Standards, Testing & Accountability

I first met Indiana’s state superintendent Tony Bennett by phone in mid-2009. I had written something for Flypaper about reports of his frustration with Race to the Top. So and he (and his then-chief of staff and now state representative Todd Huston) called me, out of the blue, to discuss it.

Ed Reform Idol
Tony Bennett lost his re-election bid yesterday. 
Photo by Joe Portnoy.

I walked away from that call very impressed by Dr. Bennett. He was not only passionate about meaningful reform; he was also clear-thinking and strategic. As I got to know him in the years since, my admiration for him only grew.

Hence my enormous disappointment at the news that he lost his bid for re-election last night.

During his tenure, Tony pushed through a nation-leading reform agenda. Under his watch, Indiana made huge progress on teacher evaluations, accountability, choice, and much more. Last year, TBFI recognized Bennett for these remarkable accomplishments.

I also got to see him...

In a rational world, Tony Bennett, Indiana’s State Superintendent, would be cruising to reelection this fall, with strong support from the Tea Party and other conservatives serving as the wind at his back. Instead he’s bogged down in a two-front war—against his teacher-union-backed opponent, on the one side, and critics of the Common Core State Standards initiative on the other.

Ed Reform Idol
Tony Bennett at the Fordham Institute's "Education Reform Idol" competition. 
Photo by Joe Portnoy.

It’s no surprise that the teacher union would like to be rid of him. But his critics on the right seem to have forgotten that, along with Governor Mitch Daniels, he pushed through the most aggressive school-reform agenda in a generation. Statewide school vouchers. Severe limits on collective bargaining. Rigorous teacher evaluations. Tenure reform. You name it, he and Governor Daniels did it. (With the help of Republican legislators, of course.) Once upon a time, education reformers might point to Massachusetts or Florida as the “most reformed”...

A huge part of my educational worldview is “sector agnosticism,” my disinterest in who runs schools as long as those schools are high performing. My new book is built around this philosophy; it argues for a new urban school system that assesses each school based on its performance and then applies strategies to schools based on their performance not on their operators.

Private schools should be part of the urban school system of the future.

Unlike so many others studying urban education, I believe that private schools should be part of this urban school system of the future. Per my axiom above, I don’t much care if an urban school is run by a private or religious organization if it gets great results for underserved kids and adheres to basic democratic, pluralistic principles.

But in the past when the state attempts to fold private schools into the mix via scholarship or tax-credit programs, public accountability is always the major stumbling block. Will participating private schools test students and report results? Will they test just the scholarship kids or all of their students? What test will they use? Will low-performance disqualify a private school from...

The day after Superintendent Gene Harris announced her 2013 retirement from the Columbus City Schools (CCS) last month, Mayor Michael Coleman declared he’d play a greater role in improving the city’s schools. The district has been plagued in recent months by a data-tampering scandal and its unrelenting news coverage, and academic achievement has been stagnant for several years now. Coleman and City Council President Andrew Ginther have launched what is effectively the start of the post-Gene Harris era with a briefing about the district from Eric Fingerhut, corporate Vice President of Battelle's Education and STEM Learning business and the Mayor’s newly appointed education advisor; Mark Real, founder of KidsOhio.org; and John Stanford, deputy superintendent of CCS. The briefing is one of four intended to bring city leaders up to speed on the state of the city’s schools and related issues.

So what did they learn? There were at least three major takeaways.

The city’s footprint is significantly larger than the district’s. The distinction between kids who live in the City of Columbus and those who live within the boundaries of Columbus City Schools (CCS) is important – and something most residents and observers would find surprising. Columbus’s population has doubled since 1950...

On October 17, the State Board of Education authorized the Ohio Department of Education to release additional data components of a local school districts’ Report Card, in spreadsheet format. Until the Auditor of State completes his investigation of districts and buildings that are suspected of tampering student attendance records, the data remain “preliminary.” ODE therefore has not yet published an official Report Card for any district in its usual PDF format.

Despite the continuing cloud of suspicion over a few schools’ academic data, we believe that the preliminary data is sufficiently reliable to analyze district and charter school performance in Cleveland and Columbus (Ohio’s largest cities) and Dayton (Fordham’s hometown).

Check out our reports, which answer the following questions (among others):

  • How do charter schools, as a group, perform compared to traditional public schools?
  • Has the performance of charter and district schools improved over time?
  • How many students attend high-performing schools versus failing schools?
  • How far will the pass rate on standardized tests fall when Ohio moves to the Common Core?
  • How did your local school building perform in 2011-12?

The reports can be accessed through the hyperlinks on each city name: Cleveland, Columbus, and Dayton....

In this policy brief from The Future of Children organization, authors Ron Haskins, Richard Murnane, Isabel Sawhill, and Catherine Snow start from the premise that the United States has a two-part “literacy problem”: (1) the current reading skills of U.S. children are “inadequate for the heightened literacy demands of the twenty-first-century economy,” and (2) the widening literacy gap between students from high- and low-income families virtually ensures a permanent impediment to economic mobility for those students left behind.

In Can Academic Standards Boost Literacy and Close the Achievement Gap?, the authors suggest that adoption of the Common Core Standards is an important first step. In fact, they argue “If American children were to master the Common Core, they would fare better in international comparisons, the American economy would receive a boost, and the literacy achievement gap between disadvantaged and advantaged children might narrow somewhat…giving them a better opportunity to compete.” But standards by themselves, the authors argue, have very little effect on achievement and must be backed up by assessments, comprehensive reporting, curriculum fully aligned with the Common Core, and most importantly high-quality teaching to support all of the above.

The authors are not alone in...

When the next President of the United States and the 113th Congress are sworn into office next year, they’ll be faced with an impending “fiscal cliff” – the perilous combination of cuts in government spending and tax increases that are set to take effect soon. Business people, government officials, and economists all worry that the cliff will slow the U.S. economy to an even greater crawl—meaning fewer jobs, greater market volatility, and negative economic growth.

In the education world, another cliff is on the horizon as the transition to the Common Core looms. In Ohio, let’s call it the 2014-15 PARCC “proficiency cliff.” Everyone – from local educators and parents to state policymakers – should be paying attention and working to ensure student academic progress in Ohio doesn’t slam to a halt like the nation's economy might. Consider the chart below.

Chart 1: Ohio Academic Achievement (OAA) proficiency rates versus projected PARCC proficiency rates, fourth-grade math, for select Montgomery County traditional districts and charter schools (ch).


Source: 2011-12 OAA proficiency rates and PARCC proficiency rates (based on 2011-12 OAA advanced and accelerated rates) are from June...

On Wednesday this week, the Ohio Department of Education released "preliminary" school district data for 2011-12 that included all major achievement data components for a district. This is the most complete release of 2011-12 school data to date. However, the data remain "preliminary" until the State Auditor completes his investigation of districts and school buildings who are suspected of tampering with student attendance records. When the investigation is complete, ODE will issue official Report Cards for each distirct.

In this post, and in forthcoming posts, we'll take a look at the ODE data for Ohio's three largest districts: Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati, and for Dayton--Fordham's hometown. We assume that the preliminary data (the release of unofficial, unverified data in June, the September release, and the October release) are sufficiently reliable for an analysis of public schools' data. In addition to an analysis of the 2011-12 data, we also provide a forecast of what proficiency rates for school districts will be when Ohio transitions to the Common Core and its aligned assessment, the PARCC exams, for English language arts and math in 2014-15.

In Columbus, good, bad, and worse news can be found in its district and charter schools’ academic...

Today, the Ohio Department of Education released "preliminary" school district data for 2011-12 that included all major achievement data components for a district. This is the most complete release of 2011-12 school data to date. However, the data remain "preliminary" until the State Auditor completes his investigation of districts and school buildings who are suspected of tampering with student attendance records. When the investigation is complete, ODE will issue official Report Cards for each distirct.

In this post, and in forthcoming posts, we'll take a look at the ODE data for Ohio's three largest districts: Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati, and for Dayton--Fordham's hometown. We assume that the preliminary data (the release of unofficial, unverified data in June, the September release, and the October release) are sufficiently reliable for a city-level analysis of public schools. In addition to an analysis of the 2011-12 data, we also provide a forecast of what proficiency rates for school districts will be when Ohio transitions to the Common Core and its aligned assessment, the PARCC exams, for English language arts and math in 2014-15. 

Dayton Public Schools (DPS) and Dayton’s charter schools continued their long run of mediocre performance in the 2011-12 school year. Anywhere...

Dr. Diane Ravitch – a founding Board member of the modern Thomas B. Fordham Foundation – came to Columbus yesterday morning to speak passionately about her belief in the public school system. Reading from her 2010 book The Death and Life of the Great American School System, Dr. Ravitch called herself a reluctant crusader. But her belief in public schools as the “entry point to the American Dream” and her belief that public schools are under attack by the “reform agenda” which makes the system “ripe for privatization and private exploitation” compel her to speak out again and again.

She laid out her beliefs that charter schools don’t work, that high-stakes testing creates a negative impact on public schools, and that teachers are being systematically demoralized nationwide. The political and financial motivations of reformers are clear to her and she was adamant that those interests cannot be allowed to defeat the true purposes of education: “showing children that they have talents and abilities” and “to develop citizens”.

As quickly as Dr. Ravitch arrived, however, she was gone, leaving the rest of the 400+ attendees at the Public Common School Preservation Conference to take her words of grandmotherly wisdom borne of...

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