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Classroom discipline is, let’s face facts, a fraught subject. It frequently occurs at the uncomfortable vector between schooling and race, where seemingly all useful reform conversations end up turning poisonous and accusatory. If you argue in favor of curbing suspensions and expulsions for black students, you’re privileging the rights of reprobates over the studious kids trying to learn in an unruly environment. Advance a case for stricter measures, however, and you’ll find “disparate impacts” and the “school-to-prison pipeline” hung around your neck. Few areas of education discourse are more in need of illuminating research.

This new study, conducted by Stanford researchers specializing in the investigation of implicit psychological bias, provides exactly that. Through the use of two separate experiments, it exposes a tendency in K–12 teachers (predominantly white females in the middle of their careers, but including members of both sexes and multiple races) to detect patterns of misbehavior in black students more so than white. In the first experiment, the authors provided participants with disciplinary records for students with either stereotypical white or black names, each detailing two episodes of petty insubordination. They then asked the teachers to describe how “troubled” they felt (a composite measure indicating their degree...

A new study from MDRC evaluates the impact, over three years, of a support program for low-income community college students in New York who are taking remedial courses. Developed by the City University of New York, the program is called the Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (or ASAP) and includes several components. Among these is a requirement to enroll full-time and participate in tutoring; comprehensive and dedicated student advising; a non-credit seminar that covers academic planning and goal setting; and career and employment services. Participants enjoy tuition waivers, free transportation vouchers, and free textbooks. Eligible students had to meet income eligibility requirements and take one to two remedial courses, among other conditions.

Three of CUNY’s largest community colleges participated, and roughly nine hundred students were randomly assigned either to a control group that received the usual college services or the treatment group, which had the opportunity to participate in ASAP (a study design that actually met the What Works Clearinghouse design standards without reservations).

Now for the results: ASAP students earned, on average, nine more credits than the control group. Moreover, the program nearly doubled the graduation rate, with 40 percent of the ASAP group receiving a degree compared to...

Maryland’s demanding new Kindergarten Readiness Assessment was administered statewide for the first time this year. Its results are revealing and sobering, to put it mildly. Many states don’t even check in any systematic way on their children’s readiness for kindergarten, and in previous years, Maryland used metrics based on modest expectations, outdated standards, and feel-good politics.

With the leadership of State Superintendent Lillian Lowery and Assistant Superintendent Rolf Grafwallner, Maryland has brought a new sense of reality to the skills that five-year-olds ought to possess if they’re truly prepared to succeed in kindergarten and the early grades. These span four domains, two of them cognitive (language, math), plus physical wellbeing (motor development, hygiene, etc.) and what they term “social foundations” (self-control, for example).

The assessment is individually administered by kindergarten teachers and was given this year to all of the Old Line State’s sixty-seven thousand kindergartners. The results are sorted into three bands, politely labeled “demonstrating readiness,” “developing readiness,” and “emerging readiness.” But only the first of these means actually ready to succeed in kindergarten—and slightly fewer than half of Maryland’s entering kindergartners met that standard.

Which is to say that more than half are not ready. This report candidly...

I liked Grant Wiggins more than just about anyone with whom I disagreed so much. On several occasions, he’d write something about teaching or curriculum I vehemently disagreed with, or vice versa. A sharply worded blog comment or tweet would follow. Then, invariably, there would be an email. Often lots of them. Nothing remarkable there; arguments begun in one venue often spill over into others. But what I came to value about those exchanges with Wiggins, who passed away suddenly and unexpectedly last week at age 64, is that they weren’t an attempt to win an argument or a convert. If you disagreed with him—if you looked at the same evidence and came to a different conclusion—he had to know why. 

Wiggins, the author of the influential curriculum planning guide Understanding by Design, held to his beliefs tightly and argued them passionately. He would never have embraced the label of education reformer—far from it—but he resisted the facile view of the education world as an “us versus them” proposition. He was adamant that instructional practices he railed against—dry lectures; activities divorced from big ideas and important skills; dutiful marches through content to be covered—were not a product of “reform,” but...

Lindsey Graham, the senior senator from South Carolina, joined the presidential race this week. He’s currently competing against eight other Republicans for the party’s nomination—a number that promises to grow as the year goes on. He’s also the subject of the thirteenth installment of the Eduwatch 2016 series chronicling presidential candidates’ stances on education issues.

Graham has served in the Senate since 2003. Before that, he was a four-term representative in the House and served one term in the state legislature. This, however, is his first time running for the White House. Over his long political tenure, he’s said much about education. Here are some of his views:

1. Common Core (2014): “The Obama administration has effectively bribed and coerced states into adopting Common Core....Blanket education standards should not be a prerequisite for federal funding. In order to have a competitive application for some federal grants and flexibility waivers, states have to adopt Common Core. This is simply not the way the Obama administration should be handling education policy.” February 2014.

2. Common Core (2013): “What's Common Core?...I'll address it. I don't know what it is. Sounds like a bad idea. I'll tell my staff, and I'll try...

  1. In case you missed it, editors in Columbus opined yesterday in favor of charter school operators opening their books for scrutiny of public dollars spent. They also opined on the possibility of merging the three charter law reform bills currently under discussion in the legislature, saying, “Lawmakers should end the era of charter-school mediocrity in Ohio by keeping the strongest elements among the three proposals and allowing real school choice to blossom.” Nice. (Columbus Dispatch, 6/2/15)
  2. Here is a list (and mini bios) of the nine candidates who have applied for the Interim Superintendent position in Youngstown City Schools. Not a bad list really. The all-lower-case headline makes it read almost like modern poetry. Good luck to everyone, and may the person with the most intestinal fortitude win. (Youngstown Vindicator, 6/2/15)

    A roundup of news from Columbus City Schools over the last week requires liberal use of the number “0”:
  3. Installing wifi in all district buildings by the end of the 2015-16 school year will cost $4,600,000. You’d think this would indicate the district is flush with cash despite the 2013 levy defeat, but fear not: this is federal money they’re planning on using.
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Martin O’Malley, the former governor of Maryland, announced over the weekend that he’ll be running for president. He’s only the third Democrat to announce, joining Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in a comparatively shallow race (the Republicans, on the other hand, already have nine confirmed candidates). He’s also the subject of the twelfth installment of the Eduwatch 2016 series chronicling presidential candidates’ stances on education issues.

O’Malley has been in politics most of his adult life. He helped on campaigns in his twenties, ran for state senate, got elected to the Baltimore City Council, served as the mayor of Baltimore for two terms, and was the Old Line State’s governor for eight years. During that time, he’s made education a priority—so much so that, according to his gubernatorial staff, he was “widely considered to be the ‘education governor.’” Here’re some quotes:

1. Common Core: “Our goal moving forward is to build the best public school system in not just America, but in the world. That's why we're choosing to adopt the Common Core standards, new curricula that will prepare our kids to be winners in a global economy, which is growing more knowledge-based by the day.” August...

  1. Heavy charter school issue today. First up, a leftover from last week which discusses a pending legislative proposal to allow high-performing charter schools access to facilities funding statewide for the first time. Folks in Cleveland are concerned that the “high-performing” criteria applies to sponsors and not to individual schools. Meaning that a high-performing school in the portfolio of a low-performing sponsor would be unable to access facilities funding as the law is currently written. It’s a good question, and an important debate in the ongoing efforts to reform charter law in Ohio: sponsor-centric provisions vs. school-centric provisions. Fordham is name-checked here as one of only two sponsors in Ohio recently rated in the highest, “exemplary” category of sponsors by the Ohio Department of Education. Just sayin’. (Cleveland Plain Dealer, 5/29/15)
  2. Of course not everyone thinks Fordham is the bomb when it comes to charter sponsorship. The Beacon Journal had no less than four stories this weekend about the history of charter school audits in Ohio. 15 years of audits are scrutinized in the series. Part one is a summary of the most egregious findings over the years. Fordham shows up on the Top 10 list for findings
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Lots to cover today. Let’s get to it.

  1. Fordham’s Kathryn Mullen Upton shared her views on the state of charter school governing boards in EdWeek, and it’s fascinating, important stuff. Those views are hard won through years of hands-on experience in Ohio. She opines that a lack of expertise among board members on critical issues of governance is often found amid “meltdowns”. As I might have expected, this piece does a pretty serious handwave over elected school boards. Loyal readers of Gadfly Bites will note any number of recent examples of losers (or worse) being voted in to board seats and staying in despite demonstrated incompetence, neglect, dereliction, and even criminality. But perhaps that’s not politically correct to point out, as Governor Kasich has said. (EdWeek, 5/28/15)
  2. Fordham’s Chad Aldis is also in the news this week, commenting on Ohio Senate testimony in which some charter school advocates sought to carve out exceptions to stringent new restrictions proposed for sponsors. It is not exactly a spoiler to say that Chad’s not a fan of said exceptions. (Columbus Dispatch, 5/28/15)
  3. Not to belabor the point, but here’s another take on the state of play in charter
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  • Like raucous pep rallies, autumn school-supply binges, and despising every page of Ethan Frome, there’s something comfortingly banal about multiple choice tests. But there have always been doubts about the benefits of having kids choose between four potential antonyms for “circumscribe.” As a corrective, the Common Core-aligned PARCC and Smarter Balanced tests feature sections devoted to “performance tasks”—longer, in-depth assignments designed to evaluate strategic and critical thinking. The new approach combines a short classroom activity with complex individual components, such as argumentative essays or multi-step math problems. While advocates claim that the exercises give a fuller picture of students’ mastery over the material, some teachers lament lost instructional time and fret about the difficulties of implementation. We’ll know which side was right later this year, when Fordham releases its review of the next-generation assessments; until then, it’s usually safe to fill in “All of the above.”
  • In life, unlike in multiple choice exams, the correct answer isn’t always presented as part of a menu of options. You either know the quadratic formula or you don’t; either you can make a persuasive argument or you can’t. It is therefore critical to teach kids valuable skills for their future lives, and
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