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The president may have stiffed the French at the big solidarity rally that many other world leaders attended over the weekend, but when it comes to domestic policy, he is in love with the universe—and universality.

First, of course, came universal health care. But it was followed in short order by his plea for universal preschool education and, last week, for universal community-college education. All free, of course, at least for the consumer. (Not, obviously, for the taxpayer.)

In health care, there’s at least a rational basis for demanding universal insurance coverage: to apply the “savings” from healthy people who don’t need medical care to subsidize the care of those who need lots of it. (Social Security and Medicare run the same way, except their “do get” and “don’t get” populations are demarcated explicitly by age rather than health status.)

In education, though, the trade-offs tucked into universality are more insidious—and actually harmful to authentic “need lots” people, while conferring taxpayer-financed windfalls on the “don’t need” population.

Most American four-year-olds and many three-year-olds already take part in preschool of some kind, and a great many of their parents have figured out how to pay for it with the help of employers, local school systems, private philanthropy, and others. Many other little kids are satisfactorily looked after by family members and caregivers in their own homes. And lots of them enter kindergarten ready to succeed there. Children like these do not need a “universal” program. For their families, it’s just...

BLENDED LEARNING UPDATE
Schools across the country are experimenting with the blended learning model in which classrooms feature a mix of human capital and online tools to deliver lessons. This NPR profile of a Coney Island middle school is a revealing examination of the approach. While the integration of technology can ease the “administrative” duties of teachers, such as tracking student progress, researchers say that there is still no concrete evidence for academic or developmental gains. The key takeaway is that blended learning is not a silver bullet.

UNTRUE GRIT
The New York Times wades into the character-education debate with an overview of different views and voices. While some research (and a host of different schooling models, most notably that of the KIPP schools) emphasizes the value of skills like grit, curiosity, and self-control, other experts argue that obsessive perseverance can be stifling and that overweening focus on character growth will obscure the debate over school quality. No less an eminence than friend-of-Fordham Laurence Steinberg took to Flypaper last year to air his misgivings about the practice.

CHANGING THE CHARTER NARRATIVE
The conventional wisdom on charter schools, Forbes’s Adam Ozimek observes, is that their performance essentially mirrors that of public schools, barring a few outstanding exceptions. After reviewing the most recent studies conducted by CREDO and Mathematica, however, he concludes that charters’ value to poor and minority students and English language learners is actually greater than their district equivalents....

The nineteenth edition of Education Week’s Quality Counts report is out, and while Ohio outperforms over thirty states, the results show that there is still much work to be done. The 2015 report, which has a new evaluation system that focuses on outcomes rather than policies and processes, indicates that the nation as a whole declined from a C+ in 2013 (when grades were last given) to a C in 2015. Ohio also declined, moving from a B- in 2013 to a C in 2015. The report rates states’ quality along three key dimensions: Chances for Success, which takes into account indicators like family characteristics, high school graduation rates, and workforce opportunities; K–12 Achievement, which rates academic performance, performance changes over time, and poverty-based gaps (as measured by the NAEP assessments); and school finance, which includes measures of  funding equity across schools. Ohio’s overall score, which is the average of the three categories, was 75.8 out of 100 possible points, which earned a ranking of eighteenth in the nation. In the Chances for Success category, Ohio earned a B-. Most indicators in this category show that Ohio is close to the national average, including preschool enrollment (46.5 percent of Ohio three- and four-year-olds compared to 47.3 percent nationally) and percentage of adults with a two- or four-year postsecondary degree (37 percent of Ohio adults compared to 39.9 percent nationally). In the K–12 Achievement category, Ohio earned a C-. Although this places the Buckeye State at sixteenth in the nation...

  1. Fordham’s two reports on charter schools in Ohio – released a month ago – are still resonating in media circles. Then Enquirer’s latest prognostication on policy initiatives likely to take center stage in 2015 includes charter school law reform, and notes Fordham’s reports as support. (Cincinnati Enquirer)
     
  2. Commentator Marilou Johanek is pessimistic that the fix to charter law will come as promised, despite the CREDO/Bellwether/Fordham reports. I think what she means is that she’s sure something will be done with regard to charter law in 2015, but probably not what she and the Blade are hoping for. (Toledo Blade)
     
  3. In the only other news of relevance I could find today, it seems that the administration and the teachers union have something of a differing view of how things are going in Middletown schools these days. The union said a pretty emphatic no to the idea of allowing the district supe to retire and be rehired. Not because they oppose the practice – perish the thought – but because they paint a far less rosy picture of the state of the district than the supe does. (Middletown Journal News)
     

RESEARCH BITES 1/12/15: Ohio’s Quality Counts Rating – Achievement Gains

Last week, Education Week released its annual “Quality Counts” report. Ohio earned an overall grade of a C. But Ed Week also generates that grade using an assortment of demographic, achievement, and financial variables, some of which are more valid gauges...

COMMUNITY CHEST
Yesterday, President Obama proposed making two years of community college free for qualifying students. Some see it as a way for more Americans to achieve better-paying jobs, while others see it as potentially stagnating low-income students’ pursuit of a four-year degree. One thing is for certain: A proposal of this scale comes with a hefty price tag. The proposal still awaits congressional approval; we’ll see how that goes.

THE BATTLE OF U.S. HISTORY
Mona Charen at NRO has a useful return to some of the issues in play from last year’s AP U.S. History flap, as well as a look at how Common Core politics might shape the debate in 2015. Quoted in the piece is Fordham’s own charming Chester Finn, who says the Common Core standards are “superior to the standards in 75 percent of the states.”

DEPARTMENT OF BAD NEWS
Success Academy, the New York City charter organization with the AWESOME test scores, recently cancelled its plans to open new schools this year. The new schools were to be part of a negotiation with the city to open or expand ten schools by 2016. This story provides yet another glimpse into the tricky nature of finding space for new charter schools.

WEEKEND PLAYLIST
While driving out to your ski chalet this Saturday, make sure to listen to this all-star Freakonomics podcast featuring former New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, Harvard economist John Friedman, KIPP co-founder...

  1. Our own Aaron Churchill appeared on WCPN’s Sound of Ideas yesterday, as part of a panel talking about charter schools in Ohio. Great discussion with some important details and nuance presented. You can check out IdeaStream’s brief report on the story here. And you can get the full audio here. Big thanks to WCPN and host Mike McIntyre for doing a whole hour on this important topic and for having us join in.
     
  2. There’s no denying that charter schools are the biggest area of interest in education policy in Ohio at the moment. Editors in Columbus once again opine on the subject of charters today, giving kudos to the Ohio Department of Education for their tougher stance on the “recycling” of closed schools and the authorizers who, well, authorize such things. And then they call again upon the General Assembly to overhaul Ohio charter law. (Columbus Dispatch)
     
  3. We’ve talked a bit about expansion of dual enrollment in Ohio the last couple of weeks. That is, high school students taking college courses for credit through various avenues. Officials at Dayton’s Sinclair Community College are celebrating a record number of high school students doing just that via their programs this term. Nice. (Dayton Daily News)
     
  4. As predicted, editors in Akron published their take on the very interesting series of stories from earlier in the week on the topic of “racial lopsidedness” in many of Ohio’s classrooms. Worth a read, as is the series itself.
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Ah, January is upon us: The wind is howling, the thermometer is plummeting, and we are greeted by the nineteenth consecutive edition of Quality Counts, Education Week’s compilation of mostly useful data, analysis, rankings and commentaries.

The single best thing about QC is its focus on states, not just because it enables state leaders to view external gauges of their own performance and compare it with other states, but also—especially valuable today—because it reminds everyone that states remain the central players in matters of K–12 education quality. (So many have obsessed for so long about federal stuff and Common Core—itself a state initiative—that it’s easy, especially inside the Beltway, to lose focus.)

The analysts and authors of QC keep fussing with the variables, metrics and weightings by which they grade state performance. This year, once again, those variables are sorted into three buckets, two of which have to do with processes, practices, and inputs. Some of the latter (e.g., parents’ education) is completely beyond state control, and some is based on questionable assumptions about how much is enough (and whether more is better) when it comes to education spending. Only the achievement bucket focuses on outcomes. Along the way, some issues of key interest to education reformers—most conspicuously school accountability, teacher quality, and choice—have vanished from the QC calculus.

One helpful bit: If you don’t like their weightings within the variables, you can fiddle with them yourself and...

SAT WORDS: NOW WITH MORE COOING
Researchers from the Thirty Million Words project are setting out to educate (brand) new mothers on the importance of parent interactions from day one. Pulling from the famous 1995 Hart and Risley study, which found that children from working-class families hear an average of thirty million more words by the age of four than those of “welfare” families, the team is hoping that early interventions will encourage new parents to read and talk to their newborns at every opportunity. Hear, hear, says Robert Pondiscio, who has argued that it pays to increase one’s word power.

MORE ON READING
A new report by Scholastic found that less than one-third of children interviewed between the ages of six and seventeen read for fun on a daily basis. Being read aloud to, restricted digital time, and free time to read at school were all top factors among those who reported regularly reading for pleasure. Literacy experts say parents should continue to read aloud to their children throughout elementary school to build higher-level vocabulary and develop interdisciplinary background knowledge. But Michael Petrilli would argue that as long as kids are gaining knowledge, a little screen time doesn’t hurt.

BABES IN TECHLAND
Digital learning has carved out a permanent place for itself in the classroom. A new piece in Education Week explores how the tools of online education are being...

  1. Editors in Cleveland opine strongly against retire-rehire/double-dipping among the ranks of superintendents in Ohio. Choice words they used: “shameless”, “ridiculous charade”, “pension jackpot”. Ouch.  (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  2. Fourteen people have applied to fill a recently-vacated seat on Reynoldsburg City Schools’ board, including the guy who sued the district last year to force the schools to close until the teacher strike concluded. Nuts and bolts version here from ThisWeek News/Reynoldsburg News. (Of note, this is the same publication that famously used the phrase “scab firm” in a headline about district strike prep.) A more discerning version of the story was in the Dispatch yesterday, where the guy was actually asked about it and wrote, for the record, “While often times my disagreements with board policies are what get noticed in the community, it is unfortunate that my much more frequent agreements and positive support for our schools goes unnoticed.” Would be a fun job interview to sit in on…if there is one.
     
  3. This story on Middletown schools’ ongoing funding woes – property tax revenues are projected to be down $1.3 million over the next two years – seems innocuous enough. Property taxes are an issue in many smaller districts around the state. However, let’s keep in mind yesterday’s story about Middletown’s mooted sale of a closed school building to a local church. I wondered while reading this whether the projected funding issues will make it less likely or more likely that outside agitators will intervene
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The Manuary edition

NCLB reauthorization, curriculum reform, the Common Core’s quintessence, and the impact of youth employment programs.

Amber's Research Minute
 

SOURCE: Alexander Gelber, Adam Isen, Judd B. Kessler, "The Effects of Youth Employment: Evidence from New York City Summer Youth Employment Program Lotteries," National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper No. 20810 (December 2014).

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