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Reading failure is imposing a hidden surtax: Find out how much your schools are contributing to the problem

See praise from scholars and researchers

Students who can’t read by the end of third grade are economically burdened for the rest of their lives but so are taxpayers. 

For every student who fails to master reading, the public is saddled with what amounts to a hidden annual surtax imposed at the local, state, and federal levels - one that cumulates with each succeeding class of students.

The Education Consumers Foundation's FULLY AUTOMATED CALCULATOR will estimate the number of dropouts and unprepared graduates your school, district, or state is contributing to the problem and how much it costs in terms of added taxes for welfare, criminal justice, and healthcare. Visit our new calculator here; see a worked-out example detailing the input page and simple report here.


Is Tennessee really winning the race to the top?

In November 2013, a Brookings Institution blog questioned whether TN deserved to call itself #1 or even if its overall NAEP gains were accurately represented. 

ECF has called for a replay.  Our findings: In a top-ten style ranking based on a composite of the 4 NAEP tests, Tennessee outscored the next highest state by 15 points.

And yes, the District of Columbia did a great job as well, but is it a fair comparison?  Over 40% of DC schools are charters, it serves less than 10% as many students, and it spends twice as much per pupil.  Memphis and Nashville are each DC's size and with far fewer resources. 

Tennessee's NAEP gains deserve a second look.


Tennessee Schools Recognized for Fastest Gains Among the States – But Why?

Yesterday, the US Department of Education released the latest results from its National Assessment of Education Progress (i.e. “The Nation’s Report Card”) and revealed that Tennessee was the only state to post improvements in both math and reading at both fourth and eighth grades, adding a total of 22 points across the four assessments to their scores. This was, in fact, the largest gain among the states in the assessment’s history.

According to the Education Consumers Foundation, these results were entirely expected based on reforms that took place in the state in 2010. In fact, ECF did publicly predict them in writings published at that time, including the following:


J.E. Stone: Americans Know Very Little About Local School Quality

Writing in the June 7 issue of Investors Business Daily, the president of the Education Consumers Foundation highlights the fact that Americans are largely in the dark regarding school quality, and offers suggestions they can take to become better informed and improve their local schools. Readers can learn more about this issue with the foundation's Reversing American Decline resources and learn about reading proficiency rates in schools across the country using the foundation's charts.


J.E. Stone: School system must stress reading skills

In this June 1 opinion piece, featured in the Knoxville News Sentinel, the president of the Education Consumers Foundation, comments on the recent reorganization of a low-performing school in the city, noting the tremendous costs of failing to teach children to read by third grade. Readers can learn more about this issue with the foundation's Reversing American Decline resources and learn about reading proficiency rates in schools across the country using the foundation's charts.


Professional society comes out in favor of Direct Instruction

The Engineering Society of Detroit, a body of engineers, scientists, architects and technical professionals, has convened teams of industry professionals to answer the following question: ""If you were envisioning an optimized, statewide STEM initiative for Michigan, what would it look like and how would you get it done?" One of their solutions: improve reading proficiency rates by using research-based methods like Direct Instruction. Go here to read their entire report. 


Lesson (re)Learned: Kentucky faces challenges with constructed-response questions on Common Core assessments

In the early 1990s, KY attempted to use constructed-response test items as part of its school accountability system; the results were unusable. Despite this, the state pursued the same goal with its new Common Core assessments and, not surprisingly, came to the same conclusion as before. See a press release on the subject from the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, and a chapter on this exact issue from Dr. George Cunningham.


New Paper from ECF: "Reversing American Decline by Reducing Education's Casualties"

For forty years, ineffective public schools have flooded the population with voters who
are low-information and without economic prospects. In this paper, Dr. J.E. Stone highlights the impact of ineffective schooling; explains its causes; and lays out a practical solution to reversing American decline.


How rigorous are your state's proficiency standards?

Each state defines for itself what "proficient" means; some states have a rigorous definition, while others are less strict in their standards. To see how states compare, ECF has published charts showing the percentage of students deemed proficient in various subjects and grade levels and compared them to percentages reported for each state by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP, or "The Nation's Report Card"), considered to be the gold standard.


A Blue Man 'Dupe': Parent Panic at $32G 'Progressive' School

New York's The Blue School is thought to be the cutting edge of experiments in educational improvement.  The New York Post says it was founded with the strong backing of former NYC Schools Chancellor Joel Klein.  In fact, it is one more variant of type of schooling that has been tried repeatedly and with disastrous results.  England's Summerhill School is a residential version that was founded in the nineteen twenties.  Click here to read a Newsweek essay by Mara Wolynkski, a writer and television personality who attended such a school as a child.


Are Tennessee's Children Learning to Read? Mayor Tim Burchett Asks the Question in Knoxville

Knoxville mayor Tim Burchett is leading on education, highlighting the importance of early literacy:  "I say, before we raise taxes, let's tackle this core problem."  Other local officials in Tennessee are beginning to recognize the problem in their schools (see charts below).

Reading is the most essential skill that children learn in school. It is taught over a 4-5 year period that begins in preschool or kindergarten and extends to 3rd grade. Beyond 3rd grade, schooling turns from learning to read, to reading to learn. 

Promoting children to the 4th and subsequent grades without sound reading skills not only reduces their chances of success, it misleads their parents about the child's progress, it unloads poorly equipped and discouraged learners on middle and high school teachers, and it violates the spirit if not the letter of Tennessee's 2011 law against socially promoting unqualified students.

Social promotion of students who lack mastery of reading ignores their needs, drags down the progress of all students, and makes schooling vastly more inefficient and expensive. Children who cannot read simply cannot fully benefit from their educational opportunities.  They need more help, more contact hours of teaching, and more specialized treatment - all of which takes more teachers, more specialists, and more time in school.

Testing results of the past 20 years show that less than half of Tennessee's school children are mastering reading by the end of the 3rd grade. 

Click on the links below to see whether children in your local schools are reading or just being promoted:

ECF also offers the following district-level charts:

You can also compare schools statewide by visiting our interactive charts of "3rd grade proficiency versus poverty" in reading and math.


Needed in Tennessee: An Early Reading Revolution

In a November 2011 position paper, the Education Consumers Foundation highlights the lack of progress in boosting literacy rates in Tennessee schools and introduces Direct Instruction as a proven solution. Click here to access this paper along with a host of support materials, including charts highlighting reading proficiency rates in each Tennessee district; directories of resources, trainers, and contacts experienced with DI in Tennessee; and more.


Clear Teaching: With Direct Instruction, Siegfried Engelmann Discovered a Better Way of Teaching

Written by veteran journalist Shepard Barbash over a period of 10 years, Clear Teaching is a well-researched, highly readable introduction to Direct Instruction (DI). Click here to download this book in PDF format along with a host of support materials, including directories of resources, a list of trainers, and much more; those wanting print copies can order them from Amazon or can contact ECF for bulk orders.


ECF Charts District-Level Spending versus Achievement Gains

Does more spending equate to more learning among students? The Education Consumers Foundation has charted district-level spending against district-level value-added achievement gains, and found virtually no relationship between the two. To see where your district falls on these issues, click here to visit this interactive tool.


Author Shepard Barbash speaks at ECF event on Direct Instruction

Shepard Barbash, noted investigative journalist and author of Clear Teaching, spoke on May 14 to a gathering in Nashville. He read from his recent book (published by ECF) and highlighted the importance of using effective teaching approaches like Direct Instruction. See his complete remarks here.


Wall Street Journal: Education Is the Key to a Healthy Economy

In this April 30 opinion piece, George Schultz and Eric Hanushek make the case for real reform by outlining the clear link between economic and education outcomes.


Zuckerberg's Folly? Not Really

Despite the impression created by controversy and political turmoil, Newark’s school reforms appear to have significantly improved student reading outcomes. 

Spurred in part by a $100 million grant from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, the number of third graders proficient in reading has visibly increased since 2010—an outcome predictive of student success in succeeding grades.  Click here to view the school-by-school facts.


How Effective are the Teachers in Your School District?

In some districts, the vast majority of teachers in grades 4-8 lift the achievement of their students by a year or more every school year. Their directors of schools and their boards deserve great credit for thoughtful oversight. 

Unfortunately, other districts have a high percentage of teachers whose students regularly gain well less than a year's worth of progress. The result can be that too many students unnecessarily become dropouts or graduates who are not prepared for college. 

A district with great teachers is no accident.  It reflects sound decision-making by a conscientious school director and board of education.

See district-level results for Tennessee below:

Source:  District-level distributions of TVAAS Teacher Evaluation Composite Scores, 2012-2013; Tennessee Department of Education


Winners of the 2014 Value-Added Achievement Awards announced

In April and May 2014, the Education Consumers Foundation is holding a series of events to recognize the winners of this year's Value-Added Achievement Awards program. These awards acknowledge the great contribution that principals make to the value-added performance of some of the most effective elementary and middle schools in the state.

Awards have been presented at the following schools so far:

East Tennessee

Middle Tennessee

West Tennessee

Check back soon for additional details and photos - additional winners will be announced as their events occur!


ECF Releases 2012-13 Growth vs. Achievement Interactive Charts for Tennessee Schools

Tennessee schools are measured on two things: achievement, seen in standardized assessment and ACT results; and growth, reported through the state's value-added assessment system. Tennessee parents and others can now plot the performance of their child's elementary or middle school and others across the district or state through the ECF's interactive Growth vs. Achievement Charts. Note that all data comes from the most recent Tennessee Report Card.


ECF Releases 2013 School Performance Charts for Tennessee Elementary and Middle Schools

Each year, ECF takes the value-added performance data provided by the state of Tennessee and presents it in the form of charts for elementary and middle schools in the state. This format allows parents and others to easily compare the performance of schools in their district or region; just follow the links below to explore ECF's interactive and intuitive charts.


New research suggests kindergartners perform better when challenged with advanced content

In this op-ed piece, Vanderbilt's dean of education Camilla Benbow highlights research showing that "fadeout" among kindergarten students may be tied to teaching that does not challenge them sufficiently. For some, this is old news: ECF and others have been talking about this for some time, as noted in this briefing, a presentation made by ECF's president at a 2009 conference, and an article on what works best in pre-k by Shep Barbash.


ECF releases charts showing 3rd grade reading performance in key TN districts

Testing results of the past 20 years show that less than half of Tennessee's school children are mastering reading by the end of the 3rd grade. Click on the links below to see whether children in some of the largest metropolitan areas of the state are reading or just being promoted:

District-by-district charts are also available:


ECF Looks at Tennessee's Report on Teacher Training Outcomes

For the past several years, Tennessee has published a report on outcomes from the state's teacher training programs. The Education Consumers Foundation looks at how effective these programs are, and what can be learned from the differences found between programs.


Peterson and Hanushek: The Vital Link of Education and Prosperity

In this op-ed piece, Paul Peterson and Eric Hanushek highlight the connection between education and economic outcomes, making an important case for improving schools.

Also see: The human wealth of nations and a warning to both parties, an editorial on the results of the recent PISA results.


Traditional Teacher Preparation is
Hindering Educational Improvement

J.E. Stone, President of the Education Consumers Foundation, pens an article on NCTQ's new Teacher Prep Review here.


New report on teacher preparation aligns with ECF resources

The National Council on Teacher Quality has released a landmark report, evaluating more than 1,100 colleges and universities that prepare elementary and secondary teachers and largely finding them wanting. Kate Walsh, CEO of NCTQ, writes on the issue here. This effort aligns closely with ECF's work on the subject, a summary of which can be found here.

Update: J.E. Stone, President of the Education Consumers Foundation, pens an article on this new report here.


Are the schools in your area teaching children to read?

Some say that children with social and economic disadvantages can't learn. However, the Education Consumers Foundation's analysis of data in various US markets contradicts that conclusion: there are schools in every market that greatly outperform those with virtually identical student populations. See here to review school performance charts in a sampling of markets across the US.


"How Does Your Child's School Rank Against the Rest of the World?"

That question was asked by The Atlantic magazine; the answers they found, using data provided by The Bush Institute, will surprise many parents. As noted in the article, "It's not just urban kids who are struggling. Even wealthy suburbs are lagging behind countries like Singapore and Finland." See the article to access the interactive chart with comparisons.


Are Tennessee's Local Schools Teaching Children to Read and Do Basic Math?

Reading and basic math are foundational skills: without a solid grounding in these two core areas by the 3rd grade, students have little hope of succeeding academically in 4th grade and beyond. ECF has published two charts - one for reading, one for math - showing the percentages of students in Tennessee schools who are "proficient" and "advanced" in these two subjects.


Tennessee releases 2012 district-level TCAP data

The Tennessee Department of Education has released 2012 TCAP results at the district level; ECF has posted that data in the form of an interactive chart comparing poverty versus reading proficiency in grades 3-8, as well as in PDF charts for East, Middle, and West Tennessee. The state will soon be releasing school-level performance data; stay tuned for ECF charts once that information is available.


KIPP in charter tug-of-war

The Tennessean reports on the challenges KIPP Academy Nashville has had in getting additional charters approved within MNPS, based in part on the assertion that KIPP is not performing as well as others in the district. ECF's own analysis shows very high value-added performance on the part of the school, contrary to the article.


Tests, Testing, and Genuine School Reform

In this 2011 book, one of America's foremost scholars on what works in education discusses the proper role of testing in educational improvement, covering well-established principles of testing, current problems, and promising evidence-based solutions.Click here for more on the book or to order a copy.


Recent Updates

Those wishing to review past news announcements and recommended reading/viewing information, please visit the following:




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