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HOOSIER HAVOC
Following several years of inter-governmental conflict over the direction of education policy in Indiana, Governor Mike Pence has formally called for state lawmakers to elect a replacement for Board of Education Chairwoman Glenda Ritz. “I think the coming legislative session should be (an) education session and we should focus on our kids and teachers and what’s happening in our classrooms in Indiana,” Pence remarked in his announcement. 

THE STUDENT ACHIEMENT METRICS ARE ALWAYS GREENER
Education reformers often find inspiration in the education systems of other countries. However, Dr. Tom Loveless reveals the potential perils in this practice; namely, the trickiness of identifying variables that translate across borders and the dangers of confirmation bias. While these overseas investigations often yield new insights, its important that we be careful in choosing what we take away.

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  1. With about three weeks until the deadline, not a single Columbus parent has contacted the group responsible for providing information on “parent trigger” options available to them. The Dispatch is attempting to figure out why. There’s a bit of finger pointing and probably too much “us vs. them” here, but the comments are instructive of how choice in general has historically (dis)functioned around here. Check it out and see what you think. (Columbus Dispatch)
     
  2. There’s an undercurrent of “us vs. them” in this piece too. It’s an update on the so-called “5 of 8 rule” under consideration for elimination by the State Board of Education. The story dredges up some previous “us vs. them” stuff from Toledo school history, but I have to say I’m with the small-district supe who supports the elimination of the rule in favor of districts determining their own staffing ratios. He knows that the very real backlash stems from a question of trust between districts and their teachers. (Toledo Blade)
     
  3. A continued bus driver shortage in Dayton City Schools has left routes uncovered, caused kids to be regularly late to school, and made at least one parent pretty upset. I’m
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  • Many, including some of us at Fordham, have argued that under President Obama and Secretary Duncan, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights is running amok on issues like school discipline and access to AP courses. Now it has released guidance that, according to the New York Times, will walk back the Bush-era policy allowing single-sex schools and classrooms. (a policy that was also encouraged by Hillary Clinton). According to the Department of Education’s guidance, schools may still offer these classes, but only if they jump through nine hoops. They must, for example, provide evidence that these classrooms benefit children in a way that mixed-gender ones cannot, offer students both alternatives, and ensure that all parents volunteered their kids for enrollment. Why not just allow it if parents want it?
  • In Pittsburgh, a state statute and local bargaining agreement dictate that teacher layoffs must be based exclusively on seniority. Yet the school district—cognizant of the policy’s many shortcomings—ignored the law and the CBA in favor of keeping a number of highly qualified special-education teachers. The union grieved, an arbiter ruled in its favor, and the district appealed to a higher court. The
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This study examines the quality of school management in different countries and school types and its relationship to student outcomes. The authors constructed an index by averaging across twenty management practices in four areas (operations, monitoring, target setting, and personnel), then surveyed 1,800 principals in eight countries on their adherence to these practices. A broad range of schools ended up in the data set, including traditional government schools, private schools, and autonomous government schools (i.e., schools that receive public funding but have some degree of operational independence, such as charter schools). The authors find that the quality of school management varies significantly across countries, with the United Kingdom, Sweden, Canada, and the United States scoring higher than the other four. High scores on the index are positively correlated with better student outcomes. Yet large disparities in management quality exist within countries across different types of schools, with autonomous public schools faring better than both traditional government schools and private schools. The difference, the authors say, is not the autonomy, but how it’s used. “Having strong accountability of principals to an external governing body and exercising strong leadership through a coherent long-term strategy for the school appear to be two key...

Research shows that the gap in reading skills between poor and non-poor kids manifests itself earlier than kindergarten and often widens during summer. With that in mind, this new study examines whether a summer reading program for elementary students affects reading comprehension. During the spring and summer of 2013, second and third graders in fifty-nine North Carolina public schools were randomly assigned to treatment and control groups. The former were given six reading comprehension lessons aimed at fostering their engagement with books at home during the summer and were subsequently mailed a book each week—ten total—over the summer months. (Books were matched to students based on their initial reading level and their interests.) Control kids received six math lessons during the same time period and weren’t mailed books. Both groups were asked to send in response cards on which they reported the number of books read and answered a handful of basic questions about them. There are three key findings: One, the treatment group read an additional 1.1 books more over the summer than the control group. Two, there were significant impacts on reading comprehension test scores in the fall for third-grade girls. Although third-grade boys and second graders of...

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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