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The big news in this report from the Education Commission of the States is that fourteen states “require teacher candidates to demonstrate knowledge of the science of reading instruction on a stand-alone assessment” before getting a license to teach. But that overlooks an even bigger story: Thirty-six states license elementary school teachers without making them prove they can teach kids to read. In the immortal words of John McEnroe, you cannot be serious. Let’s try a little thought exercise. Imagine you’re in charge of licensing elementary school teachers in your state. What would be the very first requirement you’d put in place as a barrier to licensure?  Mine would be, “No shirt, no shoes, no certification.” (Pants too. And yes, every day). But number two would definitely be that, if you want to teach elementary school, you have to prove you can teach kids how to read. “Rather than relying entirely on interventions for struggling readers, some states have begun to emphasize the need for all elementary school teachers to possess the necessary skills to effectively teach reading,” the report notes (wait, they’ve just begun doing this?). Access to highly qualified teachers “provides students with the equivalent of a constant specialist” (you mean a teacher?) thereby “ensuring that struggling readers are identified and supported as quickly as possible” (but…but…hasn’t that always been, like, the most important part of the job!?). In fairness, many states may include teacher-candidate assessments that include reading mixed in with other subjects. But given the time and energy that has gone into...

Ah, January is upon us: The wind is howling, the thermometer is plummeting, and we are greeted by the nineteenth consecutive edition of Quality Counts, Education Week’s compilation of mostly useful data, analysis, rankings, and commentaries. The best thing about QC is its focus on states, which both enables state leaders to view external gauges of their own performance and compare it with other states and also—especially valuable today—reminds everyone that states remain the central players in matters of K–12 education quality. The analysts and authors of QC keep fussing with the variables, metrics, and weightings by which they grade state performance. This year, the variables that made the cut are sorted into three buckets, two of them focused on processes, practices, and inputs. Only the achievement bucket focuses on outcomes. Along the way, some issues of key interest to education reformers—most conspicuously school accountability, teacher quality, and choice—have vanished from the QC calculus. The most troubling element of the new QC, however, is the editors’ handling of this year’s focus topic, namely preschool. They’ve climbed onto the “preschool for everybody” bandwagon, which is not a good place to be. This climb-aboard is most obvious in QC’s rankings and ratings of states, where all the metrics deal with participation rates by the state’s children in preschool, Head Start, and kindergarten. To the analysts’ credit, they avoid the input-centric...

Editor's note: This post originally appeared in a slightly different form at National Review Online.

It has taken liberal school reformers almost no time at all to throw the race card into the debate about reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002.

Eager to retain an expansive federal role, but finding it tough to argue this position on the merits, liberal reformers have rushed to charge that the current effort to dial back the federal role is a thinly veiled attack on minority children.

Perhaps the best example of this phenomenon was provided just the other day by a Daily Beast column penned by Jonah Edelman, CEO of the education advocacy group Stand for Children. Edelman is the scion of two liberal icons: Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, and Peter Edelman, a Clinton administration official who famously resigned to protest welfare reform. Jonah is also a friend and a smart guy, and Stand for Children has done some laudable work.

Unfortunately, that’s what makes his column so notable when it denounces any effort to reduce the federal role as a surrender to the forces of “racism, politics, ignorance, [and] indifference.” Edelman perfectly illustrates the problems with liberal-flavored school reform and its hollow calls for “bipartisanship.”

In the piece, Edelman denounces efforts to shed some of No Child Left Behind’s more onerous and unworkable provisions as a “threat” to “your kids’ future.” He then recounts a parade of horribles from the last century. “Linda...

Ohio’s Quality Counts Rating – Poverty Gap Change

In Monday’s post, we examined the achievement gains Ohio has made on the NAEP exams from 2003 to 2013. Needless to say, Ohio’s gains were not all that impressive. In this post, I look at how Ohio fares along the “poverty-gap closing” measure used in EdWeek’s Quality Counts report. (This metric is the difference in NAEP achievement between low- and high-income students—and how that gap has changed over time.) The achievement gap between poor and well-off children is substantial across the entire nation, Ohio included, and thus minimizing the differences in achievement levels is a worthwhile policy objective (preferably, by lifting the achievement of poor students, not through reductions in wealthy-students’ performance). The chart below displays the “poverty gap” trend in Ohio, along with several other states: four other Midwestern states, the four most-populous states, and the national average. Among these states, Ohio had the largest increase in the achievement gap; its gap grew 3.3 points from 2003 to 2013. The state also ranked near the bottom nationally on this indicator—38th in the nation, taken as an average of its math and reading ranks. Meanwhile, New York was the U.S. leader in achievement-gap closing during this time period, shearing off 5.2 points in its gap between low- and high-income students. Ohio has a growing achievement gap between its poor and wealthy students, and in fact, one of the worst achievement-gap trends in the nation.

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Monday afternoon, a Washington, D.C., metro rail train stopped in a tunnel not far from a major station, and the car began filling with smoke. Soon the lights went off and, though many passengers were struggling to breathe, they were told by metro employees to stay put. A spokesman for first responders disputes the timeline, but the Washington Post spoke with passengers who said they were waiting as much as an hour before help arrived. The paper also quotes a fire department spokesman who admitted that, even once they arrived on the scene, "firefighters did not immediately enter the tunnel to help the riders because they were not sure whether the subway’s electrified third rail had been deactivated."

All told, one woman lost her life and eighty-four were hospitalized. In the coming weeks and months we will learn more about how this happened, whether the response was adequate, and whether the accident and subsequent loss of life could have been prevented.

To many riders, accidents like this are not surprising. A 2009 train collision killed nine people. There are also years’ worth of examples documented by bloggers, everyday riders, and journalists of seldom-enforced rules, sloppy workmanship, and bafflingly onerous collectively bargained work rules that sacrifice quality and safety in the interest of other union priorities.

To top it off, system leadership will often downplay the problems to make it seem like everything is under control. A post from Cato's Walter Olson after...

  1. A little quiet in terms of education news today. The Ohio House named the new Education Committee Chair earlier this week. He is Rep. Bill Hayes of Pataskala. While he discusses possible charter school reform efforts in this interview with journalist Ben Lanka, the main topic is Common Core. The new Ed Chair says he knows for certain that repeal efforts will begin again in the legislature and that he, for one, looks forward to the debate. In terms of where he himself stands, he offers that he is “a supporter of local control for school districts.” This is good news, obviously, as the hours of testimony from district teachers and superintendents and elected board members the House heard in 2013 and 2014 was clear in its overwhelming support for Common Core. (Mansfield News Journal)
     
  2. Cafeteria Boot Camp is back for a second year in the Southwest Ohio/Indiana/Kentucky area. A number of schools – public and private – are sending food service staff members to a Cook for America-sponsored cooking lessons and engaging in a year-long consultancy to improve the quality of school food. (Cincinnati Enquirer)
     
  3. Lorain City Schools has a new board president. He is, as you might expect, quite a cheerleader for his district. He is fairly candid about the long term financial woes (he himself was cut from the teaching staff during a reduction in force) that landed them under state fiscal oversight. He is also fairly candid about the long term
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Last week, I explained the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (a.k.a. No Child Left Behind) in a single table:

Now that Senator Alexander, chairman of the HELP Committee, has released a draft bill, let’s take a look at where it stands on these various issues (items that moved are in bold):

In brief, most of my “yellow” items went to red—as in, they got left on the cutting room floor. Just testing in science and a version of School Improvement Grants made it to the “green” territory.[1] And most intriguingly, annual testing—the star of the current debate—stays in yellow thanks to Alexander’s equivocation on the issue. (He included two options in his bill—either keep the current annual testing requirements or let states propose something that is similar in spirit.)

To be sure, this is just the opening bid. Conservatives will aim to shrink the green list, and liberals will aim to grow it. What’s still not known is where the president’s “red line” may fall. Stay tuned!




[1] As several readers noted, the School Improvement Grants program is officially gone, though the bill does include a large state set-aside for school improvement activities. 

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THE DRAFT BILL IS HERE...ALMOST
Reporters are gathering details on Senator Lamar Alexander’s much-awaited draft bill for reauthorization of No Child Left Behind. The bill is more than 400 pages long and outlines two roads for standardized testing: A Choose Your Own (Testing) Adventure or “stick with the assessment language we pretty much already have,” note the Politics K–12 duo.

WALKER: TESTING RANGER
Education Week’s excellent State Edwatch blog has an in-depth examination of Wisconsin Republicans’ new state education plan, called for by Governor Scott Walker during last year’s reelection campaign, which would convert persistently failing public schools into charter schools. Also included in the legislation is a proposal to grant broad leeway to public, charter, and private schools to select from a menu of competing standardized tests.

BOARD TO DEATH
American University’s WAMU takes a look at the responsibilities of charter board members in Washington, D.C., a city in which nearly half of all children attend charter schools. Carrie Irvin, head of a nonprofit that seeks to train the volunteer board members, says that the duties of the position can be demanding: "Serving on a public charter school board is not 'I’ll show up twice a year, vote like the guy next to me because he looks smart and put it on my resume.’ It’s a serious leadership responsibility."

INTEGRATION AND THE ACHIEVEMENT GAP
The Supreme Court will be hearing a case next week concerning disparate impact of housing policies on racial...

  1. As you may know, it was a big day for Ohioans yesterday. A time when winners really got to celebrate. That’s right: inauguration day for a host of our elected officials. One of those being sworn in for a second term was State Auditor Dave Yost. In his inauguration speech, he promised continued (yes, continued) diligence in ferreting out problems in the state’s charter school sector. "We audit every charter school now…,” he reminded those folks who think this is not the case. “I think there's some things that need to be addressed. There's multiple ways of doing it and that debate will unfold and I'll be part of it over the next few months." Nice. (Gongwer Ohio)
     
  2. But that wasn’t the only big news in Ohio yesterday. There was also a nailbiter to which all eyes were glued, with supporters on both sides rooting for their favorites and following every twist and turn as it happened. That’s right: the election of a new president and vice president of the state board of education. For the record, it was Gunlock and Elshoff, two board vets, FTW. The Dispatch’s version of the story focuses on appointed vs. elected members vying for the top posts. The Plain Dealer’s version of the story focuses on the party affiliation of the contestants, those who nominated them, and those who voted for them.
     
  3. And let’s not forget about the big day that rookies had yesterday. Newbies getting their first taste
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The president may have stiffed the French at the big solidarity rally that many other world leaders attended over the weekend, but when it comes to domestic policy, he is in love with the universe—and universality.

First, of course, came universal health care. But it was followed in short order by his plea for universal preschool education and, last week, for universal community-college education. All free, of course, at least for the consumer. (Not, obviously, for the taxpayer.)

In health care, there’s at least a rational basis for demanding universal insurance coverage: to apply the “savings” from healthy people who don’t need medical care to subsidize the care of those who need lots of it. (Social Security and Medicare run the same way, except their “do get” and “don’t get” populations are demarcated explicitly by age rather than health status.)

In education, though, the trade-offs tucked into universality are more insidious—and actually harmful to authentic “need lots” people, while conferring taxpayer-financed windfalls on the “don’t need” population.

Most American four-year-olds and many three-year-olds already take part in preschool of some kind, and a great many of their parents have figured out how to pay for it with the help of employers, local school systems, private philanthropy, and others. Many other little kids are satisfactorily looked after by family members and caregivers in their own homes. And lots of them enter kindergarten ready to succeed there. Children like these do not need a “universal” program. For their families, it’s just...

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