Governance

Editor's note: This post originally appeared in a slightly different form in the Daily News.

Talk about glaciers melting! The high-profile-yet-nearly-immobile education policies and politics of the Empire State may have cracked last week, the result of rapid climate change within New York’s Democratic leadership.

Two changes, actually, both of them dramatic.

The easier one to describe was veteran Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s arrest last Thursday by the FBI on federal corruption charges, accused on multiple counts of using his government position to enrich himself. It’ll take a while for the judicial machinery to clatter and crank.

In the meantime, he has already agreed to temporarily vacate the powerful role that he has occupied and has used to foil, frustrate, delay, and defenestrate many an important education-reform initiative within the state legislature—at least those opposed by the teachers’ unions whose foremost champion he has been.

Whew. Couldn’t have happened to a more deserving fellow.

Silver’s demise would not, in and of itself, cause New York to raise the cap on charter schools, much less enact a tax-credit scholarship program, both hated by the union and its buddies...

Editor's note: This post originally appeared in a slightly different form in the Daily News and City Journal.

Last week, New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña demanded that dozens of New York City’s lowest-performing schools adopt and implement a widely criticized literacy curriculum with which she has long been associated. It was the most recent of a growing list of decisions she has made while running the nation’s largest school system that seem to be based not on empirical evidence, but on the chancellor’s personal preference.

In November, the city unveiled its School Renewal Program, a $150 million plan to turn ninety-four chronically low-performing schools into “community schools.” A concept paper inviting community-based organizations to partner with the New York City Department of Education (DOE) noted the approach “is based on a growing body of evidence” showing that “an integrated focus” on academics, health and social services, and other community supports are “critical to improving student success.”

What growing body of evidence? The paper didn’t say—not even in a footnote. Perhaps because the evidence is scant to nonexistent. New York’s initiative is modeled on a similar program in...

Editor's note: This post originally appeared in a slightly different form at National Review Online.

It has taken liberal school reformers almost no time at all to throw the race card into the debate about reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002.

Eager to retain an expansive federal role, but finding it tough to argue this position on the merits, liberal reformers have rushed to charge that the current effort to dial back the federal role is a thinly veiled attack on minority children.

Perhaps the best example of this phenomenon was provided just the other day by a Daily Beast column penned by Jonah Edelman, CEO of the education advocacy group Stand for Children. Edelman is the scion of two liberal icons: Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, and Peter Edelman, a Clinton administration official who famously resigned to protest welfare reform. Jonah is also a friend and a smart guy, and Stand for Children has done some laudable work.

Unfortunately, that’s what makes his column so notable when it denounces any effort to reduce the federal role as a surrender to the forces of “racism, politics, ignorance, [and] indifference.” Edelman perfectly illustrates...

Financing public education has historically been the joint responsibility of state and local governments. But while traditional districts have long had access to both state and local sources of revenue, nearly all Ohio charter schools tap state funds alone. The reason: Unlike districts, charters do not have the independent authority to levy taxes on local property. Meanwhile, districts have been loath to share local funding with charters. The only exceptions in Ohio are eleven Cleveland charters, which together received $2.2 million in local revenue for 2012–13 as part of a revenue-sharing plan with the district. As a result, Ohio charters operate on less overall taxpayer support than districts.

Despite the stark fact that charters rarely receive local funds, a few groups are mounting attempts to claim that somehow charters receive proceeds from local taxes. Their claims are false. First, state data contradict any proposition that local funding directly flows to charters. Second, while some charters may receive more state aid than districts, on a per-student basis, this difference in state funding is simply a product of the state funding formula. It is not a result of local funds indirectly going to charters, as some have suggested.

The facts are...

Over the course of 2014, a series of reports from the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) spotlighted some serious issues with education schools in Ohio. The Buckeye State boasts performance reports that analyze teacher preparation programs, but these reports merely show how little is expected of candidates prior to their acceptance into a teacher preparation program. Furthermore, Ohio doesn’t have minimum standards or clear consequences for poor programs. NCTQ is right that our teacher preparation programs need to get better in two key ways: improving candidate selection and strengthening teacher training. Here’s how.

Candidate selection

Right now, Ohio sets a low bar for admission into ed schools. Countries with the highest scores on PISA[1]—like Singapore and Finland—restrict admissions into teacher preparation programs to only their best students. In fact, in Finland, becoming a teacher is such a competitive process that only about one in every ten applicants will be accepted to study to become a primary school teacher. This is similar to what Teach For America does: In 2014, more than 50,000 people applied to join TFA, and only 5,300 were admitted—an 11 percent acceptance rate.

The intense screening...

In the past year, Ohio policymakers have turned their attention to strengthening vocational education. Rightly so; too many non-college-bound students exit high school without the skills to enter the workforce. Blue-collar businesses in Ohio, for example, continue to express concerns about the “skills gap”—the mismatch between the technical abilities they need and the actual skills of their workers. But retrofitting vocational education to meet the demands of today’s employers remains a work in progress. As Ohio schools retool vocational education, they should seek examples of those who have accomplished this very task, and a new paper from the Pioneer Institute provides five case studies of technical high schools in Massachusetts that are well worth reading. A common thread emerges: All of the schools are thriving with the support of their local businesses. These companies have advised the schools on program design (e.g., what skills and jobs merit emphasis), and they have driven fundraising efforts. A couple examples are worth highlighting. One technical school worked closely with advanced manufacturing companies in the area to raise half a million dollars to outfit the school with cutting-edge metal working machines. (Previously, the school had provided technical computer skills, but not actual...

Before Christmas, we gave you the rundown of all the media outlets that focused on charter quality and policy thanks to two Fordham-sponsored reports:  Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) report on Charter School Performance in Ohio and Bellwether Education Partners’ The Road to Redemption: Ten Policy Recommendations for Ohio's Charter School Sector. The holidays are over now and we’re nearly a week into the new year and media outlets are still talking about the reports and largely concur on the need to improve Ohio’s charter sector. In case you missed the rash of editorials over the past two weeks, here’s a quick look at what they say:  

On Christmas Eve, Fordham’s Chad Aldis appeared in the Columbus Dispatch with commentary about the relationship between bad law and bad charter schools. He focused first on the results from the CREDO report, which found that Ohio charter students, on average, lose an equivalent of 14 days of learning in reading and 43 days of learning in math relative to their district peers. Chad pointed out that while these numbers are bad in their own right, they are even more appalling when compared to charter...

The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice recently released the latest in its School Survey Series—this installment features data compiled on Ohio’s private schools. Because private schools are less regulated than public schools, there’s a dearth of information available. What does exist is largely demographic in nature or the result of surveys voluntarily completed by school leaders. The Friedman report uses a combination of data from the U.S. Department of Education (survey) and the Ohio Department of Education (demographic), most of it presented in terms of percentages. While there are some differences between the two sets of numbers, no matter how you slice it, the numbers of private schools and students have declined over the years. The annual federal surveys show average enrollment in private schools was 245 students in 2011–12, down from a peak of 272 students in the 1995–96 school year. And the demographic makeup of private schools is shifting as well. From 2005–06 to 2011–12, the number of black private school students increased by 3 percent, while their share of the public school population moved downward—likely a result of the state’s myriad voucher initiatives. In 2014–15, nearly half of Ohio’s private schools are registered to accept...

Reformers understandably fixate on our disputes du jour. They generally have compelling characters and some perceived peril: college kids rattling plastic sabers at TFA, a pair of Pelican State politicians double crossing Common Core, etc.

But of far greater moment is our never-ending uphill struggle against homeostasis, nature’s inclination to slide back to the comfortable equilibrium of the way things have been. Its reverse pull—like gravity, invisible and relentless—is the real danger. Slowly, silently shifting tectonic plates, not fast-moving, thunderous storms, bring down mountains

This is why we should pay close attention to three subtle storylines about to converge.

The first is the exodus of reform-oriented state chiefs. The Race-to-the-Top era made state leaders of prominent reform figures: Deborah Gist in 2009; Chris Cerf, John King, Kevin Huffman, Stefan Pryor, and Hanna Skandera in 2011; John White and Mark Murphy in 2012; Tony Bennett in 2013. They led efforts to create next-generation accountability systems, overhaul tenure and educator evaluation, expand choice, toughen content standards, improve assessments, and more.

But that tide is receding. As Andrew Ujifusa reported, twenty-nine states have changed...

Sadly, a change recommended by the Ohio House Education Committee in House Bill 343 that would have eliminated the minimum teacher-salary schedule from state law was removed by the Rules Committee before the legislation reached the full house. The law entrenches the archaic principle that teacher pay should be based on seniority and degrees earned, and most districts’ collective-bargaining agreements still conform to the traditional salary schedule. For instance, each district in Montgomery County, except for one, had a seniority and degrees-earned salary schedule.[1]

There are several good reasons to do away with the traditional salary schedule.  These reasons include: (1) It wrongly assumes that longevity is related to productivity; (2) it falsely assumes that a masters’ degree correlates to productivity; (3) it does not reward teachers who are demonstrably more effective; and (4) it does not differentiate teacher pay based on the conditions of the wider labor market.

Given Ohio policymakers’ reticence to ditch the salary schedule, it’s worth discussing again (see here and here for prior commentary) why the rigid salary schedule shackles schools. In particular, I’d like to deal with the fourth reason mentioned above....

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