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Spending time with nieces and nephews this holiday season—teenagers who are making decisions about where to go to college, what to study, and which vocations to pursue—has reminded me of just how lucky I am to have one of the best jobs in the world. On top of working with an amazingly talented, committed, and kind group of colleagues at the Fordham Institute, and in the larger world of education reform, I get paid to do what I love: write about big ideas. I am truly blessed.

As I look back on 2015, these are the blog posts, essays, and editorials that I think (hope?) will stand the test of time. Some of them are topical (the ones about ESEA reauthorization especially), but my favorites go after the tough, overarching issues: How can we stimulate upward mobility? How do we raise the college completion rate? Why are America’s test scores so mediocre?

For sure, I’ve made my share of mistakes this year. Here’s hoping I also got a few things right.

Happy New Year!

  1. The case against federal accountability mandates in education (January 26)
  2. Backfilling charter seats: A backhanded way to kill school autonomy (February 3)
  3. How Can Schools Address
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  1. Fordham Ohio is all over this wide-ranging piece on charter schools. It is the personal story of a Cleveland grandmother’s efforts to find the right academic fit for her granddaughter, it is 2015-in-review for statewide charter school policy, and it is a look ahead to charter accountability in 2016 and beyond. CREDO’s 2014 report on Ohio charter school performance, our blockbuster school closure report, Jamie Davies O’Leary’s blog post on Ohio’s past CSP grant winners, and an interview with Chad Aldis are all quoted extensively in the piece, along with several charter critics. (WCPO-TV, Cincinnati, 12/24/15)
  2. Speaking of Fordham’s blockbuster school closure report, this fascinating opinion piece from a former classroom teacher quotes said blockbuster school closure report while discussing the stormy relationship between teachers unions and charter schools nationwide. (California Political Review, 12/22/15)
  3. Governor Kasich popped back home last week to sign a passel of bills into law. One of those was a “clean up” of some provisions passed in last year’s state budget. Among other things, the new bill corrected budget language which erroneously delayed access to vouchers for students in three suburban Cleveland private schools.  Nice. (Cleveland Plain Dealer, 12/24/15)
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  1. We start today with some huge and fantastic news. The owners of the Cleveland Browns are donating $10 million to the Breakthrough Network of schools, to support the network’s plan to reach 20 high-quality charters in the CLE by 2020. Wow. Huge congratulations to the team at Breakthrough. (Cleveland Plain Dealer, 12/23/15)
  2. The recent story on Dayton Public Schools’ poor test scores generated a response from the district which is worth a read. It is a tiny bit worrying that their response included early reference to the “safe harbor” status currently in place for Ohio’s schools. The fact that no sanctions will come down on the district for a few years due to those poor test scores should not be a balm for anyone. However, their statement ended with the district pledging it would “continue to do the hard work without excuses.” Let’s hope it is so. (Dayton Daily News, 12/22/15)
  3. Staying in Dayton for a moment – and focusing on the positive as the paper invites us to do – four photography students from Stivers School for the Arts have placed highly enough in the national YoungArts competition that they will be able to
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As the year winds down, the Fordham Ohio team reflects on a landmark year in the Buckeye State. At times, this year has felt long and arduous, an uphill climb that could prompt even the driest among us to want to spike the holiday eggnog. However, the state’s struggles haven’t been for naught; this year boasts some successes that would put a smile on the face of the Grinchiest of the Grinches. Here’s our take on the three worst and best events in Ohio’s education space in 2015.


Worst #1: Authorizer evaluation fiasco and its aftermath

Legislation in 2012 installed meaningful authorizer performance reviews. After three years of piloting and developing the evaluations, the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) finally launched them and announced the first spate of ratings (including the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation’s exemplary marks). The ratings lasted all of four months. It was discovered that ODE’s school choice director had tossed out scores from online schools as part of authorizers’ academic ratings. That move was illegal, cost him his job, and resulted in all ratings being rescinded. The evaluation was sent back to the drawing board; Fordham weighed in on its...

  1. Fordham’s own Aaron Churchill is quoted in this DDN piece digging in to Dayton City Schools’ recently-released PARCC test scores. Looks pretty bad for the district – already on the short list for the new Academic Distress Commission process – when it lags both local charter schools and the other Big 8 urban districts. (Dayton Daily News, 12/20/15)
  2. Chad’s recent testimony before the state board of education is paraphrased in a Dispatch editorial from this past weekend. What are they talking about? The influence that the new interim state superintendent can have over charter sponsor evaluations. This is probably optimistic of them given that the interim doesn’t covet the permanent job and because the timing doesn’t line up. You can read the written version of Chad’s testimony here. (Columbus Dispatch, 12/20/15)
  3. As we learned last week, the interim state supe will be Dr. Lonny Rivera, the current number two in the Ohio Department of Education. There have so far been two pieces about Dr. Rivera appointment in his hometown paper, neither of them in any depth and neither of them particularly positively disposed to their hometown guy. We brought you one last week, and
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We here at Fordham Ohio are in a reflective mood and on Monday will reveal our winners for the best and worst events from 2015 in Ohio public education. There were many contenders for the prize and it was hard to pin down just three. In the spirit of anticipation (while drinking eggnog and watching a fireplace video on loop), here are the honorable mentions that didn’t make the final cut (in no particular order).


  1. What is the definition of “teacher”? According to a Mahoning County Common Pleas Court magistrate, it is nothing less than a person currently teaching in a K-12 classroom. And that means that the Youngstown school board president’s appointee to the new Academic Distress Commission (currently a substitute principal with a teacher’s license) is barred from the gig. The pres can either appoint someone else who fits the court definition (which must be done within 48 hours of the ruling, i.e. today) or appeal the decision. Sigh. (Youngstown Vindicator, 12/17/15)
  2. Editors in Columbus opined this week on a raft of charter school related issues, and especially the currently-stalled federal Charter School Program grant. (Columbus Dispatch, 12/17/15)
  3. $10 million in state grants were awarded this week to a number of colleges around Ohio, to help them train K-12 teachers to be ready for rigorous College Credit Plus courses. The same story is in a number of outlets, depending on where winning colleges are located. Here’s the one from the Blade, talking of their local winners – the University of Toledo and Bowling Green State University. (Toledo Blade, 12/18/15)
  4. Loyal Gadfly Bites subscribers will recall that your
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The effort to improve educational outcomes for African American students can fairly be described as the animating impulse behind the education reform movement broadly. Hence, it’s downright depressing to repeat some of the figures in this report: “On the 2015 NAEP, only 18 percent of African American fourth graders were found to be proficient in reading, and only 19 percent scored proficient in math,” the authors note. “The eighth-grade numbers were even worse, with only 16 percent of African American students rated proficient in reading and only 13 percent rated proficient in math.” College and career readiness? Not so much. Quick: In how many states did more than 5 percent of African American students graduate having passed at least one AP exam in a STEM subject? (Three: Colorado, Massachusetts, and Hawaii.) How many states with five hundred or more African American ACT test-takers had 17 percent or more score as college-ready on all four tested subjects? Not one.

Depressed yet?

Still there are some examples of significant progress: Twenty-five years ago, only 1 percent of Washington, D.C.’s eighth-grade African American students were proficient in math; today it’s 13 percent. High school graduation rates for black students are on the rise—as...

  1. The state board of education discussed the state’s proposed new charter sponsor rating system – you know, the one that needs to replace the one that was scrapped following scandal? The clock is ticking as well, with a December 31 deadline looking. Chad’s testimony before the board is quoted by the PD in their piece. (Cleveland Plain Dealer, 12/15/15) It is also quoted by the Dayton Daily News in their piece, along with some commentary on Chad’s testimony by hometown Sen. Peggy Lehner. (Dayton Daily News, 12/15/15) To read Chad’s written testimony in full, click here. For an in-depth look at the board’s discussion of this thorny issue – but not including Chad’s testimony, Gongwer’s got you coverage. (Gongwer Ohio, 12/15/15)
  2. The board also this week named an interim state supe. As predicted, the job went to Dr. Lonny Rivera, an accomplished district administrator from Northwest Ohio and current assistant state supe. Also, the only person put forward for the job. You can read a brief piece on the appointment in Dr. Rivera’s hometown paper, the Blade. (Toledo Blade, 12/15/15) Or you can check out a more interesting piece from the formerly-Big D wherein
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Here at Fordham, you can usually find us gleefully dinging New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on his education policies. When he was first pushing his universal pre-K initiative a few years back, we argued that he should have tailored the program more narrowly to the kids who needed it most. And please don’t get us started on hizzoner’s ill-advised tussle with Eva Moskowitz and high-performing charters. But that’s the duty of a gadfly: to have fun critiquing powerful figures when they veer off course.

Now I’m doing the opposite by unhappily conceding that de Blasio is absolutely correct, at least on one issue. It doesn’t particularly grieve me to find myself in agreement with the mayor personally; I’m just deflated about the issue of our concurrence—namely school safety. The mayor is obviously and tragically right that private and religious schools should be afforded public funds to pay for security personnel. The city council made the right decision in passing a bill that would make $20 million available for that purpose, and de Blasio deserves credit for lending it his support.

In an ideal world, education commentators—to say nothing of the students whose interests we try to promote—would be able to...