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The headline in yesterday’s Columbus Dispatch, “Union leader to be Coleman’s education czar,” certainly got my attention. I suspect I’m not alone.

Given Mayor’s Coleman’s relentless (and praiseworthy) push for education reform over the past 18 months, the appointment of a long-time teacher union official was almost shocking. Teacher unions, after all, have been the primary power brokers in the development of the education system that we are now struggling to reform.

So what’s the mayor thinking?

First, he’s obviously got to respond to the stunning levy defeat in November and the school system’s breathtaking cheating scandal. Choosing a respected educator is a smart way to build bridges and public support. 

Second, even in her official role as union president, Ms. Johnson has proven herself to be open to change. She appears to have played a significant role on the mayor’s education reform commission. For that, she deserves much credit. It would have been easy in those discussions for her to stymie any reform proposal that might negatively impact some of her members, but she didn’t. Instead, she helped the broad coalition of community stakeholders to reach...

Political theorist Benjamin Barber is not the first person you would associate with education reform. He is a staunch advocate of democracy, democratic institutions, and “democratic patriotism,” and he is best known for a somewhat prescient 1992 book called Jihad vs. McWorld, which gained some clout following the 2001 terrorist attacks. In his 1994 book An Aristocracy of Everyone: The Politics of Education and the Future of America, he argues that the most critical outcome required of our education system is an appreciation of inclusive civic engagement—and that this outcome and excellence are not mutually exclusive. In fact, he warned of the “dumbing down” of American education at that time. In If Mayors Ruled the World, his latest book, Barber goes even further, calling out national governments of all stripes as gridlocked failures of representative governance. Instead, he argues that cities are the true and proper vehicles of citizenship and democracy…not to mention the only political entities capable of “taking out the trash” - by which he means literally getting the job done. Where does that leave education in the United States, traditionally the domain of the states? Barber cites all the various vehicles of education today—districts, charters, vouchers—and concludes,...

Yesterday, I jokingly tweeted that since today would be a snowy Friday before a holiday weekend, the U.S. Department of Education would probably release SIG data. (They’ve executed numerous SIG-related “Friday afternoon trash dumps” in an attempt to minimize the field’s attention to this failed—and massively expensive—program.)

Turns out my joke wasn’t funny at all. 

They’ve done it again.

As you might remember, several months ago, the Department released second-year results, meaning two years of data from cohort-one SIG schools and one year of data from cohort-two schools. But they had to retract the data because of mistakes made by a contractor.

So today, they’ve released the corrected information.

On a Friday afternoon.

Before a holiday weekend.

I’ve belabored the fiasco that is SIG, so I won’t pile on today. I just hope someone, someone, in the Department is saying, “If we find ourselves continually dumping bad SIG news, shouldn’t we just admit we messed up and ask Congress to end this program?”

Here’s what you need to know.

  • When the program launched, we were told that this now-$6 billion program would produce “dramatic” improvements in our most troubled schools. The Secretary talked of “transformation not
  • ...

Nothing helps pass the time better when you’re snowed in than some high-quality edu-reading. Here’s some of the best stuff I’ve come across recently.

Public Impact has produced a very good and very important report on “extraordinary authority districts,” entities like Louisiana’s Recovery School District. It’s exactly the kind of nuts-and-bolts document that’s needed right now. Many states are considering such bodies, and this is a thoughtful guide—informed by our experience to date—for how to do it right.

A group of University of Missouri researchers compared three different types of growth measures: “student-growth percentiles,” a.k.a. SGP (my preferred method), and two “value-added models,” a.k.a. VAM. They found that a VAM approach that incorporates a comparison of demographically similar schools produces the best results (for a number of reasons). The full working paper is a bit dense, but the shorter Education Next article is accessible and very informative. Growth measures are important and here to stay; this piece will help you bone up.

NACSA and Charter School Growth Fund have put together a good, short report on how to ensure that the charter sector’s future growth leads to more and more...

The New York Board of Regents has recommended nineteen changes to the rollout of the Common Core in the Empire State, which include the following: a five-year “extension” of the plan to attach high-school graduation to success on the state Regents exams (while students would still have to “pass” Common Core exams, they would not be required to hit the “college-ready” mark until 2022); federal-testing waivers for students with special needs; and—controversially—allowing teachers to contest their evaluation ratings if their districts have done a poor job implementing the Common Core. Governor Cuomo roundly criticized the last idea, condemning it as an attempt to “water down” teacher-evaluation reforms. Oddly, the unions also rejected it—they claimed that it didn’t go far enough. In the end, the Regents backed off, nixing a form of flexibility that many observers believed might actually help the Common Core rollout by making it less unpalatable to New York teachers. Gotta love politics.

Analysts at the American Institutes for Research found that the number of nonacademic professional and administrative employees at colleges and universities in the U.S. has doubled in the last...

For a couple weeks now, I’ve been obsessing over this map. It’s the product of a remarkable research project that collected and analyzed the incomes of the thirty-year olds who were born between 1980 and 1982.

The map shows, by small geographic areas, the likelihood that a child born into the lowest-income quintile ended up (as an adult) in the highest-income quintile.

This isn’t the necessarily the best indicator of economic mobility, but it is still edifying. (The fantastic interactive map from the Times allows you to look at mobility from a number of other angles, as well).

A whole lot of staring at this map and some additional research has produced ten thoughts—most of them gloomy.

  1. The miniscule chance of a rags-to-riches rise in some locations takes my breath away. In Memphis, the chance of this “lowest-to-highest” movement is only 2.6 percent. Atlanta, at 4 percent, is barely better.
  2. The stickiness of poverty in some locations is heartrending. In most of the red areas in the Mississippi Delta, a child born into a family at the tenth percentile of earnings has a 75 percent chance of having an
  3. ...

The fancy-footwork edition

Mike welcomes Ohio's Chad to the podcast to disparage teacher tenure, anguish over the charter assault in Gotham, and debate the realities for charter schools in rural areas. Amber finds value in growth measures.

Amber's Research Minute

Choosing the Right Growth Measure,” by Mark Ehlert, Cory Koedel, Eric Parsons and Michael Podgursky, Education Next 14(2).

The Education Gadfly

The court case over teacher job protections in California is underway. The plaintiffs argue that the laws hinder the removal of effective teachers, which disproportionately harms underprivileged students. The defendants, on the other hand, argue that there is plenty of time before tenure to remove teachers. While it is true that many schools do not avail themselves of this limited flexibility, the fact remains that the flexibility is limited. What’s more, that argument dodges the problem: if a teacher burns out after obtaining tenure, he will still be teaching children—and how can anyone defend that? Meanwhile, a photo negative of this case is ongoing in Denver, Colorado, in which the district is facing a class-action lawsuit for supposedly dismissing tenured teachers without just cause—because in the unions’ strange world, poor performance in the classroom couldn’t possibly be considered “just cause.” Interesting!

If you’re looking for (1) good news and (2) something to watch during your lunch break, look no further this quick introduction to Pakistan’s Punjab Education Reform Roadmap (which can be characterized as perhaps the world’s largest voucher program). The short film, featuring British education...

The Student and the Stopwatch: How much time is spent on testing in American schools?

The Student and the Stopwatch

In this era of results-based academic accountability, teachers and their students spend class time taking—and preparing for—standardized tests. But just how much time? An inordinate amount? Does it vary by locale? What is the ideal amount of prep time? What are the policy implications for districts and states? The curricular and instructional implications? And what are the consequences for children, especially disadvantaged students?
 
JOIN THE DISCUSSION ON THE FORDHAM LIVE PAGE
 
In the largest study of its kind, Teach Plus brings empirical evidence to the table with its new report, The Student and the Stopwatch: How Much Time is Spent on Testing in American Schools? The report examines district- and state-required testing in more than thirty urban and suburban districts nationwide, featuring input from more than 300 teachers.
 
Join the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and Teach Plus for a discussion on time-on-testing in American classrooms.
 
Panel I
 
Joseph Espinosa - Instructional Coach, First Street Elementary, Los Angeles, California
Joe Gramelspacher - Math Teacher, Crispus Attucks High School, Indianapolis, Indiana
Christina Lear - English and Journalism Teacher, Herron High School, Indianapolis, Indiana
Dr. Joy Singleton Stevens - Third-Grade Teacher, Double Tree Montessori School, Memphis, Tennessee
 
Panel I Moderator
Alice Johnson Cain - Vice President for Policy, Teach Plus
 
Panel II
Celine Coggins - CEO and Founder, Teach Plus
Dave Driscoll - Chair, National Assessment Governing Board
Andy Rotherham - Co-founder and Partner, Bellwether Education Partners
 
Panel II Moderator
Michael J. Petrilli - Executive Vice President, Thomas B. Fordham Institute

Note: This post is part of our series, "Netflix Academy: The best educational videos available for streaming." Be sure to check out our previous Netflix Academy posts on dinosaursaquatic lifeinsectsfrogs and other amphibiansAncient Asian Cultures; the Early American civilizationsAncient GreeceNative American culturesChristopher Columbus and the Age of Discovery; the American founders;  movie adaptations of classic children’s books; and American folk heroes.

They say a think tank is a “university without students,” so in that spirit I took a winter break from our Netflix Academy series. But with January behind us, it’s time to get started once again. Not to mention, the weather this week is reminiscent of Washington’s winter at Valley Forge. (How’s that for a segue?) That’s right, it’s time for the best streaming videos on Colonial America and the Revolutionary War! Note that a few of these are for older audiences; you also can’t go wrong by dialing up the fantastic animated show Liberty’s Kids, though it will cost you a couple of bucks an episode on Amazon. Enjoy!

Best videos on Colonial America and...

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