By July 1st, Ohio law will require public school districts (charter and district) to establish a teacher evaluation policy. The evaluation policy must conform to a framework that depends half on student growth on test scores and half on classroom observations.[1] Based on these measures, teachers will earn an overall rating: accomplished, proficient, developing, or ineffective.

In our recent survey of superintendents, Ohio’s teacher evaluation policy received mixed reviews. Nearly three out of four (73 percent) said that teacher evaluations would become accepted practice five years hence. And, 42 percent said that teacher evaluations would lead to “fundamental improvement” in the state’s K-12 school system. So, there’s modest optimism toward teacher evaluation.

But there’s undeniable angst about the policy details. Nearly all superintendents (93 percent) think that they’ll be lawsuits when personnel decisions are based on Ohio’s evaluation framework. And nearly all (86 percent) think that the classroom observation mandate will “put too much pressure on principals.” One superintendent said

“It will over-tax the principals and render them useless. They will need to spend so much time on evaluations, they will not have time for anything else.”

When one looks at the Ohio Department of Education’s website, one can see from whence this sentiment emerges. For example, the “teacher evaluation resource packet,” which operationalizes the classroom observation portion of the policy, clocks in at 22 pages. By simple extrapolation, this suggests a small mountain of paperwork for a principal who supervises 20 teachers.

Is there a...

Teach For America (TFA), the demonstrably effective teacher placement and preparation program, is wrapping up its first year in the Buckeye State. In 2012-13, TFA placed 34 teachers in schools and pre-K centers in the Cincinnati-Dayton-Northern Kentucky area and another 50 in Cleveland-area schools. (Six TFA teachers taught at Dayton Liberty Academies, Fordham-sponsored charter schools, and Fordham has supported TFA’s start-up efforts in Southwest Ohio financially.)

A series of articles (accessible here, here, here, here) by reporter Jessica Brown of the Cincinnati Enquirer kept tabs on three of Ohio’s inaugural class of TFA teachers: Sarah Theobald, Paige Fryer, and Tierra McGee. Theobald taught preschool at Cincinnati-Hamilton County Community Action Agency, Fryer taught first grade at Impact Academy, a charter school, and McGee taught seventh grade at Holmes Middle School in the Covington (KY) School District.

What do the Enquirer articles tell us about TFA teachers? Three characteristics are apparent:

1.)    They’re resilient – Theobald, the pre-K teacher, reported the challenge of having three Spanish-speaking students in her class. With the help of her peers, she’s managed to integrate them into her classroom—and she’s also made learning Spanish a priority.  

2.)    They learn fast – Fryer, who teaches at Impact Academy, reported how she quickly learned on-the-job teaching tricks. One was as simple as giving students clear instructions. McGee, who teaches at Covington, found that role-playing engaged her students, so she adapted her lessons accordingly.

3.)    They achieve results –Fryer, for example, achieved 1.5...

Bianca Speranza

Last week I began my long awaited journey as a 2013 Teach for America Corp member in Southwest Ohio (SWO). Fellow corps members from all over the state, country, and even world convened in Cincinnati for a weeklong induction. The week served as an introduction into the region where we will be working for the next two years, as well as time for us to get to know each other and the motivation behind our reasons for wanting to join TFA.

We spent the week focusing on two major themes: heart and getting started. Heart: Who are the people we are working with, what are we trying to accomplish, and why does this work matter to us and to others? Over the course of five days we dove head first into the history of Cincinnati, Dayton, and Covington, discovering the people that make up these great cities and the unique challenges associated with each of them. The experiences ranged from visiting the Freedom Center to learn about the racial inequalities that have plagued Cincinnati for many years, as well as eating dinner in the home of a single-parent mother and hearing from her first hand what is important to her as a parent in Covington, KY. We also visited high-performing charter schools such as the Dayton Early College Academy (DECA), hearing from their leaders, students, and teachers that the stale status quo of under achievement in a city can be just that and that there are ways to reach above...

The Academic and the Wonk

Can wonky Mike and data-loving Dara come to an agreement on Texas’s education reforms, Illinois’s rebuff of online learning, and a moratorium on Common Core–related stakes? Amber joins the number-cruncher brigade with a study on the effect of career and technical education on math achievement.

Amber's Research Minute

Balancing Career and Technicial Education with Academic Coursework: The Consequences for Mathematics Achievement in High School,” by Robert Bozick and Benjamin Dalton, Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis

Mike the Squish

Is Mike going soft on accountability? Are private schools doomed? And why on earth is anyone still majoring in journalism? We ask, you decide.

Amber's Research Minute

Voice of the Graduate by McKinsey & Company, May 2013

By the Company it Keeps: Tim Daly

Our first guest on By the Company It Keeps is Tim Daly, President of TNTP. I’m a huge fan of Tim and his organization. In addition to being a highly talented and endlessly affable guy, he’s helped lead TNTP into rarified air. It is as influential on policy and practice as any education-reform organization around.

Tim Daly TNTP

Tim was a guiding force behind the seminal publication The Widget Effect and played a major role in the production of other top-flight TNTP reports like The Irreplaceables and Leap Year.

Earlier in his career he was a TFA corps member (having taught in Baltimore) and helped establish and expand the New York City Teaching Fellows program. With TNTP CEO Ariela Rozman (another total star), he received the 2012 Harold W. McGraw, Jr. Prize in Education.

If future interviews turn out half as well as Tim’s, I’ll be thrilled. We learn a great deal, and the subject’s smarts, curiosity, and humility shine through. He even enlightens us about Garry Wills and Stan Musial.

As a matter of fact, the totality is so good that I’m willing to look past his grievous error about Sandy Koufax (he only had 165 career wins!).

Ladies and gentlemen, Tim Daly.

1.   How would you summarize the key...

Audit this, baby!

While discussing UFT pandering, Algebra 2 mandates, and Common Core consortia, Mike and Andy try very, very hard not to say the two magic words that rain down the wrath of the IRS (hint: they begin with T and P). Amber sorts through teacher sorting—but can she really do it in under a minute? Listen to find out!

Amber's Research Minute

Systematic Sorting: Teacher Characteristics and Class Assignments,” by Demetra Kalogrides, Susanna Loeb, and Tara Béteille, Sociology of Education 86(2): 103–123 (2013)

The latest study by Susannah Loeb and colleagues examines teacher assignments within schools in Miami-Dade from 2004-05 through 2010-11. There are three main findings: First, less experienced, minority, and female teachers were more likely to be assigned to classes with low-achieving students than were their more experienced, male, or white colleagues. For instance, teachers with ten to twenty years of experience were sorted into classrooms where achievement was .10 to .20 standard deviations higher, relative to the students assigned to first-year teachers. Second, teachers who have held leadership positions and those who attended more competitive undergraduate institutions were also assigned higher-achieving students. Third, black teachers had the most challenging assignments, particularly when teaching in schools with more white colleagues. That all sounds pretty bad from an equity perspective, but it’s far from clear which if any of these patterns may be intentional. For instance, the gender gap is largely explained by the disproportionate number of female teachers who teach special education, and the racial differences may be partially due to the propensity of black and Hispanic teachers to be assigned more minority and poor students—which may be their preference and may in fact be a positive thing for their pupils. Furthermore, the study did not examine teacher effectiveness, so we can’t say for sure that lower-achieving or minority students got less effective teachers. In the end, patterns of teacher assignment are complex, likely resulting from a mix of teacher, parent, student, and principal preferences.

SOURCE: Demetra...

GadflyWhen a Michigan House committee approved a measure that would allow students to skip Algebra 2 if they instead take a technical-education course, the Wolverine State became the latest to question the necessity of that much-debated high school course. Last month, Florida created two paths to a high school diploma, one of which excludes Algebra 2 altogether. The arguments in favor of such moves are persuasive—but what will this mean for Common Core, which requires all students to meet math objectives that include the substance of Algebra 2? This is certainly a matter to watch.

The UFT hosted a veritable panderpalooza last weekend, featuring five Democratic candidates for mayor of New York City taking turns praising the union and blasting charter schools in a shameless effort to win the union’s support. Dennis Walcott, the city’s schools chancellor, announced that he was “appalled” at their remarks. Still, while Gadfly finds such events distasteful, he cannot claim to be surprised when New York politicians resume their traditional habits.

Two excellent Wall Street Journal opinion pieces got down to the core of why conservatives ought to support the Common Core. Edward Frenkel and Hung-Hsi Wu, both professors of mathematics, praised the Core for setting tough benchmarks in that key subject. Sol Stern and Joel Klein commended the standards...

For the better part of three decades, states have been implementing all manner of school reforms, ranging from academic standards to district report cards, from statewide graduation tests to new technologies, from teacher evaluations to alternative certification, from charter schools to vouchers. Ohio is fairly typical in this regard. It’s been struggling with all of these and many more, mostly sent forth from the state capitol.

How do district leaders feel about education reform?
Real gains to student performance depend mainly on hard work by district leaders, principals, and teachers.
Photo by michibanban

As the reform load has grown weightier, however, we at Fordham have come to understand more clearly that while lawmakers can help set the conditions for improvement (or get in the way of needed changes!), any real and sustainable gains to school and student performance depend mainly on hard work by district leaders, school principals, and teachers. Along with students and families, they fuel the engines of improvement, even as state officials may turn the key. 

In the commercial world, Ohio has long been known as the country’s “test market” because if something sells in the Buckeye State, it is apt to sell nationwide. (Ben Wattenberg and the late Richard Scammon once wrote that the most typical American was a forty-seven-year-old suburban...