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John Kraman

In a recent EdNext column, Checker Finn proposed what he expected to be a controversial solution to the problem of low levels of college readiness among our high school graduates: namely, “different ways of completing—and being credentialed for completing—one’s primary and secondary education.”

In case Checker is holding his breath, I would like to raise a (quiet) howl of protest—just not for the reason Checker expected. The reality is that differentiated credentials are already here; they are common, diverse and wide-spread. New York State did retire the “Local Diploma” option a few years back for non-special-education students, requiring all students to earn at least a Regents diploma. I say “at least” because there are many different kinds of Regent diplomas (see here for detailed look at the array of designations and endorsements in NYS).

New York is not alone. A decade ago, Achieve reported that twenty states had multi-tiered diplomas, with designations such as “honors,” “advanced academic” and “advanced technical.” To earn a higher diploma, states may require students to earn additional course credits or complete more advanced courses, especially in mathematics, science, foreign languages and/or technical programs. Others may require students to pass more state assessments, pass state assessments at a higher performance level, or pass AP or IB exams. According to the experts at Achieve who continue to track graduation requirements, the level of complexity has only grown since 2004.

Beyond these K–12 policies, the University of California System established “A–G” requirements for high school graduates applying to their...

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[Editor’s note: This is the fifth in a series of personal reflections on the current state of education reform and contemporary conservatism by Andy Smarick, a Bernard Lee Schwartz senior policy fellow with the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.  The previous posts in this series can be seen herehere, here, and here.]

Andy’s odyssey: Part five

I’m worried that when the history of today’s era of education reform is written, the most damning critique will be that its progressive leaders had little understanding of social capital.

Social capital describes the “benefits that flow from the trust, reciprocity, information, and cooperation associated with social networks.” When people are connected, they (and even those outside the network) gain, thanks to sharing, interdependence, joint learning, collective action, solidarity, and more.

Key to the development of social capital is longevity. Trust and relationships take time to develop. They mature, evolve, and strengthen over time.

As I wrote in the last installment, progressives’ bent for change is invaluable when longstanding institutions are destructive. But it can also do immeasurable harm when it undermines old valuable institutions, which can serve as wellsprings and keepers of social capital.

It is striking how seldom the reform community discusses preservation. Ed-reform leaders rarely comment on the need to protect our social fabric by insulating some longstanding institution, practice, or relationships from change (though Fordham’s own Robert Pondiscio has shared some worthy thoughts on the subject).

The clearest example of our field’s disregard...

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SWING AND A MISS
Bob Herbert's op-ed in Politico Magazine lambasts the pro-charter efforts of Bill Gates and other wealthy donors. Herbert seems to think that the movement is a failure because charter schools have not already succeeded in eliminating the achievement gap and reducing racial inequities. He might be expecting more from charters than even Gates and his compatriots. 

CONTRACT REVOKED
Pennsylvania's School Reform Commission just canceled the contracts of 15,000 Philadelphia teachers, forcing teachers to pay their own health premiums and face other cuts to their benefits. District leaders say there was "nothing else to cut" following years of layoffs and school closures, but teachers are calling it an ambush.

BETTER TOGETHER
D.C. public schools are seeing positive results from including technology in the classroom in blended learning models. The online learning software allows students to work at their own pace and frees up instructional time for teachers. Self-promotion alert: Fordham's own Michael Brickman and John Elkins recently reviewed a study from the indispensible CEE-Trust examining efforts to establish blended learning networks in Chicago and Washington, D.C.

APPETITE FOR DEBATE
The battle over school lunches extends as far back as the 1940s and has been increasingly politicized in recent years, especially with the adoption of Michelle Obama's school nutrition program. This week, the New York Times Magazine's Nick Confessore dives so deep into the issue, your ears will start to hurt....

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Note: Gadfly Bites is taking a break for the rest of the week. Back on Monday with a round up.

  1. Patrick O’Donnell has dug into Cleveland schools’ value add scores and teased out what the district believes are substantive gains in this area for students tested over the last two years. There’s some speculation that charter school students in the district’s portfolio helped bring up the grade, but even more speculation that important aspects of the Cleveland plan are starting to bear fruit: observable, data-based fruit. But, says CEO Eric Gordon, "we can't afford simply to meet (expected progress). We have to exceed the state's expectations for my kids to step up… But you have to start somewhere…2014-15 will be about exceeding." Nice. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  2. The board of education in Strongsville is concerned about unpaid fees from its families, for things such as art supplies and participation in sports, to the tune of about $170,000. They voted unanimously to withhold report cards and online access to grades—among other steps—for those delinquent families. I am certain that their students rose up in a unanimous cheer when this was announced. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  3. The court-ordered mediation between district and teachers union continues in Reynoldsburg today, in conjunction with the lawsuit seeking to close the district’s schools for the duration of the strike. These are based on the safety concerns of the parent who brought the suit, but most observers are quietly hopeful that some contract talks
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Welcome to the new-and-improved Late Bell, Fordham's uncanny afternoon newsletter! We're starting off our bold new era with a special Fordham-in-the-news edition.

WHEN YOU’RE AN EDUCATION-POLICY WONK AND A PUBLIC SCHOOL DAD
“Education leaders are often put off by parents who know a lot about schools and won’t shut up. Petrilli is definitely in that category,” notes Jay Mathews of the Washington Post on a recent column in which this education-policy dad asks where’s the beef on curriculum.

THE EDUCATION-REFORM PLAYOFFS
At the National Review Online, Fordham’s Chester E. Finn, Jr. asks whether pushing only a test-based accountability system is the best strategy. But that doesn’t mean he’s giving up on reform: “Major-league education change is still needed, maybe now more than ever, and it’s no time for either complacency or despair.”

YOU SAY SKILLS, WE SAY KNOWLEDGE
Emily Richmond chronicles why Common Core might be more difficult to implement in the higher grades since the standards are based on the idea that kids need knowledge. Case in point? Richmond highlights Robert Pondiscio’s take on close reading.

TO WAIVER OR NOT TO WAIVER?
‘“We’re punishing schools and educators, and arguably kids, because state policy makers don’t want to do what” the Education Department demands. “Talk about friendly fire," said...

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  1. Less than a month until it’s all over and the gubernatorial race in Ohio is trending rather lopsided. Problem is, certain issues that typically arise during a contested race just haven’t gotten a lot of play this time around. Fordham’s Chad Aldis is briefly quoted in this piece, lamenting about the lack of specifics on K-12 education from either side. (Columbus Dispatch)
     
  2. Oddly enough, state board of education races seem to be getting more play in the media than the gubernatorial race…in certain places. We’ve clipped a few stories about individual district races before, but here’s a nice overview on all of the contested seats on the board. You would have thought that Common Core would have been a bigger issue, but it seems that charter schools are more relevant to most candidates…especially if they are Democrats. (Columbus Dispatch)
     
  3. Big changes are being promised for the education provided to students with special needs in Columbus City Schools, following a pretty earth-shaking admission that the district had routinely followed a “no-fail” policy for students on IEPs, moving young people along whether they passed or not. These changes even include efforts to allow former students to retake classes to pass on their own merit. (Columbus Dispatch)
     
  4. A press conference was held in Chillicothe on Friday with both the founder and the current owner of a local private school, which closed its doors earlier that day. As you might expect, lack of money was the issue
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  1. EdWeek took notice of the KnowYourCharter website rollout in Ohio this week...and of the reaction it generated from Fordham and others. (EdWeek)
     
  2. Youngstown City Schools’ Academic Distress Commission adopted an updated recovery plan this week. Among the goals, to be achieved by 2017, are a PI score of at least 85 for two consecutive years, a value-added score of a “C” for two years, meeting proficient standards on at least 14 of 22 indicators, and achieving an 80 percent four-year graduation rate. How to achieve these goals? Step one – curb the micromanagement of the district’s board of education. (Youngstown Vindicator)
     
  3. A follow up on yesterday’s story about the abrupt closing of a private school and daycare in Chillicothe. Parents are hurt, confused, and scrambling. For the most part it sounds as if other private schools, nearby districts, and childcare providers are working well with parents to help them find new schools. Very good journalism here. (Chillicothe Gazette)
     
  4. It has been said that no one knows the state board of education exists. After reading the survey answers of the three candidates up for election in District 5, I can believe that ignorance is bliss. To repeat: one of these people will be on the state board of ed come January. (Canton Repository)
     
  5. The Washington Post’s Michael Gerson talks about his visit to Ginn Academy, an all-boys prep school in Cleveland Metropolitan School District with awe and respect for what the school
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“STOP STEALING KIDS’ FUTURES”
In New York City, pro-charter school parents and kids will march at the Families for Excellent Schools rally. “We need to stop stealing the possible,” says Eva Moskowitz in a New York Post op-ed.

WHEN YOU TRIP AND FALL...
“I'm almost certain it didn't mean to, but OCR may have stumbled into the most significant federal charter policy action since the birth of the charter movement two decades ago,” says Michael Petrilli to Politico Pro’s Morning Education.

WHAT WOULD SMARICK SAY?
The Department of Education announced $20 million “for finding, training, and keeping  good turnaround principals”—a worthy venture to beat the lacking-leaders conundrum. But is SIG even worth saving?

DISCIPLINING ON DISCIPLINE
Oregon's Department of Education is levying a fine against Portland Public Schools for suspending a disproportionate number of African American special-education students. A tricky subject, but on school discipline, Mike Petrilli doesn’t want school to repeat old mistakes

COMMON CORE AND PRIVATE SCHOOLS
“For many schools, [Common Core is] not going to drive any monumental shift in what they’re doing. There are lots of private schools that have rigorous college prep curricula to which Common Core is compatible,” says Kathleen Porter-Magee....

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  1. The Plain Dealer, with typical deliberation and thoroughness, took a couple of days to check out the new KnowYourCharters website before publishing their take. They suspect that politics may have “crept in” to the project. But seriously, nice Cleveland-centric take on the story with lots of quotes from charter school foes and supporters, including our own Chad and Aaron. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  2. Here’s an addition to yesterday’s stories about district opposition to state testing requirements, some of which are new this year. This time: the above-average Columbus suburb of Westerville. Complete with calculations of testing time required. (ThisWeek News/Westerville News & Public Opinion)
     
  3. The USDOE has awarded a grant of $795,000 to the Cleveland Metropolitan School District to support its efforts to find, train, and keep good turnaround principals. Congratulations! (EdWeek)
     
  4. More on the ongoing efforts of a church in Monroe (more than three years so far) to buy a closed high school building from the local district. The latest is a public hearing. It went about how you thought it would. The alternative now being put together is for more taxpayer money to go into the property and for the district to take a big financial hit. (Middletown Journal-News)
     
  5. A private school in Chillicothe which will be closing for good tomorrow (after nearly two decades in the community) with very little notice. While it is certain to be to be
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Marc Mannella

As the founder and Executive Director of KIPP Philadelphia Schools, I was surprised to read Dr. Laurence Steinberg’s Flypaper post on how KIPP charter schools approach character development. In response to his portrayal of our character work, I want to offer a KIPP educator’s perspective.

The headline of Dr. Steinberg’s piece asks, “Is character education the answer?” Neither I nor anyone at KIPP believes that teaching character in and of itself is the answer to the challenges faced by our students—85 percent of whom grow up in poverty. But just because character isn’t the answer, doesn’t mean it isn’t part of an answer. We know from several studies that certain character strengths play an important role in increasing students’ academic success. And a growing body of research, like that by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and Dr. Carol Dweck from Stanford University, indicates that elements related to KIPP character strengths like social intelligence and optimism are ultimately teachable.

When approached thoughtfully and deliberately, teaching character strengths can help students develop the resiliency to overcome life’s obstacles. We’re already seeing that KIPP students graduate college at more than four times the rate of students from the country’s lowest-income families; by investing in character in our schools, we are aiming to raise that rate even higher.

While Dr. Steinberg is complimentary of much of KIPP’s work, his description of our approach to teaching character as a settled protocol is not entirely accurate. It is in fact a highly...

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