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  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)
     
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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...

ELECTIONS HAVE CONSEQUENCES
Newly elected congressional Republicans have revealed an aggressive education policy agenda that will focus on overhauling No Child Left Behind and the Higher Education Act. Other education priorities include school choice, funding issues, and scaling back the federal government’s involvement in K–12. For more information on the election’s implications on education, read Andy Smarick’s hot take from earlier this week.

TAKE OFF YOUR COAT AND STAY A WHILE
A new study by the Council of Great City Schools found that the average tenure of principals from the largest school districts has slightly decreased since 2010, to 3.2 years. This high turnover makes sustainable change and reform efforts difficult to implement and often stifles “positive academic momentum.” To get a local look at the effects of this kind of churn, turn to Chalkbeat’s look at the revolving door for principals in Denver Public Schools

SIGN O' THE TIMES
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio recently rolled out his three-year initiative for school reform, which centers on reinventing ninety-four of the city’s most troubled schools as “Renewal Schools.” Today, he got the early response from elite consensus: The New York Times op-ed page panned the proposal, saying the mayor “robbed himself of a useful reform tool” by abandoning Michael Bloomberg’s strategy of shutting down failing schools.

FOR-PROFIT SCHOOLS FIGHT REGULATIONS
On the subject of newly-released education proposals, the federal government’s regulations on for-profit...

  1. So we noted the AP’s somewhat nonsensical coverage yesterday of the HB 597 committee vote on Common Core repeal, but that wasn’t enough for us. We decided to reach out and try to help clear up misinformation and answer questions. This is the result. Go Aaron! (NewsNet 5, Cleveland) There are at least three dozen other iterations of this AP piece out there, including the Findlay Courier, Zanesville Times Recorder, Port Clinton News Herald, and Pendleton Times Post (Indiana).
     
  2. Meanwhile the Dispatch’s previous coverage of the HB 597 vote, quoting Chad, reached Governing magazine’s website today. (Governing Magazine)
     
  3. Taking a moment out of Common Core coverage: Governing is also talking about Lakewood City Schools in its November issue. Did you know that Lakewood – an inner-ring suburb of Cleveland – is the most densely populated place between Chicago and New York City? Almost all students in Lakewood schools walk. Every day. They own no buses and never have, contracting with a neighboring district for field trips and transportation of students with mobility issues. (Governing Magazine)
     
  4. Back to Common Core to finish up: editors in Cleveland opined in anger today against the HB 597 committee vote. Bottom line: “Forcing an ongoing upheaval in academic standards in Ohio is wrongheaded and in no one's interests.” (Cleveland Plain Dealer)

POVERTY'S FOOTPRINT
Poverty is an established risk factor for poor academic achievement, but it’s critical to remember that poverty is associated with much more than low incomes. A new study by the Center for New York City Affairs identified eighteen factors in a student's school and neighborhood that strongly predicted chronic absenteeism and low state test scores. The research places student achievement in a broader context, allowing school administrators to better understand where their students come from and how to meet their needs.

EXCUSES, EXCUSES
Teachers’ unions are attempting to distance themselves from the Democratic walloping that occurred Tuesday, claiming that the results were “more about the national climate than anything.” Regardless of the accuracy of that judgment (the president's low approval ratings no doubt influenced the outcome of many state-level races), it seems like a convenient way to justify spending millions on failed candidates—something that Andy Smarick writes should have dues-paying members up in arms. 

STILL NEED A DEGREE
A new report finds that short-term college certificates that offer training for specific job skills can lead to students finding temporary work, but don’t help in securing a long career or wage increase. Researchers suggest that for students to see the best return on investment, these certificate programs should be coupled with associate’s or bachelor’s degrees in what they term “stackable certificates.”

THE RISE OF PERSONALIZED LEARNING
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John Chubb

[Editor's note: This post marks the first in a series of blog entries that examines what can be learned from the most promising alternative leadership development programs in the country. John Chubb, president of the National Association of Independent Schools, interviewed leaders in several of these programs to learn more about how to cultivate successful leadership. We’ll roll out the six lessons that he learned over the next week.]

At a time when US education is consumed with the lagging achievement of students, why should we care about school leaders? Compelling evidence indicates that teachers are the key to student achievement.

Yet principals can significantly influence student achievement through their interactions with teachers. They hire teachers directly (or oversee the people who do). They supervise and evaluate teachers. They coach and mentor, or ensure teachers receive those supports. They set school goals, instill a sense of mission, and inspire, coax, and counsel teachers to do their best. They have the hard conversations when teachers require them. (Or at least the successful ones do.)

Leaders also set the tone in schools, the culture and expectations that may motivate students directly. They provide for student safety and well-being, fostering an environment in which students can focus on learning undistracted. Even these influences require work with and through teachers. Great leaders can cultivate great teachers.

Yet we know as little about how to develop great school leaders as we know about developing great teachers. Ninety-eight percent of principals in US public schools are...

  1. EdWeek is still talking about charter school closures, and Fordham’s Kathryn Mullen Upton is on hand to not only talk best practices in the event of closure, but also to remind folks that strong application processes for new schools is really the key to mitigating closures: “It's much easier to say no on the front end.” Well said. (EdWeek)
     
  2. So, you may have heard that the stacked deck on the House Rules Committee voted yesterday to refer the Common Core repeal bill to the full House 7-2. Not a surprise, really. Media coverage of the vote – and of the bill’s uncertain future in the House – came in two flavors. First up, the clear and concise pieces, all of which quoted Fordham’s Chad Aldis on the consequences of Common Core repeal. You can check out the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Columbus Dispatch for the big-city take, and also for some choice quotes from House Education Committee Chair Gerald Stebelton. For the statewide take, check out Gongwer Ohio.  And of course there’s the national take from PoliticoPro.
     
  3. The second flavor of media coverage of the House Rules Committee vote was pretty much nonsensical. The Associated Press’s story ran in a number of papers, including the Akron Beacon Journal yesterday. Honestly, if anyone can tell me what is being said in those last two paragraphs, I’ll give you a lollipop. Props to journalist Ben Lanka for making  the trip all the way
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  • Over the weekend, Lyndsey Layton of the Washington Post wrote a thoughtful article about parents’ quest to better understand the Common Core’s approach to math instruction. For example, the standards want kids to understand numbers as something more than symbols. Thus, what “10” means might be taught by asking kids to draw ten candy canes. Word problems are also plentiful. The trouble is that these new and improved methods differ from how some older folks learned how to add and subtract—and these caring moms and dads are struggling to help with homework. These training sessions, paired with web resources like Khan Academy, are a smart solution. Not to mention the fact that they get parents more involved in their kids’ schooling—always a good thing.
  • Accountability at work is a beautiful thing—even (or especially) when the realities it reveals are ugly. Such is the case of the Louisiana voucher program. Louisiana Believes, a part of the Bayou State’s Department of Education, just released the 2013–14 annual report of the state’s scholarship program. Under the initiative, schools are permitted to take in voucher-wielding youngsters, but in return, these schools are subject to annual oversight pertaining to how their scholarship students perform. If a school’s not up to par, it can’t take in more kids the following year. In 2013–14, 126 schools participated, and at least twenty-three of them—about a fifth—fell short. Those are grim results, but kudos to Louisiana for ensuring that kids will be going to better-performing schools next year.
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The introduction of the Common Core State Standards into America’s schools offers a unique opportunity to rethink teachers’ professional development. Drawing on recent research and interviews with key state and district stakeholders, Education First’s latest report, Common Core State Standards and the Transformation of Professional Development, offers recommendations for how to re-conceptualize teacher training to drive effective Common Core implementation. The report consists of three briefs covering what professional development should look like, examples of successful systems, and advice for policymakers, respectively. Among the first’s key takeaways: Isolated and sporadic professional development should be replaced with ongoing sessions (both individually focused and collective) that help educators to cultivate a deep familiarity with the Common Core and to identify and utilize high-quality curricular materials that are well-aligned to the standards. The second brief highlights places where teacher development is working well and identifies effective practices to be replicated at scale. For example, Washoe County School District’s Core Task Project is a three-week Common Core implementation boot camp. It utilizes free resources provided by national organizations to immerse teachers in an intensive introduction to the standards, support them during implementation, and provide them with continuous feedback as they progress. The third and final brief challenges policymakers and district leaders to create conditions that support this new concept of teacher development. It proposes reallocating professional development dollars to reflect district priorities, building time into the school day for professional development, and encouraging school leaders to prioritize true instructional changes. While not all...

This week’s election results remind us that factors other than the ideologies and performance of candidates often determine the outcomes. One such factor is voter turnout. Campaign strategists and politicos often cite President Obama’s ability to mobilize the minority vote as a major factor in his successful 2008 and 2012 presidential bids. In those elections, down-ballot candidates politically aligned with the president benefitted from this galvanized voter pool. Not so in off-cycle elections, during which the vast majority of the country’s 500,000 elected officials win office—and which aren’t held on Election Day. (Note that midterm elections, like last night’s, aren’t off-cycle; midterms are held on Election Day, just like presidential ones.) So what does this mean? How are these elections different? And who benefits? These are the sorts of questions that Sarak F. Anzia tackles in her new book, Timing and Turnout. Anzia argues that organized groups have more influence in off-cycle elections because the voters they mobilize have a greater relative impact due to smaller overall turnout. Take teacher unions: Anzia offers data showing that educators operating under school boards whose members are elected off-cycle have higher salaries than those whose boards are constructed on federal election days. Other data demonstrate that, during such elections, voters who sympathize with teachers’ union ideology compose a larger percentage of the voting bloc, bolstering like-minded candidates. So, Anzia asks: Do these elections enhance democracy by increasing the public’s opportunities to choose their officials? Or do they marginalize the broader electorate by decreasing...

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