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The 2008 federal economic stimulus act invested $5 billion to support early-childhood programs, including $500 million for the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge, which pushes states and localities to participate in the Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS). One of the quality measures endorsed by QRIS is the widely popular Early Childhood Environmental Rating Scale–Revised (ECERS-R). Much research has shown a positive relationship between higher scores on ECERS and children’s development, including academic and social outcomes—but the measure has neither been tested in a nationally representative sample nor subjected to a robust set of controls to lessen the impact of selection bias (e.g., motivated parents might choose higher-quality child care). In this study, Terri Sabol of Northwestern University and Robert Pianta of the University of Virginia use data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study–Birth Cohort (ECLS-B); they include children born in 2001, ultimately yielding a sample of roughly 10,000 kids, whom they track through age 5, and they also conduct classroom observations in 1,400 center-based providers. They measure a number of outcomes at age 5, including math and literacy, expressive language, and social skills among others—and control for numerous child, family, and center characteristics as well as demographics. The bottom line: the analysts found scant evidence that the ECERS is related to children’s academic or social development. In all, they ran over fifty different analytic models and found few significant effects between this particular measure of quality and outcomes at age 5. Further, programs that scored higher on...


This week’s education-focused Washington Post Magazine told the story of high-flying sixteen-year-old Carolina Sosa, who is Hispanic, low income, and bedecked with academic honors. At age 6, she was “chatty and insatiably curious” but struggling to read. Seeking participants for Fairfax County’s Young Scholars program, which aims to diversify gifted programming, her teacher identified her as being especially talented—and the rest is history. Heart-warming, too. A round of applause to a promising young woman, a teacher with a sharp eye, and early talent identification programs.

On Wednesday, College Board released more details on its revamped SAT exam, set to debut in 2016, which will mark a major shift away from measuring aptitude (which, arguably, it never really did) and toward explicitly measuring achievement (what students have learned in school and need to know for success in college.) It's clearer than ever—and no coincidence—that the shifts underway for the SAT parallel those incorporated in the Common Core standards. The usual suspects are predictably critical, though their disapproval has less to do with the specific SAT revamp made than with their gripes about tests in general. Gadfly applauds the College Board on this elegant and overdue overhaul of a highly influential education instrument. As to those who allege that “dumbing down” is underway, Gadfly says, “Check out those sample test questions and see if you can do them. Most of my pals at Fordham are struggling!”...

Dara and Brickman enthuse about early-talent identification programs, rue Indiana’s subpar state standards, and wonder how much is too much to pay superintendents. Amber finds little to no connection between a popular pre-K quality measure and pupil outcomes. Amber's Research Minute “ Do Standard...

South Carolina has taken today’s testing drama to new heights. A few years back, the governor, chief, and state board chair all agreed to have the Palmetto State become a governing board member of the Smarter Balanced (SBAC) testing consortia. But as other states withdrew and new testing options emerged, the state legislature no longer saw participation in a consortium as necessary. So several bills have been filed to force an SBAC departure. The state chief, hoping to find accord with the legislature, recommended that the state board vote to willingly withdraw. The board voted against. Now the state chief has discovered the he has the power to withdraw without the state board’s blessing. Read this letter from the chief to the board. Remarkable stuff.

Indiana is now the latest state to release disappointing results from a new teacher-evaluation system. Though many of us hoped the Widget Effect would disappear, it’s becoming clear that changing statutes and regulations are only a small part of the equation.  

In Tennessee, it’s been tough reform sledding of late. The state’s cutting-edge policy on tying certification to value-added scores is no more. Now it looks like the state may back out of PARCC and issue an RFP for future tests. On the upside, new charter-school legislation is making its way to the governor’s desk; it would enable the state board of education to authorize charter schools rejected by local school districts. Of course,...


NOTE: The Ohio Gadfly Daily News is going on spring break for the rest of this week. Back on Monday with a full roundup. 

  1. Chad’s Ohio Gadfly piece this week on the state of play in Cleveland has drawn quite a bit of interest from Northeast Ohio. You can check him out talking about that very subject at StateImpact and hear the audio from IdeaStream here. (StateImpact Ohio/WCPN-FM Cleveland)
  2. A 24-year veteran teacher in Avon tells it like it is. She has seen many changes in students, curriculum, testing, everything. But her eye is on the prize all the time: “My hope for the future is that my students’ love of learning continues throughout their whole lives. It’s why I teach and it’s what Avon Schools are all about.” Fantastic. (Northern Ohio Morning Journal)
  3. There are two pieces in today’s Education Insider from the Dispatch. The first one is slightly interesting, but my concern is with the second one. A Columbus parent sued the district in regard to the well-publicized data scrubbing, alleging that the scrubbing - and subsequent change in school report card rating - resulted in his own child being unable to obtain a voucher. He got his first day in court…and lost. He has vowed to appeal. (Columbus Dispatch)
  4. Ohio currently has a half dozen standalone (i.e. – non-district) STEM schools
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  1. Several folks have a big problem with changes to value-add calculations proposed in the education MBR bill which passed the House last week and now heads to the Senate. We couldn’t agree more, as we noted in this week’s Ohio Gadfly. (Gongwer Ohio)
  2. The MBR is also on the minds of folks in Cleveland; specifically, a provision that would extend EdChoice Scholarship eligibility to some Cleveland students for the first time under specific conditions. We’ll see if that one survives the Senate. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
  3. Budget forecasting in Akron is complicated by two factors: the state’s new counting methods, going into use next year, and the continued loss of students to vouchers/charters/etc. Still no one asking why the kids are leaving in the first place and what might be done to stop it. (Akron Beacon Journal)
  4. Very twisty story here regarding the impending closure of a charter school in Akron. White Hat/former White Hat/copywriting of names/moving from building to building/the impending Ohio Supreme Court case/etc. Why did it close? Very simple: not enough students to remain financially viable. (Akron Beacon Journal)
  5. The influence of the Beacon Journal is outsized these days in the Ohio ed reform world. This observation is reinforced by this editorial from the Salem News, a paper
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  1. We’ve heard a lot about parents opting their kids out of testing. In Columbus, that number is now up to two. Yes, two parents. (Columbus Dispatch)
  2. Two down, two to go. Governor Kasich has appointed a new member of the state board of education. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
  3. “It is astonishing that we can predict so well in Kindergarten how well kids will be able to read in third grade.” So says a researcher from Ohio State University, sounding what might be a new salvo in the arguments about Ohio’s Third Grade Reading Guarantee. Fascinating (Dayton Daily News)
  4. This is a fascinating dig into data on enrollment changes in districts all around the larger central Ohio area. Open enrollment openings and closings are mooted as big motivators on the changes, but surely population fluctuation and the economy have got to play larges part here. Don’t they? (Columbus Dispatch)
  5. This story has more twists and turns than an O. Henry story. Less than a week after the approval of a use permit that would allow Horizon Science Academy to buy and move to the Toledo YMCA building, Toledo Public Schools has come out of left field to propose to locate not only a currently non-existent Head Start program to the Y building, but
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Most of us are aware by now that Franklin Regional High School, near Pittsburgh, was recently the site of a terrible act of violence. That district also happens to be my home school. There, I had the good fortune to learn under the tutelage of many superb educators. The tragic consequences of the human condition struck home for me, as I’m sure they have for the families of Chardon, Columbine, Sandy Hook, and just last week for the parents and students of Liberty Elementary in Columbus. 

Yet I also caught a glimpse, through the news feeds, of humankind at its finest and bravest: Principal Sam King—a good man whom I remember from my high-school days—helping to disarm the assailant and young men and women casting themselves into harm’s way to save each other’s lives. The light of men shone through, even in the darkest moment. My prayers and best wishes go out to my alma mater.


We invite you to check out our new Ohio Gadfly daily news blog posts, rounding up the most relevant education news stories from around the state and serving them up with a side of Fordham-style commentary by yours truly.

Here’s a taste of what we were commenting on last week:

  • Fordham’s Chad Aldis had the best time ever on the radio yesterday morning, talking Common Core with two knowledgeable hosts and debating with Rep. Andy Thompson and Dr. Terrence Moore with their feisty assistance. It was great fun to listen to, and the comments underneath the post on the website are insightful as well. (IdeaStream/WCPN-FM, Cleveland)
  • Lots of newspapers around the state and into West Virginia today note that the education MBR bill passed the House yesterday and is headed on to the Senate, with lots to talk about for dropout recovery, charter-school accountability, voucher programs, and all the things we love. Here is the Dispatch's take on the bill. (Columbus Dispatch)
  • Speaking of dropout recovery, here is a story in the continuing series about high-school dropouts in Ohio—a very personal one about a woman from Cleveland who actually dropped out of school in seventh grade due to early reading difficulties. She is now a mother of three and has learned to read at age 30. What a great story. (WKSU-FM, Kent)
  • Budget cuts in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District’s 2014–15 budget have been reduced from $21M to $5M, and maximum cuts for the
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A very important education reform announcement occurred last week, but you probably missed it because of the surprising and unfortunate paucity of coverage.

In hindsight, we may come to see this news as a turning point in our nation’s generations-long effort to ensure low-income inner-city kids have access to great schools.

Early Wednesday, finalists were named for the 2014 Broad Prize for Urban Education. For more than a decade, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation have given an annual award to the urban district with the best performance and most impressive academic gains.

Traditionally, the naming of finalists and the selection of a winner are celebratory events. They’ve been used as opportunities to shine a light on districts distinguishing themselves from the otherwise discouraging universe of urban school systems. The award has been widely viewed as a much-needed feel-good moment that, not unimportantly, brings with it major scholarship money for students.

For some time now, however, roiling waters have been visible just below the surface. Yes (and by definition), there will always be a “best” among any class, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is deserving of praise; that is, it might be good in relative terms but not absolute ones.

Said another way, is the best urban district good enough?

This year, to their enormous credit, the foundation and its selection committee openly addressed this issue. Their conclusion is that it’s time to reassess.

The press release, possibly the most introspective I’ve...