Additional Topics

COMPILER’S NOTE: Gadfly Bites is back from its summer break. Today, a recap of Fordham In the News pieces published over the last ten days. Regular publication schedule restarts tomorrow, August 19.

  1. More than a half-dozen Gannett outlets (including the Cincinnati Enquirer) carried a story last week looking at the status of charter school law reform in Ohio – stalled – and suggesting possible reasons for the hold up of what had been a bipartisan push to improve charters in Ohio. Well, really only one reason is touted. Our own Chad Aldis is quoted in response to that key assertion: “I think to suggest (contributions) had an effect is only speculation… Members in both parties get lots of campaign contributions from lots of people.” Lawmakers interviewed insist they want to make sure the bill is right before passing it. (Zanesville Times-Recorder, 8/8/15)
  2. Fordham’s Kathryn Mullen Upton is quoted – and Fordham’s charter sponsorship portfolio is summarized – in this piece regarding what is called “rampant uncertainty” in the charter school world in Ohio. The piece lumps together a number of separate issues (sponsor ratings, audit findings against individual schools, sponsor accountability, the aforementioned stalled bill, etc.) in
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COMPILER’S NOTE: Gadfly Bites is taking a summer vacation next week. It will return with a wrap up of the previous week’s stories on Tuesday, August 18. Regular thrice-weekly publication will resume on Wednesday, August 19.

  1. I’m not sure why the current Academic Distress Commission in Youngstown was fretting last week about what good they can do for the district while awaiting the new commission arriving in October. The information that will emerge from this staffing audit they authorized for the ever-shrinking district will be invaluable. Even the school board president says so. And then the new commission will, hopefully, act upon the findings. (Youngstown Vindicator, 8/6/15)
  2. Remember that dustup over upsizing of high school athletic divisions due to the new eligibility of charter and STEM school students? Complaints and litigation threats successfully tabled the division changes yesterday. Adults solving adult problems like adults, eh? Hope someone remembers that there are lots of newly-eligible students who will need the adults to think of them at some point. (Columbus Dispatch, 8/6/15)
  3. Speaking of adult problems, Governor John Kasich said the following this week in regard to state board of education members’ criticism of the Ohio Department
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  1. Here is yet another school district touting their new “online education program”, decrying the loss of money for kids who leave the district for charter schools (online or otherwise) and then implying that the kids come back to the district “even more behind” than when they left. Lots of problems with all of those anecdotal statements, of course, but let’s put those aside to focus on who is providing this valuable new service to the district’s students in their online venture for “non-traditional learners”. Vandalia-Butler City Schools has contracted with an online charter school to run their own E-school. Fascinating and bizarre. (Dayton Daily News, 8/3/15)
  2. So, if online charter schools are no longer foes for school districts, then who is? According to the leaders of 41 Southwest Ohio school districts, the state of Ohio is their enemy. The state has made it “nearly impossible” for their teachers to do their jobs via “unfunded mandates”. Oddly enough, Vandalia-Butler has yet to sign on to this enmity pact. (Cincinnati Enquirer, 8/3/15)
  3. However, in Columbus, it’s the Ohio High School Athletic Association that appears to be the more urgent bête noir. OHSAA’s distribution of newly-sports-eligible charter and STEM
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The Amazin’ Mets edition

AP U.S. History, teacher professional development, the myth of the overworked American kid, and math coursework’s effect on college readiness.

Amber's Research Minute

SOURCE: Shaun Dougherty et al., " Early Math Coursework and College Readiness: Evidence from Targeted Middle School Math Acceleration," National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper 21395 (July 2015).

Robert:                        Hello, this is Robert Pondiscio of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute here at the Education Gadfly show and online at Now, please join me in welcoming my co-host, the Lucas Duda of Education Reform.

Brandon:                     All right, Lucas Duda.

Robert:                        The Duda abides.

Brandon:                     ML Player of the week.

Robert:                        How could he not be? Like, nine home runs? It's August 1st. I don't know what the date is, but it's August 1st. Why? Because it's August and they're in first place. That hasn't happened since some people who worked at Fordham, before they were born.

Brandon:                     Yeah.

Robert:                        Well, not really, but it's been a long, long time. I'm going to enjoy every minute of this, because, as a Met fan, we know this too shall pass.

Brandon:                     And we are both huge baseball fans.

Robert:                        We are.

Brandon:                     Talk about it often.

Robert:                        I was going to call you the Noah Syndergaard before because of your long, flowing blonde locks.

Brandon:                     He was on my fantasy team. Thor.

Robert:                        Thor, that's right.

Brandon:                     Yeah.

Robert:                        This is much more fun than talking about education. Let's just make this baseball puns. The fun just begun. We have a new voice of the Gadfly this week. Please welcome Audrey Kim to the proceedings, and Audrey, take us away.

Audrey Kim:                Thank you Robert. Your recent U.S. News and World piece argues that we shouldn't buy that today's students are overworked and exhausted. Why not?

Robert:                        Because they're not. Simple. Next question. No, I should give the back story here. There was a column in the New York Times by a columnist who I normally like, Frank Bruni, and I still like him. He's a serious, sober guy. He writes thoughtfully, but he swallowed whole what I take to be a bit of, I don't want to call it a myth, that's overstating the case, but a bit of a non-problem. "We're working kids too hard. They're taking too many APs. We're stressing them out. They're over-scheduled." Look, I don't want to minimize this because for some kids this is surely the case. There have been stories of kids even committing suicide. Not massive numbers, but it happens. The much larger the story, I think, and this is what I wrote about at U.S. News, is exactly the opposite. The under-stressed U. S. teen. I looked at the data, it's something like 5% of American students take more than 5 APs. They are the anomaly. What percentage of students, Brandon, would you guess take no APs.

Brandon:                     60?

Robert:                        Yeah, about that. Two out of three.

Brandon:                     Lucky guess.

Robert:                        Two out of three American students don't take a single, darn AP.

Brandon:                     That's not surprising.

Robert:                        This is the problem that I describe as the worried well. In other words, people whose children or people who write columns in the New York Times, whose children go to school. Yes, this is their reality, but for the vast majority of American students, this is just not the case.

Brandon:                     Yeah, and we ran this by a colleague here, and she sympathized, but she was more interested in the other side of the over-stressed kid. The low-income kid who has to do a lot of things outside of school, like take care of his or her siblings or go to work. Do all these things that actually don't advance his or her academic prospects. That's kind of a bigger and really kind of more interesting and dire issue than the over-stressed affluent kid.

Robert:                        For what it's worth, I went looking for data on that, and it's hard to find, I don't know what number of kids have part-time jobs or are taking care of siblings after school. I suspect that it's a lot more than we think. What was interesting, there is data, since one of the other things that Frank Bruni was writing about in his column, was the over-scheduled kid. One activity after another, their scheduled within an inch of their life with youth soccer, dance lessons, whatever. There's every good reason in the data to look at that and think, "Look, those kids have really good outcomes. They're more likely to stay in school. They're more likely to not get involved with alcohol and drugs. They're more likely to grow up and finish high school and live lives of active, engaged citizens."

                                    These are all good outcomes. Yes, there is some, small subset who perhaps over-do it. This was another interesting data point. Something like 40% of American youth do no organized activity whatsoever, so it's exactly the same thing as the AP. For every single kid who does too much, there are multiple who do nothing at all.

Brandon:                     Right. Which, again, seems to be a bigger issue.

Robert:                        Again, I don't want to say that it's not a problem at the high-end, but it's a much larger problem at the other end.

Brandon:                     Yeah, agreed.

Robert:                        Question number 2.

Audrey Kim:                A new study from the New Teacher Project finds that, although districts are investing in teacher development, teachers aren't getting much better. What do you make of this?

Robert:                        I don't know about you Brandon? Having been a teacher for several years, I can tell you what I make of it, which is that, forgive my language, professional development sucks.

Brandon:                     Yeah, I haven't been in the classroom beyond being a sub for a year, but I don't think it is extremely effective in any job. It seems more important to hone training before someone enters, or in their early years, than to do these continuous. things like going to a seminar or taking a night class every year or two years.

Robert:                        A lot of it is choose your own adventure. It doesn't end up being very, very good. This is a bit of a wasteland. Here's a list of all of the goods. I went to in five years as a full-time teacher. Ready? Here's the list ... Okay I'm done. It really was a bit of a waste of time. What the New Teacher Project report find that is sobering is this is bewilderingly expensive. I think the figure was something like $18,000 per teacher, per year.

Brandon:                     For public schools.

Robert:                        Right, and what good outcomes do we see from that? None whatsoever. The vast majority of teachers show no improvement whatsoever.

Brandon:                     Like 3 out of 10 did or something?

Robert:                        Yeah. From memory, I think, 3 out 10 improved, 2 out of 10 got worse, the rest, no difference whatsoever. The logical question that TNTP is asking is, "What are we spending all this ... What are we getting for all this investment in it.?" The answer seems to be not a lot.

Brandon:                     The thing was that, for charters, I think the number was 7 out of 10 teachers improved, but it also cost, I think, $33,000 per. The interesting thing there though, right, I brought up earlier that investing in teachers early, be it before they start or in their early years, that seems like that would produce better gains and charter teachers are, on average, younger than public school educators. We're involved in a book right now, and I think the average number of years teaching for charter school teachers is something like 8, and for public schools it's 15.

Robert:                        Yeah.

Brandon:                     It's a younger workforce ... With less experience.

Robert:                        It is younger, but I haven't poured over the TNTP report in detail, but if I understand it correctly that most of the gains come at the front end and then you level out. Then that's exactly what you'd expect to see.

Brandon:                     Okay. Sure. Yeah.

Robert:                        It's still sobering. Ed reform, I think, at large, we put a lot of value on the idea of professional development, on improving teachers, on teacher quality at large. I've made a joke of this myself over the years saying, "You go to school with the teachers you have, not the teacher you wish you had," so we have to find a way to make them better. This report suggests that's a really, really heavy lift.

Brandon:                     Agreed.

Robert:                        Question number 3.

Audrey Kim:                The college board has just released a new set of AP U.S. History standards in response to criticism that the 2014 standards presented a negatively biased view of American History. What's your take, and do these new standards present a more fair view of our nation's history.

Robert:                        What do you think Brandon?

Brandon:                     The expert opinion on the latter question seems to be yes. Pretty much everyone who has reviewed the new ones think the liberal bias is kind of gone. The majority of the people who reviewed the old one believed that it was there. People on both sides of the aisle. Step back and see what the college board did. It's pretty impressive actually. You have this big organization taking a bunch of flack for a program that they made, that almost everyone has an opinion on, regardless of whether they have kids in the actual class. For instance, you aren't going to see this in AP Chem. They got the flack. They stepped back, and they really put a ton of time into improving them, and it seems like they have.

Robert:                        Yeah. You know what's interesting, too, I think the perception, I don't know this, but I suspect that a lot of the perception will be, "Oh the college board caved to conservative critiques." I just had a conversation with Trevor Packer, the head of the AP program. He was here visiting us a few weeks to tell us about these changes. What impressed me most is, yeah that may be the narrative that they were paying attention to conservative, political critiques, but when you really start to unpack what they did. They were paying attention to teachers, and I don't have this data in front of me, so this is from memory. Now, to be fair, the majority of teachers did not perceive a bias, but among teachers who did perceive a bias after teaching the previous framework, they were four times more likely to perceive a liberal bias than a conservative bias. That was a revelation to the folks who had issued the framework and folks like Trevor Packer, so yeah, I give them credit. I do think they made an earnest attempt to get it right, and all the initial feedback from the pundit class, at least, is favorable. I'll be paying attention a year from now, when they go into the field and ask teachers what they think.

                                    The other interesting thing about this is, we've forgotten in all of this what the big idea here was in re-vamping the AP History framework to begin with. It wasn't about who gets in, who gets left out, and what the bias is. It was an attempt to get AP History students to engage more with primary source documents, to do more historical work as opposed to just making it ... Repeating facts and taking a multiple choice test, and that seems successful as well.

Brandon:                     Yeah. Agreed, agreed.

Robert:                        And that's all the time we have for Pardon the Gadfly. Next, here's Amber with this week's research minute.

Brandon:                     Amber. How are you?

Amber:                        Hey Brandon. Doing great.

Brandon:                     Good, good. Are you a baseball fan?

Amber:                        I am. I like the Orioles and the Nats.

Brandon:                     You like both.

Amber:                        That seems odd. I know, that seems like a traitor, right? You don't like the Orioles and the Nats, but I don't know, Orioles cause of Cal Ripken. I was always a Cal Ripken fan, so I still like them, and the stadium is phenomenal. They used to have these great pretzels with about 10 pounds of cinnamon on them. That was the whole reason, really, that I really liked going to the games. Then, they stopped ... The pretzel vendor left, so now they have these crummy little stale pretzels. Aren't half as fun for me, so anyway that's really what it is. It's the pretzels, it's not really the baseball for me at the Orioles.

Brandon:                     The ball-park experience.

Amber:                        Yes, the experience. I normally don't eat junk food, but you have to when you go to the games. Anyway, it's all good. I'm a baseball fan.

Brandon:                     Cool, cool. What do we have this week?

Amber:                        We got a new NBER study, doing a lot of those, examines the impact of math acceleration on students prior to their graduating. This is a little bit wonky, but a lot of people know that we had these Algebra-For-All policies in the 90s, where we really trying to push all kids into Algebra 1 because we thought we have an access problem here. We need to get these kids on track to college readiness. Then they kind of fell out of favor because a lot of the kids weren't being successful in the harder courses, and there was some questions whether we were watering down the courses.

                                    Now we've kind of got the next generation of policies trying to solve this problem. These analysts looked at Wake County public schools in North Carolina, and they had implemented a more targeted acceleration policy in 2010-2011 that funneled particular students into a higher sequence of math courses. It's not college for all, it's college for these kids that we're going to identify. They were identified based on an algorithm, which basically used the history of that kid's test scores that predicted their probability of passing a standardized Algebra test. The threshold they used corresponded to the 25th percentile of the district's skill distribution, which essentially means about 75% of students would be placed on the accelerated track, so pretty big number.

                                    Analysts were able to compare the performance of nearly identical students who scored just above and just below the threshold. They followed students from the end of 5th grade, when they received their probability score, through high school. All right, quick findings. Number one, acceleration had no clear effects on end-of-grade math test scores. Number two, it did, however, induce lower grades at the middle school level, so we saw the kid's grades go down in the middle grades. Yet, it raised the probability of taking, and passing, geometry in 9th grade by over 30 percentage points, including for those disadvantaged kids. Number four, most students accelerate in middle school do not remain that way in high school. In other words, there are three or four sequence of courses they were supposed to take, but a lot of them don't make it to the end. They get, was "de-accelerated" a word? Maybe. For those that do manage to stay in that accelerated pipeline, they end up earning lower grades in those courses.

                                    For instance, 40% of students accelerate into pre-Algebra in 7th grade, continue on to Geometry in 9th grade, so that's a significant drop from 7th to 9th grade. Anyway, the bottom line is, they say we have a leaky pipeline, right, and that these acceleration policies alone aren't enough to keep kids on track with rigorous coursework. There's a little bit of discussion, okay like, now what do we do? Everybody says ... What do you think? What do you think that people think the answer is? I mean, like okay, if kids can't do it, then maybe we should give them ... Tutoring, right?

Brandon:                     Okay. Sure.

Amber:                        Then there was some other evidences they site that said, "Oh by the way, when we looked at the impact of tutoring, that didn't really seem to help them either." It was kind of a bleak report at the end, where you're like, "Okay, so we have this more targeted way of identifying these kids and trying to open up access, but the results were really mixed. On the one hand, we didn't see a big bump in these test scores. On the other hand, there were some positive impacts around Geometry, and so on and so fourth. At the end of the day it just seemed like a lot of these kids weren't able to stay and stick into that acceleration pipeline and were dropping out at pretty high rates."

                                    Then when you say, "Okay well maybe they need more resources and supports." The supports didn't seem to be helping either. Honestly, I don't know what the answer is. You know?

Brandon:                     Yeah. The findings leave me stumped. I don't really know what to say at all.

Amber:                        Then they say, well ... These guys are rock stars, one of them is one of our EEPS, Shawn Doherty, but one of the things it says, "You know, well maybe we would see impacts if we looked at long-term outcomes," which seems kind of, you know, a long shot. They are going to check back in and look at these kids after high school and see if there is any college acceptance outcome or any, kind of like, things like that. You know, maybe we're just not following them long enough. Maybe we're going to be surprised by some of the long-term impacts of such a strategy. Kudos because I think there's a real understanding that the Algebra-For-All sounded good, it's kind of like the 2014 rhetoric around NCLB, but when you really kind of dig in, there are a lot of perverse incentives.

Brandon:                     Interesting. Kind of bleak.

Amber:                        Kind of bleak. Kind of bleak, but I mean I think we ... You've done a lot of research around gifted education.

Brandon:                     Right.

Amber:                        I think acceleration sounds pretty good.

Brandon:                     For certain kids, yeah.

Amber:                        For certain kids, right? Maybe they try to target the kids here? Who knows. Maybe their target was off? Maybe they needed to set a higher threshold for how to identify those kids. I don't know. Acceleration just seems like it's not the new answer to all of our woes either for some of these struggling kids.

Brandon:                     For sure, for sure. Okay. All right. Thanks Amber.

Amber:                        You're welcome.

Robert:                        That's all the time we have for this week's Gadfly show. 'Til next week.

Brandon:                     I'm Brandon Wright.

Robert:                        And I'm Robert Pondiscio for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, signing off. 

  1. After last week’s presentation by ODE to the current Youngstown Academic Distress Commission, more details are emerging on what the future CEO-led district might look like. The prime question in this piece is whether the elected school board will be retained and what it’s duties might be. (Youngstown Vindicator, 8/2/15)
  2. It is clear that folks in Lorain – the only other Ohio school district currently under the aegis of an old-style Academic Distress Commission – are looking warily at Youngstown for a glimpse of their possible future. This weird hybrid opinion piece/fact roundup is equal parts hope (“The district is pinning its hopes in Dr. Jeff Graham, who started Aug. 1 as the new Lorain City Schools superintendent.”) and propaganda (“We can’t think of anyone who would want to see Lorain Schools viewed in the same light as the struggling Youngstown City School District…”). But its authors are oddly optimistic about their own chances of avoiding state takeover (“We support any and all efforts to re-energize the struggling Lorain Schools.”) while simultaneously jumping the gun and erroneously reporting that Youngstown’s elected school board has already been disbanded. Almost as if the piece was written by a divided
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Today is the textbook definition of a “slow news day” here in Ohio, but maybe that will help us parse the few interesting stories we have a little more deeply. Of interesting note: all of today’s stories are about school choice, from very different perspectives.
  1. First up, we’re talking about an “oldie but goodie” in the school choice pantheon – vocational education – from the perspective of an avid purveyor of educational options. This is a guest column by the President/CEO of Great Oaks Career Campuses in Southwest Ohio, extolling the virtues of career tech education in the 21st century. This is not your father’s shop class, and the Pres seems a fine advocate for the benefits of CTE for Ohio students. (Cincinnati Enquirer, 7/29/15)
  2. Second is a relative newcomer to the school choice world – virtual schooling – from a perspective that one might call “opportunistic”, if one were feeling uncharitable. Garaway Schools in eastern Ohio has created a new virtual school in order to stem the flow of money/students from their district to online charter schools; oh, and to give students the flexibility they need to blah blah blah. It is about the district losing less
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  1. An excellent article from an unlikely source. Here’s a look at the status of Cleveland’s school turnaround plan from the perspective of a business publication. While the district CEO speaks the usual ed reform language of “let’s stop bickering over ‘turf’ and ‘ownership of kids’,” the business analysts cut through the rhetoric with this: There are over 2,750 students enrolled in mid-performing charter schools currently unaffiliated with the district. This is a “significant opportunity” for the district to align itself with some of the most promising schools, nudge them into the next category, and so move closer to the plan’s goal of tripling the number of kids in high-performing schools. The only question for them is how to seal the deal. (Crain’s Cleveland Business, 7/26/15)
  2. As if they have a recurring event on their Google calendar, editors in Cleveland once again opined in outrage that charter law reform remains stalled in the General Assembly. (Cleveland Plain Dealer, 7/28/15)
  3. From outrage to barely contained glee: no new charter schools are slated to open in Toledo in the 2015-16 school year. And no, that’s not an op-ed. (Toledo Blade, 7/29/15)
  4. The current Academic Distress Commission in
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No Child Left Behind (NCLB) undoubtedly increased the federal footprint in education. As Congress debates how to rewrite the law, a new analysis from Bellwether Education Partners couldn’t be timelier.

The report starts with a look at the history of federal involvement in K–12 education and how NCLB tilted the balance of power toward Uncle Sam. Although NCLB started as a bipartisan bill with broad support, critics multiplied as the deadline for universal proficiency approached, interventions for low-performing schools mounted, and conditional waivers from the law were granted by the Department of Education. Among its shortfalls, NCLB included “over-prescriptive” provisions that mandate how a state education system should be run and a misguided one-size-fits-all approach.

But the law wasn’t all bad. Evidence suggests that NCLB’s accountability measures were effective in improving schools and student performance. These improvements were particularly evident among black and Hispanic students. The authors of this report applaud a requirement that states break down testing data into disadvantaged subgroups, thereby shining a light on students who are most at risk.

So how can policymakers keep the good (transparency and accountability) while ditching the bad (micromanagement)? The Bellwether analysts turn to the charter concept and argue...

  1. The California “similar students” measure of achievement – as proposed for charter schools in the currently-stalled House Bill 2 – gets another bashing in the media. Our own Aaron Churchill is quoted here, in favor of sticking with value added measures. (Columbus Dispatch, 7/25/15)
  2. Like it or not, Ohio is living in a “post-5-of-8 world”. The state board of education earlier this year removed a decades-old support staffing requirement for districts. Instead of mandating specific numbers of librarians, art and music teachers, and counselors based on student population, districts can now decide their staffing needs on their own. It’s probably a bit too soon to tell for sure, but the media says that either the sky is already falling (librarians are going the way of the printed book, says the Columbus Dispatch, 7/27/15)….or it’s not (art and music teachers seem safe…for now, says the Bucyrus Telegraph-Forum, 7/26/15).
  3. As you all may know, Ohio’s Straight A Fund survived the state budget process, but at a level much reduced from the last biennium. The governing board of the fund – designed to reward educational innovation – was last week mulling how best to proceed and get
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  1. The state legislature is largely adjourned for the summer, but that’s not stopping folks who are interested in the issue of charter schools from reporting and opining about legislation left on the table. You can read about the opining below, but here are two pieces of journalism to start with. First up is a look at what is called the California "Similar Students" measure of school performance, essentially a replacement for value-added measures, which is proposed in the currently-stalled House Bill 2. The piece links to Ohio Gadfly Daily posts by our own Aaron Churchill and guest blogger Vladimir Kogan of Ohio State University, both denouncing the proposed switch. Kogan calls the California Model “the poor-man’s value-added.” Yowch. (Cleveland Plain Dealer, 7/22/15)  But the PD’s Patrick O’Donnell is a true journalist and wants to hear every side of the story. A companion piece to the above digs deep into the who and the why of the California “Similar Students” model push in Ohio. The model, supporters say, adjusts school evaluations based on percentages of students with disabilities, economic disadvantages, limited English proficiency, and students in their current school for less than one year. It is, they say, a
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