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.

A firestorm has erupted in Ohio on a proposed state board of education administrative rule. The headline on Diane Ravitch’s blog cries, “Ohio Alert! State Board of Education Will Vote on Whether to Eliminate Arts, P.E., Librarians, Nurses at Elementary Schools.” The headline, though sensational, is flat wrong and misleading.

Let’s set the facts straight. The Ohio state board of education is proposing to eliminate the staffing-ratio mandates for non-classroom-teaching staff. (These include counselors, gym teachers, elementary art and music teachers, etc.) The board, then, is not pronouncing a death-sentence on music or art. Local schools may hire as many non-classroom-teaching personnel as they see fit. Rather the proposal aims to give districts more flexibility over how they staff their schools.

Here is the rule in question, as presently written [OAC 3301-35-05 (A)(4)].

A minimum of five full-time equivalent educational service personnel shall be employed district-wide for each one thousand students in the regular student population as defined in section 3317.023 of the Revised Code. Educational service personnel shall be assigned to at least five of the eight following areas: counselor, library media specialist, school nurse, visiting teacher, social worker and elementary art, music and physical education.

In other words, the current regulation requires districts to hire at least five employees per 1,000 students in the eight areas defined under the rule. But this is a rigid human-resource policy, leaving schools with less flexibility in how it delivers educational services. For instance, what if a district...

VIEW FROM THE TOP
The U.S. Department of Education is reviewing the process by which teachers are assigned to schools to ensure that highly qualified and experienced teachers are equally staffed at both high-poverty schools and those of greater means. States are being sent OCR data about teacher experience, certification, absenteeism, and salary, and asked to develop plans for their schools to comply with federal law mandating equal access to high-quality instructors. It’s the first time such plans have been solicited in almost a decade.

MEET THE NEW BOSS
In an interview with NPR this morning, Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander described the education policy agenda of the newly Republican-controlled Senate. The former education secretary emphasized the need for more local control and declared that fixing No Child Left Behind is among his highest priorities. 

EDUCATION SNAPSHOT
Students at a Boston Cristo Rey high school gain real-world work experience that boosts confidence and gives them a competitive edge in the workforce. The Catholic school network’s work-study program sends students, who primarily come from low-income families, to local companies for five days a month in exchange for a portion of the student’s tuition. It’s an innovative model that was recently profiled in an exceptional piece in the Atlantic.

TEACH YOUR TEACHERS WELL
Ed schools are rethinking math teacher prep in light of the new Common Core standards: The Mathematics Teacher Education...

ELECTIONS HAVE CONSEQUENCES
Newly elected congressional Republicans have revealed an aggressive education policy agenda that will focus on overhauling No Child Left Behind and the Higher Education Act. Other education priorities include school choice, funding issues, and scaling back the federal government’s involvement in K–12. For more information on the election’s implications on education, read Andy Smarick’s hot take from earlier this week.

TAKE OFF YOUR COAT AND STAY A WHILE
A new study by the Council of Great City Schools found that the average tenure of principals from the largest school districts has slightly decreased since 2010, to 3.2 years. This high turnover makes sustainable change and reform efforts difficult to implement and often stifles “positive academic momentum.” To get a local look at the effects of this kind of churn, turn to Chalkbeat’s look at the revolving door for principals in Denver Public Schools

SIGN O' THE TIMES
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio recently rolled out his three-year initiative for school reform, which centers on reinventing ninety-four of the city’s most troubled schools as “Renewal Schools.” Today, he got the early response from elite consensus: The New York Times op-ed page panned the proposal, saying the mayor “robbed himself of a useful reform tool” by abandoning Michael Bloomberg’s strategy of shutting down failing schools.

FOR-PROFIT SCHOOLS FIGHT REGULATIONS
On the subject of newly-released education proposals, the federal government’s regulations on for-profit...

POVERTY'S FOOTPRINT
Poverty is an established risk factor for poor academic achievement, but it’s critical to remember that poverty is associated with much more than low incomes. A new study by the Center for New York City Affairs identified eighteen factors in a student's school and neighborhood that strongly predicted chronic absenteeism and low state test scores. The research places student achievement in a broader context, allowing school administrators to better understand where their students come from and how to meet their needs.

EXCUSES, EXCUSES
Teachers’ unions are attempting to distance themselves from the Democratic walloping that occurred Tuesday, claiming that the results were “more about the national climate than anything.” Regardless of the accuracy of that judgment (the president's low approval ratings no doubt influenced the outcome of many state-level races), it seems like a convenient way to justify spending millions on failed candidates—something that Andy Smarick writes should have dues-paying members up in arms. 

STILL NEED A DEGREE
A new report finds that short-term college certificates that offer training for specific job skills can lead to students finding temporary work, but don’t help in securing a long career or wage increase. Researchers suggest that for students to see the best return on investment, these certificate programs should be coupled with associate’s or bachelor’s degrees in what they term “stackable certificates.”

THE RISE OF PERSONALIZED LEARNING
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John Chubb

[Editor's note: This post marks the first in a series of blog entries that examines what can be learned from the most promising alternative leadership development programs in the country. John Chubb, president of the National Association of Independent Schools, interviewed leaders in several of these programs to learn more about how to cultivate successful leadership. We’ll roll out the six lessons that he learned over the next week.]

At a time when US education is consumed with the lagging achievement of students, why should we care about school leaders? Compelling evidence indicates that teachers are the key to student achievement.

Yet principals can significantly influence student achievement through their interactions with teachers. They hire teachers directly (or oversee the people who do). They supervise and evaluate teachers. They coach and mentor, or ensure teachers receive those supports. They set school goals, instill a sense of mission, and inspire, coax, and counsel teachers to do their best. They have the hard conversations when teachers require them. (Or at least the successful ones do.)

Leaders also set the tone in schools, the culture and expectations that may motivate students directly. They provide for student safety and well-being, fostering an environment in which students can focus on learning undistracted. Even these influences require work with and through teachers. Great leaders can cultivate great teachers.

Yet we know as little about how to develop great school leaders as we know about developing great teachers. Ninety-eight percent of principals in US public schools are...

  • Over the weekend, Lyndsey Layton of the Washington Post wrote a thoughtful article about parents’ quest to better understand the Common Core’s approach to math instruction. For example, the standards want kids to understand numbers as something more than symbols. Thus, what “10” means might be taught by asking kids to draw ten candy canes. Word problems are also plentiful. The trouble is that these new and improved methods differ from how some older folks learned how to add and subtract—and these caring moms and dads are struggling to help with homework. These training sessions, paired with web resources like Khan Academy, are a smart solution. Not to mention the fact that they get parents more involved in their kids’ schooling—always a good thing.
  • Accountability at work is a beautiful thing—even (or especially) when the realities it reveals are ugly. Such is the case of the Louisiana voucher program. Louisiana Believes, a part of the Bayou State’s Department of Education, just released the 2013–14 annual report of the state’s scholarship program. Under the initiative, schools are permitted to take in voucher-wielding youngsters, but in return, these schools are subject to annual oversight pertaining to how their scholarship students perform. If a school’s not up to par, it can’t take in more kids the following year. In 2013–14, 126 schools participated, and at least twenty-three of them—about a fifth—fell short. Those are grim results, but kudos to Louisiana for ensuring that kids will be going to better-performing schools next year.
  • ...

The introduction of the Common Core State Standards into America’s schools offers a unique opportunity to rethink teachers’ professional development. Drawing on recent research and interviews with key state and district stakeholders, Education First’s latest report, Common Core State Standards and the Transformation of Professional Development, offers recommendations for how to re-conceptualize teacher training to drive effective Common Core implementation. The report consists of three briefs covering what professional development should look like, examples of successful systems, and advice for policymakers, respectively. Among the first’s key takeaways: Isolated and sporadic professional development should be replaced with ongoing sessions (both individually focused and collective) that help educators to cultivate a deep familiarity with the Common Core and to identify and utilize high-quality curricular materials that are well-aligned to the standards. The second brief highlights places where teacher development is working well and identifies effective practices to be replicated at scale. For example, Washoe County School District’s Core Task Project is a three-week Common Core implementation boot camp. It utilizes free resources provided by national organizations to immerse teachers in an intensive introduction to the standards, support them during implementation, and provide them with continuous feedback as they progress. The third and final brief challenges policymakers and district leaders to create conditions that support this new concept of teacher development. It proposes reallocating professional development dollars to reflect district priorities, building time into the school day for professional development, and encouraging school leaders to prioritize true instructional changes. While not all...

This week’s election results remind us that factors other than the ideologies and performance of candidates often determine the outcomes. One such factor is voter turnout. Campaign strategists and politicos often cite President Obama’s ability to mobilize the minority vote as a major factor in his successful 2008 and 2012 presidential bids. In those elections, down-ballot candidates politically aligned with the president benefitted from this galvanized voter pool. Not so in off-cycle elections, during which the vast majority of the country’s 500,000 elected officials win office—and which aren’t held on Election Day. (Note that midterm elections, like last night’s, aren’t off-cycle; midterms are held on Election Day, just like presidential ones.) So what does this mean? How are these elections different? And who benefits? These are the sorts of questions that Sarak F. Anzia tackles in her new book, Timing and Turnout. Anzia argues that organized groups have more influence in off-cycle elections because the voters they mobilize have a greater relative impact due to smaller overall turnout. Take teacher unions: Anzia offers data showing that educators operating under school boards whose members are elected off-cycle have higher salaries than those whose boards are constructed on federal election days. Other data demonstrate that, during such elections, voters who sympathize with teachers’ union ideology compose a larger percentage of the voting bloc, bolstering like-minded candidates. So, Anzia asks: Do these elections enhance democracy by increasing the public’s opportunities to choose their officials? Or do they marginalize the broader electorate by decreasing...

Less than four years after stepping down as chancellor of the New York City Department of Education under then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Joel Klein’s tenure is already being re-appraised. A recent study showed that the small schools built from the remains of large, comprehensive high schools on Klein’s watch have smartly raised both graduation rates and college attendance. In his new book, Lessons of Hope: How to Fix Our Schools, Klein discusses his successes, shortcomings, and hopes for the future. At the helm of the nation’s largest school district, Klein pushed for radical reform over incremental change, in hopes of uprooting a stubbornly bureaucratic and complacent system. The Bloomberg administration’s set of education reforms, labeled “Children First,” centered on three major areas of improvement. The first wave focused on building and supporting great school leaders, namely principals, through the rigorous Leadership Academy. Designed to develop leaders eager to disrupt the status quo, the fourteen-month long academy immersed trainees in extensive role-playing activities and turned out hundreds of new leaders who went on to serve in the city’s most disorganized schools. Building on this foundation, Klein set out to establish a system of choice, breaking up large, failing high schools into dozens of small academies focused mainly on improving graduation rates among minority, low-income students. Klein further championed choice by attracting and encouraging charter schools, which now serve over 70,000 families who are happy with their kids’ education and continue to fiercely defend the right to...

There’s a wonderfully apt saying about why debates in the U.S. Senate last so long: “Everything’s been said but not everyone has said it yet.”  In that spirit, I offer my admittedly late thoughts on last night’s results. (It was a late night, so you may want to triangulate the real story by also reading the reactions from Eduwonk, Rick Hess, Eduflack, and Mike Petrilli.)

  1. The Uncertain Edu-meaning of the GOP Triumph: It was obviously a gigantic night for Republicans. They won just about every race imaginable. But it’s not clear what views, if any, all of these new office-holders share. Some are pro-Common Core; some aren’t. Some love choice and charters; some are more traditional. So we’ll have to stay tuned to see how this landslide settles.
  2. End of the Obama-Duncan Era: We’ll have to wait and see what the new reform era holds, but it feels more and more like the heady days of Race to the Top, ARRA, etc., are behind us. Secretary Duncan’s team still has work to do, on waivers in particular, but Maryland Avenue will no longer be the reform world’s center of gravity. The fundamental legacy question will be: How much of the Obama-Duncan reform agenda has become part of the consensus reform agenda?
  3. Lots of Union Spending, Meager Results: Were I a dues-paying teachers’
  4. ...

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