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.

Ohio slipped one spot in National Alliance for Public Charter Schools’ (NAPCS) annual ranking of charter-school laws compared to last year. For the 2014 edition, Ohio ranked 28th out of 43 states and the District of Columbia, lagging well behind national leaders such as Minnesota, Indiana, and Louisiana (ranked first to third, respectively). NAPCS ranks each jurisdiction’s charter law based on twenty components of its model law. These components include inter alia the strength of accountability measures, the transparency of the charter application and renewal processes, and equitable access to operational and facilities funding.

Among the twenty components, Ohio received a best-in-class ranking on just two: “A variety of public charter schools allowed” and “Multiple authorizers available.” (And indeed, Ohio allows seemingly anyone who wants to open one to do so.) Meanwhile, even as the state has a dynamic and wide-open charter-school marketplace, its accountability measures fall short. The state received lackluster marks on its accountability and transparency policies. And, the nail in the proverbial coffin: The state’s funding provisions for charter schools still remain inequitable. On average, Ohio charters receive roughly $2,000 per pupil less than district schools, driven largely by their inability to access local revenue.

NAPCS reported a few incremental improvements in Ohio’s charter-school law over the past year. Such improvements include a $100 per-pupil facilities-funding grant to physical charter schools, a provision that passed in the 2013 state budget bill. This, combined with a number of other small changes, improved Ohio’s score...

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Vince Bertram

Our nation’s education crisis is not exaggerated, nor is the risk to our economic prosperity and national security. The United States Department of Commerce estimates that by 2018, our country will have 1.2 million unfilled jobs in the science, technology, engineer, and math (STEM) fields because the workforce will not possess the necessary skills or interest to fill them —this in a country with a 7 percent unemployment rate.

An analysis of the recent National Assessment for Education Progress (NAEP) results—often referred to as the Nation’s Report Card—paints a bleak picture. The tests measure the progress of our nation’s fourth- and eighth-grade students in math and reading every two years. While we saw a slight improvement (a one-percentage-point increase in math and a two-percentage-point increase in reading from 2011 to 2013), the real headline is this: overall achievement among our nation’s fourth and eighth graders from 2007 to 2013 is flat. To put it another way, over the past half of a decade, nearly half of American fourth- and eighth-grade students continue to fail to perform at a basic level in math and reading.

Despite these results, I am confident we can change course and better prepare our nation’s youth for college and careers. After all, our nation has a proven record of resilience and focus. But success will not happen without a clear path carefully and intentionally created by educators, administrators, business, nonprofit, and government leaders, as well as anyone else concerned about the United States’ future....

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A first look at today's most important education news:

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The results are in from the Talent Transfer Initiative, a high-profile intervention that started in 2009. This randomized-experiment study, conducted by Mathematica, tracks the impact of moving effective teachers to disadvantaged elementary and middle schools. The intervention was implemented in ten school districts in seven states. A $20,000 bonus was paid to each participating teacher over a two-year period, in which they were expected to remain in their designated low-performing schools. Districts were able to fill 88 percent of the targeted vacancies with high performers, but they had to approach over 1,500 of them to get the eighty-one they needed—meaning just 5 percent were willing to make the switch. Analysts found that the transfers had a positive impact on math and reading test scores in the targeted elementary classrooms, up to a quarter of a standard deviation, which equates in this study to moving up each student by 4 to 10 percentile points relative to all students in their states. Yet impacts varied across districts, and there were none at the middle school level. The incentive also had a positive impact on teacher retention rates during the two-year payout period, but after that, the treatment teachers were no more or less likely to leave their schools than their peers. Still, this study indicates that effective teachers can indeed be effective in other settings. In other words, talent is transferable.

SOURCE: Steven Glazerman, et al., Transfer Incentives for High-Performing Teachers: Final Results from a Multisite Randomized Experiment (Washington, D.C.: Mathematica...

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Because of Kansas City Public Schools’ (KCPS) persistent underperformance, the state is contemplating taking over the district. They engaged CEE-Trust and Public Impact (organizations I admire and have worked with) to produce a plan.

What they’ve come up with is revolutionary. Should the state board of education adopt it, Kansas City will soon rival New Orleans as the most exciting and important city for K–12 education.

I’ve now read the entirety of the nearly 80-page report, and I’m impressed. It’s a document informed by the best thinking on systemic reform over the last two decades. You can see Chubb and Moe, Paul Hill, Ted Kolderie, and Neerav Kingsland in its pages. And that’s a delight.

While the report argues for some traditional interventions—namely, higher teacher salaries, more expansive pre-K, and greater wrap-around services—those pale in comparison to its main thrust.

Over decades, there have been countless state takeovers of districts across the nation, and they’ve all failed to bring about the dramatic improvement needed. That’s because they’ve all kept in place the failed district structure.

The traditional state takeover just installs a new, state-hired superintendent and removes governance authority from a locally elected board. The district’s position as the dominant, default operator of schools is preserved. 

The report’s recommendations address that fundamental problem. In its own words, “Our conclusion is that it’s not the people in the system that’s the problem; it’s the system itself.”

The report makes the case for ending the district.

“Simply put, the traditional urban school...

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There were many important releases and developments this week—invaluable new SIG information from IES, Race to the Top audits, new Brookings “choice index”—and I couldn’t keep up! Those subjects and others will get fuller treatments from me next week. But until then, here are some worthwhile things to read over the weekend.

There has been much talk about the 50-year anniversary of The War on Poverty. Here’s the best stuff I’ve seen: This Gerson column smartly points out the federal government’s successes and failures (and though this superb Brooks column on evolving conservative policy thinking isn’t about The War on Poverty per se, it should be read in conjunction with Gerson’s). This short blurb by Checker Finn is terrific; the first-person narrative is compelling, and for history buffs and those fascinated by the intersection of politics and policy, it offers something special. This very good piece by my old high school friend (now at AEI) Josh Good echoes family-related arguments made by Finn’s mentor a half century ago.

If you care at all about Common Core, this Stephanie Simon article about conservative backlash is an absolute must read. There are several different strands in the piece worth thinking about (including the CCSS-as-a-stepping-stone strategy), but these two sentences speak volumes: “Still, (Common Core) supporters have struggled to counter the critics. They have had trouble even understanding the contours of the smoldering opposition.” As I told TNTP (see fifth paragraph),...

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This year, Education Week’s Quality Counts report tells a story of districts facing formidable pressures, both external (such as budgetary and performance woes) and internal (demographic shifts), as well as a maturing market of expanded school options—and how this competitive environment is leading to governance change. Ed Week overhauled its long-running State of the States comparisons, paring its sets of indicators down to three: the (still-questionable) Chance-for-Success Index; the K–12 Achievement Index; and school finance. (No longer do they include standards, assessment, and accountability; the teaching profession; or transitions and alignment.) For the rundown of states at the top and bottom of the class, be sure to check out the results online—and a nifty interactive report card, which allows readers to recalculate grades using their own weights. But of particular interest is a survey analysis of the increasingly complex district governance landscapes—thanks to the rise of educational management and charter organizations and with the use of portfolio strategies in cities like Denver. Almost 80 percent of the national sample of district administrators queried agreed with the statement that “accountability pressures and technology shifts have led them to consider changes,” while 54 percent agreed that school systems need to make significant governance or structural changes. When asked about whether they think merging high- and low-poverty districts or implementing a state-led turnaround (or turnaround school district) strategy would work, the respondents seemed more optimistic about the former.

SOURCE: Education Week, Quality Counts 2014: District Disruption & Revival...

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Earlier this week, AFT president Randi Weingarten came out against the use of value-added measures in teacher evaluations, citing recent VAM shortcomings in D.C. and Pittsburgh and launching the catchy slogan, “VAM is a sham.” VAM certainly is not perfect. But as Dara Zeehandelaar reminds us in this week’s Education Gadfly Show, teachers decades ago were concerned about being capriciously fired by principals who didn’t like them, which in turn led to the movement for a more structured and quantifiable teacher-evaluation system. Does Randi want to go back to favoritism? Or simply no accountability at all?

In a fascinating exposé of the Common Core opposition movement, Politico’s Stephanie Simon describes how a sophisticated group of strategists took a grassroots campaign, mainly populated by “a handful of angry moms,” and is milking it for political gain. With everyone’s questionable motivations out in the open, Gadfly would like to see the debate return to whether the standards are right for kids.

In a speech at the Brookings Institution, Eric Cantor named school choice as the best hope for the poor to escape cyclical poverty. He took special aim at New York City’s new mayor, Bill de Blasio, for planning a moratorium on charter school co-locations in the Big Apple, arguing that this could “devastate the growth of education opportunity in such a competitive real estate market.” Cantor went on to chastise President Obama for (again) refusing to fund the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, a successful initiative that...

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Chad Aldeman

Cities and states faced with rising pension costs have begun to search for the most effective way to balance retirement promises made to workers with the need for fiscal sustainability and employer flexibility. Most prominently, a federal judge ruled last month that the city of Detroit could declare bankruptcy, opening the door for it to cancel or revise contracts such as those for retiree pensions. In Illinois, another state with a constitutional protection for government-worker pensions, the governor recently signed legislation that would raise the retirement age for mid-career workers and reduce cost-of-living adjustments for all workers who have not yet retired. Unions there immediately challenged the constitutionality of the legislation.

Another battle is playing out in California. In June 2012, San Jose mayor Chuck Reed convinced a seventy-to-thirty majority of his city’s voters to endorse changes to pension and retiree health care plans for city workers. The municipal unions filed a lawsuit the next day, and in late December 2013 a judge ruled that the pension changes violated the state constitution. Under what’s known as the “California Rule,” the Golden State’s constitution protects the right of workers, from their first day on the job, to accrue future benefits. (A dozen other states also use the California Rule as the legal protection for government pensions.) In other words, if a teacher is hired on January 1, 2014, her pension-benefit formula can never go down for the rest of her working career and into retirement, even if, for example,...

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The so-called War on Poverty has been fantastically successful at eradicating poverty among the old and devastatingly miserable at eradicating poverty among the young. It’s not hard to see why. It’s easy to reduce or eliminate poverty among people, such as seniors, who are not expected to work: Give them money and free services, like Social Security and Medicare. Voilà, problem solved. What our young people require, however, is so much more. And it’s nothing a government program can provide.

What they need, first and foremost, are parents with the emotional stability, resources, and commitment to do their most important job well. That means making good decisions every day about what they will or won’t expect of their kids; the time they will or won’t spend with them; the books they will or won’t read to them; the experiences they will or won’t provide. It shouldn’t be controversial to say, then, that many poor parents struggle to make these good decisions, often because they themselves are still growing up and are trying to do the job alone.

If we want to reduce intergenerational poverty—the real social scourge in America—we need an all-out effort to encourage everyone to follow a simple rule: Don’t have kids until you are ready to provide for them, emotionally and financially.

That means taking children who are growing up today in dysfunctional families and dysfunctional communities, and often attending dysfunctional schools, and transporting them into environments that can, as President George W. Bush would say, “touch...

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