The Education Gadfly The Education Gadfly A Bulletin of Weekly News and Analysis from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute
Volume 11, Number 34. September 1, 2011.

In This Edition

New from Fordham: The Common Core and the Future of Student Assessment in Ohio

The Common Core and the Future of Student Assessment in Ohio cover

Like most states, Ohio adopted the Common Core standards in English language arts and math last year, but now stands at a crossroad in making sure that future statewide assessments are aligned with those standards. At present, Ohio is a participating member in both of the federally funded assessment consortia—the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) and the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC)—but is a decision-maker in neither. This primer, useful for decision-makers nationwide, describes the attributes of both testing consortia and urges the Buckeye State to choose one soon. (Our advice: Go for PARCC.) Read more here.

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Opinion and Analysis

When public education's two Ps disagree
The tension among parents, the public, and policy wonks
Opinion | Michael J. Petrilli

NY Regents: Stop the madness
On teacher evals, get out of court, and get to work
News Analysis

Twenty-three's a crowd
Memphis Public Schools, supersized
News Analysis

SPED funding now a little less special
The feds open the door to special-ed budget cuts
News Analysis

The long arm of ed law
NJ's anti-bullying law: Get along, or else!
News Analysis

Short Reviews

The Strategic Management of Charter Schools: Framework and Tools for Educational Entrepreneurs
Pedagogical leaders, meet the business model
Review | Tyson Eberhardt and Daniela Fairchild

Reaching the Goal: The Applicability and Importance of the Common Core State Standards to College and Career Readiness
College professors like the Common Core—as far as we can tell
Review | Laura Johnson

From The Web

Bully for you, Margaret
Too much test-score data, too much bullying
Education Gadfly Show Podcast | Hosts: Mike Petrilli and John Bailey

Ohio charter-school authorizer outlier deserves to lose right to sponsor schools
A deep dive into Ohio’s student-achievement data
Flypaper's Finest | August 31, 2011 | Terry Ryan

More power politics in New York. Or, another hacking victim 
The system, ungainly as it is, sometimes works
Flypaper's Finest | August 30, 2011 | Peter Meyer

Rick and Randi on teacher evaluations
Getting real
Gadfly Studios | August 26, 2011


What’s good for the goose is good for the gander
But not for China’s rural poor
Briefly Noted

All acronyms, all day
The NJ DOE is searching for a CIO and a CTO

Can you, can you do the ConnCAN?
ConnCAN needs a CEO

America’s Best (and Worst) Cities for School Reform: Attracting Entrepreneurs and Change Agents 
Show these cities the money
Featured Fordham Publication

Opinion and News Analysis

Opinion: When public education's two Ps disagree
By Michael J. Petrilli

It’s long been said that public education must achieve both public and private aims. The public, which foots the bill, has an interest in a well-educated populace. Parents—schools’ primary clients—want a strong foundation for their own children. Much of the time these two interests are in perfect alignment. But what happens when they’re not?

Recent surveys illustrate the tension. First, there was the perennial Phi Delta Kappan/Gallup poll, which showed an ever-wider gap between parents’ (very positive) perceptions of their own children’s schools and the public’s (very negative) perceptions of American schools writ large. Perhaps this can be chalked up to the “Congressman Syndrome”—we all hate Congress but think highly of our own member of Congress. Or maybe many parents have a rose-colored view of their kids’ schools. (After all, unless you’re poor and trapped, to acknowledge that the school you’ve chosen is a lemon is to admit to a form of parental malpractice.)

But layer those findings onto another recent survey and a fuller picture emerges. This one, from the Pew Research Center, finds that two-thirds of the American public think parents aren’t putting enough pressure on their kids to study hard. (This is a much higher proportion than in any other country surveyed; about the same ratio of the Chinese public thinks that parents put too much academic pressure on their children.)

As long as we look at parents and think they are dummies for liking their schools the way they are, we’re never going to win their hearts and minds.


The U.S. public seems to be saying: “Hey parents, get your act together and start cracking the whip on those spoiled brats of yours. Somebody has to pay for my Social Security!”

This isn’t such a far cry from the message of policy elites, the president, and pundits. In Tom Friedman’s words: “Finish your homework. People in China and India are starving for your jobs.”

Yes, what seems to resonate with the public, and its elected leaders, is a concern about America’s future international competitiveness. And for good reason, what with every year bringing more bad news from PISA and TIMSS about our lackluster global standing. Some parents—I’m thinking of you, Tiger Moms—share this anxiety. But lots of others hear the bad news and shrug.

To be honest, I’m one of them. Maybe I’m a Koala Dad. While the “policy wonk” part of my brain understands the relationship between academic performance and economic growth, the “dad” part of my brain doesn’t much care. I don’t often look at my sweet little boys and think: “Sons, I dream of you becoming internationally competitive one day.” Of course I want them to do well in school, go to good colleges, and get satisfying, well-paying jobs. But I take those things as a matter of course. Perhaps this makes me part of the problem—a comrade in the conspiracy of complacency. But if a school tells me that it’s only interested in preparing my kids for the “global economy,” I’m walking straight out the door and into a place that wants them to live a good life, be good neighbors and citizens, know something about the arts, and care about their own families.

I doubt I’m alone. While policy elites fret about international test scores, college- and career-ready standards, and STEM, parents worry about bullying, what’s on the lunch menu, the bus schedule, and the dress code. Art, music, and recess might seem like frills to hard-nosed CEO types, but to parents like me, they are central elements of a well-rounded education (and a joyful childhood).

The reason all of this matters is that schools—tugged in one direction by public policies and in another direction by the demands of parents—have to find a way to resolve these recurrent tensions. To pretend otherwise is naïve. It’s easy, for example, for reformers to dismiss concerns about “teaching to the test.” If it’s a good test, there’s no problem, we say. But even with really good tests, I don’t want my kids spending all day “on task,” working on “learning modules” and drills that are easily assess-able. I want them finger painting in Kindergarten, even if it serves no utilitarian purpose. Just because! (Of course I’ll also do all I can to make sure they learn to read, write, think clearly, etc.)

This spills over into the touchy topic of teacher evaluations. Just how much are we sure we want to make those reviews hinge on test scores? I don’t want my sons’ teachers to obsess about getting “value-added” scores up if that means dumping all the units and activities that can’t be reduced to bubbles on a test. I want my children to get a good “education,” not just receive rigorous “schooling.” The best teachers (and schools) know the difference.

Reformers desperately want parents on their side. Getting them better and more comparable information about student and school performance will surely help. But the answer is not to admonish them to be “engaged and enraged” about their kids’ schools, as Joel Klein recently wrote. As long as we look at parents and think they are dummies for liking their schools the way they are, we’re never going to win their hearts and minds. Many parents dislike reforms like testing for legitimate reasons—and we ignore their concerns at our peril. The reformer in me needs to take the parent in me seriously. Klein says that parents are the “force that can’t be beat.” Probably true—which is why we don’t want them mobilizing against us.


News Analysis: NY Regents: Stop the madness!

gavel photo

Court costs; implementation speaks
(Photo by Brian Turner)

It’s “back to school” for the New York State Board of Regents and the State Education Department that it oversees. But will it also be “back to court”? Primed by the Race to the Top pump, Empire State legislators passed a bill last year ordering districts to base 20 percent of their teacher evaluations on student growth measured by state tests. They also stipulated that another 20 percent of the evals be based on “other locally selected measures of student achievement.” But the Regents got a little greedy. In May, they voted to merge the “locally selected” with the state assessment, effectively making 40 percent of the teacher evaluation dependent on state test scores. New York’s teacher union was predictably miffed—and took the matter to court. Flash forward to last week, when a state judge in Albany ruled against the Regents: New York cannot mandate that state test scores be used for 40 percent of a teacher’s evaluation. Upon hearing the news, State Education Commissioner John King, Jr. sounded off that the state would appeal the decision. Hold on, there, King. We are in the infancy of teacher-evaluation reform. When it comes down to the details, we’ve got little more than educated guesses as to what will work best under which circumstances. Yes, tying 40 percent of an evaluation to test scores might make it easier to dump a teacher who gets terrible results. But it might also create unhealthy pressure for all educators in the state to teach narrowly to the test. Maybe 20 percent would strike a better balance—and still allow administrators to move bad teachers out of the classroom. We don’t really know as yet, nor does anybody else. So Regents (and NYDOE officials), be mindful: Your newfangled evaluation system is going to be miles more rigorous than what virtually all your districts have today, regardless of whether one-fifth or two-fifths of the ratings comes down to test scores. Call off the lawyers, and get down to work.

This piece emerged from two posts (one by Peter Meyer and one by Michael J. Petrilli) that originally appeared on Fordham’s Flypaper blog. To subscribe to Flypaper, click here.

Click to play

Click to listen to commentary on testing and teacher evaluation in NY from the Education Gadfly Show podcast

Teacher Test Overhaul Struck Down,” by Jacob Gershman, Wall Street Journal, August 25, 2011.

NY Court: Teacher Evals Can’t Focus on Test Scores,” by Staff, Associated Press, August 24, 2011.


News Analysis: Twenty-three's a crowd

Come the end of September, Memphis City Schools and the surrounding Shelby County School District will become one. To effect the merger, the two districts have cobbled together a twenty-three member school board—comprised of the MCS board, the Shelby Co. board, and another seven appointed members thrown in for good measure. (This bloated transition board is supposed to diet back down to the standard seven-member elected board by the districts' 2013 deadline for combination.) While the Memphis-Shelby merger won’t be the first such city-county union (Charlotte-Mecklenberg, NC and Jefferson Country, KY are other examples), the “how” behind this fusion is nothing if not unorthodox. Last year, Shelby Co. (which shares financial responsibility with Memphis for the River City's schools) postured that it would form a “special district,” thereby cutting financial ties to MCS (and damming up 26 percent of the Memphis Schools’s budget). In retaliation, the Memphis school board moved to dissolve its own district. (In a funky statutory twist, this decision by the board means that Memphis schools necessarily get subsumed into the Shelby Co. district—and are thus able to keep their funding stream open.) Two-thirds of city residents backed the move, in hopes that the higher-performing Shelby County schools would help boost achievement for Memphis’s 103,000 students. Of course, residents of the more affluent suburban district (47,000 students strong) were none too pleased. They sued, and lost, bringing us back to that 23-member school board. If done right, this merger could allow for dynamic and forward-thinking reform on both school governance and school finance. (Gadfly gets giddy thinking about the possibilities of expanded parental choice—countywide—and weighted-student funding among schools.) Here’s hoping that twenty-three turns out to be a lucky number.

Tentative agreement in Memphis school merger,” by Adrian Sainz, Associated Press, August 24, 2011.

School merger begins to take shape,” by Zack McMillin, Memphis Commercial Appeal, August 29, 2011.


News Analysis: SPED funding now a little less special

money money money photo

A dollar for you, one hundred for me
(Photo by Stephen Depelo)

NCLB waivers, meet your new federal pal, easement of special education “maintenance of effort” requirements. Traditionally, IDEA has been interpreted to require school districts to maintain (or increase) their spending on special education from year to year or else face stiff penalties. Districts could apply for one-year waivers for particular reasons—for example, the graduation of an extremely expensive student, which might send costs lower. But they were expected to resume their higher spending the next year. A June letter from ED to the National Association of State Directors of Special Education trumpets a different tune. Now, the Department says districts may lower their special-education and then keep the same level in subsequent years as well. This small but significant change signals a willingness to rethink special-education spending’s status as untouchable—which is critical in this time of fiscal austerity. As Sasha Pudelski, a staffer for the American Association of School Administrators, told Education Week, “Fairness dictates that all programs and populations share in the burden of cuts, rather than holding a single program exempt.” Precisely.

Feds Loosen Rules on Cutting Special Ed. Funding,” by Nirvi Shah, Education Week, August 31, 2011.


News Analysis: The long arm of ed law

First came the healthy school-lunch campaign, the sex-ed campaign, the gay-history campaign, and the environmental-literacy campaign (to name just a few)—all noble pursuits for individual schools usurped by state and federal policymakers. Today marks a milestone in another such campaign, as New Jersey’s Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights—understood to be the most stringent in the land—goes into effect. The law requires schools to create safety teams, allocate professional-development time for anti-bullying trainings, and assign an “anti-bullying specialist.” (Each district must find itself an “anti-bullying coordinator” as well.) Though Gadfly’s past admonishments seem to have fallen on deaf ears on this front, he’ll clear his throat and aver louder: Schools—and the parents of the children educated therein—should toil to create a positive school culture, free from schoolyard intimidation and classroom harassment. Efforts of this nature should not be mandated by the state; legislative arms cannot protect students from that height—no matter how long they are.

Click to play

Click to listen to commentary on bullying from the Education Gadfly Show podcast

Bullying Law Puts New Jersey Schools on Spot,” by Winnie Hu, New York Times, August 30, 2011.


Short Reviews

Review: The Strategic Management of Charter Schools: Framework and Tools for Educational Entrepreneurs
By Tyson Eberhardt and Daniela Fairchild

The Strategic Management of Charter Schools coverAlong with the standard fare of curricula, scheduling, student discipline, and teacher effectiveness, charter schools have to navigate tight budgets and nonprofit-management and human-capital strategies. Many charter leaders, however, are far more experienced with instruction than with operations: They’re heavy on education-delivery skills and light on mission-, operations-, and stakeholder-management skills. This new book offers a toolkit for school leaders seeking a crash-course in B-school strategies. Each chapter covers an issue ranging from mission management to performance measurement and provides accessible explanations of how to implement proper business strategies—and why these strategies are important for charters. What might be most helpful for school leaders looking to flip from an ed-school to a B-school mentality are the chapters’ case studies, which offer further perspective on how each strategy can and should play out on the ground.  The authors use MATCH charter schools, for example, to highlight how development of logic models can help clarify a charter’s mission. The case of D.C.’s Cesar Chavez School provides insight into how strategic alignment can ensure longitudinal success. And that of the Compass Montessori School (CO) illustrates the need for financial stability—and what happens if it is not found. Following these strategies—and learning from these case studies—should help charter schools of all stripes personalize and strengthen their business models.

Peter Frumkin, Bruno V. Manno, and Nell Edgington, The Strategic Management of Charter Schools: Framework and Tools for Educational Entrepreneurs, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press, 2011).


Review: Reaching the Goal: The Applicability and Importance of the Common Core State Standards to College and Career Readiness
By Laura Johnson

Reaching the Goal coverThe Common Core State Standards have been widely adopted, implementation efforts have commenced, and assessment frameworks have begun to roll out. But how will the standards (if faithfully implemented) actually serve a college-bound student population? In order to test this primary aim of CCSS, David Conley and his team at the Educational Policy Improvement surveyed 1,815 two- and four-year college professors in twenty-five different subjects, spanning the gamut from English and math to history, business, and computer science, asking them how relevant and important various Common Core standards are to their courses. The findings: English language arts standards were deemed both relevant and important across disciplines, with particular importance placed on the CCSS’s “speaking and listening” standards. (Eighty percent found this slice of the CCSS standards to be of importance.) On the math front, several strands (including mathematical practices, numbers and quantity, and algebra) were generally found to be applicable for college coursework. The geometry standards, however, were not: Only half the math professors found them to be applicable. The most frequent criticisms from college profs relate to the wording of the standards and to perceived deficiencies in problem-solving and critical-thinking requirements. While the survey’s methodology has rightly raised some eyebrows (or even angry fists), it does provide a sort of affirmation of the CCSS.

Click to play

Click to listen to commentary on this CCSS alignment study from the Education Gadfly Show podcast

David T. Conley, Kathryn V. Drummond, Alicia de Gonzalez, Jennifer Rooseboom , and Odile Stout. “Reaching the Goal: The Applicability and Importance of the Common Core State Standards to College and Career Readiness,” (Educational Policy Improvement Center, August 2011).


From The Web

The Education Gadfly Show Podcast: Bully for you, Margaret

Mike chats with John Bailey of Whiteboard Advisors about teacher evaluations in the Empire State, a new sheriff for the “reform” district in the Wolverine State, and how boring bullying is to policy wonks, no matter the state. Amber finds a CCSS validation study lacking and Chris tells the government not to tread on his lemonade stand.

The Education Gadfly
Click to listen to the podcast on our website. You can also download the podcast here or subscribe on iTunes here.


Flypaper's Finest: Ohio charter-school authorizer outlier deserves to lose right to sponsor schools
By Terry Ryan

This post is one in a series examining the performance of Ohio’s “Big Eight” urban districts. To read the rest of the posts, head here.

As part of our ongoing look at 2010-11 Ohio school performance data, earlier this week Jamie shared an analysis showing that charter authorizer type (e.g., non-profit, educational service center, district, or university) didn’t correlate to school quality.  While this may be true about authorizer type, a deeper look at the data for individual authorizer performance illustrates that not all authorizers are equal. Specifically, there are outliers, and the troubled Cleveland-based Ashe Culture Center jumps out as a true underachiever worthy of being booted from the authorizer business for good....

The Education Gadfly
Click to read the rest on Flypaper.


Flypaper's Finest: More power politics in New York. Or, another hacking victim
By Peter Meyer

Mike’s “Stop the Madness!” plea to New York makes a lot of sense. But, for better or worse, education governance is nothing if not political, which, as we know, is nothing if not a tad bloody. And New Yorkers were reminded of that again yesterday, when the state’s comptroller pulled the plug (New York Times) on a multi-million-dollar no-bid contract to Wireless Generation to set up a database for New York City’s schools.

The intricate system of checks-and-balances that is a hallmark of our aging republic often seems more checks than balances....

The Education Gadfly
Click to read the rest on Flypaper.



Gadfly Studios: Rick and Randi on teacher evaluations

Click to play video

How do AEI ed-head Rick Hess and AFT president Randi Weingarten come down on teacher evaluations? Where do their thoughts converge and diverge? Watch the video to find out.



Briefly Noted: What's good for the goose is good for the gander

  • Fastidious international-development organizations intent on bettering their service delivery and supply-chain management while keeping costs down are now borrowing from the high-powered business model of the corporate world. Not bad advice for us in the education sector.
  • Another one bites the dust: Red Star School, a low-cost private school serving migrant students in Beijing, was torn down last week. It is one of thirty in the capital city to meet a similar fate in recent weeks. Unconscionable. But is there a twist? The school is technically illegal: It serves students of rural parents who have migrated out of their allowed zones into the big city in search of a better life. (China still operates an internal passport system, a hangover from the Mao years.) Bulldozing schools in the name of population control offers a revealing and revolting window into education in contemporary China.
  • What a guy. Fresno supe Larry Powell resigned from his cushy $200,000-plus/year position this summer, only to be hired back by the district for $31,000 a year—with no benefits. Powell wasn’t hoodwinked here; he made the grand gesture to save the district some money (and save some of his pet projects in the process).
  • How does the high school class of 2010 feel about the quality of their secondary education a year after graduation? Eh… According to a recent College Board survey, 47 percent of respondents said they wished they’d worked harder in high school—and 40 percent wish they’d taken more math courses. Listen up guidance counselors.  
  • Bemoan excessive testing, fine. But testing done right? Well, that has the ability to transform a teacher’s effectiveness—or so says one New York teacher who credits a well- crafted test with objectively pointing out the flaws in her teaching, allowing her to grow past them.
  • Never mind Race to the Top part deux, last week ED released version 2.0 of its Ed Data Express—a one-stop shop for tracking publicly available federal education data. New in this version, a map and trend line feature. Sometimes it’s fun to get a little nerdy.
  • Cleveland will be shuttering two charters this year due to low test scores—proof that Ohio’s “death penalty” for poorly performing charters is working.


Announcement: All acronyms, all day

Excited to join Chris Cerf’s posse? You’re in luck. The New Jersey Department of Education is now hiring for a chief innovation officer, ready to build the state’s new Innovation Office, and a chief talent officer, able to create and manage the state’s human-capital strategy. To learn more about the CIO position, head here. If the CTO opening is more your style, find more information here.


Announcement: Can you, can you do the ConnCAN?

ConnCAN, the Constitution State’s premier education-advocacy organization, is on the hunt for a new chief executive officer. ConnCAN’s CEO will be an experienced and inspiring leader, ready to serve at the “face” of the organization, conceptualize innovative strategies for work in a bipartisan state, and oversee fundraising planning and implementation. Fit the bill? Learn more here.


Fordham's featured publication: America’s Best (and Worst) Cities for School Reform: Attracting Entrepreneurs and Change Agents

America's Best (and Worst) Cities for School Reform cover

This study from the Fordham Institute tackles a key question: Which of thirty major U.S. cities have cultivated a healthy environment for school reform to flourish (and which have not)? Nine reform-friendly locales surged to the front: New Orleans, Washington D.C., New York City, Denver, Jacksonville, Charlotte, Austin, Houston, and Fort Worth. Trailing far behind were San Jose, San Diego, Albany, Philadelphia, Gary, and Detroit.  Read on to learn more.


The Education Gadfly is published weekly (ordinarily on Thursdays), with occasional breaks, by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Regular contributors include Tyson Eberhardt, Daniela Fairchild, Chester E. Finn, Jr., Chris Irvine, Michael Ishimoto, Laura Johnson, Jamie Davies O’Leary, Emmy Partin, Michael J. Petrilli, Laurent Rigal, Terry Ryan, Janie Scull, Bianca Speranza, Chris Tessone, and Amber Winkler. Have something to say? Email us at Find archived issues or other reviews of reports and books here.

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The Thomas B. Fordham Institute is a nonprofit organization that conducts research, issues publications, and directs action projects in elementary and secondary education reform at the national level and in Ohio, with a special emphasis on our hometown of Dayton. (For Ohio news, check out our Ohio Education Gadfly, published bi-weekly, ordinarily on Wednesdays.) The Institute is neither connected with nor sponsored by Fordham University.

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