A Reform-Driven System

Via this ambitious strand of work, we seek to deepen and strengthen the K–12 system’s capacity to deliver quality education to every child, based on rigorous standards and ample choices, by ensuring that it possesses the requisite talent, technology, policies, practices, structures, and nimble governance arrangements to promote efficiency as well as effectiveness.

As opposition to the Common Core State Standards has gained momentum in parts of the land, it’s important to ask what happens if a state changes its mind and renounces those standards—which, as we’ve long said, states have every right to do. But then what? Does a state go back to its old academic standards, be they good, bad, or average? Does it rewrap the Common Core and affix its own label thereon? (That’s happened already in several places, including some states where the Common Core wasn’t particularly controversial but state pride and sense of ownership are intense.) Does it keep the substance of the Core but add some content of its own—as Common Core authors always expected? (This has occurred, inter alia, in Massachusetts, Florida, and California.) Does it come up with something altogether new and better? Or does it devise something worse?

Last month, when Governor Pence signed a bill officially repealing his state’s 2010 adoption of the CCSS, Indiana became the first Common Core state to formally reject the standards. Unfortunately, it appears that in its haste to reject and replace the CCSS, Indiana seems poised to adopt a set of Potemkin Standards—expectations built with a façade that impresses but with very little enduring substance.

Repealing the Common Core left the state’s teachers and school districts with no curricular or instructional guidance, and it left the state Department of Education very little time to finalize a new set of...

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The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act in 2002 was the apotheosis of the standards-assessments-accountability movement, which had been building for about two decades.

Some loved it, believing this latest reauthorization of the LBJ-era Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) finally put the spotlight on high-need kids and our nation’s ongoing inability to provide them with a great education. Advocates point to the steady closing of the achievement gap during the law’s period of influence as evidence that it was producing the results desired.

But many others viewed NCLB as the ultimate distortion of K–12 accountability. It emanated from Washington, unrealistically aspired to 100 percent proficiency, labeled too many schools “in need of improvement,” and—sin of all sins—was obsessed with assessments.

If NCLB represented the farthest point of the testing pendulum’s swing to the right, many forces beyond gravity alone are now pulling it leftward.

Congress’s inability to reauthorize the law (now about seven years late) is a clear indication that many members are uncomfortable with the law’s contours.

The “opt-out” movement, whereby parents decide to free their students from the administration of ESEA-related tests, shows that, at least to some degree, families have misgivings about assessments.

And in a growing number of states—most recently in Tennessee—legislators are moving to end their relationships with the two Common Core–aligned assessment consortia.

If the success of tactics and short-term wins are the measuring stick, the anti-testing crowd has reason to celebrate. They appear to be ascendant....

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No one said it would be easy. Two years ago, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, along with the city’s business, philanthropic, and education leaders, came to Columbus and asked Governor Kasich and the General Assembly to help them with legislation to reform the city’s long-struggling school system. The result, the “Cleveland Plan,” has drawn attention from around the state and across the nation.

The effort held promise that it would allow Cleveland to emerge from the bottom of the national heap in student achievement. The summer legislative victory in Columbus was followed by a successful levy campaign in Fall 2012, and the school district was off to the races busily trying to implement the components of the plan.

Reform plans, if they’re actually going to work, change the way a school district does business—and as anyone who follows education reform knows, that’s hard to do. It should come as no surprise, then, that Cleveland Schools CEO Eric Gordon’s implementation of the plan has come under fire. Let’s take a look at some of the most recent challenges.

Impatience

Rising expectations are essential for a struggling school district trying to improve its academic performance, but when the improvement plan requires additional local support from the community through a property-tax levy, those expectations extend beyond the schools and to every corner of the community. As reported by the Cleveland Plain Dealer, test scores in Cleveland’s investment schools (the lowest-performing schools “targeted for extra attention for improvement”)...

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The House Education Committee tucked two provisions into the Mid-Biennium Review bill that would alter the state’s calculation of student progress. They both relate to the value-added model (VAM), the state’s method for computing a school or district’s impact on student-learning progress over time.

Value added is a statistical model that uses student-level data, collected over time, to isolate the contribution of a school on learning. This calculation is a noble and necessary undertaking, given what research has shown, time and again, about the significant influence of out-of-school factors on students’ educational success (e.g., parents, tutoring, private art and music lessons, faith-based education, etc.).

If the objective is to gain a clearer view of the true effectiveness of a school—its educators and their approach to curriculum, behavior, scheduling, and so forth—we want to minimize the influence of the out-of-school factors. Increasing clarity to school performance applies both to high-wealth schools, which can skate by on the backs of upper-middle-class parents, and to low-wealth schools, which can be handicapped in an accountability system based on raw proficiency measures.

I believe—and yes, to a certain extent, based on faith—that the state is moving in the right direction with its approach to value added.[1] But in my view, the House is making two missteps in its proposed changes to VAM. The following describe the provisions and why the state legislature should remove them as the bill heads to the Senate.

Provision 1: Changes value added from...

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A very important education reform announcement occurred last week, but you probably missed it because of the surprising and unfortunate paucity of coverage.

In hindsight, we may come to see this news as a turning point in our nation’s generations-long effort to ensure low-income inner-city kids have access to great schools.

Early Wednesday, finalists were named for the 2014 Broad Prize for Urban Education. For more than a decade, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation have given an annual award to the urban district with the best performance and most impressive academic gains.

Traditionally, the naming of finalists and the selection of a winner are celebratory events. They’ve been used as opportunities to shine a light on districts distinguishing themselves from the otherwise discouraging universe of urban school systems. The award has been widely viewed as a much-needed feel-good moment that, not unimportantly, brings with it major scholarship money for students.

For some time now, however, roiling waters have been visible just below the surface. Yes (and by definition), there will always be a “best” among any class, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is deserving of praise; that is, it might be good in relative terms but not absolute ones.

Said another way, is the best urban district good enough?

This year, to their enormous credit, the foundation and its selection committee openly addressed this issue. Their conclusion is that it’s time to reassess.

The press release, possibly the most introspective I’ve...

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I try to avoid reading Paul Krugman’s columns because they almost always make me angry, and anger is not something I particularly enjoy. Yet I couldn’t help myself this morning, and the experience proved my point. In discussing the decision of many red states to decline Medicaid expansion under ObamaCare, he writes that “it appears to be motivated by pure spite.” He goes on to quote one of the “architects” of the law: “The Medicaid-rejection states ‘are willing to sacrifice billions of dollars of injections into their economy in order to punish poor people. It really is just almost awesome in its evilness.’”

Then read Charles Krauthammer’s column about the summary execution of Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich for holding a position on gay marriage, six years ago, that a majority of Californians also held, as did a certain candidate for president (ahem, Barack Obama). “What’s at play,” writes Krauthammer, “is sheer ideological prejudice—and the enforcement of the new totalitarian norm that declares, unilaterally, certain issues to be closed.” And it’s not just about gay marriage; there is similar close-mindedness about global warming and contraception, Krauthammer writes.

What’s fascinating is that, not so long ago, it was conservatives who were famous for their “moral clarity” while liberals prided themselves in their “nuance.” But where’s the nuance in Paul Krugman’s views? Isn’t it possible that the states rejected Medicaid because they knew that a few years from now they’d be on the hook for picking up the coverage...

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The always-terrific Center for Reinventing Public Education continues to lead when it comes to thinking about and cataloguing the changing nature of urban K–12 delivery. Their latest update to the “portfolio implementation snapshot tool” is eye-opening and will help you keep apprised of one of the most important developments in systemic reform. Something to consider: of the top three entities, two are nontraditional districts, and the other may very well be on the verge of a 180 because of politics. Fascinating stuff.

Democrats for Education Reform is out with a quick, smart, snarky report. If you’re a reform-friendly Dem, it’ll make you snicker. If you’re a reform-oriented GOPer, it’ll probably sting. The gist is this: the proposal to grow the federal charter schools program puts Republicans in a tough position—keep federal spending down and reduce Uncle Sam’s role in K–12 or support a highly successful program that has greatly advanced school choice?

Philanthropy Roundtable’s K–12 program does superb work. They bring together donors and the best individuals and organizations in the field to solve our most challenging problems. The director position is open. Check it out. You’ll be able to make a big difference, engage with ed-reform and philanthropic leaders, and stay up to date on the newest, most innovative, and most promising developments.

Speaking of job opportunities with terrific organizations, CEE-Trust has several openings that you might want to consider. The nation’s umbrella and support group for the emerging and extraordinarily...

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Back in January, a Bloomberg News ranking of the world’s most innovative countries punctured the theory that low U.S. test scores are acceptable because U.S. students are happier and more creative than their overseas counterparts. Those (undeniably fuzzy) metrics don’t prove that high-ranking countries like South Korea and Japan produce more innovative students, but they certainly cast a shadow over this romantic, goofball justification of U.S. underperformance, which we’ve seen from multiple sources including (of course) Diane Ravitch and Alfie Kohn.

Well, now there’s more. And the news is still bad for the low-score apologists.

OECD just released the results of a 2012 assessment designed to measure students’ creative problem-solving skills, devoid of curricular knowledge and conventional academic skills.

Two findings are important.[1] First, there turns out to be a strong, positive correlation between creative problem-solving performance and straightforward, traditional, familiar (if often bleak) math, science, and reading scores.[2] Rather than a tradeoff, subject scores seem to buttress problem-solving skills—or at least to originate from the same source, sort of like twins.

Second, two of the countries with the best creative problem solvers in the world are South Korea and Japan—the same two countries that ranked first and fourth on Bloomberg’s innovation index, albeit nations that, perversely, are often criticized for robbing their students of the very thing at which they now appear to be the best.

Moreover, not only do South...

Why do many high-achieving students struggle to sustain their academic performance over time? Eric Parsons, an economist at the University of Missouri, takes a crack at finding the answer—and unearths a paradox. In this study, he follows a single cohort of high-performing students in Missouri from grade 3 through grade 9 to see which school factors influence their academic success. Initial high flyers are defined as those who score in the top 10 percent of their grade cohort for grade 3 or grade 4 and do not score outside of the top 20 percent for the other year. Then he further sorts the initial high flyers into two groups: “soaring” and “falling,” based on their scores on grade 7 and 8 math exams. “Soaring” means a student scores in the top 10 percent on either grade 7 or 8 exams and doesn’t fall outside the top 20 percent in either grade. “Falling” means she doesn’t meet that criteria. There were five key findings: First, nearly two-fifths of the initial high flyers lost their high-flyer status by the end of the study. (This sounds familiar.) Second, both soaring and falling high flyers begin their school careers in high-achieving schools, but by the end of the study, many falling high flyers are no longer attending above-average schools—and some are attending schools that produce below-average growth. Third, schools doing well with their low performers also appear to do well with their high performers. Specifically, moving to a school that does a...

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This edited volume, courtesy of University of Pennsylvania education professor Laura Perna, addresses the widening gaps between the education qualifications of the population and the demands of the job market. Since a different analyst wrote each chapter, we are presented with a smorgasbord of data and recommendations. But readers should at least seek out Nancy Hoffman’s excellent chapter on career and technical education. She shows how our country’s large number of high-school drop outs and paucity of associate-degree holders has resulted in an economy with a surplus of careers for which nobody is qualified, while many ill-educated workers vie for relatively few low-skilled, low-wage jobs. Hoffman urges our school system to provide students with education and training towards a specific calling. This would keep kids in school and on track for real jobs. To achieve this, she indicates that we need—among other things—better communication among high schools, employers and community colleges as to the skills these students will need to succeed in the workplace. From this neck of the woods, it is evident that the “college-for-everybody” push has led many well-meaning (and/or politically correct) Americans to grow squeamish about recommending “career” education. (For recent examples, just peruse the reactions to Mike’s recent Slate article questioning college for all.) But quality career and technical education ought to be an option for all schoolchildren, not just ones from less privileged backgrounds. Maybe it’s time to think about what’s good for young people—and for the nation’s economy.

SOURCE: Laura...

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