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.

On September 19, teachers in the Columbus suburb of Reynoldsburg went out on strike for the first time since 1978. They started the school year without a contract in place, and neither two-party negotiations nor third-party mediation led to a breakthrough.

The initial contract offer from the district included a couple of notions that were thought by outside commentators to be problematic, including performance-based pay for teachers and the elimination of health care coverage in favor of a cash payment that teachers could use to buy their own coverage. As divisive as those issues could have been, they were actually pretty well hammered out before the walkout. The sticking point turned out to be a hard cap on class sizes.

With little movement on either side on this issue—and after dueling unfair labor practice charges were filed—the strike began. Day One was rough, but by the end of the first full week the feared “spillover” effects of the strike were not seen at Friday night’s big football game. But those Day One stories moved one district parent to sue to close the schools for the duration of the strike, citing concerns for student safety.

However, the Franklin County Common Pleas Court judge receiving the expedited case had a trick up his sleeve. Rather than ruling immediately, he ordered all parties into mandatory mediation behind closed doors and under a gag order. So what was the trick? While the judge...

EDUCATION SNAPSHOT
Federally owned schools located on Native American reservations, which serve about 48,000 students nationally, face extreme poverty and lack of resources; they are also marked by low performance scores, with some schools reporting proficiency at 25 percent. The AP’s Kimberly Hefling looks at the sorry state of an under-resourced elementary school on a Navajo reservation, where housing, transportation, and local facilities are in appalling disrepair and scarcity. 

COMMON CORE PUT TO THE TEST
In a recent Washington Post op-ed, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan argues for high-quality standardized testing. Two major state assessment consortia, PARCC and Smarter Balanced, are in the process of evaluating Common Core-aligned assessments, as Education Week’s Catherine Gewertz reports.

DOLLARS AND PENCE
Last week, Governor Mike Pence elected not to apply for a federal grant that might have afforded up to $80 million for Indiana preschools. In a statement justifying the decision, he wrote, “It is important not to allow the lure of federal grant dollars to define our state's mission and programs.” Fordham tackled the issue of Pence’s repudiation of the Common Core standards this spring in the scintillating “Indiana’s Potemkin Standards?”

FRESH CHANGES TO AP COURSES
Looking past the enormous hue and cry surrounding changes to the AP U.S. History curriculum, the College Board is going forward with new content in a bevy of subjects areas. The Hechinger Report ...

MOVEMENT ON BULLYING
A new report by the nonprofit Child Trends reveals that about 70 percent of D.C. Public Schools and D.C. Public Charter Schools enforced anti-bullying policies in line with the 2012 Youth Bullying Prevention Act. The study did not study implementation of the policies in question, and it found that a small number of schools neglected to submit any policy whatsoever.

CASH-FLOW PROBLEMS
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has released data showing that state funding for K–12 education has been cut in thirty of forty-seven states reviewed. Budget cuts are especially evident in regard to talent acquisition, with the widespread dismissal of teachers and support staff. For information on D.C. school spending, check out our new Metro D.C. School Spending Explorer

REDEFINING THE SCHOOL DISTRICT IN TENNESSEE
Chalkbeat Tennessee just launched an interactive page to educate the public on the state’s Achievement School District. The ASD is composed of struggling schools that have been taken over by the state from local districts and grouped into a single, larger entity. Seen by many as a controversial approach to school improvement, similar programs exist in Louisiana and Michigan. For the definitive panorama of district-level reform in Tennessee, stop whatever you're doing and check out Nelson Smith’s seminal 2013 report for Fordham.

WAR OF ATTRITION
In a must-read/long-read Education Next piece, four Mathematica researchers examine the question of whether KIPP's attrition rates may be an important factor...

On Wednesday, CCSSO (the organization of state superintendents) joined with CGCS (the organization of big urban school districts) to announce joint plans to reassess and scale back testing programs. This is big news, and it’s getting lots of attention. Here are the ten big things to know about the announcement.

  1.  A direct response to testing concerns. These two leading organizations are clearly responding to the pressure to reduce or end testing emanating from the AFT, former President Clinton, Secretary Duncan, and others. They’re agreeing to audit the number and types of tests administered and develop new systems that are leaner (eliminating “multiple assessments of the same students for similar purposes”) and more integrated (“complement each other in a way the defines a coherent system of measures”).
  2. Won’t back down. CCSSO and CGCS, however, are standing firm on testing, and the most vociferous anti-testing forces aren’t happy about it (Randi Weingarten, for example, said the plan fails to address the fundamental problem of “test fixation”). The joint statement makes clear these leaders believe deeply in the value of smart testing systems. They even explicitly defend annual testing, presumably including state-administered, end-of-year assessments. That’s a major statement (and one I heartily endorse).
  3. The golden mean. The plan is a smart “third-way” approach. The testing status quo generates valuable information on student, school, and district performance, but because many schools
  4. ...

There are many fascinating pieces of information you can gleam from the Fordham Institute’s new Metro D.C. School Spending Explorer website, most especially estimates of per-pupil expenditures at each inside-the-Beltway public school. But did you know that you can also learn about the relative wealth of each school’s attendance zone? Once you get to the site, plug in the name of a school and click on “Household Income.” (See below for an explanation of our methodology.)

I was curious about the wealthiest attendance zones in the area; they are printed below. I just looked at elementary schools, since their zones are smaller. We were not able to do the analysis for the District of Columbia. (Maybe a handful of west-of-the-park D.C. schools would have made the list, but I doubt it, thanks to the preponderance of apartment buildings in their attendance zones.)

The twenty-five richest elementary schools in the Washington suburbs 

(Click here for more information on each school)

...

School

City

Average Neighborhood Income

Students

Per Pupil Expenditures

Carderock Springs Elementary

Bethesda

$244,439.81

368

$12,178.64

Potomac Elementary

Potomac

SCHEDULING AROUND THE "SUMMER SLIP"
It is now generally recognized that the long layoff of summer vacation is a hindrance to knowledge retention (especially for low-income students), sticking kids with months in which to forget what they’d learned the previous school year. So it's gratifying to learn, as Education Week’s Madeline Will reports, that the number of year-round schools in the United States has reached 3,700. With several state-level grant programs helping to prod the switch to a staggered yearly calendar, the practice will hopefully continue to grow.

PELICAN (STATE) BRIEF
On Wednesday, the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled constitutional Act 1, a controversial 2012 bill limiting teacher tenure and empowering superintendents at the expense of local school boards. The ruling was praised by Governor Bobby Jindal and other state officials. "Act 1 gives principals and superintendents freedom from politics to do the right thing for children," said State Education Superintendent John White.

OPTING OUT OF ACCOUNTABILITY
Bellwether Education’s brilliant Anne Hyslop (an occasional Fordhamite) has leapt into the week’s most fervid ed-reform debate: To test, or not to test? In her latest post, she cautions so-called “districts of innovation” (those mobilizing project-based and competency-based learning in the classroom) from opting out of statewide testing in favor of district flexibility.

MUST-READ
The news came this week that John Deasy, superintendent of...

If time-squeezed teachers fret that the demands of testing have narrowed curriculum to little more than English language arts (ELA) and math, Daniel T. Willingham and Gail Lovette have a suggestion: Free up time by cutting back—way back—on instruction in reading comprehension strategies (RCS). This type of instruction dominates many—probably most—of our elementary schools’ reading curriculum. The basic idea is to arm emerging readers with a collection of tips and tricks—visualize the story in your mind, make predictions as you read, and so on—that mature readers tend to do reflexively, which encourages readers to monitor their comprehension as they read. But reading comprehension is not a “skill” like riding a bike or making free throws in basketball. It’s heavily dependent on the background knowledge readers bring to a text. Thus your ability to make a correct inference when reading about baseball, for example, does not mean you can make correct inferences when reading about a Japanese tea ceremony. There’s no abstract skill called “inferencing” that you can practice, master, and apply with equal effect on whatever you read. This places strict limits on reading strategies. That said, test score gains have long been associated with RCS. “The funny thing about reading comprehension strategy instruction is that it really shouldn’t work, but it does,” the pair note. But once kids get the big idea behind RCS—that a piece of text is trying to tell us something—there’s zero evidence that repeated practice has any beneficial effect....

This CALDER paper examines a range of postsecondary education outcomes for disadvantaged students—like enrolling and completing an associate or bachelor’s degree or gaining a vocational certificate—and respective salary data for these students during high school and for five years after their last educational institution. Analysts use Florida administrative data for two cohorts of students—over 210,000 in total—who graduated between 2000 and 2002, which enabled the researchers to observe between ten and twelve years of postsecondary and labor-market outcomes. They merge secondary school, postsecondary school, and earnings data, including courses taken in high schools, grades in those courses, overall GPA, and various college data, such as credits earned, major, and degree attainment. Controlling for demographics and prior achievement in high school, they unearth two findings: first, gaps in secondary school achievement likely account for a large portion of the differences in postsecondary attainment and labor-market outcomes between disadvantaged and other students; and second, earnings for disadvantaged kids are hampered by low completion rates in postsecondary programs, poor college performance, and their selection of low-earning fields. Yet they find that vocational certificates and associate degrees in health, transportation, construction, manufacturing, and security lead to relatively high pay for disadvantaged students and low-scoring high-schoolers. Specifically, those with vocational certificates earn 30 percent more than high school grads, and those with associate degrees pocket roughly 35–40 percent more. Analysts recommend, among other things, that public institutions do a better job partnering with industry associations and promoting high-potential career pathways—and that more high-quality apprenticeships be...

Scott Pearson

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s Metro D.C. School Spending Explorer offers the public a great resource by sharing data on public school spending (at the school level) across the District. As with any financial data, though, the fine print is as important as the headline. 

The map says that D.C.’s public charter schools had a total operating expenditure of $18,150 per pupil in the 2011–12 school year, compared with total operating expenditure at D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) of $15,473. But this is misleading. Many public charter schools rent their space, and rental payments are considered operating expenses. Meanwhile, school-system buildings are decades old and are almost exclusively paid for from the city’s capital budget—which is not included in the comparison. Moreover, more than $1,000 per pupil of DCPS maintenance expenses are provided free by the city—these expenditures aren’t included either. 

The fine print found in the Fordham Institute map describes the real situation—public charter schools receive less money per pupil than DCPS. This disparity is carefully documented in a 2012 study commissioned by two charter advocacy groups. It found that the total amount of extra non-uniform local operating funds DCPS receives compared to public charter schools ranges from $72 to $127 million annually. The report also makes the case for why some of these disparities exist, noting that charters are schools of choice, while “DCPS operates as a system of right, which requires schools be available across the city to...

NEA FLEXES POLITICAL MUSCLES
The National Education Association Advocacy Fund, the Super PAC of the country's largest teachers’ union, has spent more than $11 million in midterm campaign efforts, including $3.6 million in media and advertising. 

SPENDING RACE
Elsewhere in the exciting world of politics: Educational funding is playing a major role in Florida's gubernatorial campaign, as incumbent Governor Rick Scott and his challenger, former Governor Charlie Crist, vie to pledge more money for K–12 schools. In fact, Mr. Crist has promised to set a state record for per-pupil spending.

FLORIDA BONUS ROUND
The tight race for governor is also a fascinating backdrop for the Common Core debate. A long overview ran in the Tampa Bay Times last month, but the gist is that the standards were initially adopted in the Sunshine State—as in so many others—to little fanfare. A few years later, Governor Scott is sending his advisers to meet with anti-Common Core groups, while opponent Crist backs the standards unreservedly. 

LOWER LEARNING
Recently released poll data from the American Council of Trustees and Alumni revealed a wide discrepancy in what core subjects college students are required to take. Among the findings: A scant 18 percent of schools require their students to take American history in order to graduate....

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