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I’m no testing hawk. I’ve written plenty at Fordham and elsewhere that’s critical of test-driven ed-reform orthodoxy. Accountability is a sacred principal to me, but testing? It’s complicated—as a science, a policy, and a reform lever. Anya Kamenetz’s new book The Test is not complicated. She strikes a strident anti-testing tone right from the start. “Tests are stunting children’s spirits, adding stress to family life, demoralizing teachers, undermining schools, paralyzing the education debate, and gutting our country’s future competitiveness,” writes Kamenetz, an education reporter for National Public Radio. If you’re looking for the good, the bad, and the ugly on testing, well, two out of three ain’t bad.

Part cri de couer, part parenting manual (she may hate testing, but Kamenetz still wants her daughter—and your kids—to do well) The Test is particularly tendentious on the history of standardized tests. “Why so many racists in psychometrics?” she asks (her prose is often glib and always self-assured). “I’m not saying anyone involved in testing today is, de facto, racist. But it’s hard to ignore the shadow of history.”

What is easy for Kamenetz to ignore almost entirely is that some of the strongest support for testing comes from...

Education governance puts most people to sleep. The topic is arcane, sort of boring and, above all, seemingly immutable. If you can’t do anything about a problem, why agonize over it, or even spend time on it?

Of course, some people don’t even see it as a problem. They just take it for granted, like the air surrounding them, the sun rising in the morning, and the Mississippi flowing south. It just is what it is.

That’s wrong-headed. The governance mess is a large part of the reason that so many education problems are impossible to solve. As Mike Petrilli and I wrote three years ago about “our flawed, archaic, and inefficient system for organizing and operating public schools”:

[America’s] approach to school management is a confused and tangled web, involving the federal government, the states, and local school districts—each with ill-defined responsibilities and often conflicting interests. As a result, over the past fifty years, obsolescence, clumsiness, and misalignment have come to define the governance of public education. This development is not anyone’s fault, per se: It is simply what happens when opportunities and needs change, but structures don’t. The system of schooling we have today is the...

Imagine you are a first-year social studies teacher in a low-performing urban high school. You are hired on Thursday and expected to teach three different courses starting Monday. For the first two weeks, you barely eat or sleep, and you lose fifteen pounds you didn’t know were yours to lose. For the first two months, your every waking minute is consumed by lesson prep and the intense anxiety associated with trying to manage students whose conception of “school” is foreign to you. But you survive the first semester (as many have done) because you have to and because these kids depend on you. You think you are through the worst of it. You begin to believe that you can do this. Then, the second semester begins…

Your sixth-period class is a nightmare, full of students with behavior problems that would challenge any teacher. But as hard as sixth period is, your third-period class is the most frustrating and depressing, because (for reasons only they are privy to) the Powers That Be have seen fit to place every type of student imaginable into the same classroom: seniors, juniors, sophomores, freshmen, kids with behavior issues, kids with attention issues, kids...

  1. Editors in Cleveland opine on two current bills – HB 2 and the governor’s budget – which aim to reform Ohio’s charter school law. Good timing, as Gov. Kasich is in Cleveland today – at a Breakthrough-operated charter school – touting his plan. PD editorial on charter reform. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  2. Speaking of the governor’s budget, while Kasich himself is on the road selling, his budget director is on the hot seat in the Ohio House, answering questions from legislators. Yesterday, it was detailed questions about K-12 education. This go-round was just about traditional district funding, although I’m sure the proposed changes to transportation funding will end up affecting charter and voucher students as well if enacted. Hopefully, for the better. (Gongwer Ohio)
     
  3. Speaking of transportation, the results of a two-year study of school transportation in Stark County were released earlier this week. I am almost speechless at its findings (almost) but will say that only a study produced by this particular group of players could find savings by hiring a hoard of new employees across multiple districts. I wonder to whom the work will fall to organize the centralized driver training and mechanic facilities?
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SEVENTH TIME'S THE CHARM?
The New York Post has absolutely maddening coverage of an apparently bulletproof first-grade instructor. At a recent termination hearing, the New York Department of Education declined to fire the Teflon teacher in spite of her six consecutive unsatisfactory ratings. She was reassigned to a pool of substitutes and allowed to keep her generous salary even though she was absent or late sixty-four times in the last school year.

THAT'S A REALLY BIG BUCKET
Much of the recent debate surrounding testing and reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act stems from the belief that states spend too much money issuing standard assessments. However, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution's Brown Center on Education Policy, Matthew Chingos, clarifies that the $1.7 billion price tag on the assessments is a “drop in the bucket” amidst a $600 billion annual education allotment. 

WHILE YOU WERE OUT
You may have missed the news dump out of Louisiana if you left early for Super Bowl weekend: On Friday afternoon, Governor Bobby Jindal issued an executive order authorizing parents to opt their children out of Common Core-aligned PARCC assessments. The move...

Research Bites: Education in Ohio’s State of the State cities

Last week, Governor John Kasich announced that Wilmington will host his 2015 State of the State address. While Ohio governors have traditionally given their State of the State at the capitol, the address has been held outside of Columbus since 2012. This led me to wonder about education in the cities that have hosted the address ever since Governor Kasich has taken it on the road. The cities are Steubenville (2012), Lima (2013), Medina (2014), and Wilmington (2015). Here’s a quick look at the education in these four Ohio towns, district only, since just Lima has brick-and-mortar charters (two of them). As you’ll notice, Medina and Steubenville have relatively strong student achievement, while Lima lags behind. Given the sluggish student performance in Lima, it is of particular concern that the district does not have a single A-rated school along the Ohio’s value-added measure, which estimates the academic impact of schools measured as achievement gains tracked over time.

Student Enrollment (left) and % Economic Disadvantage (right), 2013-14

Medina City Schools is by far the largest and most affluent of these school districts. Lima and Steubenville are of similar size and...

  1. Editors in Toledo opined on HB 2 – the charter school law reform bill – citing Fordham’s recent reports  while doing so. (Toledo Blade)
     
  2. HB 2 is not the only mechanism by which charter school quality can be improved. The new state budget – to be unveiled later today – will include a number of proposals designed to do just that via funding mechanisms, including facilities funding and access to local funding for operations for the first time. But with those new sources of funding would come increased accountability, especially for sponsors. Bellwether Education Partners’ recent policy recommendations – a report sponsored by Fordham – are cited as part of the basis for these budget proposals. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  3. School districts may be in line for some funding changes as well in the governor’s new budget. The Big D takes a look at this among other items in their budget preview. (Columbus Dispatch)
     
  4. Lest you think that improving charter sponsor quality is a new endeavor for the state of Ohio, this story should be a good reminder of the work that the Ohio Department of Education is already undertaking in this regard. The Portage
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GIRLS RULE, BOYS DROOL
In terms of educational performance, girls appear to be on the way to running the world. Seventy percent of the countries surveyed by the Organization for Economic Development Cooperation and Development showed that girls are outpacing boys in math, science, and reading. It remains unclear why boys are falling behind, but potential causes range from harsher disciplinary action against male students to a lack of male teacher role models in schools.

HOW "COMMON" IS COMMON CORE?
The Brookings Institute’s Tom Loveless provides a great look at a thorny question facing parents and students as school districts begin adapting to the Common Core State Standards: Will universal standards force schools to ditch accelerated curricula for high-achievers? As he asks, “Will CCSS serve as a curricular floor, ensuring all students are exposed to a common body of knowledge and skills?  Or will it serve as a ceiling, limiting the progress of bright students so that their achievement looks more like that of their peers?” For more on the topic, see ...

  1. With typical diligence, Patrick O’Donnell took his time in covering the introduction of HB 2 – the charter reform bill. His piece came out late yesterday, including an interview with our own Chad Aldis on the significance of the bill and of the high-level media coverage that preceded its introduction. "I think they got a lot of the really important things," Chad says of the bill. "This is a great start for looking at charter reform.” Nice. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  2. O’Donnell also was able to garner a direct and specific response to the bill from the ranking Democrat on the House Education Committee. She calls the bill “tweaking” and “window dressing”, as you might expect. She also seems to have coined a new pejorative: “educaneurs”, which I can’t find anywhere else on the internet. Kudos. I have t-shirts already on order. They'll pair well with my bright yellow scarf. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  3. Editors in Canton opine on the need for – and the apparent bipartisan interest in – charter law reform. They reference CREDO’s Ohio charter school performance study and the State Auditor’s
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AGAINST THE GRAIN
Chalkbeat New York covers New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s controversial plan to evaluate and promote teachers, one that focuses on increasing assessment-based ratings to count for 50 percent of an evaluation and lowers the weight of principal observation and feedback. Fordham’s sensational tag team of Mike Petrilli and Andy Smarick weigh in on the plan, saying that Cuomo is moving in the opposite direction of other state leaders.

WE'VE GOT TO BOOK THIS GUY FOR AN EVENT
It looks like everyone over at Success Academy Harlem East has been eating their Wheaties. On his morning visit to the New York City charter school, Doug Lemov, author of Teach Like a Champion, noted remarkable behavior by both teachers and students. The dedicated instructors and quality curriculum in place at the school challenged students and gave them the opportunity to critically engage with class material and learn from their own mistakes. Perhaps this is the secret behind the charter network’s unparalleled recent test scores.
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