Standards, Testing & Accountability

A widely-noted  Government Accountability Office (GAO) report back in June found that charter schools serve a disproportionately low number of special-education students, feeding concerns that these schools discriminate again special-needs (and ELL) youngsters. This latest from the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) adds much-needed nuance and should quell some of the concern. CRPE analysts examined 2011-12 special-education enrollments across 1,500 district and 170 charter schools in New York State, finding that aggregates in that state mask important differences across grade band, location, and authorizer. At the middle and high school levels, New York special-education enrollments are nearly identical in the district and charter sectors, with the only variance—albeit sizable—occurring at the elementary level. (The authors offer a few suggestions as to why, including that charter elementaries are less likely to label students special-needs as they have more effective behavior-management systems, smaller classes, or a general insistence on “individualized” education for every pupil.) From these findings, the researchers draw cautionary policy recommendations, urging against the adoption (or continuation) of blanket special-education-enrollment requirements. (New York has such a law; more on this on our Choice Words blog). Not a...

The Ohio Senate Education Committee this week heard testimony and debated the merits of House Bill 555 (HB 555), legislation that would overhaul Ohio's school accountability system, if passed. The legislation has passed through the Ohio House of Representatives and is currently under review by the Senate. Revamping Ohio’s accountability system is required under Ohio's ESEA Flexibility request.

Most significantly, HB 555 proposes a change in how the Buckeye State rates schools' academic performance. Under current policy, Ohio's public school buildings and districts (charter and traditional) are given a rating from "Academic Emergency" to "Excellent with Distinction." HB 555 would do away with these designations and move to an A to F rating system. The new grading system would take effect beginning in the 2014-15 school year. In addition to this change, HB 555 would also revise the components and weights of a school's Report Card, enact an accountability framework for dropout recovery charter schools, and establish a rating system for charter school sponsors.

Fordham's vice president Terry Ryan testified in favor of HB 555, arguing that the legislation represents a step forward in Ohio's accountability system. You can read Terry's Senate testimony here, along with an analysis of how the implementation...

With the imminent arrival of the Common Core and its associated assessment requirements in 45 states and the District of Columbia by 2014-15, much concern has been generated about the cost to states of all of this innovation. The prevailing concern is that states will be forced to spend excessively to change and upgrade their existing standards and associated assessments.

The new report by Matthew Chingos, Strength in Numbers: State Spending on K-12 Assessment Systems, published by the Brown Center on Education Policy at Brookings notes that it is actually difficult to determine whether states participating in the two consortia of Common Core assessments (PARCC and Smarter Balance) will face higher or lower costs for new assessment systems primarily because the costs of their existing systems are difficult to calculate. Using contract information between states and testing vendors, Chingos attempts to merge disparate data into overall and per-pupil costs for those states and to make as close a comparison between states as possible.

Ohio’s current per-pupil cost for all assessment activities was calculated at $40, placing it 11th out of 45 jurisdictions for which data were available, and well above the national average of $27 per student. The...

Today the Ohio Senate Education Committee heard testimony and debated the merits of House Bill 555 (HB 555), legislation that would overhaul Ohio's school accountability system, if passed. The legislation has passed through the Ohio House of Representatives and is currently under review by the Senate. Revamping Ohio’s accountability system is required under Ohio's ESEA Flexibility request.

Most significantly, HB 555 proposes a change in how the Buckeye State rates schools' academic performance. Under current policy, Ohio's public school buildings and districts (charter and traditional) are given a rating from "Academic Emergency" to "Excellent with Distinction." HB 555 would do away with these designations and move to an A to F rating system. The new grading system would take effect beginning in the 2014-15 school year. In addition to this change, HB 555 would also revise the components and weights of a school's Report Card, enact an accountability framework for dropout recovery charter schools, and establish a rating system for charter school sponsors.

Fordham's vice president Terry Ryan testified in favor of HB 555, arguing that the legislation represents a step forward in Ohio's accountability system. You can read Terry's Senate testimony here, along with an...

Parker Baxter

Last week, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) launched “One Million Lives,” a multi-pronged campaign to provide better schools to one million children by closing failing charter schools and opening many more good ones. 

It might seem odd that an organization that supports charter schools would call for the closure of hundreds of them. But it’s not. It makes perfect sense.

At the heart of the charter school concept is a bargain between schools and the entities that authorize them. Charter schools agree to accept greater accountability, including the possibility of closure, in exchange for greater freedom from bureaucratic rules that can inhibit effective teaching and learning. Charters receive autonomy over inputs in exchange for accountability for outcomes.

The surest way to cripple the charter movement is to let failing charter schools continue to operate.

The possibility of closure is essential to making the charter school bargain work. It is not a coincidence that where charters are working well, the threat of closure is real—and that where they are not, closure is rare. If closure isn’t a real possibility, the charter bargain is out of balance. When the link between autonomy and accountability is broken, quality...

Jeb Bush at summit of Foundation for Excellence in Education
Jeb Bush pushed hard for putting the interests of children first.
Photo by Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/MCT/Getty Images

I don’t know whether his hat is edging into the 2016 presidential election ring, but I do know that Jeb Bush gave a heck of an education keynote on Tuesday morning at the national summit convened in Washington by his Florida-based Foundation for Excellence in Education.

At this annual bipartisan-but-predominantly-Republican soiree aimed at state legislators and other key ed-policy decision makers—this year’s was by far the largest and grandest of the five they’ve held so far—Bush pushed hard for putting the interests of children first and did so in language plainly intended to appeal across party lines. A later session, which I had the pleasure of “moderating,” brought much the same message from John Podesta of the Center for American Progress. Though nobody expects Podesta to vote Bush for president (or...

The National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA), a top-notch group of entities that are serious about sponsoring quality charter schools, issued a call this week for authorizers and state laws to be more proactive in closing failing schools and opening great new ones. They call it the One Million Lives campaign.

Figure 1
Figure 1: Number of Ohio charter schools in the lowest 15 percent of state performance.
Source: 2011-12 Ohio Report Card Results.

At the kickoff, NACSA President Greg Richmond said, “In some places, accountability unfortunately has been part of the charter model in name only. If charters are going to succeed in helping improve public education, accountability must go from being rhetoric to reality.” He then called for a policy agenda aimed at achieving both smarter growth and stronger accountability in these ways:

  • Establishing strong statewide authorizers that promote both high-quality growth and accountability,
  • Writing into law standards for authorizers that are based on NACSA’s excellent Principles & Standards for Quality Charter School Authorizing,
  • Placing performance expectations for
  • ...

A flurry of legislative activity in 2010, spurred in part by Race to the Top, left many states with new teacher-evaluation systems, performance-pay metrics, tenure protocols, and more. This report, authored by Patrick McGuinn for the Center for American Progress, suggests that states are now struggling to implement and sustain these muscular policies. He looks closely at the implementation of revamped teacher-evaluation protocols in six states:  Colorado, Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Tennessee. How have they managed their increased role in what has long been a local pursuit? The process has proved slow and frustrating: New units (created to provide services like evaluator training and to track teacher effectiveness) have faced difficulties coordinating their work with that of local education agencies. Administrators skilled in teacher evaluation are scarce, forcing states to lean heavily on outside organizations. The see-saw between state policy and local control has proven particularly difficult to balance: Do states impose statewide evaluation systems (as in Delaware and Tennessee) or grant districts more flexibility? Still, these challenges are not insurmountable. McGuinn offers a number of common-sensical yet sensible recommendations to that end: For example,...

The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program remains perhaps the most scrutinized voucher initiative of its kind, so it’s not surprising that it finally got a “review” from the Washington Post, and not a very positive one at that. The Post team determined that the program is subject to few quality controls and asserted that “the government has no say over curriculum, quality or management,” despite the fact that some schools collect more than 90 percent of their revenues from the voucher program.

Of course, governments have little to no say over the curricula at any private school that participates in any of the voucher and tax-credit-scholarship programs that exist presently in fifteen states—as well they shouldn’t. But some state governments have, in recent years, held their voucher programs to account for producing decent results, and that’s where the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program has fallen short.

Private schools that participate in the D.C. program must provide parents with the academic progress of their own children along with the aggregate performance of their children’s grade-level peers, but that’s as far as school-level disclosure goes. Students receiving vouchers must take standardized tests every year, but their results are not made public; they...

The cumbersome, inscrutable title is the first clue that something is not right: “Vision for the College, Career, and Civic Life (C3): Framework for Inquiry in Social Studies State Standards.”

Welcome to the social studies follies. We might thank the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) for ensuring—so far, anyway—that this jumble is not portrayed as “national standards” for social studies. Instead, it’s the beginning of a “framework” for states intending to re-think their own academic standards in social studies, a hodge-podge part of the K-12 curriculum.

It’s not the actual framework, however. That is promised for sometime next year. What we have today is a six-page “vision” of a “framework for inquiry,” whatever the heck that is supposed to mean. (See also Catherine Gewertz’s perspective in Education Week.)

But this preview document supplies reason to be plenty alarmed about what lies ahead. The second clue is implicit in its opening paragraphs:

The College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework, currently under development, will ultimately focus on the disciplinary and multidisciplinary concepts and practices that make up the process of investigation, analysis, and explanation which will be informative to states interested in upgrading their social...

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