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  • 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
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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...

  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
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The testing “opt-out” movement is testing education reform’s humility.

The number of students not participating in state assessments is large and growing. In one New York district, 70 percent of students opted out; in one New Jersey district, it was 40 percent.

Some reporting makes the case that this phenomenon is part of a larger anti-accountability, anti-Common Core story. Some reformers, it seems to me, believe opting out is the result of ignorance or worse.

Participants are routinely cast as uninformed or irrational. Amanda Ripley implied that opting out of testing is like opting out of vaccines and lice checks. New York Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch argued, “We don’t refuse to go to the doctor for an annual check-up…we should not refuse to take the test.” A column in the Orlando Sentinel argued we’d “lost our minds” and that the “opt-out movement has officially jumped...

  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
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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,
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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
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  1. The State Board of Education approved a slate of rule changes on Monday, completing a routine process that all state agencies have to go through every five years. But of course, one of those rule changes – elimination of the so-called “5 of 8” staffing requirement for non-teaching staff levels in districts – garnered more than its fair share of attention. As part of the slate, the 5 of 8 requirement is now history. (Gongwer Ohio, 4/13/15)
  2. Speaking of the State Board, members were updated this week on three separate investigations into Concept-run charter schools in Dayton. Turns out that most of the accusations that made big headlines last summer cannot be substantiated by ODE, the police, or the county ESC. This is not the end of the story, obviously, and any criminal or ethical violations that occurred can and will be pursued to their logical ends, but this is hopefully a cautionary tale of what can happen when folks advertise for former school employees to dish dirt. (Cleveland Plain Dealer, 4/15/15)
  3. Elsewhere in state government, the Ohio House of Representatives took the red pen to a number of Governor Kasich’s budget proposals, including education
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  1. As you may know, Count Week is no more in Ohio’s school districts. No more Pizza Days or Pajama Days or Spirit Days in an effort to get as many kids as possible into the building to be counted for funding purposes. While districts must now count students every day and report to the department of education three times per year, the actual funding process based on these numbers can’t go into action until a year’s worth of counting has been done. Some Butler County districts seem concerned about how the numbers are going to shake out and have some choice words about how much ODE has bitten off (yes, testing is part of it too, as far as they are concerned). ODE’s guy, for his part, doesn’t sound very concerned about the process. We’ll see how it all shakes out. (Middletown Journal-News, 4/12/15)
  2. Speaking of testing in Ohio (seriously, when are we not?), the Plain Dealer ran a piece on the first data produced by State Senator Peggy Lehner’s Advisory Committee on Testing. These are the results of a survey of public school leaders (principals, teachers, superintendents) regarding their experiences with the first round of PARCC
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  1. Editors in Columbus opined today in favor of the Bright New Leaders for Ohio Schools program, aiming to recruit and train high-quality principals for the schools that need them the most. (Columbus Dispatch, 4/10/15)
  2. Union bus drivers in Dayton approved a 10-day strike notice yesterday. It took only 222 words before the mention of a threat to the lives of children was mentioned. Probably a new record. Seriously, though, a driver strike would not only affect Dayton City Schools students but also private school and charter school students in more than two dozen buildings, including Fordham-sponsored Dayton Leadership Academy. DLA principal T.J. Wallace lays out the real threat here: kids without options not being able to get to school. (Dayton Daily News, 4/10/15)
  3. Middletown schools underwent a performance audit recently, required due to low fund balances and concerns about the district’s financial health in the future. The State Auditor recommended some serious reductions in force, potentially saving the district more than $3 million per year. Cue the predictable cries of “old data” and “we’ve already made changes not accounted for here”. Good luck, Middletown. (Middletown Journal-News, 4/10/15)