Digital Learning

Education Gadfly Weekly

Opinion + Analysis: 
Opinion
Challenge their children or watch them depart
Briefly Noted
The Washington Post (and many others ) roundly decried the Department of Justice’s petition to disallow Louisiana from awarding vouchers to students in public schools under federal desegregation orders . Surely it’s folly to block students (mainly black and all poor) from escaping failing schools...
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Book
And why ours are not
Radio Documentary
What high-quality digital learning looks—er, sounds—like
Gadfly Studios: 
Podcast
Mike and Michelle join the WaPo in decrying the DOJ’s anti-voucher antics and debate who’s worse: private school parents or those who settle for failing schools. With Amber off saying “I do,” Dara takes over the research minute with a tale of unfair teacher-pension policies. Amber's Research Minute...

The rapid gentrification of many large American cities represents a triumph and an opportunity for Republicans—a triumph because it was mainly Republican ideas (welfare reform, aggressive crime-fighting tactics, pro-growth policies) that set the trend in motion, and an opportunity because the wealthier and (frankly) whiter new residents are more likely to vote for the GOP.

Cities are for strivers

Yet a natural Republican constituency—parents with children—...

The Washington Post (and many others) roundly decried the Department of Justice’s petition to disallow Louisiana from awarding vouchers to students in public schools under federal desegregation orders. Surely it’s folly to block students (mainly black and all poor) from escaping failing schools to which they...

Amanda Ripley delivers a familiar admonishment to a new generation of Americans: The (mediocre) schools we have are the schools we deserve. In her first—and quite excellent—book on education, Ripley skillfully communicates this message through the experiences of teenaged U.S. exchange students inserted into three countries—Finland, South Korea, and Poland—for one year. All three countries have made recent leaps and bounds in educational achievement, and all three approach education in different ways: Finland’s “Utopia” model relies on highly trained, autonomous teachers and effective school choice. South Korea’s “Pressure Cooker” approach demands hard work in an ultra-competitive environment. And Poland’s “Metamorphosis...

The future is competency-based learning, according to this new, almost hour-long audio documentary from American RadioWorks—and that future is upon us. For generations, wealthy parents in the U.S. and abroad have employed private tutors to deliver individualized instruction to their children, thus recognizing and acting upon a truth long ignored by our school system: Not all children learn at the same pace or in the same way. In the past, tutoring has proved difficult to scale. But the creators of this documentary hail the Carpe Diem campus in Indianapolis and Moorseville Middle School in Moorseville, NC, for cracking the code with the use of modern education technology....

When it comes time to pick a career path, young Americans certainly don’t perceive teaching to be the fairest of them all—in any sense of the term. This new report from the Manhattan Institute’s Center for State and Local Leadership emphasizes how pension systems are especially unfair toward young teachers and examines the effects of two cost-neutral pension reforms on teacher compensation for the ten largest U.S. public school districts. The first reform is switching from the traditional defined-benefit (DB) pension system, under which teachers accumulate little retirement wealth until later in their careers, to a “cash-balance” plan, which allows employees to accrue retirement compensation smoothly over their careers. The second reform—the “cost-equivalent” reform—decreases the share of teachers’ salaries devoted to retirement...

The future is competency-based learning, according to this new, almost hour-long audio documentary from American RadioWorks—and that future is upon us. For generations, wealthy parents in the U.S. and abroad have employed private tutors to deliver individualized instruction to their children, thus recognizing and acting upon a truth long ignored by our school system: Not all children learn at the same pace or in the same way. In the past, tutoring has proved difficult to scale. But the creators of this documentary hail the Carpe Diem campus in Indianapolis and Moorseville Middle School in Moorseville, NC, for cracking the code with the use of modern education technology. Moorseville has a well-implemented “one-to-one” laptop initiative that seems to have played a role in the district’s complete elimination of a sizable gap in the high school graduation rates of its white and black students. The Carpe Diem schools have found a formula for student success in a more radical shift, largely replacing traditional classroom learning with computer labs and project-based group learning. Both Carpe Diem and Moorseville traded larger class sizes for fewer, more committed teachers, empowered to focus on individual students rather than providing basic instruction or grading simple assignments—most of which is done by technology, which also tracks student progress and allows students to learn at their own pace. The documentary makers remind us that technology is only as good as its utilization. The same might be said of competency-based learning. Nevertheless, a system that allows teachers to...

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A Chicago public school and public library will begin to share space on Thursday, breaking ground for a new “library-within-a-school” model that may be “copied and mimicked all across the city,” according to an enthusiastic Mayor Rahm Emanuel. The Windy City’s schools and libraries have both seen financial troubles in the last couple of years. Library Commissioner Brian Bannon has clarified that proliferation of this model would be about “reducing storefront and leased space” and possibly result in moving libraries, not closing libraries. Gadfly likes efficiency and books—so hat tip!

The school-funding crisis in Philadelphia has reached the boiling point: After Superintendent William Hite issued an ultimatum stating that schools may not open in time if the district does not receive at least $50 million more in funding by Friday, August 16th, Mayor Michael Nutter announced that it would borrow the cash, apparently obviating that eventuality. Now that the district will be able to re-hire some laid-off staff members, the School Reform Commission—Philadelphia’s appointed school board—will vote on whether to suspend portions of state law to grant Hite the flexibility to re-hire for reasons other than seniority. The unions, naturally, are furious, but this appears to be the best possible outcome for students.

This week, Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Erroll Davis asked the district’s Board of Education to stop approving new charter schools. The reason: Georgia’s Supreme Court has yet to decide whether Davis can withhold...

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This summer in Ohio has been oppressively hot and (for some reason) rainy. So for those who want to stay cool in the AC, or are looking for beach reading, here are several timely and insightful pieces that relate to education. Read on for our review of these reports and articles, and click on the links to access the entire article! -Angel Gonzalez

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Are Recent College Graduates Finding Good Jobs?

Aaron Churchill

We’ve seen the reports: the 22-year old, newly-minted college graduate—steeped in debt—who’s working at the corner coffee shop. But are these anecdotal reports worst case scenarios or are do they illustrate an emerging trend for college grads?  In a few charts, Richard Deitz from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York looks at what the U.S. Census Bureau and Labor Statistics data say about recent graduates and their employment. Deitz shows that while unemployment rates for recent grads are at a 25-year high, the unemployment rate of recent graduates (roughly 6 percent) remains lower than that of the general working-age population (8 percent).  Now, when it comes to underemployment, recent graduates are in dire straits, depending on their major. Nearly half (46 percent) of recent graduates are presently underemployed, a considerable increase compared to 2000 when roughly one in three recent grads were underemployed. Deitz also disaggregates un- and underemployment by college major. Those with leisure & hospitality and agricultural degrees were the most likely to be either unemployed or underemployed. And, yes,...

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With Mike beaching it in an undisclosed location, Dara and Daniela take on some big topics: If affirmative action were to end, how could colleges maintain diversity? Do teachers need convincing to use technology? All things considered, is college worth it? Amber charts a course to charter quality.

GadflyAn Atlantic article by sociology professor Richard Greenwald examines Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s education legacy, concluding that while the Big Apple’s education sector has certainly seen progress (graduation rates have increased 39 percent since 2005, for example, and Bloomberg has made a concerted effort to rebuild the decrepit physical infrastructure), there have also been setbacks (e.g., problems with test administration). Instead, the author suggests that Bloomberg claim the mantle of “recycling mayor”—or perhaps “alternative-transportation mayor” instead.

A survey of 200 Idaho teachers found that most don’t need convincing to bring educational technology into the classroom—they just need training. Eighty-four percent said the pros of ed tech outweighed the cons and that they are currently using or planning to use ed tech in their classrooms. However, 80 percent either didn’t know of social-media technologies like Skype and Twitter or employ them rarely or never—and only 21 percent of those surveyed employ games, simulations, or virtual laboratories in their classrooms on a monthly basis.

After accepting the New York City teacher union’s endorsement, mayoral candidate Bill Thompson is carefully constructing his stance on education policy. Due in part to the involvement of his campaign chairwoman, State Board of Regents chancellor Merryl Tisch, he has fostered a relationship with charter advocates and Randi Weingarten. We’ll see how he handles this balancing act.

Chris Walters, a Virginia native and newly minted Massachusetts Institute of Technology PhD, has...

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Assessing the Educational Data MovementWhen it comes to using data for education policy and reform, two factions emerge: modern Luddites who fear the mechanization of schooling and tech-savvy number crunchers who tend to believe that data will solve all of education’s woes. This book by IT pro Philip Piety deftly weaves between the factions and offers a valuable read for teachers, administrators, and policymakers looking to work productively with educational data without becoming overwhelmed. Piety divides it into three sections. The first lays out the history of the educational-data “movement” and the current debate surrounding value-added measures and testing. The second discusses best practices in and applications of administrative infrastructures—which include data systems about teaching methods and students. For example, the U.S. Department of Education’s State Longitudinal Data Systems (SLDS) program created a powerful research tool and a nexus of information crucial to federal, state, and local policy goals. The third examines how data can be helpful to the “technical core”—that is, students, teachers, materials, and classrooms. Even more helpful, the author showcases how Teach For America and KIPP use metrics innovatively to, among other things, improve instruction.

SOURCE: Philip J. Piety, Assessing the Educational Data Movement (New York, NY: Teachers College, Colombia University, 2013)....

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Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed legislation last week that places a one-year moratorium on new virtual charter schools outside Chicago and directs a state commission to study the effects and costs of virtual charters. These actions were clearly responses to suburban districts’ angst over the growing presence of K12 Inc. Relatedly, we’re sure that local bookstores favor blocking Amazon.com so that we might “better evaluate and understand” its impact. Is that next up?

Now in its fifth year, Menlo Park Academy in Cleveland—Ohio’s only charter school exclusively serving gifted children—is a haven for over 300 students, drawing K–8 youngsters from forty school districts in and beyond the Cleveland metro area. It's also the subject of a profile by award-winning journalist Ellen Belcher. To read more, visit the Ohio Gadfly Daily.

And now, from Nevada, a riddle about poor school-funding policy: What do you get when you add the third-largest fraction of English-language learner (ELL) students in the nation (a full fifth of Nevada’s 2010–11 student population) to a school-funding formula that doesn’t allot districts any extra state cash to educate said youngsters? Answer: Only 29 percent of the state’s ELL students in the graduating class of 2010–11 made it across the stage with their cohort. Brian Sandoval, the Republican governor of Nevada, has proposed $50 million over two years to go towards ELL programs; the state’s Senate majority leader has countered with $140 million. While money alone won’t solve Nevada’s achievement woes, extra...

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After a sandstorm of education bills swept through the last few weeks of the Lone Star State's eighty-third legislative session, the dust cleared to reveal the passage of five major education bills:

  1. HB 5 rolls back the number of required end-of-course exams from fifteen to five and creates two high school diploma tracks
  2. SB 2 expands the state’s charter school system, increasing the state cap on charter school contracts from 215 to 305 over the next six years
  3. HB 866 will allow students in grades 3–8 who score well in either the third or fifth grade to be excused from certain standardized tests (this one requires federal approval)
  4. HB 2836 limits the number of “benchmark” exams districts can administer in grades 3–8 and orders that the state’s curricular standards be studied by a mandated commission
  5. HB 1926 requires that all districts, beginning in middle school, offer students the option of taking online courses (setting the limit at three per student, per year) and opens the virtual-education market to nonprofits and private companies, to be authorized by the Texas Education Agency

The big battle that was won: As Greg Richmond of NACSA reports, SB 2 is quality legislation that promotes both growth and accountability; in addition to raising the cap on charter contracts, it strengthens the application process and creates a default closure mechanism for failed schools. The big battle that was lost: HB 5 is a major setback. As Checker Finn warned when the...

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Blended learning: It’s the talk of the town and perceived favorably, but it hasn’t found widespread use…yet. Fordham’s May 2013 publication Half Empty Half Full: Superintendents’ Views on Ohio’s Education Reform surveyed 344 of Ohio’s 614 district superintendents: 59 percent of superintendents thought that blended learning would lead to “fundamental improvement.” However, despite the vocal support for blended learning, few superintendents (a mere 5 percent) report that it has achieved “widespread” use in their school district. In fact, 31 percent of superintendents reported that blended learning was of “limited or no use” in their district.

Blended learning refers to an instructional model that mixes virtual education with traditional face-to-face instruction. The model can vary depending on what instructional model the teacher chooses to implement. (Heather Staker and Michael B. Horn, Classifying K-12 Blended Learning, identify four blended learning models.)  

Who are the most laggardly of the laggards in terms of using blended learning? It seems, as might be expected, that superintendents of rural districts are the most likely to report little to no use of blended learning. And, importantly, it’s not on account of attitudinal resistance to blended learning from these rural school leaders.

Chart 1 shows that rural superintendents view blended learning favorably—as favorably as their peers in larger, more urban districts. Sixty-one percent of rural superintendents view blended learning favorably, a percentage that mirrors that of urban (61 percent) and suburban superintendents (66 percent), and is considerably higher than small town superintendents (45 percent). 

Chart...

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