“If I can fix America’s public schools, then I want to do what all other tenured professors in America do. Nothing!” ~Roland Fryer
RealClearPeople hope Roland G. Fryer, Jr., PhD, gets to join his other tenured colleagues one day soon. Dr. Fryer is a Labor Economist that wants every kid to have a shot at the American Dream and believes better public K-12 schools is the way to achieve it. In 2008, he became the youngest African American to ever receive tenure at Harvard University and followed that up with a prestigious MacArthur Fellowship in 2011. For the last few years he has been consistently mentioned as a candidate to receive the John Bates Clark Medal, which is awarded annually (in April) to the top American economist under age 40 (Fryer is 35).
In addition to teaching at Harvard, Fryer currently directs the Education Innovation Lab at Harvard where his research teams have conducted some of the more rigorous randomized studies of education interventions anywhere. In past studies, Fryer has examined several non-traditional methods of improving learning outcomes, such as paying children to learn. He found financial incentives a cost-effective, albeit politically controversial, method to improve performance (he says at one point he received death threats). That’s sad and unfortunate because some of the biggest gains in test scores occurred with kids that had a history of serious behavioral problems. For now though, Fryer has settled on more traditional methods of education reform after studying two high performing charter schools in NYC:
-longer school days;
-small group tutoring on basic skills for kids needing extra help;
-employ good teachers, and give them good feedback from attentive school leaders;
-students receive short assessment tests every few weeks rather than one big test at the end of the school year; and
-create a culture of high expectations.
These changes significantly improved 20 of the worst performing Houston, Texas public schools (no charters among them) in only one year, and he is now assisting Denver, Colorado public schools with their turnaround plan. Early results are positive.
Fryer believes we have no more excuses as a country for the failing state of our public schools since we have solutions to improve education outcomes. However, he wonders if we have the will to implement these solutions. You can find many more details in his presentation for the Ringling College Library Association Town Hall Lecture Series. Fryer is laugh out loud funny when presenting his work, but his approach is insanely serious. He is worth listening to for the full hour.