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Andy's odyssey: Part two

This series is wrestling with a set of related questions. Is education reform inherently anti-conservative? Are reformers behaving as though it is when it should be informed by conservatism? What have we wrought by stiff-arming conservatism? How might things be better if we sought counsel from conservatism?

One of the most important aspects of this inquiry relates to balancing change and preservation. A National Affairs article by Phillip Wallach and Justus Myers, “The Conservative Governing Disposition,” sheds valuable light on this issue and proves a helpful guide to understanding conservatism’s role in education reform.

The article describes the “conservative governing disposition,” an approach to policymaking that wonks and practitioners alike should understand. It also surfaces three issues that will be a recurring theme in this series.

Conservative governing disposition

The authors distinguish the conservative “disposition” from policy proposals—it’s an approach, not an agenda. It can be seen in the work of giants like Burke, Hume, Madison, Hamilton, Hayek, and de Tocqueville. One scholar described it as more of a “temperament (and) less an articulate philosophy.”

Wallach and Myers write, “Conservatism starts with the premise that social practices, habits, and institutions embody the accumulated wisdom of trial-and-error experience.” So much of what exists is evolutionarily sturdy; it is not here by accident. The authors smartly note, “Dispositional conservatism is sympathetic to complexity.” What progressives might consider messy or byzantine, a conservative would see as full and robust, made so...

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Eva Myrick Chiang

Imagine reading this job advertisement:

WANTED: Credentialed professional with at least a master’s degree to run a school. Will work on average fourteen hours per day or more, six days per week, and be on call twenty-four hours a day most days of the year. Must handle pressure and stress well—oh, and the pay isn’t that great, either.

In many places across the United States, this is the type of workload we demand of our school leaders. Each and every one of our schools desperately needs a talented, competent leader, but what intelligent person would sign up for that job?

It’s time for us to have an extreme makeover in what we expect from our school principals. Traditionally, principals were seen as building managers and disciplinarians. They made sure that the lights were on and that everyone was following the rules. But the role has changed, and the needs of our students demand that we now have visionary instructional leaders running our schools.

This change of roles can be problematic for districts because, well, the lights still need to be turned on, payroll still has to be processed, and buildings still have maintenance issues. That is why we now have to shift our thinking about who is doing what in districts. We have to make the principal’s job more doable, more protected, and more supported so that the job appeals to our most talented professionals. We have to create the district conditions that support effective school leaders so that...

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NOTE: Gadfly Bites is going on vacation from Wednesday, August 6 through Tuesday, August 12.

  1. Governor Kasich has appointed a former Montgomery County judge to fill the final open seat on the State Board of Education. (Dayton Daily News)
  2. Here’s a well-intentioned commentary opining that STEM/technology is good but shouldn’t be sent to the fore at the expense of basics like literacy. But there’s little evidence that the author is concerned about anything more than a few hashtags finding their way into book reports. OMG. (Amherst News Times)
  3. I think this should assuage our Amherst columnist: ODE awarded $45 million in 21st Century Community Learning Center grants to 247 schools and community organizations - 61 of which are new to the five-year-old grant program. These are federal funds to support programs aimed at literacy, career readiness and drop-out prevention. For the first time, applicants were required to propose programs that would focus on literacy skills for K-4 students or literacy in addition to college and career readiness for middle and high school students. Sounds like the right way to go. (Gongwer Ohio)
  4. I didn’t want to include this story – the first hearing for one of the Columbus City Schools principals fighting to keep her job in the wake of the datascrubbing investigations – but the testimony is a pretty fascinating inside look at
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For the last four months, Fordham Ohio has been publishing a daily news and commentary blog. In it, we take a quick look at education news and opinion pieces from media outlets around the state, dig into the content, add our own analysis and commentary, and offer readers a sense of what these stories mean.

It is sometimes irreverent, sometimes serious, hopefully amusing, and always thoughtful. Starting Monday, August 18, you can have the blog delivered directly to your inbox with our new Gadfly Bites email service. Click here  to sign up now.

Here’s a sample of recent clips and commentary:

  • There’s a lot to unpack in this Q&A with the five current members of the Stark County ESC governing board. Why now? Why those three specific questions? Why not ask about career tech, Internet connectivity, or inner city vs. suburban vs. rural education? Why not ask about the powerful effect of demographic changes in Stark County since these long-timers first took office? Two of these folks have been on the governing board since the George H.W. Bush administration. I’m all for “institutional memory,” but are the voters of Stark County really sure that this group is truly representative of their interests? Even a quick read reveals an antiquated mindset mired in the status quo of the late twentieth century, unsuited to the real-world needs of today’s families and students. But that’s just me. (Canton Repository, July 28, 2014)
  • We have featured the SPARK program in these clips
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NOTE: Gadfly Bites is going on vacation from Wednesday, August 6 through Tuesday, August 12.
  1. Guest commentary from Cleveland leads the clips from the weekend. To wit: two opposing viewpoints on charter schools. On the pro side is the new president of the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools. A blogger and former advocate for public education justice for the United Church of Christ takes the con side of the argument. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  2. Sticking with the public common schools for a moment, here’s an update on the “confusion” surrounding the hiring of Norwalk schools’ interim superintendent, as we first told you last week. Sounds a bit less like “the wrong person was hired” and more like a swing vote gone wrong. Or, perhaps, counting one’s chickens before they’re hatched. (Norwalk Reflector)
     
  3. The editorial page editor of the Beacon Journal opines strongly in favor of the Common Core. (Akron Beacon Journal)
     
  4. District superintendents in the New Philadelphia area have their own opinions on the new legislative assault on Common Core in Ohio, as this report illustrates. A representative quote: “…I’d hate to think that a few legislators can completely erase everything we’ve worked for these past few years, with no solid plan of what or how the standards would be replaced.” (New Philadelphia Times Reporter)
     
  5. Some school lunch cooks from districts in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky were at
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Some days, Gadfly Bites just writes itself.

  1. Editors at the Dispatch namecheck Fordham (“which sponsors high-quality charter schools in Ohio”) in their blunt op-ed on the new legislative assault on Common Core in Ohio. (Columbus Dispatch)
     
  2. All Sides with Ann Fisher had an hour long discussion about the new legislative assault on Common Core in Ohio yesterday. All but one person speaking seemed very committed to Ohio’s New Learning Standards. Worth a listen all the way through. (WOSU-FM)
     
  3. Public radio in Cleveland wanted to talk about the new legislative assault on Common Core in Ohio. They found Rep. Stebelton, Chair of the House Education Committee, to talk on the record. And he’s got the most reason to be irritated over the current legislative efforts. Audio is here. (Ideastream)
     
  4. In a slightly different take on the new legislative assault on Common Core in Ohio, a Libertarian candidate for state rep calls the new effort “cynical” but falls back on the previous Common Core repeal bill as the right move, even though that bill’s sponsor now supports his own new bill. Politics is weird. (Gongwer Ohio)
     
  5. As you all know, I’m sick of writing about the Columbus schools’ data scrubbing scandal, but this is one interesting twist. The EdChoice Scholarship’s second application period deadline has been extended for a month (into the start of the school year) due to the revised report cards issued for some schools, making some students eligible who had
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Shaun Dougherty and Michael Gottfried

The discourse around college and career readiness has focused primarily on implementation of the Common Core. Notably absent is much consideration of how those programs might serve the needs of students with less direction or discernment about what career paths may be most productive or in demand. But with the Perkins block grants (with its focus on career and technical education or “CTE”) being among the few programs with hope of being reauthorized by the feds, it’s time to starting paying attention to CTE and the students it could serve. In fact, reauthorization could prove to be critical, as approximately 20 percent of both students with disabilities and students receiving free and reduced-price lunches enroll in three or more CTE courses in high school.

The bill put forth by Senators Portman of Ohio and Kaine and Warner from Virginia seeks to increase the flexibility states have in using funds allocated through block grants to improve CTE programs. This increased autonomy can certainly be a good thing: it allows states to use funds to establish career academies and allows them to expand traditional CTE models to fit specific needs, rather than having to rely on a federally mandated set of guidelines.

While state flexibility is important, so is implementation based on evidence of what works. States will benefit from being able to expand their pool of potential CTE-related investments, but fidelity of implementation remains a key factor. A randomized experiment, for example, has shown that implementation of career academies...

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The possibility that the 113th Congress might yet reauthorize the Institute for Education Sciences (IES)—the House has passed H.R. 4366 and the Senate HELP Committee is cogitating—means it’s time once again to consider the status of the jewel in the IES crown, namely the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

Before this topic elicits a yawn, kindly note that everything you may be trying to accomplish, change, or protect in American education hinges more than you might realize on the integrity of our education-data system, and that this is more vulnerable than you might think. Please do not assume that all is well and will inevitably remain that way.

NCES is today’s version of the first federal education agency, created by Congress in 1867 “for the purpose of collecting such statistics and facts as shall show the condition and progress of education in the several States and Territories….” (For more on the history, see Vance Grant’s excellent four-page summary near the beginning of this useful document.) It was also the second federal statistical agency, eleven more of which followed. Today, NCES is the third largest of them, eclipsed only by Census and Labor Statistics.

The centrality of its role in American education can scarcely be exaggerated. It’s where everybody at every level of policy, analysis, and research goes for data. It’s the home of crucial longitudinal studies. It’s the home of NAEP. It’s the home of almost every education trend line that matters.

It’s not perfect (school-finance data,...

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  1. Some details are lacking here (like how performance is going to be measured and what raises – if any – teachers who are in the lower tiers of performance will get) but this story about the successful negotiation of a performance-based pay scheme for teachers in the Hudson school district could prove instructive for others. (Akron Beacon Journal)
     
  2. All opportunities to take and pass one of the third grade reading assessments have come and gone. The time has now officially arrived for “what next?”. South-Western City schools seems ready, willing, and able to help the 119 third graders not officially moving on to get to full fourth grade status. (ThisWeek News/Grove City Record)
     
  3. In the much-smaller Lorain City Schools, the number of children to be retained due to reading scores is smaller, as may be expected. But perhaps the Third Grade Reading Guarantee is a bigger deal there because the district is – chaffingly, if yesterday’s story is any indication – under the auspices of an Academic Distress Commission. And it is a member of that commission who talks in this piece about the way forward: “The question is, ‘If that didn’t work, what will?’. We don’t want to do what we already did.” Nicely said. (Northern Ohio Morning Journal)
     
  4. Newspaper people are a tenacious lot with a deep love for the traditions of the newsroom and selling papers. Actual printed papers. How else to explain this intriguing story from Northern Ohio about
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The estimable Sara Mead is, as we’ve come to expect, perceptive about what ails today’s preschool options and advocacy campaigns, even as she strives to support (and repair) programs and policies that she knows are flawed. So it is with Head Start, by far the largest early-childhood program in the land, the only really big one that the federal government runs, and one that been in the news lately in part because it’s among the categorical programs that reform-minded Republicans like Congressman Paul Ryan would like to turn over to the states via block-grant funding. Mead wants to change Head Start in major ways but not take it away from Uncle Sam. She remains confident that he’s capable of fixing it and doesn’t have great confidence in the states, though she acknowledges that some state- (and district-) operated preschool programs have stronger results than Head Start and says she would welcome a “pilot program” whereby a few states (after meeting multiple federal requirements!) would gain greater say over their programs.

Setting aside the federalism question and recognizing Mead’s earnest desire to fix Head Start rather than damn its failings, this report still amounts to a devastating critique of those failings in 2014 and of Uncle Sam’s inability so far to set them right.

Mead correctly recalls that Head Start began under LBJ as part of the “war on poverty,” not as a pre-K education program per se. She accurately reports that it was intended to “deliver...

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