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GadflyIn the latest dust-up over the Common Core, the inclusion of some (arguably) violent, war-themed picture books in New York City’s third-grade English curriculum has some whining that the recommended texts were not vetted properly—and, predictably, claiming that implementation is moving too fast. For straight talk, check out this week’s Education Gadfly Show podcast.

A national database called inBloom that warehouses millions of students’ personal information for school districts has a slightly unfortunate side business: selling realistic-but-fake student data to application developers. According to inBloom, the two sides of its operation are strictly separate—but that hasn’t stopped parent listservs from exploding with the rage of a thousand mothers.

Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal found that more than 10 percent of New York City’s principals did not issue a single teacher an “unsatisfactory” grade (the city uses a pass/fail system for reviewing job performance). While this may seem like bad news, flip that number around and notice that nearly 90 percent did. For comparison, consider that, according to Education Week, 98 percent of Michigan’s teachers and 97 percent of Florida’s were rated effective or better—and those are states that recently revamped their evaluation systems. New York City is a cage-busting leader in ferreting out bad teachers. Note, too, that if and when personnel decisions are truly devolved to school principals,...

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From Resegregation to ReintegrationThat segregation in public schools is on the rise, threatening the legacy of Brown v. Board of Education, has been a point of disquiet among academics and policymakers and a mainstay of the education-research narrative. But according to this new study of 350 metropolitan areas, it’s time to refresh our datasets—and our mindsets: While a measure of “resegregation” did occur in 1990s, that trend has largely reversed in the twenty-first century. The level of racial segregation (measured by comparing each school’s racial/ethnic composition to the overall composition in the surrounding area) increased 2.3 percent between 1993 and 1998—but declined 12.6 percent by 2009. There do, however, exist caveats: Metropolitan areas that experienced rapid increases in minority students have seen smaller decreases in segregation since 1998 than their more stable peers. And while black-white segregation across the land fell by 6.4 percent in the years studied, in the formerly de jure segregated South, the statistic has actually risen by 1.1 percent. Still and all, the national trend-line is far more positive than previously thought.

SOURCE: Kori J. Stroub, and Meredith P. Richards, "From Resegregation to Reintegration: Trends in the Racial/Ethnic Segregation of Metropolitan Public Schools, 1993–2009," American Educational Research Journal (March 2013)....

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The 2013 Brown Center Report on American EducationThe Brown Center’s annual report always takes on three big issues in education policy—and always delivers the goods. Thank you, Brookings! This year’s edition is no exception, broaching the topics of ability grouping in elementary schools (which it finds is on the rise), whether teaching Algebra in eighth grade improves NAEP math scores (it doesn’t), and how American students compare with their international peers (one of report author Tom Loveless's favorite topics). In service of the latter, the report firmly discredits the notion that the U.S. must copy and paste the instructional practices of so-called “A+ countries” (the six that scored at the top of the TIMSS charts in 1995). Rather, since 1995, the U.S. has gained seventeen points in eighth-grade mathematics—an achievement exceeded by only one A+ nation, Korea, and matched by one other, Hong Kong. Moreover, though Finland’s PISA scores have earned them near-worship in many U.S. education circles, that country’s performance on the TIMSS was statistically indistinguishable from ours. Be sure to read Kathleen Porter-Magee’s nuanced perspective on the “Finnish miracle” for real lessons we can learn from our friends across the pond.

SOURCE: Tom Loveless, The 2013 Brown Center Report on American Education: How Well Are American Students Learning? (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, March 2013)....

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A useful new report from Public Agenda and the Kettering Foundation underscores the painful divide between parents and education reformers on the crucial topic of what to do about bad schools.

School hallway
Schools play many roles in communities, and the prospect of closing one undermines most of those.
Photo by hundrednorth

In a nutshell, if the neighborhood school is crummy, parents want it fixed. So do community leaders. Ed reformers are far more apt to want to close it and give families alternatives such as charter schools.

As Andy Smarick has perceptively written, schools play multiple roles in communities, and the prospect of closing one undermines most of those. Hence, shuttering a school affects more than the convenience of keeping one’s own kids in a familiar (and generally close-at-hand) facility, maybe even with that nice Ms. Greensleeves who teaches fourth grade there. As Jean Johnson writes on behalf of Public Agenda, based on a recent series of focus groups (as well as much other research), “Most parents see local public schools as important community institutions and viscerally reject the idea that closing schools—even those that are persistently low-performing—is a good way to improve accountability in education.”

On the reform side, however, Johnson writes, “In many communities, school leaders are closing or drastically reorganizing low-performing schools. Many districts are turning to...

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Alabama Governor Robert Bentley today signed into law his state’s first private school choice program—a K–12 tuition tax credit—avoiding what was perhaps the most ridiculous attempt yet to thwart efforts to enact a voucher or tax-credit plan anywhere.

Bentley put his signature on the Alabama Accountability Act one day after the state’s Supreme Court lifted a restraining order that prevented him from even getting the bill, which passed two weeks ago along party lines. The Alabama Education Association had convinced a state judge last week to block legislative staffers from sending the bill to the governor, arguing that too many Republican lawmakers privately discussed rewriting a separate measure to include the tax credit without calling a public meeting.

The Alabama Supreme Court sensibly determined that the restraining order issued by Judge Charles Price was “premature.” The bill hadn’t even become law, and according to the top justices, there was no “existing case or controversy” that needed adjudicating.

In other words, there was no one harmed. As political scientist Joshua Dunn noted, courts don’t typically intrude in the internal workings of a state legislature, as a matter of separation of powers. The notion that the teacher union might have suffered “irreparable harm” without the restraining order (Judge Price’s words) was ludicrous.

Now that the bill is law, Bentley and others who supported the tax credit can expect a lawsuit. And families whose children are zoned to a failing public school and who are hoping for the private school...

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Assessing the President's Preschool Plan

Assessing the President's Preschool Plan

In his State of the Union address, President Obama called for making preschool available to every child in America. But questions abound: Is universal preschool politically and fiscally feasible—or even educationally necessary? Should we be expending federal resources on universal pre-K or targeting true Kindergarten-readiness programs for the neediest kids? How robust is the evidence of lasting impacts? And what exactly is the president proposing?

White smoke over Fordham

Wondering what Congress should be doing about pre-K, why Boston has switched to a new school-assignment system, or why an Alabama judge doesn’t seem to care about the separation of powers? Mike and Daniela are, too! Amber talks tenure reform—and Mike has a great new show to pitch Donald Trump.

Amber's Research Minute

Do First Impressions Matter?Improvement in Early Career Teacher Effectiveness” by Allison Atteberry, Susanna Loeb, and James Wyckoff (Washington, D.C.: National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research, February 2013)

Hope Against HopeThe Friedman-ism that “every crisis is an opportunity” has, in the eyes of many, found dramatic and fitting vindication in the city of New Orleans. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the teachers union was washed away, while the city’s traditional public schools were almost entirely supplanted by a host of new charters, many of them answerable to a new state-level governing body. The value of these changes has been frequently quantified by test scores, college-attendance rates, and similar informative (yet reductive) data. Sarah Carr’s Hope Against Hope offers a rare view from the ground—one that humanizes education reform in the Bayou City. She profiles a trio of figures (a novice teacher, a veteran principal, and a high school student) as well as a handful of charter schools. The conflicts at the core of Carr’s book—between different measurements of and causes for student success (or failure) and between guarding community culture and finding pathways to the middle class—transcend the Big Easy. But do not look for conflict resolution here. Carr’s intent, instead, is to articulate vividly what’s at stake. Her vignettes, particularly her story of a popular and promising teen’s fateful night out (and subsequent incarceration), show how out-of-school factors can easily destroy students’ futures—simultaneously reminding readers that school quality is not the whole story and that intensive efforts to transform student culture (think the “no excuses” charter...

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Special-education funding is a thorny landscape, within which lie sundry footpaths whereby dollars are allocated via intersecting trails of state, local, and federal statutes and regulations. More difficult still is that few states offer trail maps for this complex terrain. Data are cumbersome; evaluations of program effectiveness are rarely undertaken. This is what makes this account from Minnesota’s Office of the Legislative Auditor so refreshing. The mixed-methods report explains the characteristics and costs of special education in the Gopher State, as well as the practical effects of the state’s special-ed requirements—and offers recommendations for the state legislature on how to lower special-education costs and streamline compliance regulations. In Minnesota, for example, the number of special-education students increased 11 percent between 1999–2000 and 2010–11, and spending on this group bumped up 22 percent (this while overall student enrollment dropped 3 percent). According to district leaders, this has meant that “school districts have had to divert a substantial portion of general education dollars and local operating levies to pay for special education expenditures.” The report offers the legislature a number of suggestions for how to counteract these trends. For example: Supply districts with comparative data on different staffing patterns and their costs. As special-education costs rise (even as disability identification in the nation continues to decline), more such mapping and bushwhacking must be done. Expect more from Fordham on this front in the upcoming months.

SOURCE: James Nobles, Jody Hauer, Sarah Roberts Delacueva, and Jodi Munson Rodriguez, Evaluation Report:...

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GadflyA fierce school-choice debate rages in Alabama—but the threat to the Common Core standards has receded, for now. When it became clear that the Senate Education Committee would not approve a bill to revoke the Heart of Dixie’s commitment to the standards, the sponsor of the bill himself withdrew it from consideration. This is well and good. Now maybe they can get back to safeguarding the separation of powers—and implementing the Common Core.

South Dakota has the (dubious) honor of being the first state to explicitly authorize school employees to carry guns to work. State groups representing teachers and school boards expressed concern that the bill had been rushed to a vote, did not actually make schools safer, and ignored other approaches to safety, such as employing armed officers. In related news, a Texas school employee recently shot himself at a concealed-carry class for teachers.

Boston has approved a new school-assignment plan that reflects not just geography but also school quality—amounting to the greatest change in the way that the city assigns students in twenty-five years and “finally dismantling the remnants of the notorious [1970s] busing plan.” Mike Petrilli is optimistic; for his take, check out this week’s Education Gadfly Show podcast.

The opposition to KIPP DC’s plan to build a new high school is indicative of challenges that most charter schools face: Its future neighbors...

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