Governance

The results of last November’s election are now being felt within the Columbus City Schools’ Board of Education. In yesterday’s first meeting of the year, the Board swore in and seated two new members, elected a new president and vice-president, extended the contract of Interim Superintendent Dan Good, and simultaneously removed the interim label from Good’s title.

I listened to this meeting on the radio last night, cruising around in a nice warm car waiting for my daughter to finish choir practice. I mistook it for live initially due to the copious amounts of “dead air” at which I laughed…at first.

The most important part of that meeting, I think, was the inauguration speech of freshly-sworn-in President Gary Baker. He warned us at the outset that his remarks wouldn’t be brief, as anyone who knew him could attest that he likes to talk. And talk he did. About the importance of public schools as a civic institution and as the most important aspect of democracy in any city. He noted the immense importance of the job he was about to undertake as president of the board and how excited he was to work with his board colleagues, the superintendent, and the staff of the district to make good on a promise to provide an excellent education for all the students in the district.

But, Baker said, before he could address the future he had to address the past. Specifically, the student data rigging scandal that the district still has...

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The first time I drove through Camden, New Jersey, I was shell-shocked.

I was the state’s deputy commissioner of education and was on my way to one of the city’s schools, where Governor Christie was hosting a bill-signing event. I had previously visited one of Camden’s alternative schools, but I had been ferried by a local who, I later figured out, knew the roads inside and out.

I had heard countless stories about Camden’s sad state but hadn’t truly witnessed it during that trip. But the online map provider I used for my first solo journey showed that it knew less about the city than I did. It generated a route that took me on a tour I will never forget.

To that point, the two most tragic cities I’d seen were Detroit and Cleveland. Yes, both have areas that still give the appearance of vibrancy, but venture a bit further out and you see countless deserted buildings and decaying neighborhoods.

Then you see kids.

The cruelty these environs inflict on boys and girls is unspeakable. It’s why I do this work.

But what I saw in Camden was even worse. Entire blocks had fallen apart. The street activity, meager as it was, was unwholesome to say the least. The city felt not just hollow but abandoned.

The worst part was when I finally made my way to a larger thoroughfare and saw a...

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In the first podcast of the year, Mike and Brickman discuss NCLB’s goal of universal proficiency, an error in D.C.’s IMPACT evaluation scores, and the correct pronunciation of Fariña. Amber is no good with marbles—but great at educating us about student mobility. Amber's Research Minute “ Reducing...

Behavioral psychology tells us that to gain traction on our problems, we should separate and categorize their individual parts. We tend to do this in education reform, too, identifying and tackling discrete challenges, one at a time (think: teacher evaluations, funding formulas, governance). But according to a new book by business and education professors Ian Mitroff, Lindan Hill, and Can Alpaslan, that way of thinking might actually exacerbate the problem. The authors examine the ways that educators, union leaders, and reformers have approached the interconnected problems that make up “The Education Mess,” as they dub it (income inequality, poverty, hunger, poor health, the achievement gap, etc.). They apply the Jungian systems framework, viewing education as a system of interconnected problems rather than a machine with independent parts. Their critique of Indiana’s education reform overhaul in 2012 demonstrates this perfectly: Mitroff et al. worry that the largely structural changes made by the state will not be systemic enough to support sustainable growth. Their favorite example of systems thinking done right, however, is the Harlem Children’s Zone, which they cite frequently throughout the book. And while we at Fordham are a little skeptical about the scalability of efforts like HCZ, this book offered a unique lens by which to view The Education Mess. And if it takes a village to raise a child, it surely takes a village to improve education.

SOURCE: Ian Mitroff, Lindan B. Hill, and Can M. Alpaslan, Rethinking the Education Mess: A Systems Approach...

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Checker Finn, chagrined at the lack of attention to gifted education in the U.S., has decided to study what other nations do. His initial assessment is that we’re not the only one giving high-ability kids minimal thought. Such a strange, unfortunate phenomenon.

With the failure of SIG, we need a Plan B ASAP for kids in failing schools. I’ve long argued for a massive new schools strategy. (More on this to come in an upcoming blog post.) If you’re likeminded or intrigued by the idea of the starting-fresh approach, check out the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools’ ESEA-reauthorization recommendations. This is a blueprint for Plan B.

I think single-purpose chartering bodies are the future. In fact, I think all public schools (and all private schools participating in voucher or tax-credit programs) should have performance contracts with them (more on this in an upcoming AEI paper). NACSA has a terrific short policy brief on such independent chartering boards. Check it out.

If you follow the increasing use of Value-Added Measures (VAMs) and Student Growth Percentiles (SGPs) in state-, district-, school-, and teacher-accountability systems, read this very good new Mathematica working paper. There’s high correlation between the two, but there are important differences in how teacher ratings shake out based on differences in student populations. Important and fascinating implications.

Ten years ago, TNTP released its first report, Missed Opportunities, which I vividly remember reading in disbelief—urban districts were...

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For a decade, the nonprofit Institute for Innovation in Public Choice (IIPSC) has helped the cities of New York, Boston, Denver, and New Orleans bring order to the Wild West of school choice, using the one-two punch of economic theory and custom software. To match students with seats in public schools—either district or charter—the IIPSC builds algorithms that employ three kinds of data: the schools that families want their kids to attend, the number of available seats in every grade at each school, and each schools’ admissions rules. Newly flush with a $1.2 million grant from the Dell Foundation, the IIPSC plans to expand into Philadelphia, Washington, and possibly Detroit. Hat tip!

On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Education released proposed priorities for a new competitive grant program for charter school support organizations, to come from the annual “national activities fund.” These priorities highlight what the Department deems to be the “key policy issues facing charter schools on a national scale,” and they include gaining efficiency through economies of scale, improving accountability, providing quality education to students with disabilities an English language learners, and supporting personalized technology-enabled learning. While these are important policies at the surface level, it is unclear what the long-term implications and unintended consequences may be of focusing grant making solely on the bigger charter entities and whether smaller, unaffiliated charter schools will realize any benefits.

On Wednesday, President Obama delivered a big speech on inequality, in which he brought up...

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Michelle, freshly returned from a trip to Madrid and Prague (with an extra piece of jewelry on her hand), chats with Mike about special education, career and technical education, and pension reform. Amber reviews an obscure cross-sectional Dutch analysis on the multicollinearity inherent in the...

In its release of SIG data, the U.S. Department of Education only provided comparisons between SIG schools and statewide averages. As I mentioned in Friday’s post, that’s not exactly a revealing comparison since SIG schools are, by definition, extremely low-performing and have much more room for improvement than the average school in the state.

Since Secretary Duncan visited New Jersey for the data release, we decided to do a quick New Jersey analysis of our own—something we thought might be edifying. We compared the performance of SIG schools to the performance of schools that applied for SIG (and were eligible) but didn’t receive awards. In other words, we compared schools that were similarly low performing at the start, while one set received the intervention and the other did not. We looked at math scores and focused on schools with an eighth grade (high schools take a much different test in New Jersey).

As you can see, at least based on a quick analysis of one state’s data, it’s hard to make the case that this massive program had a transformative influence on the state’s most troubled schools. There’s just not all that much difference in the changes between schools that were SIG-eligible but lost and schools that were SIG-eligible and won. And we certainly don’t see any major turnarounds.

The Department’s research arm is going to do a more sophisticated analysis...

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This study by Dan Goldhaber and colleagues examines whether the restrictiveness of a district’s bargaining contract is influenced by “spillover” from contracts in a nearby community. In other words, do district contracts resemble one another simply because districts are close to one another? The theory is that district agreements might come to mimic each other, since nearby districts compete for teachers and there may be an impulse to codify working conditions. Analysts examined CBAs in 270 public school districts in Washington State and coded 633 provisions. First, they found that districts within fifty miles of one another have similar levels of restrictiveness. More importantly, they also found that bargaining structures influence consistency of bargaining provisions. Specifically, both management and labor have structures in place that provide, among other services, bargaining support for multiple districts and multiple local affiliates. Districts have what are called Educational Service Districts (or ESD’s), and the union has Uniservs. Analysts found that districts within the same ESD or same Uniserv have similar levels of restrictiveness—as do districts that share both an ESD and Uniserv. Further, they are the primary influencer in determining bargaining outcomes—i.e., they are the driver for what we previously thought was the impact of geographic distance. Why is this important? Knowing the channels by which CBA’s influence one another is one way in which bargaining reforms—or setbacks—can be spread more quickly. Since these district and union structures appear to serve as conduits for replication of provisions, perhaps they should also be the objects of reformers’...

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Michelle and Dara discuss class sizes, the new Youth CareerConnect program, and why the DOJ is backing away from its attack on Louisana’s school-voucher program. Amber gets wonky with cross-district effects on teacher-bargaining contracts. Amber's Research Minute My End of the Bargain: Are There...

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