The sudden departure of Joshua Starr, superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools, caught many by surprise—including Starr. That’s a depressing sign of a dysfunctional school board, one whose members failed to signal serious concerns with their superintendent, even as recently as last fall’s school board elections.

If the board has any hope of recruiting a talented new leader for MCPS, among the largest districts in the country with more than 153,000 students, it needs to be crystal-clear about the direction it wants the system to take. As an MCPS parent and incorrigible education reformer, let me offer a few suggestions.

First, MCPS needs to recommit to its core mission: dramatically raising student achievement. As Starr’s struggles with the board burst into public view, he made a last-ditch effort to convince its members, and MCPS’s many ardent constituents, of his commitment to narrowing the achievement gaps between poor and minority students and white and Asian students. I don’t doubt his sincerity. But the achievement gap is measured primarily by test scores, and Starr made his...

Joshua Dunn

In “Collective Panic,” Martha Derthick and I argued that teachers’ unions dodged a major blow in Harris v. Quinn (2014) but that they should hold off on popping the champagne.

The court’s decision in Quinn indicated that a prized precedent, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education (1977), might soon be overturned. Under Abood, public sector unions could collect “agency fees” from nonmembers, but those funds could not be used for ideological or political purposes. The logic of Abood was that unless public sector unions could collect those funds by compulsion, nonmembers would “free ride” on the collective bargaining efforts of the unions.

Some have always questioned this logic. It’s not free riding if you never wanted the ride. It’s more like being clubbed in the head, tied up, and thrown in the trunk. Regardless, without the ability to punish these potential free riders, union membership would collapse. As Daniel DiSalvo has noted, “In nearly every state that permits agency fees, more than 90 percent of teachers belong to unions. In states that don’t allow agency fees, only 68 percent of teachers are unionized.” Since agency fees cost nearly as much as a full union membership, individuals see little reason not to join the union. Losing Abood would be a “...

A few weeks ago, I used a graphic to show the four dimensions of federal accountability, each of which has a range of options. I then used this graphic to show the consensus for preserving NCLB testing.

Here I used it to show how eleven major ESEA reauthorization proposals address the other dimensions (remember, minimum federal accountability is on the left; maximum on the right). The total picture is as confusing as subway map.

But when broken down, the graphic reveals three distinct approaches, one of which offers the best chance at reauthorization.

Federal Prescription

Several proposals that appeared in the testing-alone graphic do not appear here because they didn’t take clear positions on the dimensions beyond testing. Of those remaining, four embrace what I call Federal Prescription. Their underlying logic is: If we want states, districts, and schools to get better results, the feds must tell them what to do.

NCLB is current law and represents the most expansive federal role on the table. It mandates and specifies performance targets (100 percent proficiency, Adequate Yearly Progress, etc.); creates mandatory, specified performance categories (“in need of...

According to this Education Resource Strategies report, State Education Agencies (SEAs) possess “a gold mine of untapped material”—vast amounts of school and district data collected annually. This information is currently used for accountability purposes or to inform research and policy, but the report calls for what may be an even more important data deployment to inform local decisions that could potentially help schools make the most of limited resources. For example, Maryville Middle School in Tennessee used value-added performance data on teacher effectiveness to match educator strengths with student needs. The result? Maryville has repeatedly outperformed all other schools in the state on student growth measures

A good example, yet it’s also a fact that raw data alone are not too useful. Helpfully, the report offers several ways in which SEAs can make this information more actionable for local education agencies. They can, for example, create their own analyses providing feedback on allocations of people, time, and money. Such analyses should examine the connection between resources and student achievement so schools and districts can deploy the most effective or relevant resources to the students who need them most.

Besides such sensible (if obvious) recommendations, this report serves to highlight what...

Faced with enormous budgetary shortfalls, the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) opted in May 2013 to close forty-seven schools, one of the largest instances of school closures in U.S. history. CPS then set about relocating more than ten thousand displaced students into higher-performing schools for the 2013–14 year. The district called the schools that absorbed the transplanted pupils “welcoming schools.” The 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., pupil safety and instructional supports). So how did the policy play out? According to University of Chicago analysts, 66 percent of displaced students enrolled in their designated “welcoming school” in fall 2013, while 25 percent attended other neighborhood-based CPS schools, 4 percent enrolled in charters and a similar number in magnets. An analysis of student records indicates that distance from home, building safety concerns, and residential mobility were all significant reasons why one-third of the total went somewhere other than their welcoming school. Interesting, to be sure, but the study does not report anything...

When Governor John Kasich released his proposed budget bill (House Bill 64), it generated immediate buzz in the Ohio education arena. Most of the conversation focused on charter reform and the proposed funding formula. What’s gotten less attention are the policy proposals related to teachers. Here’s a quick look at the most impactful provisions.

Easing requirements for consistently high-performing teachers

HB 64 mandates that by July 2016, the state board must not only define the term “consistently high-performing teacher,” but must also adopt rules to exempt said teachers from completing additional coursework for renewal of their licenses. The provision goes on to also exempt these teachers from any requirements prescribed by professional development committees—committees in local districts that are responsible for determining if coursework and professional development meet state requirements for renewing teacher licenses. This seems like a decent idea for rewarding our best teachers for their talent and hard work, particularly since professional development has a bad reputation and the coursework in education programs is equally questionable. That being said, an inadequate definition from the state board of a consistently high-performing teacher could make this provision troublesome.

Changes to the Ohio Resident Educator...

Right on schedule, district officials, driven by self-interest, are airing their grievances over Governor Kasich’s school-funding proposal. Media outlets are encouraging the “winners and losers” storyline by showing funding increases and decreases for the districts in their areas.

As the policy debate on school funding gets heated—and leaves others “puzzled”—we offer three key points to help clear the air.

Point #1: The amount of overall public funding for districts is often very generous—which would be a surprise to many taxpayers.

To hear some groups tell it, public schools are grossly “underfunded.” But according to the National Center for Education Statistics, Ohio spent $13,063 per student in 2010–11—significantly more than the national average ($11,948 per student).[1] Some Ohio districts spend more than others, of course, reflecting differences in operating conditions, tax bases, and student needs. According to the Ohio Department of Education’s Cupp Report, Ohio school districts spent anywhere from just over $6,000 per student to $20,000 per student in 2012–13. These statistics include all three major streams of public funding for schools—local, state, and federal funds.

Interestingly, surveys find that the public routinely underestimates the amount spent on education. A...

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.


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...