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Editor's note: This post has been updated with the full text of "Don't know much about history."

Pop quiz! Try to answer the following questions without Googling: What is one right or freedom named in the First Amendment? We elect a U.S. senator for how many years? Who is the governor of your state? Easy, right? Here’s a tougher one: How much confidence do you have in your fellow citizens who cannot answer these questions as voters and participants in our democracy?

These are among the hundred questions about history, civics, and government on the U.S. citizenship test, which immigrants must pass as part of the naturalization process. It’s not a particularly challenging exam. Would-be citizens are asked up to ten of the questions; a mere six correct is a passing score.

In January, Arizona and North Dakota became the first two states to make passing this test a high school graduation requirement; South Dakota and Utah have followed suit this month. Similar bills have been introduced in more than a dozen other states.  

“I would submit that a minimal understanding of American civics is of real value and therefore worthy of measurement,” said Arizona State Senator Steve Yarbrough. I agree. Even in our test-mad era, requiring a rock bottom, minimal knowledge of basic civics shouldn’t be too heavy a lift.

Even though a mediocre elementary education should enable you to pass the test with relative ease, making the test a graduation requirement is not the no-brainer common sense might...

  • Critics of charter schools, often in the face of thorough and convincing evidence of the benefits of school choice, too often fall back on an unsourced allegation. If charters teach rings around their district counterparts, they claim, it’s only because they scheme to weed out needy and underperforming students. It’s become such a common trope that New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña blithely passed it along just last fall. But a new Manhattan Institute study has found that low-performing New York City students, who generally facing a higher risk of leaving their school than other kids, are no more likely to depart from a charter than a traditional public school. What’s more, special needs students and English-language learners are actually more likely to stay enrolled at a charter. Unfortunately, this new data is unlikely to make an impression on Fariña because…well, it’s data.
  • We at Fordham find ourselves defending Common Core because we believe that it’s good for kids all around the country to be held to high standards. But it’s one thing for education reformers to line up in support of a policy; it’s quite another for career professionals to give it the same endorsement. A newly released report from Teach Plus strongly suggests that many teachers feel as favorably about Common Core-aligned assessments as we do. Nearly 80 percent of participants said they considered the PARCC tests to be of higher quality than the state tests that preceded them. They also
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By Mark Toner

The myriad challenges facing school principals in the United States have been well documented, including limited opportunities for distributed leadership, inadequate training, and a lackluster pipeline for new leaders. Recently, the Fordham Institute teamed up with the London-based Education Foundation to seek a better understanding of England’s recent efforts to revamp school leadership. This joint effort led to a white paper, Building a Lattice for School Leadership; the short film, Leadership Evolving: New Models of Preparing School Heads; a fall 2014 conference that brought together nearly forty experts on school leadership from both countries; and a new report, Developing School Leaders: What the U.S. Can Learn from England’s Model, that reflects the discussions at the fall conference. This paper:

  • Summarizes the key elements of the English system, as well as systems for training and credentialing leaders at several levels;
  • Describes how changes in leadership development reflect broader education-policy shifts and how the English system currently benefits from a combination of top-down and decentralized models; and
  • Examines potential implications for American public education and poses questions for policymakers and educators to consider.

There are obvious and significant differences between the two systems. With about twenty thousand schools, England has roughly the same number as California and Texas combined—all within a nation the size of Wisconsin.  England’s central government in Whitehall makes most of the big education-policy decisions. Given the much larger and markedly more decentralized U.S. system, direct policy transfusions are unlikely. Yet England’s view of school...

  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
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This letter appeared in the 2014 Thomas B. Fordham Institute Annual Report. To learn more, download the report.

Fordham friends,

Closing the books on the year that just passed has special resonance this time around—both for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and for the education-reform movement at large. For us, 2014 marked the first leadership transition in our organization’s history, with founding president Chester E. (“Checker”) Finn, Jr. moving into his new role as senior distinguished senior fellow and president emeritus and with our board of trustees electing me to succeed him. Almost six months into this challenge, I remain honored by the faith they placed in me and appreciative of Checker’s pitch-perfect management of the transition process.
 

For the education-reform movement, 2014 was more of a mixed bag. It was famously the year when America was supposed to, but did not, achieve “universal proficiency”—a goal set by the No Child Left Behind Act back in 2002. That nearly thirteen years have now passed without a much-needed ESEA reauthorization gives us one clue as to what went awry: gridlock in Congress and an administration incapable or unwilling to move lawmakers to act. It’s hard to make improvements in policy when the policymaking machine grinds to a halt. Unilateral—and, arguably, unconstitutional—action by the executive branch is not a durable solution.

Yet that dysfunction also offers lessons worth heeding. If...

  • 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
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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
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  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,
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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...

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