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.

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...


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...


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...


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...


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...


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...


Just how generous are public pension plans? In this AEI report, Andrew Biggs tabulates the benefits—including pension and Social Security benefits, but not including health care benefits—that an average, full-career, state employee who retired in 2011 or 2012 now receives and compares the total with the income of full-time, full-year employees in his state. (Bear in mind that twenty-two states include teachers in their state retirement systems, while twenty-seven have separate systems for them.) In the average case, a retired state employee enjoys combined pension/Social Security income greater than the income of 72 percent of full-time employees working in his/her state. At the less generous end of this spectrum we find Maine, where benefits to full-career government employees (including teachers) exceed the earnings of 31 percent of full-time workers. At the high end is Oregon, where state retirees (including teachers) exceed the earnings of 90 percent of full-time workers in the Beaver State. (You read that right.) Other exceptionally generous states include West Virginia, California, and Nevada, all of which pay average full-career state retirees benefits that exceed 87–89 percent of the wages earned by full-time workers in those jurisdictions. Biggs also examines replacement rates, which measure retirement income as a percentage of pre-retirement earnings. Most financial advisors recommend a replacement rate of 70 percent, meaning that one’s retirement benefits (including Social Security) should equal 70 percent of one’s pre-retirement salary. Well, Biggs finds that the replacement rate paid to an average full-career state employee is 87 percent of final...


A few weeks ago, Slate published an article by Mike that argued that reformers’ obsession with college was blinding us to other valid routes to the middle class. The reaction was swift and sweeping: 31,000 shares on Facebook, 1,200 tweets, and nearly 1,000 comments. It also sparked several responses in the edu-blogosphere and in a private email chain that Mike moderated. Here’s a selection of some of the feedback—and pushback—organized by major themes.

Reaction #1: Students need to be ready for college and career, not one or the other

This was by far the most common response from the education-reform community: on college-ready versus career-ready, we need “both/and,” not “either/or.” Here are some comments along that vein:

Kate Blosveren, National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium:

Ultimately, I believe that this piece fails to put forward the right message parents need and want to hear. If over 90 percent of parents want their children to go to “college,” it doesn't really do CTE any good to frame itself as being the option other than college, but rather a pathway to a broader set of college options (since upwards of 75 percent of CTE concentrators go on to some postsecondary education within two years). By perpetuating the dichotomy of CTE vs. college, it still keeps CTE as “lesser than” rather than an equally viable (and more reliable) option.
It all comes down to redefining what college is—and getting parents, policymakers and others to see the high value...


The proposal of a few members of the state legislature to increase the transparency around charter schools is a fine idea. But their allegation that charters “waste” public funds—apparently without acknowledging the infirmity of Ohio’s urban districts—is shameful discourse that conceals the woeful facts about public schools in urban areas, where most charters reside.

Consider the Columbus Dispatch’s report of what two lawmakers had to say about charters.

The lawmakers say increased scrutiny of spending is needed because 87 percent of charters received a D or F on recent state report cards.

“These changes are urgently needed to ensure that our school children receive the education they deserve and that tax dollars are not wasted,” Schiavoni said.

Carney noted that after excluding dropout recovery and special-needs charter schools – which many agree should not be held to the same standard – nearly $500 million went to failing charters last year.

Granted, $500 million per year is a large amount of public funds and again, let me be clear, charter schools must show a return on that public investment. But why don’t we put this figure into perspective, in light of what we know about Ohio’s large urban districts?

The table below displays the performance index rating (student achievement), the value-added rating (a school or district’s contribution to learning), and the amount of state revenue provided for Ohio’s “Urban Eight” school districts. As you’ll note, state spending on Cleveland and Columbus school districts alone exceeds $500...