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  1. I complained last week that Ohio’s whiz-bang Straight-A Day – wherein recipients of innovation fund grants got to show off their tech success to legislators and the public – was covered in the Ohio press with a single boring AP piece that included no pictures at all. The folks at Getting Smart have a far more robust round up of the event with lots of cool project details. Nice to see this get coverage via a bigger platform, but seriously, does no one carry a camera anymore?  (Getting Smart)
     
  2. Evaluation of teachers and classroom practices can take place in lots of ways. Ohio has a new-ish formal process through OTES, but this story is about a “snapshot” style of classroom evaluation in Lorain – a sort of “walk-through diagnostic”. These have been conducted in Lorain middle and high schools for 10 years, says the district superintendent. They are best practices with which he says that principals can “take the pulse” of a classroom and give helpful feedback to both teachers and students to improve the learning environment for everyone. Lorain has been in academic distress and overseen by a distress commission since 2013. And all the adults interviewed hate algebra. Just sayin’. (Northern Ohio Morning Journal)
     
  3. We told you last month about the results of a performance audit conducted in Mansfield City Schools. The State Auditor identified $4.7 million in annual savings opportunities. The district is now formally disputing the audit findings, saying they didn’t
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Cheers to Cardinal Schools in Geauga County. Experts in autism education have deemed the district an exemplar of best practices for inclusion and support. Their “model classrooms” were videotaped in action earlier this month, and the footage will be shared with educators across the state and the country. Of additional note: Cardinal is connected to two district merger proposals that would, if successful, bring their expertise directly to students with autism in three other county districts.

Jeers to the board, administration, and sponsor of Gateway Academy, a charter school in Franklin County. Last week, Ohio Auditor Dave Yost announced that the school’s financial records were “incomplete, unauditable and inexcusable.” Thankfully, annual audits of charter schools are mandated under law in Ohio, and sponsors are held accountable when those audits uncover a mire such as this.

Cheers to wider publicity for the EdChoice Scholarship voucher program, no matter how it happens. Dayton City Schools would rather hold students hostage than let thousands of eligible kids leave with a voucher due to the persistent poor performance of their schools. Fortunately for families, the Dayton Daily News covered the district’s determination in a lot of depth…including a full list of the eligible school buildings, information on the income-based voucher program, and a peek at the private schools accepting voucher students. Excellent publicity for EdChoice, we’d say.

Double cheers to new school models AND Ohio’s Straight-A Fund. While Geauga County dithers and debates over mergers (see above), a new STEM...

  1. Wow. Leave it to State Auditor Dave Yost to have his own incisive take on charter law reform. While the current media narrative is “sponsor-centric” reforms vs. “school-centric” reforms, let’s just say that Yost thinks that neither approach is 100 percent on the mark for him. His work auditing sponsors and investigating schools has led him to the central question of when a charter school is acting as a private organization vs. when they take on a governmental role in educating children. He’ll be advocating for Ohio to define the line between these functions, and he’s got a thing or two to say about monitoring/reporting attendance and online coursework. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  2. PARCC testing in Ohio is likely back on again today in most places as last week’s cold snap – which closed schools for days – ebbs a bit. This gave Toledo Blade columnist Marilou Johanek time to opine somewhat confoundingly on testing, largely from the perspective of her own son. She says he was an “overconfident” test taker in the days of OAAs but that he’s now one with the “stressed-out masses”. You might think that this is because he – and she – perceives the tests to be too hard. But you’d be wrong. She says it’s because “Suddenly, students…who have spent years habitually learning to regurgitate facts to pass tests, are being asked to think critically. They don’t even know what that means. They don’t get the question. Rote memorization is all they
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  1. Editors in Canton agree with Chad today while opining on charter law reforms proposed by Governor Kasich. Well, they really just take one item from his recent House testimony with which they agree, while basically saying the proposals don’t go far enough to suit them. But we’ll take the media hit…and Chad will happily accept the editors’ agreement. Both happen so rarely. (Canton Repository)
     
  2. Meanwhile, editors in Cleveland opine on the governor’s proposed changes to charter school funding, agreeing with no one but themselves. CREDO’s report on charter school quality in Ohio – sponsored by Fordham – is name-checked and linked. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  3. Well, PARCC testing in Ohio – and pretty much everything else – came to a screeching halt when Elsa worked her magic on us, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t Common Core news to talk about. What does it mean to align curriculum to a set of standards? How does that play out in a classroom/school/district? Journalist Chike Erokwu digs into those questions in this thoughtful piece. Spoiler alert: there is art and writing involved, group discussion, a teaching framework from a non-profit organization, and lots of direct input from teachers and administration. The superintendent says the framework he and his staff have created “gives structure to the work that’s going on in the classroom (and) that’s a great thing.” Why yes it is, sir. (Mansfield News Journal)
     
  4. Meanwhile, Governor Kasich has had a few more things to say
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For the first time since No Child Left Behind became law in 2002, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) stands a real chance to be reauthorized by Congress. It’s been at least seven years since it was supposed to be re-upped, and it’s overdue for some changes.

Most encouragingly, the Republican bills introduced to date seem to be designed to strike a balance between promoting parental, local, and state empowerment while also being pragmatic enough to stand a chance of becoming law. They’re still far from the finish line and could be made even stronger in the process. That said, they are a worthy effort and have the potential to improve the federal role in education policy dramatically.

Two chambers, two proposals

House education committee Chairman John Kline’s job is easier because his Student Success Act (SSA) passed out of the full House once before (in July 2013, on a party-line vote), and he can’t be blocked by a Democratic filibuster. He’s already marked up the SSA and plans to send it to the floor and pass it out of the House again in short order.

Senator Alexander, on the other hand, must cobble together a sixty-vote majority if he wants to send a bill to conference committee. He started the journey when he released his Every Student Ready for College or Career Act of 2015, an update of his reauthorization proposal from 2013, in early January. Since then, his HELP committee has held three hearings, and his staff...

  1. It’s been cold and snowy in central Ohio for the last few days, causing traffic slowdowns and other headaches. But what were some local charter school leaders doing in the pre-dawn hours yesterday morning? Not checking to see whether they should cancel school, but instead tearing across town in the snow to get to Columbus City Schools’ facilities office to be first in line to put bids on closed school buildings. While charters getting first crack at buying surplus buildings is a step up from previous years when they were routinely shut out of bidding, I don’t think that the Death Race-style crack-of-dawn jockeying was truly the intent of the state law passed last year that put charters first in line. On a personal note, I’m glad to see my old elementary school appears to be getting a new tenant: one of the highest-rated charters in the city. Congrats. (Columbus Dispatch)
     
  2. In the midst of the aforementioned weather misery, this week has been showtime for the state’s new PARCC tests. How’s it going? The PD’s Patrick O’Donnell gives us the Northeast Ohio perspective in this piece. Approximately 100,000 students had at least started testing as of yesterday and the glitches reported to O’Donnell seem pretty low key to me. Remember Mentor Supe Matt Miller’s gloomy predictions in front of the Senate Education Committee last week? Now he says, “It's not widespread and it's not blocks of kids… It's more isolated incidents.” Today’s record deep freeze will likely be
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  • Politico has a look at Chicago’s fast-approaching mayoral election, in which incumbent Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel faces off against four challengers. Even though he leads his closest opponent, Cook County Commissioner Jesus Garcia, by nearly twenty-five points, Rahm still can’t seem to consolidate the necessary support needed to avoid a runoff. At issue is his sweeping education reform agenda, which has been credited with the closure of a raft of failing schools, the expansion of pre-K to more low-income kids, and a record spike in the high school graduation rate. Teachers’ unions and their backers are having none of it, throwing their support behind Garcia after having gone on an infamous weeklong strike at the beginning of the mayor’s term. Let’s hope Rahm sticks to his guns and broadens the growing network of Democratic figures agitating for reform.
  • The Windy City isn’t the only place handing out more caps and gowns. According to the Wall Street Journal, the U.S. high school graduation rate reached a record 81 percent in 2013. It’s a terrific development, and Education Secretary Arne Duncan lost no time in trumpeting it as “a vital step toward readiness.” If you want to understand the causes of the increase, look no further than a certain oft-badmouthed piece of legislation that’s currently up for renewal: No Child Left Behind and its associated reforms arguably did more than anything else to propel students toward the commencement podium. As Johns Hopkins Professor Robert Balfanz
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In just twenty-five short years—it’s scarcely older than most of its current recruits—Teach For America has gone from a grassroots edu-insurgency to the largest teacher pipeline in the country and a dominant voice in reform debates. How’d they do it? In this new white paper, Bellwether analysts Sara Mead, Carolyn Chuong, and Caroline Goodson use internal TFA documents and interviews with key past and present staff members to tease out how the organization was able to maintain high quality while scaling up for the last fifteen years. Turns out it’s not rocket science, just hard work. TFA relied on regular measurement of applicants, corps members, and students. They’ve been equally diligent in expansion planning, taking care to evaluate each new region’s need for teachers, potential funding base, and local politics—as well as TFA’s ability to attract talent to live and teach in a given area. Rigorous quality-control mechanisms during new-site development and deepening ties in the places they already serve have fueled an expansion from 1260 corps members in fifteen regions in 2000 to 10,500 in fifty regions in 2013. And much of this has been successful due to TFA’s operational agnosticism (there’s not a lot of, “We do it this way because we’ve always done it this way” in TFA) and commitment to continuous improvement. Particularly in a sector where so many actors elevate intentions over impact, the organization’s aversion to preciousness is both refreshing and instructive. There’s plenty for other nonprofits and ed organizations to learn from here....

High schools hoping to increase student success in college have often turned to an innovative solution: allow students to take college-level coursework before they graduate. The hope is that by exposing teenagers to college courses earlier, they will be more likely to think they are “college material,” earn a bit of college credit for free (or nearly free), and get acclimated to college-level rigor. (Most of these courses are taught on high school campuses by high school teachers.) A new report from the Education Commission of the States (ECS), however, questions just how strong some of these courses are and examines state strategies to ensure rigor.

The ECS analysts found that states generally follow one of four approaches to ensure quality in “dual enrollment” courses: 1) Some states, including Colorado, leave decisions about whether courses are worthy of credit up to post-secondary institutions; 2) others, such as Delaware, require post-secondary institutions and high schools to reach agreements, but do not prescribe the nature of those agreements; 3) eight states have adopted the guidelines of the National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships (NACEP), which are designed to ensure quality and cover topics including curricula, faculty, students, assessments, and evaluations; and 4) six others require or encourage actual NACEP accreditation.

States and districts working to encourage the completion of truly college-level coursework in high school should, as ECS recommends, ensure that educators are prepared to teach such rigorous work. They should also ensure high schools are being honest with students so they...

An abundance of choice in Milwaukee has led to families leaving the district for charter and private schools. A new study by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) examines the facility challenge the city now faces as a result. The analysis estimates the “utilization rates” of every public school in the city for the 2013–14 year. This is determined by dividing a school’s enrollment by its maximum capacity, defined as twenty-seven students in each regular classroom.

A few key findings:

  • Out of 123 buildings, twenty-seven are operating at below 60 percent capacity; thirteen of those are below 50 percent capacity. Many of these schools are the lowest-performing, most at-risk schools in the city, with declining enrollments and questionable safety. (For instance, they have twice as many 9-1-1 phone calls per student than other public schools.)
  • At least seventeen Milwaukee Public School buildings are vacant, costing taxpayers over $1.6 million since 2012 in utilities alone. They have been empty, on average, for seven years.
  • Eighty percent of the underutilized schools—twenty-two buildings in total—received either an F or a D on their most recent state report card. Moreover, a severe shortage of quality public schools exists in the vicinity of the underutilized schools. Out of the fifty-two closest schools, only seven scored a C or better on the state report card.

The authors—not surprisingly—recommend that private schools in the choice program, public charter schools, and traditional public schools be allowed to expand into the unused and underutilized MPS buildings. They’d...

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