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When the history of this era’s urban-education reform movement is written, four big policy innovations are sure to get attention: the nation’s first voucher program, first charter law, first mayor-controlled charter authorizer, and first “extraordinary authority” unit (the RSD).

The people mostly responsible for these have two important things in common.

First, unless you’re an old hand in this business, you may not know of them.

Second—Polly Williams, Ember Reichgott Junge, Teresa Lubbers, Leslie Jacobs—they’re all women.

Unfortunately, those two facts are probably related.

Much has been written recently about the social forces pushing women below the radar in professional settings. In an excellent NYT piece, “Speaking While Female,” Sheryl Sandberg (Lean In) and Adam Grant (a Wharton professor) argue that “speaking up” at work generally helps men but not women.

“When a woman speaks in a professional setting,” they write, “she walks a tightrope. Either she’s barely heard or she’s judged as too aggressive. When a man says virtually the same thing, heads nod in appreciation for his fine idea. As a result, women often decide that saying less is more.”

This is a prevalent theme in the much-referenced Talking from 9 to 5: Women...

Since its passage in 1974, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) has struck a careful and reasonable balance between the privacy of students and families and the need for timely and accurate information on the state of U.S. schools and school systems. But a provision in the FERPA overhaul “discussion draft” currently being circulated by Republican John Kline and Democrat Robert Scott threatens to upset this balance by giving parents the right to “opt out” of data-sharing agreements with “organizations conducting studies for, or on behalf of, educational agencies or institutions,” which are currently exempt from FERPA’s general prohibition on the sharing of personally identifiable information.

As written, this provision would do serious harm to efforts to evaluate and study existing education programs, because its widespread use would degrade the quality of the data on which many evaluations and studies are based. This would be a huge problem, especially if there were significant differences between students whose families chose to opt out and the broader student population (which there almost certainly would be). Such differences could (and likely would) bias the results of future studies that rely on education data, especially those seeking to understand the performance of students over time by linking data from different systems.

This isn’t just about the convenience of academics in universities, think tanks, and research firms. It’s actively menacing to the country’s ability to know things like:

How well are public schools preparing students for college and the workforce?

Why...

If you count Democrat Lincoln Chafee, five hopefuls have now declared their candidacy for the 2016 presidential election. The forthcoming nineteen months promise to bring scandals, flip-flops, attack ads, and a whole bunch of memes. So in anticipation of all that fun, let’s see where the candidates stand on the biggest issues in education today by looking at what they’ve said in the past.

As each contender throws his or her hat in the ring, I’ll publish a collection of their quotes about education. Some will be recent—but if a candidate hasn’t said anything about an issue in eight years, well, they may be a little more dated. But that has its uses, too; silence can speak volumes.

So without further ado, let’s start with the biggest name in the race: Hillary Rodham Clinton. Earlier this month, Clinton held a sixty-minute education roundtable at which she spoke with a handful of educators and students at an Iowa community college. Due to the format, there wasn’t a lot of stance-taking on the issues, but she did discuss a few noteworthy topics, including the Common Core:

1. Common Core: “The really unfortunate argument that's been going on around Common Core, it’s very painful because the Common Core started off as a bipartisan effort. It was actually nonpartisan. It wasn’t politicized....Iowa has had a testing system based on a core curriculum for a really long time. And [speaking to Iowans] you see the...

The Brookings Institution has come to its senses and found a splendid way to retain Russ Whitehurst on its senior research team. Having cut my own policy-research teeth at Brookings (back in the late Middle Ages), I was doubly dismayed—and said so—when I read a few weeks back that they were seeking a replacement to head the Brown Center, which Russ has led with huge distinction and productivity these past six years. What a terrible move it would have been to let him leave. Well, after much clanking of gears, he's not leaving after all. He's switching from one Brookings "department" to another, and will henceforth be a force to be reckoned with in their highly regarded Center on Children and Families, located within the Institution’s "economic studies" section. The education research and policy world benefits hugely from Whitehurst's continuation at Brookings. Hurrah for this happy outcome for all concerned (except the diminished Brown Center).

  • A few weeks ago, the Gadfly highlighted the work of the New York Times, which ran a long and deeply reported (some would say tendentious) examination of Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy charter network. The piece vividly detailed the disputes circulating around the schools and led Moskowitz to issue an impassioned response to her employees. More recently, the paper has published testimonials from parents of Success Academy pupils, including both those distraught by the organization’s strict behavioral controls and those elated with their children’s improved grades and newfound zest for learning. The experiences they depict should already be familiar to those who have followed the story—Peerless school culture! Crushing academic expectations! Scary-good test scores! Just-plain-scary disciplinary practices!—but it’s worth celebrating the fact that these parents can choose to either stick with the program or look for a better fit for their kids. The first two lines of one account, from a Manhattan father, are particularly cheering: “I grew up poor, and my parents never had a choice in where to send me to school. So my wife, Mariann, and I knew we wanted to find the very best option for our son Luke.”
  • Those words should be put on a plaque and mounted in the office of every state legislator in the country. Parental choice in education is a top priority for reformers everywhere, and the statehouse is the best place to protect and expand it. Thankfully, 2015 has been a fantastic year so far for school
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Greg Toppo

Note: On Tuesday, April 28, from 4:30 to 6:00 p.m. ET, the Fordham Institute will host a discussion with Greg Toppo on his new book, The Game Believes in You, from which this essay is adapted. See our event page for more information and to register. All are invited to stay for a small reception following the event.

After decades of ambivalence, suspicion, and sometimes outright hostility, educators are beginning to discover the charms of digital games and simulations, in the process rewriting centuries-old rules of learning, motivation, and success.

Teachers have long used cards, dice, pencil-and-paper games, and board games to teach and reinforce key concepts. But digital technology, and games in particular, go even further. Because games look so little like school, they force us to reconsider our most basic assumptions about how children learn: What is school for and what should students do there? Where should kids get their content and how? How important is it that they like what they’re doing? What is our tolerance for failure and what is our standard for success? Who is in control here?

Even the electronic versions of games have a history dating back two generations. The eighth graders who shot buffalo in the first rudimentary version of The Oregon Trail—on a teletype in a Minneapolis classroom in 1971—are now old enough to be grandparents. The movement’s de facto vision statement emerged exactly twenty-five years ago, when an eight-year-old boy in an after-school program at MIT’s Media...

  1. In case you missed it, our own Aaron Churchill entered the lion’s den in Cincinnati on Monday, participating in a League of Women Voters event on charter school accountability. It appears from Enquirer coverage that he was about the only one who thought that charter law reform efforts were a step forward in Ohio. And if I wasn’t sure from that, then this piece from the “News and Stuff” column of CityBeat sealed it. (Cincinnati Enquirer, 4/21/15; CityBeat Cincinnati, 4/21/15)
     
  2. Also on the topic of charter law reform, editors in Cleveland opine today on the raft of bills in the state legislature aimed at doing just that. Citing the CREDO charter quality study from December and calling the charter sector in Ohio a “wretched, weedy mess”, the PD bosses opine favorably on the reform efforts and in favor of more money to ODE to do the job right. Interesting. (Cleveland Plain Dealer, 4/22/15)
     
  3. Speaking of opiners, the Enquirer continues adjusting to the “post-5-of-8 landscape” they find themselves in here in Ohio. To wit: a guest commentary that evokes school violence as a likely outcome of the loss of mandatory staff levels for counselors. While she’s not wrong that counselors can be vital participants in an education community, why not just advocate for that – especially in Cincy, which is all in on “wraparound services” for students in need. Honestly, she undercuts her own argument by seeming to be OK with bailing on arts instruction.
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  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 to get directly involved in the selection of a new superintendent.” Yowza. (Youngstown Vindicator, 4/19/15)
     
  5. In some better news, it looks like that mooted bus driver strike in Dayton has been averted. Whew. (Dayton Daily News, 4/19/15)

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, want more than just the calm and clinical. So, here’s a bit more juice on this PARCC-block thing. The House Finance Chair said of the new language, “We have to have an assessment.” But in the coverage from the Big D, it seems that only the Chair and the
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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 the next ESEA reauthorization (should be any year now). The response at the state level is no less intense: In Ohio, an online poll commissioned by prominent State Senator Peggy Lehner revealed widespread dissatisfaction among educators with the implementation of the new PARCC tests; many are frustrated with the disruption
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