Additional Topics

Whether the goal is to enhance instruction, create a culture of excellence, or broaden educational options for parents, it’s nearly impossible to improve schools without strong leaders. This is hardly news; for decades, unambiguous evidence has proven the importance of effective principals. Yet reform strategies have largely lacked a coherent plan to upgrade leadership, even though it’s clearly a fundamental piece of the school improvement puzzle. This neglect is likely unintentional. Many states simply don’t know how to strengthen their cadre of leaders.

This is understandable. Most of the action around school leadership takes place at the local level, far from state capitals. It is, after all, districts (and charter schools) that recruit, select, and place school leaders—and develop their expertise (or not). It’s easy for state officials and advocacy groups to prioritize leadership. Knowing which policy levers to pull is a lot harder.

That’s where A Policymaker's Guide to Improving School Leadership comes in. This online resource was designed to help policymakers and advocates focus on what makes a great principal—and how to get more of them in the schools that need them most. We teamed up with our friends at the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) to produce the toolkit and recruited author Eric...

School leadership is one of the keys to making our schools stronger and giving every student the educational opportunities that prepare him to succeed. That’s why the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the Center on Reinventing Public Education recently released A Policymaker’s Guide to Improving School Leadership for state policymakers and advocacy groups interested in improving school leadership policies.

Much attention has been focused on teacher effectiveness, but there has been too little discussion about the role that principals play in ensuring that educators have the support, tools, and working environment they need to provide high-quality instruction. Education advocates need to understand which state policies most impact principal quality and how they can strengthen or alter them to benefit schools.

As with any proposed reform, however, advocates are likely to encounter some pushback from institutions and individuals resistant to change. Yet many of the arguments against changing school leadership policies are not founded on a full understanding of the research and facts. What follows are rebuttals to five common justifications for maintaining the status quo.

1. Improving the principal training pipeline

Argument: It’s not clear that preparation programs are the problem. And even if they are, we can’t fix them by...

  1. Andy Boy, Founder and CEO of United Schools Network here in Columbus, had a great commentary piece in the Dispatch this weekend on how high-quality schools like his can help close achievement gaps for poor and minority students. And I don’t just say it’s great because Fordham sponsors USN’s schools. I say it because Andy knows what he’s talking about from long and successful experience. (Columbus Dispatch, 4/23/16)
  2. Patrick O’Donnell continued his profiles of the top five candidates for state superintendent. That’s right, we’re back to five again, as noted peripherally in this profile of Dayton’s Tom Lasley. Quite a career, I’d say. (Cleveland Plain Dealer, 4/22/16)
  3. No one is saying that there is a direct line from Reynoldsburg City Schools to the upper echelons of the Ohio Department of Education… Well, maybe Patrick is saying it a little bit in this profile of current Reynoldsburg supe Tina Thomas-Manning, another of the top five candidates for state superintendent. There’s lots to dig into here, but I would draw your attention to two of Thomas-Manning’s reference letters, among the application materials posted on the PD website. One is from former Reynoldsburg supe (and current Fordham board
  4. ...
  1. The PD continued its series profiling the top candidates for state superintendent. Candidate Bob Sommers’s profile notes (among other things that are probably more important) that his application contained a reference letter from former Fordhamite Terry Ryan. (Cleveland Plain Dealer, 4/20/16)
  2. Speaking of Mr. Sommers, the proposed additional location for his Carpe Diem charter school at the Underground Freedom Museum in Cincinnati is a no-go due to a lack of sufficient space. (Cincinnati Enquirer, 4/20/16)
  3. Staying in the Queen City for a moment, we’ve told you about changes afoot in Cincinnati City Schools before: moves, expansions, grade band changes in buildings, scuffles between district and arts agency, etc. Here is a more detailed look at the seven affected buildings which gets a little “turf-y” for lack of a better word. Hannah Sparling’s occasionally-disdainful tone (also evident in the above piece) doesn’t aid in following the details. (Cincinnati Enquirer, 4/21/16) P.S. – I think this future piece will probably explain the “turfiness” in more detail for us outsiders.
  4. The official job description for the new CEO of Youngstown City Schools has been posted, with a very short deadline for applications as expected. The
  5. ...
  1. Editors in Columbus opined once again this week in favor of SB 298, the e-school accountability bill, and lamented its assignment to the Senate Finance Committee’s education subcommittee. (Columbus Dispatch, 4/19/16) Meanwhile, Mansfield City Schools announced it is going to be contracting with an outside company (go ahead, look them up by name) to provide online schooling to district students and others from outside the district (wait, does that math even add up?) in an attempt to “win back” kids from those dastardly online charter schools. The ironies in this story are not limited to online schooling either. Read on about the extra test-prep period that freshmen will be getting every day next year and how the district is petitioning to get out from under state fiscal oversight after proposing thousands of dollars of new personnel expenditures. (Mansfield News Journal, 4/19/16)
  2. Remember those Top 5 state supe candidates we told you about last week? Before poor Patrick O’Donnell could even do his first profile, the list was cut to 4 as one of them withdrew to take another job and that “profile” turned into a “see ya later” piece. Was it something we said? (Cleveland Plain
  3. ...
  1. Editors in Columbus today opined on who/what the next state superintendent should not be. (Columbus Dispatch, 4/18/16)
  2. Score one for Scooter Computer and Mr. Chips at last? Folks in central Ohio schools say that the first wave on online state testing is going well so far this year. Although I’m pretty sure that same story ran last year after the first week too. And last year’s was such a disaster that some districts were ready to dust off their abaci and slide rules. Just ask anyone. (Columbus Dispatch, 4/17/16) A couple of Dayton-area school districts were caught unaware by a change in science testing rules for their high school freshmen. I’m sure all those kids will be fine (the issue arose because they were accelerated in science as 8th graders), but take a good look at the difference in language used by the district reps between Kettering and Northmont over the exact same situation. Miles apart in attitudes toward testing. Also note the Northmont folks would have had trouble giving the test via pencil and paper if they’d been required to. Just sayin’. (Dayton Daily News, 4/17/16) Finally, folks in Elyria schools must believe their kids
  3. ...

Is career and technical education (CTE) a path into the middle class for today’s high school students? It’s certainly the goal as modern day CTE attempts to give students the skills and training required for long-term success in today’s high-growth industries.

Unfortunately, little is known about whether “new vocationalism” improves student outcomes. In an effort to shed some more light on the topic, Fordham partnered with Shaun M. Dougherty of the University of Connecticut to study CTE in Arkansas. The new report, Career and Technical Education in High School: Does It Improve Student Outcomes?, uses a rich set of data from the Arkansas Research Center (ARC) to follow three cohorts—more than one hundred thousand students—from eighth grade through college and/or the workforce.

The key findings include:

  • Students with greater exposure to CTE are more likely to graduate from high school, enroll in a two-year college, be employed, and earn higher wages.
  • CTE is not a path away from college: Students taking more CTE classes are just as likely to pursue a four-year degree as their peers.
  • Students who focus their CTE coursework are 21 percent more likely to graduate high school compared to otherwise similar students (and they see
  • ...

In a new policy proposal from Brookings, researchers suggest a straightforward way to help the thousands of students who fall behind each year to catch up: individualized tutorials. The proposal is based on a model developed in 2004 by Match Education at its high school. Match—a highly respected charter network with four campuses that span grades pre-K–12—implements a high-dosage tutoring program at all of its schools.

In 2014, Match formed SAGA Innovations as a vehicle to extend its model into traditional public school systems. It works like this: Two students who have fallen behind in math are paired with a single tutor. Tutorials occur every school day, in addition to regular math classes. The small tutor-to-student ratio allows for individualized instruction and meaningful relationships. Students begin at the lowest math skill they have yet to master and then progress into more advanced work as their proficiency improves. Frequent assessments measure progress and pinpoint new areas for growth.

To test how this program would fare in traditional public schools, researchers conducted a large-scale, randomized controlled trial during the 2013–14 school year in twelve disadvantaged Chicago high schools. With the help of Chicago Public Schools (CPS), researchers identified over 2,700 incoming male ninth and...

  1. Who’s that writing letters to the editor of the Boston Globe? Why it’s our very own Aaron Churchill, taking some exception to a previous Globe story on school closure. (Boston Globe, 4/14/16)
  2. I’m a bit late in getting to this, but here is a guest commentary from state Sen. Tom Sawyer urging action on e-school regulations in Ohio. (Akron Beacon Journal, 4/13/16)
  3. Negotiations between Dayton Public Schools’ board and Supt. Lori Ward concluded this week without agreement. Ward will step down in June. (Dayton Daily News, 4/13/16) Ditto for district Treasurer Craig Jones. (Dayton Daily News, 4/14/16) Anyone the DPS board interviews for the superintendent position will have to answer the question, “What will YOU do to keep us from having our own version of the Youngstown Plan enacted?” And don’t forget that a clock is ticking on Dayton in that regard and that any new supe may have as little as 2 years to fix a long-broken system to avoid takeover by an Academic Distress Commission. (Dayton Daily News, 4/14/16)
  4. Speaking of the Youngstown Plan, the first meeting of the new Academic Distress Commission in that district finally happened on
  5. ...
Shaun M. Dougherty

Recently, there has been increased interest in career and technical education as a mechanism to create pathways to college and employment. This increased interest has occurred despite the fact that, aside from two studies on career academies, there is relatively little high-quality evidence about whether and how CTE provides educational and work-related benefits to students. In my new report with the Fordham Institute, Career and Technical Education in High School: Does It Improve Student Outcomes?, we capitalized on the willingness of state agencies to partner with us and share data as a way to answer these questions. Our ability to produce answers is related to the rich datasets from Arkansas that enabled us to translate this data and available computing power into actionable policy findings.

In the past, roughly one in five students took three or more high school courses in a field classified under career and technical education. But some recent evidence suggests that the number of students taking a larger share of CTE courses may have receded during the expansion of high-stakes, test-based accountability. Very little of the data accumulated in recent years has been examined to explain how major shifts in policy and educational practice may have...