Flypaper

MORE ON INSTITUTIONAL FAILURE AT UNC
Continuing their terrific coverage of the unfolding academic scandal at the University of North Carolina, the Washington Post weighs in with an important finding: Of the over 3,000 students who enrolled in academically deficient classes in the school’s African and Afro-American studies department, a narrow majority were not athletes. Some weren’t aware that the coursework—including Swahili classes that evidently required no knowledge of the language—was bogus, but most seemed to have knowingly used the shadow curriculum for an easy A. 

AND THE WINNER IS...
The superintendent of the Houston Independent School District received the Urban Educator of the Year award at the CGCS conference yesterday. While the rising graduation rate and narrowing achievement gap were cited as reasons for the decision, winner Terry Grier admitted that Houston is still a work in progress, saying “We’re that close to being a breakout urban district, and we’re not going to stop until we make that happen.” 

DEPARTMENT OF GOOD NEWS
A bit of good news in Mississippi, home to a public school system that has long been considered one of the nation’s worst: According to an index compiled by Opportunity Nation, more students in the state are graduating high school and headed to college, narrowing the so-called “opportunity gap.” The four-year high school graduation rate has crept up 4 percent over the last few years....

SIZE MATTERS
Tom Vander Ark at Real Clear Education weighs in on new research showing that smaller high schools may yield serious educational rewards. Among other positive effects, the new MDRC study concludes that New York’s small high schools have helped boost graduation rates among low-income students over the past decade. For the last word on the costs and benefits of small schools of choice, read Fordham’s own Amber Northern, who reviewed the study for this week’s Education Gadfly Weekly.

WITH FRIENDS LIKE THESE
First he ran an ad touting his efforts to slow down the progress of Common Core in New York. Now Governor Andrew Cuomo—a center-left Democrat in a comfortably blue state, with a healthy lead over his election opponent—has completed his long-rumored transformation into a besuited chicken, protesting that he had “nothing to do with Common Core” in last night’s gubernatorial debate.

IF ONLY SAM COOKE WERE ALIVE TODAY
In the first installment of a new series celebrating the classroom totems of yesteryear, NPR has put together a quick read that finally explains what a slide rule is for.

TARHEELED AND FEATHERED
An extensive investigation into academic practices at the University of North Carolina has uncovered nearly two decades of academic fraud, the Washington Post reports. From 1994 to 2011, over 3,000 students, including a significant portion of student-athletes, took part in a so-called “shadow curriculum” that inflated grades and lowered standards for...

SHORT-TIME PRINCIPALS
Yesterday’s Late Bell highlighted NPR’s review of the brief tenure of many urban superintendents. But high turnover rates plague principals as well, as Chalkbeat Colorado reports. Of Denver’s 185 schools, thirty-four have seen at least two changes in principals over the last six years. The lack of continuity disrupts learning and hampers the implementation of new policies and standards. 

DUNCAN MAKES THE CASE FOR PRESCHOOL
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is making a big push for universal preschool, saying the time to debate the issue is over and the time to implement early education is here. At a recent speech in Los Angeles, Duncan urged lawmakers to increase budgeting for early childhood programs by as much as $350 million.

ELECTION SPOTLIGHT: ILLINOIS
The educational philosophies of the gubernatorial candidates in Illinois, who take the stage for their final debate next Monday, could not be more at odds. Democratic Governor Pat Quinn wants a three-year moratorium on charter schools, while his Republican challenger, businessman Bruce Rauner, has donated generously in support of the movement.

CHARTERS: NOT JUST FOR CITIES ANYMORE
The upcoming midterm elections may prove instrumental for the eight states (Alabama, Kentucky, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and West Virginia), that have historically prohibited charter schools. Most of the states have large rural populations, a...

[Editor’s note: This is the sixth in a series of personal reflections on the current state of education reform and contemporary conservatism by Andy Smarick, a Bernard Lee Schwartz senior policy fellow with the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.  The previous posts in this series can be seen hereherehere, here, and here.]

Andy’s odyssey: Part six

The greatest friction between contemporary education reform and conservatism is the former’s obsession with “new” and the latter’s deep skepticism of it.

This conflict has its roots in the very different worldviews of progressives and conservatives. Those on the political right generally seek to preserve, believing that longstanding practices, policies, and institutions possess the wisdom of ages. They have evolved and grown robust. In Yuval Levin’s words, they “developed through years of trial and error and adapted to their circumstances.” They possess stores of social capital that facilitate the healthy functioning of society.

Progressives generally seek to dramatically change, aspiring to uproot society’s injustices and inefficiencies, possessing great faith in our ability to create something new and better from scratch. This frame of mind among America’s political left is clear and consistent.

Thomas Paine famously wrote in Common Sense of “our power to begin the world over again.” The FDR museum celebrates how the former president “fundamentally changed the role of the federal government in the...

CUOMO SLOW-WALKING COMMON CORE
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s reelection campaign has been tough on his Republican opponent, and now it’s training its sights on Common Core: In a new ad, Cuomo vows to hold off on using Common Core test results for evaluation purposes for at least five years. Of course, by that time, he’ll have already lost a bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, so there will be no worries about backlash. 

REVOLVING DOOR FOR URBAN SUPERINTENDENTS
The departure of Los Angeles public schools chief John Deasy sheds light on the high turnover rate of urban school district superintendents. A tenure of three and a half years is about average, though experts argue it takes at least four years for superintendents to begin making a long-lasting impact.

FORDHAM CINEMA CLUB
Real Clear Education showcases First Generation, a new film documenting the lives of first-generation college students. These students often face difficulties during the admission process and have little knowledge of how to navigate student loan applications. Research shows, however, that almost all college graduates see a return on their investments, earning upwards of $1 million more over a lifetime than those with just a high school diploma.

SHOP CLASS AS FINAL CREDIT
In what could be a major step forward for the revival of Career and Technical Education, the New York State Board of Regents...

EDUCATION SNAPSHOT
Federally owned schools located on Native American reservations, which serve about 48,000 students nationally, face extreme poverty and lack of resources; they are also marked by low performance scores, with some schools reporting proficiency at 25 percent. The AP’s Kimberly Hefling looks at the sorry state of an under-resourced elementary school on a Navajo reservation, where housing, transportation, and local facilities are in appalling disrepair and scarcity. 

COMMON CORE PUT TO THE TEST
In a recent Washington Post op-ed, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan argues for high-quality standardized testing. Two major state assessment consortia, PARCC and Smarter Balanced, are in the process of evaluating Common Core-aligned assessments, as Education Week’s Catherine Gewertz reports.

DOLLARS AND PENCE
Last week, Governor Mike Pence elected not to apply for a federal grant that might have afforded up to $80 million for Indiana preschools. In a statement justifying the decision, he wrote, “It is important not to allow the lure of federal grant dollars to define our state's mission and programs.” Fordham tackled the issue of Pence’s repudiation of the Common Core standards this spring in the scintillating “Indiana’s Potemkin Standards?”

FRESH CHANGES TO AP COURSES
Looking past the enormous hue and cry surrounding changes to the AP U.S. History curriculum, the College Board is going forward with new content in a bevy of subjects areas. The Hechinger Report ...

MOVEMENT ON BULLYING
A new report by the nonprofit Child Trends reveals that about 70 percent of D.C. Public Schools and D.C. Public Charter Schools enforced anti-bullying policies in line with the 2012 Youth Bullying Prevention Act. The study did not study implementation of the policies in question, and it found that a small number of schools neglected to submit any policy whatsoever.

CASH-FLOW PROBLEMS
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has released data showing that state funding for K–12 education has been cut in thirty of forty-seven states reviewed. Budget cuts are especially evident in regard to talent acquisition, with the widespread dismissal of teachers and support staff. For information on D.C. school spending, check out our new Metro D.C. School Spending Explorer

REDEFINING THE SCHOOL DISTRICT IN TENNESSEE
Chalkbeat Tennessee just launched an interactive page to educate the public on the state’s Achievement School District. The ASD is composed of struggling schools that have been taken over by the state from local districts and grouped into a single, larger entity. Seen by many as a controversial approach to school improvement, similar programs exist in Louisiana and Michigan. For the definitive panorama of district-level reform in Tennessee, stop whatever you're doing and check out Nelson Smith’s seminal 2013 report for Fordham.

WAR OF ATTRITION
In a must-read/long-read Education Next piece, four Mathematica researchers examine the question of whether KIPP's attrition rates may be an important factor...

On Wednesday, CCSSO (the organization of state superintendents) joined with CGCS (the organization of big urban school districts) to announce joint plans to reassess and scale back testing programs. This is big news, and it’s getting lots of attention. Here are the ten big things to know about the announcement.

  1.  A direct response to testing concerns. These two leading organizations are clearly responding to the pressure to reduce or end testing emanating from the AFT, former President Clinton, Secretary Duncan, and others. They’re agreeing to audit the number and types of tests administered and develop new systems that are leaner (eliminating “multiple assessments of the same students for similar purposes”) and more integrated (“complement each other in a way the defines a coherent system of measures”).
  2. Won’t back down. CCSSO and CGCS, however, are standing firm on testing, and the most vociferous anti-testing forces aren’t happy about it (Randi Weingarten, for example, said the plan fails to address the fundamental problem of “test fixation”). The joint statement makes clear these leaders believe deeply in the value of smart testing systems. They even explicitly defend annual testing, presumably including state-administered, end-of-year assessments. That’s a major statement (and one I heartily endorse).
  3. The golden mean. The plan is a smart “third-way” approach. The testing status quo generates valuable information on student, school, and district performance, but because many schools
  4. ...

There are many fascinating pieces of information you can gleam from the Fordham Institute’s new Metro D.C. School Spending Explorer website, most especially estimates of per-pupil expenditures at each inside-the-Beltway public school. But did you know that you can also learn about the relative wealth of each school’s attendance zone? Once you get to the site, plug in the name of a school and click on “Household Income.” (See below for an explanation of our methodology.)

I was curious about the wealthiest attendance zones in the area; they are printed below. I just looked at elementary schools, since their zones are smaller. We were not able to do the analysis for the District of Columbia. (Maybe a handful of west-of-the-park D.C. schools would have made the list, but I doubt it, thanks to the preponderance of apartment buildings in their attendance zones.)

The twenty-five richest elementary schools in the Washington suburbs 

(Click here for more information on each school)

...

School

City

Average Neighborhood Income

Students

Per Pupil Expenditures

Carderock Springs Elementary

Bethesda

$244,439.81

368

$12,178.64

Potomac Elementary

Potomac

SCHEDULING AROUND THE "SUMMER SLIP"
It is now generally recognized that the long layoff of summer vacation is a hindrance to knowledge retention (especially for low-income students), sticking kids with months in which to forget what they’d learned the previous school year. So it's gratifying to learn, as Education Week’s Madeline Will reports, that the number of year-round schools in the United States has reached 3,700. With several state-level grant programs helping to prod the switch to a staggered yearly calendar, the practice will hopefully continue to grow.

PELICAN (STATE) BRIEF
On Wednesday, the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled constitutional Act 1, a controversial 2012 bill limiting teacher tenure and empowering superintendents at the expense of local school boards. The ruling was praised by Governor Bobby Jindal and other state officials. "Act 1 gives principals and superintendents freedom from politics to do the right thing for children," said State Education Superintendent John White.

OPTING OUT OF ACCOUNTABILITY
Bellwether Education’s brilliant Anne Hyslop (an occasional Fordhamite) has leapt into the week’s most fervid ed-reform debate: To test, or not to test? In her latest post, she cautions so-called “districts of innovation” (those mobilizing project-based and competency-based learning in the classroom) from opting out of statewide testing in favor of district flexibility.

MUST-READ
The news came this week that John Deasy, superintendent of...

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