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There’s apprehension in some ed-reform circles that things have gone sideways.

There’s the resistance to Common Core coming from the right and the left. There’s frustration with ESEA waivers. There’s the mess in Newark. There are twelve students demanding Harvard divorce Teach for America.

But each of these is, of course, an anecdote, and “data” is not the plural of “anecdote.” So are these chapters in a larger backlash-to-reform narrative, or are they just well-publicized exceptions to the reform-is-winning rule?

I’ve spent some time going through four recent surveys of the views of the public, educators, parents, and insiders. They offer encouragement to the reform community, though with one important exception. In short, many of today’s most prominent reforms are quite popular, but it looks like folks are perturbed by a meddlesome Uncle Sam. (If you have time, I recommend your taking a gander at the data from Education Next, Phi Delta Kappan, Whiteboard Advisors, and Education Post.)

Consistent with public opinion data going back decades, today’s Americans think their local schools are doing fine, but they think schools in the rest of the nation are seriously troubled. Whether you ask the public or parents, only 1–4 percent believe the nation’s schools deserve an A.

Though people rate their local schools much higher, there’s broad agreement that low-income kids, even in our esteemed local schools, aren’t getting what they need....

  1. The Ohio Department of Education has taken unprecedented steps to combat the “recycling” of closed charter schools, learning in the process, I think, of how many ways there have been to actually do it. One such school in Cincinnati needs a whole new set of board members – to be appointed by ODE – ASAP. (Gongwer Ohio)
     
  2. As if yesterday’s “pig weighing”/ “test-mania” story wasn’t enough, the PD published another one later in the day. This one consists mainly of quotes from emails from local superintendents responding to the first piece. Spoiler alert: overtesting is “an abomination”. Who says journalism is dead? Not me. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  3. Abomination or no, teachers are getting ready to “feed the pig” before they weigh it (to use the North Coast technical terms I learned this week), by which I mean they are prepping for the new PARCC exams. Case in point: Springfield Twp. teachers, who are schooling their students in online document submission and editing ahead of PARCC test administration. (Youngstown Vindicator)
     
  4. Must be the pigs. ODE has gotten wind of what they term “an uproar” on the topic of over testing of students. And so the department has submitted a request to the federal government to exempt certain advanced students from the "double testing" that would otherwise occur under NCLB requirements. I’m sure the request was worded a bit more technically, but in a nutshell: "So can the end-of-course exam in English be used as
  5. ...

Polls of parental attitudes about education can give guidance to those of us researching, dissecting, and commenting on education issues—clueing us in on issues of concern and, more importantly, helping framing those issues in ways which resonate with the general public. Education Post, a newish education-based communications network whose mission is to “cut through the noise” and to foster “straight talk,” published just such a poll earlier this month. As similar efforts have shown, poll respondents (1,800 “school parents” nationwide) feel better about their own children’s education than they do about the “education system” at large. Eighty-four percent of parents were either “very satisfied” or “somewhat satisfied” with their child’s school. But when asked about the education system broadly, 60 percent thought there were “some changes” that needed to be made, while 33 percent thought that the system needed a “complete overhaul.” A mere 3 percent of respondents thought that the system was “fine as is.” When asked about specific changes to improve “the system,” 88 percent supported “higher standards and a more challenging curriculum,” 78 percent supported “expanding the number of charter schools so parents have more options,” 93 percent supported “more accountability for teachers and principals,” and 84 percent supported “teacher evaluations that use test scores, classroom observations, and surveys from parents and students to help teachers improve.” In short, education reformers’ current interests are all namechecked and given support with the polling data. But this latest poll is no more likely to be reformers’ manna...

Isabel Sawhill is the founder of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, an effort from which she draws much of the impetus for her latest book: Generation Unbound. She reviews decades of research and literature to support the notion that “traditional” patterns of education, marriage, and parenting—in that order—are a thing of the past, especially in the lives of low-income individuals. Delayed parenting—one of the pillars of the “success sequence” that some education pundits espouse—is largely nonexistent in impoverished communities, where we fervently believe education can do so much to help break the cycle of poverty. Sawhill notes that these are facts of modern life, like it or not (a traditionalist, she seems not to like them very much). Ideologues on the left argue for more social support for unmarried parents; those on the right for a return to traditional marriage. Sawhill posits a third way—foregrounding the various downsides of single parenthood, providing as much information about and access to long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs) as possible, and even incentivizing their promotion and use. With this “split the difference” approach, sure to be controversial with many, she believes that many young people who would otherwise simply drift into parenthood instead become “planners” who are able to put their own education and stability first before bringing children into the equation. While Sawhill focuses mainly on economic and equity issues in her book, education is never far from the narrative, especially when the topic of young people in poor...

EDUCATION SNAPSHOT
Federally owned schools located on Native American reservations, which serve about 48,000 students nationally, face extreme poverty and lack of resources; they are also marked by low performance scores, with some schools reporting proficiency at 25 percent. The AP’s Kimberly Hefling looks at the sorry state of an under-resourced elementary school on a Navajo reservation, where housing, transportation, and local facilities are in appalling disrepair and scarcity. 

COMMON CORE PUT TO THE TEST
In a recent Washington Post op-ed, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan argues for high-quality standardized testing. Two major state assessment consortia, PARCC and Smarter Balanced, are in the process of evaluating Common Core-aligned assessments, as Education Week’s Catherine Gewertz reports.

DOLLARS AND PENCE
Last week, Governor Mike Pence elected not to apply for a federal grant that might have afforded up to $80 million for Indiana preschools. In a statement justifying the decision, he wrote, “It is important not to allow the lure of federal grant dollars to define our state's mission and programs.” Fordham tackled the issue of Pence’s repudiation of the Common Core standards this spring in the scintillating “Indiana’s Potemkin Standards?”

FRESH CHANGES TO AP COURSES
Looking past the enormous hue and cry surrounding changes to the AP U.S. History curriculum, the College Board is going forward with new content in a bevy of subjects areas. The Hechinger Report ...

  1. Fordham was name-checked as a “reputable” charter school sponsor as editors in Columbus opined on recent stories about the questionable lease deals enjoyed by some Imagine charter schools. (Columbus Dispatch)
     
  2. The story here is likely to be “more charter school shenanigans” as far as charter detractors are concerned, but a few things about this story of a former school leader convicted of fiscal malfeasance stand out to me. First, questionable spending came to light via a tip to the state auditor’s office. This is typical of how these things go with district schools, ESCs, and even student booster clubs. The news is full of them. Second, the tip came in 2013 and was acted upon quickly and decisively. It is over in less than a year, with repayment of funds ordered. Far quicker and simpler than Columbus’ data scrubbing crimes and even some athletic booster misfeasance that has been floating around for two years or more. Third, and perhaps most important, the charter schools in question survived the removal of a leader (good riddance) and seem to be continuing to serve their students as well as or better than the neighborhood schools. Call it shenanigans if you must and call for an end to all charters, but I think this is actually a very positive story of how it should work in any public entity where misfeasance is found. (Cincinnati Enquirer)
     
  3. Keeping with the theme of charter schools for a moment, here’s a story about
  4. ...

MOVEMENT ON BULLYING
A new report by the nonprofit Child Trends reveals that about 70 percent of D.C. Public Schools and D.C. Public Charter Schools enforced anti-bullying policies in line with the 2012 Youth Bullying Prevention Act. The study did not study implementation of the policies in question, and it found that a small number of schools neglected to submit any policy whatsoever.

CASH-FLOW PROBLEMS
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has released data showing that state funding for K–12 education has been cut in thirty of forty-seven states reviewed. Budget cuts are especially evident in regard to talent acquisition, with the widespread dismissal of teachers and support staff. For information on D.C. school spending, check out our new Metro D.C. School Spending Explorer

REDEFINING THE SCHOOL DISTRICT IN TENNESSEE
Chalkbeat Tennessee just launched an interactive page to educate the public on the state’s Achievement School District. The ASD is composed of struggling schools that have been taken over by the state from local districts and grouped into a single, larger entity. Seen by many as a controversial approach to school improvement, similar programs exist in Louisiana and Michigan. For the definitive panorama of district-level reform in Tennessee, stop whatever you're doing and check out Nelson Smith’s seminal 2013 report for Fordham.

WAR OF ATTRITION
In a must-read/long-read Education Next piece, four Mathematica researchers examine the question of whether KIPP's attrition rates may be an important factor...

  1. Fantastic story from The Atlantic today on the newest Cristo Rey High School, which started its second year in Columbus in September in a newly-renovated historic building downtown. Very nice profile here, especially if you’re not familiar with the innovative Cristo Rey model. (The Atlantic)
     
  2. Speaking of schools getting it right, here’s a nice profile of Mansfield schools’ Spanish immersion program. It’s so popular that it is attracting students – and funding – from outside the district. The story is great, the online comments are less so. (Mansfield News Journal)
     
  3. The Reynoldsburg strike is already ancient history for us outsiders after just a week, but there are at least two more districts in Ohio whose teachers are working without contracts and in which negotiations are – thankfully – ongoing. Some good progress, it seems, in Lexington schools yesterday. Earlier stories, searchable from the News Journal’s website, indicate that one of the biggest sticking points here is the district’s current teacher evaluation processes. (Mansfield News Journal)
     
  4. We mentioned earlier this week that it is the season for districts’ 5-year budget forecasts. Mentor City Schools got downright philosophical in their budget presentation: “You can only save a dollar once. Once we cut an expense, we will figure out a way to do without ... but once you have done that you can’t do it again.” There is also an update on the district’s use of their Straight A Fund grant. Hint: MacBooks are involved. (Willoughby
  5. ...

There are many fascinating pieces of information you can gleam from the Fordham Institute’s new Metro D.C. School Spending Explorer website, most especially estimates of per-pupil expenditures at each inside-the-Beltway public school. But did you know that you can also learn about the relative wealth of each school’s attendance zone? Once you get to the site, plug in the name of a school and click on “Household Income.” (See below for an explanation of our methodology.)

I was curious about the wealthiest attendance zones in the area; they are printed below. I just looked at elementary schools, since their zones are smaller. We were not able to do the analysis for the District of Columbia. (Maybe a handful of west-of-the-park D.C. schools would have made the list, but I doubt it, thanks to the preponderance of apartment buildings in their attendance zones.)

The twenty-five richest elementary schools in the Washington suburbs 

(Click here for more information on each school)

...

School

City

Average Neighborhood Income

Students

Per Pupil Expenditures

Carderock Springs Elementary

Bethesda

$244,439.81

368

$12,178.64

Potomac Elementary

Potomac

SCHEDULING AROUND THE "SUMMER SLIP"
It is now generally recognized that the long layoff of summer vacation is a hindrance to knowledge retention (especially for low-income students), sticking kids with months in which to forget what they’d learned the previous school year. So it's gratifying to learn, as Education Week’s Madeline Will reports, that the number of year-round schools in the United States has reached 3,700. With several state-level grant programs helping to prod the switch to a staggered yearly calendar, the practice will hopefully continue to grow.

PELICAN (STATE) BRIEF
On Wednesday, the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled constitutional Act 1, a controversial 2012 bill limiting teacher tenure and empowering superintendents at the expense of local school boards. The ruling was praised by Governor Bobby Jindal and other state officials. "Act 1 gives principals and superintendents freedom from politics to do the right thing for children," said State Education Superintendent John White.

OPTING OUT OF ACCOUNTABILITY
Bellwether Education’s brilliant Anne Hyslop (an occasional Fordhamite) has leapt into the week’s most fervid ed-reform debate: To test, or not to test? In her latest post, she cautions so-called “districts of innovation” (those mobilizing project-based and competency-based learning in the classroom) from opting out of statewide testing in favor of district flexibility.

MUST-READ
The news came this week that John Deasy, superintendent of...

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