Flypaper

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,...

Just in time for Christmas, my Fordham colleague Mike Petrilli has left a present under the tree for inquisitive children and busy parents who don’t think the sky will fall if the kids get a little screen time now and again (it won’t).

Over the course of a year’s blog posts, and with the help of several able Fordham interns, Mike curated some of the best streaming web videos on Netflix, Amazon, and elsewhere. He then aligned them with the Core Knowledge Sequence, a robust list of subjects from pre-K to eighth grade that undergirds the curriculum at some of the nation’s most successful schools. These have now been repackaged into a neat little website he’s calling “Netflix Academy.” Homeschoolers for whom Core Knowledge is a subject of near-religious devotion will also be grateful for this resource. 

You’ll find videos on science, literature, and U.S. and world history. Click on “Science,” for example, and you’ll see a drop-down menu organized by knowledge domains (aquatic life, mammals, insects, outer space, etc.). Within each domain are direct links to streaming videos from Netflix, National Geographic, PBS, YouTube, and others sources. You’ll also find movie versions of classic children’s book and lots more. It’s entertainment with high caloric content.

“As E.D. Hirsch Jr. has argued for a quarter-century, the early elementary years are the ideal time to introduce children to the wonders of history (natural and otherwise), geography, literature, art, music, and more,” Mike writes.

I heartily agree....

EGGHEADS IN ONE BASKET
For high schoolers with their eyes set on the Ivy League, piling on extracurriculars, volunteer hours, and APs may seem like a necessary evil. These days, the competition to get through the eye of the admissions needle is nearly insurmountable, and many of the brightest, most overscheduled kids are being waitlisted. A recent article has some advice for these young hopefuls: Instead of spending all your time juggling, put your energy into one master project. In other words, now would be a good time to unearth those plans to start a nonprofit sending iPads to Sudan.

NOW IF YOU'LL EXCUSE ME, I NEED TO GO SEE A MAN ABOUT A CAMPAIGN JET
In a statement earlier this week, Scott Walker walked back some of his strong opposition to the Common Core. The Wisconsin governor went from supporting a repeal-and-replace agenda to allowing schools that might wish to use standards to continue doing so. Furthermore, in response to Jeb Bush’s presidential non-announcement, Walker claimed that he would not let the former Florida governor’s decision affect his own and that he would like to “do more with education reform, entitlement reform, and tax reform,” while serving the people of Wisconsin.

ORDER WITHOUT CASUALTIES
NPR has a terrific, granular look at one school’s application of what is being called “restorative justice.” The approach seeks to minimize the use of suspensions and expulsions as a punishment for disruptive behavior—punishments that have been...

Editor's note: This post originally appeared in slightly different form at the Chartering Quality blog.

Back in 2006, NACSA, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute issued Turning the Corner to Quality, a tough report on Ohio’s charter sector whose message was summed up in its first major recommendation: “Clean House.”  There were too many failing charters, oversight had gone from bad to worse after the legislature removed chartering authority from the state education department, and the state’s charter cap was effectively shutting out strong operators.

In the intervening eight years, a lot of good things have happened, including successful charter ventures like Cleveland’s Breakthrough Schools;  a default-closure law that has eliminated twenty-four low-performing charters; and most recently, a concerted effort by the state agency’s Quality School Choice office, led by former NACSA staffer David Hansen, to bring accountability to the state’s multitudinous authorizers.

Yet the muck persists. Last week, CREDO at Stanford reported that on the whole, students in Ohio’s charters are getting fourteen fewer days of learning in reading and thirty-six fewer days in math than their counterparts in district-run schools.  There are some bright spots. Cleveland charters outperform the district; performance is better in charters for black students and those in poverty; middle schools do comparatively well; and there seems to be a trend toward improvement among urban charters. But overall performance hasn’t improved since CREDO’s 2009 Ohio study, and is particularly weighed down by woefully deficient results...

Jack Schneider

Editor's note: This post is the fifth 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 herehere, here, and here.

Smarick: For several decades some education advocates (including teachers’ unions), after failing to win in legislatures, have successfully used state courts to achieve one of their top priorities: increasing K–12 funding. In a historical twist, some in the reform community, unable to win in legislatures, are now using state courts to overturn tenure rules.

Regardless of your views on any specific policy matter, what do you think of the general strategy of using courts instead of the elected branches to achieve K–12 policy goals? More specifically, what do you think of the Vergara decision, which overturned California's laws on seniority and tenure?

Schneider: It's a good question. Because this is an issue around which there's a lot of philosophical yoga. Liberals and conservatives alike bend themselves into all kinds of positions—advocating judicial restraint and judicial activism—depending on whether they like the outcome of a case.

Frankly, I see no problem with using the courts if the elected branches fail to act. The desegregation cases of the 1950s and 1960s are a great example of this. States and school districts were in violation of the law, and the courts—the Supreme Court as well as lower courts—stepped in to...

This fall, the editorial boards of two of Ohio’s most widely read newspapers issued stinging missives urging legislators to make sweeping changes to the state’s charter school law. In September, the Plain Dealer opined that lawmakers should “work together on a bill to improve charter schools.” One month later, in light of revelations about a questionable charter-facilities deal, the Columbus Dispatch argued that charter reform “should address questionable lease deals along with other loopholes, conflicts and oversights in Ohio’s charter-school system.”

They’re absolutely right: 120,000 Buckeye charter students deserve to attend a school governed by a great charter law—a law that puts the interests of children first. But at the present time, Ohio’s charter law too often fails to protect these students’ best interests; instead, in too many ways, it protects powerful vested interests, smothers schools with red tape, starves even the best schools, and tolerates academic mediocrity.

Predictably, overall charter school performance in Ohio has been lackluster. In the two most extensive evaluations of Ohio charter performance in 2009 and 2014, Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) found that Ohio charter school students, on average, make less academic progress than their district counterparts. The 2014 results, released last week, estimated that charter students received an equivalent of fourteen fewer days of learning in reading and forty-three fewer days of learning in math.

But fixing...

It was the best of times…

…for the Republican Party. Election Day 2014 was a rout, with the GOP winning full control of Congress and its largest House majority since World War II. Republican governors were re-elected in Florida, Wisconsin, Michigan, Kansas, and Maine. Democrat Pat Quinn was booted out of office in President Obama’s home state of Illinois. Republican now control two-thirds of state legislatures too. The GOP groundswell “will be good for education reform, especially reforms of the school-choice variety,” predicted Fordham’s Mike Petrilli

It was the worst of times…

...for teachers’ unions. “It’s open season on teacher employment protection laws in U.S. state courts,” noted Fordham’s Brandon Wright on the heels of June’s Vergara v. California verdict holding California’s tenure laws unconstitutional. And the hits just kept on coming. In October, the commission that runs the financially troubled Philadelphia public school system unilaterally canceled the union’s contract and ruled teachers must contribute to their health insurance to free up money for classrooms. (A good decision to avoid the big squeeze.) Election Day made the annus horribilis complete. The $60 million the AFT and NEA spent on campaigns merely advertised their impotence. The unions took out their frustrations in the waning days of 2014 on a TIME magazine cover story on tenure. “It’s a lot easier to gin up phony outrage over magazine covers than reckon with the question of...

JEB THE APOSTATE
Will Jeb Bush’s support of the Common Core keep him from realizing his presidential aspirations? Since his announcement yesterday that he has “decided to actively explore the possibility of running for president of the United States,” Politico, The Hill, and Time have all published articles detailing how the issue might hinder Jeb’s campaign, while Libby Nelson of Vox explained why it won’t affect his run.  

BE PREPARED (DISNEY ALERT)
The 2012 suspension of six teaching programs at Lake Superior State University in Michigan has been called a much-needed wake up call, and many argue that other schools should follow suit. But Education Week reports that many schools are hesitant to pull the plug on their teacher prep programs, even when they are not adequately training future teachers for the classroom. Teacher programs, and their lack of accountability, have been called out before; for more, read NCTQ’s 2014 Teacher Prep Review.

WON'T SOMEBODY PLEASE THINK OF THE HARVARD GRADS
Alternative teacher prep program Teach For America reports a drop in corps applications this year, potentially losing 25 percent of recruitment potential. Training Institutes in New York and Los Angeles may be the first to feel the effects of a drop in enrollment, but TFA spokespeople say some pockets across the country are swelling with candidate applications. 

IN MY DAY WE WERE UP CHOPPING FIREWOOD BY DAWN
Following recommendations in a report by the...

Senator Lamar Alexander, Representative John Kline, and their respective staffs have successfully freaked out sizable portions of the education-reform crowd—especially those who spend our days inside the Beltway bubble—by threatening to eliminate No Child Left Behind’s annual testing requirement. I’m hoping that this is just a bluff or feint—a way to strengthen their negotiating position—because the idea is so insane.  Do Republicans really want to scrap the transparency that comes from measuring student (and school and district) progress from year to year and go back to the Stone Age of judging schools based on a snapshot in time? Or worse, based on inputs, promises, and claims? Are they seriously proposing to eliminate the data that are powering great studies and new findings every day on topics from vouchers to charters to teacher effectiveness and more?

I suspect they’ll come to their senses. But I do appreciate the impulse—both the reaction to a dozen years of Washington micromanagement (taken to new heights by Arne Duncan’s conditional waivers) and the very real concern about over-testing in the classroom. If the GOP wants actually to fix that problem, however, rather than just rail about it, here’s an idea: Kill the federal mandate around teacher evaluations and much of the over-testing will go away.

That’s because much of the huge growth in testing in recent years hasn’t come from No Child Left...

Dear Santa,

On behalf of a host of certified experts, policy wonks, busybodies and know-it-alls: All I would like for Christmas this year is your help in getting people to do what we know is best for them rather than what they want to do.

I know, I know, there are all those old clichés about a free society and the “pursuit of happiness.” But why do those stubborn kids and parents refuse to understand that we know better than they do what will bring them happiness? OK, maybe not perfect happiness, but we certainly know what’s good for them.

Consider Michelle Obama. She went to Princeton, for Pete’s sake, and Harvard Law School. I think she even passed the bar exam. She’s a real expert on so many things. She definitely knows what’s good for kids. After all, she has two of her own. And she has some sort of garden at the White House where they grow stuff that she says is healthy to eat. Surely she knows better than kids and parents and cafeteria ladies and Aramark what students ought to eat for lunch. After all, she persuaded the president of the United States and the Congress—experts all—to change the rules regarding the food that schools serve to their pupils.

But those stubborn kids don’t want to eat what she says they should eat—and they’re bankrupting their school districts by refusing to buy it! They’re not just stubborn. They’re downright destructive! If only...

Pages