Additional Topics

President Obama’s contempt for the Constitution, and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s unfortunate disregard of that document, have been loudly and justly decried by critics of executive overreach. Less heralded, but equally troubling, is the mission creep of the Office for Civil Rights as it works to reshape the education world and to right whatever alleged wrongs it thinks it sees.

All of these officials and agencies are seeking to accomplish policy goals that they believe are good for America, and I’m not impugning their motives. But they are playing fast and loose with their job descriptions and responsibilities under law.

Much has been written and said about Obama and Duncan. Let’s focus here on OCR. Mike Petrilli has already exposed the folly of the agency’s witch hunt for disparate impact in school discipline and explained the challenges it will pose for educators trying to run schools that are conducive to learning. In the matter of sexual harassment, I and others have written about the ill-conceived substitution of university conduct codes, unreasonable evidentiary standards, and star-chamber procedures for longstanding law-enforcement practices. (This carries more than a whiff of hypocrisy, as those whom the government is “protecting” are the selfsame students who would bridle at any effort to constrain their freedom to have sex, get drunk, and skip class.)

The most recent exercise of mission creep and nanny-statism by OCR, and not yet adequately exposed, involves what the enforcers call “equal access to educational resources.” These include gifted-and-talented programs within schools as well as...

  1. Not much education news to report on again today, but at least most of it is good news. Here’s an update on a Straight-A Fund project in Springfield. The CareerConnectED consortium already includes two school districts, a tech school, and a STEM academy. They are working to align students’ educational experiences with the high tech skills needed by employers in the area.  They are also looking to add at least two more partners in the next five years. Hey guys, how about a charter school or two? (Springfield News Sun)
     
  2. An opinion piece in the PD today extols the virtues of Ohio’s Jon Peterson Special Needs Scholarship. It is written from the perspective of a service provider (author Lannie Davis is VP of the Julie Billiart School…) and from the perspective of a choice advocate (…and is also a board member of School Choice Ohio).  Nice. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  3. But there’s always some less-good news lurking around the corner. Stay with me on this one. A group of public school zealots have been working hard to create the “feeder pattern” on Columbus’ south side that they would like their children to traverse from elementary through high school. And they had their hearts set on lovely old Stewart Elementary in historic (and tony) German Village. From their base of operations just south of the expensive-old-house zone, they’ve supported renovation of Stewart over the last couple of years. It will likely be a crown jewel for the district
  4. ...

By Jonathan Supovitz
Gadfly editorial by Michael J. Petrilli and Amber M. Northern, Ph.D.

Over the past decade, the English government has revamped that country’s approach to school leadership. At the center of the reform is the sensible idea that school leadership needs to be a team endeavor. While not a new idea—there’s been for years plenty of discussion about “distributed leadership” on both sides of the pond—the Brits got busy actually making it happen as opposed to jawboning about it. Central to their leadership structure is the formalization of three levels of school leaders, each with distinct roles and responsibilities: headteachers who lead schools (equivalent to the principal’s role in the U.S.), senior leaders or deputy heads who assist the headteacher (similar to the vice principal role in American education but with additional school-wide responsibilities), and middle leaders responsible for the quality of teaching within a certain department, grade-level or grade cluster. Each level (and some differing roles within the level) comes with its own mix of time devoted to teaching and time spent leading.

To see how America's fragmented leadership system might benefit from these ideas and others from our British brethren, download Building a Lattice for School Leadership: The Top-to-Bottom Rethinking of Leadership Development in England and What It Might Mean for American Education....

WE DON'T NEED NO STINKIN' DATA
“There shouldn’t be a whole movement out of charters the month before the test,” said NYC schools chancellor Carmen Fariña last week, implying that some charters are manipulating test scores by pushing struggling students out of their schools prior to testing. Her statements have charter operators and advocates incensed, and many are calling for the chancellor to produce data to substantiate her remarks. “Unless she can back up this statement with facts,” said Jeremiah Kittredge of Families for Excellent Schools, “she should withdraw it.”

WONK ALERT
Teachers are trying out a new way to prepare students for tests through a strategy known as interleaving, or mixing problems and concepts. In studies, students who completed homework in mixed sets performed better on final assessments than those who received traditional “blocked” problems. Psychologists also say students better retain information when they teach to peers. 

DRILLING FOR DEGREES
Amidst multi-year budget cuts to higher education across the country, two states have managed to buck the trend: those profligate spenders Alaska and North Dakota. Flush with newfound petrodollars, both states have sunk millions into their state schools in the hopes of improving job prospects for their citizens. Though Alaska’s spending surge has been more modest, North Dakota has increased per-pupil spending by nearly 40 percent in the last six years.

PROFILE IN COWARDICE
The Hechinger Report has a terrific look at Common Core implementation at Andrew Johnson Elementary School...

  1. Not much to report on in terms of education news over the weekend. We begin with a bit of a rerun: Editors in Columbus opine again in favor of eliminating the mandatory teacher pay schedule in Ohio. They reason that “Making seniority and extra college coursework the primary basis for rewarding teachers has created a system that is incapable of recognizing and promoting those teachers who actually are best at helping their students. In a field desperate for effectiveness, a teacher who is a miracle worker is treated the same as one who is just marking time.” Why the reiteration of their position? Because the bill including this provision passed the House last week and is now on to the Senate for debate. (Columbus Dispatch)
     
  2. Ohio’s teacher evaluation system is on Patrick O’Donnell’s mind in Cleveland. He goes to great lengths to explain how value-add calculations will be done for high school teachers starting this year. He focuses on the way in which “previous year” data will be amalgamated for subjects such as physical science, American history and American government in order to compare to current year data. Skepticism abounds. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  3. Also on the minds of Northeast Ohio reporters this weekend: population loss and declining enrollment in school districts throughout Cuyahoga County. The Greater Cleveland-Akron area's median age increased from 37.2 in 2000 to 40.3 in 2010; Ohio's birthrate has dropped from 14 births per 1,000 women 2003 to 12.6 births in 2012;
  4. ...

LICENSE TO FAIL
The pass rate for teacher-licensing exams is usually about 90 percent. However, only 68 percent of candidates passed New York’s new licensing test, which emphasizes understanding of the new Common Core ELA standards and ability to instruct English language learners and special needs students. This data comes at a time when many argue that teaching licenses are awarded too easily, resulting in too many unprepared teachers in America’s classrooms.

NEW LOOK FOR AFFIRMATIVE ACTION FOES
NPR has a fascinating story on the novel approach taken by an organization militating against prevailing affirmative action policies. The Project for Fair Representation, run by activist Edward Blum, charges that Asian American applicants are disproportionately kept out of elite institutions like Harvard and the University of North Carolina by racial balancing formulae that arbitrarily cap the number of spaces allotted to students of their ethnicity. If true, the allegation would confirm some of the arguments in Ron Unz’s mammoth study of the corruption of Ivy League admissions

TRUTH TO POWER
During a panel with fellow Republican...

John Chubb

[Editor's note: This is the fifth post in our latest blog series by John Chubb, "Building a Better Leader: Lessons from New Principal Leadership Development Programs." See herehere, here, and here for prior posts.]

It's one thing to practice skills in the controlled environment of a residency; it is quite another to practice when you are formally in charge of a school. Each of the alternative leadership programs examined in this blog series recognizes this truth and provides its graduates various kinds of support, sometimes as long as five years. Much as research has demonstrated about teaching—that teachers tend to become more effective over the first four or five years in the classroom—the same is likely true of school leaders: Their first few years in the position may be when the job is mastered (or not). These exemplar programs try to make those early years an additional learning experience.

This is hardly a new idea. Many school systems provide some sort of coaching or...

  1. In case you missed this yesterday, the Ohio House of Representatives yesterday passed a bill that would limit state testing of K-12 students to just four hours per subject per year. On the Senate, as the old song goes. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  2. The above news should be music to the ears of editors in Canton, who broke from the message of some of their fellow big-city editors around the state and earlier yesterday opined in favor of the testing time-limit bill. They call it “a start”, so are obviously looking for more accountability changes. (Canton Repository)
     
  3. The superintendents of Mentor and Reynoldsburg schools were among a group of school leaders who visited the White House yesterday to help the president “spread the word” about the value of online learning. He’s making a push to get high-speed internet to more schools across the country and both Mentor and Reynoldsburg were held up as prime examples of what computer-based education and blended learning can accomplish. Nice! (StateImpact Ohio)
     
  4. The Clyde-Green Springs school district auctioned off some vacant land, which was bought by the local church. Nice and smooth and everybody seems happy. Can someone please forward this story to the folks in Monroe schools? (Sandusky Register)

CAPITAL OF CHOICE
According to new data, school choice is working incredibly well in D.C., where nearly half of public school students attend charters. Parents are exercising their freedom of choice, and it’s showing: Excellent charters are growing and underperforming charters are closing. This is a big win for charter advocates, as it goes to show that, when done well, school choice can lead to better outcomes for students. For more on this story, read Andy Smarick’s characteristically smart new post.

A NATION OF IMMIGRANTS...AND STUDENTS
When President Obama rolls out his executive action on immigration in a primetime address this evening, those of us involved in education must consider how his plans will affect students with undocumented parents. This Huffington Post article outlines how the new immigration policies might create some stability in these children’s home lives by assuaging fear of parental deportation. 

EVERYTHING IN ITS PLACE
School reformers talk about changing a lot in education: School financing, governance, teacher quality, school size, accountability, testing, the works. We don’t talk a lot about where most learning is done—that is, the physical space of the classroom. Lennie Scott-Webber offers a terrific take on how the arrangement of learning stations can affect the way students learn.

PROFILE OF THE WEEK
The Hechinger Report has the heartrending story of D’Andre (last name withheld), a twelve-year-old raised by his grandmothers in Newark. The long profile depicts his splintered family life, zeal for learning, and...

Gabriel Sanchez Zinny

Educational systems around the world are in a critical state. Nearly everywhere, they struggle with poor-quality schools, persistent inequality, and local administrations with restricted budgets—which all combine to compromise the educational opportunities of a large portion of the student-age population.

These worrisome trends are reinforced in emerging economies, like those of Latin America. The region has seen over a decade of sustained growth and growing middle classes, and as the burgeoning “knowledge society” is impacting every sector, these expanded middle classes are demanding better education and greater opportunity.

While Latin America trails behind most of the world in its education performance, there are a number of governments taking the initiative in confronting these challenges. Leading this group are Chile, Colombia, and recently Mexico, where President Enrique Pena Nieto has successfully pushed for deep education reforms. While passing legislation cost significant political capital, and on paper the measures—including reforming the teacher tenure system—look very positive, the ultimate impact on the quality of learning will depend greatly on the implementation and follow-through of subsequent governments.

But perhaps the most surprising recent phenomenon in Latin America has been the extent to which the non-government sector, including entrepreneurs, companies, and investors, is getting involved in education. Among these disparate groups, there is a new awareness of the importance of education and an unprecedented understanding that the region’s previous commodities-based, export-led, low productivity economic model will not be enough to advance to the next stage of development. Instead, to achieve more competitiveness and...

Pages