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The Mad Men edition

Opting out, EngageNY's ELA curriculum, career and technical education, cell phones in school, and community college support programs.    

Amber's Research Minute

Robert D. Putnam

The following is an excerpt from Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, by Robert D. Putnam (Simon & Schuster, 2015), reprinted with permission. Watch the video of last week’s Fordham event with Professor Putnam here.

America once had a vigorous system of vocational education, apprenticeship, and workforce training, both in and out of schools. Other countries, like Germany, still do, but over recent decades we have disinvested in such programs. Part of the reason is the rise of the “college for all” mantra, reflecting the belief that a college degree is the ticket to success in the contemporary economy. While it is true that the “college premium” is high, it is also true that very few kids from disadvantaged backgrounds now obtain college degrees. Efforts to improve access and completion rates for poor kids in four-year institutions are worthwhile, and those efforts must begin well before college looms, since the challenges that poor kids face are daunting even before they enter elementary school.

Nonetheless, the “college for all” motto has tended to undercut public and private support for secondary and postsecondary education in vocational skills. A notable example of the potential for contemporary vocational education is provided by Career Academies,...

  • New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s at it again, stumping in Brooklyn churches on behalf of a tax break aimed at kids attending private schools. The initiative would extend middle class families credits of up to $500 for each child enrolled in private schools, including parochial schools; donors to nonprofits funding scholarships to such institutions would also receive some relief. Unfortunately, it’s a great policy in search of a credible advocate: Cuomo’s recent tumble in the polls has been directly tied to his education policies, especially his insistence on chaining teacher evaluations and tenure even more closely to standardized tests. That’s really not a great idea (though it’s probably not as bad as interfering with your own ethics commission). The proposal now has Cardinal Timothy Dolan praying for it, which should help its prospects. But the governor’s approval ratings could need something even stronger than divine intervention.
  • So do the students of the Normandy Schools Collaborative, a Missouri district that demonstrates perfectly why some parents feel they have to desperately scrimp to help their children escape from public schools. A heartbreaking article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch details one diligent student’s lost year at
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  1. The public-private partnership aiming to double the number of high-quality seats available to low-income students in Cincinnati has named its first CEO. He is Patrick Herrel, formerly a recruiter for Teach For America and currently a VP for MindTrust. It also has a formal name: Accelerate Great Schools. Good luck to everyone involved in this exciting venture! (Cincinnati Enquirer, 5/19/15)
     
  2. Speaking of groups with new names, an organization in Youngstown now called ACTION (Alliance for Congregational Transformation Influencing Our Neighborhoods) has been trying to get the whole school board in a room to answer some questions it has about the district’s future. However, since not every member will attend, the previously-announced public meeting will likely not take place. No word on whether anyone from ACTION wanted to talk to the Academic Distress Commission members under whose oversight the district currently operates. With the district supe in his last week of employment, one might rightly be concerned about impending chaos in Y’town. Surely the folks at the Vindicator arrived at that conclusion some time ago. (Youngstown Vindicator, 5/19/15)
     
  3. “I have never had to deal with the daily infighting on the small things that you have to face
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Plain Dealer reporter Patrick O’Donnell was given access to a Pearson test-grading facility in suburban central Ohio recently and filed a series of reports from inside its walls. The tone of the pieces is reminiscent of that M*A*S*H episode when the newsreel reporter interviews the frontline medical staff. It is painstaking work in a high-pressure environment, but it is important and must be done with diligence and a touch of humor. Like the sign in the office says:

First up, O’Donnell runs us through the basics of the operation. Most graders tackle one question only, scoring the same one for hundreds of students in a shift; “anchor” examples show the basic form the correct answer should take; and there is selective double-checking of live scorers’ work.

Then there is a look at who has been hired to do the scoring work for Pearson this year. Some 72 percent of all their test graders nationwide have some teaching experience. And yes, some of them were hired via Craigslist.

Finally, while O’Donnell has a reputation as a thorough reporter on his own, he decides to open up the floor to Plain...

Sherman Dorn

Editor's note: This post originally appeared in a slightly different form on Sherman Dorn's blog.

Science writer David Kohn has an op-ed in this morning’s New York Times, “Let the Kids Learn Through Play.” For historians, the first three words ring alarm bells: “Twenty years ago, kids in preschool, kindergarten and even first and second grade spent much of their time playing” (emphasis added).

Great: another Myth of the Golden Age. Maybe my memory is flawed, but Google Books and I both agree that the early 1990s was a time when “child-care crisis” was on the tip of many tongues, or at least on far more tongues and keyboards than before or since:

For many parents, any child care they can pay for is an uncertain proposition; debates over play versus early academics are a luxury for millions. For others, the quality of interactions between teachers and young children trumps the question of what happens during the day. And in practice, the divide between “play” and “academics” is often specious. When my son’s preschool teachers in the late 1990s cut up samples of almost a dozen types of fruit for his class to try, was that...

  1. Our own Aaron Churchill was on the radio this morning, discussing last week’s Achieve report on the gap between state proficiency scores and NAEP scores. Quick but interesting discussion. (WTVN-AM, Columbus, 5/18/15)
     
  2. The Beacon Journal started out taking a look at single-gender classrooms and schools in the Akron area. Along the way, issues such as pay gaps, involuntary teacher transfers, societal norms, class differences, and discipline statistics piled up in an overegged but still interesting piece. (Akron Beacon Journal, 5/16/15)
     
  3. We told you last week about a Franklin County neighborhood petitioning the state board of ed to be rezoned away from South-Western City Schools and into Upper Arlington Schools. Why are those Columbus households in South-Western to begin with? The infamous Win-Win agreement from the 1980s, by which the city of Columbus was allowed to continue to annex the hinterlands and grow but neighborhoods already in other districts prior to 1986 were not required to send their children to Columbus City Schools. In exchange, Columbus has gotten money from those districts every year. But a new effort by Dublin City Schools to end the decades-old agreement is gaining steam…and generating some heat. (Columbus Dispatch, 5/17/15)
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  1. We start today with coverage of Chad’s testimony before the Senate Finance Education Subcommittee earlier this week. In which he urged Senators considering the new state budget to not let “safe harbor” considerations for schools extend to an EdChoice Scholarship voucher eligibility freeze. He was not alone in these sentiments. (Gongwer Ohio, 5/14/15)
     
  2. Editors in Cleveland opined favorably on Fordham’s most recent report – School Closure and Student Achievement. This is especially important because folks in Cleveland know only too well the difficulties of closing schools for even the soundest of reasons. (Cleveland Plain Dealer, 5/14/15)
     
  3. You probably couldn’t have missed it yesterday, but just in case you did, Achieve released a report looking at the gaps between state proficiency scores and NAEP results in all 50 states. Ohio fared poorly indeed, indicative of a shaky definition of “proficiency” in the Buckeye State. Chad said this loudly and clearly and was included in coverage of the report in the Columbus Dispatch (5/14/15), the Bucyrus Telegraph (5/15/15) and other Gannett outlets, and the Cleveland Plain Dealer (5/14/15).
     
  4. The Beacon Journal’s coverage of the Achieve report didn’t include Chad, but it did include
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Jeb Bush told reporters Wednesday that he’s “running for president”—supposedly an accidental slip of the tongue. Nevertheless, if and when the former Florida governor makes an official proclamation, few will be surprised, and many will consider him a frontrunner. He’s also the subject of the ninth installment of the Eduwatch 2016 series chronicling presidential candidates’ stances on education issues.

Out of all the people who are running or may run for president, Bush is probably the most reform-minded. He was elected governor of Florida in 1999, and during his eight years in office, he focused heavily on public education—instituting, among other things, tougher standards, a voucher program, and corporate tax scholarships for low-income students. In 2008, a year after he left office, he founded the Foundation for Excellence in Education, an influential education reform nonprofit that works on standards and accountability, school choice, college and career readiness, and a number of other issues. The ...

Last Friday, I was sworn in as a member of the Maryland State Board of Education.

It’s an honor to have this chance to serve. It also has great personal meaning to me. I’m a product of Maryland public education from start to finish: from Broadneck Elementary through Magothy River Middle and Severn River Junior High, then Broadneck High, and into the University of Maryland, I’ve attended only Maryland public schools since I was six years old. Now my oldest—a soon-to-be five-year old who loves math problems, puzzles, his scooter, and Spider-Man—begins kindergarten this fall in our local Maryland public school.

Before he administered my oath, the court clerk reminded me how personally we all take our schools. He talked about the high school just down the road—the same high school he attended decades earlier, the high school where he met some of the people in the photos hanging on his office walls.

During my drive to the courthouse, I passed a number of working farms in my rural county. I remembered my elementary school’s annual tradition of watching Maryland: America in Miniature. I learned that the ...

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