Additional Topics

Maryland’s demanding new Kindergarten Readiness Assessment was administered statewide for the first time this year. Its results are revealing and sobering, to put it mildly. Many states don’t even check in any systematic way on their children’s readiness for kindergarten, and in previous years, Maryland used metrics based on modest expectations, outdated standards, and feel-good politics.

With the leadership of State Superintendent Lillian Lowery and Assistant Superintendent Rolf Grafwallner, Maryland has brought a new sense of reality to the skills that five-year-olds ought to possess if they’re truly prepared to succeed in kindergarten and the early grades. These span four domains, two of them cognitive (language, math), plus physical wellbeing (motor development, hygiene, etc.) and what they term “social foundations” (self-control, for example).

The assessment is individually administered by kindergarten teachers and was given this year to all of the Old Line State’s sixty-seven thousand kindergartners. The results are sorted into three bands, politely labeled “demonstrating readiness,” “developing readiness,” and “emerging readiness.” But only the first of these means actually ready to succeed in kindergarten—and slightly fewer than half of Maryland’s entering kindergartners met that standard.

Which is to say that more than half are not ready. This report candidly...

I liked Grant Wiggins more than just about anyone with whom I disagreed so much. On several occasions, he’d write something about teaching or curriculum I vehemently disagreed with, or vice versa. A sharply worded blog comment or tweet would follow. Then, invariably, there would be an email. Often lots of them. Nothing remarkable there; arguments begun in one venue often spill over into others. But what I came to value about those exchanges with Wiggins, who passed away suddenly and unexpectedly last week at age 64, is that they weren’t an attempt to win an argument or a convert. If you disagreed with him—if you looked at the same evidence and came to a different conclusion—he had to know why. 

Wiggins, the author of the influential curriculum planning guide Understanding by Design, held to his beliefs tightly and argued them passionately. He would never have embraced the label of education reformer—far from it—but he resisted the facile view of the education world as an “us versus them” proposition. He was adamant that instructional practices he railed against—dry lectures; activities divorced from big ideas and important skills; dutiful marches through content to be covered—were not a product of “reform,” but...

Lindsey Graham, the senior senator from South Carolina, joined the presidential race this week. He’s currently competing against eight other Republicans for the party’s nomination—a number that promises to grow as the year goes on. He’s also the subject of the thirteenth installment of the Eduwatch 2016 series chronicling presidential candidates’ stances on education issues.

Graham has served in the Senate since 2003. Before that, he was a four-term representative in the House and served one term in the state legislature. This, however, is his first time running for the White House. Over his long political tenure, he’s said much about education. Here are some of his views:

1. Common Core (2014): “The Obama administration has effectively bribed and coerced states into adopting Common Core....Blanket education standards should not be a prerequisite for federal funding. In order to have a competitive application for some federal grants and flexibility waivers, states have to adopt Common Core. This is simply not the way the Obama administration should be handling education policy.” February 2014.

2. Common Core (2013): “What's Common Core?...I'll address it. I don't know what it is. Sounds like a bad idea. I'll tell my staff, and I'll try...

  1. In case you missed it, editors in Columbus opined yesterday in favor of charter school operators opening their books for scrutiny of public dollars spent. They also opined on the possibility of merging the three charter law reform bills currently under discussion in the legislature, saying, “Lawmakers should end the era of charter-school mediocrity in Ohio by keeping the strongest elements among the three proposals and allowing real school choice to blossom.” Nice. (Columbus Dispatch, 6/2/15)
  2. Here is a list (and mini bios) of the nine candidates who have applied for the Interim Superintendent position in Youngstown City Schools. Not a bad list really. The all-lower-case headline makes it read almost like modern poetry. Good luck to everyone, and may the person with the most intestinal fortitude win. (Youngstown Vindicator, 6/2/15)

    A roundup of news from Columbus City Schools over the last week requires liberal use of the number “0”:
  3. Installing wifi in all district buildings by the end of the 2015-16 school year will cost $4,600,000. You’d think this would indicate the district is flush with cash despite the 2013 levy defeat, but fear not: this is federal money they’re planning on using.
  4. ...

Martin O’Malley, the former governor of Maryland, announced over the weekend that he’ll be running for president. He’s only the third Democrat to announce, joining Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in a comparatively shallow race (the Republicans, on the other hand, already have nine confirmed candidates). He’s also the subject of the twelfth installment of the Eduwatch 2016 series chronicling presidential candidates’ stances on education issues.

O’Malley has been in politics most of his adult life. He helped on campaigns in his twenties, ran for state senate, got elected to the Baltimore City Council, served as the mayor of Baltimore for two terms, and was the Old Line State’s governor for eight years. During that time, he’s made education a priority—so much so that, according to his gubernatorial staff, he was “widely considered to be the ‘education governor.’” Here’re some quotes:

1. Common Core: “Our goal moving forward is to build the best public school system in not just America, but in the world. That's why we're choosing to adopt the Common Core standards, new curricula that will prepare our kids to be winners in a global economy, which is growing more knowledge-based by the day.” August...

  1. Heavy charter school issue today. First up, a leftover from last week which discusses a pending legislative proposal to allow high-performing charter schools access to facilities funding statewide for the first time. Folks in Cleveland are concerned that the “high-performing” criteria applies to sponsors and not to individual schools. Meaning that a high-performing school in the portfolio of a low-performing sponsor would be unable to access facilities funding as the law is currently written. It’s a good question, and an important debate in the ongoing efforts to reform charter law in Ohio: sponsor-centric provisions vs. school-centric provisions. Fordham is name-checked here as one of only two sponsors in Ohio recently rated in the highest, “exemplary” category of sponsors by the Ohio Department of Education. Just sayin’. (Cleveland Plain Dealer, 5/29/15)
  2. Of course not everyone thinks Fordham is the bomb when it comes to charter sponsorship. The Beacon Journal had no less than four stories this weekend about the history of charter school audits in Ohio. 15 years of audits are scrutinized in the series. Part one is a summary of the most egregious findings over the years. Fordham shows up on the Top 10 list for findings
  3. ...

Lots to cover today. Let’s get to it.

  1. Fordham’s Kathryn Mullen Upton shared her views on the state of charter school governing boards in EdWeek, and it’s fascinating, important stuff. Those views are hard won through years of hands-on experience in Ohio. She opines that a lack of expertise among board members on critical issues of governance is often found amid “meltdowns”. As I might have expected, this piece does a pretty serious handwave over elected school boards. Loyal readers of Gadfly Bites will note any number of recent examples of losers (or worse) being voted in to board seats and staying in despite demonstrated incompetence, neglect, dereliction, and even criminality. But perhaps that’s not politically correct to point out, as Governor Kasich has said. (EdWeek, 5/28/15)
  2. Fordham’s Chad Aldis is also in the news this week, commenting on Ohio Senate testimony in which some charter school advocates sought to carve out exceptions to stringent new restrictions proposed for sponsors. It is not exactly a spoiler to say that Chad’s not a fan of said exceptions. (Columbus Dispatch, 5/28/15)
  3. Not to belabor the point, but here’s another take on the state of play in charter
  4. ...
  • Like raucous pep rallies, autumn school-supply binges, and despising every page of Ethan Frome, there’s something comfortingly banal about multiple choice tests. But there have always been doubts about the benefits of having kids choose between four potential antonyms for “circumscribe.” As a corrective, the Common Core-aligned PARCC and Smarter Balanced tests feature sections devoted to “performance tasks”—longer, in-depth assignments designed to evaluate strategic and critical thinking. The new approach combines a short classroom activity with complex individual components, such as argumentative essays or multi-step math problems. While advocates claim that the exercises give a fuller picture of students’ mastery over the material, some teachers lament lost instructional time and fret about the difficulties of implementation. We’ll know which side was right later this year, when Fordham releases its review of the next-generation assessments; until then, it’s usually safe to fill in “All of the above.”
  • In life, unlike in multiple choice exams, the correct answer isn’t always presented as part of a menu of options. You either know the quadratic formula or you don’t; either you can make a persuasive argument or you can’t. It is therefore critical to teach kids valuable skills for their future lives, and
  • ...

The National Center for Education Statistics released the fourth study in a series designed to evaluate high school students’ transition to postsecondary education. The primary focus of the report is a nationally representative sample of roughly fifteen thousand students whom researchers surveyed three times: in 2002, when the students were high school sophomores; in 2006, two years after graduation; and again in 2012, eight years after graduation. Researchers also obtained high school transcripts and, if applicable, at least one postsecondary transcript for every member of the cohort, and disaggregated the data by a variety of factors, including demographics, parent education level, and the number of remedial undergraduate courses taken.

The most compelling findings reconfirmed the stark but all-too-familiar achievement gap. If a student was white or Asian, grew up in a two-parent home, had educated parents, or belonged to one of the top three socioeconomic quartiles, that student was more likely than their less advantaged peers to enroll in a postsecondary program of some kind, more likely to earn better grades, less likely to require remedial classes, more likely to graduate, and more likely to earn a bachelor’s or master’s degree instead of an associate’s degree...

In the age of college- and career-ready standards, the education reform community is finally jumping on the career and technical education (CTE) bandwagon—and with good reason. As Mike Petrilli recently noted, “The best CTE programs, like Career Academies, tend to do a better job with both career skills and academic skills, and create a glide path for students into postsecondary education of the technical variety. Long-term outcomes are very promising, especially for low-income students and African American boys.” But what makes a good CTE program, and how can we ensure that students are benefiting from them?

Reading Visher and Stern’s policy brief is a good place to start. The authors meticulously describe existing CTE programs across the country, focusing on two approaches to CTE: systemic approaches and discrete programs. The former are usually state-driven, less rigid, partner-focused (typically with colleges and communities), and reach a large number of students. Examples are Linked Learning and California Partnership Academies. The latter are usually school-based, such as Career Academies and small schools of choice in New York City

CTE has the benefit of being the “both/and” of education reform: It can be for both college and career, and for all students....