Standards, Testing, & Accountability

In Ohio, like many states across the nation, reading achievement has largely stalled. The state’s reading scores on the domestic NAEP assessments haven’t moved over the past decade: In fourth-grade reading, the state’s average score was 222 in 2003 and 224 in 2013. The story is the same for eighth grade. Meanwhile, on state assessments, reading proficiency rates have improved noticeably in fourth grade (from 77 percent in 2006 to 88 percent in 2013), but fifth- and sixth-grade reading proficiency rates haven’t budged. In fifth grade, for instance, statewide reading proficiency was 75 percent in 2006 and 74 percent in 2013.

Test data suggest that strong and concerted efforts must be made to stem the tide of mediocre reading achievement. The Third Grade Reading Guarantee is one policy initiative aimed at improving early literacy. And in 2010, the state board adopted new English language arts (ELA) standards—part of the Common Core—in order to increase the rigor of what students are expected to know and be able to do when it comes to reading, writing, and grammar.

State leaders have created a policy framework—Third Grade Reading for foundational early-literacy skills and long-term growth under the Common Core—to improve ELA across Ohio. And now, for many Ohio schools, it’s implementation time. This made me wonder: Which schools are already making the biggest impact on their students’ reading achievement? Have any schools consistently helped their students make large gains on state assessments? Of course, past success is no...

Many students in Ohio and across the nation continue to perform poorly in mathematics. In response to this chronic underachievement, schools have tried numerous interventions, including “double dosing” students who lag behind academically. “Double dosing”—most commonly utilized in middle and high schools—can be an extension of time in an existing math class or assigning struggling students to two independent math courses (one remedial, one comprised of grade-level content). In either case, the goal is to improve student outcomes through additional “time on task.” In this new study, the author analyzes student data from 2003–04 through 2012–13 provided by the Miami-Dade County Public Schools (M-DCPS) to observe whether students’ participation in two distinct math classes improves outcomes. The study examines the outcomes of middle school students scoring just below and just above the predetermined cut-off score on the previous spring’s state assessment.[1] Findings indicate that students taking a double dose of math made significantly higher gains on math assessments compared to those students who were just above the cut-off score but did not receive a double dose. Yet over time, these gains diminish. Only one year after returning to a single math class schedule, gains fell to one-half to two-thirds the original amount. Two years post double-dose, gains shrunk further to only one-fifth to one-third of the original. These results indicate that double dosing provides students a big-time short-term boost; however, there is no guarantee that short-run gains will persist in the longer term....

Monday’s Politico story on the messaging battle over the Common Core has kicked up another round of recriminations, particularly on the Right. What particularly caught my eye was my good friend Rick Hess’s allegation that supporters of the Core (myself among them) were expressing hubris and vanity because we’ve decided that we need our arguments to be more “emotional.”

Ugh. Those are two qualities I certainly don’t want to be associated with. This might be a good time to step back—sans emotion—and take stock of where we’re at.

Get another cup of coffee; this is going to be a long one. I plan to tackle three big topics:

  1. Who’s winning?
  2. Which concerns about the Common Core do I see as legitimate?
  3. How can we supporters of the Core respond constructively to those concerns?

Who’s winning?

The current narrative—pushed by Politico and other media outlets—is that the anti–Common Core forces have momentum on their side. Glenn Beck is making money from movie-ticket and book sales. Republican governors are running scared. Red states are starting to topple.

This is all true, and there’s little doubt that in the “air war” over the Common Core—especially in the conservative media—we’re getting our butts kicked. Furthermore, when it comes to grassroots organizing, the tea-party groups (like FreedomWorks) are much more effective. They have the energy, the passion, and the ground troops.

Which makes it all the more remarkable...

Justin Bieber, Orlando Bloom, and pop culture ineptness

Mike and Michelle talk teacher-tenure lawsuits, charter schools offering pre-K, and teacher-union midterm politics. Dara ups the stakes with a study on high-stakes testing of voucher students.

Amber's Research Minute

"High-Stakes Choice Achievement and Accountability in the Nation’s Oldest Urban Voucher Program," by John F. Witte, et al., Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis (June 9, 2014).

Transcript

Mike Petrilli:             Hello. This is your host, Mike Petrilli, at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, here at The Education Gadfly Show and online at edexcellence.net. Now, please join me in welcoming my co-host, the Orlando Bloom of education reform, Michelle Gininger.

Michelle G:               I'll take that.

Mike Petrilli:             You know why we say that [crosstalk 00:00:36]? Orlando Bloom, who I'm not sure I know who that is, but I like him because supposedly he punched Justin Bieber this week.

Michelle G:               What do you have against Justin Bieber? Are you on the anti-Bieber chain?

Mike Petrilli:             Look, I don't know the Justin Bieb- ... the Biebster, what do we call him? The Bieber? Biebster? [Biebalicious 00:00:54]? I don't know. What do we call him? I don't know him all that well. But I will say this. [crosstalk 00:00:58] He does look pretty annoying. It sounds like he was what, hitting on Orlando Bloom's wife?

Michelle G:               Ex-wife, I believe.

Mike Petrilli:             Ex-wife? All right, then why'd he hit him?

Michelle G:               We probably should have had more information before we went [crosstalk 00:01:11] down this.

Mike Petrilli:             Folks, listeners, listen. There are many, many hundreds of you out there. Sometimes I need help with pop culture references, so send them my way at Michael Petrilli.

Michelle G:               But we do know education policy.

Mike Petrilli:             We know education policy and that's what we're going to get to. Michelle, let's do it. Brandon is here to help us. Brandon, let's play, Pardon the Gadfly.

Brandon Wright:       7 families in Albany have filed the nation's 2nd Vergara-inspired lawsuit, arguing that New York State's teacher tenure and teacher seniority laws violate their children's right to effective education. Are these New York versions of Vergara a good idea?

Mike Petrilli:             So, what do you think, Michelle? This is the Campbell Brown suit. Campbell Brown. Do you support this? Are you happy?

Michelle G:               I'm pretty excited because we're going to disagree. I know you're not a big fan of the other states following suit. I am. Yes, it's a total mess when you bring in the courts. It's going to blow everything up, but teacher tenure is not good in any instance. I am against teacher tenure.

Mike Petrilli:             Okay. Let's [head 00:02:10] back this a little bit here. All right? Yes, there is a huge problem with getting the courts involved in this kind of education policy [crosstalk 00:02:17].

Michelle G:               On that, we agree.

Mike Petrilli:             All right. But, that's a huge issue. That's what this is. It's a court case, Michelle, okay? If the question is, should we be pushing in the New York legislature to reform tenure? Fine. I'm fine with that. I'm particularly interested in any kind of reform that gets at LIFO, that says that school districts have to consider seniority when making termination decisions. But here's the thing about New York versus California, right? In California, it was what, a 2 year probationary period for teachers. New York is 3. That makes a difference. Look, you've got 2 years, 2 cycles of teacher evaluations, 2 cycles of value-added scores, when you are trying to decide if somebody should get tenure.

                                    What we see in New York City is when Joel Klein came in and said, "Look, we're going to take this seriously. We're going to actually make real decisions at this point of determining tenure and we're not going to just automatically give tenure to teachers because they reached that period," guess what? It worked. They were able to push a lot of teachers out of the system. Why not focus on that, do that statewide, instead of filing a new lawsuit?

Michelle G:               I mean, I agree that doing things by the court is a really messy, not great way of doing it, but how long [crosstalk 00:03:23]. How long have we been trying, have ed reformers been out there trying to reform tenure in states? How long?

Mike Petrilli:             Yeah. Yeah.

Michelle G:               Right. A very, very long time.

Mike Petrilli:             That depends. We got some real reform in the last few years. We've seen a lot of movement.

Michelle G:               But then, and you know ... Bloomberg did a really great job of not just giving tenure to everybody, but that depends on who your leader is. Is Bill de Blasio going to be holding this up right and doing the right thing and not just handing out tenure to every teacher? I don't think so. I think that 3 years, 5 years, like in Ohio, isn't enough time to earn tenure. If you're not doing your job, you're not performing, it shouldn't be impossible to fire someone. You're going to be Fordham's incoming president later this week. If you're not doing your job, you're not bought in.

Mike Petrilli:             I didn't think you were going to go there, Michelle. I thought you were saying that I should have the authority to fire the staff at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

Michelle G:               You do have that authority.

Mike Petrilli:             I do have that authority. Okay.

Michelle G:               Which is why we all do our jobs.

Mike Petrilli:             Which is why, in the end, you agree with me.

Michelle G:               Oh, yes, I do. Mike was right. Mike was right.

Mike Petrilli:             That's very well done. I'm just teasing about that. All right. Topic number 2, Brandon.

Brandon Wright:       In the upcoming school year, New York City charter schools will be allowed to offer pre-K for the 1st time, but many other states continue to make it all but impossible for charters to offer preschool services. Should they?

Mike Petrilli:             Well, yeah. Michelle, we have a study in the works on this question by [Sara Meech 00:04:48], who is doing the study for us and for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, looking at what that landscape is out there across the states, in terms of charters getting access to preschool funding and policies. This is a no-brainer, right?

Michelle G:               This is a no-brainer and this is crazy that we're even in this situation, especially since some of these folks who are against charters want universal pre-K. How are they going to do that without including, say, charter schools? That's a huge sector that can educate a lot of pre-K kids.

Mike Petrilli:             Yup. There's certainly plenty of states, like our home state of Ohio, where there simply is not much state money for pre-K. Okay? It's basically, there's the federal funds for Head Start and not much more than that. Look, I'm ready to say that's a problem, okay? I do think pre-K investment makes sense if you do high quality and all the rest. In states though that do provide some kind of funding to traditional public schools, they should absolutely make sure that funding goes to charter schools. We see here in D.C. what happens. When a charter school can start at age 3 with kids, they got an incredible impact, and particularly the high-performing charter schools. These 2 sectors, the charters and the preschool worlds, they need to come together.

Michelle G:               Yes. On this question, we agree 1000%.

Mike Petrilli:             It's like, what, peanut butter ... It's like, what, peanut butter and chocolate?

Michelle G:               Yeah. I thought you were going to say jelly, and then I was going to say, well, what kind of jelly do you like, and then that could bring us down a whole other path.

Mike Petrilli:             No, no.

Michelle G:               Because grape jelly is no good.

Mike Petrilli:             I prefer the Reese's peanut butter cup analogy.

Michelle G:               Yeah.

Mike Petrilli:             You can't beat peanut butter and chocolate. It's as good as it gets. That is what charter schools and pre-K ...

Michelle G:               Could be.

Mike Petrilli:             Yes, thank you. Very good. Okay, Brandon, topic number 3.

Brandon Wright:       Teacher unions are set to play hardball in this year's midterms and Politico reports that they'll likely spend at least $70 million and are encouraging female teachers to try to convince their husbands to vote Democrat. Is this likely to work?

Michelle G:               Mike, I have a question for you.

Mike Petrilli:             Yes, Michelle?

Michelle G:               Does [Megan 00:06:44] dictate your vote?

Mike Petrilli:             She does not. She has, at times, dictated where I live, and that is how I ...

Michelle G:               That seems fair.

Mike Petrilli:             ... and how I turned up to be the only Bush administration appointee living in Takoma Park, Maryland, the Berkeley of the D.C. area. Look, this is funny. Mike Antonucci, who follows the unions better than anybody, of course he quipped that he is pretty sure that whoever devised this plan is not married, at least not successfully.

Michelle G:               Yes, I mean, there's a great ... What's the advertising show called?

Mike Petrilli:             Mad Men?

Michelle G:               There's a great Mad Men episode where they're talking about the Kennedy election, the wives are, and one of the woman says, "Well, I'm going to have to ask my husband how I'll vote." We have come a long way. Now, women are dictating how their husbands are going to vote. This is a win.

Mike Petrilli:             No, we'll see. It is interesting. There's a huge gender divide in our politics right now. Women, much, much more likely to vote for the Democrats, although it's really single women that are much more likely. Married women, it's not quite as pronounced, but still, unions are saying, in a lot of these swing states, in the South or in the Midwest, you've got ... The Democrats have a hard time getting the votes of white men, especially in suburbs, exurbs, small towns, but plenty of those men are married to teachers. So, we'll see. You know what I say to this, to the NEA? Thank God for the secret vote, for the secret ballot. I'm really excited that generally you are not expected to go into the voting booth with your spouse.

Michelle G:               So you think, will we have a case of many husbands voting for Republicans but telling their wives and just being shocked when the election results come in?

Mike Petrilli:             Exactly.

Michelle G:               I have no idea how this happened.

Mike Petrilli:             Exactly. You can tell that to Nate Silver. The exit polls on this one are not going to be accurate.

Michelle G:               And we can thank the union.

Mike Petrilli:             Exactly. All right. That's all the time we got for Pardon the Gadfly. Thanks for helping us play, Brandon. You may notice a new voice there, Brandon Wright, taking over from the eminently talented Pamela Tatz, who is heading briefly to the West Coast, leaving us here at Fordham. We will miss her. We'll have her on the show 1 more time before we go and give her a hard time about this terrible career choice that she's making.

Michelle G:               And we do it every single day.

Mike Petrilli:             As we do. All right. Now it's time for everyone's favorite, Amber's Research Minute. Dara Zeehandelaar, welcome back to the show.

Dara Z:                       Thank you, thank you.

Mike Petrilli:             You are pitching in for Amber, who is on a well-deserved vacation. This means that you get to answer the question of the day, what do you think about Justin Bieber, and would you like to punch him?

Dara Z:                       I wanted to high-five Orlando Bloom when I heard about this story. I'm pretty sure that it has something to do with somebody's girlfriend or I didn't read that far enough into the story. I think it's about girls and not out of just general spite, but I don't care about the backstory. I think I speak for everyone ...

Michelle G:               We're unclear on the facts too.

Mike Petrilli:             But already, no, the fact that Dara had seen this headline. She knew what we were talking about. We had to just like Google pop culture and see what popped up, but you had actually [crosstalk 00:09:49].

Michelle G:               You're not supposed to tell people we do that.

Mike Petrilli:             I know. Is that what we do? Is that how we do it?

Dara Z:                       Oh my gosh. I wish that ...

Mike Petrilli:             Should we go to the trashy magazines? Anyways, very impressive, Dara, that you are in the loop even though you sit over there in that office doing research all day.

Dara Z:                       Oh my gosh. Could I take that back? I'd like to pretend like I didn't know what you were talking about.

Mike Petrilli:             Okay.

Michelle G:               Too late. [crosstalk 00:10:07]

Mike Petrilli:             Dara, not a Bieber fan. Okay, Dara, what do you have for us this week?

Dara Z:                       I've got a study from this month's Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis journal from John Witte, Patrick Wolf, Joshua Cowen, Deven Carlson, and David Fleming, all stars. It's called "High-Stakes Choice, Achievement and Accountability in the Nation’s Oldest Urban Voucher Program." It's a unique look at 1 very interesting aspect of the Milwaukee parental choice program. Now, we very well know that voucher programs, writ large, have little, if any, accountability mechanisms. We've talked about this before.

Mike Petrilli:             Mechanisms beyond parental choice itself.

Dara Z:                       Right.

Mike Petrilli:             I mean, test-based accountability.

Dara Z:                       Right.

Mike Petrilli:             Great.

Dara Z:                       But, in Milwaukee, as of the 2010-11 school year, private schools participating in the voucher program are required to test students who receive the vouchers with the reading and math portions of the state test, and to report the results for public consumption. Now, the researchers had that data, but they also, for a group of students, had pre-reform test scores, because this group was already doing an evaluation of the voucher program. This gave the authors the opportunity to estimate the impact of the accountability policy on student achievement outcomes.

                                    What they found is that high stakes testing has a positive impact on the achievement scores of voucher students, in the 1st year after private schools were required to test those students. They determined this by looking at the test scores of voucher students over a 3 year period, 2 years before the change and 1 year after. They had a fairly limited sample of 437, mostly 7th and 8th graders participating in the program, compared this group to a similar group of Milwaukee public school students.

                                    The voucher students saw a significant growth in their test scores during the 1st year of the accountability policy, with particularly positive results for students who were already at the high end in math and at the low end in reading. The policy had a positive impact on African American students in both reading and math, and for Hispanic, white, and Asian students, in math only. The authors did a number of tests of this result, and they fairly convincingly argue that the positive impact of the policy was a result of the policy, and not because of other factors.

                                    But, of course, a few caveats. It's hard to generalize to students in other grades, and it's very hard to generalize to students in other cities and other voucher programs, because of the scope of the Milwaukee program. It's also possible that the public reporting requirement motivated private schools to do better, period, and it had nothing to do with voucher students. Finally, because the researchers could only look at 1 year of data post-reform, it could be that this is a 1 year bump in scores, rather than a sign of sustained improvement.

Mike Petrilli:             [Woof 00:12:54]. Wow. That is very exciting, Dara, and this is in fact 1 argument we make when we argue for more test-based accountability for voucher programs. It was our hope that this would, in fact, raise student achievement. There were some indications from Milwaukee that that might have been the case, and this sounds like this is a much more in-depth, sophisticated analysis that says, "Yes, indeed, that's exactly what happened."

Michelle G:               Yes. This is really exciting news. I think there's been a lot of debate within the choice movement about accountability and maybe Orlando Bloom and Justin Bieber can work it out, just like the 2 sides of the voucher argument can work it out too. Can we be optimistic here?

Mike Petrilli:             Beautiful. Beautifully said, Michelle. I love it. I do suspect that it could be a 1 year bump or at least a bump that is not sustained forever. We've seen that in the traditional public schools. That, you look at the nation as a whole, we got a big 1 time bump in the late 90s or early 2000s, when states embraced test-based accountability. The improvements eventually faded out. They hit a plateau. Now we maintain that higher level of performance. We didn't get back down.

                                    You may see something here. [Lookit 00:14:04], when you suddenly know, as a school, that somebody's looking over your shoulder and they're going to look at the student achievement results, it makes sense. Any bit of little more focus, a little more focus on what's on the test, and you can see these kinds of results. Look, people on the other side of this issue, it doesn't take away from their argument, which is that, look, that might have led to teaching to the test. It might have forced schools to do something that ... to stop doing things that made them unique and made them special and made them in effect private. It's not that it answers these questions about trade-offs, but it's pretty compelling that this policy seems to be pretty good when it comes to student learning.

Dara Z:                       When it comes to student testing. When it comes to student learning, again, not to keep beating this drum, but we also need high standards and good tests.

Mike Petrilli:             Yeah, no, that's absolutely right. This is using whatever standardized test they were using for the evaluation or the state test?

Dara Z:                       It's the state test.

Mike Petrilli:             It's the state test. This is a big question. We finally, with our friends in the voucher world, came to say, you know, if we would prefer you to use the state tests for the voucher schools, including common core tests, if that's what you're moving to, but we understand the sensitivities around that and if it's just some kind of reputable standardized test, we are okay with that. That might be the best that we can do, because again, the trade-offs. We don't want private schools to lose their distinctiveness and feel like they all have to look like everyone else.

Dara Z:                       Right, although it does put some people into kind of a catch-22, because these researchers were able to say that the voucher students saw improvement, because they were using the same test, the state test, as the Milwaukee public school students. You can't make that conclusion robustly if you're not using the same test.

Mike Petrilli:             I see. I see. So if they'd used the Stanford 9 instead, we just don't know if they would have seen the same results.

Dara Z:                       Right.

Michelle G:               Right, and I think that was our inclination to using the common yardstick, as it being a tool for parents too. If you can see how a private school is performing on 1 test, and the public school on the same test, you get an understanding of where they are, even though, of course, tests aren't the perfect measure.

Dara Z:                       Right, but, like I said, it puts some people into a tough position because they want to be able to prove that the voucher system is effective, but they also don't want to sacrifice the flexibility of being forced to use the state test or not, in order to prove that it works.

Mike Petrilli:             Gotcha. The big question, where is Justin Bieber on this question? Do you think he's pro-accountability or no?

Michelle G:               Why don't you tweet him and ask?

Dara Z:                       I don't think that he would pass the 7th grade Wisconsin state test.

Mike Petrilli:             Ouch. Ouch. Throwing it. Loving it.

Michelle G:               Oh, man, I could actually, because [crosstalk 00:16:43].

Dara Z:                       Whatever. Bring it. I could take him.

Mike Petrilli:             You could bring it.

Dara Z:                       I could take him.

Mike Petrilli:             Well, yeah, that.

Michelle G:               But could you take Orlando Bloom?

Dara Z:                       Why would I want to?

Mike Petrilli:             Well said. Okay, gang. That's all the time we've got for this week. Until next week.

Michelle G:               I'm Michelle Gininger.

Mike Petrilli:             And I'm Mike Petrilli at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, signing off.

Daniel Navin

EDITOR’S NOTE: This blog post was first published on the United States Chamber of Commerce’s website on Wednesday, July 23, 2014, and is reprinted here by permission of the author.

Ohio has had statewide learning standards in mathematics and English Language Arts in the past, but these standards were not rigorous and not aligned with the demands of college and the workplace. The outcome was low academic expectations which resulted in too many students not being college ready, and a short supply of graduates with the basic abilities needed for success in the workplace, including critical thinking and problem solving skills.

The dismal statistics below underscore to a significant extent the reality of the “quality of education” in Ohio:

  • Just 27% of Ohio fourth graders were proficient in reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test, compared to 83% who were deemed proficient on the state’s reading exam;
  • 31% of Ohio’s 2013 high school graduates who took the ACT exam met none of the college-ready benchmarks;
  • 41% of Ohio public high school students entering college must take at least one remedial course in English or math; and,
  • Nationally, more than 1 in 5 high school graduates do not meet the meet the minimum academic standards required for Army enlistment, as measured by the Armed Forces Qualification Test.

With the intent of reversing those trends of mediocrity (or worse), Ohio passed House Bill 1, which directed the State Board...

Glenn Beck ain't got nothin' on this podcast

Mike and 50CAN’s Marc Porter Magee take on career and technical education, sorting by student achievement, and charter schools’ noncognitive effects. Amber reports on charters’ productivity.

Amber's Research Minute

The Productivity of Public Charter Schools by Patrick J. Wolf, et al., (Fayetteville, AR: School Choice Demonstration Project, University of Arkansas, July 2014).

Mike Petrilli:             Hello, this is your host Mike Petrilli at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute here at the Education Gadfly Show and online at edexcellence.net. And now please join me welcoming my co-host, the Glenn Beck of education policy, Marc Porter Magee!

Marc Magee:             Thank you, thank you.

Mike Petrilli:             I'm just kidding about the Glenn Beck part, I don't know that you have a whole lot in common with him other than that you are an excellent communicator, you understand social media, you understand the current populist movement in America today...

Marc Magee:             Go on, go on Mike. And it's my first time on the podcast.

Mike Petrilli:             That too, that too. And I mention Glenn Beck because today, or this week, or sometime around now, he is doing his "We will not conform" event about the common core where he is telling all these people, "Conform by coming to a movie theater and paying money" that I assume is going into  his pocket, "Buy my book," which is going into his pocket, and "Rally against the common core." You got to love the guy's gall.

Marc Magee:             Yeah, it's a good gig, I guess.

Mike Petrilli:             It's a good gig. Well, hey Marc, so you're wife, of course, Kathleen Porter Magee, who has been on the show many, many times, this is your first time, and you run a group called 50CAN. Though right now it should really be called, what, 9CAN?

Marc Magee:             7CAN? [crosstalk 01:33] Maybe 9CAN in the future. When we were starting, we started out in two states, Rhode Island and Minnesota, and John Sackler, one of our board members, used to joke that we should be called 2CAN, so we actually had a little toucan made up as our mock logo.

Mike Petrilli:             And we thought it was hilarious a couple years ago in our April Fool's Day Gadfly when we decided he would move to Canada and be called CanCAN.

Marc Magee:             That was a good one.

Mike Petrilli:             That's a good one!

Marc Magee:             One of my favorites is going to South Dakota and we'd be called SodaCAN.

Mike Petrilli:             We kill us! We kill us!

Marc Magee:             Have a little fun with the names.

Mike Petrilli:             Alright, so the thing to know about 50CAN is you are helping to start up the state based education reform organizations to push for things like, what? Accountability, high quality charter schools, teacher effectiveness policies, et cetera...

Marc Magee:             All those things and more.

Mike Petrilli:             And you have become an expert on advocacy in education reform and in fact you're doing some courses very soon that people can participate in!

Marc Magee:             They can! So we took everything that we are learning, across all of our different state campaigns, and organized it into a 3 hour workshop, so you can come and get up to speed on all of the different theories and practices of advocacy, and we are doing this with our friends and partners over at EdFuel. So they're running 2 2 day workshops, July 29th and 30th, and then later, August 6th and 7th. And I know you're going to be joining them as well, so we'd love to have people come out. If you go to the EdFuel website, which is EdFuel.org, they can sign up, and join us, and I believe there's even networking and drinks, so it's going to be fun.

Mike Petrilli:             Let me ask you a serious question.

Marc Magee:             Yes.

Mike Petrilli:             What if you get a mole there at this thing?

Marc Magee:             That is a serious question. So I would say-

Mike Petrilli:             Do we have some kind of now, I don't know, we need some spies in the education reform movement or do some counter intelligence to make sure that we're protected here!

Marc Magee:             When we were doing, we sort of tested this workshop out, we went and performed it for our friends over at grade schools last week, and I was joking at the beginning, "This is a little bit like a magician who's walking through all their tricks." But I think actually we're way too secretive in the advocacy world, and the benefits of bringing more people in and showing them how they could advocate too, far outstrip anything we get from keeping this things close to our vest.

Mike Petrilli:             Well that's good since this podcast will be on the internet! And everybody can have access to it. OK, let's get started, Marc, Pamela, let's play, "Pardon the Gadfly!"

Pamela Tatz:             In this weekend's Wall Street Journal, Tamar Jacoby told the stories of students who sought out quality career and technical education and argued that the nation needs to show respect for practical training. Has the education reform movement been antagonistic to career and technical education?

Mike Petrilli:             Yes? Marc? What do you think?

Marc Magee:             I have a nuanced view on this, which is that I think, if we're trying to push a one size fits all model, where we're saying everyone needs to go to college and therefore all of our schools are going to be structured that way, then that violates the principle of choice. But so does the way we used to do it, where we're tracking kids into programs that closed off the opportunities for college. So I think there's a way to find our way to students really being able to follow what they're interested in, parents having genuine choices for their kids, and that is the way we're going to get to a point where technical education will be embraced and not seen as some kind of second class track.

Mike Petrilli:             Alright, so you're saying the key is the system can't make the choice for the student, it really has to be the student, and the parent, making that choice. Now we're talking about the, once kids are, say, 14, 15 years old, and the challenge is, even for career and technical education, or for a college prep kind of high school, you've got have pretty high level skills in reading, math, writing... that's what we're learning. And what happens to those kids who aren't even anywhere close to having those basic skills for even those kinds of programs, that's a big challenge in education reform. But Marc, don't you think we have been overly obsessed with college prep high schools? I can't think of any high profile charter school chains that are explicitly focused on career and technical education. All of the big name ones that get a ton of funding and a ton of attention are college prep.

Marc Magee:             Yeah, I think that's true in terms of what we as a reform community are holding up as the models we want people to pay attention to. But on the ground, I think you're seeing local reformers doing a lot more in this direction. So one of the earliest portfolio models that we were involved in was in Connecticut under Superintendent Adamowski. One of the first things he did was actually create a nursing academy high school. And a lot of other themed approaches to schools that were different than just, "Oh, you want a choice, here's this one high performing college bound model."

Mike Petrilli:             Very good. Topic number 2.

Pamela Tatz:             An analysis done by WBEZ found that Chicago's school choice system sorts students into separate high schools based on their achievement levels. Is this unintended consequence cause for concern?

Mike Petrilli:             I'm not even sure it's unintended, right? And I'm not sure it should be cause for concern! Here's, again on this same topic here, is this about tracking or is it about trying to make sure that there are good choices out there for lots of different kids. Right now I think the kids that get hosed by our system more than anybody else are low income kids who are high achieving. And they are asked to go into these big urban comprehensive high schools and just sit there and not get challenged. And this, having more selective schools, or some schools where they can be around other kids that are high achieving, it actually means they get to be challenged like the affluent high achieving kids in the suburbs.

Marc Magee:             Yeah, I do think it's really unfair the way we frame up these questions sometimes, where we seem to make the case that the high performing kids in low performing cities need to be sacrificing for everyone else. We really never ask that question of suburban kids. I think, to your question, is it unintended, if we're putting testing provisions on high schools then that probably is going to result in some sorting. I think maybe we were surprised to the degree of sorting. I think in the  story they talk about 96% of the top scoring kids ended up in six of these high schools. And I do think as education reform becomes bigger, and takes on a larger role in designing systems, these questions of what happens to the whole system as these reforms kick in, is a real one. Because I think we can all agree that we should not hold back high performing kids, but if the result is that we end up with a few high schools where all of the low performing kids are pooled, then we've got an even bigger problem.

Mike Petrilli:             I guess, Marc, but I guess that's why we need to be honest about this, and admit that there are trade offs, and an earlier generation of reformers were all about de-tracking, there's that word again, and we understand why, that it didn't feel right for the system to be making those choices, and we also knew that a lot of kids were tracked into what were very much dead end tracks, that weren't going anywhere. So, it's good that we have tried to get rid of those dead end tracks and make sure that even the kids on the... even the lowest performing kids, the schools are expected to get them to some basic literacy and numeracy that's going to help them be successful in their life.

                                    All good! But we have to wrestle with the fact that there is such a thing as pure effects, basically everybody does better if they're around high achieving kids. It helps the low achievers but it also helps the high achievers, and this is one of these things where there are only so many in these systems, high achievers to go around, so you do have to start to make some choices. And you say, "Well, is it more important to give high achievers challenge by putting them around other high achievers, or to maybe help bring up the performance of low achievers by exposing them to the high achievers?" It's kind of sacrificing the high achievers. These are really tough moral questions. I feel like we tends to paper over those issues in education reform with a lot of happy talk  like, "Everybody can get exactly what we need." These are the kinds of questions... and at the very least let's be open about the choices we face.

Marc Magee:             Yes, it's a very economic view. I feel like that's the tough hard trade offs that we often don't confront. We can't just snap our fingers and make it all go away.

Mike Petrilli:             Well, I get the equity push, that feels wrong to say that, "Well, we're going to preference the high achievers." And particularly if you're in a system where the high achievers are also the most affluent, or the... But we're usually now talking about urban systems, where basically, almost everybody's poor, right? And the affluent high achievers, their parents by and large have left the cities and moved to the suburbs or gone to private schools. They have found a way to ensure that their kids are in environments where they're around other high achieving kids. That's our system, I'm doing it with my own kids, there you have it, right? So I just think sometimes the equity advocates, they just lose the forest for the trees. What they don't see is their advocacy for equity is actually hurting a class of low income kids.

                                   

Marc Magee:             Yeah. And I think we would all feel better about providing these high achievers with these exclusive opportunities if we were doing a better job of making progress in the rest... This goes on if we didn't see low performers getting concentrated into a couple of neighborhood schools that are getting left behind.

Mike Petrilli:             Alright, Pamela, topic number 3!

Pamela Tatz:             A UCLA and Rand survey finds evidence suggesting that attending a high performance charter school reduces the rates of high risk health behaviors among low income teenagers. Do you think this is evidence of charter effectiveness or skimming?

Marc Magee:             One of the things I thought was really interesting about this story is I've thought for a while that while we often point to test scores to say charter schools are doing better with kids, when you go and visit these high performing charter schools, you see them going way beyond just what it would take to get the test scores right and engaging the parents, engaging the communities, really changing life courses and behavior. So it's great to see us widening our view to see that there actually are bigger impacts than just test scores.

Mike Petrilli:             Yeah, and it was interesting. Specifically what they looked at were risky behaviors, like having unprotected sex, or binge drinking and the charter school kids were self reporting to do those things less frequently. They're self reports, in these schools they were not randomly assigned to these schools, so we really can't look at causation. And it's an interesting questions. You say, "Are these kids engaging in fewer risky behaviors because something they've learned at their charter school, or is it that kids who engage in less risky behaviors to begin with were the ones that were interested in these charter schools?" In other words, is this some indication that, aha, these schools, these kids, even though they may be poor, they may be eligible for free lunch, they might be in some way more advantaged than the other kids. Their families might be more intact or functional or whatever, and that's showing up in the data.

Marc Magee:             Yeah. We've started to... that's the perennial question we've had even with test scores is selection bias.

Mike Petrilli:             Selection bias.

Marc Magee:             And we've largely started to solve that question with more sophisticated studies, more experimental studies, tracking kids over time. I'd love to see us start to fold in these larger questions about outcome variables, and answer, "Is it really changing... giving kids so much more than just the basic knowledge?"

Mike Petrilli:             Absolutely, and the studies that have been out there that are quite rigorous, there have been a few looking at charter schools and at voucher schools, and what they tend to show is that the long term outcomes far outpace what you'd expect just from the relatively small improvements in test scores. In other words, the charter schools and the voucher schools do better on test scores, but they do way better on some of these other long term outcomes, and that might be the non cognitive stuff, the character stuff, all this other stuff that we talk about.

Mike Petrilli:             Absolutely. So we do this survey that couple months ago we put out, and we asked parents, what do they care most about in long term effects of a school? Setting their kids up for a job came in fourth, number one was character, number two was leadership. So, I think we'll go much further in really understanding how to give parents the education they want for their kids, if we can speak to these values issues.

Mike Petrilli:             Absolutely. Alright, excellent Marc! Well played! That's all the time we've got for Pardon the Gadfly, now it's time for everyone's favorite, Amber's Research Minute! Amber, welcome back to the show!

Amber Northern:      Thank you Mike!

Mike Petrilli:             Amber, before the whole common core thing, I'm just curious, did you like Glenn Beck?

Amber Northern:      I did. I kind of liked him, and now he's just gotten too... I guess I didn't realize he was extreme and didn't really look at data too much, I don't know. I just feel like I've had a change of opinion about him, and I really liked him, so I feel like I'm now leery of him. Because of this whole issue, it's raised my suspicions about him and how much he really looks into issues instead of just relying on the rhetoric.

Mike Petrilli:             Yeah, it's interesting, my mom, of course, is very angry at Fox News for being so anti common core all the time, thank you Mom, and I think it has raised some questions for her about some of the other Fox News reporting. Starts to think about maybe on these other issues that we don't follow as closely, are they being unfair on some of those things?

Amber Northern:      Right.

Mike Petrilli:             Not that this doesn't happen on the liberal side of the aisle either, Marc.

Amber Northern:      That's right, that's right.

Mike Petrilli:             Alright, so Amber, what you got for us this week?

Amber Northern:      We have a new report out from the University of Arkansas that compares the productivity of public charter schools and traditional schools, both in terms of their cost effectiveness and return on investment, or ROI.  For the cost effectiveness analysis, they consider how many test score points students gain on the NAPE 2010-2011, for each thousand dollars invested in their public education in the charter compared to traditional sector. You got that?

Mike Petrilli:             Yes, sort of.

Amber Northern:      Key finding, for every thousand dollars invested, charter students earned a weighted average of an additional 17 points in math and 16 additional points in reading on NAPE compared to traditional district students, controlling for student characteristics such as poverty and special ed status. This translates into charters nationwide being 40% more cost effective, according to their calculations. And then a little bit about the return on investment, that calculates ROI by converting the learning gains over time by students in charter and traditional sectors into an estimate of the economic returns over a lifetime. This is Eric Hanushek's stuff, OK? In comparing those returns to the revenue amounts invested in their education. Key finding... I know, it's a...

Marc Magee:             Should we high five now?

Amber Northern:      Using Eric Hanushek's estimates on lifetime earnings and productivity, we find that public charter schools delivered a 3% increase in lifetime economic gains, was the terminology they wanted to use, they didn't want to just say salary for a bunch of different reasons. For a student who attends a charter for one year, they look at how long if you're in a charter one year, six years, however years, a 19% increase for students who attend half of their K12 education. So bottom line, this obviously looks pretty good for the charter sector but they end with a discussion that I think makes a lot of sense, which is, "Does a higher productivity rest on the fact that charters get less funding to begin with? And they're therefore more disciplined in how they use these dollars, and if they were funded equally, which is what a lot of folks have been wanting, would we actually see these same productivity patterns?

Mike Petrilli:             Right, that nationally, at least, it looks like the charters are pretty similar to traditional public schools, in terms of test score gains, but they are 30% cheaper. Right?

Amber Northern:      Right.

Mike Petrilli:             So the point is not so much that they out perform traditional public schools, they do maybe by a little bit, but really where this all is coming from is they're much less expensive.

Amber Northern:      Right, per dollar.

Mike Petrilli:             They're getting a lot less money. And so what... I saw Bruce Baker from Rutger's got something up online about this, I haven't had a chance to look at it closely yet, what are people going to say? Are they going to just question the...

Amber Northern:      Yeah, so Bruce is going to say it's because they have... it's going to be a difference of the sped kids, and it's going to be a difference in the disadvantaged kids, but they spend a lot of time at the front end of the report saying, "guess what? The charters tend to reflect the demographics of the area," and so these charters are actually serving more disadvantaged kids. So that doesn't hold water.

Mike Petrilli:             Alright, let me push back on one thing, though. So let's say we know that there's other traditional public schools that tend to be low spending schools. Let's say rural schools, tend to spend less than other schools, and you control for demographics and all of that, and even though they spend less, the results look pretty similar to other similar schools in the state, right? You could make the same argument for them, and it may be simply that because spending doesn't matter.

Amber Northern:      Could be.

Mike Petrilli:             Right. So we just don't know.

Marc Magee:             When you have it, you spend it. Sometimes you spend it on things that actually help kids, and sometimes you don’t.

Mike Petrilli:             Right. So maybe the answer here, Marc, I know, I've a great idea for you for advocacy. You should go out and advocate a 30% cut for all traditional public schools.

Marc Magee:             We just want kids to do better. And the efficiency argument is great, but hopefully we're figuring out a way, we got so many gains we need to make. If we're going to put any extra dollars into the system, how do we learn from this so that it actually gets results?

Mike Petrilli:             Very nicely said.

Marc Magee:             What do you think, Amber, are you convinced? Is this important? Certainly people like Marc are going to use it for advocacy.

Amber Northern:      Yeah, I think it's important, but you're right, at the end of the day, we care about the gains. The money matters, it's important to look at this stuff. But I don't know, it's hard to parse, because you can roll out a study that says that really shows that money matters, and you can roll out a study that says that it doesn't. So I think this is still in dispute, this whole question.

Mike Petrilli:             You know, one thing that is cool is they're basically combining their previous analysis on charter spending and the credo results in terms of achievement, and you put that together, and a few cities really do pop out as doing something very well. Like D.C...

Amber Northern:      D.C.

Mike Petrilli:             They spent a ton of money, but compared to the D.C. Public Schools, they spend less and they get a really strong results. Few other states that have a strong showing. Our home state of Ohio looking pretty mediocre as they have on other measures. But again the lesson we looked at this in the Walkathon, Marc, is that some states are doing the charter thing much better than others. That's an issue about policy, authorizing, spending, it's also an issue about...

Amber Northern:      Operators.

Mike Petrilli:             Being able to do operate... recruiting great people. So this is where we inside the reform movement need to keep learning, is saying, "What do we keep doing to get those laggard states and cities to look a lot more like the D.C.s, or the Tennessees, or the Rhode Islands, and less like...

Marc Magee:             Rhode Island! [crosstalk 19:44] Little Rhodie, always overlooked!

Mike Petrilli:             Little Rhodie! I did that for you, Marc.

Marc Magee:             Thank you.

Mike Petrilli:             And less like the Ohios, and the Texases of the movement.

Amber Northern:      Good summary.

Mike Petrilli:             Excellent. Alright, well, that is all the time we've got for this week! Until next week...

Marc Magee:             Hi, I'm Marc Porter Magee.

Mike Petrilli:             Almost a little bit early there, Marc, a little too...

Amber Northern:      Jumping the gun.

Mike Petrilli:             Too fast on the draw. Marc Porter Magee, thank you for joining us! I'm Mike Petrilli at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute's Education Gadfly Show, signing off.

For all of the talk about how different reading instruction is meant to be in the Common Core era, and for all of the hand wringing over the critical “instructional shifts” embedded in the new literacy standards, a glimpse at the world of classroom implementation reveals that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Thanks to a combination of inertia, self-interested publishers, and leaders who prefer to see reading taught the way it’s been taught for years, Common Core-aligned reading instruction runs the risk of becoming a repackaged version of the ubiquitous balanced literacy we’ve seen in schools for decades.

This issue came into sharp relief last month, when the New York Times reported that New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña has been counseling schools to continue using the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project as the foundation of their literacy instruction. This is a repudiation of the guidance given to City schools by Fariña’s own Department of Education just last year, when the Teachers College project was conspicuously missing from a list of recommended, CCSS-aligned literacy programs.

It was just the latest sign that despite all of the discussion about how the Common Core is going to “change everything,” the message that’s getting to the field is, “This, too, shall pass.”

That message isn’t always delivered so clearly, though. While Fariña may have been unusually direct in her guidance to Gotham schools, the messages being sent elsewhere are far...

“In those days…everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” Words penned millennia ago couldn’t be more relevant today. In the education-policy world, I sense it in the growing antagonism toward external forms of accountability for schools’ (and their students’) performance. I get it: accountability regimes, particularly of the state-driven sort, can be perceived as harsh, punishing, and damaging to professionalism, local control, and school specialization. Others perceive standards and accountability as impinging upon individual liberties around parental control.

Yet looming behind this unrest is the specter of mediocrity and a lack of urgency among Ohio’s K–12 schools—an environment ultimately ill-suited for student success. The zeitgeist has worked its way into state law, as policymakers have begun to yield to the cries of those who would prefer to be judged by standards of their own preference or design—or none at all. As evidence, consider the proliferation of alternative accountability (and assessment) systems that are cropping up in state policy. Three examples come to mind.

Third-grade reading

Ohio’s Third Grade Reading Guarantee—a needed initiative to lift early literacy—has a loophole the size of Texas. Seemingly everyone in the state is aware that third graders are now required to pass the reading portion of the Ohio Achievement Assessment (OAA) or else face grade retention. This is tough stuff on the surface—but wait. In a lesser-known provision, the state has also allowed schools to administer any one of three alternative reading assessments. If a student who has failed...

Alan J. Borsuk

Here’s a suggestion for something to include in Wisconsin-specific education standards for Wisconsin children:

By the end of first grade, children will know that two Badgers plus two Badgers equals four Badgers.

You want Indiana-specific standards for Indiana kids? By the end of first grade, children will know that two Hoosiers plus two Hoosiers equals four Hoosiers.

North Carolina standards for North Carolina kids? You got it—two Tar Heels plus two Tar Heels equals four Tar Heels.

What kind of silliness is this? Best as I can see, it’s about the level of silliness the whole discussion of education expectations for our children is reaching, both in Wisconsin and across the nation.

With Governor Scott Walker’s one-sentence statement on Thursday that he wants the legislature to repeal Wisconsin’s involvement in the Common Core standards movement, we have crossed onto turf where chaos in education policy is likely to reign for the coming school year.

At the same time, I bet we’re also on the way, in the long run, to changing very little when it comes to state standards for what kids should learn. I say that because states that have announced they are going to set their own standards are generally coming up with new plans that actually change little. That’s for two reasons.

  1. The Common Core standards are not perfect, but they’re really pretty sound (and there is wide agreement they’re a lot better than what Wisconsin had before). Any serious-minded group, regardless of politics, would agree
  2. ...

In a related post, we examined the relationships between eighth-grade proficiency in reading and mathematics, high-school graduation rates, and college remediation-free rates. Broadly speaking, we established that school districts’ test scores, as measured by student proficiency, correlate to high school graduation and college remediation-free rates. In this post, we take a more in depth look at the link between proficiency and remediation.

Consider Figure 1, which represents each Ohio school district’s eighth-grade proficiency and remediation data as a point on the graph. Proficiency data from 2007-08 are coupled with remediation data for first-time college students beginning in fall 2012 in order to compare a somewhat similar cohort of college-going students. (It is important to note that the actual cohort for any particular district would not be the same from 2008 to 2012, as student mobility between districts (or states) is not accounted for, nor are dropouts or grade retentions included. Additionally, remediation only applies to college-going students. These factors change the composition of the cohort.)

It is reasonable to expect that a district with higher proficiency would tend to have a lower remediation rate—success on standardized tests should provide some indication that students are on-track to mastering the skills required for college coursework. For the most part, we find that our data follow this expected trend. In both math and reading, high proficiency rates correlate negatively with participation in developmental (a.k.a. “remedial”) math and English, as demonstrated by the descending trend line. However, we find that a substantial number...

Pages