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An important, first-of-its kind Brookings Institution study asks whether school superintendents improve outcomes for students. The answer, according to authors, is no. They find that student achievement in particular districts doesn’t improve as superintendents stay longer, nor is there a bump when districts hire new ones. Supes account for a paltry 0.3 percent of the differences in student achievement among fourth and fifth graders in North Carolina (as compared to student demographics, which account for 38.8 percent, and teachers and schools, which account for 4 and 3 percent, respectively). On first read, these findings seem bleak. But the authors make two assumptions in their analyses, one out of necessity and one out of convention. First, because they rely on state administrative data and its limited variables, years-of-service in a single district is their primary observable superintendent characteristic. The assumption is that the longer one stays, the greater impact he or she should have. Yet, despite research in other fields suggesting that manager longevity is a predictor of organizational success, it is far from the only one. Effective district leadership requires knowledge of education policy and practice, communication and relationship-building skills, leadership capability, strategic thinking, conflict mediation, and innumerable other important-yet-unmeasurable...

Here’s a rare bit of good news from K–12 education: Every state—all fifty of ‘em plus the District of Columbia—have improved academically since the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation (USCCF) released its initial “Leaders & Laggards” report in 2007. But let’s not get giddy. For too many states, improvement is tantamount to winning the “most improved player” award in summer camp. It's great that Hawaii and D.C. have figured out which end of the bat to hold and where to stand in the outfield. But put them in right field and hope no one hits to them. Massachusetts is still batting cleanup. Minnesota and New Hampshire make a nice double-play combination, but let's not kid ourselves: This team is nowhere near ready for international competition. “Leaders & Laggards” is all about competition. The report takes an unapologetically business-oriented view of the nation’s K–12 performance, evaluating each state on eleven criteria, including international competitiveness, workforce readiness, technology, and return on investment. (Utah and Colorado get the most bang for their education buck; D.C., Louisiana, and West Virginia the least.) Some of the data is original and clever, such as which states have the most STEM-ready workforce. One in six Massachusetts...

  1. More report card analysis today. This time, charter schools in Cincinnati go under the journalistic microscope with the invaluable assistance of Fordham’s Aaron Churchill. (Cincinnati Enquirer)
     
  2. An even greater level of detail is applied to the report cards of charters in the Dayton area, including an in-depth look at Fordham-sponsored Dayton Leadership Academy. The picture is bleak, but there are clear signs of improvement. Kudos to journalist Jeremy Kelley for his work. (Dayton Daily News) As a bonus, here’s a TV piece looking at DLA. (WHIO-TV). And as an Easter Egg, there’s a cameo from former Fordhamite Bianca Speranza in the DDN piece as well.
     
  3. More Horizon charter school have been added to the list of buildings under investigation by the Ohio Department of Education. One in Columbus (Columbus Dispatch), and one in Cincinnati. (Cincinnati Enquirer)
     
  4. These additional investigations were announced the same day that parents, students, and staff members of Horizon Schools were rallying in front of ODE HQ - that is to say, across the street from Fordham Columbus HQ – and speaking before the State Board of Education in support of their schools. (WKSU-FM, Kent)
     
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  1. Fordham’s Chad Aldis appeared on WHIO Reports on Sunday, talking charter school accountability in Ohio with a pretty antagonistic bunch. Can’t cover much detail in 20 minutes, but he did pretty well. (WHIO-TV, Dayton)
     
  2. Speaking of Fordham’s hometown, the DDN took a look at the reports cards of Dayton-area school districts. Seems it was the best of times for some and the worst of times for others. report cards. (Dayton Daily News)
     
  3. The Beacon Journal has also taken a look at report cards of districts in their region. They work hard to explain the numbers and letters but pronounce the report cards “confusing” to parents, educators, and taxpayers. Sure glad the ABJ is there to help out. (Akron Beacon Journal)
     
  4. Apparently no such confusion exists when it comes to the report cards of charter schools in Summit County. The subtlety and detail of the above article is very much lacking in this piece. (Akron Beacon Journal)
     
  5. I held this story over from yesterday’s issue so it wouldn’t get lost in the Monday surge of pieces. Former Columbus Schools Superintendent Gene Harris is long gone, but her legacy lives on. Some years ago
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Many people tune out when education discussions turn to data and statistics. For whatever reason, some folks just don’t like numbers. So a discussion about the development of education data is likely to attract an audience rivaling that of a paint-drying contest.

But if you care about K-12, you should definitely care about the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). This is the government body responsible for collecting and reporting a wealth of data on our schools—data that’s voluminous, comparable across years, and typically above reproach in terms of reliability.

I say “typically” because there is some reason for worry. Late in 2013, I scolded the federal government for massaging NAEP TUDA data, which reports on the performance of large urban districts. In short, we should’ve been deeply alarmed by the results, but the packaging gave the opposite impression.

This would’ve been troubling enough. What bothered me even more was that an advocacy organization that represents and serves large urban districts was an integral part of the release process.

But what happened next truly opened my eyes to the extent of the potential problem. The then-head of NCES quickly responded to my piece. He...

  1. As we noted on Friday, report cards are out in Ohio for buildings and districts. Analysis of those report cards continued in the media over the weekend. Fordham’s Chad Aldis is quoted in Gongwer’s large-scale coverage, focusing on districts and what the results mean in Ohio’s largest cities. (Gongwer Ohio)
     
  2. No one has dug much into charter schools’ grade cards just yet. That will come. But in the meantime, check out this editorial from the Dispatch, nailing the analysis of a number of long-standing flaws in Ohio charter school law and opining strongly for change. Now. (Columbus Dispatch)
     
  3. I say “no one has dug much” into charter schools’ report card. Here is the first analysis out of the gate: Gongwer discussing the performance of Ohio’s dropout recovery schools. (Gongwer Ohio)
     
  4. The PD wants to allay the potential fears of Clevelanders by fully explaining the grade for value-add on report cards this year. Especially, what a “C” grade means. To wit: "A C is perfectly acceptable," said Tom Gunlock, vice president of the state school board.  "That's one year's worth of growth.” (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  5. Lima City Schools took advantage of some options
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  1. The K-12 education committee of the Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission met yesterday. I am hopeful that what is reported here – basically whether the members wanted education in Ohio to be “controlled” by the legislature or the courts as a result of changes proposed – is not all that was discussed. Perhaps the rest of it was drowned out by the snores of the bored spectators. (Gongwer Ohio)
     
  2. How did the Hope4Change Academy saga in Cincinnati—which you’ve heard a lot about here in Gadfly Bites—get so far? Here’s a bit more detail on the hows and whys from the perspective of ODE and the Portage County ESC. (Youngstown Vindicator)
     
  3. So, what’s the big deal about the PCESC trying to “reorganize and reopen” LEAD Academy as Hope4Change in Cincinnati? Well, aside from the bait and switch perpetrated on families there, there’s the small matter of a ton of money likely owed back to the state from the original iteration of the school. (Youngstown Vindicator)
     
  4. Lest you miss your daily fix of Common Core opinion, here’s a letter signed by 12 education school deans from universities across Ohio urging the state to keep Common Core.
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  1. I’m not exactly sure this qualifies as either real news (probably why it was on a Dispatch blog and not in print) or real clairvoyance, but Governor Kasich prognosticated on the content of the report cards to be issued tomorrow for Ohio’s urban school districts while on the stump this week. His prediction: not pretty. (Columbus Dispatch –Daily Briefing blog)
     
  2. I wasn’t going to clip this because I thought it wasn’t necessary to reiterate how many school districts are vocally and publicly supportive of Common Core in Ohio. But it looks like it might still be necessary after all. Another week of repeal hearings, anyone? (Newark Advocate)
     
  3. A proposal is being floated in suburban Beachwood that would consolidate three elementary schools into one building – the newest and largest of the three. The public pitch is around efficiency and good use of public dollars—enrollment trends are steady now, but how long have those buildings been underutilized?—but I suspect that everyone’s really just salivating over the flashy sports facilities proposed for one of the two closed schools. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  4. Remember that story from several weeks ago which indicated that the Norwalk school board had
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The Florida Education Association, state school boards, and the Florida PTA have filed a lawsuit in a Florida court challenging the state’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program (for the second time this summer). The suit argues that the program violates clauses in the state constitution that require educational uniformity and bar state aid to religious organization. There are multiple problems here. First, the plaintiffs should be ashamed that they’re advancing a narrow agenda by jeopardizing the program's 69,000 participants—largely poor and minority students seeking a better education. Second, the U.S. Constitution permits tax credits for donations to religious organizations; if this challenge goes all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, Blaine Amendments might be in trouble. The big question is the uniformity clause, which mandates a single, uniform state education system. Hopefully, the Florida Supreme Court interprets the state constitution in a way that doesn’t harm tens of thousands of disadvantaged youngsters.

On Sunday, The New York Times’s Motoko Rich penned a news analysis asking why more men don’t go into teaching. A good question; but she gave a suspect answer. She blamed, among other things, low teacher pay. Inexplicably, she cited perhaps the...

The history-boys edition

Michelle and Alyssa discuss the lack of male teachers, Bill Gates’s Big History Project, and rating schools with classroom grades. Amber tells us whether school superintendents are vital or irrelevant.

Amber's Research Minute

School Superintendents: Vital or Irrelevant?,” by Matthew M. Chingos, Grover J. Whitehurst, and Katharine M. LindquistThe Brookings Institution (September 2014).

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