Additional Topics

THE SWEET SMELL OF CREEPING DISILLUSIONMENT
The older students get, the more pessimistic (or perhaps realistic) they become regarding their future job prospects, according to this Gallup Student Poll. While 68 percent of fifth graders strongly agreed with the statement, “I know I will find a good job after I graduate,” only 48 percent of twelfth graders expressed the same sentiment. Whether this is a reflection of the rough young adult job market or a simple loss of youthful optimism, schools are increasing focus on their students’ college and career readiness.

STATE YOUR BUSINESS
Senator Lamar Alexander has indicated his leaning towards keeping federal testing requirements in the new ESEA bill, but giving states the freedom to choose how they use it to hold their schools accountable. Michael Petrilli says it well: “States should continue to experiment with various interventions in low-performing schools. But let’s admit that we don’t know precisely what that should look like, and thus we definitely shouldn’t prescribe a particular approach from Washington.”

CAP'S OFF
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker unveiled his proposal for the 2015-17 education budget, with plans to extend voucher participation beyond the thousand-student cap and increase accountability through revised school report cards. The charter school sector can also expect to see an additional $4 million in funding, to be put towards the creation of a state board charged with the approval of new school authorizers.

TREASURE MAP
Because the people demanded it: Education Week has assembled...

  1. Yesterday saw a Q&A between House Education Committee members and the sponsors of HB 2 (the charter law overhaul bill) as well as the start of committee hearings on HB 7 (the bill which would, among other things, give students a “safe harbor” from PARCC test results). Not much to say at this point on the testing bill – that will come – but it was interesting to hear how very open the sponsors of HB 2 were to lots of other recommendations to improve the charter sector over and above what’s already in the bill. Call us, members of the committee, we have some more recommendations. (Gongwer Ohio)
     
  2. Editors in Cleveland opine on standardized testing in Ohio today. The specific issue of cutting testing time is not yet on the legislative radar, but the calls continue. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  3. Editors in Cleveland also opined on the governor’s budget proposal this week, saying “there’s a lot to like” in it. Among the education provisions, charter law reforms get a thumbs-up from PD Tower while district funding reforms get a wait-and-see-but-we’re-inclined-to-be-bothered. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  4. One of the things the PD’s editors wanted to wait-and-see about is what is known as “district runs”. That is, a spreadsheet from the state that shows which districts’ funding go up and which go down under the new plan. Those runs were released yesterday. (Gongwer Ohio)
     
  5. The governor was in Cleveland yesterday as those district runs were released
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  • President Obama released his 2016 budget proposal this week, and the media welcomed it with loads of over-analysis. Yet Congress has no use for it.  One Republican House member went so far as to call it “laughable.” It won’t guide legislation for the next twelve months, regardless of what it says about testing or charter schools or anything else. Moreover, the Republicans’ aversion is based on far more than partisanship. The $4 trillion budget is packed with new taxes, yet still isn’t balanced—a major problem when the government is already borrowing money for the programs we have. The White House called it the “beginning of a negotiation.” Translation: It’s unreasonable, and they know it.
  • On Monday, comments closed on the Department of Education’s proposed regulations designed to improve the quality of teacher-preparation programs. Two noteworthy changes would be the collection and distribution of more meaningful data on program quality and the withholding of TEACH grants if programs aren’t up to par. Both are worthwhile upgrades, considering the grisly state of U.S. teacher training. Not surprisingly, the major teacher and professor advocacy groups opposed the regulations, including the American Federation of Teachers and the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, complaining that the regs are too test-reliant and onerous. The real news, however, came in the form of strong support from Deans for Impact and Art Levine of the Woodrow Wilson Group.
  • The Washington Post reports that Washington,
  • ...

How do we get new and better private schools of choice? That’s the question AEI’s Michael McShane and a cadre of researchers and practitioners dive into in this new edited volume. The book and a corresponding conference acknowledge that “better is not good enough.” Indeed, for far too long, supporters of school choice have been content with merely providing alternatives to district school options on the assumption that choice was a sufficient guarantor of quality. Instead, this book calls for a “nimble, agile, and market-driven” system of schools. Among the high points is Andy Smarick’s look at what has worked in chartering: incubation (leadership pipelines, start-up capital, strategic support, and political advocacy) and network building. He also reprises his call for “authorizers” to oversee publicly funded private schools. McShane agrees that this model could “provide oversight without stifling the set of options available for school choice.” Perhaps. But private schools, from Catholic schools to those providing alternative curriculum, often see themselves as working toward ends that are more than academic. Could they maintain their distinctive flavor in a marketplace that could devalue their mission? New and Better Schools is a smart look forward in private school choice programs and a thoughtful critique of how and where these programs have not thrived.

SOURCE: Michael Q. McShane, New and Better Schools: The Supply Side of School Choice (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015)....

I’m no testing hawk. I’ve written plenty at Fordham and elsewhere that’s critical of test-driven ed-reform orthodoxy. Accountability is a sacred principal to me, but testing? It’s complicated—as a science, a policy, and a reform lever. Anya Kamenetz’s new book The Test is not complicated. She strikes a strident anti-testing tone right from the start. “Tests are stunting children’s spirits, adding stress to family life, demoralizing teachers, undermining schools, paralyzing the education debate, and gutting our country’s future competitiveness,” writes Kamenetz, an education reporter for National Public Radio. If you’re looking for the good, the bad, and the ugly on testing, well, two out of three ain’t bad.

Part cri de couer, part parenting manual (she may hate testing, but Kamenetz still wants her daughter—and your kids—to do well) The Test is particularly tendentious on the history of standardized tests. “Why so many racists in psychometrics?” she asks (her prose is often glib and always self-assured). “I’m not saying anyone involved in testing today is, de facto, racist. But it’s hard to ignore the shadow of history.”

What is easy for Kamenetz to ignore almost entirely is that some of the strongest support for testing comes from civil rights activists who have used test scores to dramatically alter the education landscape and highlight achievement gaps, all in the name of equality. But this runs counter to her argument that testing “penalizes diversity.” Kati Haycock may have once led affirmative-action programs for the University of California system,...

Education governance puts most people to sleep. The topic is arcane, sort of boring and, above all, seemingly immutable. If you can’t do anything about a problem, why agonize over it, or even spend time on it?

Of course, some people don’t even see it as a problem. They just take it for granted, like the air surrounding them, the sun rising in the morning, and the Mississippi flowing south. It just is what it is.

That’s wrong-headed. The governance mess is a large part of the reason that so many education problems are impossible to solve. As Mike Petrilli and I wrote three years ago about “our flawed, archaic, and inefficient system for organizing and operating public schools”:

[America’s] approach to school management is a confused and tangled web, involving the federal government, the states, and local school districts—each with ill-defined responsibilities and often conflicting interests. As a result, over the past fifty years, obsolescence, clumsiness, and misalignment have come to define the governance of public education. This development is not anyone’s fault, per se: It is simply what happens when opportunities and needs change, but structures don’t. The system of schooling we have today is the legacy of the nineteenth century—and hopelessly outmoded in the twenty-first.

Perhaps the foremost failing of that system is its fragmented and multi-polar decision making; too many cooks in the education kitchen and nobody really in charge. We bow to the mantra of “local control” yet in fact nearly every...

Imagine you are a first-year social studies teacher in a low-performing urban high school. You are hired on Thursday and expected to teach three different courses starting Monday. For the first two weeks, you barely eat or sleep, and you lose fifteen pounds you didn’t know were yours to lose. For the first two months, your every waking minute is consumed by lesson prep and the intense anxiety associated with trying to manage students whose conception of “school” is foreign to you. But you survive the first semester (as many have done) because you have to and because these kids depend on you. You think you are through the worst of it. You begin to believe that you can do this. Then, the second semester begins…

Your sixth-period class is a nightmare, full of students with behavior problems that would challenge any teacher. But as hard as sixth period is, your third-period class is the most frustrating and depressing, because (for reasons only they are privy to) the Powers That Be have seen fit to place every type of student imaginable into the same classroom: seniors, juniors, sophomores, freshmen, kids with behavior issues, kids with attention issues, kids with senioritis, kids who have taken the class before and passed it but are taking it again because the registrar’s office is incompetent. And, of course, a few kind, sweet, innocent kids. Who. Cannot. Read.

This is impossible.

Or so you tell the Powers That Be. Your seniors can do...

  1. Editors in Cleveland opine on two current bills – HB 2 and the governor’s budget – which aim to reform Ohio’s charter school law. Good timing, as Gov. Kasich is in Cleveland today – at a Breakthrough-operated charter school – touting his plan. PD editorial on charter reform. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  2. Speaking of the governor’s budget, while Kasich himself is on the road selling, his budget director is on the hot seat in the Ohio House, answering questions from legislators. Yesterday, it was detailed questions about K-12 education. This go-round was just about traditional district funding, although I’m sure the proposed changes to transportation funding will end up affecting charter and voucher students as well if enacted. Hopefully, for the better. (Gongwer Ohio)
     
  3. Speaking of transportation, the results of a two-year study of school transportation in Stark County were released earlier this week. I am almost speechless at its findings (almost) but will say that only a study produced by this particular group of players could find savings by hiring a hoard of new employees across multiple districts. I wonder to whom the work will fall to organize the centralized driver training and mechanic facilities? What noble entity will work this plan all out, save districts a bunch of money, and then consider “expanding” it to include vocational/charter/voucher school students? (Canton Repository)
     
  4. Speaking of altruists, here’s an update on the efforts to unionize teachers at one Columbus charter school. Spoiler alert: nothing has
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2009 it ain’t.

Back in those heady days, the new president, fresh off a comfortable electoral victory and with congressional majorities as far as the eye could see, had the power to drive the agenda. Though Capitol Hill’s budget process was broken, with the electorate behind him and congressional allies to spare, President Obama’s budget submission had to be taken seriously.

Today, the president possesses platinum-level lame-duck status. He’s in the homestretch of his tenure, his approval rating hasn’t hit 50 percent in nearly two years, and Republicans have significant congressional majorities.

It is through this lens that we should view the Obama administration’s FY2016 budget request, released yesterday. Given today’s political conditions, the education request is actually quite savvy. It retreats where necessary, digs in where possible, and has an eye on history. There are plenty of good summaries of the education request as a whole and descriptions of specific line items. But here’s how I’m seeing the ask:

Concessions

For six years, the Obama administration, breaking with generations of practice, gave every indication that it saw few limits to the role of the federal government in primary and secondary schooling. The chickens have come home to roost.

There’s now widespread resistance to many of its initiatives, especially to ESEA waivers. Per the zeitgeist, Congress is eager to take aim at one of the administration’s favorite budget categories: competitive grant programs. Once broadly seen as a valuable tool...

SEVENTH TIME'S THE CHARM?
The New York Post has absolutely maddening coverage of an apparently bulletproof first-grade instructor. At a recent termination hearing, the New York Department of Education declined to fire the Teflon teacher in spite of her six consecutive unsatisfactory ratings. She was reassigned to a pool of substitutes and allowed to keep her generous salary even though she was absent or late sixty-four times in the last school year.

THAT'S A REALLY BIG BUCKET
Much of the recent debate surrounding testing and reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act stems from the belief that states spend too much money issuing standard assessments. However, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution's Brown Center on Education Policy, Matthew Chingos, clarifies that the $1.7 billion price tag on the assessments is a “drop in the bucket” amidst a $600 billion annual education allotment. 

WHILE YOU WERE OUT
You may have missed the news dump out of Louisiana if you left early for Super Bowl weekend: On Friday afternoon, Governor Bobby Jindal issued an executive order authorizing parents to opt their children out of Common Core-aligned PARCC assessments. The move is yet another manifestation of Jindal’s noisy and petulant campaign against the standards, now more than a year in the making. Chas Roemer, chairman of the state’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), claimed that "the executive order has no constitutional binding for BESE. While he can...

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