Laura Pohl

The creative team over at C. Murray Consulting, a web technology company in Rhode Island, has highlighted us on their blog. You may not recognize their name, but surely you recognize their work: they built the funny video game and useful data map featured on our Accountability Illusion report web page.

Here at Fordham we're keen on multimedia ventures that complement our print work (sometimes we're a little silly, too). Most of our new media is created in house. But when we don't have the capacity to do everything ourselves, companies like C. Murray Consulting breathe life into our ideas and even go above and beyond: they came up with the majority of the video game's hilarious pop-up phrases ("Who's awesome? You're awesome! You made AYP!!!")....

According to a new report by RAND, charter schools don't produce substantially different academic results than their district peers. Charter Schools in Eight States: Effects on Achievement, Attainment, Integration, and Competition is the result of a longitudinal study using student-level data to examine charter schools in Chicago, San Diego, Philadelphia, Denver, Milwaukee, and the states of Ohio, Texas and Florida. It found, among other things, that charter schools do not have an effect, good or bad, on the achievement of students in nearby district schools. The study also confirms that charter schools do not "skim the cream" when it comes to recruiting students--children enrolling in charter schools have similar academic achievement levels as those attending district schools, except in Ohio and Texas, where students entering charter schools are substantially behind the achievement levels of their district peers.

The report offers two major concerns about the Buckeye State's charter schools where the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation has served as a charter school authorizer since 2005. First, that the state's virtual schools lag far behind both district schools and brick-and-mortar charter schools in terms of student performance, and second, that the performance levels of charter schools in Ohio vary...

That's the title of a longish piece on merit pay in the latest Christian Science Monitor. This article, part 1 of 2, takes a look at Denver's ProComp and the difficulty of figuring out two things: how to use merit pay systems to get rid of bad teachers and how to tie bonuses to the results of individual teachers. It also makes the case that younger teachers are not enticed to the profession by the promise of a cushy retirement. They want to see their rewards now, not later. Since the (large) size of teacher pensions (in a sour economy) have turned into a hot potato issue recently, this might prove fodder for arguing to readjust the pay scale. It's a good read for anyone unfamiliar with the debate.

George Will sits down with Arne Duncan and comes away impressed. Though Will's major takeaway is that "time and talent" are needed to turn around schools, this quote caught my eye:

By closing failing schools and opening replacements, Chicago is ensuring that the portfolio of schools is churned and improved.

"Portfolios"?! "Churn"?!

When a major syndicated columnist begins using language once reserved for wonks and academics, you know that systemic ed reform has gone mainstream. Paul Hill and Ted Kolderie should be smiling.

It's been rumored before, and it's not quite official, but Jim Shelton, until Friday a program director at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has started work at the U.S. Department of Education. He told colleagues in an email that he will lead its "innovation portfolio." I'm making a little leap of faith to assume that he means he will head the Department's Office of Innovation and Improvement (OII).

If true, this is another great appointment. (I'll save the Reform-o-Meter treatment* for another day, once the news is confirmed.) But I won't wait to say how it makes me happy to know that OII will be in such good hands. I was fortunate to get to play a role in creating OII, and those of us that got it off the ground consciously tried to model it after Gates and other "venture" philanthropies. That's most apparent in the rhetoric we used to describe the office, which we wanted to be the "nimble, entrepreneurial arm of the U.S. Department of Education" that "makes strategic investments in innovative educational practices." As a part of a government bureaucracy, it hasn't always been able to live...

Amy Fagan

Check out this story and interactive spread by Libby Quaid/Associated Press about teaching as a second career and alternate certification. It highlights several career-switchers, including Peter Vos, a neuroscientist and head of an internet startup who now teaches computer science to kids in Maryland; and Alisa Salvans, a makeup-artist-turned-chemistry-teacher, in suburban Dallas. Along with the main story, there are video interviews with these folks and others, including Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

And.....(smirk) we'd be remiss if we didn't note that the package also cites a 2007 study by the Fordham Institute and the National Council on Teacher Quality (it's referenced in the "Teacher Profiles" section; the study is called ???Alternative Certification Isn't Alternative').

Ohio's congressional delegation has been boasting about the infusion of money the Buckeye State's public schools would receive from the federal stimulus package. Newspapers published charts showing how each district would fare.???? School leaders started making plans for the money. The trouble is, so did Governor Strickland.???? Details now emerging about how the governor intends to use the education dollars included in the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act are leaving school leaders unhappy and lawmakers crying foul.

Take the case of Trimble Local Schools in rural Athens County.????Trimble is oft-described as the state's poorest school district (based on its property wealth valuation per student) and has become the poster child for school funding reform in Ohio. According to the feds, Trimble is due roughly $600,000 from the stimulus bill to provide educational services to low-income students. But under Strickland's budget proposal, Trimble would actually see a $136,000 funding cut over the next two years.

Governor Strickland is using more than $1 billion in one-time money to boost state spending on K-12 education over the next two years. The governor does have some discretion over how the federal stimulus dollars are...

ED Senior Advisor Mike Smith voiced some contrarian views????on national or "common" standards yesterday. ????It's nice and highly uncommon to see a high-ranking administration official critique arguments made by his bosses, especially on an issue where a consensus is developing around a position embraced by the administration. ????Though Smith ultimately comes down on the side of President Obama and Secretary Duncan (and Fordham for that matter), it shows thoughtfulness to address both sides of the issue fairly and publicly. I suppose a certain degree of independence comes with long experience and a personal request of service from the Secretary.

Amidst all of our adult arguments about the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, we seem to forget that there are 1,700 living, breathing children involved. Here's a reminder video from the Heritage Foundation:

On Saturday, the Washington Post's editorial page????again????wrote in favor of the threatened DC Opportunity Scholarship (voucher) Program. ????The Post's editors have been a sympathetic and level-headed voice on this issue for some time. ????While supporting the program's intentions--helping disadvantaged kids in low-performing public schools access higher-performing nonpublic schools--they are also arguing that we all allow evidence of effectiveness drive the ultimate decision on the program's fate. ????The key data will be made available shortly in the form of the final program evaluation report, which is due this spring. ????(The second-year report, can be found here.)????

The Baltimore Sun's editorial page weighed-in this morning in favor of the bold school reform plan announced by that city's superintendent. ????The plan is excellent and the editorial is very well done. ????This line was particularly striking to me: "To turn around the whole system, you have to maximize the number of good schools and minimize the bad." ????Right on, I say. ????Close bad schools, open new schools, replicate great schools, and--I'm hoping more people start adding this final one--make successful nonpublic schools accessible to kids as well....