The Bottom Line

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What is Missing in the Equation of “Reinventing” Schools?

“Change occurs in schools, often for the better, but it’s almost always gradual and incomplete.” So concludes Chester E. Finn, Jr., Senior Fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute in a recent essay on the difficulties of “reinventing” schools. Finn focuses on “break the mold” schools of the “America 2000” plan of the late President George H.W. Bush. Finn brings to light the fact that the “break the mold” schools concentrated solely on creating brand new schools while other programs focused entirely on transforming existing schools. He notes the deficiency of this approach: “In the former situation, ‘it ain’t broke,’ so why change it? In the latter situation, it’s tantamount to taking an education sow’s ear and striving to turn Read More ›

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Vintage microphone and headphones with signboard on air. Broadcasting radio station concept. 3d illustration
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Michael Medved Interview: Donald Nielsen on Education Transformation

Introduction A guest this week on the Michael Medved show, our program chair, Don Nielsen, is a graduate from Harvard Business School and a former Seattle School Board President. A successful business entrepreneur, Nielsen is a senior fellow at Discovery Institute, based here in Seattle. Nielsen recently finished the updated version of his book: Every School: One Citizens Guide to Transforming Education. The State Michael Medved: “In the new addition you came up with a new insight and that new insight is?” Donald Nielsen: “The state, its not the school, its not the district, its not the federal government, it’s the state” Nielsen: “They control the vast majority of money, who’s allowed to teach, lead, curriculum, testing, compensation, and graduation, Read More ›

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Family Matters Most

Variation of student achievement comes from factors outside of school, and that rests with the family.  The influence of family in childhood educational outcomes results from four factors: parental education, family income, parental choice, and the access to early childhood education. Parents who are better educated generate great social and cultural capital for their children. For example, children of better-educated adults are exposed to many more words. Don Nielsen points out in his book, Every School, that in “a home where at least one parent is a professional, a child will hear 2,153 words per waking hour. In a working-class home, the number is 1,251 words per hour. A child growing up in a welfare home averages only 616 words Read More ›

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Mom and daughter hands, outdoors
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We Need Leaders and Parental Choice

Idaho Ed News recently published an article focusing on charter schools and leadership, highlighting two separate charter public schools’ experiences.  Devin Bodkin notes that “starting next year, Bingham Academy and Blackfoot Charter Community Learning Center will no longer share a director or ‘head administrator.’ The schools will instead operate under separate leadership according to emails between the schools’ board chairs and the commission.” Bodkin states, “Blackfoot declared an “area of need” for the middle school principal position.” The hiring of the new principal, “coincides with a new law that relaxes hiring requirements for charter school administrators. Typically, a principal must hold a master’s degree. But Senate Bill 1058 allows Idaho’s charter schools to permanently bypass the normal hiring requirements for Read More ›

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A Message from Don Nielsen

During the summer I completed a revision to my book, Every School. The revision brings all the information up to date and also adds an important new chapter—a detailed “Game Plan” for a state. I believe the only way we will transform our schools is to change the governing state laws and this chapter gives state legislators and Governors a game plan on how to start and accomplish the transformation of their schools. The highlight of the last few months was the hiring of a new program coordinator, Bailey Takacs. Bailey comes to us with a lot of experience in legislative matters and with a passion for education. He is already making a huge difference in our ability to do Read More ›

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Don Nielsen on the Education Gadfly Podcast

Don Nielsen, program director for the American Center for Transforming Education and author of Every School: One Citizen’s Guide to Transforming Education, appears on the Education Gadfly show to discuss “the feasibility of empowering school administrators, and whether it’s feasible in district schools.” Also discussed on the show is why Nielsen has crafted the new version of his book and how states can move forward with what he refers to as the “Game Plan.” Listen for yourself by clicking the audio below!

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Grunge state of Washington flag map isolated on a white background, U.S.A.
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Students and Parents Badly Hurt by the Legislature

The 2019 legislature missed out on a big opportunity this year. Instead of working to reform how our schools operate, the legislature took a step backwards by undoing much of the good work that was done in response to the McCleary court ruling just two years ago. In 2017, Democrats and Republicans approved a bi-partisan school funding bill, reforming state and local property taxes to ensure that the state met its constitutional obligation to fully fund K-12 education.  The law reduced inequities by capping local property taxes, so wealthy areas would not have an imbalanced benefit, by providing equitable state funding to all schools on a per-student basis. All parties, including Governor Inslee, lauded and moved forward with the agreement. Read More ›

frau liest kindern in der schule etwas vor
frau liest kindern in der schule etwas vor
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How to Maintain High-Quality Teachers

Don Nielsen underscores the critical role of teachers in his book, Every School: “Quality teaching yields quality learning for students.” The enormous influence of teachers on a range of student outcomes has become even more clear in the last decade—an influence only slightly less than that of parents. Yet with the extensive variability in teacher quality within schools, it’s not easy to provide students with access to high-quality teachers. So how do we produce and maintain high-quality teachers for public schools? Three issues are paramount: selection and preparation, placement and working conditions, and compensation for teachers.   As Nielsen argues, “Professionals in areas of law, medicine, engineering, etc., are carefully selected prior to being accepted into a college program. They Read More ›

Old used can of street football game and legs in sneakers.
Old used can of street football game. Legs of a young man in sneakers. Children's street games with a can on the road.
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We Cannot Continue to Kick the Education Can Down the Road

Earlier this year, I wrote on Florida’s major expansion of education vouchers. It is wonderful to see that this legislation made it across the finish line. It is even more powerful than one imagined because it allows for even more students to enter the program than what was earlier discussed. Originally, the Senate attempted to keep the eligibility requirement at the 260 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. Now that number is up to 300 percent, allowing for more students to enter. Allowing “Up to 18,000 students [to] enroll in the program’s first year” is just the beginning as, “the number of students who can participate could rise in future years,” writes The Associated Press. Not only does this legislation Read More ›

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team of adorable kids making team gesture
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Separate Students by Achievement, Not Ability

In an article published on Aeon, Oscar Hedstrom suggests that tracking, measuring a student’s ability to learn (i.e. ranking students as above average, average, or below average) is not a good idea. The author is right. If you believe every child can learn, as I do, then you need to take into account where a child is in their learning. Rather than tracking, what I propose in the updated version of my book Every School is simply giving kids who are behind in their learning more time (longer day and longer year) and smaller class sizes with the best teachers. That is, give them the opportunity to catch up quickly so they can rejoin the others. This is not tracking; Read More ›