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With his ample ego, it wouldn’t be hard to poke fun at Eli Broad. But while some gentle teasing might be in order, Broad also deserves a full measure of respect and gratitude. As depicted in his surprisingly affecting memoir-cum-business-advice-book, The Art of Being Unreasonable, he’s a pretty amazing guy, someone who has been wildly effective in four separate careers and who now wants to share his hard-earned experience with countless others. His advice and exhortations reminded me of a very influential tome from my own Midwestern roots: William Danforth’s I Dare You. Danforth and Broad share the same overwhelming optimism that all things are possible—with enough hard work. Still, 192 pages later, I was left with a mystery: how to explain Broad’s lifelong allegiance to the Democratic Party, other than as an inheritance from his liberal parents. For there was nothing in the book, really, about his success (or anyone else’s) being the product of communal effort or government help. Indeed, the sense one gets is that Eli Broad believes religiously in the power of the Individual—the one man (or woman) who dares to be Unreasonable, ask hard questions, look at problems anew, and make the world conform to his vision—a notion that fits firmly within the Republican camp these days. Broad doesn’t talk—or at least write—like a Democrat. And his education philanthropy doesn’t fit the “liberal” bill, either. He appears to have no patience...

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The U.S. Department of Education recently granted Ohio relief from No Child Left Behind’s (NCLB) most awkward mandates. To receive this relief, Ohio was required to present a school accountability plan that would put its kids on a college- and career-ready path. Ohio’s NCLB waiver request proposes a revamped accountability system based on three indicators of school quality: (1) student achievement, (2) student growth, and (3) achievement gap closure. The three indicator scores (reported as percentages) are summed and averaged—each given equal weight—to determine a school’s overall performance.[1]

The proposed system’s third indicator, gap closure, is a newly-conceived measure of how well nationally-defined student subgroups (e.g., racial, economically disadvantaged, special education, English language learners) perform on standardized tests compared to a state-designated baseline test score—an annual measureable objective (AMO). Any school building with more than 30 students in a subgroup must report its subgroup scores.

To gauge how well schools would perform under the proposed accountability system, the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) simulated schools’ performance using 2010-11 data. ODE’s simulated results, however, put into question the validity of the gap closure indicator, as currently designed.

The following charts show ODE’s simulated results. Consider the distribution of Ohio school buildings’ overall rating (Figure 1). The vertical axis indicates the number of school buildings that received a certain rating, and the horizontal axis shows the rating scale, which is expressed as a percentage. We observe that most school ratings fall within a relatively narrow band between 75 and 95...

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It wouldn’t be super-hard to poke fun at Eli Broad. (Diane Ravitch did a mean-spirited version of that when she called him and his peers “The Billionaire Boys Club.”) Here’s a man who made his fortune  building tract housing in the ‘burbs,  who micromanages grants down to the penny, a man who names more than a few things after himself (the Broad Prize, the Broad Fellows, and his latest museum project, simply The Broad). He’s the 1 percent of the 1 percent of the 1 percent, and not ashamed of it, either.

Eli Broad

But while some gentle teasing about his non-inconsiderable ego might be in order, Eli Broad deserves something more—namely, a full measure of respect and gratitude. As depicted in his surprisingly affecting memoir-cum-business-advice-book, The Art of Being Unreasonable, he’s a pretty amazing guy, someone who has been wildly effective in four separate careers and who now wants to share his hard-earned experience with countless others. As I read the book, my image of Broad shifted, from a semi-caricature of the Arrogant American to an archetypal Self-Made Man from the Midwest. His advice and exhortations reminded me of a very influential tome from my own Midwestern roots: William Danforth’s I Dare You. Danforth and Broad share the same spirit: An overwhelming optimism that all things are possible.

I learned a lot from the memoir....

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Amercia the Beautiful

Mike and Rick break down the flaws in the latest Race to the Top and explain why Obama and Duncan really aren’t twins when it comes to ed policy. In her Research Minute, Amber analyzes Podgursky’s latest insights on pensions.

Amber's Research Minute

Who Benefits from Pension Enhancements? by Cory Koedel, Shawn Ni, Michael Podgursky

Yesterday, the Century Foundation and the Poverty & Race Research Action Council released a report touting the benefits of racial and socioeconomic diversity in charter schools. For a variety of reasons, charter schools are more likely to serve a high-poverty population than traditional public schools. The authors stress the need for this fact to change because, they claim, poor students fare better in low-poverty versus high-poverty schools. The report profiles seven high-performing charters that have tackled racial and socioeconomic integration in different ways. Diversifying charter schools is an attractive—and noble—idea, but one that creates a policy conundrum as feasible integration of schools often proves to be a prickly challenge. (Think about parents’ reactions to busing in Wake County, for example.)

A recent policy brief from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (which profiles many of the same schools as the Century Foundation report) offers a smart alternative. NAPCS recognizes the value in fostering high-performing charters that serve either homogenous or socioeconomically diverse communities—and the value of letting parents choose to send their child to one or the other. Both reports make recommendations for policy changes that will be more hospitable to diverse charters. NAPCS urges the federal government to loosen restrictions on charters’ admissions practices—to permit weighted lotteries (which allow for a more diverse or targeted student body). The Century Foundation recommends that states provide incentives to integrated charters akin to those created for high-poverty charters. Integrating charters is a touchy subject; these reports offer...

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The race is on!

Mike and Education Sector’s John Chubb analyze Mitt Romney’s brand-new education plan and what RTTT will look like for districts. Amber considers whether competition among schools really spurs improvement.

Amber's Research Minute

Heterogeneous Competitive Effects of Charter Schools in Milwaukee

Over the past few years, much has been made of students’ “time in learning” (both more time on task while in class and more time in school each day or more days in school each year). Yet little attention has been paid to chronic absenteeism—missing more than 10 percent of a year’s school days—mainly because few states track these data. (Instead, they report average daily attendance, which can mask high levels of chronic absenteeism.) This exploratory study parses attendance data from six states (FL, GA, MD, NE, OR, and RI) and finds chronic absenteeism averaging 14 percent of students. (If this rate holds nationally, the U.S. has lots more students chronically absent—about seven million—than attend charter schools.) The report offers further data, bleak but not altogether surprising: Low-income students are most likely to miss a lot of school, as are the youngest and oldest students. High-poverty urban areas see up to a third of their students miss 10 percent of their courses each year (though the problem is seen in rural poor locations as well). But neither gender nor ethnicity appears to play a role in chronic absenteeism. Policymakers thinking through extended school days and years would be prudent to internalize this study’s message. More learning time will only be productive if the students are in class to take advantage of it.

Robert Balfantz and Vaughn Byrnes, The Importance of Being...

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As Old Farmer has his almanac and Britannica his encyclopedia, the National Center for Education Statistics has the Condition of Education. This annual report offers a comprehensive look at trends in American education, reporting longitudinal data on forty-nine discrete indicators, ranging from pre-Kindergarten enrollment to high school extra-curricular participation to post-secondary faculty make-up. Last year’s headlines related to school choice (and the mushrooming charter sector). The latest edition again shows increased public-school choice—but this time on the digital-learning front (or “distance education,” as they say at NCES). In 2009-10, over 1.3 million high schoolers—across 53 percent of districts—enrolled in a distance-ed course. (This up from 0.3 million five years prior.) Much of the report contains simple factoids, but more than a few indicators will help drive policy conversations on topics as diverse as school finance and instruction. For example, total expenditures per student rose 46 percent (in constant dollars) between 1988-89 and 2008-09, with school-debt interest spending seeing the highest percentage increase, followed by capital outlay and then employee benefits—which subsume close to 20 percent of per pupil costs. On other pages, we learn that enrollment in high school math and science courses just about doubled in the last two decades, while the number of high school pupils holding jobs has halved. This review just scratches the surface of the report: There’s much more worthwhile content within its many pages.

Source: National Center for Education Statistics, The Condition of Education 2012 (Washington, D.C.: United States...

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The Gadfly’s "grand swap"

Mike and Rick analyze Senator Alexander’s ed-for-Medicaid trade and critique America’s private-public schools. Amber delves into a startling SIG success story.

Amber's Research Minute

School Turnarounds: Evidence from the 2009 Stimulus

The College Board has grown somnolent and secretive in recent years, raking in huge sums (though it's officially nonprofit) from fees paid to take its well-known tests (APs and SATs above all, as well as sundry other services, such as an online system for matching kids with colleges), while neglecting its social mission, playing little role in the ed-reform wars, and blocking outside researchers from its trove of valuable data. (It much prefers to spin the test results itself.) Enter David Coleman, one of the brighter (and younger) stars in the ed-reform firmament, a major author (and booster) of the Common Core standards, and a passionate, energetic, strong-willed, and persuasive fellow. In October, he'll take the helm of the College Board and, because he can be counted upon to do what he says he's going to do, we can anticipate that "over the next few years, the main thing on the College Board’s agenda is to deliver its social mission. The College Board is not just about measuring and testing, but designing high-quality curriculum.” A worthy change, a smart and timely move, a swell use of the College Board's vast resources, and, potentially, a hefty boost to America's quest to see that its educators have the wherewithal to teach things worth learning. The College Board already contains the means of determining whether the kids have learned it—and considerable capacity to incentivize them to do so.

Backer of Common Core School Curriculum Is Chosen to Lead College Board,” by...

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