Additional Topics

Citing insurmountable data challenges, the authors of Great Schools’ most recent evaluation of the School Improvement Grant Program argue that policymakers are left “without a clear and unambiguous picture of whether this major investment in turning around the nation’s lowest-performing schools worked as intended.” The view may be opaque, but what we can see isn’t pretty.

According to the report, between the 2009–2010 and 2012–2013 school years, SIG grantees at the elementary and middle school levels saw a cumulative increase in proficiency of only a few percentage points in most grades and subjects relative to comparison groups—a disappointing result, considering some schools saw funding increases of as much as 58 percent per student under the program. And while SIG’s restart and closure models were used so infrequently that little can be said about their effectiveness, the report indicates that there were no statistically significant differences between the rates of improvement at transformation and turnaround schools, a finding that suggests that it doesn’t much matter which one-size-fits-all improvement models the federal government prescribes—implementation is what counts.

Unfortunately, SIG’s implementation was deeply troubled, as the authors of the report document through approximately fifty interviews with superintendents, program directors, principals, and teachers....

For those who march to the drumbeat of “college for all,” an updated report from the William T. Grant Foundation ought to give pause. Back in 1988, the “forgotten half” were American youth who didn’t attend college and “were struggling in ‘the passage to adulthood.’” Released in near-tandem with the president’s free-community-college plan, this report depicts an honest view of community college, from “notoriously low completion rates” (a mere 20 percent of those who attend community college attain a bachelor’s degree within eight years of graduating high school, and almost half earn no credential at all) to calling remedial education “a vague euphemism that doesn’t help students understand their situation, make informed choices, or learn about alternative programs.” The forgotten half of today are “youth who do not complete college and find themselves shut out of good jobs in the era of college for all.” While past generations with “some college” enjoyed increased earnings, a changing economy means that’s no longer true. “The most alarming finding is that many youth who took society’s advice to attend college, sacrificing time and often incurring debts, have nothing to show for their efforts in terms of credentials, employment, or earnings,” note the authors....

  1. Editors in Cleveland have changed their tune a bit after living with the governor’s K-12 budget proposals for a week. They opine that the new formula still “makes some sense” as they understand it, but say that help for poorer districts “should not come at the expense of often struggling suburban districts that are just climbing out of the Great Recession.” (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  2. Editors in Toledo are opining from the same hymnal as those in Cleveland re: the governor’s proposed funding formula changes. (Toledo Blade)
     
  3. Elyria Schools’ superintendent has spoken up in support of his “rock star” teacher, who as we told you yesterday is leaving teaching, citing standardized testing and Common Core as the reason. Paul Rigda says, “When you have great teachers, hard-working teachers, nationally board-certified teachers questioning the legitimacy of these tests, then there may be some problems.” He goes on to cite the state supe’s recent report on testing as a good place to start the high level conversations that he says need to happen. (NorthCoast Now)
     
  4. In blink-and-you-missed-it action, the House Education Committee yesterday recommended the “PARCC test safe harbor” HB 7 to the full House. There
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BOOK 'EM
Politico’s extensive investigation of publishing giant Pearson has unearthed the company’s questionable money-making practices at the expense of American students and taxpayers. For years, lax accountability measures have allowed Pearson to rake in the profits even when its programs and products failed. Schools and state legislatures are realizing the need to more closely scrutinize textbook companies before handing over their multi-million dollar reform dreams.

ALPHABET SOUP
Elsewhere in Pearson news, the Wall Street Journal chronicles the slow decline of the GED. Working in partnership with the nonprofit that administers the test, Pearson has dropped a huge sum developing a new, more complex assessment geared to today’s students and standards. But, as Fordham’s Chester Finn has argued, high school graduation exams shouldn't be set at the college-ready level. And neither should the GED. Not everyone who graduates from high school will—or should—go on to college.

GOOD CITIZENS
Indifferent social-studies pupils, beware! Utah may soon join its neighboring state of Arizona in requiring students to pass a citizenship test before graduating high school. Students would need to correctly pass seventy out of one hundred questions, a more difficult task than the six...

Ethan Gray

Education reformers live in a world of data, accountability, policy, and percentiles. We are most comfortable debating ideas, writing papers, and talking to each other. But when it comes to telling powerful stories to inspire change, we have a lot to learn from one public school student in New York City.

Thirteen-year-old Vidal Chastanet was stopped and asked by Humans of New York photographer Brandon Stanton, “Who is the most influential person in your life?” With his answer—Nadia Lopez, principal at Mott Hall Bridges Academy (MHBA)—Vidal reached the hearts of millions of people.

“When we get in trouble, she doesn't suspend us. She calls us to her office and explains to us how society was built down around us. And she tells us that each time somebody fails out of school, a new jail cell gets built. And one time she made every student stand up, one at a time, and she told each one of us that we matter.”

Vidal’s answer went viral on Facebook, leading him to The Ellen DeGeneres Show and the White House last week. A fundraising campaign set up to help MHBA send students on a trip to Harvard over the summer...

  1. A “rock star teacher” in Elyria says she is leaving the profession at the end of this year because her “special education students are suffering under the new system based on Common Core standards and more rigorous assessments.” (NorthCoast Now)
     
  2. Ohio Auditor of State Dave Yost wants to make sure state law explicitly forbids felons from serving on charter school boards after routine audits of two schools turned up individuals with felony convictions on their boards. (Dayton Daily News)
     
  3. Madison Schools in Lake County voted to continue outsourcing a large chunk of its transportation services, approving a new five-year contract with its current vendor. Local union reps and another private company also submitted proposals, but there were issues with both of those bids, detailed here. Hopefully this will be the end of it for the next five years. I say that because the original privatization effort ended up in court back in 2009. You can probably guess why. (Willoughby News-Herald)
     
  4. It is often said that without parental involvement, schools can only do so much to help children, especially children whose economic and family circumstances are less than ideal. That sentiment was articulated again
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THERE HE GOES AGAIN
Louisiana Governor and potential presidential candidate Bobby Jindal released a forty-two-page education-reform proposal urging lawmakers to repeal Common Core on grounds of federal intrusion. Fordham’s Michael Brickman doesn’t think Jindal’s Common Core claims pass the sniff test, but notes that other policies outlined in the proposal, such as ramped-up school choice and charter school efforts, are worth discussing.

WE'LL VOUCH FOR THAT
As the 2016 election crunch approaches, Republicans may be able to put the national spotlight on school vouchers. Though past attempts to expand the voucher program have met with opposition, GOP leaders hope to broaden the school-choice conversation by making it a central issue in the party’s platform. And as our own Chester E. Finn Jr. reports, some high-profile Democrats are finally willing to play ball.

ACROSS THE DIVIDE
NPR offers a poignant look at the vast, if predictable, disparities in college-advising services between Michigan’s tony Cranbrook Schools and an under-funded public school in northeast Detroit. One activist admits resignedly that “your ZIP code can really determine what your future will look like.”

EDUCATION SPOTLIGHT: INDIANA
Political junkies and ed-reform observers are turning their attention to...

Cheers to State Representatives Mike Dovilla and Kristina Roegner. They are the sponsors of House Bill 2, a high-priority bill introduced early in the 131st General Assembly that would remedy long-neglected deficiencies in Ohio’s charter school law, including in transparency, sponsor/school relationships, board roles, and accountability.

Cheers to Governor John Kasich, whose FY 2016–17 state budget also includes important charter school reforms, especially in the area of sponsor quality (which you can read about elsewhere in this issue of Ohio Gadfly). While there are incentives being proffered for achieving higher quality, it should not be overlooked just how much the bar is being raised in Ohio. If the governor is successful, sponsors and schools who fail to reach the mark will not just miss out on incentives; they will be out of the education business.

Jeers to the drawing of false battle lines. Walnut Township Schools in rural Fairfield County is heading for a fiscal abyss. They must cut nearly a million dollars from their budget by February 10 or risk being placed under fiscal emergency by the state. At an emergency board meeting on February 4, a budget-cutting plan was unanimously approved, which still...

  1. Editors in Akron opine on the district funding proposals in the governor’s budget. They seem cautiously optimistic. (Akron Beacon Journal)
     
  2. Patrick O’Donnell dives deep into proposed charter school reforms in both the governor’s budget and in HB 2. He and those he interviews seem to have concerns about what they see as a “sponsor-centric” approach to reform. It is a complex topic, as is clear by the length of the piece and the sheer number of voices included, and some details are missed. But overall, it’s a superior discussion at what will be an important issue in the early months of the 131st Ohio General Assembly. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  3. Another hot topic in the realm of school choice is the EdChoice Scholarship Program. The application window is now open and tens of thousands of students across Ohio are eligible to leave their persistently-low-performing public schools to go to a private school of their choice with a voucher. Once they find the right fit, they can stay in their private school all the way through graduation, no matter if the performance of their assigned district school improves. It is likely this latter issue that has some folks
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TFA TROUBLE
Teach For America’s slipping numbers continue as they experience their second year of diminishing applicant numbers. The group says the appeal of an improving job market is to blame, while some aspiring teachers have deep concern with TFA’s two-year long model. Perhaps played down in the article is a shift to diversify cohorts of teachers, which could also be a factor in diminishing numbers.

LOOKING FOR MIDDLE GROUND
Senators Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray are reportedly putting their heads together to create a bipartisan proposal for ESEA renewal. Yet there is much skepticism as to whether a fully collaborative bill will be produced; last week, Lamar Alexander said that an NCLB update didn’t necessarily have to start with a bipartisan product. When the Senate Education Committee passed a bill in 2013, not one Republican voted for it.

HEASTIE FROM THE BLOCK
Bronx legislator Carl Heastie has been elected to replace the recently resigned Sheldon Silver as speaker of the New York State Assembly, granting him the power to decide which bills are considered and which aspects of the state budget are negotiated. His (relatively quiet) views on education will be important...

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