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GadflyIn a futile effort to counter the influence of test-preparation companies, New York City’s education department changed part of the test it administers to four-year-olds to determine whether or not they are gifted and talented. For parents who cannot afford to send their child to one of the city’s myriad private schools, a coveted and scarce seat in a public school gifted program is the best start they could give to their children. While many lament the unjust advantage that students with access to test-prep programs obtain, the true tragedy is the dearth of suitable options for all of the gifted children. For more, listen to this week’s Gadfly Show.

Eliciting a keen sense of deja vu, this year's AP Report to the Nation—College Board's tracking of AP course-taking patterns and exam pass rates—offers the same three takeaways as last year's report: Participation rates in the AP are fast on the rise (up 2 percentage points since last year and 14 since last decade). So are AP exam passing rates: up 1.5 percentage points since 2011 and 7 points since 2002. Still, minority involvement flounders, with less than a third of "qualified" Latinos and African American (as decided by PSAT scores) enrolling in an AP course. Expect further unpacking of what these numbers may mean for Common Core implementation, college-remediation courses, and more next week.

The congressionally mandated Equity and...

Do students of a feather flock together, or are kids more like chameleons? This new study contends the latter, via evidence suggesting that students whose grades are higher or lower than their friends’ tend to become more like their peers over time. The researchers (members of a partnership between the National Science Foundation and a team of high school students) surveyed 158 teens at New York’s Maine-Endwell High School on the identities of their best friends, friends, and acquaintances, yielding three “social networks”; the authors then tracked all of these individuals’ GPAs over one year to compare their achievement with those in their networks. The results: Students whose peers outperformed them at the start tended to do better by the end of the year, while those whose peers underperformed them were more likely to see their grades slip. This effect was stronger among friends than among acquaintances or, oddly, best friends. The authors theorize that academic habits are “socially contagious” in much the same way as are fashions and fads (though they note that it could simply be, for example, that students “on the way up” tend to seek out and attract higher-performing friends—ditto students who are beginning to slide). Still and all, such findings may have important implications for ed policy. For instance, while lower-performing students may benefit from the company of stronger performers (at least if they become friends), could such mixing wind up harming high performers? We eagerly await more research on this issue. Meanwhile, we’re...

Balancing budgets in austere times requires hard tradeoffs; for schools (especially those hamstrung by restrictive collective-bargaining agreements), this often means nixing extracurricular and non-academic programs like music, the arts, or after-school athletics. This analysis by Jay Greene and his University of Arkansas colleague Daniel Bowen details how such an approach may be short-sighted. In an analysis of 657 Ohio high schools between 2004–05 and 2008–09, Greene and Bowen find that a school’s percentage of students participating in sports is associated with higher overall student performance and increased graduation rates. Specifically, the analysts find that a 10 percentage point bump in a school’s winning record (for football and boys and girls basketball) is associated with a 1.3 percentage point increase in said school’s graduation rate—and a 0.25 point bump in the percentage of students scoring proficient on the state test. Further, adding one sport to the available options for students (and controlling for multi-sport athletes) raised the graduation rate by 1 percentage point and the proficiency rate by 0.2. When ten additional students signed up for an athletic team, the school’s grad rate also increased by 1.5 percent and its percent proficient by 0.4 points (this all after controlling for school size, student demographics, and per pupil expenditures). While these results are relational, not necessarily causal, district leaders should take heed. Cutting sports programs may inadvertently fray a school’s academic prowess.

SOURCE: Daniel H. Bowen and Jay P. Greene, “Does Athletic Success Come at the Expense...

Franklin City Schools Superintendent Arnol Elam distributed a letter to parents, asking them to campaign against Gov. Kasich funding plan. The Warren County prosecutor is now investigating Elam for using school funds to send out political materials.

Under Gov. Kasich new funding plan, schools districts will have more funds allocated to teach English Language Learners.

Next year Hilliard School District will open the Innovative Learning Center which will gather students in the district to offer specialized programs and video conference classes out to multiple schools.

Last week, Gov. Kasich’s top education advisers met with legislators to discuss their school reform plans.

In October, 2011, The Pew Charitable Trusts released a report called Closing Public Schools in Philadelphia: Lessons from Six Urban Districts, which looked at the process of school building closure in a number of urban districts to help inform the process of closure and repurposing of a potentially large number of buildings in Philadelphia. The process in Philadelphia was expected to take at least two years to complete.

And now a follow-up report has been released that looks at the reality of what happened in Philadelphia and a number of other cities after their “surplus” buildings were closed.  Shuttered Public Schools: The Struggle to Bring Old Buildings New Life looks at the realities of finding new uses for old school buildings in Atlanta, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, Kansas City, Mo., Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Tulsa and Washington as well as Philadelphia (where, over two years later, as many as 37 buildings still remain to be closed before they can even reach the “repurposing” stage).

Among the key findings:

  • School districts are not typically set up to become real estate brokers, resulting in slow and problematic transactions;
  • Many buildings remain unsold due to multiple difficulties including neighborhood resistance to change of use, the economic downturn, and size and age of buildings;
  • Unsold/unleased buildings remain a drain on districts’ finances due to security and maintenance costs until they are either repurposed or sold.

Some good news for the charter sector: of the buildings sold or leased in the cities under...

President Obama’s proposal to raise the minimum wage to $9 an hour has led economists to explain, yet again, how this seemingly benign measure will lead to lost jobs, especially for teenagers. But to my knowledge, nobody has challenged Obama’s core assertion — namely, that a raise is needed to lift full-time workers with children out of poverty. I have good news for the president: These workers have already been lifted out of poverty.

On Tuesday night, Mr. Obama said,

We know our economy’s stronger when we reward an honest day’s work with honest wages. But today, a full-time worker making the minimum wage earns $14,500 a year. Even with the tax relief we’ve put in place, a family with two kids that earns the minimum wage still lives below the poverty line. That’s wrong.

He’s right that $14,500 is below the poverty line for a family of three (presumably a mother and two children; a family with two full-time workers — a mom and a dad — would earn well above the poverty line). But he seems to forget one of the most significant anti-poverty measures introduced in recent years: the earned-income tax credit. This family of three would be eligible for more than $5,000 from the EITC, putting its total income at almost $20,000 — above the $18,500 poverty threshold (my thanks to anti-poverty guru Ron Haskins at the Brookings Institution, who provided these figures).

Nor does that count other non-cash benefits that such...

Getting picky about choice

Mike and Adam discuss school-choice regulations with John Kirtley of Step Up for Students. Amber talks up the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.

Amber's Research Minute

“Is the Juice Worth the Squeeze? A Benefit/Cost Analysis of the District of Columbia Opportunity Scholarship Program” by Patrick J. Wolf and Michael McShane (Association of Education Finance and Policy Journal, vol. 8, no. 1, 2013).

Most of Obama's education-policy wishlist can't be done successfully in Washington—but can be done in a well-led state.
Photo from Policymic

Maybe Barack Obama should follow the Pope’s example and resign—but then he should run for governor, presumably in Illinois (where he would definitely be an improvement on the last dozen or so)

Because, at least when it comes to education policy, just about everything he wants the federal government to do involves things that can’t be done successfully from Washington but that well-led states can and should do: raise academic standards, evaluate teachers, give kids choices, and more.

His latest passion in this realm is “quality early childhood education for all.” And as post–State of the Union specifics seep from the White House, we see more clearly what he has in mind: a multi-pronged endeavor, including home visits by nurses, programs for poor kids from birth to age three (“Early Head Start”), more Head Start (mostly for three-year-olds), lots more state-sponsored preschool for four-year-olds (subsidized up to twice the poverty line), and full-day Kindergarten for all.

All are plausible undertakings by states. Only one, however, could be satisfactorily carried out by Uncle Sam: a thorough and much-needed makeover of the five-decade-old Head Start program. But that isn’t likely to happen. The retrograde Head Start lobby is too strong, and the...

We laughed. We cried. We wondered how in the world his proposals wouldn’t increase our deficit “by a single dime.” President Obama’s fifth State of the Union delivered an aggressive call to expand pre-Kindergarten opportunities to all four-year-olds (the overall cost of which remains decidedly murky), to create a Race to the Top offshoot focused on pressing high schools to better prepare students for high-tech jobs, and to hold colleges accountable for keeping tuitions affordable—a classic liberal wish list to be funded via voodoo economics and shell-game fiscal policies.

Maryland told nine of its counties—including smug Montgomery, whose teacher-evaluation proposal the state rejected earlier this month—that the Maryland School Assessment must comprise at least 20 percent of their teacher- and principal-evaluation models. “My team and I are fully prepared to make visits to your district to provide clarification and to assist you in reaching approved status,” Dave Volrath of the state education department offered helpfully to Montgomery County. Yeah. We’re sure it’s all just a big misunderstanding.

Since 2007, hundreds of California school districts and community colleges have used $7 billion in “capital-appreciation” bonds to finance school-construction projects. The catch? Capital-appreciation bonds can balloon to more than ten times the amount borrowed over as much as forty years. For scale, compare this to a typical thirty-year home mortgage, which will wind up costing two to three times the amount borrowed. We are speechless. We thought pensions were the most vivid example...

In 2006, we wrote, “The policy debates over [immigration] in the halls of Congress will go on, but the hard task of blending millions of immigrants (legal or not) into American society marches on daily, at least in the nation’s schools.” While that hard task continues, this Pew study on second-generation Americans offers some assurance that the work is not for naught. It tracks census data from the 20 million second-generation Americas above the age of twenty-five—and supplements them with Pew’s own survey data—to compare the educational and economic status of these second-gen Americans to both their parents’ generation and the broader populace. Bottom line: Children of immigrants are climbing the socioeconomic ladder. Second-generation adults fare better than those in the first generation in median household income (by $22,000), college degrees (by 7 percentage points), and more. They’re also 16 percentage points likelier to have finished high school. And most of these favorable comparisons hold within racial subgroups. This may be partly because fully three quarters of both Hispanic second-gen’ers and Asian second gen’ers (groups that comprise three-quarters of this population) believe that “most people can get ahead if they work hard.” By contrast, only 58 percent of the general American public feels the same way. That said, Pew analysts also point to some worrisome trends. Among them, second-generation Hispanics were considerably worse off than their Asian counterparts on such gauges as economic achievement and educational attainment. Our 2006 assertion still rings true.

SOURCE: Pew Research Center, Second-Generation...