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The testing “opt-out” movement is testing education reform’s humility.

The number of students not participating in state assessments is large and growing. In one New York district, 70 percent of students opted out; in one New Jersey district, it was 40 percent.

Some reporting makes the case that this phenomenon is part of a larger anti-accountability, anti-Common Core story. Some reformers, it seems to me, believe opting out is the result of ignorance or worse.

Participants are routinely cast as uninformed or irrational. Amanda Ripley implied that opting out of testing is like opting out of vaccines and lice checks. New York Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch argued, “We don’t refuse to go to the doctor for an annual check-up…we should not refuse to take the test.” A column in the Orlando Sentinel argued we’d “lost our minds” and that the “opt-out movement has officially jumped...

  1. The Ohio House last week proposed a funding-based block to try and eliminate PARCC testing in Ohio. Chad is quoted in a story looking at what else – if anything – might replace the current tests. Bottom line: “Be careful what you wish for.” (Cincinnati Enquirer, 4/19/15)
  2. Editors in Columbus opined this weekend in favor of the latest salvo in charter law reform in Ohio. To wit: SB 148. (Columbus Dispatch, 4/19/15)
  3. Late-breaking news from the Vindy on Friday evening: Youngstown’s superintendent is departing the district at the end of the school year – after a five-year tenure – for the superintendency of an Arkansas district in which he previously worked. This seems a pivotal moment for a district trying to emerge from academic distress. (Youngstown Vindicator, 4/17/15)
  4. Editors at the Vindicator also sense the pivotal nature of this superintendent change and they waste no time in reiterating their previous stance that state intervention is urgently required in an op-ed published yesterday. Calling the superintendent’s impending departure a “crisis of leadership,” they insist that it will “require the intervention of Gov. Kasich” to address. They insist that the governor “has no choice but
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In case you missed it, we did a whole big compilation of news clips about the introduction of SB148/HB156 yesterday. Another huge step toward meaningful, and long-overdue, charter school reform in Ohio. Check it out if you haven’t seen it yet.

  1. Don’t believe us when we say that this charter reform effort is the real deal? How about the editors in Akron, then? These long-standing critics of charters in their town and across the state are well acquainted with the flaws in Ohio’s charter sector. They opined yesterday in favor of the latest charter reform bills, calling them “a foundation for much improvement”. THAT’s the real deal. (Akron Beacon Journal, 4/17/15)
  2. In other legislative news, we noted on Wednesday the changes made to the Governor’s budget in the House, suggesting that school funding would get the lion’s share of the attention. Digging deeper, there was this gem: A provision to forbid the Ohio Department of Education from paying another nickel to PARCC for testing. Yes, that’s right, a funding mechanism block. You can see the usual calm and clinical report on this from Gongwer. (Gongwer, 4/15/15) 
  3. But I know you, my loyal Gadfly Bites readers,
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  • Because she couldn’t bear to keep Martin O’Malley in suspense any longer, Hillary Clinton revealed this weekend that she would be running for president in 2016. Her well-executed video ginned up an endless amount of free press, but few commentators picked up on a strangely off-key segment: Early on, one participant expresses excitement at the prospect of moving to a new neighborhood so that their child will have access to a decent school. Situated discordantly between announcements of weddings and new business ventures, the line perfectly illustrates the lack of choice most parents face when trying to educate their kids. Several prominent liberal writers have already voiced their frustration with the message. “Having to move in order to enroll in a ‘better" school,’ wrote Jonathan Chait in New York, is “a very strange value system for the left to embrace.”
  • If you haven’t spent the last few months in a cave, you’re probably aware that this spring marks the debut of Common Core-aligned tests in dozens of states across the country. Those tests, expected to be far tougher than those that preceded them, have stirred up enough national controversy to keep education writers busy until
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  1. The State Board of Education approved a slate of rule changes on Monday, completing a routine process that all state agencies have to go through every five years. But of course, one of those rule changes – elimination of the so-called “5 of 8” staffing requirement for non-teaching staff levels in districts – garnered more than its fair share of attention. As part of the slate, the 5 of 8 requirement is now history. (Gongwer Ohio, 4/13/15)
  2. Speaking of the State Board, members were updated this week on three separate investigations into Concept-run charter schools in Dayton. Turns out that most of the accusations that made big headlines last summer cannot be substantiated by ODE, the police, or the county ESC. This is not the end of the story, obviously, and any criminal or ethical violations that occurred can and will be pursued to their logical ends, but this is hopefully a cautionary tale of what can happen when folks advertise for former school employees to dish dirt. (Cleveland Plain Dealer, 4/15/15)
  3. Elsewhere in state government, the Ohio House of Representatives took the red pen to a number of Governor Kasich’s budget proposals, including education
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  1. As you may know, Count Week is no more in Ohio’s school districts. No more Pizza Days or Pajama Days or Spirit Days in an effort to get as many kids as possible into the building to be counted for funding purposes. While districts must now count students every day and report to the department of education three times per year, the actual funding process based on these numbers can’t go into action until a year’s worth of counting has been done. Some Butler County districts seem concerned about how the numbers are going to shake out and have some choice words about how much ODE has bitten off (yes, testing is part of it too, as far as they are concerned). ODE’s guy, for his part, doesn’t sound very concerned about the process. We’ll see how it all shakes out. (Middletown Journal-News, 4/12/15)
  2. Speaking of testing in Ohio (seriously, when are we not?), the Plain Dealer ran a piece on the first data produced by State Senator Peggy Lehner’s Advisory Committee on Testing. These are the results of a survey of public school leaders (principals, teachers, superintendents) regarding their experiences with the first round of PARCC
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  1. Editors in Columbus opined today in favor of the Bright New Leaders for Ohio Schools program, aiming to recruit and train high-quality principals for the schools that need them the most. (Columbus Dispatch, 4/10/15)
  2. Union bus drivers in Dayton approved a 10-day strike notice yesterday. It took only 222 words before the mention of a threat to the lives of children was mentioned. Probably a new record. Seriously, though, a driver strike would not only affect Dayton City Schools students but also private school and charter school students in more than two dozen buildings, including Fordham-sponsored Dayton Leadership Academy. DLA principal T.J. Wallace lays out the real threat here: kids without options not being able to get to school. (Dayton Daily News, 4/10/15)
  3. Middletown schools underwent a performance audit recently, required due to low fund balances and concerns about the district’s financial health in the future. The State Auditor recommended some serious reductions in force, potentially saving the district more than $3 million per year. Cue the predictable cries of “old data” and “we’ve already made changes not accounted for here”. Good luck, Middletown. (Middletown Journal-News, 4/10/15)
  • The New York Times pulled off a coup with its recent profile of Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy charter network. Students at the astonishingly high-performing schools have routinely achieved fantastic scores on state tests—a feat made all the more impressive by the fact that most come from low-income black and Latino families. So what’s their secret? Emphasizing a stringent focus on test preparation, the piece gives plenty of ammunition both to the schools’ boosters and their critics. On the one hand, most readers will wince at accounts of students wetting themselves during practice tests rather than sacrificing time to go the lavatory. On the other, vast demand for admission—this year, more than 22,000 applications were filed for fewer than 3,000 seats—speaks for itself.
  • Of course, Moskowitz is never one to shy away from controversy—or a fight. In an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, she goes after a new behavioral code for New York City schools instituted by her current nemesis, Mayor Bill de Blasio. Skewering the novel use of so-called “restorative circles,” she touts those huge Success Academy application numbers (undiminished by the network’s reputation for stringent discipline). Moskowitz is right that persistently disruptive behavior is antithetical
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Brown Center reports on the state of American education are characteristically lucid and informative as well as scrupulously research-based—and they sometimes venture into unfamiliar but rewarding territory. That's certainly the case with the third section of the latest report, which addresses "the intensity with which students apply themselves to learning in school."

Drawing on PISA data (i.e., fifteen year olds), this is an exceptionally timely probe into one of the key temperamental, attitudinal, behavioral, or characterological traits (take your pick of which category it fits best) that may influence both short-term school performance and long-term success. Many people—perhaps taken with the recent attention that's been lavished on student attributes like "grit"—would say, “Of course there's a powerful influence. Why is the matter even worth restating?” But Loveless shows us why, beginning by noting the highly uncertain link between engagement and achievement, at least as both are gauged by PISA, and demonstrating that some countries that best the United States in achievement lag behind us in engagement.

He explains the importance of the "unit of analysis" in all such studies, then goes on to pull PISA's four-part measure of "intrinsic motivation" into its constituent parts and closely examine each of these....

Here’s a fascinating data point: Did you know that the entire weight of Finnish superiority on international reading tests rests on the shoulders of that country’s girls? The reading scores of Finnish boys on PISA tests is not statistically different than those of American boys, or even the average U.S. student of either sex—that’s how wide the gender gap is in Finland. “Finnish superiority in reading only exists in females,” writes Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Tom Loveless in what is surely the most eyebrow-raising finding in the 2015 Brown Center Report on American Education. “If Finland were only a nation of young men,” he observes, “its PISA ranking would be mediocre.”

That girls outscore boys on reading tests is not news. What is surprising is just how profound and persistent are the gaps. Boys lag girls in every country in the world and at every age, and they have for quite some time. But the gender gap on the 2012 PISA in Finland, the global education superstar, is the widest in the world and twice that of the United States. The sober and precise Loveless can barely restrain himself. “Think of all the commentators who cite Finland to promote particular...