Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 4, Number 36
October 8, 2004
Opinion + Analysis
Tapping the next "greatest generation" in education
By Marc Porter Magee
Ask not what your school can do for you&
Losing the skill war
And now for the kitchen sink
Good talk - soon the walk?
High expectations at High Tech High
Calling a spade, a spade
National Review "Education 2004"
Marc Porter Magee / October 8, 2004
Everyone "knows" that we have a looming crisis in education staffing, as millions of Baby Boomers retire from teaching and school leadership posts and too few qualified people step forward to replace them.
And everyone has a "solution" to this looming crisis. Some on the left deem the problem enormous and seek its remedy (or prevention) in more generous pay scales, greater benefits, and plenty of professional development to attract an ample supply of new candidates. On the right, many (including Gadfly) argue that this looming staffing crisis is confined mostly to America's tougher schools - those serving needy youngsters in poor urban and rural communities - and ascribe it to economic disincentives stemming from traditional pay scales that reward teachers and principals not for success at raising student achievement or a willingness to work in challenging situations but for seniority and credentials.
The real problem, however, may have less to do with salary structures than with the changing characteristics of the rising generation from whom tomorrow's school leaders will emerge. The values, professional desires, career aspirations, and cultural norms of this generation are radically at odds with longstanding notions about the education profession. These people are constitutionally disinclined to serve in a traditional public bureaucracy characterized by top-down decision-making, political maneuvering, and incremental change. This fact could mean not only that the looming public-school teacher shortage problem is even worse than we imagine, but that all the conventional antidotes
October 8, 2004
In this month's Atlantic, Jonathan Rauch poses the question: "Suppose I told you that I knew of an education reform guaranteed to raise the achievement levels of American students; that this reform would cost next to nothing and would require no political body's approval; and that it could be implemented overnight by anybody of a mind of undertake it. You would jump at it, right?" As it turns out, no. Educators, school administrators, and parents increasingly discourage the one education reform that has proven results at no cost (other than students' time): homework. This despite the evidence that, on average, American students do very little homework. Yes, we know the stories of the Ivy-bound elite who spend hours slaving over homework each night, but they are decidedly the exception. According to the National Assessment of Education Progress, "two-thirds of seventeen year olds did less than an hour of homework on a typical night . . . [and] forty percent did no homework at all." What's more, American students spend barely six hours a day in school - much of which Rauch argues "is taken up by nonacademic matters." And, according to educational psychologist Harris Cooper, "relative to other instructional techniques and the costs involved in doing it, homework can produce a substantial, positive effect on adolescents' performance in schools." So why do we hear no chorus demanding more of our students - of both their time and effort? According to
October 8, 2004
Lou Gerstner, former IBM chair and founder of the "Teaching Commission", penned a trenchant op-ed in yesterday's Wall Street Journal that says American companies are outsourcing jobs not just because they can find cheaper labor overseas, but also because workers abroad, particularly in Asia, have stronger skills. "America," Gerstner argues, "is starting to suffer from a reverse brain drain." Yet neither presidential candidate is proposing the kind of long-term solution that will reverse this trend. "We are fooling ourselves if we believe that tweaking tax rates, training, or trade agreements will turn this tide. The global information economy is here. It is brutal and unforgiving. . . . The only way to ensure we remain a world economic power is by elevating our public schools - particularly the teachers who lead them - to the top tier of American society." Of course, acknowledging that means accepting that, on average, teachers today don't hail from the top tier - and that simply paying more won't change that fact. Instead, Gerstner argues, "it's time to make teaching an attractive, accessible profession for the most talented and motivated Americans, no matter what their formal training, by breaking down the bureaucratic barriers to entry that can keep Ph.D.s, even Nobel Prize winners, out of public school classrooms. And . . . it's time to give principals, who are charged with leading schools to excellence, the authority they need to hire and fire staff.
October 8, 2004
Opponents of Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson - a brave soul who dared support a statewide graduation test, charter schools, and the suspension of ever-popular class size and teacher pay initiatives - are pulling out all stops in their attempt to unseat her in November. (Click here for more details.) This week, a longtime Bergeson critic filed an ethics complaint against the superintendent and two of her colleagues, alleging that they had "conflicts of interest in managing, authoring, or paying for publications related to a handful of federal grants because all three have had a longtime professional association with [the publication's] author." Bergeson and colleagues deny receiving any royalties or payments for materials published with the grant money and federal officials overseeing the grant maintain that they are "satisfied that grant protocols were followed." But the smears continue.
"Top schools officials: targets of ethics probe," Associated Press, October 5, 2004
"Book deals draw ethics review," by Martha Modeen, News Tribune, October 3, 2004
October 8, 2004
The headline could be straight from The Onion: "Janey finds widespread failure in D.C. schools." No kidding! If such perspicacity is all it takes, Gadfly should have put in for the superintendent's job himself. But we do like the noise that new D.C. superintendent Clifford Janey is making: privatization of non-instructional functions; high school graduation exams; replacing the city's lax academic standards with fine models from Massachusetts or California; greater openness to charter schools. Of course, talk is cheap in the D.C. school system and the community has been disappointed by many a previous superintendent's capacity to walk the walk. But the vigor Janey has brought to this job (including okaying the dismissal of several officials after Eastern High School screwed up students' class schedules, causing the school year to start one day late) is encouraging.
"Janey finds widespread failure in D.C. schools," by Sewall Chan, Washington Post, October 6, 2004
October 8, 2004
If you don't know High Tech High in San Diego, you should. It's one of those schools that pulses, from hard-charging principal Larry Rosenstock, through the excellent teaching staff to the many at-risk kids who are succeeding at this charter school. Rosenstock's philosophy is simple: treat kids like adults and they'll act like adults. So at High Tech High, there are no class bells, yet students show up at class early; the school is clean and bright; and there are no security guards at the unlocked doors. High Tech High students are going to college and honoring the school's demanding expectations. No wonder the Gates Foundation is seeking to create fifteen more such schools. But it's not easy. In Forbes, Rosenstock vents about the local school district, which rejected his innovative plan to give teachers who transferred to his school leaves of absence so they wouldn't lose tenure, gives him only 73 percent of the per-pupil allotment, and withheld special education funds three years in a row. Definitely a school worth knowing about.
"Where everyone can overachieve," by Victoria Murphy, Forbes, October 11, 2004
October 8, 2004
Hurrah for England's chief inspector of schools, David Bell, and his plain-spoken criticism of goofball progressivism in education. In a recent lecture at the Hermitage School in England, Bell argued that students need the return to a well-rounded curriculum that includes a focus on basic skills. "I saw too many incoherent or non-existent curriculums," Bell lamented, "too many eccentric and unevaluated teaching methods, and too much of the totally soft centered belief that children would learn if you left them to it. In particular, the notion that children learn to read by osmosis - and I suppose I exaggerate to make the point - was plain crackers." Would that America had more educators and public officials who lay the truth out so plainly.
"Trendy teaching was 'crackers,'" BBC News, October 5, 2004
October 8, 2004
Jay P. Greene, School Choice Wisconsin
September 28, 2004
In this brief report, the prolific Jay Greene comes to a remarkable conclusion: Students in Milwaukee's voucher program graduate at nearly double the rate of Milwaukee's regular public school students. Sixty-four percent of voucher students in the freshman class of 2000 ended up graduating in 2003 but just 36 percent of Milwaukee's regular public schoolers made it. To reduce the possibility of "selection bias," Greene also compares these voucher students to those at selective public schools. The result: voucher students still win, hands down. The graduation rate at Milwaukee's selective public schools is only 41 percent. The performance of voucher students is probably not due to background factors, then, or extra motivation, as students at selective public schools are likely to be "at least as advantaged as the students in the choice program." Greene doesn't speculate much as to what's going on, but he proves beyond dispute that youngsters taking part in America's largest voucher program are more apt to complete high school on time than the age mates who remain in district-run schools. You can find this report here.
October 8, 2004
National Review's annual education issue contains much good stuff, including Rick Hess on school funding and Clint Bolick on the fitful progress of school choice. We especially recommend Richard Arum on the collapse of school discipline and the effect that's had on the academic environment, especially in urban school districts. And Rachel Zabarkes Friedman recounts some high- and lowlights from the college campus culture wars. Our favorite: "Last spring, Claremont McKenna professor Kerri Dunn reported that her car had been vandalized - tires slashed, windows broken, racist and anti-Semitic slogans spray-painted on - after she'd given a lecture on racism. The campus predictably responded with outrage; classes were cancelled and pro-diversity events held. But Dunn's credibility soon began to erode, and witnesses testified they'd seen her vandalizing the car herself." You can get some of the articles (others are for subscribers only) here.
Meeting the Highly Qualified Teacher Challenge: The Secretary's Third Annual Report on Teacher Quality
Eric Osberg / October 8, 2004
U.S. Department of Education, Office of Postsecondary Education
Like last year's report, and the one before that, this update from the Education Department depicts "mixed" progress toward meeting the teacher quality provisions of No Child Left Behind. In 2003, eight states added content degree standards, so that "a content specific bachelor's degree is required for initial certification," bringing to 38 the number of states that consider this important factor. Forty-eight states now have criteria to assess the quality of teacher preparation programs, but few base their evaluations on teachers' success in raising student achievement. It's even more telling that only nine states in 2003 termed any of their preparation programs low performing, or even at risk of being low performing - a total of 25 programs out of 1,200 or so nationwide. Forty-one states, up from 35 in 2001, "have established a policy that links, aligns, or coordinates teacher certification or licensure requirements with state content standards for students." Unfortunately, in 2001-2 (the most recent data provided), only 33 states tested teachers for content knowledge and "most have set the minimum passing score - or cut score - so low as to screen out only the very lowest performing individuals." Worst of all, six states still lack any alternative routes to certification. This report doesn't have the stem-winding, bell-ringing policy clarity of its predecessors but it supplies a lot of information. Read it here.
Kathleen Porter-Magee / October 8, 2004
E.D. Tabs, National Center for Education Statistics
In August, the National Center for Education Statistics released results from its 2000-1 "Teacher Follow-up Survey." Among the findings are some interesting if unsurprising information about how many public and private school teachers leave their schools, why they do, and where they go. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the study found that fully 85 percent of all public school teachers remained at the same school between 1999 and 2000, 8 percent moved to a different school, and just 7 percent left teaching entirely. Of course, the fact that 53 percent of the public school "movers" switched to a school in a different district suggests that many may be fleeing hard-to-staff schools (or maybe they would just rather live in the sun than the snow). It is also interesting to note that those leaving a private school were more than twice as likely as their public school counterparts to exit education entirely (30 percent versus 12 percent), and that public school leavers are more likely to retire (27 percent versus 9 percent) or to work in a school in some capacity other than teaching (20 percent versus 13 percent of private school leavers). While it's not possible to draw definitive conclusions from these data, they do suggest that private schools are more likely than public schools to attract professionals who would like to devote a few years to teaching at some point in their careers