disproportionately in favor of the strike.
To understand how the media presented this story to the nation, Hess and Martin analyzed every article covering the strikes from five national newspapers: The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and USA Today. They evaluated whether each headline and lead supported, rejected, or was neutral toward the strikers’ cause. They also tabulated who was quoted in each article, what position each speaker took, and how much information on teacher compensation was included.
Of fifty-nine total headlines, fifty-six were neutral toward the strike. The authors offer this Wall Street Journal example: “West Virginia Teachers Go On Statewide Strike.” The remaining three headlines favored strikers. Similarly, fifty-six of fifty-nine opening paragraphs—or leads—presented information with a neutral stance.
Deeper analysis of whom reporters chose to represent in their stories yields more nuanced results. The articles included 254 quotes from 170 different individuals. Most frequently quoted were state and local officials, who enjoyed remarkable diversity in their represented views. But while parents and students were arguably most affected by the strikes, they accounted for only five percent of the quotes. Most of those quotes (80 percent) supported the strikes, but as the authors point out, an Education Next poll at the time found only 53 percent of the public held that view. It is possible that parents, only a subset of “the public,” were this much more supportive of the strike, but the authors are skeptical. Teachers and union leaders were also disproportionately presented as pro-strikes, based on available polling data.
The authors also find that most reports inadequately communicated the full context surrounding teacher compensation. All the articles mentioned annual salaries, and 98 percent quantified those salaries. But yearly pay is only one component of teacher pay, along with health benefits, pension, and longer-than-average leave time. Nearly half the articles mentioned health benefits as a factor in the debate, although only 15 percent quantified them, and barely 3 percent quantified pension value. And no news story referenced time off during summers. Additionally, a handful of reporters compared teacher salaries to salaries in other states, but very few compared the debated salaries to the state’s own median household income.
Hess and Martin’s report comes at a time when the press, and the public, is debating news media’s place in the national discourse. Their findings highlight the hard questions that emerge as soon as we dig below the surface of “non-biased,” questions about representation and how much content and context can fit into a single news article. It is at least encouraging that so many leads, the only portion of an article that most readers choose to read anyway, presented a neutral view of the strikes.
SOURCE: Frederick M. Hess and RJ Martin, “How Did Major Newspapers Cover the 2018 Teacher Strikes?” The American Enterprise Institute (August 2018).
A recent report published by the United States Census Bureau uses survey responses on parental interaction, school engagement, and extracurricular activities to give insight into the educational outcomes of America’s children. The report offers a sobering glimpse of how parental interactions with children dominate education outcomes.
Researchers Brian Knop and Julie Siebens used responses from the first wave of the 2014 Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP), a monthly survey administered to a nationally representative panel over several years, though for the purpose of this report panel responses were limited to those of parents or guardians. SIPP collects household economic and demographic information, as well as information specific to the well-being of individuals, such as home conditions and food security. For this report, Knop and Siebens used child-specific well-being indicators to influence their findings on the daily experiences of children today, disaggregated by age and demographic factors. Researchers controlled for the sampling and non-sampling errors in survey responses.
Positive parental interactions are correlated with a child’s well-being. And overall, parents reported frequent interactions with their children—except in regular reading at home, which was much more common among white children than black or Hispanic. In all race categories, at least 85 percent of parents reported eating dinner with their children at least five nights a week. Similarly, at least 80 percent of children of each race went on two or more weekly outings with their mom or dad. Yet parents reading with their children showed greater disparities among races. Although 76 percent of white children were read to at least five days a week, the percentage was much less among black and Hispanic children: 55 and 48 percent, respectively. Reading regularly at home has a positive impact on a child’s literacy and oral skills, so this gap perpetuates disadvantage.
The researchers also found that children who participate in three or more activities (sports, clubs, etc.) were more engaged in school than those who participated in no activities. They determined engagement based on whether students reported caring about how they did in school, always doing homework, and being self-motivated. Unsurprisingly, children in poverty are less likely to regularly engage in extracurricular programs. Fifty-seven percent of children between the ages six to eleven from families at least 400 percent above the poverty line participated in sports, for example—more than twice as often as the 24 percent below the line.
Lower levels of parent education are also correlated with comparatively poor child outcomes. Students with moms and dads who have less than a high school education are three times more likely to be expelled or repeat a grade than those whose parents have a college degree or higher. They’re also almost three times less likely to participate in gifted programs—12 percent versus 32 percent.
The report isn’t prescriptive and is limited by its use of survey data, but it does suggest many ways parents’ actions can affect their children’s educational outcomes and widen—or narrow—achievement gaps.
SOURCE: Knop, Brian, and Julie Siebens. “A Child’s Day: Parental Interaction, School Engagement, and Extracurricular Activities: 2014, ” United States Census Bureau (November 2018).
On this week’s podcast, Erin Lockett, a senior policy analyst at the Foundation for Excellence in Education, joins Mike Petrilli and David Griffith to discuss her organization’s recent report on access to rigorous coursework in high school. On the Research Minute, Amber Northern examines the effects of a free-college initiative on graduation rates in New Mexico.
Amber’s Research Minute
Christopher Patrick Erwin and Melissa Binder, “Does Broad-Based Merit Aid Improve College Completion? Evidence from New Mexico's Lottery Scholarship,” Education Finance and Policy (July 2018).