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  1. A frankly brilliant summary of the saga of VLT Academy in Cincinnati – a charter school who had no sponsor until a judge forced ODE to take it on – comes from the pen of Patrick O’Donnell today. Fordham’s Kathryn Mullen Upton is quoted throughout, spelling out the vital issues on the line for sponsor oversight in Ohio resulting from whatever is the final outcome of the pending legal case. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  2. In a companion piece to the above, O’Donnell interviews Alex Medler of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers to talk about the “wild west” situation among charter school authorizing in Ohio. Excellent work and important insight. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  3. You might have heard there was a press conference late yesterday to announce the impending arrival of another bill to repeal Common Core in Ohio. If you’re brave, you can watch the whole “creepy” press conference here. If not, here is a sampling of coverage from around the state: Gongwer is here, Columbus Dispatch is here, Toledo Blade is here, and Cincinnati Enquirer is here.
     
  4. In case you despair after reading that collection, take heart that some small pieces of education reform are working in Ohio. The originally-maligned Straight-A Fund has apparently become a source of pride for some communities, both in the winning and in the innovations themselves. Round 2 appropriations cleared the controlling board yesterday, releasing $144.7 million in grants to districts, ESCs, charter schools, consortia,
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Andy's odyssey: Part one

This is the first of a collection of posts about a recent self-assigned course of study—essentially a bunch of reading and furrowed-brow thinking about a subject that’s been gnawing at me.

This series will be an adventure. Though I’ve got a solid thesis, the rest is a jumble of idea fragments. I haven’t ironed out all of my arguments, I sure don’t know what they all amount to, and I’m still a country mile from recommendations.

But over the years I’ve learned I need to write about stuff before I really understand it and then write some more before I can assemble the pieces. Rather than scribbling and editing in private and then, hopefully, producing some tidy digest when the pondering is through, I’m going to file dispatches from the field.

Here’s the gist. Over the last year, I’ve found myself growing restive about ed-reform developments. Sometimes the feeling was hard to explain—a general unease during conferences or while listening to presentations. Other times, I could pinpoint it. For example, when leaders would profess anger at current conditions and a sense of urgency about change but then defer to longstanding arrangements and urge collaboration with them, or when organizations would boast of their commitment to diversity but show no interest in building politically diverse teams.

For a while, I chalked up my grumpiness to age or the zeitgeist. I’m getting older and more set in my ways. As our field evolves, perhaps it’s inevitable that I...

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Way back in 2000, the United Nations went through an elaborate process of setting “millennium development goals” for the world. To be attained by 2015, these were, of course, entirely laudable—e.g., “eradicate extreme poverty and hunger” and “achieve universal primary education”—and they have definitely influenced the priorities of various UN agencies, other governmental and multilateral aid providers, and private philanthropies.

There’s been progress on several fronts—notably a big reduction in the number of people living in extreme poverty and hunger—but none of these goals will have been achieved in full by next year, any more than the “goals 2000” project for American K–12 education met its targets (e.g., “first in the world in math and science”) by the stated end point.

How useful this kind of goal setting is may be debated, but the UN has never looked back. Rather, it’s busily updating its millennium goals for the period after 2015, and its “open working group on sustainable development goals” just held its thirteenth meeting, where it finalized a new list of goals and dispatched these for consideration by the Secretary General and General Assembly. You can find a description of this process here: http://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/index.php?menu=1549. You will also see that the United States shared—with Canada and Israel—one of thirty seats on this working group. (Never mind that the U.S. supplies 22 percent of the UN’s budget!)

The proposed new goals number seventeen, more than twice as many as in the last go-round, and 169 “targets” for the...

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  1. There’s a lot to unpack here in this Q&A with the five current members of the Stark County ESC governing board. Why now? Why those 3 specific questions? Why not ask about career tech or internet connectivity or inner-city vs. suburban vs. rural? Why not ask about the powerful effect of demographic changes in Stark County since these long-timers first took office? Two of these folks have been on the governing board since the George H.W. Bush administration. I’m all for “institutional memory” but are the voters of Stark County really sure that this group is truly representative of their interests? I think even a quick read reveals an antiquated mindset mired in the status quo of the late 20th Century unsuited to the real-world needs of today’s families and students. But that’s just me. (Canton Repository)
     
  2. There’s not much new here, but at least the Dayton Daily News investigation of the allegations against Horizon/Concept schools 1) sticks to facts and 2) keeps in mind the hometown connection to the Dayton-area schools specifically in question in most of the allegations. (Dayton Daily News)
     
  3. We have featured the SPARK program in these clips before, but this is a really nice feature on how it actually works – in-home pre-K prep for kids in Columbus, funded mainly by philanthropy. This story is especially interesting and timely given the high-profile bipartisan state/city push for more institutional-type pre-K seats in the city. This mom tried but couldn’t get her
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  1. It was announced yesterday that term-limited state Representative Bob Hagan filed to run for the state board of education this fall. Today, he explains why: he intends “to make some waves”. I am sad to admit I was wrong in expecting him to have it in for Common Core, but blanket destruction of all charter schools seems a pretty sizeable goal for the guy as well. Good luck, Bob.  (Gongwer Ohio)
     
  2. Appointed state board member Ron Rudduck filed to run to retain his seat. I am not sure at all why this news was in a California newspaper, but I’d be happy to travel out there to talk to them about Ohio education issues any time.  (Ventura County Star)
     
  3. How highly-charged is the media reporting around charter schools in Ohio these days? So much so that a story that is ostensibly about a properly-functioning charter marketplace (low performance and availability of preferable choices lead to student exodus; student exodus leads to money woes; and money woes lead to belt-tightening, layoffs, and retrenching) runs with a headline that implies it’s a shame that the school didn’t just roll over and die. The same process is happening in Akron City Schools and elsewhere every year and no reporter would suggest that perhaps a low-rated and half-capacity elementary school should simply not “reopen” next year. In fact, district building closures for these same reasons are strongly resisted with calls to neighborhood and nostalgia, or simply with calls for
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  1. Chad appeared on All Sides with Ann Fisher yesterday morning – along with several other guests – talking about charter school oversight and accountability in Ohio in the wake of the allegations against Horizon/Concept schools in the state. The full audio is here. Chad comes in at about the 15 minute mark. (WOSU-FM, Columbus)
     
  2. The Dispatch lays out the state of play with regard to Common Core in the Ohio General Assembly. The state of play is “contentious”. (Columbus Dispatch)
     
  3. Speaking of Common Core, my good friends at Lake Local Schools in Northwest Ohio followed up last month’s resolution against the “Common Core curriculum” [sic] with some predictable backpedaling at this month’s meeting. To wit: "[W]e did want to express our concerns and opposition to it," said the board prez. "This is the law. We would just like to get rid of it if we can." Sounds like it could be a letter to the editor, doesn’t it? But it seems that another reality of education reform also caught the board’s attention: the end of “Count Week” in Ohio and the instatement of daily student attendance counts and reporting for districts. Less “contentious” than Common Core, sure, but still worthy of a quotable quote: "It will be interesting to see how this year goes." Indeed. Luckily Lake had plenty of money to hire a staffer to do only that
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Recent revelations suggest that David Cameron’s unexpected move to replace reform-minded education minister Michael Gove (who’s been popular with British conservatives) with Ms. Nicky Morgan might have been triggered by more than crass preelection maneuvering to placate teachers and women.

Gove’s earnestly pursued and widely touted “academies” initiative, which allows district-operated public schools to convert to charter-like status and be managed by outside groups, has led to a major scandal in Birmingham, where a handful of such schools were taken over by fundamentalist Muslims.

Because all academies are, in principle, accountable to the secretary of state for education rather than to local authorities, Gove was ultimately responsible for the decisions that led to this situation, which has been carefully documented by inspectors from Ofsted, England’s independent school-reviewing body.

This is not to say that academy status produced this problem. As a close review by Peter Clarke makes clear, the local Birmingham authorities had turned a blind eye to it for ages. Indeed, one can fairly argue that coming under the secretary of state’s authority is what finally surfaced the problem and empowered the government to intervene, which it has now done.

With some 3,500 such schools now operating in England and enrolling more than one in four of all school kids in the country, it was unrealistic to expect Gove and his small staff to know much about what was happening in them. Still, that’s how this enormously important element of England’s school-choice and...

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Glenn Beck ain't got nothin' on this podcast

Mike and 50CAN’s Marc Porter Magee take on career and technical education, sorting by student achievement, and charter schools’ noncognitive effects. Amber reports on charters’ productivity.

Amber's Research Minute

The Productivity of Public Charter Schools by Patrick J. Wolf, et al., (Fayetteville, AR: School Choice Demonstration Project, University of Arkansas, July 2014).

  1. I’m a bit late in highlighting this, but it’s worth noting that United Schools Network’s Joe Baszynski was named as one of the “40 Under 40” movers and shakers to watch in Columbus. Nice interview here. (Columbus Business First)
     
  2. Lots of heated rhetoric around the Horizon/Concept Schools investigation by the FBI. Here’s some actual news, detailing what evidence was sought and what was found by the FBI, all relating to the federal E-rate program. (Columbus Dispatch)
     
  3. One of those companies connected to the FBI investigation of Concept’s E-rate program is based in Northeast Ohio. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  4. As predicted, not much will be done to crack down on the Kingdom of the Bus Drivers in Columbus. This is all acceptable behavior. (Columbus Dispatch)
     
  5. Dual enrollment in both high school and community college in one Dayton-area suburb means two diplomas at once for these students, all for free. The sky is the limit for these two young people. Best wishes to them both! (Dayton Daily News)
     
  6. As noted a week or so ago, some districts are staffing up their assistant principal ranks because they feel their principals will not have enough time to properly evaluate all teachers next year as required by OTES. Mansfield City Schools did the same yesterday, approving up to 3 new assistant principals for evaluation duties (although one hopes there are other productive things they’ll be doing as well). Additionally, the board approved hiring another second
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Elementary-school teachers might think twice before plastering their walls with paintings, posters, and pin-ups. This small-scale experiment found that Kindergarten students in a decorated classroom were more likely to be “off-task” and less likely to demonstrate learning. To conduct the study, researchers had twenty-four children participate in six science lessons: three of them were held in a decorated classroom and three in a largely undecorated (“sparse”) one. The decorated room had an assortment of posters, student artwork, and maps on the walls; meanwhile, the walls of the sparse room contained only materials directly related to the lesson. The study utilized video recordings to document on- and off-task behavior and pre- and post-tests, to measure learning. When it came to time on task, the children were off task 39 percent of the time while in the decorated classroom, versus 28 percent off task while in the undecorated one. (Students looking in the direction of the teacher or at the learning materials were deemed on task.) Meantime, children showed greater learning gains in the undecorated room. The average gain in tests scores—the difference between the pre- and post-test—was 33 percent in the sparse room, compared to 18 percent in the decorated one. The bottom line: students can become easily distracted. And this study, while small and for only one age group, suggests that teachers could at least clamp down on one source of distraction—classroom decor—to the benefit of student learning.

Source: Anna V. Fisher, Karrie E. Godwin, and Howard Seltman, “Visual...

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