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Bad schools rarely die. This was the conclusion of Fordham’s 2010 report Are Bad Schools Immortal?, which discovered that out of two thousand low-performing schools across ten states, only 10 percent actually closed over a five-year period. On reflection, the finding was not too surprising: Shuttering schools nearly always sets off a torrent of political backlash, as authorities in Chicago, Philadelphia, and other urban districts have learned in recent years. And the reasons are understandable: Schools are integral parts of communities. They’re built into families’ routines and expectations, and closing them inevitably causes pain, disruption, and sadness, even when it’s best for students.

However, we also recognize that closing schools is sometimes necessary. In the charter sector, in particular, closure is an essential part of the model: Schools are supposed to perform or lose their contracts. That’s the bargain. And in the district sector, experience has taught us that some schools have been so dysfunctional, for so long, that efforts to “turn them around” are virtually destined to fail.

That doesn’t mean it’s easy to put bad schools out of their misery. Part of the difficulty is political, but it’s also a genuine moral dilemma: Are we sure that...

  1. In case you missed it yesterday, Fordham Ohio released a new report—School Closures and Student Achievement—looking at how students displaced students fare following the closure of their schools. We were gratified by the breadth of coverage the report received. You can take a look at in-state coverage from the Dispatch (Columbus Dispatch, 4/28/15) and the Enquirer (Cincinnati Enquirer, 4/28/15), and some national coverage from the Wall Street Journal (who ran an op-ed by Mike Petrilli and Aaron Churchill on 4/28/15) and the Washington Post (Washington Post, 4/28/15).
     
  2. In other news, the Ohio Senate’s advisory committee on testing continues to meet and work on determining what, if any, changes to the state’s standardized testing methods will be made. Don’t tell the teacher: the PD took a peek over the shoulder of Solon City Schools’ representative on the committee and tells us what one of the state’s higher-flying suburban districts is suggesting in regard to testing changes. (Cleveland Plain Dealer, 4/28/15)
     
  3. School buildings typically occupy prime land within communities. When schools are closed and the buildings demolished, that prime land is often seen as a public asset of great value…and sometimes of great contention. Especially
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This is the third installment in our Eduwatch 2016 series chronicling the declared presidential candidates’ stances on today’s biggest education issues. I began with editions for Hillary Clinton and Marco Rubio. Next up is Ted Cruz, the junior U.S. senator from Texas.

With a midnight tweet on Monday, March 23, Cruz was the first to officially announce his candidacy. He followed that up a few hours later with a half-hour speech at Liberty University. His campaign has emphasized “restoring” America, which includes education. Here’s what he’s said:

1. Education as a foundation: “Education is foundational to every other challenge you've got. If you're looking at issues of crime or poverty or healthcare, if you have education, if you get the foundation of an education, all of those problems by and large can take care of themselves.” March 2014.

2. The Department of Education: “We need to abolish the U.S. Department of Education.” March 2013...

How should city-level leaders manage a portfolio of schools? The first thing they should do is take stock of the city’s supply of public schools. A new report from IFF, a nonprofit community development financial institution, provides a helpful look at Cleveland’s public schools, both district and charter. In an effort to uncover those with the highest need for quality seats, the analysis slices the city into thirty neighborhoods based on several variables: schools’ academic performance, facility utilization and physical condition, and commuting patterns. The facility analyses are the major contribution of this work, principally the schools’ utilization rates—the ratio of student enrollment to the physical capacity of the building. The utilization rates are needed to determine the actual number of available high-quality seats. The analysts obtained building-capacity statistics through the district; they estimated charter capacity by using the schools’ highest enrollment point (perhaps underreporting charters’ capacity—especially for new schools). Happily, the study reports that Cleveland’s highly rated K–8 schools are at 90 percent capacity. Yet it is less satisfying to learn that its highest-rated high schools are at only 68 percent capacity (the report does not suggest any reasons why). Meanwhile, most of the city’s poorly rated schools...

  1. Efforts are underway to expand Ohio’s College Credit Plus program – providing easier and more widely-available access to courses for high-school students who are ready for the rigor of college work. However, it’s that “ready for the rigor” part that’s causing some trouble with expansion efforts. (Columbus Dispatch, 4/27/15)
     
  2. There are parts of central Ohio where residents live in Columbus, send their kids to an assigned school in one suburb, get their trashed picked up by a second suburb, and get mail delivered from a third suburb. The genesis of this weirdness was rapid annexation of the city of Columbus back in the 1970’s and – school-assignment-and-funding-wise – resulted in something called the Win-Win Agreement in 1986. You can check out this concise Dispatch editorial for a potted history, as well as the editorial board’s take on how the state legislature absolutely cannot mess with the Win-Win Agreement without a lot more careful thought and discussion, no matter if at least one of those “wins” isn’t so winning anymore. (Columbus Dispatch, 4/27/15)
     
  3. Speaking of editorials, the Beacon-Journal had a lulu on Friday. In it, they gave a detailed accounting of how open enrollment works in
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This is the second in a series of Eduwatch 2016 posts that will chronicle presidential candidates’ stances on today’s biggest education issues. Last week’s inaugural post revealed Hillary Clinton’s views on everything from Common Core to charter schools. Next up is the junior senator from the Sunshine State, Marco Rubio.

Rubio’s been active in his role as a legislator, especially when it comes to school choice. In 2013, for example, he introduced the Educational Opportunities Act—a bill designed to support choice through tax credits—and co-sponsored a bill that would allow billions of Title I dollars to follow kids to whichever school they attend. But those are just pieces of senatorial legislation, and unsuccessful ones at that. Rubio’s dreaming bigger; he wants to jump from lawmaker to leader of the free world, which means a whole lot of talking between now and November 2016. So let’s see what he’s had to say about education:

1. The Department of Education: “If I was president of the United States, I would not have a Department of Education, perhaps at all….We don’t need...

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...

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...

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, I welcome you to Eduwatch 2016, Fordham's coverage of the race as it pertains to education. To start things off, let’s see where the candidates stand on today's biggest issues 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...

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).

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