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 headline in yesterday’s Columbus Dispatch, “Union leader to be Coleman’s education czar,” certainly got my attention. I suspect I’m not alone.

Given Mayor’s Coleman’s relentless (and praiseworthy) push for education reform over the past 18 months, the appointment of a long-time teacher union official was almost shocking. Teacher unions, after all, have been the primary power brokers in the development of the education system that we are now struggling to reform.

So what’s the mayor thinking?

First, he’s obviously got to respond to the stunning levy defeat in November and the school system’s breathtaking cheating scandal. Choosing a respected educator is a smart way to build bridges and public support. 

Second, even in her official role as union president, Ms. Johnson has proven herself to be open to change. She appears to have played a significant role on the mayor’s education reform commission. For that, she deserves much credit. It would have been easy in those discussions for her to stymie any reform proposal that might negatively impact some of her members, but she didn’t. Instead, she helped the broad coalition of community stakeholders to reach a consensus. The result was a bold report that every commission member signed. It called for bold changes such as empowering school principals with the ability to choose the teachers assigned to their schools and evaluating teachers and principals based upon student success.

As the mayor’s agent in pushing...

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“If the state shackles them [school leaders] with rules and envelops them in mandates even as it cuts their budgets, achievement will inevitably head down, not up.” We penned this sentence three years ago in a report entitled Yearning to Break Free. Though Ohio’s economy—and school funding—is much improved compared to 2011, state lawmakers still haven’t loosened the ties that bind school leaders.

That is why the recent comments by Governor John Kasich grabbed my attention. At the Ohio Newspaper Association convention, Kasich told the audience, “We really need a flexible education system“ and “we need to bring about some deregulation.” Agreed, wholeheartedly— but what does a “flexible” public-school system look like? It hinges on the reform of three policies: licensure, the salary schedule, and collective bargaining. The points that follow outline these policies and where the state should go.

Give schools latitude in hiring

Ohio has raft of regulations related to teacher credentials. They can be found in state law (ORC 3319) and in administrative code (OAC 3301-23 and 3301-24). Generally speaking, the completion of a teacher-prep program and the passage of a standardized exam guarantee licensure. These have proven to be woefully mediocre requirements. Teacher-prep programs will admit practically anyone, regardless of academic accomplishment, and the quality of these programs is spotty at best. Meanwhile, the assessment requirement is worse—something of a joke—as virtually everyone passes it.[1]

Licensure does set a minimal threshold for entering teaching. It surely keeps...

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Joe Wilhoft

I began my career as an inner-city elementary teacher because I was dedicated to helping students succeed. Listening to them and helping them improve to meet their goals was at the heart of my work. Today, as the executive director of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, I feel that passion more deeply than at any point in my career. This is a big moment for our schools—a moment in which we can deliver a system of tools that will help teachers and parents truly understand where students are excelling and more clearly identify where they need help.

We will not—and cannot—create a world-class assessment system in isolation. We have the privilege of working with educators and experts across our member states to craft an assessment system aligned to the Common Core State Standards that will measure where students are on their path to success. These new assessments will provide an “academic checkup” by measuring real-world skills like critical thinking and problem solving. In addition, they will provide information during the year to give teachers and parents a clearer picture of where students are succeeding and where they need help.

More than 2,000 educators across our member states have contributed to building the assessment system, with more than 500 teachers doing the painstaking work of writing and reviewing assessment questions and performance tasks. Our member states and their educators have done an incredible job of keeping the needs of students at the center of our work, and we have learned together...

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Yesterday, I jokingly tweeted that since today would be a snowy Friday before a holiday weekend, the U.S. Department of Education would probably release SIG data. (They’ve executed numerous SIG-related “Friday afternoon trash dumps” in an attempt to minimize the field’s attention to this failed—and massively expensive—program.)

Turns out my joke wasn’t funny at all. 

They’ve done it again.

As you might remember, several months ago, the Department released second-year results, meaning two years of data from cohort-one SIG schools and one year of data from cohort-two schools. But they had to retract the data because of mistakes made by a contractor.

So today, they’ve released the corrected information.

On a Friday afternoon.

Before a holiday weekend.

I’ve belabored the fiasco that is SIG, so I won’t pile on today. I just hope someone, someone, in the Department is saying, “If we find ourselves continually dumping bad SIG news, shouldn’t we just admit we messed up and ask Congress to end this program?”

Here’s what you need to know.

  • When the program launched, we were told that this now-$6 billion program would produce “dramatic” improvements in our most troubled schools. The Secretary talked of “transformation not tinkering.”
  • The most persistently low-performing schools in American got several million dollars, on average, and yet a third of them got worse.
  • On average, schools with two years of funding and interventions under their belts saw a three percentage point gain in reading proficiency—just about the same gain as all
  • ...
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Nothing helps pass the time better when you’re snowed in than some high-quality edu-reading. Here’s some of the best stuff I’ve come across recently.

Public Impact has produced a very good and very important report on “extraordinary authority districts,” entities like Louisiana’s Recovery School District. It’s exactly the kind of nuts-and-bolts document that’s needed right now. Many states are considering such bodies, and this is a thoughtful guide—informed by our experience to date—for how to do it right.

A group of University of Missouri researchers compared three different types of growth measures: “student-growth percentiles,” a.k.a. SGP (my preferred method), and two “value-added models,” a.k.a. VAM. They found that a VAM approach that incorporates a comparison of demographically similar schools produces the best results (for a number of reasons). The full working paper is a bit dense, but the shorter Education Next article is accessible and very informative. Growth measures are important and here to stay; this piece will help you bone up.

NACSA and Charter School Growth Fund have put together a good, short report on how to ensure that the charter sector’s future growth leads to more and more high-quality seats and fewer low-quality ones. It has valuable policy recommendations and even better suggestions for improving authorizer practice. I particularly liked the report’s view that authorizers aren’t just disinterested umpires—they also have a role to play in identifying and replicating great schools.

I really enjoyed Fordham’s recent...

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As the number of chronically underperforming school districts continues to climb, some states are beginning to take control through Extraordinary Authority Districts (EADs). With lessons garnered from five that have employed various forms of EADs (Connecticut, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, and Tennessee), this publication from America Achieves and Public Impact provides a how-to guide for any state considering an EAD. It’s organized into a four-part framework. First, the authors address the political and legislative context in which EADs should operate, noting that EADs need the legal authority to fully take over schools and/or  districts. To minimize conflict, they also recommend building strategic relationships with local nonprofits and creating an open dialogue within the community. Second, they outline three strategies that EADs could use to operate their takeover schools: issue charters or charter-like contracts to external operators; run schools themselves, hiring a teachers and school leaders and giving them charter-like authority; and running schools directly, using their own school model built and/or managed by the EAD. When deciding which model to employ, states should consider how many schools an EAD can effectively manage and whether it can hire sufficient talent. Third, the authors note that EADs must also take on the “office role”—controlling schools’ finances, communications, testing and accountability, and so on—and offer suggestions on how to structure these responsibilities. Fourth, they stress the importance of assembling a strong core team and hiring a top-notch leader. In the end, though EADs are a very new strategy for turning around floundering schools and...

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The seventh installment of the National Council on Teacher Quality’s State Teacher Policy Yearbook, which analyzes and grades state policies bearing on teacher quality, struck a guardedly optimistic tone. Between 2011 and 2013, thirty-one states strengthened their policies on teacher-quality standards. And since 2009, thirty-seven states have raised the bar for teacher qualification. Florida’s B+ earned it the highest overall score, and twelve more states earned a respectable B- or higher. However, not all the news is rosy. Montana earned an F for the third straight year. Worse, there seems to be a widening gap between states at the bottom and the top of the rankings. Still, NCTQ contends that there has been considerable improvement overall, especially in the areas of elementary-teacher preparation (twenty-four states have improved since 2011), evaluation of effectiveness (twenty-two states made progress), and elementary-teacher preparation in mathematics (twenty states bettered their grade).  That can only be good news.

SOURCE: Sandi Jacobs et al., 2013 State Teacher Policy Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: National Council on Teacher Quality, January 2014).

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For a couple weeks now, I’ve been obsessing over this map. It’s the product of a remarkable research project that collected and analyzed the incomes of the thirty-year olds who were born between 1980 and 1982.

The map shows, by small geographic areas, the likelihood that a child born into the lowest-income quintile ended up (as an adult) in the highest-income quintile.

This isn’t the necessarily the best indicator of economic mobility, but it is still edifying. (The fantastic interactive map from the Times allows you to look at mobility from a number of other angles, as well).

A whole lot of staring at this map and some additional research has produced ten thoughts—most of them gloomy.

  1. The miniscule chance of a rags-to-riches rise in some locations takes my breath away. In Memphis, the chance of this “lowest-to-highest” movement is only 2.6 percent. Atlanta, at 4 percent, is barely better.
  2. The stickiness of poverty in some locations is heartrending. In most of the red areas in the Mississippi Delta, a child born into a family at the tenth percentile of earnings has a 75 percent chance of having an adulthood in one of the bottom two economic quintiles. 

    This is a catastrophic distortion of the American Dream.
     
  3. The belt of red in the Southeast is absolutely shameful. An entire swath of our nation is constricting the opportunities of low-income kids. The “Rust Belt,” once the nation’s manufacturing
  4. ...
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Into the messy and political world of teacher-effectiveness research enter Susanna Loeb and colleagues, who examine whether math and English-language-arts (ELA) teachers differ in how they impact students’ long-term knowledge. Specifically, they ask, among other questions, whether ELA and math teachers impact student performance in future years, not just in one—and whether that impact bleeds over by impacting not just knowledge in their own subject area but more generally in both subjects. They use extensive student, teacher, and administrative data from the NYC school system that includes roughly 700,000 third- and eighth-grade students from 2003–04 through 2011–12. There are three key findings: First, a teacher’s value added to ELA achievement has a crossover effect on long-term math performance, such that having a high-quality ELA teacher impacts not only ELA performance in a future year but future math performance, too; yet, math teachers have minimal impact on ELA performance in the long term. This may be due to the nature of ELA, since learning to read and think critically is likely to impact general knowledge, whereas math knowledge pertains more directly to the subject itself and math tests tend to be more aligned in content from year to year. Second, teachers in schools serving disadvantaged kids have less “persistence” (i.e., enduring impact) than their teaching peers with similar value-added scores in other schools, which could suggest that school-level curriculum choices make a difference—or perhaps that teachers in these schools prioritize short-term gains or teaching to the test. Third, within subjects, teachers...

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Like any relic of the industrial revolution, it’s time we took a wrench to the American education system. Or a bulldozer, argues Glenn Reynolds, distinguished professor of law at the University of Tennessee and InstaPundit blogger. In this book, he contends that the system will soon break down and reform will be unavoidable. In the first half of the book, he focuses on higher education, while in the second he touches on the K–12 bubble. Reynolds points out that the cost of education rapidly ballooned over the past few decades, while the substance diminished in value. College tuition has increased 7.45 percent per year since 1978, even outstripping the cost of housing (4.3 percent per year). Meanwhile, the real cost of K–12 education nearly tripled in that time. For all that expense, K–12 test scores have flat lined since 1970, and a study featured in the book Academically Adrift found that 36 percent of students demonstrated no academic improvement after four years in college. Meanwhile, society teaches teenagers to be infantile consumers of an inherently valuable education and blinds them to their potential value as skillful producers. Reynolds concludes that advances in technology and innovations in choice will bring reform and that public schools can either embrace that change or become obsolete. Parents and students will begin to reassess the skewed cost/value ratio and demand fundamental restructuring. While the book offers few substantive suggestions and no timeline, it does serve as a reminder that like any defective product, it...

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