Governance

With all the attention that’s focused on teachers, principals must feel like the neglected stepchild of education reform. Evaluations, tenure, and the lackluster performance of teacher prep programs are all hot reform topics, and there’s no shortage of books and articles that obsess over all things teacher-relate. But what about principals? School leaders are responsible for nearly everything that happens in a school—from creating a positive culture and tracking data to evaluating instruction and hiring (or sometimes firing) the teachers who most affect student outcomes.

Research points to the challenges of recruiting and selecting effective principals. Most principals are chosen from employees who already work for the district. This isn’t a problem per se, except that districts often do a poor job of building skills in and smoothing the transition for those they select. Add to that the other hallmarks of the job, such as high pressure and low compensation, and it’s easy to understand why it’s so hard to find great talent.

This bleak picture begs the question: Is anyone doing it right?

A recent piece in Education Week looks at KIPP's principal training, which boasts “real-world practice” for its participants. One...

Greg Harris

Greg Harris is Ohio state director for StudentsFirst.

Despite fierce efforts to derail the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System midway through its first year of implementation (the 2013–2014 academic year), it survived. Now the results are in, and preliminary analysis suggests that 90 percent of Ohio teachers fared well. More importantly, a cultural shift is underway that is pushing more principals to observe and interact with teachers—and placing far greater emphasis the impact of teachers on kids.

In December 2013, the Ohio Senate unanimously passed SB 229, which sought to exempt teachers rated in the top two categories (“Accomplished” or “Skilled”) from annual evaluations under the new Ohio Teacher Evaluation System (OTES). Proponents argued that by exempting the best teachers, schools could focus their energies on developing less effective teachers.

While the bill was reasonable on its face, a deeper look showed cause for concern. Historically, the vast majority of Ohio teachers had been rated in those top two tiers and would be exempted from evaluation if trends held. This promised a sharp reduction in annual OTES participation.

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Faced with enormous budgetary shortfalls, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) voted in May 2013 to close forty-seven schools, one of the largest waves of school closings in U.S. history. Shortly thereafter, CPS adopted a policy aimed at relocating more than ten thousand displaced students into higher-performing CPS schools for the 2013—14 school year. The district called the schools that absorbed displaced students “welcoming schools.” This policy was supported by research showing that students affected by closure benefit academically if they land in a better school. The welcoming schools were all higher-performing on CPS’s internal measures of performance; they also received additional resources to ease the influx of new students (e.g., student safety and instructional supports). But how did the policy play out? Did displaced students actually enroll in their assigned welcoming school? According to University of Chicago researchers, 66 percent of displaced students enrolled in their welcoming school in fall 2013. Meanwhile, 25 percent of displaced students attended other neighborhood-based CPS schools, while 4 percent attended a charter and 4 percent attended a magnet school. An analysis of student records indicates that distance from home, building safety concerns, and residential mobility were all significant reasons why students did not attend...

Cheers to Cardinal Schools in Geauga County. Experts in autism education have deemed the district an exemplar of best practices for inclusion and support. Their “model classrooms” were videotaped in action earlier this month, and the footage will be shared with educators across the state and the country. Of additional note: Cardinal is connected to two district merger proposals that would, if successful, bring their expertise directly to students with autism in three other county districts.

Jeers to the board, administration, and sponsor of Gateway Academy, a charter school in Franklin County. Last week, Ohio Auditor Dave Yost announced that the school’s financial records were “incomplete, unauditable and inexcusable.” Thankfully, annual audits of charter schools are mandated under law in Ohio, and sponsors are held accountable when those audits uncover a mire such as this.

Cheers to wider publicity for the EdChoice Scholarship voucher program, no matter how it happens. Dayton City Schools would rather hold students hostage than let thousands of eligible kids leave with a voucher due to the persistent poor performance of their schools. Fortunately for families, the Dayton Daily News covered the district’s determination in a lot of depth…including a full list of...

Followers of Fordham’s work know that we are obsessed with charter school quality, both nationally and in our home state of Ohio. We are also a charter school authorizer, responsible for overseeing a portfolio of eleven schools in the Buckeye State—a job we take very seriously.

So when we learned that our colleagues at Ed Trust Midwest were giving charter quality—and especially authorizer quality—a hard look in our neighboring state of Michigan, we took notice.

Its new report, Accountability for All: The Need for Real Charter School Authorizer Accountability in Michigan, is an important contribution. It rightfully focuses on authorizers as the lynchpin of charter quality; they are, after all, the entities that screen and approve new charter schools and then hold them accountable for results (or—as is sometimes the case—do not).

And the group’s ranking of Michigan’s charter school authorizers—based on the test scores of the schools they oversee—is a good conversation starter. (Among big authorizers [thirty-plus schools], four get Bs, one gets a C, and one gets a D.)

Still, I have some quibbles. First, I can’t quite tell if Ed Trust Midwest calculated schools’ growth scores appropriately. The methodology says that schools’ growth was compared to...

Luke Kohlmoos

Recent research has shown that it may be more difficult for teachers of students with certain background characteristics (i.e., low achieving, poor, minority) to score highly on teacher observations. However, Whitehurst, Chingos, and Lindquist’s conclusion in Education Next that we adjust teachers’ observation scores is a disservice to students and teachers alike.

Introducing a score adjustment explicitly lowers the expectations for low-income, minority children. The adjustment Whitehurst describes is based on demographic information which correlates with achievement but does not determine achievement. This is the opposite of what we aspire to as an education system, which is to achieve a system in which the questions of who your parents are, which zip code you were born in, and the color of your skin do not determine how well you perform and how you are treated. What is being communicated is that black and brown children can't have classrooms like white children. If we not only believe that but actually systematize that belief into how we observe classrooms, there is no reason to believe teachers and students will do anything other than meet those lower expectations.

We must ensure that the standards we hold for all students and teachers remain consistently...

An abundance of choice in Milwaukee has led to families leaving the district for charter and private schools. A new study by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) examines the facility challenge the city now faces as a result. The analysis estimates the “utilization rates” of every public school in the city for the 2013–14 year. This is determined by dividing a school’s enrollment by its maximum capacity, defined as twenty-seven students in each regular classroom.

A few key findings:

  • Out of 123 buildings, twenty-seven are operating at below 60 percent capacity; thirteen of those are below 50 percent capacity. Many of these schools are the lowest-performing, most at-risk schools in the city, with declining enrollments and questionable safety. (For instance, they have twice as many 9-1-1 phone calls per student than other public schools.)
  • At least seventeen Milwaukee Public School buildings are vacant, costing taxpayers over $1.6 million since 2012 in utilities alone. They have been empty, on average, for seven years.
  • Eighty percent of the underutilized schools—twenty-two buildings in total—received either an F or a D on their most recent state report card. Moreover, a severe shortage of quality public schools exists in the vicinity of
  • ...

Thank you Chairman Hayes, Vice Chair Brenner, Ranking Member Fedor, and members of the House Education Committee, for allowing me to testify in support of House Bill 2.

My name is Chad Aldis. I am the Vice President for Ohio Policy and Advocacy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a nonprofit research and policy organization with offices in Columbus and Dayton. Worth noting given the subject matter of HB 2, Fordham’s Dayton office is also a charter school sponsor.

I’d like to start by commending the House for taking a leadership role on the issue of charter school reform. Despite bipartisan support for charter schools in much of the nation, they remain a deeply divisive issue in Ohio. My hope is that this bill could start to change that. Early reaction to the bill suggests that bipartisan support is possible. This would be a significant step forward as we work to ensure students are being well served regardless of the type of school that they attend.

Fordham has long focused on the need to improve accountability and performance in all Ohio schools. Last year, seeing an onslaught of troubling stories about charter schools, we commissioned research to learn more...

The biography of teacher evaluation’s time in federal policy might be titled Portentous, Polarizing, and Passing. It had gigantic ripple effects in the states—man, did it cause fights—and, with its all-but-certain termination via ESEA reauthorization, it stayed with us ever so briefly.

Some advocates are demoralized, worried that progress will at best stall and at worst be rolled back. Though I’m a little down that we’re unlikely to see many more states reform educator evaluation systems in the years ahead, I think the feds’ exit makes sense.

This has nothing to do with my general antipathy for this administration or my belief that its Department of Education deserves to have its meddling hands rapped. And while I think Tenth Amendment challenges are justified, I have a different primary motivation.

In short, I think the work of teaching is so extraordinarily complex and teachers are so tightly woven into the fabric of school communities that any attempt by faraway federal officials to tinker with evaluation systems is a fool’s errand. I think we may eventually come to view the Race-to-the-Top and ESEA-flexibility requirements related to assessing teachers as the apotheosis of federal K–12 technocracy.

If you’ve never dug into the details of...

Student learning gains ought to be a component of teacher evaluations. Measures such as value added are a useful and important complement to classroom observations. But not all models are created equal, as illustrated by a new lawsuit in Tennessee that reveals a rather preposterous policy.

Last week, the Volunteer State’s largest teacher union sued the state in federal court over a law that ties student test scores to evaluations of educators who teach such non-core subjects as art, French, and gym. Teachers in Tennessee receive annual scores between one and five, with five being best. Those scores determine all manner of high-stakes administrative decisions affecting teachers, including bonuses, termination, and tenure. Approximately half of the metric is based on classroom observations, the rest on student test scores. For a teacher in a core subject such as math, and in a grade in which students are tested, this model makes sense. The bulk of the test-based portion of her rating is based on how well her students do on the math portions of the state’s standardized tests. That’s rational. A smaller portion, 15 percent, is based on “school-wide” performance—how well all the schools’ students do in all subjects tested....

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