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  1. It took a little while, but the Enquirer finally noticed the Southwest Ohio winners of Straight A grants from the state. Quite a mixed bag among the winners: Common Core, reading proficiency, arts assessments, and technology access are all in there. Also of note: the journalist includes the number of students projected to be affected by each project, and there’s a district/online charter school collaboration in there that probably raised some eyebrows. (Cincinnati Enquirer)
     
  2. Speaking of technology, Mansfield City Schools recently underwent a tech assessment which revealed a number of deficiencies (old equipment, lack of backup, lack of disaster recovery plan, etc.), many of which the Supe says are being addressed over the summer. But buried in this story appears to be the news that both the firm paid to do the assessment and the contractor being paid to fix some of the problems seem to be owned/run by the same person. Not sure if I’m reading it right or not, but if so I’m sure we’ll be hearing more about this one soon. (Mansfield News-Sun)
     
  3. In somewhat happier (and clearer) technology news, a team from Newark Digital Academy was in Portland, Oregon last week, presenting at the NWEA conference on the ways that they use testing data to help their at-risk e-school students improve. Very nice. (Newark Advocate)
     
  4. Some nice insight here from the superintendent of Hilliard City Schools. A straightforward question about alternate pathways to third grade promotion opens up a discussion
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Bravo to Fordham’s original gadfly!

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools yesterday inducted Fordham president Chester E. Finn, Jr. into its Charter School Hall of Fame—established to honor pioneers in the development, growth, and innovation of charter schools.

At its annual conference in Las Vegas, Checker was lauded for his long track record of support and hailed as one of the “intellectual godfathers” of the charter school movement. He was inducted along with Success Academy founder Eva Moskowitz and the Doris and Donald Fisher Fund.

“Hall of Fame members include school teachers and leaders, thinkers, policy experts, and funders that have paved the way for the success and growth of public charter schools. They have strengthened public charter schools nationwide and inspired us to do more for our nation’s students,” said Nina Rees, president and CEO of the National Alliance.

Checker is among twenty-six individuals and organizations named to the Hall of Fame since 2007. He joins U.S. senator Lamar Alexander, the KIPP Charter Schools, Joel Klein, and Chicago mayor Richard Daley, among others.

Check out this short video on Checker’s contribution to the charter school movement.

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  1. Fordham’s Chad Aldis was a guest on The Ron Ponder Show in Canton yesterday, talking about third grade reading, as were OEA’s new president and a member of the state board of education talking separately about Common Core. The audio for Chad’s segment is here. If you’re interested, you can find the others at this link. Just click on the “audio vault” tab and look for the June 30 segments. (WHBC radio, Canton)
     
  2. OEA’s new president Becky Higgins also called in to public radio in Cleveland yesterday, noting that she was on her way to Denver for the NEA annual convention, where she expected Common Core to dominate the agenda. Her take on CCSS in Ohio? She firmly supports the standards and is “cautiously optimistic” that districts statewide will allow a one year safe harbor provision before teachers are evaluated based on PARCC exam scores. (IdeaStream radio, Cleveland)
     
  3. Editors in Youngstown opine most strongly on the difficult job ahead for the new academic distress commission chair overseeing Youngstown City Schools’ attempt to climb out of the achievement basement. (Youngstown Vindicator)
     
  4. Speaking of oversight by the state, Monroe schools are almost out from under their fiscal oversight after nearly two years. Just a few more things to button up….like figuring out how to forward mail in the summer from dormant school buildings to central office. Hope they can crack that code soon. (Middletown Journal-News)
     
  5. And speaking of district finances, sounds like
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  1. The Akron suburb of Woodridge debated school building issues for most of their meeting last week. But the superintendent wanted to talk about some nuts and bolts good news as well. Such as the great work being done to make sure all third graders pass the reading test and move on to fourth grade, explaining what Common Core means for the district and how good the new standards are, and that the district is ready for PARCC exams. Nice. (Akron Online)
     
  2. How is this possible?! As noted in the above story, there are plenty of high-level resources available to districts to help them reach the goals of the Third Grade Reading Guarantee. How, then, did that train-wreck of a volunteer reading tutoring program in Akron that we mentioned last week get over 100 kids signed up? (Akron Beacon Journal)
     
  3. What do you think of when you hear the term “foreign language immersion school”? It’s a school for folks who want their children to learn a foreign language, right? Unless that term has changed meanings over the years (could be, I’m kinda old), I think that Toledo Public Schools may be unfamiliar with the concept as they seem to think that a Spanish Immersion School is mainly for children who speak Spanish as their primary language. While the effort to reach out to the growing number of Spanish-speaking families in Toledo is very important, a different name (International School, Welcome Center, etc.) seems to be in
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While education reforms are nearly always won via legislation, rare exceptions do occur—and sometimes they’re significant. The year 2014 has already proven to be a landmark one for education reform thanks to judicial decision. Perhaps the most notable example thus far is Vergara v. California, which struck down tenure and kindred state laws that make it difficult for schools to ensure that their students (especially those living in poverty) have an effective teacher. This week brought word that some New York families are kick starting a similar challenge to equally oppressive laws in the Empire state. Other states could follow.

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to announce its decision in Harris v. Quinn, which could be even more momentous for education reform (and public-sector unionism broadly.) Indeed, some liberals are calling it the “gravest threat today to public-employee unions.”

This case deals with the representation of Illinois’s home health care workers (often family members taking care of loved ones). The issue arose when plaintiff Pam Harris (the mother of a disabled son whom she takes care of) worried that union dues (or “fair share” payments in lieu of dues) would divert money she needs for her son into political speech undertaken by unions with which she does not agree.

Traditionally, such in-home caregivers were not considered public employees, much less members of collective-bargaining units, but actions by former governor Rod Blagojevich and current governor Pat Quinn, designed to benefit large unions (and political megadonors) like...

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  1. Editors in Canton opine on Ohio's new teacher evaluation protocols…and the even newer tweaks made to them by the legislature. (Canton Repository)
     
  2. St. Paul Lutheran School in Union County has closed its doors after 122 years. It is not noted in this article that St. Paul took students on the EdChoice Scholarship for some years. Its closing leaves just two EdChoice-participating private schools in the county. Interestingly, both are Lutheran schools. (Columbus Dispatch)
     
  3. Yesterday’s PD piece on whether or not there will be a “safe harbor” for teachers from evaluations based on PARCC exams apparently grew out of this longer and more in-depth interview with ODE’s data-guru Matt Cohen. In it, he answers questions about how value-add will be calculated when tests switch from OAA (RIP) to PARCC (OMG), among other intricacies. I was happy every time I read the phrase “in simple terms”. I can only imagine the level of detail Mr. Cohen was able and willing to provide! (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  4. In case you think being in charge of a state-mandated commission overseeing school districts in fiscal trouble is a glamorous business, this story will probably change your mind. There appears to be no shortage of people scrutinizing the custodial budget and operations in Mansfield schools at the moment. Looking at privatization didn’t yield the savings hoped for and now discussion turns to making in-house services more efficient, although as the Supe says: he’s “not sure how a more efficient custodian
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  1. It wasn’t on his Year One to-do list, but apparently it will be going forward. Columbus schools supe Dan Good says that future district budgets will be more than one page long and contain some details which are not currently provided. (Columbus Dispatch)
     
  2. As I write this, teachers in Reynoldsburg are standing on some street corner actively protesting the new contract offer from the district. The piece doesn’t specify what they don’t like, but you can probably read the FAQ to get some ideas. (ThisWeek News/Reynoldsburg News)
     
  3. As the dust settles around the K-12 education portion of the MBR, certain provisions are getting a deeper look. That includes the fact that the legislature’s "safe harbor" provision relating to Common Core implementation likely won't extend to teachers, especially in districts like CMSD where teacher evaluation based on student test scores is already well-established. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  4. We’ve been following this story for a few months now, and it ends where all but the most die-hard folks thought it would: AB Graham Digital Academy, a charter school in the Springfield area, has failed to find a new sponsor and will not reopen in the fall. Remember this is the fairly successful online/in class academy for at-risk students sponsored by and largely run by Graham Local School district. The district decided to establish its own program and ended sponsorship. No new sponsors stepped up and ABGDA is done.  (Springfield News Sun)
     
  5. Immaculate Conception School in
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One of the received truths of education reform is that a creative, talented school principal can do a lot, whether by embracing technology, changing the way a school is organized, or allocating resources differently. The counter is that true principal autonomy doesn’t exist because of strict limitations by district, state, and federal mandates, union contracts, and such. This new study from the Center on Reinventing Public Education asks two questions: First, what do principals report as barriers to their autonomy? And second, are the barriers are real or imagined? (Fordham tackled similar questions in 2008 in The Leadership Limbo, primarily in reference to union contracts. To find the answers, the researchers interviewed eight principals in three states from a variety of policy and district environments—a small sample, yes, but the analysts spent considerable with them and probed deep. The researchers organized principals’ responses into a total of 128 barriers to change: 22 percent impeded efforts to improve teacher quality, 38 percent restricted resource allocation, and 40 percent prevented instructional innovation. The researchers then compared the principals’ responses with state and federal laws and local collective bargaining agreements. They found that 31 percent of the reported barriers were real, including forced placement of teachers, bargained teacher salaries, and state-mandated class sizes. Many of these real barriers were financial, including restrictions on financial autonomy because of categorical funding. The remaining 69 percent, however, were either imaginary or surmountable. For example, most principals wanted to move to a competency-based system but felt...

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Even the soundest of education policies yield little when conditions on the ground block school-level actors from being effective. And the key school-level actor is the principal.  So that’s where New Leaders and the Bush Institute fix their joint gaze in this report about replicating great principals at scale. The problem is that today’s great principals tend to succeed in spite of district conditions, not because of them. This both repels worthy candidates and pushes out incumbents. The solution, say these analysts, is a four-pronged framework that starts in the central office and trickles down all the way to student achievement. First, school boards must instill a district-wide culture in which everyone “co-owns” pupil achievement and school-level actors enjoy the autonomy and encouragement to produce more of it. Second, goals and strategies need to align, creating a unified effort to maximize student achievement. Third, districts should employ principal managers who work with principals to improve student outcomes and with districts to remove barriers to success. Fourth, districts must grant principals the authority to mold their schools, including the ability to hire, fire, promote, and assess. All of these conditions are meant to create an environment in which effective leaders thrive and can facilitate strong student outcomes. If this all sounds obvious—and consistent with our own new Fordham study—it also compels the reader to wonder how districts are supposed to make all of this happen. Fortunately, in the report, the authors reference a concurrently published “toolkit” that promises...

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The Education Department has been slowly gathering itself together over the past decade to review states’ mandatory annual IDEA “performance plans” on the basis of student outcomes, in addition to bureaucratic compliance with sundry procedural and data-reporting requirements.

In giving feedback to the states a year ago, for example, Melody Musgrove (who directs the Office of Special Education Programs at ED) forewarned chiefs that ED was redesigning their monitoring system into “a more balanced approach that considers results as well as compliance.”’

Yesterday, they made considerable news by basing their latest round of feedback on criteria that include how a state’s disabled students fare on NAEP and the size of achievement gaps that separate those pupils from “all children on regular statewide assessments.” Further changes are promised for subsequent years, including student-growth data based on statewide assessments. Also promised is a reduction in compliance-style reporting and data burdens.

Based on this analysis, the feds then sort states into three buckets labeled “meets requirements,” “needs assistance,” and “needs intervention.” And the inclusion of outcomes data really does turn out to make a difference. Whereas in previous years almost every state and territory (forty-one last year, to be specific) fell into the first bucket, this year just eighteen do. (There’s a fourth bucket entitled “needs substantial intervention,” but at present, no state has been placed there.)

Among the many “sinkers”: Ohio, which went from bucket 1 to bucket 2, and Delaware, which declined from 2 to 3....

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