• January 27, 2015 09:32 AM At Last, the Orleans Parish School District Has a New Superintendent - Now what?

    After a search that lasted more than two and a half years, the New Orleans Parish School Board found a new superintendent. Henderson Lewis Jr. was the board’s unanimous choice and he will soon have the opportunity to start the 180-Day action plan he presented during his interview.

    The Jan. 20 selection is cause for celebration - the board can reach consensus. However, let’s hope “Doc” Lewis can rally this disparate group of politicos for longer than the time it took to hire him (did I say two and a half years?). Navigating the political waters is difficult for any school superintendent, but it has been particularly challenging for those who have served as the New Orleans Parish chief. And while the district is considerably smaller than it was pre-Katrina (approximately 120 before the storm, 20 today), Lewis is the 10th anniversary superintendent.

    There is a tacit assumption if not hope that public schools in New Orleans could actually return to the auspices of New Orleanians. However, if the current board can’t shed the earned reputation of being indecisive, argumentative and self-serving then those hopes are mere pipe dreams. Lewis certainly knows both sides of the board-administrator relationship. Prior to his new job, Lewis had been Supt. of East Feliciana Parish Public Schools since 2012. He has also served on the St. Bernard Parish School Board since 2008. Lewis has direct experience working inside the complicated system of schools in New Orleans. He was a principal and administrator in the Algiers Charter School Association, “founded in 2005 by a nonprofit board comprised of members from the Orleans Parish School Board and neighborhood representatives.”

    Related: What are New Orleans parents looking for when picking schools?

    Lewis may not need any counsel, but I asked a few folks involved in the local scene to dispense some.

    I requested that a few members of the education community answer two questions:

    What advice do you give Henderson Lewis, new superintendent of Orleans Parish Public Schools for his first year on the job? And what do you think Supt. Lewis’s top two priorities should be?

    Here is what the experts had to say:

    Sharhonda Bossier, vice president, advocacy and engagement, Cities for Educational Entrepreneurship Trust

    Sharhonda Bossier

    Sharhonda Bossier

    There are two dominant and competing narratives about efforts to improve public education in New Orleans. One narrative claims that we have solved the public education crisis, triumphed over the achievement gap, and that the overwhelming majority of students are in great schools. The other narrative disputes that any real or meaningful gains in student achievement have been made in the past decade and claims that white, privileged outsiders have wrested control of New Orleans public schools under the guise of reform, decimating the black teaching force as a result. I would urge the superintendent to work to bring all stakeholders back to the table and focus on ALL of the children of New Orleans who deserve access to a great school.

    Convening community conversations about what has been done to improve public education in New Orleans with the goal of creating a sense of a shared version of reality and vision for how to move forward to better serve ALL students. Also in [Orleans Parish] operated schools, increase autonomy to allow educators to create and lead schools, while holding them accountable for how quickly students are learning.  Giving principals and teachers more control will allow resources and interventions to be directed in ways that are best for students. 

    Amanda Stenson, New Orleans Public School Parent and STAND for Children Parent Leader

    “He should immediately get out and visit the schools. Listen to the people actually in the school building: educators, support staff, parents and students and allow them to help set his vision. With their support behind him, he can do anything.”[/pullquote]I would try and impress upon Mr. Lewis the importance of building consensus and earning the trust of the community and our schools so that we can move forward. I think our new superintendent has to focus on ensuring that the system works, that all the players are communicating, doing their parts and are working together to achieve goals. I would ask him to engage the community and be exceptionally transparent and forthcoming, to BE that strong leader, that champion our children, our schools, our community desperately needs.

    He will have to craft a system that makes our children’s needs, their success the priority, and that has clear, realistic, and achievable goals, one that will support our schools, teachers, our educational leaders in achieving those goals. He needs to create a system, an environment, that our schools will want to return to and that the community feels good about them returning to.

    Karran Harper Royal, education advocate

    Karran Harper Royale

    Karran Harper Royale

    My advice to Dr. Henderson Lewis is to authentically engage the community in determining a vision for the future of the district. I would also suggest that Dr. Lewis makes sure the district toots its own horn when it comes to the [Orleans Parish] schools that have operated very successfully as open admissions schools over the last nine years.

    Find ways to rectify the problems of the McDonogh #35 Academy and expand the other successful schools so that more families can access [Orleans Parish] schools. In addition, Supt. Lewis should focus on re-unifying the district while improving academic performance of all of the [Orleans Parish] schools.

    Flozell Daniels, president and CEO, Foundation for Louisiana

    Flozell Daniels

    Flozell Daniels

    It’s critical that the board has in Dr. Lewis an expert guide and coach on education policy and the creation of priorities for these policies that are singularly focused on student achievement.  The board, the public, and most important, the students and teachers need to see a leader who’s bringing them into alignment.  The standard should be that we all know what the top three to five priorities are and how we expect to succeed in them, including the things that the schools system can directly impact - as well as the things that the “public” has to step up to in supporting public education as a public good.

    [Orleans Parish] must be the premiere place to work in public education. Faculty, principals, staff and (in the case of charters) board members must see clear indicators that [Orleans Parish] has the talent and capacity to support successful work environments that help drive practices known to improve student achievement. Dr. Lewis must work hand-in-hand with these constituents to create this space as a permanent installation in the education landscape - the system will only be as good as how we expect to succeed in them, including the things that the schools system can directly impact - as well as the things that the “public” has to step up to in supporting public education as a public good. Its people.

    Dr. Lewis must make [Orleans Parish] the standard bearer for truly leaving no child behind. Specifically, he has to significantly improve the identification and assurances that we’re retaining and graduating as many of our children as possible by closing the leaks between 7th and 12th grades where students are dropped/pushed out of the system. Doing so would eliminate growing concerns that New Orleans is losing its best opportunity to educate the next generation of thinkers, leaders and workers - and give confidence to the social justice community that we have answers for the children and families who carry the heaviest burden of New Orleans’ back-breaking poverty and discrimination.

    Rashida Govan, education consultant and researcher

    Rashida Govan

    Rashida Govan

    My advice would be to build alliances and relationships with key stakeholders to engender trust in his leadership of [Orleans Parish]. By building the confidence of key stakeholders in his leadership, Dr. Lewis can better position Orleans Parish Public Schools to receive schools back to local control. To do this, he must have a vision for the future that offers a more sustainable model of public education, preserves the autonomy of its schools, and increases schools’ accountability for the education of all our children.

    Dr. Lewis should focus heavily on ensuring that the policies, practices and systems that manage Orleans Parish Public Schools promote equity in all areas it touches. Issues such as improving language access for families of English Language Learners, ensuring Disadvantaged Business Enterprise compliance, increasing high quality school options for families, and full participation of [Orleans Parish] schools in the One App are just some of the key equity issues that require his attention. Dr. Lewis should also focus his attention on building the capacity of Orleans Parish Public Schools to effectively receive schools back into local control. 

    Erika McConduit-Diggs, CEO, Urban League of Greater New Orleans

    Erika McConduit-Diggs

    Erika McConduit-Diggs

    Dr. Lewis should leverage his first hand knowledge of the NOLA public school landscape coupled with his experience as a superintendent and board member in other districts to bring out the changes needed to reestablish trust, decorum, and leadership while working to bridge the gap between community, accountability, and excellence.  Both inside and outside the classroom, there are opportunities for innovation.  Dr. Lewis should incorporate partners to help navigate and create pathways for growth in human capital development, academics, inclusion strategies, operational efficiencies, social innovation, procurement, and civic engagement – all of which appropriately connect education to the community as a whole.

    [His top two priorities should be] quality and equity. By focusing on quality as a guiding principle, student achievement, teacher and school leader development, curriculum advancement, enrichment experiences, and school choice options should all improve. By focusing on equity, students and families of all races, abilities, and economic brackets should fairly access educational, occupational, and entrepreneurial opportunities available through public education in New Orleans. 

    Caroline Roemer, executive director of Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools and parent of New Orleans public school student

    Caroline Roemer

    Caroline Roemer

    He should immediately get out and visit the schools. Listen to the people actually in the school building: Educators, support staff, parents and students and allow them to help set his vision. With their support behind him, he can do anything.

    Plan, create and communicate a vision for the most unique school district in the country, including an academic vision for [Orleans Parish’s] direct operated schools. He should support the [Orleans Parish] Charter School Office and lead the board to a better understanding of how to be a quality charter school authorizer including setting high standards around academics and finances, creation of equitable policies that strive to meet the needs of all students, and directing as much money to classrooms as possible.

    Evaluate. As Supt. his job should not be about day to day operations of schools. Instead, he needs figure out how to innovate and create an organization that provides support and oversight to our schools. That efforts needs to include an evaluation of every central office employee and to determine which positions sill make sense in this nontraditional education landscape.

    Lead. As someone who has sat through seven years of [Orleans Parish] board meetings, I personally hope he will be bold and assertive and lead this school board on path that focuses on kids and education. He must set the tone early in the public meetings, showing zero tolerance for the bully like behavior of both board and audience members, and instead create an atmosphere that embraces input from educators, parents and community stakeholders.

    LaVonsell Rogers-Thaggard, former teacher in New Orleans Parish Schools (taught for 14 years until hurricane Katrina).

    LaVonsell Rogers-Thaggard

    LaVonsell Rogers-Thaggard

    Take the time to learn and understand how departments and schools within the system operate. Don’t try to change everything at once. Prioritize one or two major things that need change, map out an efficient and effective replacement strategy or model, and start there the first year.

    [Priorities should be:] Human Resources – Providing enough highly qualified teachers (including enough special education teachers) in classes with manageable and reasonable class sizes (Max 20-25 students).

    Provide support and professional development for teachers in areas the teachers indicate they need help. Erase the culture where teachers feel their careers are under attack and create a culture where teacher’s efforts and dedication are appreciated.

    (edited for length and clarity)

    [Cross-posted at The Hechinger Report]

  • January 26, 2015 01:03 PM Debunking One Myth About U.S. Teachers

    Screen Shot 2015-01-23 at 9.45.07 AM

    Screen Shot 2015-01-23 at 9.45.29 AM

    Charts by Jill Barshay. Data source: Who Enters Teaching? Encouraging Evidence that the Status of Teaching is Improving, Educational Researcher, December 2014

    Back in 2010, McKinsey & Company issued a report that made a powerful argument: the world’s top performing school systems draw teachers from the best and brightest in their societies, but in the United States, almost half of new teachers come from the bottom third, as measured by SAT scores.  It’s been cited by a New York Times columnist and by officials at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development to suggest what the United States might do differently to improve its education system.

    But several new research papers suggest that U.S. teacher quality never declined as badly as that report said, and by 2010 had already turned around markedly for the better. For example, a detailed study of new teachers in New York state, published in December 2014 in Educational Researcher, found that at the worst point — in 1999 — almost 30 percent of new teachers came from the bottom third, as measured by SAT scores. Another thirty percent came from the top third. Ten years later, in 2010, the number of new teachers coming from the top third had risen dramatically, to more than 40 percent. And fewer than 20 percent of new teachers scored in the bottom third.

    The New York State data is echoed nationally. A 2013 study by Dan Goldhaber and Joe Walch at the University of Washington found rising test scores for new teachers. Another, as-yet-unpublished Stanford study confirms that the SAT and ACT scores of a typical new teacher had declined to the 42nd percentile in 2000 — a middling figure, not a bottom one. By 2008, those average scores had risen 6 percentage points, to the 48th percentile.

    “The idea that teachers have consistently come from the lower third is just wrong,” said Susanna Loeb of Stanford University, a co-author of both the New York state paper and the forthcoming national study, in an email exchange.

    Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), has been a critic of the quality of rookie teachers.  She called the rising academic caliber of new teachers in New York state “good news.”

    “But my problem is that there are still large numbers of teacher candidates who don’t meet that standard,” Walsh said. “This is a trend. This isn’t mission accomplished.

    To be sure, 48th percentile still means that 52 percent — more than half — of all SAT and ACT test takers scored higher than the average new teacher.

    It has long been known that the academic abilities of new teachers declined from the 1960s through the 1990s. In large part, that’s because many bright women, who had traditionally gone into teaching, suddenly had many other professional opportunities open to them, from law and medicine to business. But it was unclear precisely how far the academic ability of the teaching profession fell. Newer data from the National Center for Education Statistics now tracks individual students as they graduate from college and enter various sectors of the workforce (known as the Baccalaureate and Beyond surveys). And that is why education researchers can now more accurately calculate the SAT and ACT scores of people who enter the teaching profession.

    Of course, SAT and ACT scores are an imperfect measure of academic ability. And some experts argue that teachers who were once struggling students themselves can make the best teachers. Still, rising test scores are a sign that the teaching profession is becoming more desirable to young adults.

    In the unpublished national paper, a chart shows that new teachers in 2008 came pretty evenly from throughout the SAT distribution. Back in 1993 and again in 2000, new teachers were more likely to have had a SAT score in the lower percentiles. In other words, 20 years ago there were very few top SAT scorers entering teaching. Now there are many more. The authors found that schools in big cities with high minority populations were particularly successful at recruiting teachers with higher SAT scores.

    When you dig deeper in to the national numbers, it shows that math SAT and ACT scores are driving the improvement. Math scores for teachers reached a low in 2000 and then rose strongly. Verbal test scores increased only modestly.

    In contrast to the good news in public schools, the authors found that the academic skills of teachers going into private elementary education have fallen.  Back in 1993, the typical hire at a private elementary school had SAT scores that were 4 points higher than her or his public school counterpart. By 2008, they were 5 percentage points lower. Because of the SAT slide of new private elementary school teachers, the “ability gap” (measured by these tests) between private and public school teachers shrank to nearly zero in 2008. Private high school teachers continue to have higher SAT scores than public high school teachers.

    There could be a variety of explanations for why stronger students are going into teaching. One hypothesis is that schools could be pickier in their hiring during an economic recession, with fewer spots to fill and more candidates. But it’s also possible that policy changes that stiffened teacher credentialing, including new requirements in the 2001 No Child Left Behind education act, raised the standards for incoming teachers. Teach for America, which recruits high-ability students to teach, contributed to the SAT score increase, too, but those recruits weren’t numerous enough to account for most of the rise.  NCTQ’s Walsh credits the efforts of former New York City Education Commissioner Joel Klein to recruit high-caliber college graduates to teach in low-income schools, and said she believes that the city then became a role model for the rest of the state.

    The improved caliber of new teachers hasn’t yet translated into improved performance, in the form of higher international test scores. At least among 15-year-olds tested on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), the U.S. didn’t improve in the most recent 2012 tests. Maybe we (or McKinsey) will have to come up with another reason that the U.S. school system isn’t ranking at the top internationally.

    [Cross-posted at The Hechinger Report]

  • January 26, 2015 08:45 AM How Cyber Hacks Are Changing Higher Ed

    From UMass Boston to Vermont’s Champlain College, institutes of higher education are trying to boost the number of graduates in a field that barely existed ten years ago: cyber security. And colleges and universities are scrambling to keep up with increased cyber security threats.

    For the past two decades, David Kaeli has been teaching electrical and computer engineering at Northeastern University. Now, a rash of cyber hacks is changing how and what he teaches.

    “Security has to be a topic that’s covered whether you’re teaching a digital design course or you’re teaching a programming language course or an operating course,” Kaeli says. “Where are the holes?”

    Over at a homeland security facility in Burlington, Massachusetts, Northeastern students are solving actual cyber crimes. The university is offering cross-disciplinary degrees in cyber security as well as scholarships for students who serve two or three years in federal, state and local government cyber security jobs.

    And Kaeli says the university can’t find enough students to fill open slots. “We need to instill in our students an appreciation not just for technologies but also for policy, so the two combined can be much more effective.”

    By modest estimates, more than 209,000 cyber security jobs in the U.S. are unfilled, and postings are up 74 percent over the past five years.

    Still, we’re only now seeing cyber security being taught in policy courses.

    “I don’t think that we’re even out of the starting block here,” says New York Times Chief Washington Correspondent David Sanger, an expert on cyber security.

    In the cave-like basement of Harvard’s Widener Library, Sanger is taping an online course about Iran and national security, which also covers cyber warfare.

    “The cyber domain offers all kinds potential sabotage for slowing down programs and for deterring the Iranians from going any further,” he says, looking into the camera.

    Sanger enrolled in this course back when he was a student at Harvard in the 1980s. Today, he’s teaching it, drawing from today’s headlines in his lectures.

    “The hardest thing about teaching anything about cyber security is the same thing that’s the hard part about writing and reporting about cyber security, which is, it’s moving so fast,” Sanger explains.

    Listen to our extended interview with David Sanger:

    While colleges are offering more courses that focus on how to lock down systems and how to protect against hackers, Sanger says they are not addressing the real problem: there’s no playbook for how nations should deal with cyber threats.

    RelatedColleges Targeted for Future Cyber Attacks

    “The fascinating thing is that we are learning about this weapon and its effect on the way states interact with each other the same way we learned how nuclear weapons changed the way states interacted with each other during the Cold War,” Sanger says.

    In fact, cyber attacks are changing the relationship between the U.S. and China, Russia and now North Korea. Sanger says government should learn from the recent hack into Sony Entertainment’s servers, which released private information and dozens of blockbuster films.

    “I think the most interesting thing that you’ll learn from the Sony case is that the major cyber conflicts that we’re heading into may not have to do with turning off the lights and turning off the water and turning off the cell phone systems,” Sanger explains. “They may instead be this odd blur of nations using cyber for coercion to achieve certain goals but to take what in the course we call short-of-war action.”

    Sanger says that blur is different even from a few years ago when experts thought cyber was just another form of espionage.

    In the end, Sanger says, higher education is not adapting quickly enough to today’s threats, in part, because most faculty have been trained in yesterday’s weapons.

    [Cross-posted at On Campus: The WGBH Higher Education Blog]

  • January 23, 2015 09:04 AM Year-Round Pell Grants: What You Know is Probably Not True

    The year-round Pell Grant was a widely misunderstood federal program. Despite existing for just a few short years, it has garnered a reputation as overly expensive and poorly implemented. But these popular myths disguise the true story of a valuable program that fell victim to broader economic circumstances beyond its control and years of Congressional unwillingness to address funding challenges.

    Those are the key findings from “Myths and Misunderstandings: The Undeserved Legacy of Year-Round Pell Grants,” published today by New America’s Education Policy Program. It sets the record straight on what happened to the year-round grant.

    The Pell Grant program helps millions of students from low-income families finance their higher educations each year with $32 billion in federal funds that support a maximum grant of $5,730 per student. Students can use the grants at virtually every type of school for a wide range of credentials, from certificates, two-year degrees and bachelor’s degrees. Today, however, full-time students cannot use the grants year-round, thanks to the way the Pell Grant program operates.

    There was a brief period when that wasn’t the case. In late 2008, as part of the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, President Bush and a Democratically-controlled Congress made a common-sense change that  let students who had exhausted their Pell Grants in a school year and wanted to take more classes, access additional grant aid.

    But in early 2011, President Obama and Congress ended this so-called year-round Pell Grant. Why? Many in the higher education community — including authoritative sources from Congress, the Obama administration, and the Congressional Research Service — will say it was because the program was flawed. Up until now, however, no one has examined those claims.

    To find out what actually happened, we carefully reviewed the history of the year-round Pell Grant, the statute and regulations that implemented it, budget statistics, and the rationales given for its elimination. We also interviewed experts inside and outside the executive branch and Congress. What we found was not gross incompetence, abuse, or ill-designed policy that many believed plagued the original program.

    The new paper scrutinizes common claims such as: students inadvertently received larger grants than intended; a year-round benefit shouldn’t increase the cost of the overall Pell Grant program; for-profit colleges abused the program; and the Department of Education botched the implementation of the program, diving costs higher.

    Ultimately, the paper shows that the year-round program was buffeted by the same forces that caused every other part of the Pell Grant program to rise in cost. And those forces coincided with decisions Congress had made that exacerbated funding problems with the overall Pell Grant program. Ending year-round grants became an expedient way to trim costs without sacrificing more visible parts of the broader Pell Grant program.

    You can read the paper here.

    [Cross-posted at Ed Central]

  • January 22, 2015 03:45 PM Public School: Our Best Weapon Against Terror Attacks on Freedom of Speech?

    Waving flags and pens won’t unify a country like public schools can.

    If you want more patriotic citizens, then demand the integration of public schools. Protect the country from inside the schoolhouse out.

    This month’s attacks in Paris were both unpredictable and expected. Harder to defuse, lone-wolf terrorist plots continue to sprout abroad and in the U.S. Many domestic efforts have been foiled since 9/11, but one U.S. official said of decentralized attacks, “It’s like the war on drugs. This isn’t going to stop.”

    Comparing terrorism to drug addiction is not the most useful view of human behavior. But the aforementioned quote does illuminate that security forces must continuously lean on prevention as a necessary defense against decentralized terror attacks.

    Integrated, effective public schools are more likely to bond young people closer to a country than flag waving, allegiance checks ever will.

    The anti-Islamic protests in Germany certainly didn’t seek to build social cohesion.

    Former President of France Nicolas Sarkozy’s efforts to raise a countrywide dialogue on national identity also raised ethnocentric beliefs of what it means to be a Frenchmen. In the U.S., the rhetoric of  “take back the country” can’t be unifying.

    Who’s afraid of patriotism? It’s right to bolster love for a country among members as a primary prevention strategy, but that won’t happened by insidiously alienating minority groups or elevating certain classes of people.

    Quality public schools literally give students a common language, provide opportunity for social advancement and when effective, give students a boat for the mainstream.

    Whether we’re talking about radicalized jihadists or right wing aggressors who are resistant to ethnic, racial and religious diversity, countries must assume that alienation leads to radical acts of terror.

    Said and Cherif Kouachi were more members of the underclass than of mainstream French society. Limited job opportunities, incarceration, as well as educational, residential and social isolation all till the soil of terrorism. Consequently, countries should maximize connectedness and foster a greater sense of loyalty to the nation - patriotism - in ways that truly reflect its devoted members.

    We can’t only react to lone-wolf style aggressions. Prevention has to be rooted in patriotism, which should foster beliefs and traditions that compel disparate members to share a sense of fate. Schools don’t simply prepare students for the workforce. History, language arts, civics and other classes acculturate students into our constantly evolving conception of what it means to be American.

    As an aside, the GOP efforts to hitch Homeland Security funding to Obama’s executive actions on immigration, particularly Blackburn amendments that target the Dream Act, are counterproductive. Why alienate people who are likely to be citizens? Isn’t homeland security chiefly about promoting safety among neighbors - citizen and non-citizens?

    [Cross-posted at The Hechinger Report]

  • January 21, 2015 05:51 PM Gov. Bobby Jindal, Policy Wonk

    No comment.


  • January 21, 2015 04:00 PM Today in Bad Marketing Campaigns, a College without “College”

    Those of us who follow higher education know that if one thing is constant in higher education it’s the effort colleges make to “rebrand” themselves, as more selective, more Christian, more artistic, or the ever-popular “more prestigious.”

    American colleges are, compared to the rest of the world, mostly pretty new. Some of this is understandable because so many institutions are really still figuring out what they want to be. But it turns out this sort of behavior is not unique to the United States.

    King’s College London a public research university in London, technically a part of the University of London, was founded in 1829. But it too is still figured out what to be. But its latest rebranding campaign has failed.

    According to an article in the Independent:

    King’s College London became the latest rebranding casualty after it was forced to abandon plans to drop the word “college” from its name and introduce a minimalist new logo and website.
    The idea - which is believed to have costs tens of thousands of pounds - had been strongly resisted by students, who dismissed the proposed new name “King’s London” as “pretentious” and more suitable for a brand of aftershave.

    And also a little vague. King’s London could be a brand of aftershave, or stationary store, or Houston housing development, or cigarettes or something but it certainly did not suggest something devoted to education. At the very least, after all, an institution of higher learning has “college” or “university,” sometimes both, in its name. Students thought the rebranding plan was kind of stupid.

    The rebrand had been due to be implemented next month, but students were told that their campaign had been successful. “The decision is to keep that name [King’s College London] in every way, both as our official name and how we talk about ourselves. So, no more ‘King’s London’,” Principal Edward Byrne told the student publication, Roar.

    Bryne (principal is sort of like a college president in the U.S.) announced he wanted to start calling his school King’s London about 18 months ago. He thought it would be useful because,

    “Our current name was causing considerable confusion: is King’s a residential college, is it an academic college akin to the colleges of Oxbridge, or is it an educational institution of some other type such as a further education college?”

    Well, valid point, Bryne, but removing the word “college” didn’t really make the situation any clearer to prospective students, did it?

    The rebranding campaign cost the equivalent of between $130,000 and $450,000.

  • January 20, 2015 06:28 PM Fact-Checking and the CUNY-Atlantic Debacle

    On Tuesday last week the Atlantic published an article highlighting changes at the City University of New York, a college system that, in the view of the authors, was increasingly bifurcated. Wealthier white and Asian students tended to go to the top CUNY colleges, and poorer black and Hispanics tended to be relegated to the less selective community colleges run by the system. As a result, according to the original headline, “…High Achievers Have No Place To Go.”

    And then it got complicated. This came to my attention later in the week. I had written a piece here about the article. Jay Hershenson, vice chancellor for university relations for CUNY, called me up and demanded a retraction. The Atlantic article contained significant factual errors and this needed to be addressed immediately, he said. I was surprised, but Hershenson was right.

    At various points between Tuesday and the end of the week the Atlantic made numerous edits to the piece, changing some of the focus, removing the anecdotal lede, and altering the headline, which now reads “What It Takes to Get Into New York City’s Best Public Colleges.”

    The magazine has apologized, sort of, and explained that:

    This article has been significantly revised post-publication to correct for factual errors in the original version.

    That’s not all:

    An earlier version of this article led with a personal college-admissions story that we have since determined to be insufficiently relevant to the remainder of the article. An earlier correction also inaccurately portrayed the order of events that led the student to his ultimate decision about where to enroll in college. As well, our original display copy suggested that top-performing students are having trouble gaining acceptance to all CUNY schools; in fact, this story is about their difficulty in gaining entry to the top five CUNY colleges: Baruch, Queens, Brooklyn, City, and Hunter. We regret these errors. Additionally, this article originally included quotations in its introduction and conclusion, since removed in the reframing of those sections, from David Jones, the president and CEO of the nonprofit organization the Community Service Society, who is also the chairman of the board of the Nation Institute. The Nation Institute helped support research for this article, a relationship that was fully disclosed.

    And furthermore:

    Students who enter CUNY community colleges have a 8 percent chance of graduating after six years, rather than over an indefinite time period.

    It was, as Hershenson put it to me, like the Rolling Stone rape story all over again.


    That’s debatable, but it’s pretty serious.

    What seems surprising about this is that the authors were not exactly inexperienced. LynNell Hancock is a professor at Columbia Journalism School. Meredith Kolodner is a staff writer at the Hechinger Report. Both are longtime education journalists.

    How did this happen? Well the Nation Institute thing is pretty hard to explain, but most of this just seems to come down to errors in fact-checking.

    Every journalist fears this. When you’ve worked so hard on a story and went through such work on a piece to get all of the details right, but then you got something really, really wrong. But if that comes about after your story has already been published the piece basically turns into garbage.

    I’ve been responsible for something like this once. It’s humiliating and it often ruins the relationship between a journalist and a publication, but it comes down to time and money, which are in pretty sort supply in journalism today.

    Magazines of ideas publish articles about complicated topics, often involving statistical research, numerous difficult interviews, and extensive rewriting. This is part of the reason these pieces are unique and original, but it’s also how errors are introduced into copy, and how reputations are ruined and magazines get sued. Because of this publications often perform a line-by-line fact-check of a piece before it goes to publication.

    At certain magazines, particularly Mother Jones and the New Yorker, that means every single line in a piece is verified with a primary source document and every person interviewed for the article gets a call from the fact-checker for quote verification. That means a reader knows if the article says lobbyist spent $325.00 taking a politician to dinner the lobbyist did not actually spend $297.50. It also means if it says the lobbyist was wearing a pink shirt he was not wearing a yellow one.

    But publications don’t always do this anymore. Indeed, with smaller editorial budgets and the 24-hour news cycle, it’s increasingly rare. This is particularly the case with web-only pieces, where the turnaround time and relative ease of damage control is such that many publications barely bother with fact-checking anymore.

    If the story looks good and you want to get it out quickly before someone else reports it often a publication will just speed up the whole process. Certainly re-interviewing a subject and chasing down primary source documents to verify the accuracy of “the order of events that led the student to his ultimate decision about where to enroll in college” is rare. It’s common just to do a quick check of proper names and then put the thing up.

    The real harm with sloppy fact-checking is that an error—and fact-checkers catch lots of them, in drafts of really good pieces by really wonderful journalists—can effectively kill a piece and, if the article is part of a trend or theme, eliminate any chance of anyone addressing the real substance of the story.

    Even after the Atlantic issued its correction it still seems the central point of the CUNY story was correct. A system designed to provide New York’s striving working class students with an affordable college education has become a two-tiered system that operates very differently. That might be something worth exploring.

    But now nothing’s going to happen with that, nothing at all. For all the impact it’s going to have, the authors might not have bothered to write the piece at all.

  • January 20, 2015 10:20 AM At Education Week: Connect Children to the Classroom Early

    Last week, Education Week released its annual Quality Counts report. This year, the report includes an expansive focus on early education: “Preparing to Launch: Early Childhood’s Academic Countdown.” It’s worth checking out.

    As part of the release, I wrote a commentary in response to this question posed by Education Week: What’s a research concern that we still need answered about early-childhood education?

    I say that while there has been a great deal of research on what children need from birth through 3rd grade, it really has yet to be recognized by policymakers and practitioners. I also point out that not only do we need to better connect research to what’s happening in early education classrooms, but there needs to be more of a focus on implementation. A policy — even if it’s based on strong research — won’t have a positive impact on teaching and learning if it is not implemented well.

    Read my entire piece here.

    [Cross-posted at Ed Central]

  • January 19, 2015 10:14 AM Three Lessons From Data on the Best Ways to Give Feedback to Students


    Proponents of computerized instruction often point out that software can give instant feedback to students. And that helps students learn more. That’s why a personal tutor can be so powerful. He or she can immediately react when there’s a misunderstanding and provide an explanation or a hint. But the truth is, educators don’t really understand how a teacher’s feedback leads to learning and exactly what kinds of feedback work best.

    A team of researchers led by Fabienne M. Van der Kleij from the Cito Institute for Educational Measurement and the University of Twente in the Netherlands set out to see if the universe of computerized instruction might offer some clues about what kinds of feedback are most effective. Their paper, “Effects of Feedback in a Computer-Based Learning Environment on Students’ Learning Outcomes: A Meta-Analysis,”  was published online January 8, 2015 in the Review of Educational Research.

    Though the researchers initially found more than 1600 studies that looked at how students learned from computer responses to their answers, they determined that only 40 of these studies were high quality ones that directly compared different types of feedback to see which were most effective.  Most of the studies were aimed at university students and the researchers lamented how few studies looked at how younger students respond to computerized feedback. 

    But from analyzing the 40 high-quality studies, here’s what they learned.

    1) Rethinking “try, try again.”

    Many software programs alert a student when an answer is wrong, often asking the student to try again until he gets the right answer before moving on to the next question. (For example, the popular Raz-Kids reading program used in many elementary schools asks students a series of multiple choice comprehension questions about each book. The computer marks incorrect answers with an X). 

    You’d think that getting a student to discover his mistake and correct his error would be incredibly effective. But just the opposite is true. Simply marking wrong answers was the worst form of feedback. In some cases, students examined after receiving this kind of try-again feedback had learning outcomes that were lower than students who hadn’t received any feedback at all on the same initial set of questions. 

    Why doesn’t it work? The authors explain that students typically click on a different answer, without thinking, and keep clicking until the computer marks it right. The lead researcher, Van der Kleij, said that her findings here about computerized feedback echo what other researchers have found in an an ordinary classroom environment. “Over time research has recognized that a trial-and-error procedure was not very effective in student learning, because it does not inform the learner about how to improve,” she wrote in her paper. 

    Perhaps teachers should reconsider the common practice of flagging incorrect answers on homework. I’ve often wondered what it does to a student’s motivation to see work marked with red x’s but no insight on how to improve.

    Spoon-feeding the correct answer to a student worked better. For example, if a student got “what is 10 x 10?” wrong, telling him that the answer is 100 was helpful, at least on simple learning tasks, such as this type of math drilling or learning foreign vocabulary words.

    2) Explanations are the most effective

    Spoon-feeding doesn’t work as well for more complicated things, such as using new vocabulary words in an essay. More learning occurs when the computer system offers some sort of explanation or a hint to help the student understand what he got wrong.

    But the boost to student learning varied widely, the Dutch researchers found, perhaps because the quality of the hints or explanations varied widely too. In some of the underlying studies that Van der Kleij looked at, an explanation consisted of the working out of an entire math problem, step by step. In others, it merely suggested a procedure that could be used. Still other times, the computer gave what educators call “metacognitive” feedback, such as asking the student, “Can you think of any similar tasks you have solved in the past?

    In one of the most successful of the 40 feedback studies reviewed by the authors, Alfred Valdez, a professor at New Mexico State University taught a basic statistics lesson to university students using instructional software. But before the lesson began, he told the students they had to get 90 percent of the questions right. When students got a question wrong, a hint automatically popped up so that they could try again. (For example, if a student erred on the question, “Would an unusually large number in a data set affect the median or the mean more?”,  the computer reminded the students what the definitions of mean and median are.) Valdez believes the key to his experiment’s success was the goal-setting, an idea he took from the business world.

    Hints “are the most difficult. Learners don’t typically like that kind of feedback,” Valdez said in an interview. “They have to work more, so you need to give them an incentive to use the feedback and not just ignore it.” 

    A big problem that Valdez had was coming up with a good hint ahead of time. “Humans are much better equipped to get into a student’s head and figure out where the misconception is coming from and guide them,” he said. “The problem with computer-based instruction is that I had to come up with general principle that might be good for everyone, but wasn’t [necessarily] good for each individual student.”

    Customizing feedback isn’t easy. Valdez said he once saw an experiment where students were offered a multitude of feedback choices and they could pick the ones they found most useful. Naturally, students picked the explanation that required the least thinking on their part. 

    3)  Later is sometimes better

    When to give feedback depends upon how complicated the material is, the researchers found. When doing simple things like memorizing vocabulary or learning times tables, immediate feedback after each question was best. But when absorbing something more complicated, students learned more when the feedback was delayed a bit, perhaps until after the student had answered all the questions.

    In our email exchange, Van der Kleij cautioned against making any computer-to-human leaps of logic and applying these lessons to ordinary classrooms. Students might ignore feedback more on a computer, for example — although there’s also evidence that students ignore much of the feedback that teachers write in the margins of their papers. But she did find it interesting that the research on computerized feedback is confirming what education experts already know about ordinary feedback. What’s interesting to me is why education technology makers aren’t  taking more advantage of that research to improve feedback.

    [Cross-posted at The Hechinger Report]

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