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Editor's note: This editorial originally appeared in a slightly different form in the Austin American-Statesman.

At noon on Tuesday, January 13, the Texas Legislature convened its eighty-fourth legislative session. Like many previous legislative sessions, many hours of discussions will be devoted to improving Texas education. Like many previous legislative sessions, legislators will no doubt enact new state education policies aimed at improving Texas schools.

Despite massive new education policies from previous legislative sessions, and after decades of effort, tons of money, and volumes of educational punditry and political debate, we are left with relatively little to show for considerable effort. As we go forward with future education policies, it seems wise to pause and ask an important question. Why has so much previous education policy delivered such meager improvement?

Indisputably, that question has multiple answers. But one of the most critical answers is too often overlooked: Previous state education policy has been minimally integrated with education practice. Put another way, there has been, and there still is, a cavernous gap between education policy and education practice. In order for education policy to be an effective catalyst for improved school outcomes, it must influence education practice—and education practice is under the direct control of education practitioners. These practitioners have meager influence on education policy.

Previous state and federal education policy has ignored a cardinal truth: When schools improve, that improvement will be primarily due to the actions of people in the...

  1. This could get messy. Field Local Schools has voted to non-renew the charter school they have sponsored for the last five years. And kick them out of their building for good measure. Depending on how you look at it, the reason is that the predicted financial help to the district failed to materialize (shades of Upper Arlington, Gahanna, and others) or that Falcon Academy for the Arts simply became too successful a competitor. A quick look at the stats says that Falcon is at least as good overall as the district schools and, as the article points out, better in some cases. The kids, teachers, and board prez sure seem to think so. Story developing, as they say. (Akron Beacon Journal)
     
  2. Sticking with the Beacon Journal for a moment, the editorial staff opined today on the state superintendent’s report on standardized testing in Ohio. I don’t like to opine myself upon other folks’ opining, but I will just say “be careful what you opine for”. (Akron Beacon Journal)
     
  3. While it is not unprecedented for a charter school in Ohio to have all union teachers (see Falcon Academy, above), it is pretty groundbreaking for a charter school that started out non-union to unionize. But efforts have been underway in Cleveland to do just that. Well, I say “efforts”, but what started out as fairly straightforward organizing devolved into legal wrangling. But the legal wrangling appears to be on hold for now as negotiations between union and
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THIRD-RATE ORATORY, FIRST-RATE FUN
President Obama’s annual State of the Union address will be held tonight, and while polarizing K–12 policy is likely to be absent, early childhood and higher education will get plenty of air time. On the docket for these two subjects: the president’s free community college proposal, along with an idea to streamline child-care tax benefits and incentives for families with young children. Be sure to hop on Twitter during your SOTU viewing party for a special edition of the EWA’s buzzword bingo.

RELAX, THEY WON'T REVOKE YOUR PASSPORT
Arizona will be the first state to require high school students to pass a civics test, the assessment that all candidates for U.S. citizenship must take. A poll found that 77 percent of responders support this new requirement. Before you decide on the wisdom of the policy, see if you can pass the test.

AND YOU THOUGHT LUTEFISK WAS BAD
While Scandinavian countries top global rankings in many education metrics, a new piece in the Washington Post suggests that they are not the utopias they are sometimes made out to be. It seems that even the “happiest countries on Earth” struggle with racial tension, a slowing economy, and high youth unemployment (to name just a few). What does this mean for education? For starters, we need to be realistic when looking to other countries as potential models. But as Chester E. Finn, Jr. and...

At Inside Schools, a website for parents covering New York City schools, reporter Lydie Raschka visits a dozen elementary schools and comes away concerned. “[I] saw firsthand how hard teachers are working to meet the new Common Core standards for reading,” she writes. “I also saw precious time wasted, as teachers seemed to confuse harder standards with puzzling language.” A striking example:

At the teacher's prompting, a kindergartner at PS 251 in Queens tries to define "text evidence" for the rest of the class. "Test ed-i-dence," says the 5-year-old, tripping over the unfamiliar words, "is something when you say the word and show the picture.

“Text evidence?” What's with this incomprehensible jargon in kindergarten?

What indeed.

Raschka is absolutely correct to criticize the use of such arcane language and the practice of asking five-year-olds to toss around phrases like “text evidence” in kindergarten. Where I think she's mistaken is in attributing it to Common Core.

Elementary school English language arts classrooms have long been in the thrall of nonsensical jargon. Children "activate prior knowledge" and make "text-to-text" or "text-to-self" connections in book discussions in the argot of "accountable talk" (itself an inscrutable bit of edu-speak). I’ve relentlessly banged the drum for years on the importance of building background knowledge as a critical component of reading comprehension. But I see no point in making second-graders sing about “building schema” like the kids in this video:...

  1. Answer eliminator function. Highlighting tool. Line-reader option to read passages one line at a time. Answer review buttons. Cross-page navigation. Everything but the “phone a friend” lifeline. Are we talking about the latest electronic game? No; it’s the online PARCC exams being administered for real for the first time in Ohio soon. Sounds fantastic. Not only that, but this year schools have the option of going all-electronic, all-pencil, or a split among their tests. It is fascinating to note which districts took which option. (Columbus Dispatch)
     
  2. Walnut Township Schools in Fairfield County is facing the possibility of fiscal emergency status, despite being the 42nd-richest district in the state (out of 600+). What’s the issue? Some fancy lakefront property in an otherwise rural district and a series of failed levies. This is not a unique situation across Ohio, but what is different in this story is the nuanced discussion of how state and local funding combine to fund districts in Ohio. It is a nuance largely lost in most newspaper stories about school funding, replaced by unsupportable claims of charter and voucher poaching of “our money”. Some hard decisions ahead in Walnut Township, for sure, but it seems that their leadership is clear-eyed and properly focused. Best of luck to them. (Lancaster Eagle Gazette)
     
  3. As we noted last week, the new list of EdChoice-eligible district schools was released by ODE. The bottom line is that more schools (and likely more students) are eligible than last year due
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HOLD THE PHONE
The numbers are in: According to a new Quinnipiac Poll released today, 54 percent of New Yorkers support Mayor Bill de Blasio’s decision to lift the cell phone ban in the city’s schools. It’s a good reprieve for de Blasio in the court of public opinion; his approval rating, while positive overall, still lags under 50 percent (the territory usually deemed safe for incumbent politicians). Chancellor Carmen Farina’s popularity is lower still, at 39 percent. Maybe it has something to do with her apparent imperviousness to evidentiary analysis

IN THE LOOP
Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper has contributed a dose of common sense on testing that some of our national politicians would be well-advised to heed. Just a week after members of the State Board of Education voted (likely with no legal standing) to allow school districts to opt out of Common Core-aligned PARCC tests, the governor took time in his State of the State address to dissuade lawmakers from cutting annual assessments. “We need to confront the truth about whether Colorado’s kids are getting the education they need to compete and succeed in the job market,” he said. “But how do we know if we are getting the job done unless we accurately measure individual student growth?”

SPEAK OF THE DEVIL
Now that we’ve broached the topic of our beloved congressional leaders, here’s your semi-regular ESEA update: Education Week has conscientiously assembled a layman’s crib...

  1. The Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission and its various committees have quietly continued their work through the election season and into the new year. The committee working on K-12 education met this week and heard yet more testimony on that old bugbear phrase “thorough and efficient”. On the upside, most everyone involved believes that they’ve heard more than enough testimony on the issue. On the downside, the committee chair is not sure a consensus has emerged among the members: elimination, replacement, redefinition, additional language. All are still on the table, but hopefully we’re a step closer to a vote. (Gongwer Ohio)
     
  2. As you may have heard, state superintendent Richard Ross released ODE’s report on the state of standardized testing in Ohio yesterday. In it we learn that the anecdotal stories of “test mania” that made headlines during legislative testimony last year are largely unsubstantiated by facts. However, there is a lot of good information in the report, as well as actionable recommendations from Ross about ways to cut testing and test-prep time…if that’s what the right folks decide to do. What will come of this report is yet to be seen – administrative rules, legislation, guidance to schools, more study. All are possible. It probably depends on who actually takes up the recommendations and decides to run – thoughtfully – with them. And to whom they run. Hopefully it won’t come down to whomever shouts the loudest. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  3. Mansfield City Schools was placed under fiscal
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DISTANCE MATTERS
What really matters most to parents when choosing a school for their child? A new study from the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans has found that factors such as distance, extended hours, and extracurricular offerings tend to outweigh a school’s academic record for many parents, particularly those lower on the income spectrum. What parents want out of schools is a topic worthy of further study.

MORE OIL, MORE PROBLEMS
While millions of Americans are currently enjoying the lowest oil prices they have seen in years, state-level petroeconomies like Alaska are experiencing huge revenue shortages. In these states, funding for K–12 and higher education will soon be feeling the crunch. With the added uncertainty regarding the duration of the oil price drop, state lawmakers will likely continue to budget frugally for the foreseeable future.

DOUBLETALK
New York City schools will open forty dual-language programs in September as part of new Chancellor Carmen Farina’s plan to immerse students in bilingualism and biculturalism. The classes will contain half English-language learners and half English-proficient students, who will receive instruction in both English and a targeted language such as Spanish or French.

GRADE-SPAN TESTING IS A BAD IDEA
The Center for American Progress and the AFT say that annual testing should be maintained to help better assess student outcomes, but should not be used for school-level accountability. For that purpose they recommend tests taken once per grade span. Many reformers, including...

  1. Anyone who’s read my Ohio Gadfly pieces knows that I’m an advocate of “blowing up” entrenched ways of doing business, especially if done for the betterment of students. It’s nice to see that the venerable – and super-entrenched – Catholic education system may be looking to do just that. St. Francis de Sales High School in Toledo is not only adding middle school grades to its structure next year, but is also creating a pathway for those new middle schoolers to earn HS credit while still in middle school. Love it. One also assumes that St. Francis, being a school that accepts EdChoice vouchers, will also be able to accept voucher students in those lower grades as well. Fanastic! (Toledo Blade)
     
  2. And, just in case you missed it because it hasn’t been touted in the press yet, the new list of EdChoice-eligible district schools (those are the ones that have been ranked lowest of the low statewide for two of the last three years) is out. That means another group of 80,000 or more students who are attending persistently-failing schools who are eligible for tuition vouchers to a participating private school of their choice. Lots of familiar names on that list, and some newbies. Application window opens in less than two weeks. (Ohio Department of Education)
     
  3. What do the parents of Tipp City children want in their schools? Good teachers, according to the results of a recent parent survey. And it seems they are willing
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Editor's note: This post originally appeared in a slightly different form in the Daily News and City Journal.

Last week, New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña demanded that dozens of New York City’s lowest-performing schools adopt and implement a widely criticized literacy curriculum with which she has long been associated. It was the most recent of a growing list of decisions she has made while running the nation’s largest school system that seem to be based not on empirical evidence, but on the chancellor’s personal preference.

In November, the city unveiled its School Renewal Program, a $150 million plan to turn ninety-four chronically low-performing schools into “community schools.” A concept paper inviting community-based organizations to partner with the New York City Department of Education (DOE) noted the approach “is based on a growing body of evidence” showing that “an integrated focus” on academics, health and social services, and other community supports are “critical to improving student success.”

What growing body of evidence? The paper didn’t say—not even in a footnote. Perhaps because the evidence is scant to nonexistent. New York’s initiative is modeled on a similar program in Cincinnati, but as a 2013 analysis by the New York Times noted, “what has gone largely unsaid is that many of Cincinnati’s community schools are still in dire academic straits despite millions of dollars in investment and years of reform efforts."

It gets worse. Last week, Chalkbeat’s Patrick...

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