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Plain Dealer reporter Patrick O’Donnell was given access to a Pearson test-grading facility in suburban central Ohio recently and filed a series of reports from inside its walls. The tone of the pieces is reminiscent of that M*A*S*H episode when the newsreel reporter interviews the frontline medical staff. It is painstaking work in a high-pressure environment, but it is important and must be done with diligence and a touch of humor. Like the sign in the office says:

First up, O’Donnell runs us through the basics of the operation. Most graders tackle one question only, scoring the same one for hundreds of students in a shift; “anchor” examples show the basic form the correct answer should take; and there is selective double-checking of live scorers’ work.

Then there is a look at who has been hired to do the scoring work for Pearson this year. Some 72 percent of all their test graders nationwide have some teaching experience. And yes, some of them were hired via Craigslist.

Finally, while O’Donnell has a reputation as a thorough reporter on his own, he decides to open up the floor to Plain...

Sherman Dorn

Editor's note: This post originally appeared in a slightly different form on Sherman Dorn's blog.

Science writer David Kohn has an op-ed in this morning’s New York Times, “Let the Kids Learn Through Play.” For historians, the first three words ring alarm bells: “Twenty years ago, kids in preschool, kindergarten and even first and second grade spent much of their time playing” (emphasis added).

Great: another Myth of the Golden Age. Maybe my memory is flawed, but Google Books and I both agree that the early 1990s was a time when “child-care crisis” was on the tip of many tongues, or at least on far more tongues and keyboards than before or since:

For many parents, any child care they can pay for is an uncertain proposition; debates over play versus early academics are a luxury for millions. For others, the quality of interactions between teachers and young children trumps the question of what happens during the day. And in practice, the divide between “play” and “academics” is often specious. When my son’s preschool teachers in the late 1990s cut up samples of almost a dozen types of fruit for his class to try, was that...

  1. Our own Aaron Churchill was on the radio this morning, discussing last week’s Achieve report on the gap between state proficiency scores and NAEP scores. Quick but interesting discussion. (WTVN-AM, Columbus, 5/18/15)
  2. The Beacon Journal started out taking a look at single-gender classrooms and schools in the Akron area. Along the way, issues such as pay gaps, involuntary teacher transfers, societal norms, class differences, and discipline statistics piled up in an overegged but still interesting piece. (Akron Beacon Journal, 5/16/15)
  3. We told you last week about a Franklin County neighborhood petitioning the state board of ed to be rezoned away from South-Western City Schools and into Upper Arlington Schools. Why are those Columbus households in South-Western to begin with? The infamous Win-Win agreement from the 1980s, by which the city of Columbus was allowed to continue to annex the hinterlands and grow but neighborhoods already in other districts prior to 1986 were not required to send their children to Columbus City Schools. In exchange, Columbus has gotten money from those districts every year. But a new effort by Dublin City Schools to end the decades-old agreement is gaining steam…and generating some heat. (Columbus Dispatch, 5/17/15)
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  1. We start today with coverage of Chad’s testimony before the Senate Finance Education Subcommittee earlier this week. In which he urged Senators considering the new state budget to not let “safe harbor” considerations for schools extend to an EdChoice Scholarship voucher eligibility freeze. He was not alone in these sentiments. (Gongwer Ohio, 5/14/15)
  2. Editors in Cleveland opined favorably on Fordham’s most recent report – School Closure and Student Achievement. This is especially important because folks in Cleveland know only too well the difficulties of closing schools for even the soundest of reasons. (Cleveland Plain Dealer, 5/14/15)
  3. You probably couldn’t have missed it yesterday, but just in case you did, Achieve released a report looking at the gaps between state proficiency scores and NAEP results in all 50 states. Ohio fared poorly indeed, indicative of a shaky definition of “proficiency” in the Buckeye State. Chad said this loudly and clearly and was included in coverage of the report in the Columbus Dispatch (5/14/15), the Bucyrus Telegraph (5/15/15) and other Gannett outlets, and the Cleveland Plain Dealer (5/14/15).
  4. The Beacon Journal’s coverage of the Achieve report didn’t include Chad, but it did include
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Last Friday, I was sworn in as a member of the Maryland State Board of Education.

It’s an honor to have this chance to serve. It also has great personal meaning to me. I’m a product of Maryland public education from start to finish: from Broadneck Elementary through Magothy River Middle and Severn River Junior High, then Broadneck High, and into the University of Maryland, I’ve attended only Maryland public schools since I was six years old. Now my oldest—a soon-to-be five-year old who loves math problems, puzzles, his scooter, and Spider-Man—begins kindergarten this fall in our local Maryland public school.

Before he administered my oath, the court clerk reminded me how personally we all take our schools. He talked about the high school just down the road—the same high school he attended decades earlier, the high school where he met some of the people in the photos hanging on his office walls.

During my drive to the courthouse, I passed a number of working farms in my rural county. I remembered my elementary school’s annual tradition of watching Maryland: America in Miniature. I learned that the ...

The American Dream in Crisis: A conversation with Robert Putnam

The American Dream in Crisis: A conversation with Robert Putnam

The promise of upward mobility is central to education reform. Parents, educators, and researchers hope that if we can prepare low-income students for college and career, they will have the tools they need to enter the middle class as adults. But Robert Putnam’s new book, Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, argues that a growing opportunity gap is making such hopes look naïve.
As Putnam contends, the cycle of poverty is stronger than ever. What aspects of our current education system are contributing to this trend? And more importantly, what reforms are needed?
Robert Putnam discusses his new book and how education reform can help to restore the American dream for our kids.
Follow the conversation on twitter with @educationgadfly at #OurKids.
  • With the hue and cry surrounding big policy issues like testing, school choice, accountability, and labor, too little bandwidth remains for district- and building-level ideas that can spark energy in new directions. In the pages of Education Next, Fordham Senior Visiting Fellow Peter Meyer tells the tangled story of one such innovation: New York City’s small high schools. An early fixation of philanthreformers like Walter Annenberg and Bill Gates, the broader movement away from colossal public schools and toward more manageable, specialized academies was for years widely viewed as a failed effort; students could be sorted into the redesigned schools, but curriculum and instruction always seemed to lag. New York’s effort, the brainchild of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein, changed all that by providing institutional backing behind the initiative. Rather than scattering isolated seeds throughout an otherwise unaltered system, the city’s leaders directly engaged educators to develop a broad and resilient base of some two hundred schools. Maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that breaking up crowded behemoths into fun-sized institutions of learning increases graduation rates for low-income kids, but this tactic is an avenue to academic success that hasn’t been given the recognition it’s due. Thankfully,
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This book, an updated edition of Stanford professor Jo Boaler’s seminal 2008 work of the same name, tackles an important if familiar issue: The United States has a mathematics problem. On the 2012 iteration of PISA, the international test administered by the OECD, we ranked thirty-sixth out of sixty-five countries in math performance—and twenty-seventh out of thirty-four among OECD members. More ominously, 70 percent of students attending two-year colleges require remedial math courses—which only one in ten successfully passes.

Boaler argues that American math education is ineffective for three reasons: First, classroom learning is too passive, with teachers lecturing from the blackboard instead of actively interacting with their students. Second, instruction doesn’t emphasize understanding and critical thought, leaning instead on memorization and regurgitation. And third, the contexts in which content is taught don’t reflect the way math is used in everyday life. Take for example the following textbook question: “A pizza is divided into fifths for five friends at a party. Three of the friends eat their slices, but then four more friends arrive. What fractions should the remaining two slices be divided into?” When, in real life, would you need this, when you could just order more pizza?...

On May 13, Fordham President Michael J. Petrilli delivered testimony before a Pennsylvania State Senate committee. These were his remarks.

Chairman Smucker, Minority Chairman Dinniman, members of the committee: It’s an honor to be with you. My name is Mike Petrilli. I’m the president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a right-of-center education policy think tank based in Washington that also does on-the-ground school reform work in the great state of Ohio. I was honored to serve in the George W. Bush administration; our founder and president emeritus, Chester Finn, served in the Reagan administration.

As a strong conservative and a strong supporter of education reform, I am pleased to speak in favor of Senate Bill 6 and its intent to create an Achievement School District for Pennsylvania. Turnaround school districts are among the most promising reforms in American education today.

Over four years ago, we at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, along with our friends at the Center for American Progress, began a multi-year initiative designed to draw attention to the elephant in the ed-reform living room: governance. Given its ability to trample any promising education improvement—or clear the way for its implementation—it was high time to put governance...

  1. Here’s a tale of two districts for you. High-flying Amherst Schools is pretty bent out of shape over the D grade they received in their very first K-3 Literacy Improvement Measure report. Meanwhile, Lorain Schools – currently being overseen by an Academic Distress Commission – is thrilled with their grade of C on the same measure. (Northern Ohio Morning Journal, 5/10/15)
  2. Just to up the ante, here’s a tale of THREE districts. A subdivision of 23 homes in central Ohio is geographically situated in Columbus, but due to fallout from the 1970s annexing boom around here, the school district assignment zone for them is not the local district but South-Western City Schools. There are 10 school age children currently in the neighborhood. None of them attend South-Western, but the district treasurer knows just how much property tax these houses generate for his district. That is, exactly how much property tax his district would lose if residents are successful in their efforts to get themselves rezoned for tony Upper Arlington City Schools. Which, one assumes, they WILL attend if they are successful. The residents appear to have the support of the State Board of Education in their efforts
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