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On Wednesday, Michigan superintendent Mike Flanagan dumped the Education Achievement Authority, saying it will no longer be exclusively responsible for Michigan’s failing schools. Opponents to the EEA are claiming victory, but Gadfly notes that this is a political maneuver that Detroit’s children won’t find very clever.

Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford, a Republican, is taking a tool from our school-choice toolkit. He wants to expand the state’s tax-credit-scholarship program while requiring scholarship students to take the same (or similar) assessments as their public-school counterparts. The expansion would also allow partial scholarships for participating families with rising incomes—a smart way to encourage upward mobility.

The majority of teachers may support Common Core, but the largest union is raising a big red flag nonetheless. But read the NEA’s words carefully; when its president, Dennis Van Roekel, says a major “course correction” is needed, we’re pretty sure he’s mostly talking about teacher evaluations. Implementation isn’t easy, but “when the going gets tough, union presidents run for cover.”

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The headline in yesterday’s Columbus Dispatch, “Union leader to be Coleman’s education czar,” certainly got my attention. I suspect I’m not alone.

Given Mayor’s Coleman’s relentless (and praiseworthy) push for education reform over the past 18 months, the appointment of a long-time teacher union official was almost shocking. Teacher unions, after all, have been the primary power brokers in the development of the education system that we are now struggling to reform.

So what’s the mayor thinking?

First, he’s obviously got to respond to the stunning levy defeat in November and the school system’s breathtaking cheating scandal. Choosing a respected educator is a smart way to build bridges and public support. 

Second, even in her official role as union president, Ms. Johnson has proven herself to be open to change. She appears to have played a significant role on the mayor’s education reform commission. For that, she deserves much credit. It would have been easy in those discussions for her to stymie any reform proposal that might negatively impact some of her members, but she didn’t. Instead, she helped the broad coalition of community stakeholders to reach a consensus. The result was a bold report that every commission member signed. It called for bold changes such as empowering school principals with the ability to choose the teachers assigned to their schools and evaluating teachers and principals based upon student success.

As the mayor’s agent in pushing...

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Political theorist Benjamin Barber is not the first person you would associate with education reform. He is a staunch advocate of democracy, democratic institutions, and “democratic patriotism,” and he is best known for a somewhat prescient 1992 book called Jihad vs. McWorld, which gained some clout following the 2001 terrorist attacks. In his 1994 book An Aristocracy of Everyone: The Politics of Education and the Future of America, he argues that the most critical outcome required of our education system is an appreciation of inclusive civic engagement—and that this outcome and excellence are not mutually exclusive. In fact, he warned of the “dumbing down” of American education at that time. In If Mayors Ruled the World, his latest book, Barber goes even further, calling out national governments of all stripes as gridlocked failures of representative governance. Instead, he argues that cities are the true and proper vehicles of citizenship and democracy…not to mention the only political entities capable of “taking out the trash” - by which he means literally getting the job done. Where does that leave education in the United States, traditionally the domain of the states? Barber cites all the various vehicles of education today—districts, charters, vouchers—and concludes, “In education, then…we need to seek partial solutions, relevant remedies, and best practices that are best because they are salient and pertinent to the specific challenges being addressed. That is in fact what cities do.” “Best practices,” he continues, “arise out of experimentation and action….Those are ‘best’ that work.” Sounds...

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Yesterday, I jokingly tweeted that since today would be a snowy Friday before a holiday weekend, the U.S. Department of Education would probably release SIG data. (They’ve executed numerous SIG-related “Friday afternoon trash dumps” in an attempt to minimize the field’s attention to this failed—and massively expensive—program.)

Turns out my joke wasn’t funny at all. 

They’ve done it again.

As you might remember, several months ago, the Department released second-year results, meaning two years of data from cohort-one SIG schools and one year of data from cohort-two schools. But they had to retract the data because of mistakes made by a contractor.

So today, they’ve released the corrected information.

On a Friday afternoon.

Before a holiday weekend.

I’ve belabored the fiasco that is SIG, so I won’t pile on today. I just hope someone, someone, in the Department is saying, “If we find ourselves continually dumping bad SIG news, shouldn’t we just admit we messed up and ask Congress to end this program?”

Here’s what you need to know.

  • When the program launched, we were told that this now-$6 billion program would produce “dramatic” improvements in our most troubled schools. The Secretary talked of “transformation not tinkering.”
  • The most persistently low-performing schools in American got several million dollars, on average, and yet a third of them got worse.
  • On average, schools with two years of funding and interventions under their belts saw a three percentage point gain in reading proficiency—just about the same gain as all
  • ...
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Nothing helps pass the time better when you’re snowed in than some high-quality edu-reading. Here’s some of the best stuff I’ve come across recently.

Public Impact has produced a very good and very important report on “extraordinary authority districts,” entities like Louisiana’s Recovery School District. It’s exactly the kind of nuts-and-bolts document that’s needed right now. Many states are considering such bodies, and this is a thoughtful guide—informed by our experience to date—for how to do it right.

A group of University of Missouri researchers compared three different types of growth measures: “student-growth percentiles,” a.k.a. SGP (my preferred method), and two “value-added models,” a.k.a. VAM. They found that a VAM approach that incorporates a comparison of demographically similar schools produces the best results (for a number of reasons). The full working paper is a bit dense, but the shorter Education Next article is accessible and very informative. Growth measures are important and here to stay; this piece will help you bone up.

NACSA and Charter School Growth Fund have put together a good, short report on how to ensure that the charter sector’s future growth leads to more and more high-quality seats and fewer low-quality ones. It has valuable policy recommendations and even better suggestions for improving authorizer practice. I particularly liked the report’s view that authorizers aren’t just disinterested umpires—they also have a role to play in identifying and replicating great schools.

I really enjoyed Fordham’s recent...

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The New York Board of Regents has recommended nineteen changes to the rollout of the Common Core in the Empire State, which include the following: a five-year “extension” of the plan to attach high-school graduation to success on the state Regents exams (while students would still have to “pass” Common Core exams, they would not be required to hit the “college-ready” mark until 2022); federal-testing waivers for students with special needs; and—controversially—allowing teachers to contest their evaluation ratings if their districts have done a poor job implementing the Common Core. Governor Cuomo roundly criticized the last idea, condemning it as an attempt to “water down” teacher-evaluation reforms. Oddly, the unions also rejected it—they claimed that it didn’t go far enough. In the end, the Regents backed off, nixing a form of flexibility that many observers believed might actually help the Common Core rollout by making it less unpalatable to New York teachers. Gotta love politics.

Analysts at the American Institutes for Research found that the number of nonacademic professional and administrative employees at colleges and universities in the U.S. has doubled in the last twenty-five years, greatly outstripping the growth in the number of students or faculty. In total, since 1987, universities and colleges added 517,636 administrators and professional employees. Similar disturbing trends can be found in K–12 education; stay tuned for a Fordham report on the subject.

Advanced Placement classes continue...

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For a couple weeks now, I’ve been obsessing over this map. It’s the product of a remarkable research project that collected and analyzed the incomes of the thirty-year olds who were born between 1980 and 1982.

The map shows, by small geographic areas, the likelihood that a child born into the lowest-income quintile ended up (as an adult) in the highest-income quintile.

This isn’t the necessarily the best indicator of economic mobility, but it is still edifying. (The fantastic interactive map from the Times allows you to look at mobility from a number of other angles, as well).

A whole lot of staring at this map and some additional research has produced ten thoughts—most of them gloomy.

  1. The miniscule chance of a rags-to-riches rise in some locations takes my breath away. In Memphis, the chance of this “lowest-to-highest” movement is only 2.6 percent. Atlanta, at 4 percent, is barely better.
  2. The stickiness of poverty in some locations is heartrending. In most of the red areas in the Mississippi Delta, a child born into a family at the tenth percentile of earnings has a 75 percent chance of having an adulthood in one of the bottom two economic quintiles. 

    This is a catastrophic distortion of the American Dream.
     
  3. The belt of red in the Southeast is absolutely shameful. An entire swath of our nation is constricting the opportunities of low-income kids. The “Rust Belt,” once the nation’s manufacturing
  4. ...
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Mike welcomes Ohio's Chad to the podcast to disparage teacher tenure, anguish over the charter assault in Gotham, and debate the realities for charter schools in rural areas. Amber finds value in growth measures. Amber's Research Minute “ Choosing the Right Growth Measure ,” by Mark Ehlert, Cory...
The Education Gadfly

The court case over teacher job protections in California is underway. The plaintiffs argue that the laws hinder the removal of effective teachers, which disproportionately harms underprivileged students. The defendants, on the other hand, argue that there is plenty of time before tenure to remove teachers. While it is true that many schools do not avail themselves of this limited flexibility, the fact remains that the flexibility is limited. What’s more, that argument dodges the problem: if a teacher burns out after obtaining tenure, he will still be teaching children—and how can anyone defend that? Meanwhile, a photo negative of this case is ongoing in Denver, Colorado, in which the district is facing a class-action lawsuit for supposedly dismissing tenured teachers without just cause—because in the unions’ strange world, poor performance in the classroom couldn’t possibly be considered “just cause.” Interesting!

If you’re looking for (1) good news and (2) something to watch during your lunch break, look no further this quick introduction to Pakistan’s Punjab Education Reform Roadmap (which can be characterized as perhaps the world’s largest voucher program). The short film, featuring British education reformer Michael Barber, documents the challenges (and importance) of implementing an ambitious education-reform strategy—and paints an encouraging picture for the future of Punjab’s children. For more to read on the subject, see our review of Barber’s book, The Good News from Pakistan.

New York City schools chancellor ...

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