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 Senate and House finally reached a compromise over changes to Ohio’s teacher-evaluation system (OTES), which, in its first year of statewide implementation, has drawn criticism from school leaders arising from what they say is its administrative burden. Some felt that, as a result of its classroom-observation mandates, principals may not have time to properly support any teacher, let alone those who struggle.

This journey began with a Senate bill passed back in December (Senate Bill 229), which continued with the House Education Committee proposing major changes—followed by weeks of debate on the competing versions. (A comparison of the two bills can be found here, and our analysis of the House bill is here.)

The compromise ended up in House Bill 362, which originally dealt with STEM-school matters. It now awaits Governor Kasich’s signature. Major changes include giving districts the option of changing the percentage of an evaluation tied to teacher performance and student growth from 50 percent to 42.5 percent each; providing districts with several different ways to make up the remaining 15 percent, including (but not limited to) student surveys; and allowing districts to be flexible with the observation frequency of top-rated teachers.

Everyone loves a happy ending. But as a former teacher, this bill leaves me with several lingering questions, as does OTES itself.

First, this has been the first year of OTES implementation for most Ohio districts. End-of-year test results won’t even be published until later this summer. So why were...

Joe Siedlecki

Here follows the tenth entry in Fordham’s “Charter School Policy Wonk-a-Thon,” in which Mike Petrilli challenged a number of prominent scholars, practitioners, and policy analysts to take a stab at explaining why some cities’ charter sectors outpace their district schools while others fall behind.

In a recent column for USA Today, AEI’s Rick Hess and Michael McShane argued that “creeping bureaucratization and regulation are endangering the entire charter school movement.” I’d argue the opposite: the real danger to the charter movement is lack of effective regulatory enforcement.

In their column, Hess and McShane put the best possible face on charter successes:

Objective analysis has also found charter schools to be successful, particularly with students from low income backgrounds. In 2013, researchers at Stanford University studied charter schools in twenty-seven states and found that, on average, students in charter schools outperform traditional public school students in reading and do about the same in math. Students below the poverty line and African American students were both found to fare better in charter than in public schools when their standardized test scores were disaggregated.

Certainly there have been sector-wide improvements since 2009, when the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO, home of the Stanford researchers cited above) issued a highly influential report, which found “a disturbing—and far-reaching—subset of poorly performing charter schools.” CREDO’s 2013 update notes important improvements and can indeed be summarized at the broadest level (as Hess and McShane have done) as positive.

But children are educated at individual...

The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) released an alarming new report today on teacher absenteeism in America’s urban public schools. While teacher absences were unacceptably high across most of the school districts that NCTQ analyzed, Cleveland and Columbus public schools earned the unhappy distinction of having the most teacher absences of them all. NCTQ’s analysts used district-level data from 2012-13 to calculate the number of teacher absences in forty of the nation’s largest urban school systems. The results were, on the whole, woeful: teachers across these districts were absent, on average, eleven days during the school year. (The length of a school year is roughly 180 days.) NCTQ’s analysis excludes days missed due to major illness or maternity leave, and did include days missed for professional development.

Teacher absenteeism borders on a crisis in Cleveland and Columbus. Cleveland’s teachers missed an average of sixteen days while in Columbus, teachers missed fifteen days—good for the highest and second-highest absentee rates in this study. Meanwhile, in Cincinnati—the only other Ohio district that NCTQ analyzed for this study—teachers missed an average of twelve days of school. (In a separate study, NCTQ found that Dayton’s teachers were absent nearly fifteen days.) However, not all of a district’s teachers are shirking work: Many of these absences can be attributed to “chronically absent” teachers—those absent eighteen or more days. In Cleveland, the percentage of the “chronically absent” teachers was a staggering 34 percent (second-highest in this group of districts); in Columbus, the percentage...

Cleveland’s teachers union is in a fit over the district’s increased utilization of Teach For America (TFA) to fill teaching positions. Instead of griping, the labor union should think instead of the larger human-resource crisis the district faces. The district has a myriad of human-resource struggles and, as we’ll see, one of them is its aging workforce.

The backstory, in brief, is the following. For Fall 2014, the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) has approved the hiring of forty new TFA teachers. This more than doubles the nineteen TFA corps members that the district hired for the 2013-14 school year. TFA is a highly regarded organization that recruits and trains talented young people to teach in high-need schools across the nation.

But, as the Cleveland Plain-Dealer reported recently, the teachers union doesn’t seem to be on board—and that’s too bad. In light of its opposition, here’s a fact the union should chew on.

In 2012-13, CMSD had the highest percentage of teachers with more than ten years of experience of all districts in Ohio. Indeed, 89 percent of its teaching force had more than ten years of experience.[1] As a reference point, the statewide average for districts was just 59 percent. Somewhat similar to Cleveland, the other urban-eight districts also had above-average percentages of experienced teachers. Toledo, the next highest urban district, came in at 84 percent; Canton, at 60 percent, came in lowest among the urban eight.

In other words, CMSD...

With belts tightening in communities across the land, education leaders are exploring novel ways to stretch the school dollar. One such approach is “personalized learning,” i.e., using technology to tailor coursework to individual students while making better use of teachers’ time. To determine whether personalized learning is helping schools get more bang for the buck, the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) is conducting a cost study of twenty schools that received grants from the Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC) initiative. In this brief, CRPE—halfway through its two-year study—presents its early findings from eight new charter schools, each of which was awarded $150,000 in their planning year and a matching grant of up to $300,000 during their first year of implementation. Unfortunately, CRPE found that these early implementers significantly missed their revenue projections: the median shortfall in private revenue (donations from philanthropies) was $120,600 per school (or 30 percent of expected donations), and the median shortfall in public revenue (due to lower than expected enrollment) was $135,000 per school (the median was off the mark by eighteen students, or 14 percent of forecasted enrollment). These missed projections forced the schools to cut budgets, and six out of the eight schools reverted to a more traditional budget model, investing more in labor and less in technology. (Some cuts were quite savvy, though: one principal, for instance, cut more than $100,000 from the school’s tech budget by switching from Macbook Air computers to cheaper Chromebooks.) In light of these experiences,...

  • The EdChoice Scholarship Program received a record number of applications this year: over 20,800 students applied during the window, which closed on May 9, up more than 4,000 from last year.
  • The food-service chief of Lima City Schools testified before Congress last week on how well the Community Eligibility Provision is working for families in Lima. Said Ms. Woodruff, “It’s going well. The parents appreciate it, the students are participating and it’s a good fit.”
  • There is a puzzling gap in Ohio between the number of students identified as gifted and the number of gifted students actually being served. A journalist in the Zanesville area tried to demystify the numbers by digging deep into some local schools. The conclusion of her interview subjects is that the state “mandates we test for giftedness, but they don’t fund it.”
  • Piloting of the new PARCC tests are continuing up to the end of the school year in Ohio. Few problems have been reported, and it seems that kids in particular really like the online nature of the testing.

The education-reform movement is experiencing a rapid acceleration, mainly fueled by great strides in expanding school choice. The number of charter schools in the U.S. has nearly quadrupled in little more than ten years, for instance, and private-school choice is on the rise. But as the efforts pick up speed, a human-capital gap has emerged: according to this report from the nonprofit leadership-training group EdFuel, the “autonomous and accountable public school sector” (a term the authors use to mean public charter schools and private schools accepting students with publicly funded vouchers) will need to fill 32,000 senior and mid-level (non-instructional) roles by 2023. EdFuel finds that the five fastest-growing roles are in instructional coaching, policy, legal areas, advocacy and outreach, and program implementation. To fill this human-capital gap, EdFuel prescribes four actions. First, because current career pipelines aren’t providing talent pools that are deep and diverse enough, recruitment ought to be ramped up—especially in the five top sectors listed above. Second, the sector needs to focus on growing management talent via PD for “rising stars” and “sector switchers.” Third, the sector ought to engage with city leadership to help recruit and keep top talent. And fourth, sector leaders should keep an eye on local politics; without political will, the sector will weaken and talent will head to cities with smoother roads.

SOURCE: EdFuel, Map the Gap: Confronting The Leadership Talent Gap in The New Urban Education Ecosystem (Washington, DC: EdFuel, April 2014)....

America’s educational shortcomings are not limited to disadvantaged kids. Far from it, as Eric Hanushek, Paul Peterson, and Ludger Woessmann explain in this recently released Education Next/PEPG study. Looking at the NAEP scores in every U.S. state and the PISA results of all thirty-four OECD countries, Hanushek et al. compared the math proficiency rates of students by parental education level: low (neither parent has a high school diploma), moderate (at least one parent has a high school diploma, but neither has a college degree), and high (at least one parent has a college degree). The results, from an American perspective, were pretty grim at every level. Overall, 35 percent of U.S. students are proficient in math, placing us twenty-seventh. For the most disadvantaged students, things are actually a bit rosier: we rank twentieth. The whopper, however, is the comparative proficiency of our most advantaged students: they fall in at a dismal twenty-eighth place—worse than the country’s overall rank. In other words, advantaged U.S. students appear to be doing comparatively worse internationally than students with less-educated parents. This is the opposite of what many low-score apologists—and suburban parents—would like you to believe. (Try explaining that with poverty.) Fortunately, there’s a little bit of state-level good news. Advantaged students from Massachusetts, for example, rank just outside the top five internationally, with a 62 percent proficiency rate. And disadvantaged students in Texas have a 28 percent proficiency rate, placing them seventh internationally. For the country, however, the picture is decidedly distressing....

Last week, I participated in two events that challenged my ideas on one of urban education’s trickiest and most combustible issues.

Those who know only a caricatured version of my views might be surprised by both the subject and those who’ve caused my ruminations. But I wrestled with this issue in my book, and while I don’t always see eye-to-eye with my interlocutors of last week, they have valuable insights into this issue.

I’m writing about it here both because it’s important and because, frankly, I need help figuring out the right answer.

The question is, “How do we protect the ‘public’ in public education?”

On Wednesday, I participated in this discussion at the AFT’s Shanker Institute. At a conference the following day, I moderated a conversation between urban school leaders, and similar issues kept bubbling up.

There are many ways to define a school’s “public-ness” (Rick Hess expertly unbundles the issues here). But the aspect I’m most concerned about relates to governance, whether the public—the adults in the geographic area served by the system of schools—is able to shape the contours of the system.

The very specific issue I’m interested in is how this can happen absent locally elected school boards.

Per state constitutions, ensuring a system of public education is the responsibility of state governments. They, however, have created local school districts and boards, thereby delegating K–12 authority...

There’s been much talk lately about whether college is for everyone. And there’s always much talk about teacher preparation and pay. Let’s combine these issues and look at them through a specific lens: money.

Consider Bob, who just graduated high school and is torn between two career paths. His father is a proud mechanic who wants Bob to learn the skill and join him on the job. His mother is a schoolteacher, and part of him has always wanted to go to college and follow in her footsteps. What should Bob do?

Ignoring all other considerations, let’s see how the financials shake out.

First, let’s clarify our assumptions.[1About half of the country’s 3.8 million teachers hold only a bachelor’s degree, and the policy of providing automatic pay raises for obtaining master’s degrees may be on the way out. Let’s look at the lifetime earnings of public-school teachers with bachelor’s degrees, and let’s compare this figure with that of high school graduates who have never stepped foot inside a college classroom, whom I’ll call “non-college-goers.”

Measures usually define “lifetime earnings” as one’s aggregate earnings between the ages of twenty-five and sixty-four, including pensions. So step one is determining how much people in either situation earn between the start of their working careers and the age of twenty-five. Estimating a median annual salary of...

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