Additional Topics

BACK TO THE SUMMIT
Education Week looks at the 25th anniversary of the famous Charlottesville summit of 1989. The meeting between President George H.W. Bush and the nation's governors helped initiate the national drive for standards in education. 

SAFETY FIRST
School safety is a top concern for Department of Education officials, who recently awarded over $70 million in "Now is the Time" federal grants to districts across the nation. The funds will be put toward implementation of behavior interventions, counseling services, and development of emergency response plans.

PAINTING CURRICULUM RED?
Parents, teachers, and students staged a walkout in a Denver suburb yesterday in protest of a newly proposed curriculum-review committee that would promote patriotism and discourage "civil disorder." Students and teachers from the Jefferson County school district object to the recent edits the conservative school board has made to the history curriculum; subsequent protests have disrupted regular school activity. 

IVY GROWTH
Harvard has posted a 15.4 percent investment return for its endowment in FY 2014, the Wall Street Journal reports. The gains trail those reported by Ivy League rivals Dartmouth (19.2 percent) and the University...

The civics edition

Independence scotched, letting 16-year-olds vote, destructive school boards, think tank journalism, and a deep dive on instructional practices.

Amber's Research Minute

"Examining the Relationship Between Teachers' Instructional Practices and Students' Mathematics Achievement," by Janine M. Firmender, M. Katherine Gavin, and D. Betsy McCoach, Journal of Advanced Academics, vol. 25, no. 3 (August 2014).

Transcript

Michelle:       Hello, this is your host, Michelle Gininger of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute here at the Education Gadfly Show and online at edexcellence.net. And now please join me in welcoming my co-host, the Braveheart of ed reform, Robert Pondiscio.

Robert:           Freedom. How was that?

Michelle:       Eh, not loud enough. See ...

Robert:           Oh, OK, well, best I can do.

Michelle:       So why are we talking about Braveheart? Explain.

Robert:           Scottish independence, which didn't happen, but it could have.

Michelle:       It could have.

Robert:           It could have.

Michelle:       It nearly happened. Everyone was talking about how the vote was a wide margin. I didn't think it was that wide. I think ...

Robert:           Was it 56-44, I believe?

Michelle:       Yeah, that's pretty close.

Robert:           Right.

Michelle:       Like deciding the future of your country.

Robert:           Yep. In my other life I teach civics at a charter school in New York City, and this was a big topic for discussion for us because this was history, our own history, being revisited 250 years later. I think my students thought that they were going to vote "yes," and they voted "no," but still, a fascinating story.

Michelle:       Had they seen "Braveheart"?

Robert:           That's a great question. No, I don't know.

Michelle:       Because they're so young that they might not have seen the movie which is ...

Robert:           They might have missed it.

Michelle:       ... really sad.

Robert:           Might have missed it. Twenty years ago now?

Michelle:       Yeah, it's a long time ago.

Robert:           Back when people knew who Mel Gibson was?

Michelle:       Well, on that note, let's play part on the Gadfly.

Ellen:              Last week, 16- and 17-year-olds were allowed to vote in the Scottish independence referendum. Should we do the same in America? Would it encourage schools to do a better job with civics education?

Michelle:       OK, Mr. Civics ...

Robert:           Wow. Those are two very, very different questions, and I think I'm going to surprise you with my answer.

                        "Would it encourage schools to do a better job with civics education?" Yeah, probably.

                        "Should we allow 16- to 17-year-olds to vote?" This is heresy, but I don't think so.

Michelle:       Why not?

Robert:           Because they're kids, Michelle. Why would you want 16- and 17- ... This is funny. I do civics education. It's one of my passions in this field, so you would think, "Of course Pondiscio's going to want 16- and 17-year-olds to vote." I'm not sure I even want them to drive let alone vote.

Michelle:       You're not for expanding the vote. You want to take away the rights: driving. Anything else you want to add to that?

Robert:           Now hold on a second. I'm not taking away the right for 16- and 17-year-olds to vote. They don’t have it yet.

                        I guess, and this is again a little bit of heresy on my part, the more time I spend doing civic education, the more time I think that our goal should not be to encourage more voting, it should be to encourage more informed voting. And I'm not sure that just creating an entitlement for 16- and 17-year-olds to vote ...

                        On the one hand, maybe it would incentive them to pay more attention. On the other hand, based on just the sample size that I see of high school students, do we want them to vote? Are the paying attention to the news? If you could convince me that we could create boxcar numbers of really deeply informed 16- and 17-year-olds paying attention to the news, civically engaged, then sure. I think we've got to do one before we can do the other.

Michelle:       I agree. I don't know that 16- and 17-year-olds should vote, and I also don't want to get into the "Are these kids ... Do they know enough about civics to vote?" Because what are you going to do, have a civics test? And then are we going to have a voting test? All of those sort of things that's down a rabbit hole we absolutely in no way want to go down.

                        I think the fact that Scotland did not win independence ...

Robert:           And those kids could vote.

Michelle:       ... and those kids could vote I think is perhaps an indication that 16- and 17-year-olds could vote, and it wouldn't drive everything crazy. They wouldn’t be voting for insane candidates or ... Another question is, could we do any worse than we're already doing?

Robert:           If you want to set the bar there, Michelle. I haven't seen the breakdown of the Scottish vote, but I'm assuming that 16- and 17-year-olds broke heavily for independence.

Michelle:       Yes, I would assume so as well.

Robert:           Right.

Michelle:       So if they still didn't even get independence, maybe our 16- and 17-year-olds can vote and not want to legalize marijuana and lower the alcohol age and all these things that perhaps we would assume 16- and 17-year-olds would care about.

Robert:           Lower the age of compulsory education.

Michelle:       Yeah.

Robert:           Do all kind of mischief.

Michelle:       Exactly. All right. Question #2.

Ellen:              A recent "This American Life" episode told listeners about a New York State school board battle that escalated into an all-out war, complete with threats of violence and felony charges. In a democracy, where we respect majority rule, what could have been done to prevent the conflict?

Michelle:       This is not a new story, but "This American Life" just recently covered it, and after you've finished listening to our podcast, I encourage everyone to go listen to that podcast, but not before you reach the end of ours.

Robert:           After you watch "Braveheart."

Michelle:       Actually, it's going to be third on the to do list after "Braveheart."

                        This isn't a new study, but I was listening to it on my morning commute into the office, and I thought the person next to me on the Metro was going to ask if I was OK because I was sitting there just getting so up in arms about the whole thing. Because talk about a breakdown in governance.

                        For too long we haven't focused on the governance aspect of education, and in this civics edition of the podcast, let's take it on. Robert, what's your take?

Robert:           I want to answer a slightly different question. One are the things, and this is a difficult device and story. Makes me a little bit sad, and I'm going to put back on my civics educator hat again.

                        I'm very fond of reminding people ... We talk all the time in our current ed reform era about college and career. The two C's. I like to remind people that it was a third C that started it all, and that was "citizenship."

                        If you go back and you read the work in Don Hirsch, Edie Hirsch's book, "The Making of Americans" talks a lot about this. You go back and look at the founding thinkers of American education, names you never hear any more like Benjamin Rush and Noah Webster, they were not concerned with things like college, career, STEM subjects, etc. They were really concerned with creating what Benjamin Rush called, I think, "republican machines." Small R republican.

                        Our entire public school system was really about making Americans. Creating this class of citizen who were deeply informed, who were capable of managing their own affairs.

                        This story just says to me how far we have strayed from that, and how much we've simply forgotten that we invest so much money in public education for a reason. We want self-governing, thoughtful citizens. This just shows how easily it can all fall apart.

Michelle:       I think this story is shocking in that it was a total breakdown of the public good and the private good of education.

Robert:           Exactly.

Michelle:       And we talk about that all the time. I want my kids to be well prepared, and have a great life, and be able to go on to college, and get a good career, and raise a family, and all of these great things. But I want all of your kids to do the exact same thing.

Robert:           Sure.

Michelle:       Mostly because it's what's best for our country, but also you can take the very fiscal route of we don't want to pay for people not to be able to support themselves.

Robert:           I wrote a blog post about this not long ago in response to Andy Smarick's very nice series about conservativism and ed reform. And I made what I thought was just a simple point, which is that there's an institutional value to public education that we tend to forget sometimes when we're focused on what you called that "private good," that "I'm going to go to college, I'm going to get a good job, I'm going to be upwardly mobile."

                        There is an institutional anchor purpose that schools serve in a community. On the one hand, we all want schools to perform better, but I worry sometimes that we can lose site of what is essentially a large, important public institution in our communities. And it sounds like the folks that "This American Life" were talking to have completely lost sight of that.

Michelle:       It would be interesting if in this new Common Core debate we're having, we bring that idea into it a little bit. Obviously Common Core isn't breaking down the school system like this example, but it would be interesting if everyone just took a step back. OK, Common Core high standards, what does this mean for the purpose of schooling? And I think we could have perhaps a more productive debate.

Robert:           Yep, and you're never going to hear me argue against civic education. It is that third C: college, career, and citizenship. I always like to remind people of that.

Michelle:       I like it. OK, Ellen, question #3.

Ellen:              On Saturday "The Economist" reported on the rise of think-tank journalism, a trend that's blurring an old line between creating news and distributing it. Is this change a good thing? Are there pitfalls?

Michelle:       This isn't an education story per se, but I think that there's an education angle we can get to.

Robert:           Sure there is.

Michelle:       And there's certainly a civics education angle we can get to [crosstalk 09:03].

Robert:           And here's my second movie reference vis-a-vis journalism. "I keep trying to get out. They keep dragging me back in." Name the movie.

Michelle:       I can't. I'm drawing a blank.

Robert:           Godfather III.

Michelle:       Oh, yeah.

Robert:           Yeah. I started my career in journalism. I still to this day spend far more years in radio news and the magazine business than I have in the classroom or here.

                        Yeah, these lines are blurry, but part of it is ... Look, American journalism has been sort of on a suicide mission for several years. If you're looking for high quality, thoughtful content about any public issue, there's a vacuum that needs to be filled, and folks like us like to think we have a role in filling it.

Michelle:       Absolutely, I think that this isn't necessarily the traditional story that journalism ... there's so few journalism ... journalism is failing and think tanks are filling the void.

                        I actually view it from a little bit of the opposite view. Instead of there being so many beat reporters and straight up journalism where you're just reporting on the story, or even doing an investigative story, so many journalists today are jumping to this commentary aspect. This "what does it all mean?" thing, which is not necessarily a bad thing, and I enjoy reading it, and I sort of appreciate it. But that role is more a role that think tankers have often taken.

                        So I think that it's actually journalism is going more towards the think-tank world as opposed to the think-tank world adapting to the journalism world.

Robert:           That's one, and you alluded to before there's a loss of subject specialty knowledge as well. I'll give you a good example. I worked for years at Time Magazine. Back when I started, we had a dedicated religion reporter, a law reporter, lots of science reporters, an education reporter. Now everybody is a generalist.

Michelle:       On the Media, clearly everyone knows I listen to NPR all day, On the Media just did a story on the loss of the beat reporter, so this is something that's well known and out there. Now within education reporting, Mike Petrilli has an interesting column coming out in the next edition of Education Next about how education journalism seems to be flourishing. So maybe in the local paper in Louisville there's not an ed reporter any more, though don't quote me on that. I feel bad for Louisville now. They're might be an ed reporter.

                        But we're seeing so much specialized reporting on whether it's Vox, whether it's VentureBeat launching an education channel. The Atlantic has an education channel. There is a focus on education. All the Chalkbeats.

Robert:           Right.

Michelle:       We can list and list and list examples.

Robert:           But hold on, Michelle. Why do you think that's happening?

Michelle:       Well it's foundation funded.

Robert:           And what makes education news sexy from the standpoint of a journalist? What do we have that a lot of other beats don't have?

Michelle:       Conflict.

Robert:           Exactly. We love conflict. And whenever people are willing to beat themselves bloody and get in high dudgeon over something that makes for good copy, you're going to see more attention.

Michelle:       And we have lots and lots and lots of players on both sides who ...

Robert:           Both sides?

Michelle:       ... happy to step up to the plate.

Robert:           There are multiple sides.

Michelle:       Multiple sides.  All right. That's all the time we have for Pardon the Gadfly. Thanks so much, Robert.

Robert:           Thank you.

Michelle:       Up next is Amber's Research Minute.

                        Welcome to the show, Amber.

Amber:           Thanks, Michelle.

Michelle:       Have you seen "Braveheart"?

Amber:           "Braveheart?" As in Mel Gibson?

Michelle:       Mel Gibson. Yeah.

Amber:           Of course.

Michelle:       That's a little out of left field. I'm sorry. But we were talking about the Scottish independent vote.

Amber:           Ah, gotcha.

Michelle:       And that was our pop culture reference.

Amber:           Love that movie. Mel Gibson was phenomenal in it. I think it's a movie that appeals to women and men, which doesn't always happen. But yeah, I really enjoyed it.

Michelle:       Do you think it's because Mel Gibson is so young?

Amber:           He's some pretty good eye candy, right? At least back then.

Robert:           Used to be.

Amber:           Back then. Back then.

Michelle:       All right. What do you have for us today?

Amber:           We have a new study out. And by the way, it's a little long, but I'm going to do my darnedest to get through it quickly, but there's important stuff in here. It's called "Examining the Relationship Between Teachers' Instructional Practices and Students' Math Achievement."

                        Analysts studies two instructional practices in math. One, engaging students in discourse with the teacher and their peers to make sense of problems and explain their answers. We've heard a lot about this with the Common Core math. Explain your answer.

                        #2, using appropriate mathematical vocabulary.

                        Importantly, these practices reflect the mathematical practices of the common core, but that actually wasn't the purpose of the study, which is why I like the study. That was sort of like an afterthought. They realized later, hey, these actually reflect what the Common Core says in little bit different terms. The Common Core talks about constructing viable arguments and critiquing the reasoning of others. And the Common Core talks about attending to precision, including the use of appropriate mathematical vocabulary.

                        So there was a decent overlap between what they were studying and what the Common Core math practices say.

                        The study occurred as part of a larger evaluation of Project M-Squared, which is an advanced math curriculum covering geometry and measurement in Grades K through 2. I normally don't do evaluations of curriculum, but I like this study.

                        The final sample includes 34 Grade K-2 teachers and 560 students who participated in the field test of the larger evaluation. Teachers were randomly assigned to the intervention and control groups. The intervention group teachers attended roughly 10 days total of PD. That's not chump change. They were observed weekly during the study, which was a big deal. Whereby they were rated on fidelity of implementation to the content and those two instructional strategies.

                        The kids were administered the Iowa Test of Basic Skills as a pre-test and as a control.

                        Bottom line. Teachers' implementation scores for those two strategies significantly predicted math achievement as gauged by the students' gained scores on an outcome measure known as the Open Response Assessment, which had me scratching my head. In other words, a kindergartener who was average on the ITBS standard score, and his teacher was rated "always implementing these practices," basically could be expected to gain about 72% pre- to post-test on this measure.

                        Problem is, at the front of this, it sounds like, wow, this is great data that bolsters evidentiary claims of the Common Core math, which people are always acting like, "let's see the evidence."

                        But they developed because there's nothing. And they're kind of like you're damned if you do, you're damned if you don't because there's no good measure for geometry and measurement in Grades K-2, so they had to develop their own. So they developed both outcome measure, and they developed the classroom observation measure.

                        Lo and behold, the teachers who scored well on these measures, the kids did well, and so you kind of have to call into question the validity and the soundness of the findings because the analysts and the researchers themselves both created and evaluated the ... created the measures and evaluated the outcomes for the curriculum.

                        I didn't like that, but at the same time, I thought, wow ... What gave it credibility at the outset in my mind, they didn’t go into this thing saying we're going to measure these two Common Core math practices. It was just sort of an ah-ha moment was kind of how I read it when they reflected back on the evaluation.

Robert:           But I'm going to push you on something that you said early on. You said you don’t like to do evaluative studies of curriculum and instruction? Why?

Amber:           Sometimes they just really, really micro-level in some ways, so if you look at what works clearinghouse, a six in math ...

Robert:           What doesn't work in clearinghouse?

Amber:           You've got about 50 different nuances that you can't cover. Granted I do 2 minutes around here, but, you really can't give justice to, and I think in some ways a lot of these studies are supported by the curriculum developers themselves. So unless it's an external evaluation by a third party, I ...

Robert:           I'm just always going to be the guy that wants to see more study of curriculum and instruction because I'm always going to be that guy who says, that's what really matters.

Amber:           I think around here we care more about curriculum obviously now than we used to. But there are scads of evaluations. I used to work at a firm that did this for a living. And obviously, any developer of anything wants to have their product evaluated. But obviously it's always best if they're not paying for the evaluation. That's usually the nature of the beast. And if you hire a qualified evaluator, then that's half the battle of making sure you've got some reliable information from reliable evaluators.

Robert:           But am I also not right to say that the effect sizes that we know of are larger for a curriculum than for most other factors?

Amber:           I think it depends ... I know that the success for all has posted some pretty impressive research. I'm not so sure ... When you look at What Works Clearinghouse, I'm actually surprised there are more evaluations of curriculum. I don't know if you've looked at it.

Robert:           But to your point, that has to do with the nature of the studies as opposed to the curriculum, generally.

Amber:           Right. Yeah. If it's a well done study. Yeah, and you've got a decent sample size, and all that good stuff.

Robert:           More well done studies of curriculums, please.

Amber:           Yes. And I was hoping this was one. And it sorta, kinda was, but then once I read that they had developed all the measures, I wasn't as enamored. But regardless what I liked was that they really went down and got into a specific practice. You know how, Robert.

Robert:           Absolutely.

Amber:           Sometimes you just look at the curriculum writ large, and you don't really know what is the "it" about the curriculum that actually is doing something good.

Robert:           Yeah, look, you've got me excited. Ten days of PD, measuring implementation weekly, I thought, yes, this sounds great.

Amber:           Yeah, and these two defined strategies. They just didn’t look at Project M-Squared, like what's it? And looked at these two specific things, so, that's the kind of detailed information that useful for teachers on the ground.

Robert:           Absolutely.

Amber:           Anyway.

Robert:           It was a disappointment.

Amber:           Yeah.

Robert:           Just like "Braveheart."

Amber:           Sorry, Michelle, I got a little wonky today.

Michelle:       No, I like it, and you know, any time you mention curriculum in front of Robert, you know where the conversation's going to go.

Robert:           Sorry, ladies.

Michelle:       All right. Thanks so much, Amber.

Amber:           You're welcome.

Michelle:       And that's all the time we have for this week's Gadfly Show. Til next week.

Robert:           I'm Robert Pondiscio.

Michelle:       And I'm Michelle Gininger for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute signing off.

  1. Here’s an interesting in-the-classroom look at teaching today, addressing issues of new Common Core-influenced standards and less-new 21st Century Learning techniques. Sounds like a lot of great work from teachers here. NOTE: This is the first in a series of stories looking at the reality of new accountability measures for Ohio students and their school districts so I’m sure we’ll feature more of these as the series continues. (Northern Ohio Morning Journal)
     
  2. Speaking of the “new era of accountability”, here’s a story from a couple of days ago where one official from a district in Licking County expresses shock and disappointment at his district’s report card and another admits to having “no idea” where “they” got those numbers. Anybody want to buy a house in Pataskala? (Newark Advocate)
     
  3. Luckily, officials in Cleveland Metropolitan School District are taking a different approach, taking time to read and understand where “they” (that’s the Ohio Department of Education for our friends in Licking County) came up with the information presented on state report cards (from the data provided by the districts, of course). The district’s official presentation on the data will occur at its annual State of the District
  4. ...

LIVE AND DIE BY IMPLEMENTATION
So says Robert Pondiscio on the future of the Common Core in Vox’s implementation-over-politics article. "As a teacher, I never once took down the New York state standards to decide what to teach. You teach curriculum, you teach books, you teach subject matter, and then you teach it to the standards."

STICKLERS FOR COMMAS
If you’re going to invest $645,000 in a pre-K campaign, make sure to place commas in the correct places. Otherwise, we might have to make the Chicago Manual of Style required reading for three- and four-year-olds.

DON’T KNOW MUCH ABOUT HISTORY
But they do know something about history standards—and they agree: AEI’s Rick Hess and Fordham’s Chester E. Finn, Jr. dispel outlandish myths on the AP U.S. History framework, but “[t]hat said, the framework has a full measure of shortcomings, starting with its inattention to America’s motivating ideals.”

HOMELESS STUDENTS
New data from the Department of Education shows that more public school students than ever before were homeless during the 2012-2013 school year. 1.3 million elementary and secondary school children reported lacking a permanent home, many of them living on their own or...

Heated debate has erupted over changes to Ohio’s new standards, assessments, and accountability policies. Most significantly, the state’s adoption of the Common Core State Standards in English language arts and mathematics has triggered efforts to roll back the new standards and the assessments associated with them. In addition to the Common Core, the state is undertaking other bold but controversial reforms, including the Third Grade Reading Guarantee—aimed at improving early literacy—and evaluations of teachers and principals that factor in student achievement.

These policy reforms reflect a shifting paradigm in K-12 education. For years, it was assumed that schools would provide an adequate education for all students. Since the early 2000s, prodded by federal law, states adopted policies whereby students have been required to meet “proficiency” benchmarks on state tests. This policy framework has moved the achievement needle forward: Disadvantaged students, for one, have demonstrated gains over the past decade on national assessments.

Yet the academic standards in Ohio and in many states across the nation remained too low, and student outcomes mediocre. The minimum expectations for what students should know and be able to do failed to match the demands of colleges and employers. As a result, Ohio and other states are raising academic expectations: “adequacy” and “proficiency” in K-12 education is passé. In its place, a new paradigm aims to ready students for college and career.

None of these big reforms—from Common Core to new assessments to clearer accountability for schools and educators—are stress-free, without complication, or uncontentious. These reforms demand more of schools and teachers; for example, under Ohio’s new learning standards, educators must have a deeper grasp of content and use richer instructional techniques. Parents will need a clearer understanding of why new learning standards are needed and how their school is progressing against them. Lawmakers will require patience and nerves of steel to hold the course.

In Poised for Progress: Analysis of Ohio’s School Report Cards 2013-14, we set aside the rancor and anxieties and take a wider-angle look at the performance of public schools and students, at the cusp of Ohio’s college-and-career-ready era. Stepping back, we observe too many students who do not meet national benchmarks for solid performance in reading and math—subjects crucial to success in college and beyond. For instance, just 39 percent of eighth-grade students reached proficiency on the reading portion of the nationally administered NAEP exams in 2013. Just 32 percent of Ohio’s graduates taking the ACT achieved a state-defined college “remediation free” score. It’s no surprise, then, that 40 percent of Ohio’s freshman who enter an in-state public college required some form of remediation in math or English.

When we examine state-assessment results from 2013-14, we discover literally thousands of students from the state’s neediest communities who struggle with basic literacy and numeracy skills. In Dayton, Fordham’s hometown, roughly half of its students fell short of Ohio’s (soft) definition of proficiency. The test results from other urban areas were just as disheartening.

Urban public schools face massive educational challenges, and only a handful of them show signs that they can lift achievement. Some of these schools operate within the traditional district system. Within the Big Eight school districts, we identify forty-eight high-quality schools, defined as those that receive solid state ratings in both performance index scores (student achievement) and value-added (student gains, measured over time). Meanwhile, many other high-quality schools are public charters: Encouragingly, we discovered thirty-three such charter schools located in the Big Eight urban areas. As you’ll see in this report, there’s a good mix of high-quality charter and district-run urban schools.

Unhappily, high-quality urban schools of any variety—district or charter—are not the norm. When we approximate the proportion of high-quality seats in Ohio’s cities (i.e., the proportion of students that attend high-quality schools), we see that only 15 percent or so of public-school seats are high-quality. In fact, the chart below shows that there is a far greater percentage of low-quality seats, either district or charter, than high-quality ones.

Chart: Percentage of high- and low-quality seats in public schools, district and charter, across the Ohio Big Eight urban areas for 2013-14

 

Note: The sum of high- and low-quality seats does not equal 100 percent; the medium-quality tier is not displayed.

These statistics paint an overall portrait of the public-school landscape of each urban area. It is not a pretty one—and surely unsatisfying for anyone who worries about educating disadvantaged children. In Ohio’s urban areas, it is safe to say that far more students languish in a low-quality public school than thrive in a high-quality one.

But what about charter schools? Are they contributing high-quality seats in these areas? In Cleveland and Columbus, the answer is reassuring, though not wholly satisfying: In Columbus, 32 percent of its charter students attended a high-quality school in 2013-14. In Cleveland, the figure is 28 percent. The charter-school sectors of Youngstown, Dayton, and Cincinnati offer a more-modest percentage of high-quality seats: Respectively, 22, 20, and 18 percent of their charter students attended a solid charter in those cities. Meanwhile, the charter schools in Akron, Toledo, and Canton provide few good charter-school options.

Despite the encouraging signs of growth in quality charter schools, particularly in Columbus and Cleveland, all of the Big Eight urban areas are plagued with low-quality charter schools. We approximate that Cincinnati had the highest percentage of low-quality charter-school seats (52 percent), while 34 percent of Cleveland’s charter-school seats were low-quality and Columbus stood at 23 percent.

Meantime, to those who defend the monopoly of the traditional public school district, rest assured, low-quality schools plague urban districts just as much—if not more—than these cities’ charter-school sectors. In Cleveland, 51 percent of district-school seats were low quality; and in Columbus, 33 percent. Even Cincinnati Public Schools—generally regarded as one of the healthier Big Eight districts—had 36 percent low-quality seats.

Poised for Progress shows that Ohio policymakers and educators have much hard work ahead of them. In the coming year, the Buckeye State will set a new baseline for achievement—one based on rigorous standards and assessments. There will be inevitable practical, technical, and political challenges associated with these changes. The assessments are unknown. The school-report cards remain unsettled. Proficiency rates will fall, providing a more sobering—but honest view of student achievement. Meantime, policymakers have to dramatically grow the number of high-quality seats in urban communities through whatever means possible—charter, district, or private-school choice. They also have the unpleasant task of pruning the number of seats available in low-quality schools of all types.

Ohio is poised for positive change. But many tough challenges lie ahead. It is incumbent on adults to buckle down and problem solve in the coming days. If responsible adults can do this, more Ohio students will enjoy a brighter future.

The 2013-14 school year marked the first year of the Third Grade Reading Guarantee (TGRG), a law that requires the retention of children not reading on grade level to be retained. This initiative was modeled after similar legislation in Florida and other states. The policy is also based on research that shows that students who can’t read on grade level by third grade are four times less likely to graduate than a child who reads proficiently. These numbers are even higher for children who live in poverty, particularly Black and Hispanic students.

In a TGRG document posted on its website, the Ohio Department of Education notes that approximately 24,000 students drop out of Ohio high schools each year. They go on to say that most of the students who drop out do not have the reading skills necessary for future success, and that the Third Grade Reading Guarantee is a way of ensuring support for struggling readers early in life.  At Fordham, we’ve long said that reading is important to long-term success, and research shows that third grade is a pivotal year. But with all this focus on third grade, we could be missing another pivotal year that’s just as deserving of our attention—ninth grade.

In the past few years, education researchers have begun to label ninth grade as the “make or break” year for students. Research shows that more students fail ninth grade than any other grade in high school, and a disproportionate number of students who are held back in ninth grade subsequently drop out. In addition, course performance and attendance during the first year of high school are powerful predictors of whether a student will go on to earn a diploma. A 2013 article in The Atlantic points to a third predictor of a student’s likelihood to drop out: behavior. Taken together, course performance, attendance, and behavior in ninth grade combine to form powerful indicators of whether a student will go on to graduate or drop out. This is particularly worrisome given that data show that while the ninth grade often has the highest enrollment rate in high schools, it also boasts the lowest grade point average, the most missed classes, the majority of failing grades, and more misbehavior referrals than any other high school grade level. Freshman year of high school represents a symbolic passage into near-adulthood, with teenagers much more likely to be impulsive and take risks. Thus ninth grade becomes a do-or-die year for Ohio students on their way to high school diplomas.

So, if ninth grade is critical, what’s a state to do? Instead of creating another statewide requirement like the Third Grade Reading Guarantee though, ninth grade represents a chance for Ohio’s districts to flex their innovative muscles in a way that targets their unique student population. For districts, it might be worthwhile to start looking into how other cities and states are handling the ninth grade dilemma.

Chicago Public Schools, for instance, has been focusing on the importance of ninth grade since 2007. A recent Ed Week article points to how the graduation rate in Chicago has risen from 47 percent in 1999 to 69 percent in 2014. The district predicts that the graduation rate for the class of 2018 will be 84 percent. Researchers claim that this increase, starting in 2011, is due largely to Chicago’s increased focus on keeping freshmen “on track.” A student is labeled as on track when he or she has at least five full-year credits and no more than one semester F in a core class by the end of his or her freshman year. Researchers note this can be more difficult for ninth graders than other students because freshmen often struggle with the increased freedom and responsibility of high school. To combat this, the district utilized real-time, easy-to-use data about attendance and grades to flag students who were in danger of falling behind the on track rate. Teachers then reached out to identify problems and potential solutions. The district also increased support from leadership and the time for collaboration among teacher teams, both of which allowed teachers to focus on individual student needs.

Another possible strategy is for districts to implement Ninth Grade Academies, which exist in various states, including Tennessee and North Carolina. Their purpose is to provide freshmen with additional resources and personalized support to ease the transition into high school and to keep students “on track” to graduate. There are several different models of ninth grade academies. Some exist within the framework of a typical high school, operating as a sort of school-within-a-school for ninth graders that minimizes the sometimes overwhelming nature of a comprehensive high school. These models may house all freshmen classes in one particular hallway, may assign freshmen to their own lunch period separate from upperclassmen, and can sometimes even assign a principal who only interacts with ninth graders and their families. Some academies, like those established in DC Public Schools in 2013, focus on grouping students with a staff that includes a core group of teachers, a social worker, a guidance counselor, and a data lead who reviews students data throughout the year and then determines which “team” is best for each student. Other academies match students with their own advisor, who is responsible for checking in one-on-one and building strong relationships with his/her assigned students. 

There are also career academies that focus on college prep curriculums with a career focus and collaborations with employers, community members, and higher education institutions.  

The “make or break” nature of ninth grade isn’t reserved only for students at risk of dropping out; even for those who go on to graduate, Ohio still faces a remediation rate of 40 percent. Furthermore, a close look at Ohio students taking the ACT shows that only 32 percent score high enough to be deemed college ready in all four academic areas. If Ohio districts want to boost their graduation rates and ACT scores while also lowering college remediation rates, taking a closer look at ninth grade and its important role in student success is a good place to start. While districts might certainly look to the Third Grade Reading Guarantee as an example of how to focus on a single critical year, retaining kinds in ninth grade should not be the goal. Retention is not the answer for struggling high school students, and could needlessly push “bubble” students toward dropping out

This year’s state report cards brought a new twist for some Columbus parents—a parent trigger. Parent triggers, made famous by several high profile efforts in California and a major motion picture, allow a majority of parents in (usually) low-performing schools to force changes to how that school operates. If this sounds to you like a recipe for controversy, you’re right. Even here at Fordham, Mike and Checker have taken different views on whether the pursuit of a parent trigger is worth the effort.

As for me, I’m a huge proponent of empowering parents. Giving dissatisfied parents at low-performing schools the opportunity to take control of their school does that. I’m not an ideologue though, and care most about whatever leads to better academic and life outcomes for kids. The question then is whether the parent trigger is a tool that should be used or even expanded in Ohio.

Just the facts

Ohio’s parent trigger law was passed as part of the state budget bill in 2011 (House Bill 153). It’s designated as a pilot program affecting only Columbus City schools that have been ranked in the bottom five percent of all schools in the state on the performance index for three consecutive years. Because it requires three years of data, 2014-15 is the first year that Columbus district schools could be affected by the trigger. There are twenty-one schools eligible this year—more information on the eligible schools is below.

Exercising the trigger requires a majority of parents whose children attend an eligible school to sign a petition requesting the school to be restructured and to submit it to the school district treasurer before December 31st. The treasurer has 30 days to validate the signatures and determine if the signature threshold (a majority of parents) was met.

 

There are five statutory options that parents can choose when going through the petition process. They are:

(1) Reopen the school as a charter school;

(2) Replace at least 70 percent of school personnel who are related to the school's poor academic performance;

(3) Contract with another school district, a nonprofit, or for-profit entity with a demonstrated record of effectiveness to operate the school;

(4) Turn operation of the school over to the department of education;

(5) Any other major restructuring of the school that makes fundamental reforms in the school's staffing or governance.

Controversy ensues and many questions remain

At last week’s school board meeting, Columbus board members took turns, before a standing-room-only, anti-trigger crowd, expressing their frustration with the parent trigger and the fact that the law applied only to their district. Board members also raised a number of important questions like how schools exercising the trigger would be funded, who owns the facilities, and whether district taxpayers would have to continue to pay on bonds for schools that were taken over. The Ohio Department of Education, who was briefing the board on the parent trigger, didn’t have answers to these critical and complicated questions. It will be a real challenge to figure out how the trigger works when and if it’s exercised. As it stands now, there’s sufficient vagueness (the trigger law has never been used in Ohio) and high-enough stakes that the only certainty is that a court and many lawyers will be involved.

Eligible schools

The performance index of the 21 Columbus schools to which the parent trigger could apply is very low; each of the schools receives either a D or F on that measure. That index, it’s worth noting, is the best measure to gauge absolute student achievement—or how much students know—in a school.

Under the state’s parent trigger law, that’s where the eligibility determination ends. Look more closely though at each school’s value-added measure. Value-added is the state’s attempt to measure the impact that a school is having on student learning by considering student progress from year to year. A grade of “C” means that a school’s students are generally meeting growth expectations. Similarly, a grade of “A” suggests that students are exceeding growth expectations. Of the 21 schools in Columbus eligible for the parent trigger: 8 received an “A” in value-add and another 5 schools received a “C.”

Building Name

School Type

Performance Index Score 2013-14

Letter Grade of Performance Index

Letter Grade of Overall Value-Added

Special Education Center

Ungraded

36.339

F

NR

Trevitt Elementary School

Elementary School

54.704

F

D

Beatty Park Elementary School

Elementary School

55

F

D

Columbus Scioto 6-12

High School

55.771

F

A

Livingston Elementary School

Elementary School

56.282

F

F

Windsor STEM Academy (K-6)

Elementary School

60.084

D

C

Leawood Elementary School

Elementary School

60.862

D

D

East Columbus Elementary School

Elementary School

60.933

D

C

Eastgate Elementary School

Elementary School

61.818

D

F

Cassady Alternative Elementary School

Elementary School

63.055

D

C

Mifflin Alternative Middle School

Middle School

63.26

D

F

Broadleigh Elementary School

Elementary School

64.689

D

A

Ohio Avenue Elementary School

Elementary School

65.131

D

A

Watkins Elementary School

Elementary School

65.459

D

F

Fairwood Alternative Elementary School

Elementary School

66.333

D

A

East Linden Elementary School

Elementary School

66.618

D

C

Champion Middle School

Middle School

66.825

D

A

Columbus Africentric Early College Elementary School

Elementary School

66.926

D

A

COLUMBUS GLOBAL ACADEMY

High School

68.182

D

A

Weinland Park Elementary School

Elementary School

68.414

D

C

Highland Elementary School

Elementary School

68.638

D

A

There’s nothing wrong with giving parents whose children attend a school with low absolute achievement levels additional education options. In fact, students at many of the schools have a variety of options available including another district school, a charter school, and even an EdChoice voucher that would enable them to attend a private school. However, careful consideration should be given to whether it makes sense to fundamentally restructure a school whose students are meeting or exceeding learning expectations.

Attitude shift

In the tension surrounding the issue at the Columbus School Board meeting, it would have been easy to miss the district’s report on the parent trigger issue. In that report, the district made it clear that it would aggressively communicate with parents to let them know what was happening with the schools subject to the trigger. In fact, Superintendent Dan Good met with building leaders from each affected school before the board meeting to prepare them for questions from parents. This bodes well for the district and should help it to better understand and address any concerns that parents might have. A proactive approach to communication is the right thing to do whether the school is eligible for the parent trigger or not. It will be critical though that the communications be less about selling the strengths of the various schools and more about listening to the thoughts, ideas, and concerns of Columbus parents.

***

The parent trigger gives parents a voice in how their school is run—and some potential leverage to bargain for big change. That is a real and positive benefit of the law; however, the structure of the law in Ohio makes me unenthusiastic about its ability to improve low-performing schools. It’s important that the Department of Education or the legislature (if needed) clear up some of the procedural aspects that the Columbus school board has identified. It’s also critical that schools making significant academic gains in the area of value-added aren’t forced into restructuring at a time when they’re already improving. All in all, if the experience in California is any indication (only three schools in the state have exercised the parent trigger), Columbus’ parent trigger is unlikely to affect many schools. It would be wise then for all involved to relax and adopt the now very much over-used mantra: keep calm and carry on. 

In many school districts, classroom observations make up as much as 75 percent of teachers’ evaluation scores, according to a new study published in Education Next. And these scores predict a teacher’s ability to raise student test scores the following year, as measured by value-added models. With that in mind, analysts did a deep-dive into the observation practices of four school districts. They found that score stability and the quality of the information gathered improved as the number of individual observations increased, and that evaluations by trained, independent, outside evaluators (instead of principals) were more predictive of the following year’s value-added gains. The report recommends that districts observe teachers at least two or three times annually, using an outside observer at least once. Moreover, the study draws attention to the latent bias against teachers with lower-achieving students or who teach in struggling schools. Although value-added models are careful to control for students’ backgrounds and achievement levels, there’s often no such adjustment for classroom observations. (Simply put, it can be much harder to teach a great lesson when the kids are below grade level or unruly.) Unchecked, this can push teachers to avoid assignments at more challenging schools where the need is greatest, widening the achievement gap. The authors suggest that states conduct statistical analyses to control for these variables. The implications of this study are particularly pertinent for Ohio; although the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System (OTES) is now entering its second year of statewide implementation, many of the aforementioned suggestions aren’t a part of OTES. For example, Ohio does not require outside observations nor does it adjust for potential bias. Furthermore, legislative changes in June now allow districts to be flexible with the required number of evaluations. In other words, despite the predictive value of evaluations, Ohio school districts are permitted to evaluate effective teachers less frequently. If Ohio hopes to retain and improve its teaching force, addressing the potential flaws in its evaluation system is an important first step.

SOURCE: Grover J. Whitehurst, Matthew M. Chingos, and Katharine M. Lindquist, “Getting Classroom Observations Right,” Education Next (Winter 2015).

Andy Smarick, a partner in Bellwether Partners and a Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow at Fordham, dropped by Columbus last week to shake up the educational status quo, discussing his book The Urban School System of the Future.

The event, co-hosted by Fordham and School Choice Ohio, began with the premise that the century-old structure of the traditional school district is “broken” in large urban areas, leading to a long-standing cycle of poor performance for students and reform efforts that merely seek to “rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic” while retaining intact the flawed structure. In fact, Smarick argued that maintaining the district structure—and primacy—was often the starting point of many reforms. Charters were conceived as radical departures from the status quo—groups of teachers going off on their own to “reinvent schooling” outside the existing paradigm—but today are defined primarily in terms of how (and whether) they are better or worse than the district schools in their vicinity. Private school vouchers and tax-credit programs were born as “escape mechanisms” for families from failing district schools, without directly addressing the structural failings of the district that led to the need for escape in the first place.

Tens of thousands of students in Ohio, and many more nationwide have taken advantage of school choices and alternatives to traditional districts and yet very little reform of districts has actually happened despite the exodus occurring in every large city.

Smarick stressed the difference between the work of education and its “delivery systems,” using the evolution of technology as a metaphor. He sketched out a plan that would allow a diverse number of education delivery systems that would keep the focus on public education and on quality outcomes for students. The key, he said, is third-party accountability, which would set parameters for acceptable performance for all players and would be aggressive in supporting high performers to grow and expand while weeding out those not meeting high benchmarks for success.

While Smarick’s ideas sometimes sounded idealistic and even radical, he stressed that he was a conservative thinker and noted that many parts of the country have taken steps toward this type of urban schooling. Ohio, he pointed out, is much farther along than many states. Smarick urged his audience to actualize and accelerate efforts like those under way in Cleveland and those proposed for Columbus that put student success first and abandon old ways of delivering education, especially when they have proven to be ineffective.

Ohio’s school and district report cards were released last week, nearly a month later than originally scheduled due to inclement weather….back in February and March. No matter; they’re here now and every education stakeholder is poring over them. But to what purpose are these troves of data being put? 

Out of the gate, stories in the media focused on the “big picture” issues: urban districts (pretty bad, with some rays of hope) and dropout recovery schools (same, minus most of those rays of hope). A single grade for “overall performance” is still not being given this year but should be available in 2016. That left analysts digging through a variety of indicators at all levels. Performance index scores, value-added calculations (very confusing), graduation rates, and other factors were considered, either in isolation or in tandem, producing very different conclusions depending on how the measures were parsed or weighted by the investigators. It is tempting to say that certain foregone conclusions were bolstered by the ways in which data were considered or not considered, but perhaps it is more accurate to say that getting an analysis of such a wealth of information out the door quickly necessitates a narrowing of focus, for better or worse.

We’ve already seen some really excellent investigation of report card data this year, adding the journalist’s touch to what could just be cold recitation of numbers. We hope to see more stories making apples-to-apples comparisons between charter schools and individual district buildings and interviews with school leaders discussing specific report measures as districts and charter schools parse the numbers and tell their own stories.

In the end, all of this analysis and discussion comes down to the question of “are students getting a good education?” and report cards are meant to be used to make the case one way or another. Editors at the Youngstown Vindicator were quick to do just that, opining in praise of area districts whose numbers showed success, and begging for help from the state for area districts which were, again, seen to be failing their students.

The 2013-14 school year marked the first year of the Third Grade Reading Guarantee (TGRG), a law that requires the retention of children not reading on grade level to be retained. This initiative was modeled after similar legislation in Florida and other states. The policy is also based on research that shows that students who can’t read on grade level by third grade are four times less likely to graduate than a child who reads proficiently. These numbers are even higher for children who live in poverty, particularly Black and Hispanic students.

In a TGRG document posted on its website, the Ohio Department of Education notes that approximately 24,000 students drop out of Ohio high schools each year. They go on to say that most of the students who drop out do not have the reading skills necessary for future success, and that the Third Grade Reading Guarantee is a way of ensuring support for struggling readers early in life.  At Fordham, we’ve long said that reading is important to long-term success, and research shows that third grade is a pivotal year. But with all this focus on third grade, we could be missing another pivotal year that’s just as...

MONEY FOR NOTHING
Most Americans give poor marks to schools, but think their kids’ schools are pretty good. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Paul Peterson says the same is true on school spending.  Most of us suffer from “buyer's delight”the tendency to think we "got a deal even when an objective observer would conclude otherwise.”

ICYMI
If you didn’t tune in to the debate to end all debates—on the Common Core that is—you can download the podcast version of “Should We Embrace the Common Core?” Spoiler alert: Yes, we should.

ARNE RESPONDS TO BOBBY
“He had a couple of unsuccessful lawsuits,” notes Duncan in response to Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s latest Common Core lawsuit against the federal government. Ouch.

FORDHAM IN THE NEWS
Fordham’s Dara Zeehandelaar talked charter schools, teachers unions, and why the two are more water-and-oil than peas-and-carrots with Education Week’s charters-and-choice expert, Arianna Prothero.

TO KEEP KAYA OR NOT TO KEEP KAYA
Jay Mathews of the Washington Post, despite many columns of tough criticism of the D.C. schools chancellor, calls for D.C. voters to support the mayoral candidate that backs Henderson. “If both candidates agree that...

  1. Fordham’s Chad Aldis is quoted in a story about an important state Supreme Court case scheduled to begin tomorrow. The case addresses the issue of charter schools that hire for-profit management companies with public money and who then owns the assets of those schools should things go sour in the relationship. There is much more at stake in the decision however, which Chad was kindly allowed to point out. (Akron Beacon Journal). Chad gets a twofer out of this as the same story ran in the Youngstown Vindicator as well.
     
  2. Here, also, is a companion piece to the above story, running a few numbers on who owns the buildings in which Ohio charter schools operate. (Akron Beacon Journal)
     
  3. Editors in Cleveland opine on the need for charter school reform in Ohio…and offer a bit of advice to state senators on how not to do it. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  4. We mentioned last week about the report card analysis doing the rounds that shows a link between poverty and performance index scores for districts. Interestingly, one solution proposed in this story about that analysis is a fund analogous to Ohio’s Straight A Fund which
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  1. The Truth in Numbers review of State Auditor candidate John Patrick Carney has been published in the PD. Fordham is name-checked in discussion of charter school quality in Ohio, and a link is made to last year’s Parsing Performance report by our own Aaron Churchill. The detail of the piece shows Patrick O’Donnell’s typical journalistic excellence and it was good to have him assess the (lack of) truth of this politician’s statements, but really the bottom line is that auditors don’t really have much say in education funding regardless of their political leanings. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  2. Patrick O’Donnell is clearly the hardest working education journalist out there these days. Here’s his look at another of the allegations against Horizon Science Academy in Cleveland: diagnostic testing allegedly used to determine admission. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  3. Crap. Late evening negotiations didn’t take. Reynoldsburg teachers are on the picket lines today; the first time since 1978. (Columbus Dispatch)
     
  4. Editors in Toledo opine upon their own analysis of the district’s report card. They praise the district where they can, tout for the upcoming levy, and bash charters and vouchers. (Toledo Blade)
     
  5. We may have noted this before,
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  1. Editors at the Vindy opined yesterday upon the need for immediate assistance from the state for the failing schools in the Youngstown area. They did not neglect the higher-achieving schools in the area, opining in praise of those schools and urging the constructive use of report card data to continue to improve. (Youngstown Vindicator)
     
  2. The BASA/OASBO folks have put out their analysis of Ohio’s report cards, and they conclude that performance index scores “closely followed” the percent of students in a district that are economically disadvantaged. (Newark Advocate)
     
  3. Editors in Akron have read the above report and have opined in sympathy with its conclusions. (Akron Beacon Journal)
     
  4. There’s a nicely-detailed look at the report cards of a number of charter schools in Springfield. Some interesting insights from the school leaders interviewed. (Springfield News Sun)
     
  5. Some excellent journalistic investigation in this piece by Patrick O’Donnell digging into the accusations against Horizon Science Academy in Cleveland. Specifically, allegations that the school “dumped” low-performing students before state testing in order to improve their results. Definitely worth a read. Having already been through this with Columbus City Schools and other districts around Ohio, both ODE
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