Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 4, Number 24
June 24, 2004
Opinion + Analysis
Who could be against "adequate" school funding?
By Eric Hanushek
U.S. schools get a C
Aiming high, and accepting no excuses for failure
Florida's new Passport for aspiring teachers
The Bible in schools
New chapters on charters
Sensitivity run amuck
Eric Hanushek / June 24, 2004
Many states are currently embroiled in court battles arising from lawsuits that challenge them, usually on constitutional grounds, to provide "adequate" funding for their public schools. These adequacy lawsuits, the effects of which have spilled over into state legislatures, are yet another example of the disconnect between words and slogans and reality. More than that, the blind pursuit of "adequacy" has a very real chance of hurting, rather than helping, our schools.
For three decades, school funding in the states has been driven by a series of court cases concerned with fiscal equity. These cases have a common argument: that state constitutions require more equitable spending between rich and poor school districts and communities than is typically found under a system of mixed state and local funding.
Despite winning such cases in a number of states, supporters of the lawsuits have been dismayed by the fruits of their labor. Some legislatures that were required by the courts to equalize spending across districts kept total spending levels constant, rather than bringing the level of spending in all districts up to that of the highest-spending districts. The proponents of these suits were unhappy because their real goal is not just equalized funding for schools, but more spending overall.
In reaction, a new kind of lawsuit and argument developed - the need for "adequate" spending. Under this legal strategy, even if school spending were equalized throughout a
June 24, 2004
A new survey from Educational Testing Service (which has not yet been posted online by ETS but has already been reported in the USA Today) finds Americans souring somewhat on their public schools-and divided about the merits of No Child Left Behind. The percentage of parents who give U.S. public schools a grade of A is down six points from 2001, to 2 percent, and only 20 percent of parents give schools a B, down from 35 percent three years ago. But 45 percent of parents give schools a C, up from 33 percent in 2001. And Americans are equally divided on the merits of NCLB; thirty-nine percent have a favorable view and 38 percent an unfavorable. Of course, as Eduwonk notes, "there is less to these findings than meets the eye" since "the public tends to view things in the abstract less favorably than concrete examples they interact with regularly or ones close to home." However, the results of this survey do suggest that NCLB is having an effect on education perceptions-and the field is wide open for both candidates to seize the offensive on this issue in an election year.
"Parents take schools to task," by Greg Toppo, USA Today, June 21, 2004
"Mystery poll explained!," Eduwonk.com, June 24, 2004
June 24, 2004
This Sunday's New York Times Magazine includes a spellbinding account of Geoffrey Canada and his extraordinary effort to change the lives of all of the children who live in one Harlem community. Until recently, Canada (who grew up poor in the Bronx but overcame the odds to go on to college and eventually earn a degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Education) worked in traditional nonprofits, struggling to find ways to give a handful of poor Harlem students a better chance to succeed. After a while, Canada got fed up: Why just help the 500 kids you can serve in one particular program? Why them and not the 500 on the waiting list? And, why 500 and not 5,000? "If all he was doing was picking some kids to save and letting the rest fail," writes Paul Tough in the Times, "what was the point?" So, with the help of some powerful allies, Canada founded the "Harlem Children's Zone," a 24-block (recently expanded to 60-block) radius in central Harlem designed to help parents and students reverse, rather than beat, the odds. When he first created the "Zone," Canada believed that all of the programs - both the educational and non-educational - were equally important as part of the larger effort to improve the community. But over time, he began to realize that, to make an impact, the school system simply had
June 24, 2004
The American Board for the Certification of Teacher Excellence announced last week that Florida will join Idaho and Pennsylvania as the third state to accept the American Board's Passport to Teaching as a new route to full certification for the state's public school teachers. Passport is available to mid-career changers, recent college graduates, and teachers seeking certification. It allows candidates with a bachelor's degree to take an exam of professional teaching knowledge and a rigorous subject area knowledge test instead of languishing in traditional pedagogy courses. American Board certification is one of a growing number of "alternative paths" that teaching candidates can take to enter the classroom, and is threatening the monopoly that education schools and national education accrediting organizations have over defining what it means for a teacher to be "highly qualified" and fully certified. Not surprisingly, the nation's largest ed school accrediting agency, the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education, blasted Florida's decision. "This is a very scary proposition for our nation's children," Jane Liebrand, vice president for communications at NCATE, complained. "In our view, this shortcut will not produce a successful teacher." Given the results from the recent evaluation of Teach for America (see below), which show that highly educated and motivated teachers with little or no professional education training do as well or better than their traditionally certified peers, the evidence seems to suggest otherwise.
June 24, 2004
It's almost impossible to get a decent grasp of Dante, Milton, Shakespeare, William Blake, the Mayflower Compact, the speeches of Lincoln or King, or hundreds of other topics, writers, and historical events, without knowing something about the Bible. But schools are still wary of teaching about the Bible as an important literary and cultural document for fear of lawsuits and accusations of sectarianism. That's a real loss to cultural literacy, one that is being rectified by the Bible Literacy Project, which has produced a handy guide for schools and is presently writing a textbook, The Bible and American Civilization, that explains how the Bible has affected political, literary, and historical endeavors and institutions. It's a rare example of true ecumenism in education, supported as it is by the major teachers' union, the ACLU, and major Christian, Jewish, and Muslim groups, and a worthy initiative you should know about.
"Putting Bible back in school," by Rena Pederson, Dallas Morning News, June 20, 2004 (registration required)
June 24, 2004
We're pleased to note the publication of a new installment of the Education Department's Innovations in Education book series (see below for our review of some earlier iterations), this one entitled Successful Charter Schools. It's a good introduction to how to start and administer charters, with case studies of eight fine schools around the nation. And this week, the Department backed up its advocacy of charters with a $3.8 million check-down payment on a pledge of $13 million-to the state of Maryland, to support new charter schools. Unfortunately, Maryland has one of the most restrictive charter environments in the country, with only three schools allowed to open statewide per year, and none before 2005. Let's hope that the federal largesse encourages the Maryland legislature to respond with a similar act of generosity toward public schools of choice.
"Propping up charter law," by Mike Bowler, Baltimore Sun, June 23, 2004
"Innovations in education: Successful charter schools," US Department of Education, June 2004
June 24, 2004
Linda Seebach reports that a Colorado teacher hit upon a strange and potentially destructive way of teaching Othello to her students. The teacher divided her students up in groups, those who had blue cards and those who had yellow cards. Blue-carded students were required to smile ingratiatingly, bow their heads, and beg people to tie their shoes. Yellow-carded students were fawned upon. "In a particularly nasty wrinkle," Seebach writes, "the teacher told the students chosen for the subordinate group that they would all receive Fs for their work that day and that the failing grades would be on their final transcript. And she sent them home still believing that lie." Seebach-and education blogger Joanne Jacobs, who picked up the story-blasts the teacher and the counselor who thought up this exercise and suggests they "have their heads examined" for committing a hate crime in the pursuit of teaching about hate crimes.
"Seebach: Teaching sensitivity can be a disgraceful exercise," by Linda Seebach, Rocky Mountain News, June 19, 2004
"Persecuting for sensitivity," JoanneJacobs.com, June 21, 2004
Kathleen Porter-Magee / June 24, 2004
Paul T. Decker, Daniel P. Mayer, Steven Glazerman, Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.June 2004
Earlier this month, Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. released this study, which compares the impact of Teach for America teachers - who teach in disadvantaged districts for two year stints and typically do not have formal education training - and their traditionally-trained peers. Specifically, researchers compared "the outcomes among students taught by TFA teachers with the outcomes of students taught by other teachers in the same schools and at the same grades." The researchers found that despite the TFA teachers' lack of formal ed school training (only 3 percent of them held regular or initial certification before setting foot in the classroom, compared with 67 percent of the control teachers), and much to the dismay of critics who have long maintained that effective teaching requires certification and an ed school degree, TFA teachers outperformed both novice and veteran teachers in math. In reading, TFA teachers performed equally well as their non-TFA peers. In other words, it seems that bright, motivated, young teachers with little formal training can be at least as effective, if not more so, than the crop of traditional teachers who are relegated to serve the hardest-to-teach students. This is welcome, if not altogether surprising news to those of us who strongly believe that ed schools, like schools of journalism, should be options - not prerequisites - to entry into the
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / June 24, 2004
Bryan C. Hassel and Michelle Godard Terrell, Progressive Policy Institute June 3, 2004
Public Impact's Bryan C. Hassel and Michelle Godard Terrell authored, and the Progressive Policy Institute published, this superb 40 page review of the Arizona charter-school scene. As everybody knows, Arizona's high-profile and lightly regulated charter schools have proliferated, especially in the late 1990's, and now comprise one-quarter of all public schools in the state and enroll about 7.5 percent of all K-12 pupils. The state has been dubbed the "wild west" of the charter movement and viewed with awe or horror from tamer places. This report is a much needed, very careful, and magnificently balanced stock-taking that makes clear some of the tradeoffs and tensions that have arisen in the Arizona charter world. It also points to some important strengths and troubling weaknesses in that world and offers thoughtful recommendations for the future. You can find it online by clicking here.
Creating Strong Supplemental Educational Services Programs and Creating Strong District School Choice Programs
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / June 24, 2004
The U.S. Department of Education: Office of Innovation and Improvement2004
Behind these clunky titles you'll find a pair of first-rate "handbooks" from the U.S. Department of Education, intended to assist public school systems to implement NCLB's two main "choice" elements: the one intended to give children in "needs-improvement" schools the option of attending better-performing public schools, and the one that enables parents to select among providers of Title I tutoring services for their children. Prepared by WestEd for the Department's Office of Innovation and Improvement, each is 50 to 60 pages long, each profiles a handful of districts that are doing this well, and each provides ample practical advice. They're apparently intended for willing but clueless district officials, but they include information that's also apt to benefit state officials, local educators, charter operators, supplemental-services providers, journalists, ordinary parents, and anyone still confused as to how these NCLB components are meant to work. You can order hard copies by emailing email@example.com or surfing to www.edpubs.org. You can also find them online at http://www.ed.gov/admins/comm/choice/choiceprograms/index.html and http://www.ed.gov/admins/comm/suppsvcs/sesprograms/index.html.
Building a Professional Teaching Corps in Boston: Baseline Study of New Teachers in Boston's Public Schools
Eric Osberg / June 24, 2004
Maria McCarthy and Ellen Guiney, Boston Plan for Excellence in the Public SchoolsApril 2004
This report surveys new teachers in Boston Public Schools (BPS) and critically examines its hiring and professional development processes to learn why BPS has trouble finding and keeping good teachers. They conclude that the answer is not money, but rather the poor job done by human resources staff (HR). The first problem is the inefficiency of the hiring process. It is often delayed and drawn-out, frustrating the candidates. (Boston's problem is validated by a New Teacher Project study that found, in four urban districts, that 30 to 60 percent of teaching candidates accepted other offers because of the length of the hiring process and that those tended to be the strongest candidates.) Once hired, retention becomes the problem-30 percent of new BPS teachers revise downward in their first year their expectations for how long they will teach in BPS. Support for new teachers comes in various forms of professional development, and though these are viewed more positively than negatively, the support is lukewarm at best. Perhaps the most successful is mentoring, but even this is hampered by HR, which often fails to match teachers with mentors in the appropriate subjects or grade levels. The report doesn't offer any radical solutions-it suggests some realignment within HR, some better systems, and other such process improvements-but it does provide some interesting insights into teachers' opinions. For example, teachers with master's