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Two new studies add to the growing body of peer effects research that confirms what seems self-evident: learning alongside motivated, smart students enhances student outcomes. The first examines the peer effect on pre-K students diagnosed with a disability. Researchers measured student achievement among 670 students, roughly half with an IEP, in eighty-three classrooms in one Midwestern state, using teacher ratings of students’ language ability gains between the fall and spring of a single school year. IEP students appear apt to languish, language-wise, if enrolled in a low-skilled classroom; they do better when mainstreamed into heterogeneous settings. The second study uses Philadelphia public-schools data on nearly 35,000 elementary-school students who took the Stanford 9 exams during the mid- to late 1990s. The analyst employs a few different empirical strategies to untangle the true peer effect from other confounding factors. The main finding: elementary-school students in this urban district gained significantly when learning in a classroom with high-achieving peers, compared to similar students in an average classroom. The converse also applies. Students lost ground when placed in classrooms of lower average achievement. Interestingly, achievement also significantly increased in classrooms with more girls, even if the girls weren’t higher achieving. Predictably, achievement sank in classrooms containing more children with behavioral problems. As the proverb goes, iron sharpens iron—the research indicates that children stand to benefit when learning with suitable peers. Yet, as Daniel Willingham points out, it’s unclear whether enough well-mannered, high-aptitude students exist for all their peers who might benefit from...


This much-discussed study, published in the current edition of Education Next, finds that “oversubscribed charter schools” in Boston produce strong test-score gains but “do not improve students’ fluid cognitive skills.” Put another way, the study shows high-performing charters are getting great results improving “crystallized knowledge”—but fluid skills, not so much. Crystallized knowledge is prior knowledge—vocabulary, math facts, and bits of mental furniture. Fluid intelligence, in contrast, is your ability to think, reason, and solve problems. The two combine into overall cognitive ability. West and his colleagues report that “effective schools help their students achieve at higher levels than expected based on their fluid cognitive skills.” Bravo, charters. But wait. What does it mean if these putatively high-performing schools aren’t moving the needle on fluid skills? Jay P. Greene describes the finding as “potentially unsettling” and notes that, “if fluid skills really matter, ed reform is in a serious pickle” because reform efforts “appear to be increasingly emphasizing (and measuring) crystallized knowledge to the exclusion of fluid skills.” Enter University of Virginia cognitive scientist Dan Willingham, who says the results are “fascinating, but they are also easy to misinterpret.” Researchers have long had a hard time finding evidence that fluid intelligence is malleable. It may simply be hard to improve, he notes. “So it’s inaccurate to interpret these results as showing that charters are making kids good at scoring well on math tests, but they haven’t really taught them math because they haven’t improved their cognitive skill,” Willingham writes....


Cognitive scientist Dan Willingham takes a second look at a much-discussed study that seems to indicate charter schools raise test scores, but not “fluid intelligence.” The results are “fascinating, but they are also easy to misinterpret,” he writes.

Boston is getting a “chief of education,” who will cultivate relationships with allschools in Boston—public, charter, parochial, and private—plus Boston’s colleges and universities—“although he will not have direct power over those institutions,” notes the Boston Globe.

Writing at Slate, Dana Goldstein says the school principal “just might be the most important figure in school reform.” But you already knew that.

California parents are deciding against vaccinating their kindergarten-age children at twice the rate they did seven years ago, the Los Angeles Times reports. Health experts say that’s contributing to the reemergence of measles.  

Seattle’s First Place Scholars today becomes the first charter school to open in the state of Washington.

TIME Magazine reports the San Francisco 49ers have a plan to bring in sixty kids a day from Bay Area schools for daylong STEM education programs, focusing on the engineering of stadium construction and the physics of football.

As Lee County, Florida opts out of opting out, Fordham’s Petrilli notes that school boards might take similar “symbolic actions,” but “at the end of the...


Fordham’s Mike Petrilli and Cato’s Neal McCluskey—from opposite sides of the Common Core debate—coauthor an op-ed calling on both sides to “stop fighting over basic facts, and tackle crucial questions,” like will Common Core improve outcomes?”

The Wall Street Journal warns religious schools eager to take up NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio's offer to subsidize preschool students that if they accept “favors from the government often they may come to regret the attached strings.”

The head of the American Historical Association defends the College Board’s AP History framework in a New York Times op-ed, noting a “once comforting story has become, in the hands of scholars, more complex, unsettling, provocative and compelling.”

A new nonprofit called Education Post launched today in hopes of creating “an honest and civil conversation” about education...and was immediately attacked on Twitter....


Peace, love, and lawsuits

Mike and Alyssa discuss a Kumbaya moment in the Common Core debate, weigh the wisdom of governors suing Arne Duncan, and confirm that charter schools ought to be about choice. Amber schools us on the evolution of teacher evaluations.

Amber's Research Minute

Teacher Evaluations in an Era of Rapid Change: From 'Unsatisfactory' to 'Needs Improvement',” by Chad Aldeman and Carolyn Chuong, Bellwether Education Partners (August 2014).

  1. Back-to-school time is usually one of hope and possibility, but registration problems in Mansfield schools are causing dozens of students to simply sit and wait to start and parents and guardians to worry about lost time. The implication is that parents/grandparents haven’t done what is required in a timely fashion to register their mobile students – closed charter schools, other districts, etc. – but I can only imagine that the finger-pointing from the district is counter-productive. Suggestion to administrators: start school a day early next year for new kids only. (Mansfield News Journal)
  2. Kelli Young takes a look at the history of Stark County’s school districts and their boundaries, and gives us a fascinating piece about the way decisions from decades ago affect student assignments, taxes, transportation decisions, and governance across municipal and county lines today. There is little appetite among the Stark County ESC board to further consolidate, it seems, but Young at least asks the questions that many Stark County parents are asking. (Canton Repository)
  3. I missed this editorial from Akron over the weekend. Here it is. But seriously, how many more ways can folks opine in favor of Common Core? I assume we’ll find out this week. (Akron Beacon Journal)
  4. A Summit County charter school has been pro-active in creating an assessment and reporting mechanism for teachers and parents of students entering Kindergarten throughout the county this year. There are high hopes that such information will help ease the transition
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  1. State Sen. Peggy Lehner was the headliner at a City Club of Cleveland event on Friday, talking about the state ofK-12 education in Ohio and about ways to improve it. As you can imagine, the Common Core repeal effort underway in Ohio was a prime topic ("This legislation would create chaos in our schools and set us back years."), but the Senate Education Committee Chair also talked about Pre-K, third grade reading, teacher quality, and expulsion policies. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
  2. Editors in Canton seem to be on board with the senator’s interests also, opining this weekend in praise of Stark County schools’ efforts to meet the requirements of the Third Grade Reading Guarantee. (Canton Repository)
  3. Common Core was also in the Canton paper this weekend. A quick survey of district and ESC officials (and at least one legislator) in Stark County shows broad support for the Common Core. (Canton Repository)
  4. Here’s a very thorough report on Common Core with a national take, an Ohio take, and a Cincinnati-centric take (the latter provided by the awesome Julia Carr Smyth). The implication of this piece is that Ohio’s legislature is having “buyer’s remorse” over the standards, but surely this would mean that the legislators on the Rules Committee paid attention when the standards were adopted back in 2010, which we heard last week was not the case. (WCPO-TV, Cincinnati)
  5. The Dayton Daily News focused their Common Core coverage on last week’s hearings, drawing
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  1. Lawyers are now involved in the kerfuffle between Portage County ESC and the Ohio Department of Education. So far it sounds mostly like trading barbs in the media, but I’m sure we’ll get to the heart of the matter soon enough: bad charter school authorization practices must end. (Gongwer Ohio)
  2. It’s been a bad PR week for Education Service Centers in Ohio. As a result, the awesome Jennifer Smith Richards is digging in to the structure, funding, and function of these public entities. (Columbus Dispatch)
  3. Perhaps this story highlighting the “constant tension throughout the district” explains the need for “intestinal fortitude” in Youngstown we mentioned earlier this week. A report issued this week says Youngstown school board members need more training as to the proper roles of an elected board, because they are bogged down in day-to-day operations issues. An eye-opening read indeed. (Youngstown Vindicator)
  4. Speaking of Y’town, State Superintendent Dick Ross was briefly the chair of the Youngstown Academic Distress Commission before state government called. Four years later, and from the perspective of the superintendency, he is not satisfied with progress made by the district. Seems like a theme. (Youngstown Vindicator)
  5. Superintendent Ross visited two districts in Stark County this week, taking a first-hand look at technology integration in schools that won Straight-A grants and talking about the importance of third grade reading in rural schools. (Canton Repository)
  6. We’ll end today with a head scratcher. Pursuant to the Education
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  1. Week Two, Day Two of Common Core repeal hearings was a late one. As predicted, coverage is waning as the hearings go on…unless you follow Chad on Twitter. All of today’s pieces focus on the high-caliber business leaders who testified in favor of Common Core yesterday. Coverage in Cleveland not only addressed the important testimony of Cleveland Partnership’s Joe Roman but also that of CMSD CEO Eric Gordon and Breakthrough’s Alan Rosskamm. Cleveland has had its say. (Cleveland Plain Dealer) Gongwer’s coverage remains thorough, discussing the questions asked by legislators as well as the testimony written and given. (Gongwer Ohio) The Big D, interestingly, also focuses on some of the folks who haven’t testified, including ODE. (Columbus Dispatch)
  2. Speaking of ODE, news broke yesterday that the department has referred the Portage County ESC’s top two leaders for investigation, saying the agency attempted to open a new charter school in Cincinnati after being warned not to due to unsatisfactory vetting processes. You can check out the just-the-facts version from the Statehouse perspective here. (Gongwer Ohio) The view from Northeast Ohio, where the ESC is located, focuses on the status of PCESC having “the second-worst academic record of all state sponsors”. (Cleveland Plain Dealer) Let us note that the proposed school in question was the one we told you about two weeks ago, which appeared to be attempting to capitalize on the closure of VLT Academy. That is the focus of the coverage in Southwest Ohio,
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Education-policy wonks should take a long look at The Long Shadow, a book based on a twenty-five-year study by Johns Hopkins University researchers. Following 790 Baltimore first-graders in 1982 until their late twenties, this book offers a rich research account of what policy analysts across fields have long tried to figure out: How can low-income children rise out of poverty and into the middle class? The sobering answer is they don’t. Kids born into poor families grew up to be poor themselves. Nearly half of the children in the study had the same income status as their parents; and only thirty-three children of families in the lowest-income bracket moved to a high-income bracket by their twenties. The education picture isn’t any sunnier. A mere 4 percent of those from low-income families had a college degree at twenty-eight (compared to 45 percent of their higher-income peers). The long shadow of poverty stretches further for African Americans: 40 percent of blacks who dropped out of high school were now working, compared to 89 percent of white high school dropouts. Women fared worse than men. Black and white women both earned less than their male counterparts, but white women tended to be better off financially with the benefit of marriage or a live-in partner. Black women earned less than white women and were less likely to be in stable relationships. The reading is sobering because the data is stark. Education reformers should take heed that family socio-economic status—at least today—matters more than educational...