Standards, Testing, & Accountability

Most of the Fordham office was over at the AEI-Fordham event yesterday for Diane Ravitch's new book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System. (If you missed our live tweeting, you can watch the event video here.) The event's moderator, Rick Hess, has (as promised) now posted his response to Ravitch's book. The headline? Ravitch and Duncan are making the same mistake about choice and accountability.

Choice and accountability, explains Hess, are not supposed to improve teaching and learning, curriculum, or achievement. They are supposed to create an environment where we can improve teaching and learning, curriculum, and achievement. And posing it--or condemning it--as the former will only create more disappointment when we all see, yet again, our favorite choice and accountability techniques not fulfilling their promises. Read the rest of this very thoughtful piece here.

--Stafford Palmieri

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I haven't closely examined the new draft??"Common Core" math standards (and am??in any case shy about judging them, having myself forgotten the difference between cosines and tangents), but the??draft "reading/language arts/literacy" standards are pretty darned impressive. Some of what makes them impressive, however, is buried deep in their infrastructure and won't necessarily be obvious on first inspection. At least it wasn't to me. Not until one of the drafters walked me through them did I grasp what they've built here.

Besides doing justice to the "skill side" of English/language arts (from early reading on up through sophisticated writing), they've taken language "conventions" and content seriously--and cumulatively--in a dozen ways. They've devised deft ways of incorporating literature (including means by which monitors of??state/district curricula can gauge the quality and rigor of what students are actually asked to read). They've delicately balanced between "traditional" and "modern" approaches, between "basic" and "21st Century" skills, etc. They've imaginatively incorporated the reading sides of science and history as well as English per se. They've supplied plenty of compelling examples of what kids at various levels should be reading. And they haven't overpromised. Indeed, they state plainly at the very start that proper implementation of these standards hinges on also??having a topnotch curriculum in place.

During the three-week comment period that starts today, Fordham's experts and many others will pore over these (and the math standards). Grumps will inevitably be sounded from many directions. Nobody can say what will then happen. But...

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The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) is seeking to close a troubled charter school sponsor (aka authorizer), the Cleveland-based Ashe Culture Center, Inc.

This blazes new territory for the nation's charter school program. While there have been many charter school closures over the years, there are no instances where a state has actually stepped in to close a sponsor. In fact, Ohio, Minnesota, and Missouri are the only states that give the state department of education the authority to revoke a charter school sponsor's right to authorize schools. (In most other states, authorizers are brought into being via statute, and they can only be decommissioned by the legislature. Ohio's General Assembly, for example, fired the State Board of Education as a charter school sponsor in 2003.)

According to press accounts the department wants to close Ashe for ???????not properly overseeing the spending of taxpayer money.??????? Specifically, Ashe has sponsored two schools that the state auditor has deemed ???????unauditable.??????? According to an investigation by the state auditor, the sponsor's chief executive officer took payments from a school where his wife ???????? a member of the school's governing board ???????? approved said payments to the sponsor. Considering the sponsor is supposed to represent the interests of the state ???????? including ensuring tax dollars are actually spent on the educational needs of children ???????? this seems an obvious conflict of interest.

Ashe's sponsored schools also have a woeful academic track record. Over two-thirds (67 percent) of Ashe-sponsored...

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Having spent four years working in New Jersey, I was happy to hear the announcement this week that New Jersey Governor-elect Christie selected a school choice advocate (Bret Schundler) to serve as state education commissioner.

I am no expert on New Jersey education or politics. My limited perception of Garden State education is shaped largely by my experience as a TFA teacher in Camden City elementary classrooms and in various tutoring sessions with high schoolers in Trenton. But one doesn't need expertise to realize that children in cities like Camden, Trenton, and Newark are grossly underserved by the public school system, or that spending more money (without more accountability, and major systemic changes to the way schools and districts run) won't necessarily improve outcomes.

New Jersey spends more than any other state on education per pupil yet has little to show for it in the way of student achievement. (To get a sense of the crisis, check out the trailer for The Cartel, a documentary by journalist Bob Bowden exposing the corruption and wasteful spending that makes New Jersey a poster child for what is wrong with public education [mismanagement, strong unions preventing reform, inexcusable achievement gaps despite constant spending increases]).

Bret Schundler is a supporter of charter schools, differentiated teacher pay, and tax credits to fund scholarships for K-12 private schools, reforms that the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) is sure to continue fighting tooth and nail....

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The annual ???????Quality Counts??????? report by Education Week, out today, ranks Ohio's education system as the 5th best in the nation. Some of their ratings are overly generous and it's easy to rank high among a low-to mediocre-performing pack, but all in all the Buckeye State should be proud of the improvements it's made to its public schools over the past 10 or 15 years. The report is based on the education provisions in place this school year, not the yet-to-be-implemented components of Governor Strickland's education reform plan, which makes me wonder, once again, why the governor felt compelled to completely overhaul an already decent school system (instead of following our advice to build on what was already in place)?

--Emmy Partin

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Guest Blogger

This post is from guest blogger??Marci Kanstoroom, Fordham's Senior Editor and Education Next's Executive Editor.

As Emmy mentioned earlier, Ed Week released??Quality Counts 2010 this morning. The annual report card is meant to grade states on their education policies and performance. Overall grades are based on sub-grades, which are assigned in six areas. One of those six areas, the Chance-for-Success Index, was bashed in an article in Education Next earlier this week.

That article, "Quality Counts and the Chance-for-Success Index," by Macke Raymond and her colleagues at CREDO, noted that grades on the Chance-for-Success Index are strongly influenced by measures of family income and the level of education achieved by parents living in a state (variables included in the index). So while states tend to interpret their grades as measures of the quality of their schools, the grades don't really capture the contribution of the state's schools to the success of its young people; instead, they reflect how wealthy the state is.

Raymond and her CREDO colleagues re-calculated the Chance-for-Success index for 2009, leaving out the family background variables, and found that state rankings changed substantially. Hawaii, Rhode Island, Indiana, Alaska, Nebraska, and North Dakota all dropped significantly. Florida, Texas, Maine, Idaho, Arkansas, and Mississippi all gained. Take look for yourself here.

--Marci Kanstoroom...

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OhioFlypaper

Check out this special edition of the Ohio Education Gadfly, a look back at the decade's most significant education events in Ohio. 2010 bring new opportunities for K-12 education in Ohio, but let's not forget the impact of things like DeRolph, the Zelman voucher case, Strickland's "evidence-based" funding model, charter legislation, value-added measures, and more, and their potential to shape (for better or for worse) education reform in the Buckeye State in years to come.

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Like other states, half of Ohio's $200 to $400 million in potential Race to the Top (RttT) winnings will be distributed to participating LEAs via the Title I formula. That $100 to $200 million pot may seem like a lot of money at first blush, but in reality it represents no more than about one percent of what the state will spend on education this biennium and roughly $55 to $110 per public school student. If not targeted toward spurring real reform, the risk is great that the money will do little more than provide a small, temporary boost to district bank accounts. Unfortunately, I'm afraid that's exactly what will happen here.

Ohio LEAs have until January 8 to sign on to the state's RttT application. At this point (and I must note that nothing is final and that the state still has a full month to work on its application), because of the political capital spent on his school reform plan in the last state budget, Ohio's RttT approach revolves around Governor Strickland's education vision and the changes he signed into law in July. While that bill contained reform-minded provisions in areas like teacher tenure and preparation, its hallmark was mandating a statewide, prescriptive, one-size-fits-all, inputs-based method for funding education--one that is far removed from student or school-based performance.???? Far from the type of reforms we hear Secretary Duncan pushing.

If Ohio's plan is built largely on already-mandated reforms and doesn't require heavy lifting...

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When Emmy returned from a Midwest REL conference on educator compensation in October, she brought with her a Center on Education Reform report on "alternative compensation terminology." Not the most scintillating title, but the paper had some persuasive takeaways. Educators and policy makers have far too many expressions denoting alternative compensation (merit, pay, alternative compensation, differentiated pay, pay for performance, etc), and terminology should be streamlined. "Merit pay" especially has negative connotations leftover from its use in the 1980s and 90s and therefore should be discontinued (the term is outdated and brings to mind the system of paying teachers based on potentially biased principal evaluations).

Okay. I can see the need to evolve our vocabulary. Every since reading this report, I've made a conscious effort to be more precise when referencing alternative compensation.

But my conscientiousness can only go so far. When it comes to discussing the impact teachers make on student performance, I will not refer to "context-adjusted achievement test effects" in lieu of "value-added." Sorry, Center for American Progress. Their newly released report, "Adding Value to Discussions about Value-Added," argues that:

"...the conventional language used to discuss productivity today- especially the term "value-added"-is well-suited to that sector of the economy. In elementary and secondary education, however, the use of the term value-added has proved problematic. Although widely embraced by researchers and policymakers to denote estimates of teachers' productivity, typically referred to as effectiveness, the term value-added ???sends chills down the spine' of...

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OhioFlypaper

This year, 18 urban school districts participated in the voluntary NAEP Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA). Math results were released today, and student performance in Cleveland might be the only thing in that city more depressing than the Browns.??

Whether you're wondering how Cleveland compares to its peer cities, or whether students have made academic improvements since TUDA was first administered in 2003 (as many cities' students have), the stats on both fronts are discouraging.

Among the 10 cities that have participated in TUDA since 2003, Cleveland is the only district whose scores have not seen an increase in either fourth or eighth grade.?? Compared to the other 17 cities, Cleveland ranks second to last (next only to Detroit) in 4th grade, and fourth to last in 8th grade (behind Detroit, DC, and Milwaukee). While we've lamented before that Ohio's NAEP scores are low (45 and 36 percent of 4th and 8th graders scored proficient or above, respectively), Cleveland's scores are even more painful in comparison: only eight percent of both 4th and 8th graders in the city scored proficient or higher.

Average scores for eighth-grade public school students in NAEP mathematics (five lowest scoring cities) - 2009

Average scores for fourth-grade public school students in NAEP mathematics (five lowest scoring cities) - 2009

Source: NAEP TUDA 2009 Math Results

Cleveland Metropolitan School District CEO Eugene Sanders is preparing to...

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