Latest Edu-Reads

Education Week has a big new report on reading instruction. For example, here’s Liana Loewus on how reading is really being taught in schools:

Our new survey showed that 75 percent of teachers working with early readers teach three-cueing, an approach that tells students to take a guess when they come to a word they don’t know by using context, picture, and other clues, with only some attention to the letters.

Similarly, more than a quarter of teachers said they tell emerging readers that the first thing they should do when they come to a word they don’t know while reading is look at the pictures—even before they try to sound it out.

And Sarah Schwartz looks at the evidence behind and, in many cases, missing from popular reading programs.

Bellwether has a new deck out this week on rural schooling in America.

Dale Chu has an interesting look at the intersection of finance, choice, and accountability reforms in Indiana.

David Kirp writes, “The goal is not to lure high-schoolers into college with zero tuition, it’s to assure that those who do enroll graduate.”

James Shuls wants to ask what people mean when they say charter schools should be held to the “same standards” as traditional public schools.

As I warned earlier this week, we should be careful about ascribing Mississippi’s rising NAEP scores to any one thing. Here’s Todd Collins on Mississippi’s student retention policies.

Finally, this Matt Barnum and Gabrielle LeMarr LeMee Chalkbeat piece on is a must-read. It’s sparking a lot of debate over whether it’s better to share information that might not be perfect, or whether imperfect information will inevitably lead to imperfect decisions.

I don’t have a particular dog in that fight. I respect GreatSchools’ incredible reach–43 million annual site visitors!–and think the organization deserves praise for attempting to improve their ratings over time. The remaining flaws in their rankings–they’re still highly correlated with student demographic factors–are often true in other rating systems as well. Moreover, I’d much rather have a free rating system that’s open to all (and which is working to improve and reach all audiences) than no information at all. GreatSchools is waaaay better than relying on word-of-mouth or other snap judgments of the “best” schools in a neighborhood. We’ve seen what that looks like, even in today’s world, and it isn’t pretty.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman

Latest Edu-Reads

Six years ago, California shifted its school funding approach from categorical funding targeted to specific programs and populations, to a flexible approach granting districts significant autonomy in how they served English learners, youth in foster care, and students from low-income households. A new state audit concludes, “In general, we determined that the State’s approach… has not ensured that funding is benefiting students as intended.”

California is also considering making FAFSA completion a high school graduation requirement.

Senator Kamala Harris is introducing a bill this week to help expand before- and after-school programs at 500 low-income schools. Other candidates have similar proposals, but it’s a good idea to address a real need for working parents.

Aaron Churchill looks at Ohio’s progress compared to its long-term goals. So far, the state is mostly meeting its goals in English language arts, but it’s already behind in math, and it’s rate of growth will need to pick up markedly to meet its long-term goals.

This new study by Briana Ballis and Katelyn Heath found HUGE negative effects of special education enrollment targets in Texas. But Matt Barnum has an important caution about how to interpret those results:

But Ballis and Heath identify another potential cause. Texas policy at the time allowed students with disabilities to graduate high school without having passed an exit exam. That meant losing a special education label also raised the bar for earning a high school diploma. And since since finishing high school is a precondition to college enrollment, higher graduation standards could affect college enrollment, too.

Ballis and Heath found some evidence that points to the higher graduation bar being the main culprit. Students who lost their special education status didn’t see test scores fall, attendance rates decline, or their likelihood of repeating a grade increase. That’s surprising: if the loss of services translated to immediate academic struggles, you would expect to see changes in those metrics [emphasis added].

That doesn’t mean the harmful effects of the cap aren’t real. Those students really did have much lower odds of graduating. But the results don’t clearly show what effect the special education services were having.

Speaking of tales of caution, Mike Antonucci has a rundown of the what changed before and after the Chicago teacher strike.

“The nation is stuck with a bad deal on teacher salaries: salaries insufficient to attract new teachers who can fuel improved schools and yet not even high enough to satisfy current teachers.” Eric Hanushek on how we might strike a better deal on teacher pay.

And did you know counselor quality matters?

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman

Are We Sure We Know How to Teach Reading?

As I pointed out last week, we know a fair amount about how students learn to read, but much less about how to deliver reading instruction. That’s an important distinction and has implications for how we think about fixing the problem.

To wit, Matt Barnum gets at this question in the middle of this Chalkbeat interview with Natalie Wexler about her new book, The Knowledge Gap. In full disclosure, I have not read Wexler’s book yet, but one portion of their conversation gets at the problem I highlighted above:

[Barnum] In your book you say, “There aren’t yet any reliable studies showing that [a coherent knowledge-rich] curriculum will outperform either a skills-focused curriculum or a content-focused one that lacks coherence,” but “it’s reasonable to assume that’s the case.” The fact that there aren’t any reliable studies about this seems like a really big caveat at the heart of your book.

[Wexler] There is evidence that focusing on content can boost kids’ reading comprehension scores. They’re not randomized controlled studies, but there is some evidence of that. What is harder to find evidence of is that you need a curriculum that builds logically from one grade to the next. And that’s hard to get because kids move around, especially in lower income levels, and there aren’t that many schools implementing that kind of a curriculum.

One that comes to mind — there’s a curriculum called Bookworms, and there was a study of a school district that implemented that curriculum. After just one year of implementation, schools implementing that curriculum did better than demographically similar schools in the districts that weren’t implementing that curriculum.

This is an important distinction. There’s a large and convincing body of evidence that students read better when they have content knowledge about the subject. It’s not enough to just teach students generic “reading skills,” because reading is context-dependent. Similarly, there’s also a large body of evidence on the gaps in content knowledge across students, and that those gaps contribute to gaps in reading.

However, these findings do not necessarily translate into practice. We do not yet have a large body of evidence on whether we can take the findings about content knowledge and implement them in schools. That is, can we create a coherent, content-rich curriculum, implement it at scale, and produce better readers? I’ll need to read Wexler’s book to see if she has an answer. But this question strikes me as a harder one to resolve, and from what I’ve seen so far, we’re not there yet.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman