Gary Larceny

After Tony “the Idol” Bennett’s ousting in November from Hoosier chiefdom, reform funders commissioned public-affairs experts ED 08 Associates and The Acropolis Group consulting firm on how the stalled reform movement can regain momentum. Herewith the executive summary of their report.

Like the Republican Party, the education-reform movement has been searching its soul, examining its slogans, and bickering over who’s in charge. Those who lost hard-fought elections in typically reform-minded states in November understandably wonder: Are our policies off and our principles awry? Is it just “message” and “tone”? (Or could it be our weird spokespersons?)

Well, be of good cheer, reformers. Our state-of-the-art research has found that your policy prescriptions are still popular with the unwashed masses whose tax dollars you crave, whose children you yearn to change, whose neighborhood schools you insist on closing, and whose favorite teachers you are bent on firing. All you need to do is change your messaging and explain your intentions in focus-group-validated language uttered by hypnotically beautiful spokespeople.

We’ve learned that your present message is too often perceived as “dour,” “tough,” “mean,” and “divisive.” You must become the happy movement!

For example:

Closing sh***y, no good schools

Our research revealed that people hate this idea. Doubly so if Michelle Rhee is the one doing the closing—and that mishap with Rhee, the bulldozer, and Akron’s Coolidge Elementary School’s fifth-grade classroom didn’t help. (Luckily, the kids were out...


Springtime is at hand for America’s senior class—and for many of these graduating seniors, spring means daydreaming about college or a first job. Senioritis anyone? In a recent report, From High School to the Future: The Challenge of Senior Year in Chicago Public Schools, The University of Chicago’s Consortium on Chicago School Research tackles the question of whether high school students’ entire senior year is one large case of senioritis. In other words, are senior years generally productive or wasted? To answer this question, the researchers analyzed the course-taking patterns of over 50,000 Chicago Public School graduating seniors, between 2003 and 2009.

The study’s key finding is that, for too many students, the senior year is indeed an unproductive and unchallenging academic year—far from a launching pad into college or gainful employment. In their analysis of student transcripts and follow-up interviews with students, the researchers found that many students chose to take easy elective courses that allowed them to “coast to graduation.” The researchers attribute this senior-year mess to the lack of an “organizing framework or common set of expectations” for what a rigorous and productive senior year looks like—for the college- and vocation-bound student alike.

Perhaps the only silver lining of this report is that the researchers found a solid quarter of CPS students engaged in an Advanced Placement (AP) heavy courseload (taking, on average, nearly two AP courses). Yet, even here, there is substantial variation in AP participation across CPS high schools, even among similarly qualified students....


The Fordham Institute has been engaged in a wide range of conversations recently, ranging from gifted-student education to Common Core to charter school quality. If you’ve missed any of these events or publications, check out the following notes.


Starting in the 2014-15 school year, Ohio’s schools will fully implement the Common Core State Standards and the PARCC exams--online assessments aligned to the Common Core. As the Buckeye State draws nearer to lift off for these new academic standards and tests, school districts are ratcheting up their technological infrastructure and capacity.

Consider a few recent examples of how schools are improving their technological infrastructure in advance of the Common Core and the PARCC exams:

  • The Akron Beacon Journal reported that the Akron Public Schools recently approved $300,000 plus in spending to upgrade its computer software and Internet bandwidth. These improvements will ensure that its students are able to take the online PARCC exams.
  • Meanwhile on the other side of the Buckeye State, The Lima News reported that Delphos and Ottawa-Glandorf school districts, both located in rural Northwest Ohio, have purchased new computers to ensure that their students will be able to take the PARCC exams.
  • Finally, in rural Southeast Ohio, The Marietta Times reported that Morgan Local School District has been piloting Thinkgate. Teachers at Morgan Local will use this digital instructional system to provide real-time feedback to students about how well they are progressing toward meeting the learning expectations of the Common Core.  

In addition to these local efforts, the governor’s budget proposal (see page D-180) also takes steps to improve technology as schools transition to the Common Core and the PARCC exams. In the state’s student assessment line-item, the governor proposes...


This Q&A with T.J. Wallace, the executive director for Dayton Liberty Academies, is the sixth of our seven-part series on school leadership. (Please see our Q&A with Dr. Glenda Brown, Andy BoyDr. Judy Hennessey, and Hannah Powell Tuney, and Chad Webb.)

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Two years ago T.J. Wallace was recruited to be a principal at the Dayton Leadership Academies. His job was to turn around the Dayton Liberty campus, which was facing possible closure for back-to-back failing state report cards.

At the time, EdisonLearning, Inc., a for-profit management company, was operating his school and a second, known as the Dayton View campus. Both had poor test scores and were plagued by administrative chaos. The schools’ board and their authorizer, the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, were out of patience. Fordham and the board took matters into their own hands and chose Wallace, imposing him on their management company.

This year Edison Learning is gone and Wallace is the executive director of both schools.

The 58-year-old former Catholic high school principal is running one school that last year was graded a “C” by the state and a second that received an “F.” The K-8 buildings can hold more than a 1,000 students each, but enrollment has plummeted from 2,500 in 2004 to 735.

Wallace is taking over buildings that, for more than a decade, were managed from afar. His board and Fordham have given him two years to stop the enrollment decline and to bring...


Richard (Dick) Ross was sworn into Monday by State Board of Education President Debe Terhar as Ohio’s 37th State Superintendent of Public Instruction. The ceremony took place at Reynoldsburg City High School (just east of Columbus, where Ross was formerly district superintendent). Dr. Ross takes over the leadership reigns of the Ohio Department of Education after serving as Governor Kasich’s director of 21st Century Education for the last year. While in the Governor’s office Ross helped to craft the state’s A-F report card, the Third Grade Reading Guarantee, and the new school funding plan being debated in the legislature. For more see here.

Congratulations Dr. Ross and we wish you the very best. The children and families of Ohio need you to be successful.


“Autonomy, in exchange for accountability” has been the mantra of charter school theorists since before the first charter opened its doors in Minnesota in 1991. But, far too often over the last two decades this mantra has been more ideal than reality. Getting the balance right between autonomy and accountability has been so hard because there has been much confusion over the appropriate roles and responsibilities of the non-profit charter school governing boards, school operators, and authorizers in the autonomy/accountability deal.

Fordham’s new policy brief by Adam Emerson, “Governance in the Charter School Sector: Time for a Reboot,” tackles the governance issue head-on. One section in particular is especially interesting to me because of our role as a charter school authorizer in the Buckeye State. Ohio, and other states with strong charter school networks (both non-profit CMOs and for-profit EMOs), has struggled to balance the power and influence of school operators with that of their non-profit governing board. Too often boards are seen as little more than a necessary evil while operators run the show. It is not at all uncommon for charter school operators in Ohio to “hire” board members, and then use them as a rubber stamp for all school operations. 

As a state approved charter school authorizer in Ohio we have always held a different view. Our position has been that the non-profit governing boards are independent, and clearly in charge of, any outside organization that they engage to run their education programs. It has been our...


Ohio’s urban school districts, like many others across the country, face a slow burning governance crisis. Elected school boards in cities like Columbus, Dayton, Lorain, and Youngstown are proving incapable of providing the leadership their cities, schools, families and children need to be successful. In Dayton, for example, long-time school board member Yvonne Isaacs summed up the challenge when she told the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 2012, “There is really no continuity in terms of the vision and the direction of the district…I think what we have lost is the ability to collaborate and to set vision.” Youngstown’s dysfunction is legendary: It’s been under state financial control for years and now faces a state academic takeover.

But, no city in Ohio currently displays better the dysfunction of big city elected school boards than does Columbus. Columbus City Schools is a district in turmoil. Mayor Michael Coleman spelled out the challenges in a recent Columbus Dispatch op-ed thusly:

The children of Columbus City Schools need our help. Forty-seven percent of kids enrolled in the district attend schools receiving a D or F grade by the Ohio Department of Education, while just 21 percent go to A or B schools. The district ranks near the very bottom statewide in terms of how much a student learns in a given year.
State and federal investigations into allegations of student-data manipulation hang like a black cloud over the district. The results threaten to further lower the academic-performance scores of our schools,...

The 2013 Brown Center Report on American EducationThe Brown Center’s annual report always takes on three big issues in education policy—and always delivers the goods. Thank you, Brookings! This year’s edition is no exception, broaching the topics of ability grouping in elementary schools (which it finds is on the rise), whether teaching Algebra in eighth grade improves NAEP math scores (it doesn’t), and how American students compare with their international peers (one of report author Tom Loveless's favorite topics). In service of the latter, the report firmly discredits the notion that the U.S. must copy and paste the instructional practices of so-called “A+ countries” (the six that scored at the top of the TIMSS charts in 1995). Rather, since 1995, the U.S. has gained seventeen points in eighth-grade mathematics—an achievement exceeded by only one A+ nation, Korea, and matched by one other, Hong Kong. Moreover, though Finland’s PISA scores have earned them near-worship in many U.S. education circles, that country’s performance on the TIMSS was statistically indistinguishable from ours. Be sure to read Kathleen Porter-Magee’s nuanced perspective on the “Finnish miracle” for real lessons we can learn from our friends across the pond.

SOURCE: Tom Loveless, The 2013 Brown Center Report on American Education: How Well Are American Students Learning? (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, March 2013)....