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This book, out of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, is a useful field guide to the design and implementation of blended learning models, which combine computer-mediated resources like MOOCs with conventional classroom instruction. Nonetheless, readers may greet its subtitle, “Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools,” with a pang of foreboding. Blended initially makes you worry that its pages will mostly be a blend of TED Talk doublespeak. Indeed, the foreword (contributed by the High Prophet of Disruption himself, Clayton M. Christensen) ominously name-checks Thomas Kuhn, the philosopher and historian who first coined the now-inescapable phrase “paradigm shift.” But whatever their slight fondness for techno-jargon, authors Michael B. Horn and Heather Staker have written something valuable mainly because they are at pains to define their terms. This is the critical task facing advocates of blended learning, as Fordham itself has chronicled. Furnishing students with laptops and posting lesson plans on Blackboard isn’t blended learning; nor is a totally online experience that students access from home. For clarification, Horn and Staker use refreshingly simple graphics to outline the varying blends—from hybrid approaches shuttling kids between online activities, small-group instruction, and pen-and-paper assignments, to more unfamiliar models that explicitly make online teaching the backbone of coursework even within brick-and-mortar schools. The book doesn’t sidestep the question of what role teachers and facilities will play as more curriculum and tutoring is done remotely; the treatment is thin, but its vision of community schools providing family services, serving nutritious (and even edible)...

This new study examines whether voluntary financial contributions to public education have increased over time and, if so, whether these donations vary by district size and other characteristics. Voluntary contributions are those awarded by charitable school foundations, local endowments, booster clubs, parent-teacher associations, and alumni associations—so these are local dollars in addition to the local revenues generated largely by property taxes. Analysts examine voluntary contributions to public schools from 1995 through 2010, relying on Form 990 filings that are captured in the Guidestar nonprofit database, which includes expenditure reports for nonprofits with annual revenues totaling $25,000 or more. These data were then linked with mapping data to match the nonprofit to the corresponding school district, including data about district revenues and demographics. The final sample included over 13,000 non-profits that supported schools and/or districts. There are four key findings. First, PTAs comprise most of the nonprofits (70 percent), while local foundations comprise only 13 percent. And among all donors, 93 percent of them give to district schools, while only 1.3 percent support charter schools. Second, the number of nonprofits supporting schools has increased 230 percent, from over 3,400 in 1995 to nearly 12,000 in 2010. Third, nonprofit revenues increased almost 350 percent, from $197 million in 1995 to $880 million in 2010. Nationwide, per-pupil voluntary contributions jumped along with it, going from $3.67 in 1995 to $20.31 in 2010. Moreover, if you hone in on those districts that have at least one non-profit supporting them, we see that the voluntary...

Sometimes the conventional wisdom is right. Education really is an easy major. This study from the National Council on Teacher Quality, the bête noire of America’s teacher prep programs, finds that 44 percent of prospective teachers graduate with honors, compared to only 30 percent of all graduating students at the same colleges. The reason appears to be that grading standards for education majors are much lower than for students in other majors on the same campus. NCTQ analyzed course assignments on the syllabi for nearly 1200 courses at thirty-three schools—not just in education, but in a variety of majors. The 7,500 assignments in those courses were then classified as either “criterion-referenced” or “criterion-deficient.” The former means that students were graded on “a clearly circumscribed slice of knowledge and skill-based content,” which ostensibly allows instructors to provide substantive feedback and comparisons of student work. By contrast, “criterion-deficient” assignments were more subjective in nature. These latter kinds of assignments are used about twice as often—71 percent versus 34 percent—in education coursework. The report also examines and dismisses several popular theories for why ed majors earn so many As: Yes, a rising tide of grade inflation has lifted all boats, but teacher candidates’ boats are like hovercraft rising above the waves. Interestingly, the assumption that ed school is all low-level assignments and group work turns out to be a canard—as is the less commonly held belief that ed students and faculty are simply stronger than other departments....

Peter Sipe

“Ambiguous” is a reliably fun word to teach sixth graders. They quickly grasp its essence and utility. I introduce it by explaining how I was once given a keychain with the legend “I Teach. I Make a Difference.I assure my students that I have never used this keychain, for, in keeping with my unyielding commitment to personal excellence, I would only ever boast of making a positive difference. Then we have a lively discussion about the possible meanings of the keychain’s phrase. This discourse was evidently not forgotten by one student, who in June concluded a speech, "Mr. Sipe, you made a difference." Then she smiled wickedly and added, “A big difference!”

At least she didn’t declare this: “He could not disguise from my hourly notice the poverty and meagreness of his understanding.” That unambiguous teacher evaluation was penned by Thomas DeQuincey almost two hundred years ago in Confessions of an Opium-Eater. He dispatches another master as “a blockhead, who was in a perpetual panic lest I should expose his ignorance.” You don’t have to read far to begin to wonder if his titular waywardness was perhaps due to unrewarding schooling. “It is a bad thing,” DeQuincey observes, “for a boy to be and to know himself far beyond his tutors, whether in knowledge or in power of mind.” I wouldn’t challenge him on this.

The question of how to challenge a young...

The Sesame Street edition

Mayor de Blasio’s school plan, low American math scores, the intersection of standards and charters, and school management.

Amber's Research Minute

Nicholas Bloom, Renata Lemos, Raffaella Sadun, and John Van Reenen, "Does Management Matter in Schools," National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper 20667 (November 2014).

DEPARTMENT OF GOOD NEWS
Earlier this fall, Fordham’s inimitable Robert Pondiscio traveled to Reno to check out the breezy and successful Common Core implementation in the Washoe County school district. This week, the county's teachers discuss how their original wariness of the standards gave way to an understanding of how they will benefit students. Teachers are particularly optimistic about how the Common Core ELA standards stress text-based evidence rather than personal connections, an approach that helps disadvantaged kids keep pace with the rest of their class.

DEPARMENT OF BAD NEWS
The U.S. Department of Education announced in September that more than 1.1. million public school students have no permanent homes. Experts say homeless students are nine times more likely to be held back a grade level and four times more likely to drop out of school entirely. Nonprofit mobile tutoring programs often have to supplement the work of local schools, as NPR reports.

COMPETITORS GETTING TEST-Y
There is growing controversy surrounding Common Core-aligned test-development contracts. Bidding in many states has lacked any semblance of competition, with only one company participating in the process, and a lawsuit in New Mexico alleges that the bid requirements were prejudicial, according to the Wall Street Journal.

SHORTCUT TO HIGHER PAY?
A new study found wide variations in wages earned by students graduating from short- or long-term degree programs, concluding that most short-term career certificates yield “minimal to no positive effects.” Today, more than a...

  1. Chad appeared on Columbus’ WTVN radio yesterday morning, talking about Common Core in the wake of last week’s House Rules Committee vote. You can also check out the audio clip of Rules Committee Chair Matt Huffman, who also was interviewed by host Joel Riley, about the outlook for HB597 in the full House. (WTVN-AM, Columbus)
     
  2. Editors in Columbus got a two-fer in their opining today: objecting to both the pending bill to limit standardized testing time (“reckless”) and to repeal Ohio’s New Education Standards (“political posturing”). Fordham is namechecked in terms of the latter item. (Columbus Dispatch)
     
  3. More drama at the state board of education meeting yesterday, including unscheduled testimony, points of order, and a temporary walkout by four board members. Thanks again, carpetbaggers. Check out coverage in the Dayton Daily News, the Columbus Dispatch, and the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
     
  4. What does it mean when a parent is thankful for the opportunity to camp outside for nearly two weeks to get a chance to apply for the school of their choice? It means that lots of stuff is messed up in Cincinnati. There’s a lot to unpack in this guest essay, published as the annual school choice campouts begin, but I’ll leave that to my readers to do. (Cincinnati Enquirer)

VIEW FROM THE TOP
The U.S. Department of Education is reviewing the process by which teachers are assigned to schools to ensure that highly qualified and experienced teachers are equally staffed at both high-poverty schools and those of greater means. States are being sent OCR data about teacher experience, certification, absenteeism, and salary, and asked to develop plans for their schools to comply with federal law mandating equal access to high-quality instructors. It’s the first time such plans have been solicited in almost a decade.

MEET THE NEW BOSS
In an interview with NPR this morning, Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander described the education policy agenda of the newly Republican-controlled Senate. The former education secretary emphasized the need for more local control and declared that fixing No Child Left Behind is among his highest priorities. 

EDUCATION SNAPSHOT
Students at a Boston Cristo Rey high school gain real-world work experience that boosts confidence and gives them a competitive edge in the workforce. The Catholic school network’s work-study program sends students, who primarily come from low-income families, to local companies for five days a month in exchange for a portion of the student’s tuition. It’s an innovative model that was recently profiled in an exceptional piece in the Atlantic.

TEACH YOUR TEACHERS WELL
Ed schools are rethinking math teacher prep in light of the new Common Core standards: The Mathematics Teacher Education...

  1. I’m not sure if reporter Doug Livingston just ran out of words or simply ran out of will, but today’s ABJ story on high performing charter schools is lukewarm at best. After publishing over 4100 words over five hit pieces yesterday, the ABJ manages not quite 1100 words on Akron’s SCOPE Academy, which despite the reporter’s efforts, sounds pretty awesome in structure, support, and outcomes. The story doesn’t end but just kind of peters out in the midst of discussion of Cleveland’s Breakthrough Schools. I look forward to the Beacon Journal’s efforts to ferret out some high-quality district schools to talk about in a follow up piece. (Akron Beacon Journal)
     
  2. To say that the outside agitators who blew up Twitter over the weekend failed to understand what the State Board of Education’s Operating Standards Committee was voting on yesterday is an understatement. Luckily, cooler heads prevailed and a vote was taken after a year-long process – required by state law – to review Ohio’s operating standards. Numerous steps remain in the process. But thanks, internet carpetbaggers, for your concern for us rubes here in Ohio. We’re touched. You can check out coverage of the committee’s vote and commentary from board members here. (Gongwer Ohio) You can check out a bit more “sensational” coverage of the issue and the misplaced uproar here. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  3. ...

The Akron Beacon Journal has started a series about charter schools (surprise, surprise), with a set of five stories over the weekend and more to come through the week. Here’s the first batch:
 

1. First up, a slanted and simplistic view of authorizer oversight issues in Ohio. The headline mentions low performance among charters but that is a mere sentence (referring to a previous ABJ hit piece) in this article. I think all you need to know is conveyed in the sentence which ends, “…placing control in the hands of ‘sponsors,’ or ‘authorizers,’ who generally were school-choice advocates.” This tiny piece of nothing fact - groups who sponsor charters are school-choice supporters – is presented as a stinging gotcha. Fordham is namechecked as one of the groups (mostly supporters of charter schools, dun dun DUN!) working with Sen. Lehner on comprehensive charter school reform. (Akron Beacon Journal)
 

2. Fordham’s Aaron Churchill is quoted extensively in the next piece which really does try to link charter school performance to management style. The ABJ’s numbers are interesting but colored into near-uselessness by the above-mentioned slant. As a prime example, see the subtle implication that a high-performing charter school in central Ohio with a for-profit management company “bucks the trend” of (presumed) for-profit suckitude because it draws a ton of students from one of the best-performing and highest-taxed suburban districts. Seems highly unlikely on a number of fronts. Personally, I like Aaron’s take on it: “There...

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