Additional Topics

Retirement plans, much like recurring dreams and fantasy football rosters, are a captivating topic to those directly involved, but pretty much deadening to the rest of us. That’s unfortunate, because the state of our public pensions is a mess that we’re eventually going to have to reckon with. According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, the total budgetary shortfall facing this country’s public-sector retirement systems exceeded $900 billion in FY2012, and teacher-related costs may be the largest single contributor to that figure. The authors of this stark NCTQ report estimate that teacher pensions now account for a half-trillion dollars in unfunded liabilities. A price tag that colossal can be tough to contextualize, but don’t miss the trees for the forest here—this debt is no mere abstraction to the hundreds of districts feeling its squeeze. Metropolises like Chicago and Philadelphia have undergone cataclysmic waves of layoffs, while some smaller districts have been so awash in red ink that they’ve simply been dismantled, leaving both jobless employees and dislocated students in crisis. With the stakes that high, it’s crucial that state officials begin to take steps toward retrenchment, and NCTQ has been issuing calls for responsibility for years. Doing the Math follows close on the heels of prior research, and its remedies are unchanged from earlier iterations: Switch over from defined benefits packages to 401(k)s, allow employees a greater measure of fairness and flexibility in exchange for diminished security, and face up to a realistic appraisal of investment...

A testing renaissance is looming. So say experts Sir Michael Barber and Peter Hill in this comprehensive and timely essay. The latest in a series on what works in education, this paper argues for the need to dramatically alter the way we approach educational assessment. Barber and Hill begin by addressing the purpose of testing broadly, then lay out a compelling case for change, contending that the current K–12 system is broken and that the availability of new technologies provides a unique opportunity for dramatically changing how we think about assessments. Potential benefits of the impending transition to computerized tests include the ability to better assess students’ higher-order thinking; obtain faster, more accurate student results; assess a wider range of student performance; and more effectively use test data to inform classroom instruction and improve student learning. The essay concludes with a “framework for action” offering suggestions for how policymakers and educators can best prepare for the transition. Recommendations include building teacher capacity for next-generation assessments, allowing for local customization of implementation, and establishing clear and consistent communication throughout the assessment transition. While it comes as no surprise to hear testing-giant Pearson singing assessments’ praises, amidst rampant claims of inefficiency and over-testing, a change in thinking in America is long overdue. This spring, millions of students across the country will take next-generation assessments aligned to more rigorous academic standards for the first time. As the authors emphasize, these new computer-based and adaptive tests are designed to measure knowledge and skills required...

  1. It took a few days, but newspaper editors have finally started taking note of the state auditor’s report on charter school attendance. Check out opinion pieces from the Akron Beacon-Journal and the Columbus Dispatch.
     
  2. Academic Standards Review Committees were mandated in state law last year, with members appointed by the Senate, the House, and the Governor. The committees began work yesterday, and the Statehouse is still standing. However, it does appear that a couple of the members are under the mistaken idea they were appointed to the legislature of the state board of education. Weird. (Gongwer Ohio)
     
  3. Administration of PARCC tests is to begin in earnest in Ohio soon. The Ohio Department of Education did a little rollout event yesterday. You can check out the dry – but informative – version of the story, focusing on the rollout event itself in Gongwer Ohio. Or you can go down to the district level – far less dry and with far more skeptical commentators – with the Dayton Daily News.
     
  4. So the state auditor releases a report on charter school attendance and the result is at least 10 stories across the state and the above-noted op-eds so far, all of them baying for immediate action to end the travesty. So, this story about a report on Lorain City Schools (who are already under the aegis of an Academic Distress Commission) should bring the house down right? A student allowed to sleep during class
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CORE EAGLE
Last year, Alabama all-star Mary Scott Hunter was successfully reelected to the state’s board of education. In the wake of her victory, she’s got some free advice for Republican officeholders  looking to set education policy: Don’t demagogue Common Core. “The platform of “No” is no longer enough. We need leaders who are able to articulate policies of upward mobility, accountability, and prudent governance,” she writes. Let’s hope her good sense rolls like a tide over the rest of the country.

GUESS THE STORK TAKES RETURN PASSENGERS
New analysis from Washington, D.C.  chief financial officer confirms what many have long suspected: Once District-dwellers start having kids, they become more likely to leave town. According to tax records, the parents most likely to take their Baby Bjorns to Bethesda are middle-income earners who could likely afford city rents, but are disinclined to entrust their children’s education to the public school system. Of course, nobody knows the urban parent’s dilemma better than Fordham’s own marvelous Michael Petrilli, who literally wrote the book on the subject.

S'NO PROBLEM
Okay, so the big Northeast Snowpocalypse sequel was pretty badly overhyped (we still get to eat all the stockpiled pudding, yes?). It was still worth it to cancel school today: According to this great map from Vox, it can take as much as two feet of accumulation to give some New England kids a day of igloo-building. Meanwhile, New Yorker high schoolers don’t even get a week’s reprieve ...

  1. In case you missed it: Governor Kasich said this about Common Core over the weekend: “It's local schools with local school boards and high standards. I don't know how anybody can disagree with that…” On national television. (Cincinnati Enquirer)
     
  2. In honor of National School Choice Week, one Lima News editor opined strongly against the entrenched status quo of what he calls “government schools”. Not sure how one reconciles that attitude with a support for open enrollment or even charter schools, but it’s a fascinating read nonetheless. (Lima News)
     
  3. Speaking of “government schools”, the local chapter of the NAACP wants Youngstown’s district superintendent out, expressing no confidence in his ability to improve education in the district. Let’s remember that “the government” (i.e. – the Ohio Department of Education) has placed the district under the aegis of an Academic Distress Commission, a review of procedures found the school board micromanaging the district to a damaging degree, and the newspaper’s editorial board literally begged the governor to take over the district entirely. No wonder everyone’s open enrolling in Austintown. (Youngstown Vindicator)
     
  4. In other academic distress commission news, there appears to have been a Q&A between Lorain’s commissioners and district officials yesterday. The article reads like stream of consciousness reporting and is hard to garner much detail from. It is instructive as to what’s going on in schools and classrooms in the district, but probably not in the way that anyone involves thinks it is. Even when
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We look at standardized testing in Ohio, the future of the Straight A Innovation Fund, and more.

Chances are, you’ve heard something in the past year about test mania. Everyone from superintendents to parents to retired educators has an opinion; even Secretary of Education Arne Duncan suggested tests and test prep are dominating schools. Given all this attention, one might assume that students spend hundreds of hours each year taking tests—perhaps even more time than they spend actually learning. A recent report from Ohio Schools’ Superintendent Richard Ross paints a very different picture.

The report, required by state law, reveals that Ohio students spend, on average, almost twenty hours taking standardized tests...

In spring 2013, Ohio policymakers approved a two-year, $250 million investment aimed at spurring innovation in public schools. Known as the Straight A Fund, this competitive grant program has since catalyzed sixty new projects throughout the state, many of which are joint ventures between schools, vocational centers, ESCs, colleges, and businesses.

As a member of the grant advisory committee, I gained a firsthand view of the exciting projects happening around the state, everything from “fab labs” (a computer center outfitted with computer-aided drawing software and 3-D printers), outdoor greenhouses, and robotics workshops. Those who are interested...

Today marks the start of National School Choice Week. Across the country, over 11,000 events will take place from the intimate (school open houses and homeschool how-to sessions) to the enormous (Capitol Rallies across the country); from our own gathering to online events. It is one week of the year during which the focus is on the benefits parents and children gain from having the opportunity to choose the school that best fits their needs.

School choice in Ohio comes in many forms, including public charter schools, private schools (and voucher programs that help needy students pay private...

A standard argument of those who downplay strong results among children in urban charters is that families who are motivated enough to exercise school choice are simply different, and their kids’ success is nearly preordained. This recent paper out of the National Bureau of Economic Research tests this assumption and studies the causal effect of takeover schools on student achievement in New Orleans’s Recovery School District (RSD). Specifically, it looks not at the impact of charter school admissions lotteries on the performance of kids who apply, but rather at the impact on the kids who don’t make a choice to...

If you could redesign a city’s education system from scratch, what would it look like? In New Orleans, a terrible tragedy created the need to do just that. Today, education in the city bears very little resemblance to what existed ten years ago. School types, locations, information systems, and application processes are now almost entirely market-driven to give parents the information they need and the schools they want. The unprecedented landscape change in New Orleans has also given rise to a unique opportunity to study school choice in “revealed preferences”: what schools parents actually choose, and not just what they...

Cheers to State Auditor Dave Yost. Ohio’s Auditor last week released the results of unannounced visits his staff made to thirty charter schools back in October looking to compare reported student enrollment numbers with actual on-site counts. Nearly a quarter of schools showed “unusually high” discrepancies between the two numbers. Some will cry “witch hunt,” but this is really just one more bit of evidence that it’s time to review and revamp (as necessary) Ohio’s charter school laws.

Cheers to Ohio Representative Bill Hayes. In his first interview upon taking...

John Chubb

Editor's note: This is the sixth and final post in our latest blog series by John Chubb, "Building a Better Leader: Lessons from New Principal Leadership Development Programs." See hereherehere, here, and here for prior posts.

This week I summarize what policymakers can learn from alternative leadership development models—and how these programs, and others like them, can be improved upon.

1. States should measure the added value of school principals and of leadership development programs. For all of the commonalities among the exemplar programs examined here, the evidence is a long way from definitive. It is merely the best that can be gleaned from the data now available. Leadership programs could—and should—do a much better job of tracking their graduates to improve their own offerings. But a proper analysis of principal effectiveness requires achievement data and background information on individual students and teachers in the schools that new principals lead. The states make the rules for what data school districts report and what indicators are derived from those data. Leadership programs cannot estimate the effectiveness of their graduates without state cooperation.

Policymakers should therefore require state departments of education to begin estimating the added value that principals bring to their schools. Policymakers should also require public school principals to report where they received their certification and training. This would allow states to estimate not only the effectiveness of each principal, but the effectiveness of the institution or program that trained them. States are already making these calculations for teachers and...

Cheers to State Auditor Dave Yost. Ohio’s Auditor last week released the results of unannounced visits his staff made to thirty charter schools back in October looking to compare reported student enrollment numbers with actual on-site counts. Nearly a quarter of schools showed “unusually high” discrepancies between the two numbers. Some will cry “witch hunt,” but this is really just one more bit of evidence that it’s time to review and revamp (as necessary) Ohio’s charter school laws.

Cheers to Ohio Representative Bill Hayes. In his first interview upon taking the chairmanship of the House Education Committee, Hayes was asked about the prospect of more Common Core repeal efforts in the General Assembly. His response was a study in open-minded fairness on an issue where lightning bolts and flames are expected. He expressed interest in hearing from both sides on the issue, while not equivocating on his position as “a supporter of local control for school districts.”

Jeers to Lorain City Schools’ new Board President Tony DiMacchia. Mr. DiMacchia is a proud native of Lorain and a cheerleader for his district, as you might expect from a school board president. But what message does it send when the leader of one of only two districts under the control of a state Academic Distress Commission demeans charter school quality (and families who choose...

  1. Sorry to have missed this on Friday, but the Cincinnati Enquirer covered the State Auditor’s report on charter school attendance, including a reaction from our own Chad Aldis…and a thoroughly predictable headline. (Cincinnati Enquirer)
     
  2. Editors in Columbus put the charter attendance report in a bit of perspective this weekend while opining on all of the other big-ticket items they feel the state legislature needs to tackle in regard to education this session. Fordham’s recent reports proposing changes to charter law are referenced. (Columbus Dispatch)
     
  3. You can tell a lot by a newspaper headline. This fascinating piece on school funding in Ohio comes with a giant caveat right in the headline. The Ohio Education Policy Institute plays a game of “what if” with property tax millage in districts across the state, determining that there are a number of affluent districts who could show more “effort” in funding themselves. What’s the caveat? These affluent individuals already pay a ton in state income tax which goes to districts not their own. It’s a different way of looking at school funding that will not likely be shared by many other folks. Most especially not by those affluent folks upon whom the exercise rests. (Columbus Dispatch)
     
  4. The Enquirer took a look at the EdChoice Scholarship program over the weekend. Probably not in honor of the start of National School Choice Week (despite what they say), seeing as how they chose to trot out the old saw that the
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  1. In case you missed it, State Auditor Dave Yost yesterday released the results of unannounced visits his staff made to 30 charter schools across the state back in October, looking to compare reported student enrollment numbers with actual on-site counts. Nearly a quarter of schools showed “unusually high” discrepancies between the two numbers. The coverage was predictably screechy and lacking in nuance. Here are three pieces that at least include a response from Fordham’s own Chad Aldis: Gongwer Ohio; WKSU-FM, Kent (along with some other affiliated public radio outlets). The piece from WCBE-FM in Columbus incorporates part of the KSU audio but has a few more reaction quotes.
     
  2. Here is some print coverage of the Auditor’s report, without Chad’s comment, and with varying levels of nuance…and some screeching. These pieces in the Columbus Dispatch , the Dayton Daily News , and the Cleveland Plain Dealer are typical.
     
  3. Less typical was the Beacon Journal, whose headline alone should win some prize (hopefully that isn’t really a thing) for packing in fact, insinuation, and bias while remaining journalistically correct, if a little clunky. (Akron Beacon Journal)
     
  4. However, some nuances did get through in at least two pieces covering the Auditor’s report. First up, the Blade noted – probably sadly – that the Toledo charter schools visited by the auditor “fared well” upon review. What does that mean? In fact 3 of the 4 area charter schools visited by the Auditor’s staff
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