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The late Don Meredith, beloved color commentator from the glory days of Monday Night Football, liked to break into song when a game hit garbage time, or a big play put the game out of reach. “Turn out the lights!” he would sing in his folksy Texas twang, channeling Willie Nelson. “The party’s over!” Dandy Don’s voice was ringing in my ears as I read a new report from the Educational Testing Service (ETS), America’s Skills Challenge: Millennials and the Future. The publication dares to ask out loud how much longer we can thrive as a nation when a vast segment of our society—Americans between sixteen and thirty-four who will be in the workforce for up to fifty more years—“lack the skills required for higher-level employment and meaningful engagement in our democracy.” Seldom have I read a more depressing report.

“Despite having the highest levels of educational attainment of any previous American generation,” writes ETS’s Center for Global Assessment Director Irwin S. Kirch in the report’s preface, “these young adults on average demonstrate relatively weak skills in literacy, numeracy, and problem solving in technology rich environments compared to their international peers.”

In literacy, U.S. millennials outscore only their peers in Italy and Spain among the twenty-two countries in the report. In numeracy, they rank last. Our best-educated millennials—those with a master’s or research degree—are outperformed by the same cohort in every nation other than Ireland, Poland, and Spain. And it’s...

  1. In what is likely a first, a participant in one of Ohio’s new Standards Review Committees has given an interview to his local newspaper. He is a long-time science teacher in Mansfield, which is likely very good experience for evaluating science standards. But I honestly can’t decide whether he’s defining his mandate too broadly (he seems to be on a vendetta against Common Core, which has nothing to do with Ohio’s homegrown science standards) or too narrowly (“That will be my focus: What is best for the Mansfield community,” he says, as if he wasn’t on a statewide commission). But either way, if you think Ohio consists only of Mansfield and the “affluent suburbs of Columbus”, you might not be the best candidate for the job anyway. (Mansfield News Journal)
     
  2. It’s time for another round of the game I like to call “If This Were a Charter School, the Response Would Be...” An internal audit reveals that the phone system used to route incoming calls for transportation questions and issues in the Columbus City Schools is a giant steaming pile of fail on about every possible front. Message priority, call routing, hold times (“If the caller is kept on hold for 20 minutes without the operator picking up, the system simply hangs up.” Nice.), data tracking, etc. The only good thing in this story is that there was an actual audit that caught these egregious problems. What’s the Transportation Department’s response? They’re going to ask the board
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The Club for Growth is right about a bunch of issues, but they’re wrong about the pending House bill to replace No Child Left Behind with something far better. H.R. 5 (the “Student Success Act”), slated for floor action a few days hence, would, if enacted, be the most conservative federal education move in a quarter century. It has the potential to undo nearly all of the mischievous, dysfunctional, intrusive, big-government features of NCLB and return most education responsibility and authority to states, just as the Tenth Amendment prescribes. Which is, of course, precisely why the bill has come under sustained attack from the left! If right and left team up to kill it, we’ll be left with No Child Left Behind circa 2002, as modified (and made even more mischievous) by the Education Department’s unilateral “waivers.” 

Moreover, states have always had the option—urged yesterday by the Club for Growth as if it were a fresh idea—to “opt completely out of the program.” Any state willing to forego its share of federal education dollars is free to do so—and to exempt itself from all the rules and constraints that accompany those dollars.

States have flirted with this option, and perhaps one will someday actually make such a move, but so far—that means for the last fifty years, inasmuch as NCLB was only the most recent iteration of a 1965 program—none has wanted to decline the money.

Because it’s unlikely that many states ever will, and even less...

  1. I complained last week that Ohio’s whiz-bang Straight-A Day – wherein recipients of innovation fund grants got to show off their tech success to legislators and the public – was covered in the Ohio press with a single boring AP piece that included no pictures at all. The folks at Getting Smart have a far more robust round up of the event with lots of cool project details. Nice to see this get coverage via a bigger platform, but seriously, does no one carry a camera anymore?  (Getting Smart)
     
  2. Evaluation of teachers and classroom practices can take place in lots of ways. Ohio has a new-ish formal process through OTES, but this story is about a “snapshot” style of classroom evaluation in Lorain – a sort of “walk-through diagnostic”. These have been conducted in Lorain middle and high schools for 10 years, says the district superintendent. They are best practices with which he says that principals can “take the pulse” of a classroom and give helpful feedback to both teachers and students to improve the learning environment for everyone. Lorain has been in academic distress and overseen by a distress commission since 2013. And all the adults interviewed hate algebra. Just sayin’. (Northern Ohio Morning Journal)
     
  3. We told you last month about the results of a performance audit conducted in Mansfield City Schools. The State Auditor identified $4.7 million in annual savings opportunities. The district is now formally disputing the audit findings, saying they didn’t
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Cheers to Cardinal Schools in Geauga County. Experts in autism education have deemed the district an exemplar of best practices for inclusion and support. Their “model classrooms” were videotaped in action earlier this month, and the footage will be shared with educators across the state and the country. Of additional note: Cardinal is connected to two district merger proposals that would, if successful, bring their expertise directly to students with autism in three other county districts.

Jeers to the board, administration, and sponsor of Gateway Academy, a charter school in Franklin County. Last week, Ohio Auditor Dave Yost announced that the school’s financial records were “incomplete, unauditable and inexcusable.” Thankfully, annual audits of charter schools are mandated under law in Ohio, and sponsors are held accountable when those audits uncover a mire such as this.

Cheers to wider publicity for the EdChoice Scholarship voucher program, no matter how it happens. Dayton City Schools would rather hold students hostage than let thousands of eligible kids leave with a voucher due to the persistent poor performance of their schools. Fortunately for families, the Dayton Daily News covered the district’s determination in a lot of depth…including a full list of the eligible school buildings, information on the income-based voucher program, and a peek at the private schools accepting voucher students. Excellent publicity for EdChoice, we’d say.

Double cheers to new school models AND Ohio’s Straight-A Fund. While Geauga County dithers and debates over mergers (see above), a new STEM...

  1. Wow. Leave it to State Auditor Dave Yost to have his own incisive take on charter law reform. While the current media narrative is “sponsor-centric” reforms vs. “school-centric” reforms, let’s just say that Yost thinks that neither approach is 100 percent on the mark for him. His work auditing sponsors and investigating schools has led him to the central question of when a charter school is acting as a private organization vs. when they take on a governmental role in educating children. He’ll be advocating for Ohio to define the line between these functions, and he’s got a thing or two to say about monitoring/reporting attendance and online coursework. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  2. PARCC testing in Ohio is likely back on again today in most places as last week’s cold snap – which closed schools for days – ebbs a bit. This gave Toledo Blade columnist Marilou Johanek time to opine somewhat confoundingly on testing, largely from the perspective of her own son. She says he was an “overconfident” test taker in the days of OAAs but that he’s now one with the “stressed-out masses”. You might think that this is because he – and she – perceives the tests to be too hard. But you’d be wrong. She says it’s because “Suddenly, students…who have spent years habitually learning to regurgitate facts to pass tests, are being asked to think critically. They don’t even know what that means. They don’t get the question. Rote memorization is all they
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  1. Editors in Canton agree with Chad today while opining on charter law reforms proposed by Governor Kasich. Well, they really just take one item from his recent House testimony with which they agree, while basically saying the proposals don’t go far enough to suit them. But we’ll take the media hit…and Chad will happily accept the editors’ agreement. Both happen so rarely. (Canton Repository)
     
  2. Meanwhile, editors in Cleveland opine on the governor’s proposed changes to charter school funding, agreeing with no one but themselves. CREDO’s report on charter school quality in Ohio – sponsored by Fordham – is name-checked and linked. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  3. Well, PARCC testing in Ohio – and pretty much everything else – came to a screeching halt when Elsa worked her magic on us, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t Common Core news to talk about. What does it mean to align curriculum to a set of standards? How does that play out in a classroom/school/district? Journalist Chike Erokwu digs into those questions in this thoughtful piece. Spoiler alert: there is art and writing involved, group discussion, a teaching framework from a non-profit organization, and lots of direct input from teachers and administration. The superintendent says the framework he and his staff have created “gives structure to the work that’s going on in the classroom (and) that’s a great thing.” Why yes it is, sir. (Mansfield News Journal)
     
  4. Meanwhile, Governor Kasich has had a few more things to say
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For the first time since No Child Left Behind became law in 2002, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) stands a real chance to be reauthorized by Congress. It’s been at least seven years since it was supposed to be re-upped, and it’s overdue for some changes.

Most encouragingly, the Republican bills introduced to date seem to be designed to strike a balance between promoting parental, local, and state empowerment while also being pragmatic enough to stand a chance of becoming law. They’re still far from the finish line and could be made even stronger in the process. That said, they are a worthy effort and have the potential to improve the federal role in education policy dramatically.

Two chambers, two proposals

House education committee Chairman John Kline’s job is easier because his Student Success Act (SSA) passed out of the full House once before (in July 2013, on a party-line vote), and he can’t be blocked by a Democratic filibuster. He’s already marked up the SSA and plans to send it to the floor and pass it out of the House again in short order.

Senator Alexander, on the other hand, must cobble together a sixty-vote majority if he wants to send a bill to conference committee. He started the journey when he released his Every Student Ready for College or Career Act of 2015, an update of his reauthorization proposal from 2013, in early January. Since then, his HELP committee has held three hearings, and his staff...

  1. It’s been cold and snowy in central Ohio for the last few days, causing traffic slowdowns and other headaches. But what were some local charter school leaders doing in the pre-dawn hours yesterday morning? Not checking to see whether they should cancel school, but instead tearing across town in the snow to get to Columbus City Schools’ facilities office to be first in line to put bids on closed school buildings. While charters getting first crack at buying surplus buildings is a step up from previous years when they were routinely shut out of bidding, I don’t think that the Death Race-style crack-of-dawn jockeying was truly the intent of the state law passed last year that put charters first in line. On a personal note, I’m glad to see my old elementary school appears to be getting a new tenant: one of the highest-rated charters in the city. Congrats. (Columbus Dispatch)
     
  2. In the midst of the aforementioned weather misery, this week has been showtime for the state’s new PARCC tests. How’s it going? The PD’s Patrick O’Donnell gives us the Northeast Ohio perspective in this piece. Approximately 100,000 students had at least started testing as of yesterday and the glitches reported to O’Donnell seem pretty low key to me. Remember Mentor Supe Matt Miller’s gloomy predictions in front of the Senate Education Committee last week? Now he says, “It's not widespread and it's not blocks of kids… It's more isolated incidents.” Today’s record deep freeze will likely be
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  • Politico has a look at Chicago’s fast-approaching mayoral election, in which incumbent Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel faces off against four challengers. Even though he leads his closest opponent, Cook County Commissioner Jesus Garcia, by nearly twenty-five points, Rahm still can’t seem to consolidate the necessary support needed to avoid a runoff. At issue is his sweeping education reform agenda, which has been credited with the closure of a raft of failing schools, the expansion of pre-K to more low-income kids, and a record spike in the high school graduation rate. Teachers’ unions and their backers are having none of it, throwing their support behind Garcia after having gone on an infamous weeklong strike at the beginning of the mayor’s term. Let’s hope Rahm sticks to his guns and broadens the growing network of Democratic figures agitating for reform.
  • The Windy City isn’t the only place handing out more caps and gowns. According to the Wall Street Journal, the U.S. high school graduation rate reached a record 81 percent in 2013. It’s a terrific development, and Education Secretary Arne Duncan lost no time in trumpeting it as “a vital step toward readiness.” If you want to understand the causes of the increase, look no further than a certain oft-badmouthed piece of legislation that’s currently up for renewal: No Child Left Behind and its associated reforms arguably did more than anything else to propel students toward the commencement podium. As Johns Hopkins Professor Robert Balfanz
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