Three cheers for California’s governor, state superintendent, and state board chair, for applying for a waiver from the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (aka No Child Left Behind) that doesn’t kowtow to Washington.

Finally, a state willing to call out the Administration on the illegality of its waiver policy.

While Jerry Brown, Tom Torlakson, and Mike Kirst deserve plenty of criticism for their indifference to education reform—kicking charter supporters off the state board, cozying up to the teacher unions—on this one they deserve nothing but kudos.

In a nine-page request (still in draft form for another month), they ask Arne Duncan to allow California to use its own accountability system, the Academic Performance Index (API), and to scrap AYP. Mimicking language Duncan himself has used, they write:

Unrealistic and ever-increasing performance targets have forced us to label 63 percent of Title I schools and 47 percent of districts receiving Title I funds as needing improvement, and to apply sanctions that do not necessarily lead to improved learning for the students in those schools. This practice has confused the public, demoralized teachers, and tied up funds that could have been more precisely targeted on the schools and districts that...

The Gadfly’s spring line is out!

Janie and Daniela debate designer Kenneth Cole’s foray into education reform and the Department of Education’s CTE overhaul, while Amber examines turnover among charter school principals.

Amber's Research Minute

The State of the NYC Charter School Sector by New York City Charter School Center

The pineapple and the gadfly

Standardized testing, school closures, and a pineapple: Rick and Janie cover it all this week, while Amber wonders whether weighted-student funding made a difference in Hartford after all.

Amber's Research Minute

Funding a Better Education: conclusions from the first three years of student-based budgeting in hartford

Streeeeetching the school dollar

Mike and Adam talk space shuttles, vouchers, and how districts can make the most of tight budgets on this week’s podcast, while Amber explains what special ed looks like in the Bay State.

Amber's Research Minute

Review of Special Education in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts - Download the PDF

The Education Gadfly Podstagram

Will Mitt take on ed? Is Jindal gutting public schools? The podcast has answers. Plus, Janie provides the inside scoop on state accountability and Amber analyzes school shoppers in Detroit.

Amber's Research Minute

Understanding School Shoppers in Detroit

Six years and still buzzin'

On the podcast’s iron anniversary, Rick and Mike reflect on the highs and lows of education policy since 2006. Rick also provides a glimpse into the future (of the Common Core) while Amber explains what exactly can be learned from charter school management organizations.

Amber's Research Minute

Learning from Charter School Management Organizations: Strategies for Student Behavior and Teacher Coaching

Arne Duncan may be excited about the potential of his School Improvement Grant (SIG) initiative to turn around our nation’s lowest-performing schools, but the folks at the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) aren’t convinced. This qualitative report from CRPE examines the progress of Washington State’s SIG-funded school districts between December 2009 and June 2011. (More background on SIG here.) Forty-four interviews at the school, district, and state levels five months after SIG implementation began reveal signs of incremental changes in schools, but no sweeping shifts in achievement or culture. According to the report, the hindrances to bold reforms were timing, communication, and an aversion to risk taking. SIG’s constricted timeline (just two months between program announcement and application due date) negatively impacted the initial SIG application, the planning phase, negotiations with unions, and the hiring process, thus impairing implementation. Additionally, vague communication from districts left schools unaware of the SIG program’s expectations. Finally, most of the schools that did adopt changes opted for the least disruptive interventions (replacing the school leader only, rather than the whole staff, for example). To spur more fundamental reform, CRPE...

The phrase “gateway drug” took on new meaning last week, as California became the first state to officially apply for a waiver from the federal mandate that school grounds all be “safe and drug free” zones. After further investigation, the Gladfly discovered that hundreds of school districts across the state are keen to open in-school cannabis dispensaries as a fundraising strategy. One So-Cal principal, who helped draft the state’s waiver application, agreed to talk with us so long as we didn’t use his “government name” in our publication. “Listen, man, we’re just livin’ here. L-i-v-i-n’. No need to ask so many questions.” He hopes to reverse his school’s shrinking budget by making a nostalgia-infused pitch to medicinal-marijuana cardholders throughout the state: “It’ll be just like high school again. But legal. And you won’t have to play dodgeball in gym class or dissect worms. Ya brah, get at this.” Thus far, the U.S. Department of Education has only released a short statement in response:

Leave it to California…Whatever our final decision, remember that we certainly have the ability to award such a waiver should we choose to and we definitely don’t need Congress’s permission. Nah nah nah nah nah...

School-turnaround efforts aren’t new. But—thanks in large part to the feds’ latest round of school-improvement grants (SIG) and this week’s CEP report on the program—they’ve recently garnered much press. Unfortunately, precious little is known about whether these efforts (federally funded or not) affect actual student achievement. That research dearth is slowly shrinking. A longitudinal evaluation of Chicago’s turnaround efforts in thirty-six schools between 1997 and 2010 offers good news for the school-turnaround believer. The study, conducted by UChicago’s Consortium on Chicago School Research and the American Institutes for Research, found that, while turnaround results were slow to develop, they were dramatic four years after interventions began—at least at the elementary level: Targeted elementary schools closed the test-score gap between themselves and the system average by half in reading and by almost two-thirds in math. (Researchers were unable to analyze test scores at the high school level, so evaluated attendance and ninth-grade readiness instead; they reported no real improvements for turnaround schools in either.) We’ve long harbored doubts about the efficacy of turnarounds, but this report bangs a slight crack in our cynicism—at least for initiatives...

  • Arne Duncan was only missing a "Mission Accomplished" banner on Monday when he announced that the Administration’s School Improvement Grants program is succeeding. CEP's latest reports find that state officials tend to agree (expect a full review in two weeks) and Duncan's data are certainly encouraging, but it is far too early (and potentially costly) to suspend skepticism of a $3 billion program that still shares many traits with a "black hole."
  • The nation's graduation rate edged upwards by 3.5 percentage points from 2001 to 2009 according to a new report released by the Alliance for Excellent Education, America’s Promise Alliance, Civic Enterprises, and the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins. An encouraging statistic—assuming that the recent boom in credit recovery programs doesn’t mean that many of those diplomas aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.
  • A new survey of teachers brings both good and bad tidings for the Common Core State Standards Initiative. Bad news first: More than 1 in 5 teachers have never even heard of the standards. The good news? Only 22 percent report feeling "very prepared"
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