Digital Learning

GadflyIn the latest dust-up over the Common Core, the inclusion of some (arguably) violent, war-themed picture books in New York City’s third-grade English curriculum has some whining that the recommended texts were not vetted properly—and, predictably, claiming that implementation is moving too fast. For straight talk, check out this week’s Education Gadfly Show podcast.

A national database called inBloom that warehouses millions of students’ personal information for school districts has a slightly unfortunate side business: selling realistic-but-fake student data to application developers. According to inBloom, the two sides of its operation are strictly separate—but that hasn’t stopped parent listservs from exploding with the rage of a thousand mothers.

Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal found that more than 10 percent of New York City’s principals did not issue a single teacher an “unsatisfactory” grade (the city uses a pass/fail system for reviewing job performance). While this may seem like bad news, flip that number around and notice that nearly 90 percent did. For comparison, consider that, according to Education Week, 98 percent of Michigan’s teachers and 97 percent of Florida’s were rated effective or better—and those are states that recently revamped their evaluation systems. New York City is a cage-busting leader in ferreting out bad teachers. Note, too, that if and when personnel decisions are truly devolved to school principals,...

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There is tension inherent in being a conservative education reformer.

On the one hand, I’m a strident advocate for grand change. For example, my book is about ridding ourselves of traditional urban school districts. I strongly support charters and vouchers. I believe in overhauling teacher evaluation systems and much of the policy architecture they undergird (preparation, credentialing, compensation, tenure, etc.). I’ve written recently about my growing belief that SEAs are outdated.

There is often invisible but incalculable value in institutions and practices that have survived the test of time.

I firmly believe that these reforms are in the best interest of kids, especially disadvantaged boys and girls.  But I suspect these views get encouragement from my right-of-center worldview: that government programs are generally clumsy and expensive and often have regrettable and far-reaching unintended consequences; that it’s wise to hold entities accountable for achieving results by using measurable performance indicators that inform consequences; and that markets are generally efficient, nimble, and responsive to consumer needs and create space for the kinds of entrepreneurial activity that generate continuous improvement.

But the other half of my conservatism means I generally believe in preserving things that have been around for a while. As I wrote in this piece about prudent school-closure policies, there is often invisible but incalculable value in institutions and practices that have survived the test of time.

Even if they seem weathered on the outside, below their surfaces can dwell vast, unseen virtues. And like the roots...

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Yesterday was the first day of public testimony on Governor Kasich’s budget proposal before the Ohio House Finance Primary and Secondary Education Committee. Terry submitted testimony on behalf of the Fordham Institute, as did Students First and others.  Following is a good recap from Gongwer News Service:

Terry Ryan, vice-president for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, offered support for the budget, saying the funding offered through the formula would outpace that of almost every other comparable state in FY 14. He also offered suggestions for use in the budget or as the subjects of future legislation.

Firstly, he said all dollars should follow students to the schools they actually attend, but funding is still stuck in categorical programs and flows to the district but not necessarily the building attended.

Mr. Ryan also called for annual academic return on investment reporting for all public schools, both districts and charters. "Just as some districts are more productive than others so are some schools and these should be acknowledged and better understood," he said.

More mandates related to regulations, laws and contract should be eliminated if they force funds to be spent in certain ways in all schools regardless of student characteristics. He said the flexibilities of the Cleveland Plan should be expanded to all districts.

Like the administration, Mr. Ryan said the state should move away from hold harmless provisions and guarantees "that provide funding to districts for phantom students."...

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When then-Governor Ted Strickland issued his Evidence-Based Model (EBM) of school funding reform in 2009 we engaged Professor Paul Hill to provide an analysis of the proposals. We couldn’t think of anyone better to do the work than Professor Hill. His credentials are impeccable. He is founder and recently retired director of the University of Washington’s Center on Reinventing Public Education, and a former Senior Fellow at Brookings and RAND. Further, Professor Hill has roots in Ohio as a graduate of Ohio State University. He also has family in Dayton.
 
Professor Hill’s analysis of Strickland’s plan was largely informed by the research project he led, Facing the Future: Financing Productive Schools. That six-year effort, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, was the most comprehensive study of its kind ever conducted. It concluded that America’s public-school finance systems are burdened by rules and narrow policies that hold local officials accountable for compliance but not for results. Facing the Future was the work of more than 40 economists, lawyers, financial specialists, and education policy makers. It included more than 30 separate studies, including in-depth looks at Ohio, North Carolina, Texas, and Washington.
 
Based on findings and recommendations from Facing the Future we asked Professor Hill to develop a “crosswalk” between the key findings of that seminal report and the policy recommendations in the Strickland’s Plan. Professor Hill’s analysis of Governor Strickland’s EBM was not kind. It stated bluntly, “Though Governor Ted...

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Stanford, Swarthmore, and Princeton may have nothing to fear in the near term, but why should anybody pay $50,000 per annum for four years at Drexel, Willamette, Xavier, or Birmingham Southern if, for a few hundred dollars per course, they can accumulate a degree's worth of college credits by studying on line and then taking a test? Why, for that matter, pay $12–15,000 a year to second-tier state schools? Such questions inevitably follow from the American Council on Education's announcement that it has begun to validate online courses ("MOOCs"), delivered via Coursera, as deserving of degree credit, provided those taking such courses also submit to an "identity-verified" and proctored (but online) exam (see here and here). This is not really a surprise, considering that the ACE has been validating workforce-based learning in similar fashion for decades. But the online version has immense potential to grow, to reward initiative, and to save a bunch of money. All that's really needed now is an entrepreneurial college that is prepared to apply such credits toward its diplomas. And if not the whole diploma, how about half? Two years "on campus" is a lot cheaper than four. Is high school next?

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At last week’s "virtual town hall" meeting to unveil his school funding and reform plan, Governor Kasich asked me to share what I thought was most exciting about his plan. I almost jumped out of my chair with excitement, and responded:“The Straight A Innovation Fund is incredibly exciting…You're going to be freeing people up, and I think there's a lot of untapped energy out in the field that's waiting to, in effect, take charge and take control of the opportunities.”

The Straight A Innovation Fund is incredibly exciting…You're going to be freeing people up, and I think there's a lot of untapped energy

It was hard to believe that an Ohio governor was actually proposing to create an innovation fund and that it would distribute real money: $100 million in FY2014 and $200 million in FY2015. The idea of an innovation fund for reform in Ohio is something the Fordham Institute, Ohio Grantmakers Forum (OGF),[1] and other reformers have been urging since at least 2008. For example, in the OGF report Beyond Tinkering: Creating Real Opportunities for Today’s Learners and for Generation of Ohioans to Come[2], issued in early 2009 and the result of months of input from philanthropy around the state, the first recommendation called for creating “Ohio Innovation Zones and an Incentive Fund.” Specifically, the report called for “an Incentive Fund to seed transformative educational innovation, support and scale up of successful educational enterprises, and build a strong culture to support these activities in local communities and throughout the state’s system of public education.”

 Further, Beyond Tinkering argued that...

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  • Kilgour School in Mount Lookout is creating an after-school app development class for their elementary school students, giving the students one more reason to ask their parents for a smartphone.
  • Governor Kasich unveiled his education reform plan, detailing new funding schemes to distribute state dollars and initiatives that incentivize innovation. Superintendents seem optimistic toward the new plan but eagerly await the specific details for their districts.
  • Analysts say that introducing income-based eligibility to the voucher program will allow 1.8 million elementary and secondary students to qualify for tax-funded tuition to private schools.
  • In an effort to improve academics ahead of the new Ohio standards, Cincinnati Public Schools will expand all of its high schools to teach 7th-12th graders. In this new model, students will be able to start taking pre-algebra as early as seventh grade.
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The NYT turns in a piece about TFA, recruiting, and today’s underwhelming job market. This quote from a recent recruit will certainly stir the passions: “It wasn’t until I was desperate that I said ‘I’ll check this out.’” My Bellwether colleague Andy Eduwonk weighs in thoughtfully here. The bigger question, I think, is this: Given the great need for drastic change in our urban school systems, are TFA and the other ed-reform human-capital providers sustaining or disrupting the establishment?

I argue in the Urban School System of the Future that we need to replace big-city districts because they will never produce the results we need. This tragic piece about the mess in Detroit gives another reason for replacement: Many of these districts (possibly including Philadelphia) are on the brink of dissolution due to financial and other pressures. We need to have a Plan B should these systems break down; better yet, we should carefully choreograph their exit so we get ahead of these impending crashes.

MOOCs are all the rage now in higher education (check out this WJS piece). They seem to have countless benefits. The problem is that the technology has gotten far ahead of policy and practice. These upsides and downsides are coming to K–12. Get up to speed with this great column by Checker Finn.

Education-reform commissions like this one in NY seem to come and go, and with few deviations, they typically amount to little (I...

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In the biggest non-surprise of 2012, the U.S. Department of Education rejected California’s request for an ESEA waiver after the Golden State refused to play by Arne Duncan’s rules (i.e., agreeing to the conditions he demanded) in return for greater flexibility. The next move is California’s—do we smell a lawsuit?

In Italy, where job prospects for the young are few and far between, the possibility of landing a rare teaching gig at a public school set off a frenzied rush of applicants. Their Education Ministry has not held certification exams since 1999 (citing budget concerns), opting instead to fill “vacancies with temporary hires, making aspiring teachers and unions furious.” This certainly puts our own problems in perspective.

Education leaders panicking over the Common Core’s shift to online assessments should print out, highlight, underline, and memorize this recent publication from Digital Learning Now!, the third in a series aimed at preparing schools for the Common Core and personalized digital learning. The paper provides two sets of recommendations: one for state and districts making the shift to Common Core and one for the state testing consortia building the assessments.

In a month characterized by tragedy and loss, the Foundation for Child Development provides us with a breath of fresh air: Child well-being, despite rising poverty, is up more than 5 percent since 2001. The improvements were “driven primarily by the children themselves”: They are less likely to do drugs or become parents themselves, and their educational...

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Before we know it, the idyllic, tree-lined university campus with its stately brick buildings, grand lecture halls, and manicured lawns may become a relic of the past. What may prompt the demise of the traditional university? Massive open online courses, or MOOCs.

Whether (and when) this will actually happen was precisely the question at a recent seminar, hosted by The Ohio State University’s Harvey Goldberg Center. It was evident that MOOCs have some in the ivory towers spooked, for two reasons: One, they’re free—and how does one compete against free? Two, elite universities are kickstarting MOOCs. Coursera, of which OSU is a participant, is affiliated with top-notch universities like Stanford and Duke. MOOCs are also catching on in Europe as well. So, unlike for-profit online providers of education, such as the University of Phoenix, MOOCs are both free and linked to prestigious institutions.

Despite the upside to MOOCs, as they’re currently designed, it’s far from inevitable that they’ll outflank the traditional university any time soon. They don’t yet grant credit or degrees, and they certainly don’t field football teams. But, it’s clear they have the potential to send the traditional model of higher education into the artifact bin—especially if higher-ed costs continue to balloon.

MOOCs could put an end to the traditional K-12 education model as well. As currently designed, MOOCs could be used in upper grade levels. Gifted students or students with a particular, niche interest could take these online courses and receive credit for them....

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