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Amy Fagan

The American Enterprise Institute is holding an event next Tuesday entitled, "Schoolhouses and Courthouses: Does Court-Driven School Reform Deliver?"

The focus? State court judges have used the "education clauses" of their state constitutions to deem education funding inadequate and force states to dedicate more dollars to it. Has increased funding led to commensurate gains in student achievement? If not, what would it take for these investments to deliver? Stanford University's Eric A. Hanushek and Alfred A. Lindseth, a senior partner in the law firm of Sutherland Asbill & Brenna, will discuss such questions. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, will respond. Our pal Rick Hess will moderate the chat.

You can find more event details on the AEI website.

Back in March, Checker, Mike, Amber and I wrote a paper called When Private Schools Take Public Dollars: What's the Place of Accountability in School Voucher Programs? We proposed a sliding-scale mechanism: the more money a private school receives from voucher-bearing students, the more accountable it should be to the public.

We suspected this model would work well for start-up programs, but not as well for existing ones.?? And this week, Wisconsin showed us why. The state legislature's Joint Finance Committee (discussing the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program as part of budget talks) will force all schools to the far end of the scale if its recommendations pass (see detailed language here, specifically in paper 642). Alan Borsuk reported in yesterday's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that, among other things, this agreement would require participating private schools to "give standardized tests and report the results, employ teachers who have at least bachelor's degrees and meet the same minimum hours of instruction as public schools."

There are two issues here: first, requiring all schools to follow the same rules and, second, the content of those rules. Let's look at the issue of the schools themselves first. We devised the...

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

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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

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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].

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