Governance

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....

Ohio Gadfly readers won’t be surprised to know that we were thrilled to see Governor John Kasich strongly endorse charter school reforms that are similar to those we proposed in December—and have been seeking for years before that. We were particularly encouraged that governor wants to combine significantly stronger charter school oversight with greater funding for high-performing schools. His is exactly the right equation.

That’s because lax quality control and paltry funding are the underlying causes of Ohio’s relatively weak charter sector. Quality has lagged in large part because Ohio charter law too vaguely defines the powers and responsibilities of each actor in the charter-governing system. It also treats charters as second-class public schools. They receive less overall taxpayer funding and garner scant facilities support.

Kasich’s solution is to tie greater consequences and incentives to the state’s new Quality Sponsor Practices Review (QSPR). In particular, he would empower the Ohio Department of Education to shut down sponsors (i.e., authorizers) that receive low ratings on the QSPR; meanwhile, he would make charters overseen by high-ranking sponsors (yes, including Fordham) eligible for $25 million in additional facilities funding.

So what is the QSPR? Developed over several years, it is based on...

Cheers to State Representatives Mike Dovilla and Kristina Roegner. They are the sponsors of House Bill 2, a high-priority bill introduced early in the 131st General Assembly that would remedy long-neglected deficiencies in Ohio’s charter school law, including in transparency, sponsor/school relationships, board roles, and accountability.

Cheers to Governor John Kasich, whose FY 2016–17 state budget also includes important charter school reforms, especially in the area of sponsor quality (which you can read about elsewhere in this issue of Ohio Gadfly). While there are incentives being proffered for achieving higher quality, it should not be overlooked just how much the bar is being raised in Ohio. If the governor is successful, sponsors and schools who fail to reach the mark will not just miss out on incentives; they will be out of the education business.

Jeers to the drawing of false battle lines. Walnut Township Schools in rural Fairfield County is heading for a fiscal abyss. They must cut nearly a million dollars from their budget by February 10 or risk being placed under fiscal emergency by the state. At an emergency board meeting on February 4, a budget-cutting plan was unanimously approved, which still...

2009 it ain’t.

Back in those heady days, the new president, fresh off a comfortable electoral victory and with congressional majorities as far as the eye could see, had the power to drive the agenda. Though Capitol Hill’s budget process was broken, with the electorate behind him and congressional allies to spare, President Obama’s budget submission had to be taken seriously.

Today, the president possesses platinum-level lame-duck status. He’s in the homestretch of his tenure, his approval rating hasn’t hit 50 percent in nearly two years, and Republicans have significant congressional majorities.

It is through this lens that we should view the Obama administration’s FY2016 budget request, released yesterday. Given today’s political conditions, the education request is actually quite savvy. It retreats where necessary, digs in where possible, and has an eye on history. There are plenty of good summaries of the education request as a whole and descriptions of specific line items. But here’s how I’m seeing the ask:

Concessions

For six years, the Obama administration, breaking with generations of practice, gave every indication that it saw few limits to the role of the federal government in primary...

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Princess Lyles and Dan Clark, the executive director and lead organizer of the school-choice group Democracy Builders, argue that states and/or authorizers should require charter schools to “back-fill” their “empty seats” when they lose students to attrition. This is a terrible idea.

Their argument in favor of requiring charters to backfill is twofold. First, they say it’s unfair to compare schools that backfill to those that don’t, because those that don’t (like Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academies*) almost certainly end up with a more motivated, higher-performing population over time as weaker, less engaged students depart for less challenging environments. It’s especially unfair, they say, if the comparisons are made on proficiency rates—the percentage of students passing state tests—instead of individual student growth. (I agree that such comparisons are unfair. More on that below.)

Second, they argue that, by not backfilling seats, schools like Success Academy are limiting opportunity. As a result of this policy, parents only have a shot at getting their kids into schools at designated entry points (like kindergarten or sixth grade). If families lose the charter school lottery for those specific grades, they are...

Governor Kasich released his FY 16-17 biennial budget today. True to his word, Kasich featured charter school reforms prominently, with a focus on  improving sponsor quality, eliminating conflicts of interest, and addressing some of the funding inequities that plague charter schools.

“Governor Kasich has proposed some bold reforms that could significantly improve Ohio’s charter school sector,” said Chad L. Aldis, Vice President for Ohio Policy and Advocacy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. “While facility funding and opening the door to sharing local dollars will dominate the headlines, it would be a mistake to overlook the innovative sponsor reforms being put forward.”

Sponsors are the entities in Ohio responsible for overseeing charter school performance. The budget would ensure that all sponsors are:

  • Subject to the state’s newly implemented sponsor evaluation system
  • Accountable to the department of education
  • Closed immediately for poor operation
  • Prohibited from selling services to schools that they sponsor, and
  • Incentivized for being a high quality authorizer.

“By ensuring proper oversight of Ohio charter school sponsors and aligning incentives with performance, Governor Kasich is placing Ohio’s charter sector on a new and better path.”

Kasich’s proposed reforms join those offered last week in House Bill

...

In spring 2013, Ohio policymakers approved a two-year, $250 million investment aimed at spurring innovation in public schools. Known as the Straight A Fund, this competitive grant program has since catalyzed sixty new projects throughout the state, many of which are joint ventures between schools, vocational centers, ESCs, colleges, and businesses.

As a member of the grant advisory committee, I gained a firsthand view of the exciting projects happening around the state, everything from “fab labs” (a computer center outfitted with computer-aided drawing software and 3-D printers), outdoor greenhouses, and robotics workshops. Those who are interested in these projects should plan to attend this conference in Columbus on February 5.

In the upcoming legislative session, lawmakers should continue to invest in innovation by reauthorizing the Straight A Fund. At the same time, the legislature should also consider a few alterations that could give an even stronger boost to the most innovative project ideas. The suggestions are as follows:

Remove the cost-reduction mandate.

A small provision in the Straight A legislation required grantees to show “verifiable, credible, and permanent” cost reductions that would result from the grant. As a result, applications were evaluated significantly on...

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...

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