Today's Ohio Education Gadfly is our last regular issue before a short summer break, so you don't want to miss it.???? Mike recaps media coverage and reaction to our latest report, Losing Ohio's Future: Why college graduates flee the Buckeye State and what might be done about it. Suzannah ponders Ohio's "catch-22" when it comes to updating the Buckeye State's academic content standards.???? Matt recommends a new report about the high-school dropout problem, and Rachel wonders if Americans are smarter than 5th graders????? Read the entire Ohio ???????Fly here....

The Education Gadfly

Sometimes we bloggers here at Flypaper have something to say and we literally want to say it, not write it. So today we introduce "Speaking of...," our new, occasional vlog (video blog) series in which we spend a minute or two opining on recent education news and issues. In this first video, Mike Petrilli talks about Education Secretary Arne Duncan's school turnaround plan. What do you think of "Speaking of..."? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

This morning AEI released an issue brief I wrote about the education components of the ARRA, the federal government's massive stimulus legislation. It takes a look at how the law's push to save jobs and fill budget holes has erected serious obstacles to reform.

In short, though Congress and the administration seemed to think that we could simultaneously stabilize and reform America's schools, the story turns out to be much more complicated.

You can read the full brief????here.

If this whets your appetite, I'll be writing about the stimulus and education on AEI's blog.

If this story were part of a high school reading comprehension assessment, I think 100 percent of students could identify the intended symbolism.

At first blush it didn't make any sense: Why was Secretary of Education Arne Duncan speaking about school turnarounds at the big National Charter Schools Conference this morning? Charter school people generally hate the idea of turning around failed public schools, and for good reasons. Namely: it almost never works, and then the failed public schools have the name "charter school" attached to them to boot.

But if you dig into his speech and connect the dots, his strategy begins to become clear. He knows that??lots of turnaround efforts won't work--and he needs for there to be new charter schools to serve the students left behind.

Now, he couldn't just come right out and say that. As he straddles the Democratic divide on education, he had to pay homage to the teachers unions ("We are beginning a conversation with the unions about flexibility with respect to our most under-performing schools. I expect they'll meet us more than halfway - because they share our concern. They understand that no one can accept failure.") and speak fervently about his intent to resuscitate thousands of failing schools ("We can...

Several of us at Fordham (and some of our friends and associates in the larger ed policy world) have heard recently from James Garner, the former director of Research and Training Associates in Belleville, New Jersey. He's upset because Leo Klagholz's year-2000 Fordham monograph, Growing Better Teachers in the Garden State, failed to credit Garner for the ideas embedded in New Jersey's alternative certification program, circa 1982.

We're not inclined to re-open this (very old) can of worms. But readers might find this little bit of school reform history quite fascinating. (I did.) Here's a snippet of Garner's correspondence to Checker Finn here at Fordham:

My February 28, 1982 letter to the Star-Ledger marked the first publication of a proposal for the "alternate route" for teacher certification, about a year and a half before any announcement by Klagholz and the Kean administration. My letter outlined both the alternate route and the rationale for it in their major conceptual features.

The context further demonstrates my priority in this idea. My letter was actually a criticism of the revised teacher certification procedures then proposed by Klagholz (Star-Ledger February 7,


Years ago, when I was just entering the education reform world, an old hand heard that I had registered for a big conference and dismissively replied, "Conferences are for the uninitiated." Ouch.

Over the years, I've thought about that put-down many times while attending these big events. Maybe I'm still uninitiated, but I seldom attend a conference where I don't learn new and interesting things. That's doubly true at the excellent National Charter Schools Conference happening this week. For example, though I'm no fan of the current turnaround craze, I learned a good deal about the subject at a session featuring Jordan Meranus, Matt Candler, Scott Gordon, and Ben Rayer. ????Great on-the-ground lessons that gave me serious food for thought. Similarly, though I didn't totally agree with Secretary Duncan's take on improving America's lowest-performing schools, it was instructive to hear him talk about the subject.

In other notable news, the Alliance released a new "model charter school law" at the conference. It's a very good document and worth reading if you're interested in how to turn your general charter support into policies that make sense.

So here's...

As Mike just wrote, Secretary Duncan was at the National Charter Schools Conference today, and he spoke about turnarounds. While I continue to be thankful that he is focusing on America's worst schools, I'm disappointed by his direction--especially in one critically important area.

During his speech, he finally gave some more specificity about what he has in mind when he says "turnarounds." ????He gave four options.

The first is keeping the students in the school and hiring a new staff. Unfortunately, this has the effect of recycling low-performing teachers back into the system, and it's extraordinarily difficult to build a strong culture in a school where all of the students remain, especially if it is a middle or high school.

The second is turning the keys over to a charter operator, but again keeping the kids. He often points to Green Dot and Mastery as CMOs that do this work. But I just looked up Mastery's test scores, and though I respect what they are trying to do, they've only taken over three schools in Philadelphia and one of them didn't make AYP last year and another only made it thanks to confidence intervals.


Amy Fagan

An interesting bit of school news in the Los Angeles Times today. Seems that due to tough financial times the LA Unified School District won't be hiring any new Teach For America teachers next year! TFA of course places talented young college grads into teaching positions in low-income, struggling schools. According to the piece, the district has worked with TFA since the 1990s. But now, belt tightening is forcing painful changes. The story says that on top of not accepting any new TFA teachers next year, the district is also considering laying off some of its current 67 first-year TFA teachers.

For those of you optimistic about our ability to fix broken schools via "turnarounds," please consider the following. It's a single sentence from a journal article explaining what government and non-profit leaders ought to know about turnarounds in the private sector:

There is a risk that politicians, government officials, and others, newly enamored of the language of failure and turnaround and inadequately informed of the empirical evidence and practical experience in the for-profit sector???????will have unrealistic expectations of the transformative power of the turnaround process.

It's worth bearing this in mind the next time someone speaks glowingly about our ability to turn around America's worst schools. ????Given the $3 billion in ARRA funding dedicated to school improvement and the likelihood that many Race to the Top applications will focus on struggling schools, we'd be wise to leaven our hopes with generous portions of evidence.