Flypaper

DIFFERENTIATED STROKES FOR HETEROGENEOUSLY GROUPED FOLKS
In a must-read piece in Education Week, James R. Delisle takes aim at one of the biggest trends in education: differentiated instruction. The method is meant to reach students learning at drastically different levels, but Delisle charges that it complicates the work of teachers by forcing them to prepare separate materials and is almost impossible to put into practice. Fordham President Emeritus Chester Finn once asked if differentiated instruction was a hollow promise. Delisle and the Gadfly give a resounding yes.

BUT WHEN WILL WE GET A PLAYOFF SYSTEM?
You know it’s January when Rick Hess reveals his annual RHSU Edu-Scholar Rankings, a rock-’em, sock-’em power poll of the biggest, baddest wonks in academia. Check out the post to discover the biggest risers and hottest newcomers, along with the perennial champions making up the top ten. (And note the presence of peeps who were EEPS.) Of course, any list of influential education voices that doesn’t include a certain winged, anthropomorphized insect is notably incomplete.

GRADE-LEVEL TEXTS
In a dramatic victory for both restive pupils and the Apple Store, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has lifted the citywide prohibition on cell phones in public schools. The oft-defied ban was increasingly seen as unenforceable, with critics arguing that it prevented parents from keeping in touch with their kids and some teachers fretting that mobile devices were already being used to cheat on assignments. Schools will now be allowed to set their own policies; there is no word yet on whether third-floor bathroom stalls will be reserved for Candy Crush.

THE EARLY BIRD GETS THE SKILLS TO COMPETE IN A GLOBAL JOB MARKET
Over at Homeroom,...

WHAT TO WATCH
In a new article from Education Week, readers get the low-down on what to expect from the 114th Congress on the education front. First, we’ll see a race to get a reauthorized ESEA bill to the president by mid-February. Next, we can expect to see some debate on two major ed-reform issues: grade-span testing and charters schools. Finally, get ready for what may be the reemergence of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act and an education-research bill.

ESEA AS PIE
The first item on that list is the one that interests us most right now. For the best in-depth take on the GOP’s plans to tinker with No Child Left Behind (the most recent ESEA reauthorization, passed in 2001 and renewed in 2007), read Maggie Severns’s fantastic piece at Politico. Alongside a useful history of the law and a fresh look at the testing debate, the article cites Fordham’s own marvelous Mike Petrilli on the prospects for legislative action. The process, he says, will be “all about Congress taking a red pen and deleting” language in NCLB.

MORE FROM MIKE
Over the New Year, we Fordhamites caught ESEA fever. And the only cure is more Petrilli. For relief from your symptoms, make sure to check out Mike’s piping-hot take on which elements of the law are likely to stay and which will be left behind like so many unwanted holiday sweaters. It’s got a colorful table and everything.

LESS IS MORE
And finally, we gavel the 114th Congress into action with this counsel of modesty from that paragon of responsibility and restraint, Chester Finn:

“Less is more should be their mantra going...

ESEA reauthorization explained in a single table

Once upon a time (OK, it was 2007), we D.C. policy wonks were gearing up for a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education act (a.k.a. No Child Left Behind), and all the buzz was about the new federal requirements that would be added. Checker and I dubbed it “No Idea Left Behind.”

What a difference eight years makes. As Politico reported last week, with Republicans fully in charge of Capitol Hill, the only question this time around is how much Congress will subtract. Call it No Red Pen Left Behind.

Below is my take on the major ESEA provisions that are dead for sure, those that will survive, and the handful of policies that will animate the coming debate. [1]

[1] To be clear, some of the provisions listed here aren't in ESEA proper. Race to the Top and the Investing in Innovation fund were created as part of the 2009 stimulus bill; the administration dreamed up the requirements that states adopt teacher-evaluation systems and "college- and career-ready standards" as part of its conditional ESEA waivers. The administration would, no doubt, like to fold all of these into a new ESEA. I doubt that's going to happen.

EDUCATION SNAPSHOT: MASSACHUSETTS
Newly-appointed Massachusetts Secretary of Education James Peyser, a close associate of Governor-Elect Charlie Baker, will oversee implementation of a host of reforms, including the transition to Common Core, the replacement of the MCAS test (which he helped put in place during a stint in state government in the 1990s) with PARCC, and a promise to open at least fifty more charter schools over the next four years, which would bring the state total to 130. 

THEY THROW IN THE ARTILLERY CLASSES FREE
NPR investigates what’s being called the “largest employer-sponsored childcare program in the country”: military preschool. The program, which serves over 200,000 children at 800 centers and staffs 40,000 employees, has become a national model for early childhood care. The military subsidizes nearly two-thirds of the costs of childcare, and centers offer high teacher pay, mandatory training, and professional development and accredited facilities.

CALLING ALL COUNSELORS
The ratio of students to counselors in national high schools is 478:1, nearly double the recommendation put forth by the American School Counselor Association. This strain is particularly felt during college application periods, when guidance offices shuffle through hundreds of students and are often asked to write letters of recommendation. First-generation college students, who are more likely to misunderstand the financial aid process and undermatch for colleges, are particularly disadvantaged by this high ratio. For more on the importance of counselors and other non-teacher school employees, check out our blockbuster Hidden Half report from last year.

DROPOUT ECONOMICS 101
New findings from the Brookings Institution reveal that only half of university students correctly understand the financials of their tuition and half of students nationwide underestimate how much debt they are taking on for their degree. The researchers warn that lack of financial certainty...

Crying “Dump it!” might be good politics. But any high standards will look a lot like Common Core.
Michael J. Petrilli and Michael Brickman

Jack Schneider

Editor's note: This post is the sixth entry of a multi-part series of interviews featuring Fordham's own Andy Smarick and Jack Schneider, an assistant professor of education at Holy Cross. It originally appeared in a slightly different form at Education Week's K-12 Schools: Beyond the Rhetoric blog. Earlier entries can be found hereherehere, hereand here.

Schneider: In our previous post, you implied—through one of your fictional stories—that research could be used in the courts to establish particular policy positions, and I'd like to follow up on that.

I'm perpetually frustrated by the fact that, for every complex issue, there is competing research to cite. It's a real dilemma for which I don't really see a solution. Maybe we can talk through this a bit.

Smarick: I actually see the vast majority of research as complementary, not competing. 

Studies on the same subject often ask different questions, use different data sets, and have different methodologies. So if you only read the titles, you might think two reports are in conflict; but once you get into the details, you see that they paint a fuller picture of some issue when taken together. Let me give you just one very simple example. 

Some research shows that early-childhood programming can help disadvantaged kids show up for kindergarten much better prepared to learn. Other research shows that some of these programs aren't effective and that, in lots of cases, the benefits of pre-K can wear off somewhere down the line (say, when the students hit third, fourth, or fifth grade). 

All of that can be true. That is, not all early-learning programs are of the same quality. Some are amazing, and some are the opposite of amazing. And if kids go from a great pre-K program to a low-performing elementary school, their...

It’s the end of another great year in education-reform punditry. What was on the mind of Fordham experts and guest bloggers this year? Common Core for sure, from teaching literacy to the coming assessments; but also the fate of unions, no-excuses charters, career and technical education, differentiated instruction, and more.

Presenting your favorite (Fordham) things (in 2014), according to your clicks:

Flypaper (and Ohio Gadfly Daily)

10. Vergara, Harris, and the fate of the teachers unions
By Andy Smarick

9. Boston’s high-quality charters make no excuses
By Michael Goldstein

8. Turning the tables on the vocational ed debate
By Emily Hanford

7. A few reflections on the Common Core Wars
By Michael Petrilli

6. Education reform in 2014
By Chester E. Finn, Jr.

5. The opt-out outrage
By Chester E. Finn, Jr.

4. It pays to increase your word power
By Robert Pondiscio

3. Is differentiated instruction a hollow promise?
By Chester E. Finn, Jr.

2. Lies, damned lies, and the Common Core
By Michael Petrilli

1. Teachers, the Common Core, and the freedom to teach
by Jessica Poiner

Common Core Watch

10. New York’s Common Core tests: Tough questions, curious choices
By Robert Pondiscio

9. What’s behind the declining support for the Common Core?
By Michael Petrilli

8. Smarter Balanced assessments: A big moment for our schools
By Joe Wilhoft

7. The reading paradox: How standards mislead teachers
by Kathleen Porter-Magee

6. Where Common Core is not controversial
By Robert Pondiscio

5. A missed opportunity for Common Core
By Robert Pondiscio

4. How to kill reading achievement
By Robert Pondiscio

3. Common Core confusion: It’s a math, math world
By Kathleen Porter-Magee
...

Welcome to a special Fordham-in-the-news edition of Late Bell. On the heels of the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO)’s study on charter school performance in Ohio, as well as Bellwether Education Partners'  examination of potential changes to Ohio charter law, we’ve assembled some of the relevant local and national news coverage of both publications for your perusal. Enjoy!

THIS MUST BE WHY CHECKER WEARS SPURS AROUND THE OFFICE
Speaking before an audience in Cleveland, CREDO’s director, Macke Raymond, depicted Ohio’s situation as “grim,” though she conceded that the city’s charter schools “are creating a positive result.” In the Plain Dealer’s synopsis of the talk, they recalled a NACSA characterization of the state as “the Wild, Wild West” of charter sectors.

FALL OF BYZANTIUM
The Daily Caller quotes Ohio State Auditor David Yost in its review of official reactions to both reports. In a statement, Yost described the state’s charter regulations as “byzantine” (great SAT word, everyone), asserting that they have given rise to “lax oversight by boards, conflicts of interest, improper spending and even criminal conduct by some rogue schools and operators.”

THE GOOD KIND OF AUDIT
Yost went on to laud the recommendations set forth in the Bellwether study, raising the hope that some could be enacted in the future under recently re-elected Governor John Kasich: “This report does a good job of pointing out where Ohio’s governance of community schools doesn’t work. We can do a lot of good for our kids by seriously considering many of these ideas and best practices. I hope they will be among the General Assembly’s priorities in its next session.”

IF NOT NOW, WHEN?
Fordham’s own irresistible Aaron Churchill was interviewed for a segment on local WKSU radio, calling for...

Juliet Squire

Editor's note: This post originally appeared in a slightly different form at Bellwether Education Partners' Ahead of the Herd blog.

We recently offered ten policy recommendations to address the discouraging performance of Ohio’s charter school sector. We think the building blocks of our recommendations (e.g., strengthening the autonomy/accountability bargain, improving authorizing, creating smart incentives) are relevant to all states, and we suspect the specifics of some recommendations might fit the bill in some states.

But our report was written in response to conditions in Ohio. Several provisions in the Buckeye State’s law are unusual, and after more than fifteen years of charter experience, Ohio can now see the long-term consequences of many of its policy decisions.

For instance, the legislature tasked the Ohio Department of Education with crafting an authorizer-ranking system that will help the state restrict low-quality authorizers’ ability to oversee charters. We believe this accountability boost (importantly, without any new burdens on schools) is necessary in Ohio because the state has so many authorizers, some of which oversee large numbers of persistently low-performing schools. In states with fewer authorizers, stronger authorizing practices, and/or stronger charter school performance, this novel policy is far less critical.

Similarly, in 2006, Ohio passed legislation to automatically close persistently failing charter schools. We call for strengthening that law, which currently has loopholes for schools serving specific student populations. If all Ohio charter schools were successful, or if all Ohio authorizers held their schools accountable, an automatic-closure law would be unnecessary. Unfortunately, that’s not the case today.

We would prefer high-stakes charter decisions be made by quality-conscious authorizers deeply informed by the particular circumstances of each school. A statewide automatic-closure law based on a uniform set of limited performance metrics is a blunt tool, for sure. Tightening up the current statute...

RANK CONFUSION
The Education Department unveiled its new college ranking system designed to keep higher education institutions accountable for performance on “key indicators.” The administration will look at factors such as expansion of college access to disadvantaged groups, net price and available scholarships, and graduation rates. University presidents and chancellors, however, say the rating system does a poor job of measuring metrics that truly matter, such as relationships with professors and campus culture.

EASY GRADERS
Governor Cuomo continues to anger New York teachers unions with his reform agenda. Cuomo expressed his desire to expand charters and alter teacher dismissal procedures in a letter to John King, New York’s outgoing education commissioner. The governor specifically took issue with the fact that recent teacher assessments classified only 1 percent of the state’s teachers as ineffective.

TIP #1: DON’T DISCLOSE THE DETAILS OF ANY UNSOLVED CRIMES
Just in time for all those last-minute revisions at the December 31 deadline, the Answer Sheet blog has a useful guide to aceing your college application essay. Among their expert pointers: Stick to a clear message, don’t get too cheeky, and abide by word limits. Notably, they offer no guidance on whether to compose your heartfelt work in Comic Sans.

WEEKEND LONG READ
While savoring your Sunday cantaloupe, take some time to enjoy the latest entry of “A Promise to Renew,” the Hechinger Report’s epic, award-winning series on Newark’s Quitman Street Renew School. In turnaround since 2012, Quitman Street is finally beginning to realize major gains in test results, posting some of the highest marks of any of the city’s schools....

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