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 offers recommendations for players at each level: The feds should make SIG more competitive and allow time for a planning phase as part of the application process; states should clearly communicate the program’s goals to districts and schools; districts should open a turnaround-specific office to work with schools; and schools...

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 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 that are given multiple years to gain traction.

Marisa de lat Torre, Elaine Allensworth, Sanja Jagesic, James Sebastian, and Michael Salmonowicz, Turning Around Low-Performing Schools in Chicago (Chicago: Consortium on Chicago School Research, February 2012)....

  • 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" to teach to them. Bear with us: That’s a positive because it means teachers know they have more to learn before their Common Core-aligned lessons are ready for prime time—and might be getting the message that these standards represent a real step up from what they’ve been using to date.
  • ...

Two weeks ago, when the House Education and the Workforce
committee marked-up
two major ESEA reauthorization bills, Democrats and their allies screamed
bloody murder. Ranking member (and former chairman) George Miller called
the bills
“radical” and “highly partisan” and said they would “turn the
clock back decades on equity and accountability.” A coalition of civil rights,
education reform, and business groups said
they amounted to a “rollback” of No Child Left Behind.

Barack Obama
Perhaps Rep. Miller and his allies are "conservatives" on education after all.
Photo by George Miller.

Miller put forward his own
which most of the self-same groups quickly endorsed,
and which, Miller argues,
“eliminate inflexible and outdated provisions of No Child Left Behind and
requires states and [districts] to adopt strong but flexible and achievable
standards, assessments, and accountability reforms.”

So let’s see how Miller and company do at “eliminating
inflexible and outdated provisions of NCLB” and requiring “strong but flexible”
accountability systems. The package…

  • Requires
    states to expect “all” students to eventually reach college and
    . (Didn’t we learn
  • ...

March (ESEA) Madness?

Mike and the Heritage Foundation’s Lindsey Burke step outside to debate the place of climate science in standards and whether John Kline’s ESEA proposals stand a chance, while Amber looks at the relative merits of a four-day school week.

Amber's Research Minute

Does Shortening the School Week Impact Student Performance? Evidence from the Four-Day School Week - Download the PDF