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.

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. ...

With a few exceptions, most of the races decided yesterday didn’t hinge on education reform. But the outcome will have big implications for education policy nonetheless.

That was certainly true in 2010, when a voter backlash against Obamacare triggered a wave of Republican victories, especially at the state level, which in turn set the stage for major progress on education reform priorities in 2011 (rightfully dubbed “the year of school choice” by the Wall Street Journal). In fact, as Ty Eberhardt and I have argued, 2010’s Republican surge deserves more credit for the education reforms of the past several years than does Arne Duncan’s Race to the Top:

So here we are again, with Republicans winning stunning victories in races for governor’s mansions and statehouses nationwide. And once again this will be good for education reform, especially reforms of the school-choice variety. Voucher and tax-credit programs in Wisconsin, Florida, and Arizona will continue apace; charter caps may be lifted and bad laws amended in Massachusetts, Maryland, and Illinois; comprehensive reform efforts in New Mexico, Nevada, and Michigan have a new lease on life.

There’s good news for reformers on the Democratic side of the aisle too, what with the teachers unions’ terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day signaling their waning influence. Of particular note is Rhode Island—Rhode Island!—which just elected a pro-education reform, pro-pension reform Democrat as governor and a bona fide charter school hero as lieutenant governor....

DON'T FORGET TO CARE ABOUT ELECTIONS
You’ve got to pick up groceries on the way home. And drop off the kids at a sleepover. And call someone about fixing the cable. But in the midst of your daily grind, be sure to remember that today is the day that Americans decide who will have control over the Senate, the House of Representatives (although, let’s face it, there’s not a chance of that changing hands) and dozens of statehouses around the country. For an eleventh hour look at some of the major races, as well as updates throughout the day, turn to Politics K–12.

HEALTHIER GRUB IN MINNESOTA
School lunches in Minnesota are getting a healthy makeover, thanks to a new program aimed at eliminating seven unwanted ingredients frequently found in processed meals. While there is some concern that revamping the school lunch menu will be costly, an analysis found that removing the seven ingredients (mostly artificial sweeteners and preservatives) will only cost an average of 35 cents more per meal. 

BURNAROUND
“The previous administration had a policy that a school like this was left to fend for itself, and that’s why we’re here today, because we reject the notion of giving up on any of our schools,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio stated at an East Harlem school last night. The brutal burn came in the midst of a...

Over the last five years, prodded by the feds, states have adopted teacher evaluation systems. According to a recent report from the National Council on Teacher Quality, forty-one states, including Ohio, now require evaluations that include objective measures of student achievement. These aren’t the meat-axe assessments of yesteryear, though. These next-generation teacher evaluations combine classroom observations using new prescriptive protocols with quantitative evidence of learning gains on state tests (or another form of assessment) to determine each teacher’s effectiveness.

The national focus on teacher evaluations raises a couple of questions. First, why have states chosen to focus on teacher evaluations (i.e. what’s the problem that policymakers are trying to solve)? Second, are the new evaluations proving effective in solving the problem?

Let’s start with the why. Recall all the evidence that the single most important in-school factor for student achievement is teacher quality. If we know that good teachers make a difference, it's not surprising that we've focused on evaluating them. Such evaluations hold the potential to identify great teachers whom we can reward, retain, and/or hold up as models, struggling or developing teachers whom we can help to improve, and ineffective teachers who should be removed from the classroom. In other words, evaluations are intended to boost the effectiveness of teachers whom our children learn from.

That’s really only part of the answer, though. Even before there was a law mandating it, principals have long conducted teacher evaluations. Yet those traditional evaluations, typically based solely upon classroom...

In January, the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Office of Civil Rights in the Department of Education (ED) issued a joint “Dear Colleague” letter to K–12 schools. The letter calls into question whether minority children are punished more harshly than white children for the same infractions. The letter notes that schools could be guilty of discrimination in one of two ways: If a student is treated differently because of his or her race, or if a neutral policy has a “disparate impact.”

While the first method of determining discrimination is clear and fair, the second method is far more open to interpretation.  The letter explains that “examples of policies that can raise disparate impact concerns include policies that impose mandatory suspension, expulsion, or citation upon any student who commits a specified offense.” What the departments are suggesting here is that zero-tolerance policies, which impose a specific penalty for a specific offense, could have a disparate impact on minority students and may be discriminatory.

The disparate impact analysis forces the DOJ and ED into the murky water of differentiating between strict enforcement of zero-tolerance policies that are necessary to meeting educational goals and selective enforcement of policies that aren’t. Take, for example, what’s happening in Akron Public Schools (APS). The Akron Beacon Journal recently discovered that students in APS who commit egregious acts (like assaulting a teacher or bringing a weapon to school) have historically been immediately transferred to a different school—a...

The information yielded by standardized tests—and the analyses based on test results, like value-added—should form the basis for tough decisions regarding which schools (charter and district) or entire school systems require intervention. Parents need information about school quality, and taxpayers ought to know whether their resources are being put to good use. But at the same time, parents and policymakers alike have valid concerns about “overtesting” students, and how high-stakes tests change how schools behave.

Over the past decade, Ohio has tested social studies and science unevenly, and will continue to do so under the new assessment program set to begin in spring 2015. Under the old system, the state administered science tests in just grades 5 and 8, while math and English language arts (ELA) were assessed in all grades 3–8. Social studies was tested for just three years (2006–07 to 2008–09) in grades 5 and 8, but it was “suspended” effective fall 2009. The new state testing program continues science assessments in grades 5 and 8 and resurrects social studies testing in grades 4 and 6.

Should Ohio test in science and social studies, in addition to ELA and math assessments? And if so, how often? With that in mind, let’s look at the case to test and not to test in social studies and science—and then consider some policy options. 

The case against testing in social studies and science

The case against social studies and science rests on this premise: The incremental...

The facility arrangements of one Ohio charter school recently came under fire in a Columbus Dispatch exposé. An investigation discovered that roughly half of the school’s budget was dedicated to rental payments, potentially shortchanging teaching and learning. But this episode isn’t an isolated case; many Buckeye charters have struggled to secure adequate facilities. How can Ohio policymakers and school leaders better ensure that charters have the facilities they need at a reasonable cost? First, they should consult this new report from the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), which contains a wealth of information on charter-school facilities funding from both private and public sources. The report includes descriptions of the key nonprofits in charter-facilities financing, including the Charter School Growth Fund, Capital Impact Partners, Low Income Investment Fund, and LISC. These nonprofits—twenty in all—have provided an impressive $2 billion in direct financing for charter facilities (e.g., loans and grants). When it comes to state support for charter facilities, Ohio has been woefully stingy. The state provided, for the first time in 2013, per-pupil funding to support the facility costs of brick-and-mortar charters (up to $100 per-pupil). But other jurisdictions are far less tightfisted. For example, Washington, D.C., Arizona, and Minnesota provide more than $1,000 per-pupil for facilities; four other states provide between $250 and $1,000 per pupil. To make matters worse, Ohio has not appropriated any funds to support its charter school loan program and provides no charter-facilities grants. Again, other jurisdictions do much...

POWER IN A UNION
The American Federation of Teachers will spend a record-breaking $20 million on this year's elections. Across the states, teachers are going door to door to speak out against Republican governors. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is the AFT’s biggest target this cycle, alongside Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, Florida Governor Rick Scott, and Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, the last of whom is probably already planning his own teaching career following a near-certain election defeat.

TEST QUESTIONS
The College Board, owners of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), plan to make public the number of international students who take the SAT each year. It is generally thought that the majority of international test-takers come from China and South Korea and go on to apply to undergraduate programs at U.S. colleges. 

SPLIT THE DIFFERENCE
The Democrats have historically been the party of the teachers’ unions. However, as this election cycle has shown, that may no longer be the case. In California, two Democrats with very different views on education are vying for the position of state superintendent of public education. While incumbent Tom Torlakson embodies the old-school, pro-union attitude of the party, challenger Marshall Tuck backs charter schools and has voiced his support of the Vergara decision.

BAD NEWS FOR DIPLOMA MILLS
Last week, the Department of Education announced stringent new regulations on the nation’s 3,400 for-profit...

ELECTION CRAMMING
With Election Day fast approaching, there’s only so much time to familiarize yourself with the races, candidates, and issues at play. That’s where Education Week’s election guide comes in: A compendium of state and local races, it’s a one-stop shop for all the education-related angles to the midterms, right down to ballot issues and state education races.

WEEKEND READING
The Washington Post’s T. Rees Shapiro has a lovely look at the life of Ruth T. Bedford, a Standard Oil heiress who left a $40 million bequest to her Virginia high school. Bedford, who died in June, led a colorful life that saw her breed thoroughbred racehorses, work with the Red Cross during World War II, and conquer the skies as an early aviatrix. Administrators at her alma mater, the all-girl’s Foxcroft School, were reportedly stunned at the gift.

VOLUNTEERING INFORMATION
Tennessee’s Department of Education has released its annual report card on local schools, and Chalkbeat Tennessee has a good overview. Among their observation, there’s one thing to celebrate: In keeping with the one and only Michael Brickman’s entreaties, the state has embraced a simple, A-F rating system, rather than a confusing morass of terms like “priority” or “celebration eligible.”

MUST READ
The Answer Sheet blog has a phenomenal guest post by Alexis Wiggins, a fifteen-year teaching veteran who shadowed students around their high...

Pages