Governance

This report is based on the responses to an online survey conducted in Spring 2013 with 344 school district superintendents (an impressive 56 percent) in Ohio. The survey covered seven education policies, specifically: Common Core State Standards, teacher evaluations, the Third Grade Reading Guarantee, open enrollment, A-to-F ratings for schools and districts, individualized learning (blended learning and credit flexibility), and school choice (charter schools and vouchers). It also included several questions on general attitudes towards school reform in Ohio and two trend items. Download today to discover the key findings and also view a PowerPoint by researcher Steve Farkas of FDR Group.

The Obama administration has shown commitment to evidence-based policies through its Head Start reforms, programs to reduce teen pregnancy, and efforts to boost parenting skills; it is time to show the same commitment for college-readiness programs, argues this policy brief. The brief, which accompanies the latest Future of Children journal issue, argues that the federal government’s major efforts to better prepare disadvantaged pupils for post-secondary education have yielded no rigorous proof of success. Yet we annually pump $1 billion into the so-called “TRIO programs” (Upward Bound, Talent Search, Student Support Services, and a few smaller programs). In order to streamline efforts—and to ensure program efficacy—the brief authors suggest that Congress consolidate all federal spending in this realm into a single competitive-grant program and fund a broad variety of intervention approaches (tutoring, counseling, and instruction) run by an array of proven providers. The long-time recipients of TRIO dollars will naturally hate this reform, but what’s the point of programs that don’t accomplish their objectives? A tough-minded approach might finally narrow the vast college-enrollment gap between the nation’s poorest and richest students.

SOURCE: Ron Haskins and Cecilia Elena Rouse, “Time for Change: A New Federal Strategy to Prepare Disadvantaged Students for College” (Princeton-Brookings, The Future of Children Journal, vol. 23: no. 1, Spring 2013)....

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This revealing back-and-forth with the United States Department of Education is the third and final installment in our testing-consortia series.

“The Department,” like any hulking, beltway-bound federal agency, can seem like a cold, faceless leviathan—this imposing force, issuing impenetrable regulations from a utilitarian, vaguely Soviet, city block–sized building in the shadow of the Capitol.

But those who interact with it regularly, especially those of us fortunate enough to have worked there, know that it is made up of hundreds and hundreds of very fine people.

During my tenure there, I found both the career staff and the political appointees to be knowledgeable public servants and excellent colleagues. While working for a state department of education, I found the Department’s team to be thoughtful, accessible, and accommodating. And in my loyal-opposition think-tank stints, during which I sometimes find myself poking and prodding the Department, they’ve been patient, respectful, but understandably steely adversaries.

I’m appreciative that they took the time to answer these questions so thoroughly, and I’m flabbergasted that they did so at—in terms of agency timelines—Guinness-Book speed.

What would the U.S. Department of Education (ED) like people to know about the testing consortia?

The consortia are designing the next generation of assessment systems, which include diagnostic or formative assessments, not just end-of-the-year summative assessments. Their systems will assess student achievement of standards, student growth, and whether students are on-track to being college and career ready. These new systems will offer significant improvements directly responsive to the wishes of teachers and...

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The Dayton Early College Academy (DECA) is Dayton’s highest performing high school (district or charter). The school is authorized by the Dayton Public Schools and is widely supported across the Dayton region. It partners not only with the Dayton Public Schools but the University of Dayton, Sinclair Community College, and numerous local businesses and philanthropic groups. In fact, when the school launched an elementary campus at the start of this school year more than 300 volunteers worked to clean the school, paint walls, and fix up the 85-year-old-building that now houses DECA prep. These volunteers included inmates from the county jail who volunteered to help.

DECA delivers and Dayton knows it. The numbers help tell the story:

*390 Enrollment

*78.4 Percent economically disadvantaged

*87.9 Percent non-white

*100 Percent of students Percent in Math and Reading on the 10th grade Ohio Graduation Test.

*100 Percent of its graduates (and graduation rate is over 95 percent) are admitted to college and 87 percent make it to their sophomore year.

DECA is a Bronze Medal winner from U.S. News & World Report in its annual ranking of America's Best High Schools in 2012 and 2009. And has been studied widely by, among others, Fordham, Harvard, Great City Colleges of Education, the Gates Foundation and the Center for Secondary School Redesign.

But despite all this success in a city where far too many kids fail academically, DECA’s success is being trashed by the organized-labor funded Join the Future in Columbus because the school requires students to go through an...

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On Monday, we kick off By the Company It Keeps in what I think is an exciting and important way.  (It’s also going to be out of the norm, but more on that below.)

Three very influential organizations working on one of our field’s most important topics participated in a revealing Q&A.

I’ve been writing about the Common Core–aligned testing consortia for some time now, occasionally raising concerns about how things were progressing and what that meant for the future of high-quality assessments and the standards themselves.

Then a couple weeks ago, I wrote a short piece raising the ante, in effect wondering if we had reached a serious turning point. Independently, Checker, reading the same tealeaves, wrote a longer, more detailed piece drawing the same conclusion.

In short, we both suggested that an exodus from the consortia might be on the horizon.

Whether you’re a CCSS supporter or opponent, this should matter to you.  Assessments are an essential part of meaningful standards-and-accountability systems. Their results tell us a whole lot about our schools, districts, teachers, and kids. And they are expensive.

These assessments are particularly important. They are supposed to be aligned with new common standards. They are supposed to be “next generation.” They are supposed to generate data that can be compared across states. They are supposed to give us a true reading on our students’ college- and career-readiness. They are being created by consortia of states. And the federal government has...

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Last month, I asked why schools ignore so many good ideas. Have we not gotten the incentives right? Is it poor leadership? Do we have an ineffective system for disseminating promising practices? Or are superintendents, principals, and educators simply overwhelmed by the avalanche of advice that lands on their desks and in their inboxes? Might there be a way to help them sift the wheat from the chaff, then make good use of the former?

I believe there is. Let me introduce the open-source school district.

Meet the open-source school district
Imagine a virtual school district, charged with developing and constantly updating a strategy for addressing the needs of fictitious students.

Imagine the creation of a virtual school district. It wouldn’t have any actual students, teachers, buses, or facilities, but it would have a school board, a superintendent, and a central-office staff. (The superintendent and staff would be paid real salaries and be housed in a real office; the school board would be made up of various “education experts” or maybe “stakeholders” who, like real school board members, would volunteer their time.) It would be given a demographic profile—say, an inner-ring suburban district of 10,000 with a fair amount of racial and socioeconomic diversity. It would inherit the student achievement results, policies, and practices of a typical district. We’d situate it in an actual...

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Few school systems have embraced the opportunity presented by crisis quite like the one in Reynoldsburg, Ohio. Just five years ago, when the economy collapsed, the Reynoldsburg district was cutting deep into its staff budget and establishing buffers such as a $500 pay-to-play activity fee for families. Exasperated parents fled to neighboring districts, and voters repeatedly rejected the district’s levy requests. Pupil enrollment fell by 10 percent from 2008 to 2012, and once-crowded schools found themselves with extra space.

Reynoldsburg’s leaders responded to hardship with innovation
Reynoldsburg's leaders responded to hardship with innovation

But while many other districts succumbed to hand wringing at similar moments of despair, Reynoldsburg’s leaders responded with innovation. They slashed central-office staff and sent more resources to individual schools, empowering principals with key decision-making authority. They developed “themes” at schools, with a particular focus on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), and they established more charter schools and enhanced school choice throughout the district. Most unusually, they bartered with a community college, a hospital, a preschool, and a dance company to utilize its extra space in ways that benefitted its own students.

But perhaps most importantly, write Ellen Belcher and Terry Ryan in their informative profile of the district for the Fordham Institute, Limitless, Education, the Reynoldsburg Way, the 6,300-student district embraced a much-discussed but seldom-practiced...

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Few school systems have embraced a crisis of opportunity quite like the school system in Reynoldsburg, Ohio. Just five years ago, when the economy collapsed on everyone, the Reynoldsburg district was cutting deep into its staff and establishing buffers such as a $500 pay-to-play activity fee on families. Exasperated parents fled to neighboring districts and voters repeatedly rejected the district’s many levy requests. Pupil enrollment eventually fell by 10 percent from 2008 to 2012, and once crowded schools found themselves with extra space.

But while other suburban school districts succumbed to hand-wringing at such moments of despair, Reynoldsburg responded with innovation. It slashed central office staff and sent more resources to individual schools, empowering principals with key decision-making authority. It developed “themes” at schools with a particular focus on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) and it established more charter schools and enhanced school choice throughout the district. Most unusually, it bartered with a community college, a hospital, a preschool, and a dance company to utilize its extra space in ways that benefitted its own students.

But perhaps most important, write Ellen Belcher and Terry Ryan in their informative profile of the district for the Fordham Institute, Limitless, Education, the Reynoldsburg Way, is the approach the 6,300-student district has taken to school leadership and administration—that of portfolio management. Principals have the authority to design unique academic programs, and they get to make the calls and employ the people that are the right fit for their schools. The superintendent acts...

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Introduction

One of the most exciting developments in American education during the last decade has been the reconceptualization of school districts and how they should be organized and managed. Neerav Kingsland, CEO of New Schools for New Orleans, describes this as a movement of “relinquishers.”¹ Relinquishers, according to Kingsland, are superintendents who use their authority to transfer power away from the central office to individual schools – and, most important, to their principals and teachers.

Education researchers Paul Hill, Christine Campbell, and Betheny Gross at the Center on Reinventing Public Education in Seattle have written for more than a decade about “portfolio school districts.” Like Kingsland’s relinquishers, portfolio school district leaders see their role not as running the schools, but rather as creating the conditions for a “tight-loose” system of school management – “tight” as to results, but “loose” with regard to operations. Superintendents are no longer owner-operators of schools, but rather “quality control agents” for portfolios of different types of schools in their districts.

Portfolio school district managers, according to Hill and his colleagues, think like savvy financial managers who build a diverse portfolio to ensure overall financial success even if parts of the portfolio underperform. A successful portfolio manager:

…avoids betting everything on one investment, knowing that some holdings will perform much better than expected and some much worse. This manager is agnostic as to which companies are represented but knows that diversity is key...
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As the charter movement enters its third decade, it is imperative that policymakers and legislators understand the perspective of those schools that have succeeded in providing their students with a quality education. The charter sector in Ohio is often seen by those outside as a monolith – for better or worse – but Fordham has long known that there are both high-flyers and underachievers. As an organization that focuses on the availability of quality education for Ohio’s children, Fordham feels it is imperative that the lessons of the high-performing charter schools be known above and beyond the “charter sector” as a whole.

As a step in accomplishing this goal, Fordham’s own Terry Ryan has helped form a coalition of high performing charter schools to testify in front of the Senate Finance Committee’s Education Subcommittee. The schools in which these leaders work represent some of the best public schools that Ohio has to offer. While each leader is advocating for their school and telling the story of what success looks like in their cities, they also provide overarching policy recommendations that could help forward the expansion and replication of successful charters including:

  • Supporting the implementation of the Straight-A-Fund
  • Increasing the per pupil facilities funding to charter schools
  • Implementing tougher laws that would lead to the closure of failing charter schools

Below you will find links to the testimonies this coalition have turned in to the Subcommittee.

Andrew Boy, Founder & Executive Director at United Schools Network (USN)

School Profile: ...

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