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Monday afternoon, a Washington, D.C., metro rail train stopped in a tunnel not far from a major station, and the car began filling with smoke. Soon the lights went off and, though many passengers were struggling to breathe, they were told by metro employees to stay put. A spokesman for first responders disputes the timeline, but the Washington Post spoke with passengers who said they were waiting as much as an hour before help arrived. The paper also quotes a fire department spokesman who admitted that, even once they arrived on the scene, "firefighters did not immediately enter the tunnel to help the riders because they were not sure whether the subway’s electrified third rail had been deactivated."

All told, one woman lost her life and eighty-four were hospitalized. In the coming weeks and months we will learn more about how this happened, whether the response was adequate, and whether the accident and subsequent loss of life could have been prevented.

To many riders, accidents like this are not surprising. A 2009 train collision killed nine people. There are also years’ worth of examples documented by bloggers, everyday riders, and journalists of seldom-enforced...

  1. A little quiet in terms of education news today. The Ohio House named the new Education Committee Chair earlier this week. He is Rep. Bill Hayes of Pataskala. While he discusses possible charter school reform efforts in this interview with journalist Ben Lanka, the main topic is Common Core. The new Ed Chair says he knows for certain that repeal efforts will begin again in the legislature and that he, for one, looks forward to the debate. In terms of where he himself stands, he offers that he is “a supporter of local control for school districts.” This is good news, obviously, as the hours of testimony from district teachers and superintendents and elected board members the House heard in 2013 and 2014 was clear in its overwhelming support for Common Core. (Mansfield News Journal)
     
  2. Cafeteria Boot Camp is back for a second year in the Southwest Ohio/Indiana/Kentucky area. A number of schools – public and private – are sending food service staff members to a Cook for America-sponsored cooking lessons and engaging in a year-long consultancy to improve the quality of school food. (Cincinnati Enquirer)
     
  3. Lorain City Schools has a new board president. He
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THE DRAFT BILL IS HERE...ALMOST
Reporters are gathering details on Senator Lamar Alexander’s much-awaited draft bill for reauthorization of No Child Left Behind. The bill is more than 400 pages long and outlines two roads for standardized testing: A Choose Your Own (Testing) Adventure or “stick with the assessment language we pretty much already have,” note the Politics K–12 duo.

WALKER: TESTING RANGER
Education Week’s excellent State Edwatch blog has an in-depth examination of Wisconsin Republicans’ new state education plan, called for by Governor Scott Walker during last year’s reelection campaign, which would convert persistently failing public schools into charter schools. Also included in the legislation is a proposal to grant broad leeway to public, charter, and private schools to select from a menu of competing standardized tests.

BOARD TO DEATH
American University’s WAMU takes a look at the responsibilities of charter board members in Washington, D.C., a city in which nearly half of all children attend charter schools. Carrie Irvin, head of a nonprofit that seeks to train the volunteer board members, says that the duties of the position can be demanding: "Serving on a public charter school board is not 'I’ll show up...

  1. As you may know, it was a big day for Ohioans yesterday. A time when winners really got to celebrate. That’s right: inauguration day for a host of our elected officials. One of those being sworn in for a second term was State Auditor Dave Yost. In his inauguration speech, he promised continued (yes, continued) diligence in ferreting out problems in the state’s charter school sector. "We audit every charter school now…,” he reminded those folks who think this is not the case. “I think there's some things that need to be addressed. There's multiple ways of doing it and that debate will unfold and I'll be part of it over the next few months." Nice. (Gongwer Ohio)
     
  2. But that wasn’t the only big news in Ohio yesterday. There was also a nailbiter to which all eyes were glued, with supporters on both sides rooting for their favorites and following every twist and turn as it happened. That’s right: the election of a new president and vice president of the state board of education. For the record, it was Gunlock and Elshoff, two board vets, FTW. The Dispatch’s version of the story focuses on appointed vs. elected
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The president may have stiffed the French at the big solidarity rally that many other world leaders attended over the weekend, but when it comes to domestic policy, he is in love with the universe—and universality.

First, of course, came universal health care. But it was followed in short order by his plea for universal preschool education and, last week, for universal community-college education. All free, of course, at least for the consumer. (Not, obviously, for the taxpayer.)

In health care, there’s at least a rational basis for demanding universal insurance coverage: to apply the “savings” from healthy people who don’t need medical care to subsidize the care of those who need lots of it. (Social Security and Medicare run the same way, except their “do get” and “don’t get” populations are demarcated explicitly by age rather than health status.)

In education, though, the trade-offs tucked into universality are more insidious—and actually harmful to authentic “need lots” people, while conferring taxpayer-financed windfalls on the “don’t need” population.

Most American four-year-olds and many three-year-olds already take part in preschool of some kind, and a great many of their parents have figured out how to pay for it with the help...

BLENDED LEARNING UPDATE
Schools across the country are experimenting with the blended learning model in which classrooms feature a mix of human capital and online tools to deliver lessons. This NPR profile of a Coney Island middle school is a revealing examination of the approach. While the integration of technology can ease the “administrative” duties of teachers, such as tracking student progress, researchers say that there is still no concrete evidence for academic or developmental gains. The key takeaway is that blended learning is not a silver bullet.

UNTRUE GRIT
The New York Times wades into the character-education debate with an overview of different views and voices. While some research (and a host of different schooling models, most notably that of the KIPP schools) emphasizes the value of skills like grit, curiosity, and self-control, other experts argue that obsessive perseverance can be stifling and that overweening focus on character growth will obscure the debate over school quality. No less an eminence than friend-of-Fordham Laurence Steinberg took to Flypaper last year to air his misgivings about the practice.

CHANGING THE CHARTER NARRATIVE
The conventional wisdom on charter schools, Forbes’s Adam Ozimek...

The nineteenth edition of Education Week’s Quality Counts report is out, and while Ohio outperforms over thirty states, the results show that there is still much work to be done. The 2015 report, which has a new evaluation system that focuses on outcomes rather than policies and processes, indicates that the nation as a whole declined from a C+ in 2013 (when grades were last given) to a C in 2015. Ohio also declined, moving from a B- in 2013 to a C in 2015. The report rates states’ quality along three key dimensions: Chances for Success, which takes into account indicators like family characteristics, high school graduation rates, and workforce opportunities; K–12 Achievement, which rates academic performance, performance changes over time, and poverty-based gaps (as measured by the NAEP assessments); and school finance, which includes measures of  funding equity across schools. Ohio’s overall score, which is the average of the three categories, was 75.8 out of 100 possible points, which earned a ranking of eighteenth in the nation. In the Chances for Success category, Ohio earned a B-. Most indicators in this category show that Ohio is close to the national average, including preschool enrollment (46.5 percent of...

  1. Fordham’s two reports on charter schools in Ohio – released a month ago – are still resonating in media circles. Then Enquirer’s latest prognostication on policy initiatives likely to take center stage in 2015 includes charter school law reform, and notes Fordham’s reports as support. (Cincinnati Enquirer)
     
  2. Commentator Marilou Johanek is pessimistic that the fix to charter law will come as promised, despite the CREDO/Bellwether/Fordham reports. I think what she means is that she’s sure something will be done with regard to charter law in 2015, but probably not what she and the Blade are hoping for. (Toledo Blade)
     
  3. In the only other news of relevance I could find today, it seems that the administration and the teachers union have something of a differing view of how things are going in Middletown schools these days. The union said a pretty emphatic no to the idea of allowing the district supe to retire and be rehired. Not because they oppose the practice – perish the thought – but because they paint a far less rosy picture of the state of the district than the supe does. (Middletown Journal News)
     

RESEARCH BITES...

COMMUNITY CHEST
Yesterday, President Obama proposed making two years of community college free for qualifying students. Some see it as a way for more Americans to achieve better-paying jobs, while others see it as potentially stagnating low-income students’ pursuit of a four-year degree. One thing is for certain: A proposal of this scale comes with a hefty price tag. The proposal still awaits congressional approval; we’ll see how that goes.

THE BATTLE OF U.S. HISTORY
Mona Charen at NRO has a useful return to some of the issues in play from last year’s AP U.S. History flap, as well as a look at how Common Core politics might shape the debate in 2015. Quoted in the piece is Fordham’s own charming Chester Finn, who says the Common Core standards are “superior to the standards in 75 percent of the states.”

DEPARTMENT OF BAD NEWS
Success Academy, the New York City charter organization with the AWESOME test scores, recently cancelled its plans to open new schools this year. The new schools were to be part of a negotiation with the city to open or expand ten schools by 2016. This story provides yet...

  1. Our own Aaron Churchill appeared on WCPN’s Sound of Ideas yesterday, as part of a panel talking about charter schools in Ohio. Great discussion with some important details and nuance presented. You can check out IdeaStream’s brief report on the story here. And you can get the full audio here. Big thanks to WCPN and host Mike McIntyre for doing a whole hour on this important topic and for having us join in.
     
  2. There’s no denying that charter schools are the biggest area of interest in education policy in Ohio at the moment. Editors in Columbus once again opine on the subject of charters today, giving kudos to the Ohio Department of Education for their tougher stance on the “recycling” of closed schools and the authorizers who, well, authorize such things. And then they call again upon the General Assembly to overhaul Ohio charter law. (Columbus Dispatch)
     
  3. We’ve talked a bit about expansion of dual enrollment in Ohio the last couple of weeks. That is, high school students taking college courses for credit through various avenues. Officials at Dayton’s Sinclair Community College are celebrating a record number of high school students doing just that
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