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How educational policies influence schools’ behavior is of considerable importance for sound policy-making. Policymakers, of course, want to put into place policies that encourage “good” behavior, while not enacting policies that promote “bad” behavior.

In this report, Rajashri Chakrabarti of the New York Federal Reserve Bank examines whether Florida schools, facing sanctions under the state’s A-F accountability system, behaved strategically by over-identifying students as special education (SPED) or English language learning (ELL). This would be an example of “bad” behavior—where schools “game the system” (knowingly misidentifying a student) out of self-interest.

Chakrabarti describes the incentives as this: Under Florida’s 1999 A-F accountability reform, many SPED and ELL students’ test scores were excluded from a school’s rating. As such, low-performing schools (F-rated) were “incentivized” to classify weak students into excluded categories. The incentive was particularly strong for a school trying to escape the sanction of becoming voucher-eligible, if they received a second F rating. But there’s a twist: concurrent with the 1999 A-F reform, Florida enacted a voucher program for all SPED students—the McKay Scholarship—evaporating a school’s incentive to classify its weaker students as SPED.

The key finding: low-performing schools responded in-line with the policy incentives. ELL populations in grades 3 and 4 (though not in grade 5) significantly increased immediately after the reforms occurred. This suggests that low-performing schools manipulated the ELL classification—in Florida, an ELL Committee could subjectively determine whether a student is ELL. As for the SPED populations in these schools? They didn’t increase significantly—the McKay Scholarship,...

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In a previous review, I examined The National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) Index of Essential Practices 2012 which discusses how states are doing in accomplishing the “essential practices” for charter school authorizing. Ohio sponsors performed well, even though they met some difficulty reaching higher marks because of Ohio’s charter school law. One of the critiques I had was that these essential practices were self-reported and did not fully unpack the policy implications for these authorizers and the states where they work. Recently, however, NACSA released an accompanying report called The State of Charter School Authorizing 2012 that elaborates on the Index by attaching policy recommendations for both authorizers and states. This report, using authorizer demographics and survey data from authorizers, shows that charter school authorizers and states can better serve their charter schools and hold them to higher accountability standards. NACSA finds that the authorizers are performing well on the index but still suffer challenges in closing schools, hiring experts, and working with state laws. Based on the survey findings, NACSA recommends the following for charter school authorizers and the state lawmakers:

  • Authorizers need to develop strong policies for both replication and closure of charters;
  • Authorizers must invest in human capital development to increase both the quantity and quality of charter school educators; and
  • State policy makers must work with charter authorizers to develop stronger measures of school accountability.

Even though the report finds that authorizers are moving in the right direction with details like...

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The Common Core academic standards—gearing up this year and next, and to be fully implemented by 2014-15—represent an overhaul in how teachers teach and how students learn. The new learning standards in English language arts and math will stress students’ reasoning and analytical skills—considered by many educators and researchers to be an improvement compared to how educating students has been done in recent times.

Consider the mounting evidence that the Common Core will be a change—if not a “monumental shift”—that pushes education in the right direction for the Buckeye State.

  • Peggy Marrs, a Common Core coach for Cincinnati Public Schools, quipped that under the Common Core, students are “going to be reasoning with themselves and with others in groups. They’ll be judging one another’s conclusions and solutions…They’re going to be analyzing and justifying answers.”
  • Ellen Gorman, an eighth-grade math teacher at West Clermont School District, said that under the Common Core “[t]he focus has been shifted, to having students think about how they got their answer and be able to explain their process.”
  • Mark Farmer, Northwest Local School’s (Hamilton County) assistant superintendent of curriculum, remarked that “These new standards require our kids to do research, to look up sources and think about them, make an opinion and put it in writing in a clear way.”

And, a growing number of educator surveys show the support that the Common Core has in the field:

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Ohio’s bright-eyed freshmen aren’t ready for college coursework. That’s the story from the Ohio Board of Regents, which reports that 40 percent of Ohio’s college freshman at public colleges and universities take remedial (high-school level) coursework in either math or English. Moreover, 14 percent of incoming freshman are required by their colleges to take both a remedial math and English class.

These are staggering numbers, with massive implications for students and taxpayers. For students who take a remedial course, Complete College America found that only 35 percent graduate in six years. This compares to 56 percent of all students. Similarly, the Ohio State University found that students who took remedial coursework graduated at a rate 30 points lower than their non-remedial peers. With these dismal results in mind, remedial coursework largely wastes the $130 million per year Ohio spends to support remedial education.

The chart below takes a closer look at the remediation rates for incoming freshman who attend an Ohio public college or university, by the public high school from which they graduated. The performance index generally indicates the quality of the high school. The chart shows three things:

  • As expected, higher-performing schools tend to have lower remediation rates;
  • A small portion of Ohio high schools have remarkably high remediation rates—above 70 and 80 percent—and four schools break the 90 percent mark;
  • A modest-sized section of high-performing high schools also have high remediation rates. This is unexpected—and indicates that remediation is a problem for students
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High-quality gifted education for the state’s ablest students should be an imperative for Ohio. These kids are most likely to turn into tomorrow’s inventors, scientists, entrepreneurs, engineers and job creators. In generations to come, the state’s economic vitality—and America’s international competitiveness—will depend in no small part on whether we maximize our human capital at the high end even as we strive to raise the skill-and-knowledge level for all.

Today, however, the vast majority of Ohio’s high-potential youngsters aren’t receiving the education they need to reach their full potential. As the Columbus Dispatch recently reported, even high-flying districts are failing to make gains with gifted students.

It’s not a new problem. Two decades of federal education initiatives have pushed states to set minimum standards, raise the floor, and close achievement gaps. All are worthy goals—and millions of U.S. educators have been struggling to help their pupils attain them—but along the way our K-12 education system has sorely neglected those children who are already “proficient”, many of them actually achieving at high levels.

Ohio has long required its districts to identify which children are “gifted”—there are several different ways one can qualify—but does not require anybody actually to provide these kids with additional classroom challenges or with teachers prepared to instruct fast learners. Hence districts have no incentive or accountability for improving gifted education. So most of them don’t do it—or don’t do nearly enough of it. The result: Two hundred Ohio districts offer no special services whatsoever for their gifted students....

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Despite sterling academic records and substantial financial-aid opportunities, high-achievers from poor families rarely even apply to America’s elite colleges and universities. In a previous study, researchers Caroline Hoxby and Christopher Avery attributed this to an information deficit: These kids (the researchers excluded kids who attend “feeder” schools) tend to reside in small towns located far from selective colleges and attend high schools with overworked, ill-prepared counselors and student bodies less attuned to selective college admissions. This follow-up study, conducted by Hoxby and Sarah Turner, examines one potential solution: thoughtful, tailored information about selective college admissions that is delivered to students’ doorsteps. In 2009, Hoxby and Turner established the Expanding College Opportunities (ECO) program, which randomly mailed college informational packets to thousands of high-ability seniors (12,000 of them in 2011–12). The main finding: Sending students informational materials—especially materials that offered clear financial-aid information—caused these youngsters to apply to and matriculate at colleges of greater selectivity at greater rates. Even more noteworthy, the packets cost just six bucks a pop to produce and mail. The upshot: Instead of languishing in (or dropping out of) a college beneath their abilities, they’ll seek out a campus suited to their gifts. If, as the authors suggest, ECO (or a kindred program) is scaled to reach all of the nation’s high-flying, low-income kids, it could seriously shrink the college-opportunity gap; here’s hoping.

SOURCE: Susanna Loeb and Matthew Kasman, “Principals’ perceptions of competition for students in Milwaukee...

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Federal due-process requirements for special ed are far more onerous, costly, and stressful than they need to be. That’s the gist of this paper from the American Association of School Administrators (the first in what the AASA promises to be a series on retooling special-ed). After surveying 200 superintendents, the group found that every due-process complaint costs the district an average $10,500 in legal fees—and that many districts end up consenting to parental requests that they consider “unreasonable” or inconsistent with IDEA. The resulting recommendations are straightforward: Bring in third-party facilitators to guide any IEP meetings that are going poorly (in North Carolina, which utilizes facilitators in this way, fewer than 20 percent of facilitated IEP meetings end in adjudication) and, if IEP facilitation and optional mediation fail, hire an independent expert to evaluate students and act as an IEP-creator-of-last-resort. These are sensible proposals that will have significant effect in lawsuit-crazy cities like D.C. and NYC. Congress should consider AASA’s recommendations: IDEA needs an overhaul, and this is a good start.

SOURCE: Sasha Pudelski, Rethinking Special Education Due Process (Alexandria, VA: American Association of School Administrators, April 2013).

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This sixth paper in the Digital Learning Now! “Smart Series” details how archaic education-financing structures represent a fundamental barrier to innovation (whether that be digital learning or faithful implementation of rigorous standards) in today’s K–12 sector—and sets forth four “design principles” for a modern funding structure. None of these recommendations for restructuring school funding is new (indeed, they’re largely built off work Fordham produced in 2006), but they’re worthy all the same: To allow innovation to take hold, funding must be weighted, flexible, and portable. It also must be based on performance, the authors argue. (A good idea—though one challenging to implement.) This paper provides a solid primer on all four—including tangible examples of states and districts that have made these changes. San Francisco, for example, rolled out a weighted-student funding system in 2002 that provides dollars to schools based on student grade level, socioeconomic status, special needs, and English language proficiency. Each school is then responsible for creating a budget tailored to its specific needs, with the central office in charge of training and monitoring schools. Yet another helpful DLN paper, chockablock with smart, actionable policy recommendations.

SOURCE: John Bailey, Carrie Schneider, and Tom Vander Ark, Funding Students, Options, and Achievement (Tallahassee, FL: Foundation for Excellence in Education, April 2013)....

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GadflyThe National Education Association is suing Florida for its teacher-evaluation policy; specifically, the fact that the Sunshine State engages in the shady practice of evaluating teachers based on students or subjects that they don’t teach. Florida state superintendent Tony Bennett noted that there is currently a law under consideration that would call for “evaluating teachers only on the students and subjects they teach”; this should certainly pass.

Tennessee governor Bill Haslam, for the second time in as many years, killed his own voucher proposal when it became clear that his state’s legislators were interested in taking it to scale. The Wall Street Journal, in a scathing rebuke, accused Haslam of cynically trying to “appease unions while claiming to support school choice.” That’s about right—and as foolish a move by a Republican official to throttle choice as is the RNC’s assault on standards.

On Tuesday, New York students completed their first day of new Common Core–aligned tests, after controversy over whether they had been taught the necessary content (a legitimate beef) and a blitz of advertisements from the NYC education department forewarning parents about lower test scores to come. That last action made sense; too bad the ads are misleading about the Common Core’s intent.

After the GED was redesigned to reflect the Common Core standards, it had double the passing points (one to...

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This new study on school competition examines which types of schools experience more competitive pressure and asks Milwaukee principals which schools they identify as their primary source of competition. The analysts use Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) administrative, student-transfer, and achievement data for 2007–08 through 2009–10, as well as geographic data and MPS principal survey findings from 2010. Four key results arise: First, 45 percent of the surveyed principals reportedly experienced a lot of competitive pressure from other schools, 30 percent some, 14 percent a little, and 11 percent none. The schools of those who perceived some or a lot of pressure tended to have more poor children and those with special needs. Secondly, and surprisingly, the extent to which principals feel pressure is not related to geographic factors, such as the number of nearby schools serving the same grades. Analysts muse that this may be a result of the robust choice system in Milwaukee that includes transportation supports. However, the extent of competition is related to transfer rates out of a school and student performance—with low- and high-achieving schools feeling more pressure than those in the middle. Third, when asked to identify their biggest sources of competition, principals tended to point to schools that were similar to them with higher average scores, more white or Hispanic kids, and those that receive greater numbers of transfers from them. This makes intuitive sense. And fourth, the most common response to competition is not improving curriculum or instruction but ramping up outreach and advertisement to parents. The latter is more...

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