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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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BUILDING A BETTER MATH GEEK
Researchers from the Indiana University School of Education are studying what attracts students to STEM fields and, moreover, what keeps them there. While they haven't found a single compelling factor that will predict whether a student will pursue a STEM route, interest and passion have the most staying power and are more often linked with obtaining a STEM degree.

MIND THE GAP
A new report by the New America Foundation helps policy makers visualize where educational inequities exist in communities across the country. The report highlights the deeply fragmented efforts to bridge opportunity gaps, such as building high-quality child care centers and increasing enrollment in distance-learning education programs.

EDUCATION'S WASTED ON THE YOUNG
The United States Census has released new information on how young adults have changed over the last four decades. The report, which features an interactive mapping tool, found that a higher number of young adults now hold a college degree but are more likely to be unemployed and living in poverty. And while today’s bullish jobs report might come as a relief to observers of the economy, those negative trends will take time and work to turn around.

NUTMEG POWER
Earlier this week, an estimated 6,000 Connecticut parents, educators, and advocates gathered in New Haven to rally for better schools. Led by a number of education advocacy groups, the event was meant as a call to action to improve the state’s public and...

  1. School Choice Ohio’s Executive Director Matt Cox penned a terrific editorial piece that ran in the Enquirer today, focusing on the little-reported financial aspects of voucher use in Ohio. (Cincinnati Enquirer)
     
  2. Here’s a fantastic story about the I Know I Can program, whose long-time efforts to link Columbus high school students to college could take a huge leap forward if they achieve their goal of putting a college adviser in every district high school. Laudatory and awesome, but let’s not forget about charter and career tech high schools too!  (Columbus Dispatch)
     
  3. We told you yesterday about the status of Columbus’ parent-trigger pilot – in two months, not a single parent has reached out to the group charged with providing information on options in 20 bottom-of-the-barrel district schools. There was a lot of speculation in that piece as to why this is, and today Dispatch editors put forward their own opinion on the matter.
     
  4. As we mentioned yesterday, charter schools are often criticized for “slick advertising” and “recruiting”, especially when they use state funds to do so. The argument is that school districts can’t do the same. We showed that early college high schools can do it (not charter schools, yes, but not traditional districts either). Today, we see that districts can do it too. Strongsville schools have a PR firm on retainer. Why? The board wants to reach Strongsville residents with a positive message about the schools. Well duh. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
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HOOSIER HAVOC
Following several years of inter-governmental conflict over the direction of education policy in Indiana, Governor Mike Pence has formally called for state lawmakers to elect a replacement for Board of Education Chairwoman Glenda Ritz. “I think the coming legislative session should be (an) education session and we should focus on our kids and teachers and what’s happening in our classrooms in Indiana,” Pence remarked in his announcement. 

THE STUDENT ACHIEMENT METRICS ARE ALWAYS GREENER
Education reformers often find inspiration in the education systems of other countries. However, Dr. Tom Loveless reveals the potential perils in this practice; namely, the trickiness of identifying variables that translate across borders and the dangers of confirmation bias. While these overseas investigations often yield new insights, its important that we be careful in choosing what we take away.

NEW TESTING STIRS DOUBTS IN CALIFORNIA
The 2014–2015 school year marks the first year that the new Common Core- aligned Smarter Balanced tests will be administered to students across the country. Some experts are concerned that the recalibrated Academic Performance Index, which...

  1. With about three weeks until the deadline, not a single Columbus parent has contacted the group responsible for providing information on “parent trigger” options available to them. The Dispatch is attempting to figure out why. There’s a bit of finger pointing and probably too much “us vs. them” here, but the comments are instructive of how choice in general has historically (dis)functioned around here. Check it out and see what you think. (Columbus Dispatch)
     
  2. There’s an undercurrent of “us vs. them” in this piece too. It’s an update on the so-called “5 of 8 rule” under consideration for elimination by the State Board of Education. The story dredges up some previous “us vs. them” stuff from Toledo school history, but I have to say I’m with the small-district supe who supports the elimination of the rule in favor of districts determining their own staffing ratios. He knows that the very real backlash stems from a question of trust between districts and their teachers. (Toledo Blade)
     
  3. A continued bus driver shortage in Dayton City Schools has left routes uncovered, caused kids to be regularly late to school, and made at least one parent pretty upset. I’m imagining that charter school parents in Dayton are having an even rougher time. Can we please find some better way to do school transportation? (Dayton Daily News)
     
  4. Springfield’s Global Impact STEM Academy – an early college high school which draws from nearly a dozen districts – is on
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  • Many, including some of us at Fordham, have argued that under President Obama and Secretary Duncan, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights is running amok on issues like school discipline and access to AP courses. Now it has released guidance that, according to the New York Times, will walk back the Bush-era policy allowing single-sex schools and classrooms. (a policy that was also encouraged by Hillary Clinton). According to the Department of Education’s guidance, schools may still offer these classes, but only if they jump through nine hoops. They must, for example, provide evidence that these classrooms benefit children in a way that mixed-gender ones cannot, offer students both alternatives, and ensure that all parents volunteered their kids for enrollment. Why not just allow it if parents want it?
  • In Pittsburgh, a state statute and local bargaining agreement dictate that teacher layoffs must be based exclusively on seniority. Yet the school district—cognizant of the policy’s many shortcomings—ignored the law and the CBA in favor of keeping a number of highly qualified special-education teachers. The union grieved, an arbiter ruled in its favor, and the district appealed to a higher court. The case isn’t getting Vergara-like attention, but a ruling is expected in the coming week. The district has argued, among other things, that this foolish seniority-based system violates NCLB and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act because it removes effective teachers from students with special needs—arguably the youngsters that need them
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This study examines the quality of school management in different countries and school types and its relationship to student outcomes. The authors constructed an index by averaging across twenty management practices in four areas (operations, monitoring, target setting, and personnel), then surveyed 1,800 principals in eight countries on their adherence to these practices. A broad range of schools ended up in the data set, including traditional government schools, private schools, and autonomous government schools (i.e., schools that receive public funding but have some degree of operational independence, such as charter schools). The authors find that the quality of school management varies significantly across countries, with the United Kingdom, Sweden, Canada, and the United States scoring higher than the other four. High scores on the index are positively correlated with better student outcomes. Yet large disparities in management quality exist within countries across different types of schools, with autonomous public schools faring better than both traditional government schools and private schools. The difference, the authors say, is not the autonomy, but how it’s used. “Having strong accountability of principals to an external governing body and exercising strong leadership through a coherent long-term strategy for the school appear to be two key features that account for a large fraction of the superior management performance of such schools,” they note. From a policy perspective, school management tends to get less attention than teacher quality, class size. or school choice. That may be a mistake. 

SOURCE: Nicholas Bloom, Renata Lemos, Raffaella Sadun, and John...

Research shows that the gap in reading skills between poor and non-poor kids manifests itself earlier than kindergarten and often widens during summer. With that in mind, this new study examines whether a summer reading program for elementary students affects reading comprehension. During the spring and summer of 2013, second and third graders in fifty-nine North Carolina public schools were randomly assigned to treatment and control groups. The former were given six reading comprehension lessons aimed at fostering their engagement with books at home during the summer and were subsequently mailed a book each week—ten total—over the summer months. (Books were matched to students based on their initial reading level and their interests.) Control kids received six math lessons during the same time period and weren’t mailed books. Both groups were asked to send in response cards on which they reported the number of books read and answered a handful of basic questions about them. There are three key findings: One, the treatment group read an additional 1.1 books more over the summer than the control group. Two, there were significant impacts on reading comprehension test scores in the fall for third-grade girls. Although third-grade boys and second graders of both genders showed no gains, the program caused an increase of 7.3 percent of a standard deviation in reading comprehension compared to the control group. That is equivalent to the gain that a typical third-grader makes in 1.4 months. Third, regarding differences within the treatment group, reading more books and...

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