This sixth paper in the Digital Learning Now! “Smart Series” details how archaic education-financing structures represent a fundamental barrier to innovation (whether that be digital learning or faithful implementation of rigorous standards) in today’s K–12 sector—and sets forth four “design principles” for a modern funding structure. None of these recommendations for restructuring school funding is new (indeed, they’re largely built off work Fordham produced in 2006), but they’re worthy all the same: To allow innovation to take hold, funding must be weighted, flexible, and portable. It also must be based on performance, the authors argue. (A good idea—though one challenging to implement.) This paper provides a solid primer on all four—including tangible examples of states and districts that have made these changes. San Francisco, for example, rolled out a weighted-student funding system in 2002 that provides dollars to schools based on student grade level, socioeconomic status, special needs, and English language proficiency. Each school is then responsible for creating a budget tailored to its specific needs, with the central office in charge of training and monitoring schools. Yet another helpful DLN paper, chockablock with smart, actionable policy recommendations.

SOURCE: John Bailey, Carrie Schneider, and Tom Vander Ark, Funding Students, Options, and Achievement (Tallahassee, FL: Foundation for Excellence in Education, April 2013)....


GadflyThe National Education Association is suing Florida for its teacher-evaluation policy; specifically, the fact that the Sunshine State engages in the shady practice of evaluating teachers based on students or subjects that they don’t teach. Florida state superintendent Tony Bennett noted that there is currently a law under consideration that would call for “evaluating teachers only on the students and subjects they teach”; this should certainly pass.

Tennessee governor Bill Haslam, for the second time in as many years, killed his own voucher proposal when it became clear that his state’s legislators were interested in taking it to scale. The Wall Street Journal, in a scathing rebuke, accused Haslam of cynically trying to “appease unions while claiming to support school choice.” That’s about right—and as foolish a move by a Republican official to throttle choice as is the RNC’s assault on standards.

On Tuesday, New York students completed their first day of new Common Core–aligned tests, after controversy over whether they had been taught the necessary content (a legitimate beef) and a blitz of advertisements from the NYC education department forewarning parents about lower test scores to come. That last action made sense; too bad the ads are misleading about the Common Core’s intent.

After the GED was redesigned to reflect the Common Core standards, it had double the passing points (one to...


This new study on school competition examines which types of schools experience more competitive pressure and asks Milwaukee principals which schools they identify as their primary source of competition. The analysts use Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) administrative, student-transfer, and achievement data for 2007–08 through 2009–10, as well as geographic data and MPS principal survey findings from 2010. Four key results arise: First, 45 percent of the surveyed principals reportedly experienced a lot of competitive pressure from other schools, 30 percent some, 14 percent a little, and 11 percent none. The schools of those who perceived some or a lot of pressure tended to have more poor children and those with special needs. Secondly, and surprisingly, the extent to which principals feel pressure is not related to geographic factors, such as the number of nearby schools serving the same grades. Analysts muse that this may be a result of the robust choice system in Milwaukee that includes transportation supports. However, the extent of competition is related to transfer rates out of a school and student performance—with low- and high-achieving schools feeling more pressure than those in the middle. Third, when asked to identify their biggest sources of competition, principals tended to point to schools that were similar to them with higher average scores, more white or Hispanic kids, and those that receive greater numbers of transfers from them. This makes intuitive sense. And fourth, the most common response to competition is not improving curriculum or instruction but ramping up outreach and advertisement to parents. The latter is more...


Tilting at WindmillsThis is the brave tale of Alan Bersin, superintendent of San Diego Unified School District from 1998 to 2005, and his aspiration to bring about rapid, systemic reform across that sprawling district. At attorney by training and experience, Bersin was new to school administration. But he moved swiftly, replacing the bloated, inefficient bureaucracy he had inherited with three distinct branches focused chiefly on improving instruction through centralized curricula, direct coaching, and observation. San Diego’s teacher union, however, viewed such moves as power grabs rather than legitimate reforms. Relations only got worse when Bersin implemented a prescriptive plan to curtail social promotion and increase instruction for high-need students—without teacher input. The union, upset at his top-down management style and his simultaneous embrace of charter schools, set out to change the composition of the school board and stock it with anti-Bersins. Never mind that overall student achievement had gone up and achievement gaps had significantly narrowed during his tenure. Bersin’s successor was then chosen to make peace between the union and the school district, and of course this peacemaking process undid just about all of his significant reforms. And the wheels keep spinning.

SOURCE: Richard Lee Colvin, Tilting at Windmills (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press, 2013)....


Kudos to the Foundation for Excellence in Education’s Digital Learning Now! team: Its new fifty-state analysis of digital-learning policies offers a comprehensive, navigable, and timely look at the state-policy landscape for digital and blended education. The report scores each state’s policies against DLN’s ten “elements of high-quality digital learning” (including student access, funding, and quality choices), measured by the group’s thirty-nine underlying “metrics,” or policy criterion by which states are officially scored. Under “funding,” for example, is the metric “funding is provided on a fractional, per course basis to pay providers for individual online courses.” Overall, Utah comes out on top, garnering the lone A-minus. Another five states—Florida, Minnesota, Georgia, Virginia, and Kansas—earn Bs. Twenty-one states register Fs. The report doesn’t simply shame those with inadequate digital-learning policies, though. It provides numerous best-practice cases of states that passed quality digital-education legislation in 2012, including Georgia, Louisiana, and Rhode Island. And through its interactive web module, the report articulates state-specific recommendations. Most importantly, it stresses the need to ensure the quality of digital instruction through state policy—even though it stumbles a bit over how to define or ensure that quality. (According to the report, forty-four states have “quality content” for digital courses, which they define as content “aligned to state standards or the Common Core.” But it makes no mention of who determines or verifies that alignment—or if it is done at all.) Still and all, there’s much value here for everyone engaged in state-level policy for digital learning.



GadflyThe Obama administration’s budget proposal was late to the party and is mostly a big yawn—at least when it comes to K–12 education. The big-ticket items, such as they are: level-funding for Title I and IDEA; new efforts to promote STEM education and tweak American high schools; and a Race to the Top for higher education. The real firepower is reserved for the President’s well-designed Pre-K plan, which would be the biggest federal expansion into early childhood since the creation of Head Start, to be financed by a huge increase in cigarette taxes. Were it not for Congressional realities, it might even be something to get excited about.

After changing part of the exam it uses to determine which four-year-olds are eligible for the coveted gifted-and-talented slots in its public schools, New York City has (very slightly) reduced the number of children who qualify. Yet most of the high scorers still came from the city’s richer areas—a problem, given that they altered the test precisely in order to combat the influence of income-related factors, such as test-prep programs. And (at the risk of sounding like a broken record) there still aren’t enough suitable options for gifted children.

Researchers from Yale, MIT, USC, and Stanford, with a little pocket change (i.e., a $10 million grant) from the National Science Foundation, are experimentally placing...


Ohio’s public schools and parents will soon see a revamped local report card, starting in August 2015. The new Report Cards will display A-F ratings for all public school district and building (traditional and charter). The grading system will have six components: achievement, progress, gap closing, graduation rate, K-3 literacy, and prepared for success. The new rating system was enacted under House Bill 555, which was signed into law in December 2012.

The new grading system improves upon Ohio’s outgoing report card system in three substantial ways:

  • Greater rigor: Under Ohio’s current grading system 387 out of 610 school districts received an Excellent (A) or higher rating in 2011-12. The new grading system, however, will increase the definition of an A rated district. In the Ohio Department of Education’s simulation of districts’ 2015 report cards, 30 districts received an A for performance index (part of the achievement component) and 25 districts received an A for annual measurable objectives (part of the gap closing component).[1]
  • Increased transparency: Ohio’s new A-F rating system is more transparent and understandable for parents and the general public. Gone are the days when mediocre districts could hide behind Continuous Improvement (C), or the harmless “below” value-added rating. In are letter grades for each indicator, giving the public a clearer understanding of how well their district does in comparison to statewide performance benchmarks.
  • More inclusive view of school and student performance: Ohio’s current rating system is largely based on two indicators: performance index,
  • ...
  • Cuyahoga County plans to begin the College Savings Account Program which will open a college-savings account, with $100, for every kindergarten student in the county.
  • An audit from a private consulting firm has made suggestions for Toledo Public Schools that would save them $100 million over five years.
  • The Ohio Department of Education released rankings for the state’s 832 traditional school districts and charter schools based on their value-added scores.
  • Catholic schools in Ohio are in the process of adjusting their lesson plans in response to the Common Core

In Ohio, there are over 600 traditional school districts. Some are large (the largest is Columbus City Schools at nearly 50,000 students) and some are small (the smallest being the “island” district, Put-In-Bay, with 71 students). But do these entities—school districts—actually matter in relation to student achievement? That’s the question Grover Whitehurst, Matthew Chingos, and Michael Gallaher of the Brookings Institution examine, in the aptly-titled report, Do Districts Matter?

To answer this question, the researchers use student-level data from Florida and North Carolina for fourth and fifth graders, from 2000-01 to 2009-10. The researchers isolate the impact of the district on achievement, while controlling for the impacts of teachers, school-buildings, and student demographics in their statistical model. The key finding: School districts, in the aggregate, have little impact on student achievement, relative that of school buildings—and to an even greater extent—classroom teachers.

In addition to the aggregate district analysis, the researchers also consider whether some districts have a greater impact on achievement than others. Using data from 2009-10, they find that, indeed, there are districts that have strong positive impacts and districts that have negative impacts. The difference between an effective and ineffective district? Nearly a half year of student learning, according the report.

The report’s authors concede that they haven’t gotten to the bottom of why some districts are more effective than others. But, through this research, we have strong evidence that indicates there are great districts and laggard districts—and we’d likely find the same in Ohio’s collection of...


According to a report by the National Center for Education Statistics, the United States is experiencing an increase in the number of English language learners (ELL) served in the K-12 educational system. This includes Ohio as well—the Buckeye State schools are serving an ELL population that has nearly doubled since 1999. The chart below shows the increasing trend in ELL students in public schools—district and charter—from 1999 to 2012.

SOURCE: Ohio Department of Education, http://ilrc.ode.state.oh.us/

As the ELL student population grows in Ohio and the rest of the country, charter schools will inevitably enroll an increasing number of these students, meaning that they’ll have to develop the infrastructure to work with these youngsters. To address charter schools’ needs, The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS) has released Serving English Language Learners: A Toolkit for Public Charter Schools. The report provides charter schools with guidance for developing a strong ELL program. The comprehensive report provides an overview of legal requirements, admission strategies, program options, teacher qualifications, and evaluations metrics. In addition, the report also profiles charter schools with exceptional ELL programs in five states: Arizona, California, Colorado, New York, and Pennsylvania.

Charter administrators with low ELL enrollment today may be inclined to disregard the findings of this report—especially the profiles of charters with high-densities of ELL students. But they ignore at their own peril. With a steadily growing ELL population, Ohio charter school leaders must stand ready and willing to adopt strong policies and programs...