Additional Topics

The logic of using school choice to drive educational quality assumes that choosers will make rational decisions based on complete information and that market forces will do the rest. Isn’t it pretty to think so? Yet “people are flawed as information consumers and decision makers,” notes Tulane University’s Jon Valant in this thought-provoking report from AEI. Most of us, he notes, are “boundedly rational.” Our decisions make sense, but they’re a function of the time we have to spend evaluating our options, and our own cognitive capacity to process the information at hand. Thus, while many proponents see school choice as an intrinsic good arising from values such as freedom and parental control, there are limits to just how much change in the realms of education quality and achievement is actually brought about by choice per se. Valent’s report shows why: Families consider fewer schools than are available (and sometimes only one), typically turning to friends, neighbors and family members “whose insights often come without the school chooser having to search for them.” Providing more school options—and more information about those options—may make little sense when parents remain unaware of the full range of available choices or lack...

EDUCATION SNAPSHOT: FLORIDA
Some schools in Florida are offering single-sex classes in the hopes of improving academic performance and cutting down on disciplinary issues. Supporters of the tactic cite unique learning differences between boys and girls, claiming that, among other gender-specific distinctions, boys often require more physical activity during lessons. Meanwhile, groups like the A.C.L.U. say that separating students by gender perpetuates stereotypes and shows no evidence of academic benefits.

CATCHING UP WITH NCLB
Congress is hoping to update No Child Left Behind by early 2015, though reaching bipartisan consensus will be difficult. The law, which last came up for renewal in 2007, requires schools to revamp teacher evaluations and monitor and report the performance of at-risk students. Much criticism has been directed against the law’s focus on increased standardized testing, which will likely garner considerable debate during the months ahead.

BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING
MOOCs, or massive open online courses, allow students of all ages to broaden their educational horizons by increasing access to expert instruction. However, apprehension concerning the use of student data is building as the number of MOOC enrollees grows. Some worry that students are unwittingly forfeiting vast...

  1. On Monday, the Enquirer printed an open letter to the Catholic Archbishop of Cincinnati from a local Catholic-school grad, imploring him to drop Common Core from all the schools under his purview. The lad says Common Core will “remove parents from the education process, reduce teachers to paper-pushers, and concern learning with the vocational rather than the metaphysical.” As if you couldn’t tell from the letter and his avatar photo (or from his aggressive attempts to control the online discussion board in the Enquirer website), this young fellow is a political science major - at none other than Hillsdale College. Go figure. (Cincinnati Enquirer)
     
  2. I wasn’t going to clip the above piece, but since the Superintendent of the Catholic Diocese of Cincinnati decided to pen a response, I thought they would make an excellent counterpoint to one another. He says that the Diocese is “adapting, not adopting” Common Core. (Cincinnati Enquirer)
     
  3. Speaking of Common Core, the very first administration of PARCC’s performance-based assessments in English and Algebra 1 is occurring in Ohio this week. That is, tests that actually count. The folks in Bay Village schools seem confident that their teachers – and their students – have it in the bag thanks to helpful prep, sample questions, and
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  1. Reporters affiliated with the Plain Dealer have fanned out across Northeast Ohio to interview 25 district superintendents in some depth. The individual pieces are available via the PD’s website, but here is the overview that opened the interview series, focusing on money. How much the supes make, what kind of benefits they get, what their travel allowances are like, how many are double-dipping, and how many plan to join the double-dippers. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  2. Two clues lead me to believe that the Beacon Journal has tired of writing about charter schools for the moment. First was last week’s “miraculous” story about a seemingly-unbashable charter about whom the reporter had nothing bad to say. A miracle indeed. Second is yesterday’s story digging into a revamped, comprehensive program within Akron City Schools for students removed from their home schools due to discipline problems. The Phoenix Program, housed in a former school building, offers smaller class sizes, incentives for positive behavior and other interventions with the goal of returning troubled pupils to their home schools. It is run by the local YMCA. However, the building is now also houses to other services that may be of use to Phoenix students
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  1. Not much education reporting over the Thanksgiving break. The folks at Gongwer took a look ahead at the remainder of the lame-duck legislative session. Specifically, this piece is about two pending education bills likely to see some action. The removal of the mandatory teacher pay schedule, they predict, will not happen this go round (via House action); and the bill to reduce testing time for students to just four hours per subject per student also may not happen (via Senate inaction). We shall see if the prognostications prove correct. (Gongwer Ohio)
     
  2. In 2005, the Columbus City Schools’ board disbanded its budget committee and switched to what is called “policy governance”, which leaves spending decisions largely up to the district administration. In the ensuing ten years, so the Dispatch’s analysis goes, per-pupil spending on regular instruction was down more than 5 percent, and spending on what the reporter calls “bureaucracy” skyrocketed. Not sure that’s entirely fair, given the variety of spending categories that appear on those two lists, but hopes are high that the imminent resurrection of the board’s budget committee will allow the district’s “laserlike focus” on student achievement is properly backed up by spending priorities. (Columbus
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  1. We’ll start today with an item that is only tangentially related to education. Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman announced yesterday that he would not seek a fifth term as mayor. He’s already the longest-serving mayor in Columbus’ history and has a lot to show for his dedication to the city. But his leadership in efforts to help improve education in Columbus – from a citywide afterschool program to the Columbus Education Commission to the visionary (but ultimately doomed) levy that tried to bring reform to the city schools – will be sorely missed. No one on the short list of contenders for the office so far has much cred when it comes to education. Bon chance, Mr. Mayor, wherever you’re off to. (Columbus Dispatch)
     
  2. And on to real education news with a bang. There is a possible double-strike whammy looming in Parma at the moment. Both the teachers union and the support-staff union have been negotiating with the district on new contracts (the former for over 18 months!), but both unions have recently rejected offers rather soundly. Words like “last” and “best” are being bandied about, but let’s hope that cooler heads prevail and both strikes can be
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The Ferguson edition

Conor Williams guest stars.

The Ferguson grand jury decision, pre-K for disadvantaged kids, school discipline, and summer reading programs.

Amber's Research Minute

Jonathan Guryan, James S. Kim, David M. Quinn, "Does Reading During the Summer Build Reading Skills? Evidence from a Randomized Experiment in 463 Classrooms," National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper No. 20689 (November 2014).

  • Conventional wisdom suggests would-be GOP presidential candidates are supposed to disavow the Common Core (cf. Bobby Jindal), but Jeb Bush and Governor John Kasich didn’t get the memo. During a speech last Thursday in Washington, the former Florida governor emphasized the importance of raising academic standards in America’s schools, which starts with the Common Core. And if states opt to forgo adoption, any replacement ought to be even more rigorous, Bush said. Likewise, Governor Kasich, speaking last week at the Republican Governors Association, continued his strong and unwavering support of the CCSS, reiterating that governors wrote the standards and not the federal government. In other words, the Common Core is not a litmus test for Republicans.
  • Due to tougher teacher exams, New York State saw a 20 percent drop in the number of new certifications for the 2013–14 school year, reports the New York Times. The Empire State introduced the new assessments last year in an attempt to boost the caliber of new teachers. Those who don’t pass can’t teach in public schools. Better still, ed schools with high failure rates risk losing accreditation. Raising standards for teachers was a critical part of the "Massachusetts
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Myriad obstacles stand between low-income students and a college education—even for those who beat the odds, graduate from high school, and gain acceptance into a post-secondary institution. Indeed, 20 percent of these young people will not make it past their first semester—which raises a couple of questions: Why is this happening? And how do we fix it?

According to authors Benjamin Castleman and Lindsay Page, much of the problem is what happens (or doesn’t) between the last day of high school and the first days of college. They call it the “summer melt.” Things like stacks of enrollment paperwork, complicated financial forms, and daunting tuition bills prove to be substantial hindrances for these kids, many of whom are the first in their families to make it this far. And once they get to campus, they often lack the support to persevere through those difficult first months. In other words, preparing these youngsters for freshman year involves more than academics. To this end, the authors propose three solutions.

First, high schools need to expand the role of college counselors, paying them to work in the summer months and encouraging them to...

The Cristo Rey Network comprises twenty-eight private schools serving 9,000 students nationwide. Ninety-six percent of network students are minority (largely Hispanic), and 100 percent are economically disadvantaged (defined as households earning less than 75 percent of the national median income). The schools utilize an innovative education model that honors its Catholic roots while simultaneously embracing new ways of preparing economically disadvantaged high school students for future success. This report from the Lexington Institute profiles the Cristo Rey model and looks at how—despite great success—the laudable network is still searching for ways to improve. A defining feature of the schools is a work-study program that requires students to work at least one day a week in the community while keeping up with rigorous high school coursework. In lieu of wages, companies donate money to the schools that’s used to cover most of the operating costs. More than 2,000 employers invested upwards of $44 million in 2013–14, lowering the average tuition costs for parents to $1,000 annually. Other features include extended school days and school years and a summer preparatory program that focuses on both academic and work skills. The results are impressive: All 1,400 of Cristo Rey's 2014 graduates were accepted...

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