Additional Topics

This post has been updated with the full text of "Shifting from learning to read to reading to learn."

Spring means high-stakes tests in America’s schools, and this year’s test season is already proving to be a particularly contentious one. The number of parents choosing to “opt out” of tests remains small but appears to be growing. Anti-testing sentiment will likely sharpen as rigorous tests associated with Common Core are rolled out in earnest this year. Parents who have been lulled into complacency by their children’s scores on low-bar state tests may not react well when their children are measured against higher standards.

Testing—who should be tested, how often, and in which subjects – is also one of the most contentious issues in the pending reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (the most recent iteration of which is better known as No Child Left Behind). At present, the feds require states to test every student every year in math and reading from grades 3–8. However, if we are serious about improving reading—and education outcomes for children at large—we might be better off if we stopped testing reading in third grade rather than started it.

There are two big problems with existing test-driven accountability schemes in reading. First, the high-stakes reading tests our kids take in elementary and middle school really don’t test what we think they do. Even worse, by the time those tests diagnose reading difficulties in third grade, it’s incredibly hard for schools and teachers to help pull kids out...

  1. A victory for the 164-years-and-counting status quo yesterday. The evergreen “thorough and efficient” clause in the state constitution was reenshrined by vote of a subcommittee charged with “modernizing” the education language therein. Supporters of the phrase, and all the freight with which they’ve laden it over the decades, are very happy that their ideologically hallowed (but practically hollow) language was saved from the red pen. (Columbus Dispatch, 3/13/15)
     
  2. Back in the real world, Van Buren School administrators and board members find themselves staring down the barrel of audit findings from the state – not just improper payments which must be repaid to the district, but structural and operational processes that seem to point to an “anything goes” mindset. When addressing the findings, officials call them “disagreements” with the auditor (we get lots of cashback from all those credit card purchases) or simply dispute them (it wasn’t beer, it was juice miscoded on the receipt). At minimum, they see the auditor’s report as a “teachable moment”. (Findlay Courier, 3/12/15)
     
  3. Speaking of the State Auditor (I know, I never get tired of hearing about that guy either!), Dave Yost yesterday announced what he’s calling a “Sunshine Audit” program in an effort to help resolve public records request disputes between citizens and government-funded entities in a quick and inexpensive way. Or else. What he’s setting up is twisty and interesting and worth a read, but I note particularly the quick kudos from the Ohio Newspaper Association in this
  4. ...

Across the nation, the monopoly of traditional school districts over public education is slowly eroding. Trust-busting policies like public charter schools and vouchers have given parents and students more options than ever before. But how vibrant are school marketplaces in America’s largest districts?

Now in its fourth year, the Education Choice and Competition Index is one of the best examinations of educational markets, rating the hundred most populous districts along four key dimensions: (1) access to school options; (2) processes that align student preferences with schools (e.g., common applications, clear information on schools); (3) policies that favor the growth of popular schools, such as funds following students; and (4) subsidies for poor families.

The top-rated district, you ask? The Recovery School District in New Orleans won top marks in 2014, as it has in the two prior years. New York City and Newark, New Jersey, are close behind the Big Easy. The study commends these cities for their ample supply of school options—and just as importantly, for policies that support quality choice. For instance, this trio of cities (along with Denver) has adopted an algorithm that optimally matches student preferences with school assignments. Impressive stuff from which other states and districts can learn.

As fine as this study is, however, there’s at least one way in which authors could sharpen it. The list of rated cities appears to tilt toward states with countywide districts, while states where district lines are tightly drawn seem to have too few...

  • In the wake of the Jeb Bush not-quite-announcement and the Scott Walker boomlet, it should now be clear to all that we’ve entered the wonderful season of presidential politics. In that spirit, AEI scholars and Friends of Fordham Andrew P. Kelly and Frederick Hess have logged some important commentary on G.O.P. hopefuls and education policy. It’s all well and good, they write, for governors like Bush, Walker, Bobby Jindal, and John Kasich to list the ambitious policies they enacted back home, but they also have to square their reform instincts with a commitment to a sensibly limited federal role in schooling. It’s a paradox that conservative reformers especially are familiar with: How do you embrace a bold agenda for change without falling into the trap of top-down edicts and federal overreach?
  • Politico has an informative look at higher education’s “wait-and-see” attitude toward the Common Core, at least when it comes to using its associated assessments for placement decisions. While many reformers (Gadfly among them) hope that tests such as the PARCC and Smarter Balanced might one day be used to determine whether students are ready for credit-bearing courses, waiting for more data is a responsible position for now.
  • Finally, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention President Obama’s address in Selma, Alabama, which commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of the historic civil rights march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Both the setting and the language of the speech—one of the best of his career—succeeded in stoking
  • ...

Curator’s Note: Gadfly Bites will be off tomorrow, returning on March 13 to begin a new Monday, Wednesday, Friday publication schedule.

  1. Nicely-detailed discussion of various “safe harbor” provisions – those already in place, those currently being debated, and those still being drafted – for Ohio teachers in relation to students’ standardized test scores. Journalist Jeremy Kelley attended Fordham’s Speakers Series event on teacher evaluations and includes a number of comments from panelists Melissa Cropper (Ohio Federation of Teacherst) and Matt Verber (Students First Ohio) from that discussion in his piece. Thanks for coming, Jeremy. (Springfield News Sun)
     
  2. Kudos to Cleveland’s Breakthrough Schools for their recent award of a $1 million grant from the Haslam family’s 3 Foundation. "They're making great strides and they're making it quickly," said Dee Haslam in announcing the award. “We really like to help those organizations that are making a difference." Nice. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  3. Speaking of Breakthrough Schools, it was announced this week that Breakthrough and Cleveland Municipal School District have reached an agreement on new building leases for three charter schools in the network, including an extension of the first-of-its-kind-in-Ohio arrangement of a charter school sharing space with a district school. Nice. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  4. Speaking of Cleveland charter school buildings, Menlo Park Academy – a charter school for gifted students – announced recently that it has acquired a huge new building on the west side of the city in which to move and expand. Some fascinating
  5. ...
  1. More witnesses testified on HB 2 (the standalone charter law reform bill) yesterday. More witnesses, more charter reforms proposed. It’s a bandwagon! (Gongwer Ohio)
     
  2. But perhaps that bandwagon is getting a little overloaded? The Dispatch coverage of yesterday’s testimony leads with the detail that introduction of a substitute version of the bill – incorporating some amount of additional/replacement provisions based on testimony given so far – will be delayed 7 to 10 days from original plans. Sing along if you know the words: I’m just a bill, yes I’m only a bill…. (Columbus Dispatch)
     
  3. One of witnesses whose testimony on HB 2 probably had the most impact (at least let’s hope so) was State Auditor Dave Yost. Today, Yost has a detailed, thoughtful, and important opinion column in the Dispatch. In it he amplifies – and simplifies – his recent detailed testimony, focusing on reforms that would improve the efficiency, transparency, and quality of most any public/private hybrid entity, of which charter schools are just one example. Fascinating. (Columbus Dispatch)
     
  4. The K-12 education portion of the state budget bill also had a hearing yesterday. Among other provisions hearing testimony, a proposed increase to the EdChoice Scholarship voucher funding amount per pupil. All witnesses were pro-increase. (Gongwer Ohio)
     
  5. Finally, here’s a look at Akron City Schools’ itemized budget for next school year. There is a lot of emphasis on technology, including proposed upgrades to wireless capacity, a one-to-one laptop program for students,
  6. ...

It’s been a great year for the Buckeye State. LeBron is back—and the Cavs are rolling into the playoffs. The Ohio State University knocked off the Ducks in the national championship, the economy is heating up, and heck, state government actually has more than eighty-nine cents in its rainy day fund.

But if you’ve been following the education headlines, you might feel a little down. The fight over Common Core and assessments continues to be bruising. Legislators are seriously scrutinizing the state’s problematic charter school law. Various scandals continue to plague local schools, and we’re not that far removed from the meltdown in Columbus City Schools. To shake off the wintertime education blues, I offer my list of the top five most exciting things happening in Ohio education today.

1. Four for Four Schools

In 2013–14, forty Ohio schools made a clean sweep on the four value-added components of the state’s school report cards, receiving an A on each one. This is an impressive feat. These schools had to demonstrate significant contributions not only to overall student growth, but also for their special needs, gifted, and low-achieving students. (Starting two years ago, Ohio began to rate schools on an A–F scale based on the gains—or value added—of students in these three subgroups.) In fact, one could argue that “four for four” schools are best fulfilling the aspiration of “no child left behind.” So hats off to these forty schools (out of more than 1,400 eligible) for proving that...

Cheers to State Auditor Dave Yost, for going there. Charter law reform is a cause célèbre in Ohio. An influential report, a determined governor, and two bills being heard in House committees all feature excellent reform provisions, mostly in the “sponsor-centric” realm. But last week, Yost laid out some reform provisions that only an auditor would think of—things like accounting practice changes, attendance reporting changes, and defining the public/private divide inherent in many charter schools’ operations. These are all welcome additions to the ongoing debate from an arm of state government directly concerned with auditing charter schools.

Jeers to Mansfield City Schools, for nitpicking Yost and his team as they attempt to help the district avert fiscal disaster. Mansfield has been in fiscal emergency for over a year, and their finances are under the aegis of a state oversight committee. Yost’s team identified $4.7 million in annual savings opportunities. Instead of getting to work on implementing as many of those changes as possible, district administrators last week decided to pick holes in the methodology and timing of the report. Kind of like the teenager who swears “I’m going” just as Dad finally loses his cool. And the fiscal abyss is still out there.

Jeers to Shadyside Local Schools, for doing exactly the same thing as Mansfield. Although after eleven years in fiscal caution status, Shadyside is less a case of a petulant teen than of a failure to launch.

Cheers to Pickerington Schools Superintendent Valerie Browning-Thompson...

  1. Chad is quoted in the Columbus Dispatch’s big weekend gotcha story about the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT), a statewide online charter school that spends somewhere around 2 percent of its budget on advertising. It is that advertising that is the sticking point here, with some odd comparisons made to Columbus City Schools’ designated “recruitment” spending. The full Dispatch story is here. The story also hit the AP wire in various non-Columbus-centric versions and so that same headline popped up in media outlets across the state. Some – like this one from the Toledo Blade – include some edited input from Chad. Other versions do not.
     
  2. Q: When do you know a teacher’s union actually approves of a charter school? A: When they actively try to unionize it. “We are careful about where we look to organize,” OFT President Melissa Cropper says. “Although we believe that all teachers should have the right to organize if they so desire, we don’t feel right in organizing teachers in a school we are trying to shut down.” There are a lot of interesting details in here – from teachers, the union, and school leaders. Worth a read. (Akron Beacon Journal)
     
  3. The ABJ piece above notes that teachers at Franklinton Preparatory Academy, a Columbus charter school actively organized by OFT, voted last week in favor of unionizing. The vote was 5-4 and will be contested, but if it goes through, FPA will be the first non-district-sponsored charter school
  4. ...

On Sunday, Mike spoke to the New York State Council of School Superintendents. These were his remarks as prepared for delivery.

Thank you for the kind invitation to speak to you today. I know that some of you are wondering what the folks at the Council were thinking in inviting me. Certainly there are a lot of angry people on Twitter wondering that. I hope that by the end of my talk, it might make a little more sense.

The title of my talk is “How to End the Education Reform Wars.” But as I’ve thought more about it, I’ve decided that this isn’t exactly the right title. That’s because you, as superintendents, don’t have it within your control to end this war. That’s because it’s not really about you. Especially here in New York, it seems clear to me that it’s a war between the governor and the unions, as well as between the reformers and the unions. It’s also a fight between the governor and Mayor de Blasio.

So the real question is how you can navigate these wars. A better title for my speech might be, “How to Survive the Education Reform Wars.” And how can you do so in a way that allows you to do good work for kids?

With all due respect, let me suggest three principles that might guide your advocacy work—to stand up for what’s right for kids while distancing yourself from the worst instincts of the unions:

  1. Be the voice
  2. ...

Pages