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.

Louisiana State Superintendent John White continues to impress. Check out this really interesting attempt to create new options for the state’s kids—it’s called the Call to Action. Educators and a range of organizations get the chance to submit proposals in a number of areas—charters, nonpublic, leadership development, early childhood, and more. It’s totally fascinating, and I can’t wait to see what becomes of this.

I’ve worked for five different government bodies now. Those experiences, I think, have grounded me, helping me understand how to actually get things done instead of just talking about pie-in-the-sky ideas. So I was a bit surprised to be cast as an unrealistic ideologue in this post by CRPE’s Robin Lake. But maybe I have bad self awareness—you make the call! Either way, Robin and Paul Hill continue to deserve enormous credit for their groundbreaking ideas about public education delivery and their dogged work to implement them.

There’s a new, interesting research paper out called “Student Achievement within a Portfolio Management Model: Early Results from New Orleans.” If you follow NOLA developments and/or the broader discussions about portfolio districts and TUSSotF, you’ll find it worthwhile. You’ll learn more about the general landscape of schools (district vs. RSD; direct-run vs. charter) as well as the differences in performance. I was surprised to see such positive results from the district’s schools—heck, there’s an RSD because Orleans Parish was so dysfunctional. But after checking in with a NOLA expert,...

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Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Education released the math and reading results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The assessments were administered to a nationally representative sample of 376,000 4th graders and 341,000 8th graders from all 50 states. For a national perspective on the NAEP data, click here.

Here in Ohio, math and reading results for public school students in both grades were flat compared to 2011. Meanwhile, less than 50 percent of Ohio’s fourth and eighth graders meet NAEP’s proficiency standard. The proficiency rates for Buckeye State students are as follows: 48 percent in 4th grade math; 37 percent in 4th grade reading; 41 percent in 8th grade math; 39 percent in 8th grade reading. These underwhelming statistics aside, the state continues to post scores that surpass the national average.

One can also slice the 2013 NAEP data in many ways—by racial group, by poverty status, by special education status, and more. One can even compare charter to non-charter school students, which I do in this post.

The figures below display the charter versus non-charter comparison of students who are eligible for the Free and Reduced Price Lunch (FRPL) program, the most-utilized poverty metric available. This provides a fair comparison of similar students, since Ohio’s charters enroll a relatively high number of impoverished students.

The charts show the average scaled score estimates (scale is 0 to 500) for the two groups, along with the standard errors displayed as vertical lines. The standard error,...

This report by Kalman “Buzzy” Hettleman reviews the One Year Plus policy currently being implemented in Baltimore City schools—a program built on the premise that high expectations will lead to strong outcomes in special education, just as they would in traditional education. The report is divided into five parts, with the first three explaining the theory and premise behind the program, the fourth discussing implementation, and the fifth describing the difficulties of special-education reform. The One Year Plus program requires that all students on a diploma track (i.e., those who are not severely cognitively disabled) see at least twelve months of academic progress in twelve months of instruction. Students behind grade level are expected to catch up. While some might find these goals overly ambitious (“Isn't the point of special education to help children with difficulty learning?”), skeptics are generally driven by a misunderstanding of the breadth of disabilities covered by IDEA and special education. Indeed, many of these students would have never needed special-education services in the first place had they received the right supports early on. By pairing high expectations with research-based interventions and supports (as well as extensive training and a revamped monitoring system), the program is an unprecedented overhaul of special education in an urban setting. Note, however, that this report represents more of a description and argument for the program than an evaluation, as the program is too young for a scientific analysis. The first significant sample of outcome data will be available in mid to late 2014.

SOURCE: Kalman...

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This fascinating new study published by NBER examines whether early-retirement incentives impact student achievement. Researchers analyzed an early-retirement policy in Illinois that allowed teachers to retire early in 1992–93 and 1993–94. It was nicknamed 5+5, meaning that teachers who were at least fifty years old could purchase an extra five years of age and experience to be counted as creditable service toward their retirement benefit, so long as they retired immediately. Over the policy’s two-year life span, a full 10 percent of Illinois’s teachers—the bulk of whom were experienced—took advantage of this offer, leaving the profession. Analysts studied the test scores of the students of roughly 55,000 third-, sixth-, and eighth-grade teachers, ultimately finding that the incentive led to increased student achievement in most cases. (Why this occurred is beyond the scope of this study. It is conceivable that the lowest-quality and/or most burned-out teachers are most apt to take advantage of an incentive like this.) They also found evidence suggesting larger positive effects in disadvantaged schools. Then the analysts turned to cost. Summed across the approximately 8,000 teachers who participated in the program, the incentive resulted in total savings to Illinois districts of $550.5 million (because it’s cheaper to replace veteran teachers with rookies). However, the teachers who retired early receive pension benefits for more years than if they had retired normally. And in Illinois, it is the state, rather than the districts, that must make up the increased costs to the pension system, which totaled roughly $643 million....

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Does slow and steady win the race? That’s what education analysts are hoping after digging through the newly released math- and reading-achievement scores on the bi-yearly National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The test, administered to around 400,000 fourth-grade and 350,000 eighth-grade public school students, showed the nation’s school kids making slight gains since 2011, continuing a constant climb over the last decade. In math, the average fourth grader scored 242 and the average eighth grader scored 285, both groups up by one point since 2011. In reading, fourth graders did not make any statistically significant gains, but eighth graders improved three points in the intervening two years, going from an average score of 265 to 268. However, the average scorer in both grades did not score at or above the “proficient” level in either math or reading: Fourth graders came closest, with 42 percent reaching or exceeding the mark in mathematics. Meanwhile, the achievement gap between white and black students persisted, and the gap between white and Hispanic students did the same (though the eighth-grade Hispanic cohort is steadily closing the gap in reading scores). But if the average state played the turtle in this fable, there were a few states that played the hare: Tennessee, the District of Columbia, and Defense Department schools were the only entities to produce statistically significant gains across both subjects and grades (Tony Bennett’s Indiana also did well, posting significant gains in fourth-grade math and reading). As to whether or not the gains...

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With the polls closed and votes counted, the most interesting school district in America will remain interesting: Douglas County, Colorado—which had four of seven seats up for election on Tuesday—maintained its pro-reform edge, with two incumbents reelected and two reform-y newcomers taking seats at the table. Well done—and we can’t wait to see what they’ll do next.

By a margin of 4 percentage points, State Representative Martin Walsh has become Boston’s first new mayor-elect in twenty years, beating out City Councilor John Connolly for the mayorship of Boston. Walsh—whose campaign, according to Politico, received a fair amount of funding from the unions—has underscored his support for universal pre-Kindergarten. Connolly—a former teacher backed by Democrats for Education Reform—had supported reducing the district bureaucracy and improving career and technical education. However, both candidates supported lifting the state cap on charter schools and lengthening the school day.

Meanwhile, Gotham voters eagerly elected Bill de Blasio as their mayor on Tuesday; he famously pledged to tax the rich in order to pay for his universal preschool program. Colorado voters, on the other hand, rejected a $1 billion tax increase for education by a two-to-one margin (while adopting a new tax on marijuana). Voters in Columbus, Ohio (Fordham’s home state), also rejected a local levy by a lopsided margin. The lesson: Education taxes on the one percent (and on weed) are popular. Taxes on the middle class? Not so much....

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Joshua Dunn

Yesterday, Colorado’s voters resoundingly rejected Amendment 66, which had promised to vastly increase funding for Colorado schools and create a world-class system of education. Voters, with some justification, think Colorado already has good schools and were not in the mood to approve the largest tax hike in state history.

Much can be taken away from the results. First, despite being well funded and organized, a greater margin of voters said “no thanks” to Amendment 66 than a smaller proposed education tax increase in 2011, Proposition 103: That measure failed with 63 percent of Colorado voters rejecting it, while Amendment 66 (if the current, almost-complete results hold up) failed by 66 percent. The supporters of Amendment 66 raised over $10 million, including $1 million donations apiece from Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg, which allowed supporters to vastly outspend opponents of the measure. The lucky citizens of Colorado were subjected to seemingly endless ads about how, for a very small price per family, we could do things like add art classes and gym. Of course, the fool’s gold but always-enticing “reducing class sizes” was thrown in for good measure.

Second, the results are a huge repudiation of the Democratic leadership in Denver. Just a few months ago, two Democratic state senators, including the Senate president, were the first recalled public officials in Colorado history. One gets the sense that some of the vote on Amendment 66 was a carryover from the general public anger over how many measures, such as...

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I’m a big fan of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA). They do great work to help charter authorizers significantly improve their practices. I speak from firsthand experience—they partnered with the charter office at the New Jersey Department of Education while I was there and substantially improved our work.

But NACSA is more than a provider of technical assistance. In important ways, they help advance reform thinking. The latest example is their excellent recent report on accountability for “alternative” charter schools (or “alternative education campuses”—AECs). Such schools serve very high-risk student populations, including those in the juvenile justice system, with substance abuse problems, who are persistently truant, and more. Accordingly, these schools often fail to perform well on standard measures of student achievement, making it difficult for authorizers to fairly and accurately assess their performance. AECs disproportionately fail to make AYP and are disproportionately represented in states’ bottom 5 percent of schools.

But it might be the case that, despite low test scores, lots of AECs are doing great work. For these schools, because they’ve been identified for attention via state accountability systems, they’re unnecessarily subjected to intrusive state interventions. Currently, only seven states have sought to remedy this situation, creating separate accountability systems for alternative schools. But the ball is most certainly in the court of state governments.

Since states are creating their own new accountability systems via ESEA waivers, they must tackle this issue if AECs are to...

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Bill de Blasio’s public-education agenda consists of seven boasts (things he says he’s already done, part of his record as public advocate) and nineteen plans for future changes (“policies, agendas, and programs” that he promises to “work tirelessly to implement”). Minus the overlap, they add up to two dozen ideas. Here’s how I score them:

Potentially worthwhile, but over-the-top or unaffordable: These five notions include his preschool promise. The problem? Preschool could do considerable good for some very needy kids, but the universal version he’s espousing is a costly, unnecessary windfall for hundreds of thousands of middle-class parents and apt to result in a program that’s too skimpy to really benefit the children who need it most. (Note, too, that the city’s current pre-K programs are under-enrolled.)

Much the same can be said for universal after-school programs for middle schoolers, considering that plenty of parents already have this worked out. A serious education reformer would instead expand learning time by lengthening the school day and year. But the unions won’t like that.

As for universal school breakfasts and arts education, believe it or not, a lot of kids really do get fed before leaving for school, and art, worthy as it is, mustn’t crowd out the three R’s before children have mastered them.

Overdue reforms (if he puts teeth in them): I count two here.

Getting every child to read by...

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One of the most important and interesting questions I get about my book, The Urban School System of the Future, is whether I think its analysis and recommendations apply to non-urban districts. Though my thinking on this is still developing, my current response is as follows: When it comes to suburban districts, yes, much, but not all, is applicable; rural districts, however, are a different story (more on this in the weeks to come).

If you’re interested in the subject of reform in different contexts, you might want to read AEI’s recent report about Douglas County, an affluent district outside of Denver. It tells the story of a school board and district leadership, in an attempt to move their district from good to great, embracing a right-leaning agenda and some of the initiatives traditionally associated with reforming struggling urban districts, including improved teacher-evaluation systems, new educator-salary programs, and expanded parental choice. The choice aspect of the paper is especially interesting—the district has been resourceful in its use of the state charter law.

But the other reason to read the report is that the politics of the Douglas reform effort are intense. Though this Politico article on the topic is tendentious (a few paragraphs in, it’s clear the reforms aren’t going to get a sympathetic treatment), you’ll find a number of very interesting facts, themes, and questions, including the propriety of disclosing who funds such reports (for example, my organization, Bellwether Education Partners, always discloses relevant relationships—you can...

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