There isn't much hope at the moment for meaningful, statewide education reform in the Buckeye State, but there are promising things happening at the local level. Last night, the Columbus City Schools' teacher union approved a two-year contract that includes a new program to pay effective teachers more money to teach in low-performing schools and ties existing merit pay efforts to value-added data. Reports the Columbus Dispatch:

The agreement creates an annual $4,000 bonus for teachers selected to work in certain schools.

Superintendent Gene Harris would hand-pick teachers for classes identified as academically struggling based on testing data.

Teachers with at least five years of experience, two years of improving students' academic achievement, and their principal's recommendation would be eligible to apply for the new program, according to the tentative contract. The deadline is Dec. 1 for the 2010-11 school year.

The program would allow Harris to match teachers' talents to schools' needs, she said.

"I think it's very exciting because individuals would have the opportunity to go into this and say, 'I want to be a change agent,'????????" Harris said. "I would not be arbitrary on this. I want to make good


Just a day ago, I expressed encouragement that Secretary Duncan's ARRA threats may have started making a difference on state policy. Alas, NH, possibly moving backward????on charters, has taught me the value of skeptiscism.

New York state's test scores in math were released yesterday, and not surprisingly they were up, up, up. That's not surprising because test scores on state tests almost always go up. That's usually because, over time, teachers and students get used to the test format and better learn how to prepare for the assessments. But that doesn't mean the kiddos are actually learning more math. And sure enough, the gains were widespread. Students in New York City did better, but so did students in each of the other big cities, and the state as a whole.

I told the Times as much, and (another surprise!) that has Joel's folks unhappy with me. They are particularly displeased with my comments about the achievement gap which, I'll admit, came through rather garbled in the article. So let me try this again.

NYC officials are making much of the fact that the "achievement gaps" between white and black and white and Hispanic students are closing. Here's how the Times reported it:

There was also evidence that the gap among students of different races was narrowing in a city

Alex Klein

Checker has an op-ed up at The National Review's "The Corner" blog, in which he compares and contrasts the auto industry's bankruptcies with the education system's.

To be sure, schools are smaller than giant corporations, but they're at least as burdened by employee contracts, long-term obligations, community roots, political entanglements, all manner of vendors and suppliers, and "shareholders" in the form of children and parents that depend on them. And because they are public agencies rather than private firms, there is nothing quite like "Chapter 11" through which they can be stripped of their debts and obligations, reorganized, and given a fresh start.

This fresh start, or "reconstitution," can take the form of school closures, and that's just what Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is looking to do with thousands of "dreadful schools," as Checker terms them. More from Checker:

As Education Secretary, Duncan runs no schools and has no direct authority over closing or reconstituting even the worst of them. He can, however, manipulate three levers:

  • Billions in discretionary spending under the federal "stimulus" package, far more than any of his predecessors had. With that cash, he can try, in effect, to bribe states
  • ...

    It appears that Illinois is about to raise its charter cap. Secretary Duncan must be smiling. He has made clear that states wanting to compete for discretionary stimulus funds must show they are serious about reform, by, among other things, lifting charter caps.

    We'll never know whether IL would have done this anyway or if the threat was determinative. Either way, this is good news for kids and a small victory for ED. Let's hope other states follow suit and adopt meaningful reforms in advance of the Race to the Top and What Works competitions.

    Mike and I don't disagree all that often, but I'm MUCH more encouraged about NYC's math gains than he is.

    More students are passing the test. Average scores are increasing. The gap between the city's scores and the state's are closing. The racial achievement gap is narrowing. Similarly positive results were seen in ELA.

    Rather than concluding that kids are learning more, Mike says this is just evidence that kids and teachers have gotten accustomed to the tests. First, that seems like hyper-skepticism--an exaggerated effort to explain away positive results.

    Second, that analysis strikes me as a bit unfair to those running school systems. So we have to discount all improvements in test scores? How can a city or state demonstrate that things are getting better then?

    NYC just reported significant gains on the measures they're held accountable for: state reading and math scores. Maybe I'm naive, but that seems like more reason for encouragement than cynicism....

    NYT's Dillon writes about Secretary Duncan's turnaround plans. This article makes it sound like Duncan is in favor of 10s.

    The Education Gadfly

    Common Core is out with a new report that excerpts national curricula, standards, and assessments from nine nations that consistently outrank the United States on international comparison tests. Join Common Core on Tuesday, June 2, 4:00-5:30 pm in Washington DC as Diane Ravitch, Martin West, Sheila Byrd and Eduardo Andere discuss Why We're Behind: What Top Nations Teach Their Students But We Don't. For more information, read the full Common Core event invitation or e-mail [email protected].

    It's well known that Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor will be questioned about her ruling in Ricci vs. DeStafano whereby she upheld New Haven, Connecticut's decision to invalidate the results of a firefighter promotion test because no African-Americans qualified for advancement. (That case is now under Supreme Court review, and most analysts expect it to be overturned.) As the Washington Post reported:

    The promotion results produced a heated debate in the city, and government lawyers warned the independent civil service board that if it certified the test results, minority firefighters might have a good case for claiming discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Federal guidelines presume discrimination when a test has such a disparate impact on minorities.

    In a short statement dismissing the case, Sotomayor in effect agreed with the government lawyers that the city had reason to worry about such a discrimination suit if they used the test as intended.

    With that in mind, consider this article from Boston from a few weeks ago, "Ex-teachers sue over licensing exam: Say test is biased against minorities." (Thanks...

    To universal preschool, that is. In yesterday's New York Post, he writes:

    Most parents are delighted to share their childcare expenses with taxpayers. Yet there's shockingly little evidence that this costly dash to universalize the preschool experience will do much good for American education, particularly the kids who most need help preparing for kindergarten. It's more like a new middle-class entitlement -- and an expansion of the public-school empire.

    If you want to hear more, chime in, or push back, sign up to attend Thursday's event, here at Fordham, about Checker's new book, Reroute the Preschool Juggernaut. You'll even get a free copy of the book!...