The Promise of Personalized Learning


Patty Berganza is a chatty 16-year-old with a mouthful of braces, a thick mane of black hair, and a lightning-fast brain. The last of these left her so bored at her previous Los Angeles high school that she racked up more than 49 unexcused absences in one year and earned a reputation as a slacker. She never thought about college, because nobody ever talked about it. Indeed, she says of her previous high school, “I don’t think my teachers even knew my name.” In many ways, Patty represents countless students who graduate at abysmal rates but who have the capacity to do infinitely better. Unlike others, she found a new school that has helped her tap that capacity.

Where Patty once routinely slumped at the back of the classroom, she now perches front and center, attentive and engaged. She has flown ahead of her peers in math, and earned an overall grade-point average of 3.28, and talks hopefully about applying to the University of California, Berkeley. What is remarkable is that Patty is realizing that potential in a classroom with


The Softer Side of No Excuses


Since their start in Houston in 1994, KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) charter schools have been the most celebrated of the No Excuses schools. Employing strict discipline, an extended school day and year, and carefully selected teachers, No Excuses schools move disadvantaged students who start behind their peers academically up to and above grade level in reading and math, and on the path to success in college. Studies conducted by Mathematica Policy Research show that KIPP schools achieve significantly greater gains in student achievement than do traditional public schools teaching similar students. Recent large-scale research at Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) also finds that KIPP teaching is highly effective, with individual students learning far more than their statistical “twins” at traditional public schools. KIPP’s own studies find that the schools substantially increase the odds that a disadvantaged student will enter and graduate from college. Not surprisingly, the 144 KIPP charter schools across the nation have no shortage of fans, including President Barack Obama, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

Also not surprisingly, KIPP


The 2013 Education Next Survey



Although opposition to Common Core education standards is growing, an overwhelming majority of Americans remain supportive of these standards. A majority also back government funding of preschool education for disadvantaged children. At the same time, Americans are becoming increasingly resistant to demands for greater education spending and higher teacher pay. They give a higher evaluation to private schools than to public ones in their local community, but opposition to market-oriented school-reform proposals such as performance pay for teachers and school vouchers seems to be on the rise. Those are just a few of the findings from the seventh annual Education Next (EdNext) poll administered under the auspices of the Harvard Program on Education Policy and Governance (PEPG) to a representative sample of the U.S. adult population. Teachers, parents, African Americans, and Hispanic respondents were also surveyed in large enough numbers to provide reliable estimates of their opinions. Detailed results from 2013 and from previous years are available on the EdNext website.

Please note that in this survey we place the

Gains in Teacher Quality


The quality of the teacher workforce in the United States is of considerable concern to education stakeholders and policymakers. Numerous studies show that student academic success depends in no small part on access to high-quality teachers. Many pundits point to the fact that in the United States, teachers tend not to be drawn from the top of the academic-performance distribution, as is the case in countries with higher student achievement, such as Finland, Korea, and Singapore. And the evidence on the importance of teacher academic proficiency generally suggests that effectiveness in raising student test scores is associated with strong cognitive skills as measured by SAT or licensure test scores, or the competitiveness of the college from which teachers graduate.

Illustration: John Berry

If teacher academic proficiency matters, then the long-term trends in the makeup of the teacher workforce present a troubling portrait. Teaching is a female-dominated occupation, and prior to notable gender desegregation in the labor force beginning in the 1960s, the most academically capable female college graduates tended to become teachers. Over the course of the next 35 years,

Teachers often blame parents for problem students

I figured that teachers wouldn’t let me off easy — even though my Saturday column took their side.

I wrote about the recent classroom scuffle between a teacher and student at Santa Monica High, defending the teacher and listing the forces that make teaching so hard — including spineless administrators and unruly students.

Still, many of the teachers I heard from last weekend had the same indignant response:

What about the parents? If parents raised their children right, we wouldn’t have problems on campus.

Good parenting skills are “indispensable to quality education,” insisted Andy Ligeti, a Glendale Community College history professor and former high school teacher.

“When students become a problem in the classroom, 9 [out of] 10 times, the root of the issue is a lack of parent support and responsibility for children’s educational welfare,” Ligeti’s email said.

I hear some version of that from teachers whenever I write about any problem involving public schools.

Blame them, not us, they say. Teachers can’t work miracles or undo parents’ failures.

It’s not fair to presume that any child who frustrates adults is a product of derelict parenting. Teenagers, particularly, tend to break rules, challenge authority and test their

Uproar over classroom scuffle reflects a profession under siege

At this point, it may not matter much to the public what actually went on in that Santa Monica High classroom where a teacher was recorded wrestling a student to the floor.

The 58-second cellphone clip recorded by a student went viral this week, turning the teacher and the student into symbols of what’s wrong with public schools:

Defiant students. Overwhelmed teachers. Feckless administrators. Knee-jerk policies with no room for common sense.

“We’re in the middle of a cultural change, and this case reflects that shift,” said Shawn McMullen Chen, a high school teacher for 25 years. “The teaching environment feels more corporate now; very litigious, very careful, very impersonal…It’s not easy to make the human connection you need to reach kids.”

Investigators in Santa Monica are trying to sort out what led to the classroom tussle. Here’s what we know so far:

Wrestling coach Mark Black was teaching science when he scolded a student for walking in and out of the classroom. Classmates suggested the trips had something to do with marijuana. When Black threatened to call security, the two wound up nose-to-nose and the student shoved the teacher. Black responded with a series

Bridging the male education gap

In the ongoing discussion of how to boost the education and skill levels of the American workforce, one central issue is rarely addressed: the gap between male and female achievement. The reality is that the slowdown in U.S. educational gains is predominantly a male affair, and one that drags down the overall competitiveness of our workforce and workers’ ability to land (or create) good jobs.

To get more Americans working and set economic growth back on track, we need to understand what’s going on with men in education.

Despite rising college costs and the many other challenges facing America’s schools, women have made extraordinary strides in education. They have overtaken men in high school and college completion in the last few decades, earning 58% of bachelor’s degrees and 62% of postsecondary occupational certificates.

Our research has found that if men had the same educational distribution as women, their earnings would be 3.7% higher than they are and more men would be employed. Bridging the education gender gap is central to increasing America’s competitiveness in the world economy.

The educational shortfall of men has two important components. First, men are less likely to enroll in colleges

LA Schools Promote Free Tutoring for Some Students

Los Angeles school officials on Monday urged parents whose children attend chronically underperforming schools to apply for free tutoring in math and English, which begins in November.

The Los Angeles Unified School District mailed applications earlier this month to 186,000 students, from 104 schools, who are eligible for the extra assistance.

The federal No Child Left Behind education law requires school districts to pay for supplemental tutoring for low-income students whose schools repeatedly fail to meet testing improvement targets. To qualify, students must attend one of the targeted campuses and receive free or reduced-priced lunches because of low family income. Applications must be postmarked by Friday, Sept. 26.

“We want youngsters who participate in this program to get something that will improve their reading, math or language test scores,” said John Liechty, associate superintendent in charge of extended-day programs for the school district.

L.A. Unified parents can choose from 26 public and private providers of tutoring services, including Sylvan Education Solutions, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and Huntington Learning Centers. The school district also is providing free tutoring, on Saturdays, through its Beyond the Bell Learning Centers.

Students can get as much as

The Educational Value of Field Trips

The school field trip has a long history in American public education. For decades, students have piled into yellow buses to visit a variety of cultural institutions, including art, natural history, and science museums, as well as theaters, zoos, and historical sites. Schools gladly endured the expense and disruption of providing field trips because they saw these experiences as central to their educational mission: schools exist not only to provide economically useful skills in numeracy and literacy, but also to produce civilized young men and women who would appreciate the arts and culture. More-advantaged families may take their children to these cultural institutions outside of school hours, but less-advantaged students are less likely to have these experiences if schools do not provide them. With field trips, public schools viewed themselves as the great equalizer in terms of access to our cultural heritage.

Today, culturally enriching field trips are in decline. Museums across the country report a steep drop in school tours. For example, the Field Museum in Chicago at one time welcomed more than 300,000 students every year. Recently the number is below 200,000. Between 2002 and 2007, Cincinnati arts organizations saw a 30 percent decrease in student attendance. A survey by

California fails to adequately educate youth inmates report says

California and other states are largely failing to adequately educate most of the 70,000 youth locked up at any given time in juvenile detention facilities, according to a national report released Thursday.

Most youth fail to earn any course credits or complete their high school diploma or equivalency degree while in custody, the report by the Southern Education Foundation found. Yet these young inmates are highly troubled – usually struggling with drug abuse, anger and lagging academic achievement – and urgently need effective education to help them get back on track, the report said.

“It’s the classic sad story of the children with the greatest needs getting the least assistance to turn around their lives,” said Steve Suitts, the foundation’s vice president and study’s author.

The report cited studies showing that juveniles who made above-average academic gains while incarcerated were far more likely to return to school and avoid rearrest after release. In turn, taxpayers would save millions of dollars. In L.A. County, for instance, the average monthly cost to house a youth in a probation camp is about $10,000.

Southern states had the worst record of educating their juvenile offenders, the report found.

Neel Kashkari proposes major education overhaul

Saying that better schools are critical for California’s prosperity, GOP gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari proposes changing the way education is funded, making traditional schools more like charters and increasing online learning.

“We must reject the status quo,” the former U.S. Treasury official says in a 33-page policy paper set for release Tuesday.

He calls for money to be sent directly to the state’s 10,000 public schools rather than to their districts. He would throw out much of the state’s education code, which governs the operation of schools, and effectively allow most schools to operate under the same rules as charters.

He also calls for increased vocational education, longer school days and years, and merit pay for teachers.

“We can absolutely transform California’s education system into a force that not only lifts student achievement but ultimately addresses income inequality and eradicates poverty from our communities,” Kashkari’s proposal says.

The plan is the second that the candidate has released; it follows a proposal for creating jobs. Kashkari’s main GOP rival in the race, Assemblyman Tim Donnelly (R-Twin Peaks), has not released any policy proposals. Incumbent Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, periodically travels the state touting his accomplishments.

LA Unified students want one of their own on school board

Bryan Mejia has some advice for the Los Angeles Board of Education.

He isn’t a gadfly or political consultant. He isn’t running for office — he can’t even vote.

Mejia is a high school student. And he wants to help fix what he and other students see as the board’s fundamental flaw: It is missing a voice it purports to represent.

“We should have representation where the decisions affecting our education are made,” the 17-year-old said. “The school board.”

The board is expected to vote Tuesday on a proposal to allow a student advisory member on the board. The student, who would be elected by his or her peers, would not have actual voting power or be allowed in closed-session meetings. Instead, the student would provide guidance on issues and cast an advisory vote just before the official vote.

The advisory vote would be recorded in the meeting’s minutes.

The resolution, introduced by board member Steve Zimmer, would also establish a Student Congress made up of two students from each high school that will consult student survey results to help guide decisions and priorities. The students, divided by their respective board districts, would also elect seven representatives that would report directly

Taking Back Teaching


In June 2012, a California judge ruled that the way the Los Angeles Unified School District evaluates its teachers violates state law because it does not factor in student achievement. He ordered the district and the local teachers union to come up with a reasonable way of doing just that. A few days later, Educators 4 Excellence, a group unaffiliated with the local teachers union, released a plan that called for student achievement to count for 40 percent of a teacher’s score. The group then held a dinner, not a formal bargaining session, for teachers to discuss the issue directly with Los Angeles superintendent John Deasy. Writing on Twitter, Deasy described it as “one of the most thoughtful models that has been worked out.”

Around the same time, Boston teachers packed into their union hall to vote on a procedural change that would allow them to cast ballots by mail in biennial elections of officers. At the time, the Boston Teachers Union required its members to show up in person on a school day to vote at the South Boston union hall, which had the effect of ensuring a low turnout. Only 13 percent of the union’s members, including retirees,

Online Learning in Higher Education

Higher education in the United States, especially the public sector, is increasingly short of resources. States continue to cut appropriations in response to fiscal constraints and pressures to spend more on other things, such as health care and retirement expenses. Higher tuition revenues might be an escape valve, but there is great concern about tuition levels increasing resentment among students and their families and the attendant political reverberations. President Obama has decried rising tuitions, called on colleges and universities to control costs, and proposed to withhold access to some federal programs for colleges and universities that do not address “affordability” issues.

Costs are no less a concern in K–12 education. Until the 2008 financial crisis and the subsequent slowdown in U.S. economic growth, per-pupil expenditures on elementary and secondary education had been steadily rising. The number of school personnel hired for every 100 students more than doubled between 1960 and the first decade of the 21st century. But in the past few years, local property values have stagnated and states have faced intensifying fiscal pressure. As a result, per-pupil expenditures have for the first time in decades shown a noticeable decline, and pupil-teacher ratios have begun to shift upward (see

No Substitute for a Teacher

My son had a new degree and a nine-month unpaid gap in his training as a Marine Corps lieutenant. Please don’t fill it with a job at a liquor warehouse, I asked.

Instead, he became a substitute teacher.

In the college town where he was living, an astonishing 47 percent of the school district’s 721 teachers were absent more than 10 days during the school year, according to data the district reported to the U.S. Department of Education for a 2009–10 study. That number rose to 61 percent in an elementary school with one of the district’s highest percentages of black, Hispanic, and low-income children.

Even at that, the district’s absences don’t appear to be record setting. U.S. teachers take off an average of 9.4 days (roughly 1 day per month) each during a typical 180-day school year. By that estimate, the average child has substitute teachers for more than six months of his school career.

Those absences provided full-time employment for my son. With a month-old bachelor’s degree, he taught history and Spanish, his majors; calculus and literature; 2nd and 4th grades (after his second day on the job, the district asked him to take the 2nd-grade class for the rest of the

High Scores at BASIS Charter Schools

While U.S. schools struggled to reach even an average score on a key international exam for 15-year-olds in 2012, BASIS Tucson North, an economically modest, ethnically diverse charter school in Arizona, outperformed every country in the world, and left even Shanghai, China’s academic gem in the dust.

How did that happen, I asked some of the school’s 9th graders, who variously sport braces and multiple ear studs; whose parents range from truck driver to epidemiologist; who talk of careers as a cardiovascular surgeon, a neurosurgeon, a hedge-fund manager

Eighth-grade English teacher Lily Dodge leads a lunchtime meeting of students participating in National Novel Writing Month.

“We do an incredible amount of work,” said Alia Gilbert.

“We push each other,” added Yasmeen Sharestha.

“We’re always thinking about college,” said Hannah Reilly. At that, the conversation moved on to the challenge of AP chemistry, what math to take after AP calculus, and a recent English class on the rhetoric of political campaigns.

Fifteen years after its founding by two economists—an American and a Czech, who fell in love at a seminar on the collapse of the Soviet Union—the BASIS network already roosts in the scholastic stratosphere. The Tucson charter school outscored all 40 countries

No Excuses Kids Go to College

The C in linguistics proved to Rebecca Mercado that college was going to be different.

“It was the first time I had ever received a grade lower than a B, and it was upsetting,” admits Mercado, a biochemistry and cell biology major at the University of California, San Diego. The first in her family to attend a four-year college, Mercado was a strong student dating all the way back to her days in middle school at San Diego’s KIPP Adelante Preparatory Academy. Perhaps as a result, she was “a little more cocky than I should have been” when arriving on campus for freshman year. Like many freshmen, Mercado experienced the distraction of being on her own for the first time, which took a toll on her grades. Holding down a job while taking more classes than she could handle didn’t help. “It all came crashing down on top of me,” Mercado says. Freshman year was “a big dose of reality,” she says.


Here’s another one: statistically speaking, Mercado might have been voted “Least Likely to Succeed” at birth. Low-income black and Hispanic students are by far the least likely U.S. students to graduate from high school and attend a four-year college. Those

21st Century Teacher Education

For almost as long as there have been institutions dedicated to the preparation of new teachers, the endeavor has come in for criticism. Teacher education has long struggled both to professionalize and to fully integrate itself into mainstream academia. At the core of this struggle was a perception that there was no body of specialized knowledge for teaching that justified specialized training.

Over the last few decades, criticism of teacher preparation has shifted away from a largely academic debate to the troubling performance of American students. Shocked by teacher education’s refusal to train teachers to use scientifically based reading methods, Reid Lyon, who headed a 30-year study at the National Institutes of Health of how people best learn to read, once stated, “If there was any piece of legislation that I could pass it would be to blow up colleges of education.” The suggestion was repeated in a 2009 speech by Craig Barrett, the former chair of Intel Corporation, who had been working to improve math and science education. Arne Duncan, the Obama administration’s secretary of education, having previously served as schools superintendent in Chicago, one of the nation’s most troubled school districts, gave back-to-back speeches early in his tenure decrying

Despite Common Core States Still Lack Common Standards

Only 35 percent of U.S. 8th graders were identified as proficient in math by the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). According to the most recent calculations available, the United States stands at the 32nd rank in math among nations in the industrialized world. In reading, the U.S. ranks 17th in the world (see “Are U.S. Students Ready to Compete?” features, Fall 2011).

The low performance of U.S. students has been attributed to low expectations set by states under the 2002 federal law, No Child Left Behind (NCLB), which expects all students to reach full proficiency by 2014. In this, the fifth in a series of Education Next reports, we compare the proficiency standards set by each state to those set by NAEP, which has established its proficiency bar at levels comparable to those of international student assessments.

Most states have set their proficiency bars at much lower levels, perhaps because it causes less embarrassment when more students can make it across the proficiency bar, or because it was the easiest way for states to comply with the NCLB requirement to bring all students up to full proficiency.

Unhappy with the low level and wide variation in state standards, the National

The Transformational Potential of Flipped Classrooms

If 2012 was the year of MOOCs (massive open online courses) in higher education, then the flipped classroom was the innovation of the year for K–12 schools (see “The Flipped Classroom,” what next, Winter 2012).

Both the New York Times and the Washington Post spilled ink over the phenomenon. Several authors resorted to old-fashioned books to discuss flipping, including the two teachers who allegedly originated the technique (see Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day by Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams). None of that tells us anything about the number of teachers who actually flipped their classrooms. No one has offered any firm measure of the practice or, more importantly, assessed its impact on student learning.

In case you missed all the hype, the flipped classroom is a form of blended learning in which students learn online at least part of the time while attending a brick-and-mortar school. Either at home or during a homework period at school, students view lessons and lectures online. Time in the classroom, previously reserved for teacher instruction, is spent on what we used to call homework, with teacher assistance as needed.

How can this improve student learning? Homework and lecture time have