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This study examines the impact of peer pressure on academic decisions. Analysts Leonardo Bursztyn and Robert Jensen conducted an experiment in four large, low-performing, low-income Los Angeles high schools whereby eleventh-grade students were offered complimentary access to a popular online SAT prep course. Over 800 students participated. Analysts used two sign-up sheets, which they randomly varied. One told students that their decision to enroll would be public, meaning their classmates would know they signed up; the other told them it would be kept private. The key finding is that, in non-honors courses, sign-up was 11 percentage points lower when students believed others in the class would know whether they agreed to participate, compared to those who were told it would be kept private—suggesting that these adolescents believe there is a social cost to looking smart. In honors classes, there was no difference in sign-up rates under the two conditions. Because students in honors and non-honors classes obviously differ, to help mitigate selection bias, Bursztyn and Jansen then examined results only from students who took two honors classes—some of whom would be sitting in honors classes when they were offered the decision to participate and some of whom would be sitting in non-honors courses. They found that making the decision to enroll "public" rather than private decreases sign up rates by 25 percentage points when the “two-honors-class” students are in one of their non-honors classes. Yet when students are in one of their honors courses, making the decision public increases sign...

It’s been nearly fifty years since the publication of “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” remembered by history simply as “the Moynihan Report” after its author, future United States Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who in 1965 was an assistant labor secretary. The report detailed the decay of the black two-parent family and the concomitant social and economic problems. In this article in Education Next, the first in an entire issue dedicated to the Moynihan Report, Princeton professor Sara McLanahan and Christopher Jencks of Harvard’s Kennedy School ask, “Was Moynihan right? What happens to the children of unmarried mothers?” Note the race-neutral formulation. The authors aren’t attempting to avoid an inflammatory question. Rather, they’re addressing a problem now far more widespread than it was when Moynihan wrote. The rate of unmarried births among whites today is considerably higher than the 1965 rate among blacks, which troubled Moynihan enough to issue his bombshell report. Indeed, an estimated half of all children in the United States live with a single mother at some point before they turn eighteen. This portends many different outcomes, none of them good. The authors cite a recent review of forty-five studies using quasi-experimental methods, which find that growing up apart from one’s father reduces a child’s chances of graduating from high school by about 40 percent. Interestingly, the absence of a biological father has not been shown to affect verbal and math test scores. The disconnect seems to be attributable to another ill effect of a...

EVERYTHING’S BIGGER IN TEXAS EXCEPT FOR SOME STUFF IN CALIFORNIA
At a news conference Monday, Greg Abbott, the Governor-elect of Texas, said that he was disturbed by “the fact that five of the top ten public universities in the country are from California, with none being from Texas.” Abbot asserted that improving the state’s public education would be his top priority, specifically pointing to early childhood education and postsecondary opportunities as areas with room for improvement.

THE LAST NCLB WAIVER EXTENSION OF 2014 GOES TO...
Despite the ongoing legal battles between Governor Bobby Jindal and State Superintendent John White over the use of Common Core-aligned tests, the U.S. Department of Education has granted Louisiana a No Child Left Behind waiver extension. It appears that Jindal’s political stand against standards did little to hurt the state’s chances of receiving an extension.

ANIMAL CRACKERS AND QUADRATIC EQUATIONS
It may come as a surprise, but many preschool students receive less than one minute of math instruction each day. In a new $25 million study funded by the Robin Hood Foundation, researchers will set out to see if introducing a new math intervention in preschool will have long-term effects on graduation rates. The study is based on previous research indicating that early math skills may be the single strongest predictor for high school graduation, and they support other development including verbal and meta-cognitive skills.

WONDER WHO SCHEDULED THIS ONE?
In yet another successful melding of...

Sadly, a change recommended by the Ohio House Education Committee in House Bill 343 that would have eliminated the minimum teacher-salary schedule from state law was removed by the Rules Committee before the legislation reached the full house. The law entrenches the archaic principle that teacher pay should be based on seniority and degrees earned, and most districts’ collective-bargaining agreements still conform to the traditional salary schedule. For instance, each district in Montgomery County, except for one, had a seniority and degrees-earned salary schedule.[1]

There are several good reasons to do away with the traditional salary schedule.  These reasons include: (1) It wrongly assumes that longevity is related to productivity; (2) it falsely assumes that a masters’ degree correlates to productivity; (3) it does not reward teachers who are demonstrably more effective; and (4) it does not differentiate teacher pay based on the conditions of the wider labor market.

Given Ohio policymakers’ reticence to ditch the salary schedule, it’s worth discussing again (see here and here for prior commentary) why the rigid salary schedule shackles schools. In particular, I’d like to deal with the fourth reason mentioned above.

Most will agree that some teachers possess specialized knowledge that may be more valued in the external labor market (i.e., in non-teaching occupations). Consider Miss Jones, a high school math teacher: It is plausible that she could compete for a well-paying job at, say, Battelle. Assuming her school wants to...

The charter school sector in the United States encompasses forty-two states and the District of Columbia, with 6,400 charter schools serving 2.5 million students. More than 1,000 authorizing entities oversee these schools, working under state laws that (ideally) balance the twin goals of school autonomy and accountability for results. This report, produced by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA), examines the quality of those laws. NACSA has identified eight policies that facilitate the development of effective charters, including performance management and replication, default closures, and authorizer sanctions. States are awarded points based on the strength of each of these policies in their charter school laws. Since each state has a unique charter-authorizing landscape, NACSA has divided the states into three groups based on their similarities and then ranked states within each group. The groups are: 1) district authorizing states, 2) states with many authorizers, and 3) states with few authorizers. Ohio—with its 70 authorizers—was placed in group two along with four other states (Indiana, Minnesota, Missouri, and Michigan). NACSA awarded Ohio a score of 18/27, enough to tie for third in its group (along with Missouri). While Ohio earned top marks for its default closure policies and its (relatively new) authorizer sanctions, it received zero points for its charter-renewal standards. More specifically, current law allows “reasonable progress” to be sufficient evidence for an authorizer to renew a charter. This low standard is particularly worrisome given Ohio charter schools’ “documented history of poor performance.” The report also notes...

Cheers to Springfield’s Global Impact STEM Academy, an early college high school which draws students from nearly a dozen districts in its region. The school is prepping to move into a new, larger facility next school year, and is looking to recruit around one hundred new students to help fill it. This is another example of an education option that doesn’t have to divide a community. Instead, all districts with kids in the school can be proud of their students earning college credits while being challenged with a strong STEM curriculum.

Jeers to seemingly unquenchable bias in education reporting.  What do you call a charter school that manages to tick every box in the “wow” column (inner-city location, focus on special-needs students, strong arts program, dazzling tech component, on-target for enrollment, leader with solid school-district credibility, fiscally sound, sponsored by the state, managed by a local nonprofit)? If you’re not biased against charter schools, you call it awesome. If you are, then you call it a product of “divine intervention,” reducing to insignificance the hard work of the dozens of dedicated professionals who created and run it every day.

Cheers to Sciotoville Community School senior Taylor Appling, one of six Scioto County winners of the Honda/OSU Partnership Math Medal Award. Fordham sponsors SCS, and so we applaud Taylor, his teachers, and his school administrators.

Jeers to the persistence of an archaic school transportation model in Ohio. Amid reports of continuing bus driver shortages in Dayton City...

It’s a busy day here at Fordham Columbus, so Gadfly Bites will be brief today. Expect a bumper issue tomorrow, in which we ourselves hope to feature prominently.

  1. The other big news of the day is the fact that the state Board of Education is likely going to vote on the so-called “5 of 8” rule. Yesterday saw some testimony and discussion, which focused on a revised version of the rule which will be submitted to Ohio’s rule-review body if approved by the board today. Here is coverage from the Columbus Dispatch, the Cincinnati Enquirer (which includes what I think is the first hashtag in a headline I’ve ever clipped, in case you’re wondering what’s driving this debate), and the Cleveland Plain Dealer (which includes the text of a resolution passed by Cleveland City Council of all people, urging more time for public input on the issue). Crazy times in Ohio indeed.
     
  2. As if the above pieces (and the others statewide) weren’t enough, editors in Cleveland decided to opine on the “5 of 8” rule as well, urging the board to leave it as is for the sake of poor school districts across the state. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  3. In other news, a local reporter in Marion has decided to take a look at Common Core implementation from an unusual angle for an adult: a desk in a third-grade classroom. That’s right, she’s gone “back to school” to see what an elementary classroom
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If you stop and listen, you can hear it: The country yearning, praying, hoping for some sign that our political leaders can get their acts together and get something done, something constructive that will solve real problems and move the country forward again. In 2001, in the wake of 9/11, that something was the No Child Left Behind Act, which was the umpteenth renewal of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). A reauthorization of the ESEA (on its fiftieth anniversary no less) could play the same role again: showing America that bipartisan governance is possible, even in Washington.

Thankfully, both incoming chairmen of the relevant Senate and House committees—Lamar Alexander and John Kline—have indicated that passing an ESEA reauthorization is job number one. And friends in the Obama administration tell me that Secretary Duncan is ready to roll up his sleeves and get to work on something the president could sign. So far, so good.

So what should a new ESEA entail? And could it both pass Congress and be signed by President Obama? Let me take a crack at something that could.

First, let’s set the context. For at least six years, we at the Fordham Institute have talked about “reform realism” in the context of federal education policy—recommending that Washington’s posture should be reform-minded, but also realistic about what can be accomplished from the shores of the Potomac (and cognizant of how easy it is for good intentions to go awry). While Secretary Duncan gave...

UVA RAPE STORY CONTINUES
In the wake of growing doubt over the authenticity of certain claims lodged in Rolling Stone’s article about campus sexual assault at the University of Virginia, as well as the magazine’s recent acknowledgement that it had “misplaced” its trust in the subject of the piece, national organizations have issued a call for the university to end its sanctions on fraternities and sororities.

PHONING IT IN
Charter authorizers in Washington, D.C. and Massachusetts are using a creative new tactic to test the enrollment strategies of their schools. To ensure that schools are not unfairly turning away special needs students, anonymous callers posing as parents are testing the system. The program is in response to fears that publicly-funded, independently run charters may turn away these students to maintain higher test scores. But the “mystery caller” approach also has its detractors. Last month, Fordham’s own Andy Smarick said that it “could verge on entrapment and/or discourage schools from providing the best advice to families.”

BECAUSE FOUR YEARS OF COLLEGE IS PLENTY
Colleges in North Carolina, Texas, Florida, and Virginia are re-evaluating strategies to ensure students graduate in four years. By capping credit hours at 120 and charging for additional hours taken, students and institutions save money and prevent others from accessing classes needed to graduate. Most students rack up additional courses because they change majors or enroll in “interesting” but not mandatory classes; allowing students to register for multiple semesters at one...

  1. How complicated is school funding in Ohio? According to the legal arguments in this state Supreme Court case pitting a group of local taxpayers vs. their Cincinnati-area school district, very complicated. (Gongwer Ohio)
     
  2. How complicated is verifying student data in Ohio? According to the conflicting responses to a fairly simple question about superintendent sign-offs across the state, very complicated. (Columbus Dispatch)
     
  3. Speaking of school funding, last week there was a flurry of stories about a new study (of oddly mysterious provenance) which showed that students in rural areas around the state had less access to AP classes than their urban and suburban counterparts. This was attributed mainly to funding disparities between rich and poor local tax bases. The Vindicator takes on the same study today (with even less detail about where it comes from), but focuses straight-up on the DeRolph rulings of two decades ago and that good old “thorough and efficient” bugbear. (Youngstown Vindicator)
     
  4. CRPE last week released the results of a survey of “public school choice” parents in a number of cities, including Cleveland. The PD took up the story and focused on affect: more of the surveyed parents in Cleveland believe their schools are getting worse than believe they are improving. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  5. The Beacon Journal also took a look at CRPE’s report and noted, with their usual doggedness, that 83 percent of the Cleveland parents surveyed sent their children to charter schools. Now, it makes sense in
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