Additional Topics

  • Cleveland Metropolitan School District is in hot water after rehiring three retired district principals without a public hearing. Under state law, a hearing is required when a retiree is rehired into a public position. This they did, five months after giving them the gigs in error. Gadfly wonders if all this public hoop jumping couldn't be easily avoided though: Shouldn’t Ohio altogether cease the practice of “double dipping” (i.e., when public-sector “retirees” receive both a public pension and a public-employee salary)?
  • Fallout from the long-simmering data “scrubbing” scandal continues. Last week, the Ohio Department of Education referred seven school districts (Campbell, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Marion, Northridge, Toledo, and Winton Woods) to the Office of Professional Conduct to investigate whether individual staff members improperly withdrew students from the district’s attendance records. The shoe still remains to drop on Columbus City Schools.
  • Information, information, information: The Cleveland Transformation Alliance will soon launch a new website www.clevelandta.org that includes much-needed school information for parents. The site will have Cleveland schools’ performance index score and its value-added rating, along with space for community ratings and comments.  
  • The state’s new teacher evaluation system is creating headaches for school administrators. Newark City Schools’ (central Ohio) superintendent estimates that his district’s school administrators will spend some 2,500 hours this year on evaluations. Fortunately, there may be relief on the horizon as Senate Bill 229 (passed the Senate and awaits hearings in the House) would loosen some of the state
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The rumor around the water coolers in D.C. is that President Obama plans to mention the Common Core State Standards in his State of the Union Address next week—for the third year running. He should reconsider, for three reasons.

First, it will feed the narrative that Common Core is, in fact, a federal takeover of public education.

Many Common Core opponents I debate on talk-radio shows or speak with in person eventually get around to admitting they have very few problems with the standards themselves and think they are better than what their state had in place before (we think so too). But, as Andy Smarick wrote earlier this week,

They are skeptical of big promises and big government. They are skeptical of centralized solutions. And they are skeptical of enlightened national leaders who pat them on their heads.

Remember, they were told by such enlightened leaders that if they liked their insurance, they could keep it. They are once bitten, twice shy.

Why would an administration that has already insulted Common Core opponents give them another reason to claim that this is true?

Second, the President is deeply unpopular; associating himself with the Common Core is simply unhelpful. As of writing, Gallup put the President’s approval rating at 39 percent. His approval among Republicans, like those who will be determining the fate of the Common Core in the states where the issue is most contentious, is likely dipping near or into the single digits. Even if...

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A first look at today's most important education news:

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Two months ago, a group of Catholic university professors signed a letter urging Catholic bishops and diocesan school leaders to reject the Common Core. “We believe that implementing Common Core would be a grave disservice to Catholic education in America,” they argued.

…we are convinced that Common Core is so deeply flawed that it should not be adopted by Catholic schools which have yet to approve it, and that those schools which have already endorsed it should seek an orderly withdrawal now.

The content of the letter itself is not surprising to anyone following the debate over the CCSS. Indeed, perhaps the most interesting thing about it is how closely it sticks to the typical anti–Common Core talking points we’ve heard over and over again in the past year. The authors repeat the often-cited complaint that algebra is taught too late, point to the (misguided, in my opinion) concern that adopting the CCSS will sideline great literature in English classrooms, and argue that Common Core is aimed not at college readiness but, rather, at “standardized workforce preparation.” In short, the bulk of it looked less like a thoughtful and uniquely Catholic critique of the Core than a hastily composed form letter.

The problem is not that Catholics shouldn’t weigh in on the Common Core debate. Rather, the problem is that authentic Catholic concerns get sidelined when we take our cues from actors who don’t share our interests. And by bringing these political talking points uncritically into...

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One of education reform’s best attributes is its sense of urgency about doing better for kids. This field is not one for the complacent.

But our earnestness can come across as antagonistic. To say “we must do better” implies something unflattering about the ways things are. Since there are lots of people responsible for the way things are, this can sometimes translate into bruised egos and nasty recriminations.

I take responsibility for being among our field’s worst offenders on this score. I am pointed to a fault.

I hope folks—even when they’re frustrated with me—know I write what I do because I detest that disadvantaged kids don’t get a fair shake. I can be an insufferable cuss, but I aspire to do it without bias—hence my heartfelt appreciation for TNTP’s referring to me as an “anti-tribalist.” I try to call them as I see them, regardless of party, ideology, organizational affiliation, or anything else.

But my directness is also attributable to my subscribing to Frederick Douglass’s view that power concedes nothing without a demand. We will never bring about the changes we need if we practice nothing but gauzy, velvet-gloved diplomacy and accommodation. To paraphrase Douglass, that has never worked and never will.

I try to leaven my scolding by also drawing attention to great people doing great stuff; this was the purpose of the “By the Company It Keeps” series.

But looking back on 2013, I probably employed the wagging finger more vigorously than the pat...

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American Girls, the Common Core, and everything in between

Mike and American Girl Michelle tackle accountability in private-school-choice programs, whether people are more likely to favor reform once they know how mediocre their schools are, and how applying “disparate impact theory” to the enforcement of school-discipline rules will lead to nothing but trouble. Amber incentivizes us to learn more about teacher-transfer incentives.

Amber's Research Minute

Transfer Incentives for High-Performing Teachers: Final Results from a Multisite Randomized Experiment by Steven Glazerman, et al., (Washington, D.C.: Mathematica Policy Research and Institute of Education Sciences, November 2013).

For the first time since 1989, all twelve of Congress’s annual spending bills have been rolled into one 1,600-page, $1.012 trillion “omnibus” package—and it’s tearing across Capitol Hill “like a greased pig,” going from introduction on Monday night to passage by the House on Wednesday. The Senate is expected to approve the bill on Friday, and it will land on President Obama’s desk before stopgap funding runs out on Saturday. It contains significant increases for pre-K ($8.6 billion for Head Start, $1 billion more than its current allotment and $612 million over its pre-sequestration level). However, the School Improvement Grant program will not see its funding restored to its high-water mark, remaining at its pared-down $505 million (though that’s still $505 million too much).

Representative George Miller—a leading Democratic voice on education and a crafter of NCLB—has announced that he will be giving up his seat on the House education committee in favor of an armchair. Hat tip to a fine career. In other news, Senator Chuck Schumer is looking for a new roommate: must love cold cereal and rats.

StudentsFirst released its second annual policy report card on Tuesday. Once again, Florida and Louisiana took home top marks (B-minuses—StudentsFirst certainly doesn’t grade on a curve), earning their ranks by ending teacher tenure, implementing merit pay, and issuing school report cards.

With New York City mayor Bill de Blasio’s rhetoric suggesting that “city schools had little to...

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Myriad articles have pointed out that the U.S. has had very average mean scores on the recent PISA exam and that our top performers were mediocre compared to those in other countries. And while that’s true, it doesn’t tell the whole story: Size matters.

China and India didn’t participate in PISA as countries. China only submitted tests from select municipalities, and India excused itself entirely. This means that among the countries and regions that took PISA in 2012, the U.S. is the most populous—by a big margin. Below is a list of the ten most populous countries and regions that took PISA in 2012; I’ve included each of their mean scores and where those mean scores rank amongst all sixty-five.

...

Country

Population

Mean Score

Rank

1.     United States

317,000,000

481

36

2.     Indonesia

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I am an American Girl Dad. No use hiding it, no reason to lie. A significant portion of my non-work life and my living room is occupied by AG.

My wife and I took our girls to the American Girl Place on Michigan Avenue in Chicago on Black Friday a couple of years. This past summer, I was the only solo dad standing in an enormous line at 7:00 on a steamy morning for the grand opening of AGP in Columbus. “Props to you,” all the eyes pointed at me seemed to be saying, “but you’re out of your mind mister.”

But, truly, I love American Girl. Mainly because of what it has meant to my daughters over the years.

  • I read all the Felicity Merriman (1774) books to them when they were little. When we finally made it to Williamsburg some years later, they remembered the stories and went to find the places we read about and were able to find their own way in to the living history being played out in front of them.
  • We learned a ton from the stories about Rebecca Rubin (1914) as a Russian immigrant in New York City. These characters and their well-researched fictional worlds are miles from my daughters’ life experience but the best part of a later visit to NYC was an unplanned side trip to the Tenement Museum on Orchard Street. Not only were the familiar touchstones of Rebecca’s story there, but the Italian immigrant experience in that same
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There were many important releases and developments this week—invaluable new SIG information from IES, Race to the Top audits, new Brookings “choice index”—and I couldn’t keep up! Those subjects and others will get fuller treatments from me next week. But until then, here are some worthwhile things to read over the weekend.

There has been much talk about the 50-year anniversary of The War on Poverty. Here’s the best stuff I’ve seen: This Gerson column smartly points out the federal government’s successes and failures (and though this superb Brooks column on evolving conservative policy thinking isn’t about The War on Poverty per se, it should be read in conjunction with Gerson’s). This short blurb by Checker Finn is terrific; the first-person narrative is compelling, and for history buffs and those fascinated by the intersection of politics and policy, it offers something special. This very good piece by my old high school friend (now at AEI) Josh Good echoes family-related arguments made by Finn’s mentor a half century ago.

If you care at all about Common Core, this Stephanie Simon article about conservative backlash is an absolute must read. There are several different strands in the piece worth thinking about (including the CCSS-as-a-stepping-stone strategy), but these two sentences speak volumes: “Still, (Common Core) supporters have struggled to counter the critics. They have had trouble even understanding the contours of the smoldering opposition.” As I told TNTP (see fifth paragraph),...

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