Standards, Testing & Accountability

Six days after the election, and by a miniscule margin, Washington State became the forty-second state to allow charter schools. Charter advocates and operators will have plenty of work ahead if they want to convince such a polarized electorate (which rejected charters thrice before) that the forty schools they’re now permitted to open will add quality and innovation to the state’s public school landscape. The battle is won, but the war will continue.

Stanford’s Center for Education Policy Analysis (CEPA) has released the preliminary findings of their study on the impact of the GreatSchools program in D.C. and Milwaukee—and the news is good! The GreatSchools program runs an online search engine to help parents discover their children’s schooling options. The programs in the two cities studied went further, providing in-person parent training to supplement the materials. CEPA found that these programs successfully influenced parents to select higher-performing schools. Disseminating information, the goal of so many groups (ourselves included), is not always enough; groups that actively try to educate parents about their options should be lauded and replicated.

Mayor Bloomberg’s fiscal plan for...

Nine months ago, the School Choice Demonstration Project delivered its final treatise on the Milwaukee school-voucher program, known as the MPCP (capping a run of thirty-seven reports on the topic). It concluded that “the combination of choice and accountability left the MPCP students in our study with significantly higher levels of reading gains than their carefully matched peers in MPS after four years.” This study by analysts at the Universities of Oklahoma and Kentucky and Furman University corroborates that encouraging assertion. Here, authors examine three years of achievement data—two years before and one year after stricter testing and public-reporting requirements were passed in Wisconsin for private schools accepting voucher students—to ascertain the impact of these new accountability provisions on student achievement. They found large increases in the average math and reading scores for students enrolled in voucher schools. Further, voucher students outperformed their traditional-school peers in reading in 2010-11 and narrowed the gap in math. Using value-added and other rigorous models, the research team was able to demonstrate that achievement increases in the neighborhood of 0.1 to 0.2 standard deviations reflect the impact of the new accountability policies as opposed to pre-existing trends and/or selective student attrition (think: counseling-out...

Lots of people are weighing in on the implications of Tuesday’s election results.

  • Eduwonk Rotherham has a good piece in Time magazine lamenting Tony Bennett’s loss (my thoughts on that here), celebrating the wins for charter schools, and noting the continued strength of teachers unions when they are tested.
  • Mike comes to many of the same conclusions.  Tom Luna’s losses get his attention, as do a number of results from the Midwest.
  • Stergios also highlights the charter wins and the fallout from Bennett’s undoing (particularly regarding Common Core) and adds accountability and ESEA reauthorization to the list of affected subjects.
  • Naturally, the prolific Rick Hess has a series of posts on the subject, declaring the night a split decision for reformers.  He emphasizes the union wins and the subtle split in the reform community between conservatives and progressives.  See here for his take on Bennett’s loss and its implications for Common Core.
  • The WSJ’s Stephanie Branchero also concludes that voters are divided.  Branchero discusses Luna’s losses, the charter win in WA, and CA’s decision to spend more on schools.
  • Politics K-12 is already looking ahead, surfacing the five big issues
  • ...
...The education system can make all sorts of achievement gains but still fail because of the substandard education too many Hispanics receive.

In the words of a former republican president, they got thumped last night. While this is not the space to recount Republican failures in both the presidential and senate races, this much is clear: They cannot win national elections anymore by merely appealing to white voters. The last president who won with the percentage of white voters that Mitt Romney achieved was George H.W. Bush in 1988 (both received 59% of the white vote). However, Bush Senior received over 400 electoral votes; Mitt Romney won 206. The white share of the electorate is currently dissolving at a rate of about 3 percent every election.

And this is just the beginning of the demographic wave. According to the U.S. Census, racial and ethnic minority births now account for more than 50 percent of all births in the country. Hispanics, now 10 percent of the electorate, are the fastest-growing segment of the population—and one-third are currently under the age of eighteen.

The challenge that Republicans face is similar to the challenge facing the...

The Milwaukee voucher program remains one of the most tightly-regulated school choice programs of its kind in the nation, and it deserves better than the sloppy conclusions of Diane Ravitch. In a blog post earlier this week, Ravitch noted—correctly—that tougher standards applied to the Wisconsin state test went badly for all Milwaukee students, especially voucher recipients (just 10 percent of whom were proficient in reading, compared to 15 percent of their district peers). But then she reports that legislation expanding the Milwaukee choice program to Racine absolved private schools of the requirement that they administer the state tests to their voucher-bearing students. “Therefore,” she writes, “their proficiency rate will not be known or reported.”

Wisconsin has made a lot of progress in holding its voucher program more accountable.

This is absolutely untrue. For the past few years, students in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program have had to take the Wisconsin Knowledge Concepts Examination (WKCE), which is the same test administered to all public school students. When the Wisconsin legislature expanded the voucher program to Racine last year, nothing changed this requirement. In fact, test results for private schools in Racine and Milwaukee, as well as for public schools throughout...

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; 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....