Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 13, Number 19
May 16, 2013
Opinion + Analysis
There’s a better way to unlock parent power than the parent trigger
In favor of good old-fashioned school choice
For Pete’s sake, let’s try it
In favor of all of the above
Superintendents’ views on Ohio’s education reforms
Half empty or half full?
Pandering beats hostage-taking
Systematic Sorting: Teacher Characteristics and Class Assignments
Don’t draw conclusions in haste
Time for Change: A New Federal Strategy to Prepare Disadvantaged Students for College
Brookings says: Trash the TRIO programs
Audit this, baby!
While discussing UFT pandering, Algebra 2 mandates, and Common Core consortia, Mike and Andy try very, very hard not to say the two magic words that rain down the wrath of the IRS (hint: they begin with T and P). Amber sorts through teacher sorting—but can she really do it in under a minute? Listen to find out!
Operating in the Dark
May 16, 2013
This report is based on the responses to an online survey conducted in Spring 2013 with 344 school district superintendents in Ohio. The survey covered seven education policies, specifically: Common Core State Standards, teacher evaluations, the Third Grade Reading Guarantee, open enrollment, A-to-F ratings for schools and districts, individualized learning (blended learning and credit flexibility), and school choice (charter schools and vouchers). It also included several questions on general attitudes towards school reform in Ohio and two trend items. Download today to discover the key findings!
Michael J. Petrilli / May 8, 2013
It’s hard not to sympathize with the impulse behind the parent trigger. Here’s a mechanism that empowers disadvantaged parents to force speedy and transformative change on schools long considered dysfunctional. It upends the stasis that pervades so many urban districts: the veto power that teachers unions and other adult interests hold over all decisions; the culture of low expectations that blames social factors (and the parents themselves) for poor student achievement; the slow pace of reform that subjects yet another generation of students to failure while the system struggles to get its act together.
For these reasons and more, it’s worth experimenting with the parent trigger. But I strongly suspect that the experiment will fall flat, at least most of the time and at least when it comes to turning around failing schools and/or forcing significant reform on the part of failing school districts. Three factors come into play here. First, the parent trigger mechanism itself will continue to get bogged down in lawsuits and other blocking tactics, as has been the case to date. Second, if and when the trigger gets pulled, the resulting school turnarounds won’t generally amount to
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / May 9, 2013
Mike is usually the “glass-half-full” guy around Fordham, while I'm Gloomy Gus. On the matter of parent triggers, however, our roles seem to have reversed. He doesn't think the parent-trigger mechanism will amount to much—and comes mighty close to suggesting that we might as well therefore give up on it. He puts his faith instead in what he calls “school choice,” by which he means more charters, more vouchers, more digital options, etc.
Of course we should have more of all of those—provided they're accompanied by suitable quality control and customer-information strategies. But why so bleak about parent triggers? Well, Mike explains, they'll get tangled up in lawsuits—but so does every single one of his preferred options; just this month, for example, the Louisiana supreme court struck down the Bayou State's new voucher program. Charters get litigated everywhere. So do virtual schools.
Then he says the parent trigger is really a school-turnaround strategy and turnarounds seldom succeed in turning bad schools into good ones. He might try telling that to Arne Duncan, to Congress, and to a throng of states and districts—and philanthropists and nonprofit and for-profit groups—that, for better or worse, have placed enormous hope and many resources
Terry Ryan / May 16, 2013
For the better part of three decades, states have been implementing all manner of school reforms, ranging from academic standards to district report cards, from statewide graduation tests to new technologies, from teacher evaluations to alternative certification, from charter schools to vouchers. Ohio is fairly typical in this regard. It’s been struggling with all of these and many more, mostly sent forth from the state capitol.
As the reform load has grown weightier, however, we at Fordham have come to understand more clearly that while lawmakers can help set the conditions for improvement (or get in the way of needed changes!), any real and sustainable gains to school and student performance depend mainly on hard work by district leaders, school principals, and teachers. Along with students and families, they fuel the engines of improvement, even as state officials may turn the key.
In the commercial world, Ohio has long been known as the country’s “test market” because if something sells in the Buckeye State, it is apt to sell nationwide. (Ben Wattenberg and the late Richard Scammon once wrote that the most typical
The Education Gadfly / May 16, 2013
When a Michigan House committee approved a measure that would allow students to skip Algebra 2 if they instead take a technical-education course, the Wolverine State became the latest to question the necessity of that much-debated high school course. Last month, Florida created two paths to a high school diploma, one of which excludes Algebra 2 altogether. The arguments in favor of such moves are persuasive—but what will this mean for Common Core, which requires all students to meet math objectives that include the substance of Algebra 2? This is certainly a matter to watch.
The UFT hosted a veritable panderpalooza last weekend, featuring five Democratic candidates for mayor of New York City taking turns praising the union and blasting charter schools in a shameless effort to win the union’s support. Dennis Walcott, the city’s schools chancellor, announced that he was “appalled” at their remarks. Still, while Gadfly finds such events distasteful, he cannot claim to be surprised when New York politicians resume their traditional habits.
Two excellent Wall Street Journal opinion pieces got down to the core of why conservatives ought to support the Common Core. Edward Frenkel and Hung-Hsi Wu, both professors of mathematics, praised the Core for setting tough benchmarks in that key subject.
The latest study by Susannah Loeb and colleagues examines teacher assignments within schools in Miami-Dade from 2004-05 through 2010-11. There are three main findings: First, less experienced, minority, and female teachers were more likely to be assigned to classes with low-achieving students than were their more experienced, male, or white colleagues. For instance, teachers with ten to twenty years of experience were sorted into classrooms where achievement was .10 to .20 standard deviations higher, relative to the students assigned to first-year teachers. Second, teachers who have held leadership positions and those who attended more competitive undergraduate institutions were also assigned higher-achieving students. Third, black teachers had the most challenging assignments, particularly when teaching in schools with more white colleagues. That all sounds pretty bad from an equity perspective, but it’s far from clear which if any of these patterns may be intentional. For instance, the gender gap is largely explained by the disproportionate number of female teachers who teach special education, and the racial differences may be partially due to the propensity of black and Hispanic teachers to be assigned more minority and poor students—which may be their preference and may in fact be a positive thing for their pupils. Furthermore, the study did not examine teacher effectiveness, so we can’t say for sure that lower-achieving or minority students got less effective teachers. In the end, patterns of teacher assignment are complex, likely resulting from a
Daniela Fairchild / May 16, 2013
The Obama administration has shown commitment to evidence-based policies through its Head Start reforms, programs to reduce teen pregnancy, and efforts to boost parenting skills; it is time to show the same commitment for college-readiness programs, argues this policy brief. The brief, which accompanies the latest Future of Children journal issue, argues that the federal government’s major efforts to better prepare disadvantaged pupils for post-secondary education have yielded no rigorous proof of success. Yet we annually pump $1 billion into the so-called “TRIO programs” (Upward Bound, Talent Search, Student Support Services, and a few smaller programs). In order to streamline efforts—and to ensure program efficacy—the brief authors suggest that Congress consolidate all federal spending in this realm into a single competitive-grant program and fund a broad variety of intervention approaches (tutoring, counseling, and instruction) run by an array of proven providers. The long-time recipients of TRIO dollars will naturally hate this reform, but what’s the point of programs that don’t accomplish their objectives? A tough-minded approach might finally narrow the vast college-enrollment gap between the nation’s poorest and richest students.
SOURCE: Ron Haskins and Cecilia Elena Rouse, “Time for Change: A New Federal Strategy to Prepare Disadvantaged Students for College” (Princeton-Brookings, The Future of Children Journal, vol. 23: no. 1, Spring 2013).