Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 5, Number 8
February 24, 2005
Opinion + Analysis
Saving Catholic schools for everybody
By Diane Ravitch
The blind men return
Rebellion in Utah
Just saying no to testing
Philanthropies on the move
They'll pry my Pixie Sticks from my cold, dead hands
Buried Treasure: Developing a Management Guide From Mountains of School Data
By Eric Osberg
From our Readers
The Department of Education responds
February 24, 2005
Last week, the Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn announced that 26 Catholic schools will be closed in Brooklyn and Queens, about 15 percent of what was once a thriving parochial school system in those boroughs. Days later, the Archdiocese of New York announced it will close six schools in Manhattan and the Bronx.
Historian and Big Apple education observer Diane Ravitch immediately called on wealthy Catholics and big foundations to step forward and save these schools. Their closure, she wrote in the Daily News, "will deprive thousands of children of a meaningful choice in their education and diminish the supply of good schools in the city," an outcome she labeled "catastrophic." Tom Cusick, a civic leader in Manhattan, has announced a campaign, called "Teach the Little Children," to generate support for these schools from wealthy grads who have moved on.
A few thoughts seem in order.
First, it is undeniable that the closing of good schools (assuming these are good schools) is a terrible blow to the children of New York. The diocese swears that it will arrange somehow to place every student from these schools in other Catholic schools. But if even one is forced into a sub-par public school, that's a tragedy.
Second, vouchers would obviously save the schools. The anxious pleas of many students and parents in these schools is cause enough to suggest that vouchers are a moral imperative for poor families in the
Diane Ravitch / February 24, 2005
These are interesting observations by Justin Torres. It may be true that in voucher cities, Catholic schools educate large numbers of non-Catholic children. And he is right to ask about their reason for existence if they are not educating Catholic children in the Catholic faith.
Yet the situation in New York City is different from what he describes. New York is no voucher city. Mayor Bloomberg is strongly opposed to vouchers, and Governor George Pataki has never seriously proposed vouchers. Given the fact that one house of the state legislature is firmly in Democratic hands, no one expects a voucher program to pass in the imaginable future. And since the next governor of New York at the current reading will be Democrat Eliot Spitzer, the odds of voucher legislation recede to the vanishing point.
Thus, there are no vouchers in New York City and there are not likely to be any in (I would guess) my lifetime, and perhaps beyond. The Catholic schools exist solely on a combination of tuition (far less than the actual cost of educating each pupil) and whatever can be raised by parents and supplied as subsidy by the Diocese or an order of nuns. I pointed out in my article in the Daily News that no cultural or educational institution in New York City could survive solely on admission fees. Every major institution is graced with a board of high-powered philanthropists who raise
February 24, 2005
Conference after summit after symposium on high school reform have been held already this year (see Checker's editorial, "The Blind Men and the High School" for a laundry list of potential reforms). This week, Achieve and the National Governors Association chime in. In preparation for a weekend "summit" on high schools, on Tuesday the groups previewed their "ambitious" 5-point action agenda. One main challenge, said Virginia governor (and NGA chairman) Mark Warner, is "consequences, and sticking to your guns about it, that is still very controversial. Our standards have not kept pace with the world or the global economy." The recommendations closely mirror the goals of No Child Left Behind. The New York Times's Greg Winter predicts that the plan will be a "bone of contention considering that states have widely complained that No Child Left Behind is already far too onerous." An NEA spokesman contends that many high schools are working well already. But Ohio Governor Bob Taft noted at Tuesday's news conference that universities and community colleges spend $2 billion annually to remediate freshmen ill-prepared for college, and Jay Greene's latest graduation rate study paints a stark picture. So, "working well" might be in the eye of the beholder.
"Summit action agenda identifies steps states can follow to raise graduation rates, close preparation gaps," National Governors Association, February 22, 2005
"Governors seek rise in high school standards," by Greg Winter, The
February 24, 2005
Maybe Utah means business this time. After several skirmishes over NCLB between the Beehive state and the feds (see here and here), the legislature seems to be on the verge of rejecting NCLB funding in order to free Utah from NCLB requirements. State Representative Margaret Dayton's bill to let state education law supersede federal law unanimously passed the House, is expected to pass the Senate, and has a good shot of being signed by the governor. Utah wants to use its own definitions for accountability, and it rejects NCLB rules that label a school failing if one subgroup is failing. At stake is $116 million in federal aid, which Utah is likely to lose. But Dayton hopes that "by living the spirit of the law we won't be jeopardizing our (federal) funding if we don't live the letter of the law." This coincides with a new report by the National Conference of State Legislatures that presses for the loosening of federal restrictions on states as well as other statutory changes. Many states are watching carefully to see how the administration handles this defiance. Recent events in New York City and North Dakota suggest that the Bush team will probably blink first. Stay tuned.
"Report faults Bush education initiative," by Sam Dillon, New York Times, February 24, 2005 (registration required)
"Utah set to reject No Child Left Behind," by George Archibald, The Washington Times, February 23, 2005
February 24, 2005
Anti-testing types have taken up the cause of Mia Kang, a 14-year-old Texan who defied teachers and counselors and turned in a little essay announcing her opposition to standardized testing instead of completing a mandated practice TAKS test. She has vowed not to participate in the real thing this spring, even at the risk of not graduating from high school. Kang is one of a gaggle of Texas students who has refused to take state tests, and posters to the liberal blog Daily Kos hope to start a letter-writing campaign to ensure she will graduate despite opting out of the test. We have two thoughts on this. First, Kang and the other objectors mentioned share one thing in common: parents in the education system. (Kang's mother is getting her teaching certification; the father of another boy who dissed the test is an ed school professor; the father of a third is a school principal who has written a book opposing testing.) So we wonder who's pulling the strings here. Further, it's a strange form of civil disobedience that demands both notoriety for breaking the law and exemption from the consequences of law-breaking. If Mia Kang doesn't want to take the TAKS, fine. If someone's conscience dictates that they cannot participate in a mandated activity, they should refuse. But civil disobedience without consequences is merely showboating. Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote his magnificent "Letter From a Birmingham Jail" because
February 24, 2005
In a recent roundtable discussion excerpted in Philanthropy magazine, Kaleem Caire (project director at Fight for Children, Inc., and a mover/shaker in the District of Columbia's school choice movement) and Phoebe Boyer (executive director of the Tiger Foundation in New York City) provide perceptive insights on how philanthropies in those cities are driving education reforms. In Washington, a "three-sector" reform strategy of vouchers, charters, and private scholarships was created and sustained by funders such as Sallie Mae, the Fannie Mae Foundation, and the Kimsey Foundation. In New York, private funders partnered with schools chancellor Joel Klein to raise $50 million to form charter schools, which led to an additional $250 million from the state legislature in facilities funding. Nationally, philanthropists are underwriting school accountability and parent information tools, such as Greatschools.net. From their efforts in securing private funding to their success at building governmental and grassroots support, Caire and Boyer provide firsthand insights into how philanthropies are spearheading educational reforms.
"Breaking through: How Washington, D.C. and New York City are creating, and sustaining, breakthroughs in K-12 education reform," Philanthropy, January/February 2005
February 24, 2005
Gadfly has seen education fads come and go and rarely comments on them, life being too short for trivia and nonsense. So it has been with the "School Obesity Crisis." But we must note this item: In Austin, Texas, a school that removed candy vending machines from the cafeteria has seen the emergence of a black market in sugary goods, reports the Austin American-Statesman: "Regular-size candy bars like the ones sold in vending machines routinely sold in the halls for $1.50. 'There was no sugar in the vending machines, so (student vendors) could make a lot of money,' said Hayden Starkey, an Austin High junior who said he was not one of the candy sellers. 'I heard kids were making $200 a week just selling candy.'" The school has now returned chocolate bars to the machines, on the questionable grounds that nuts and protein meet the "nutritious foods" guidelines. Pure sugar candies remain verboten, however, so expect massive inflation in the underworld price of Skittles. It all goes to prove the old adage: When candy is outlawed, only outlaws will have candy.
"No sweets in school? Fat chance," by Matthew Obernauer, Austin American-Statesman, February 19, 2004 (registration required)
Eric Osberg / February 24, 2005
Center on Reinventing Public Education
Mary Beth Celio and James Harvey
This valuable guide to using education data helps cuts through the clutter, winnow millions of numbers, and bring to the fore the information most critical to important decisions by school leaders. It recommends seven leading "indicators": achievement (in reading and math); elimination of the achievement gap; student attraction (ability to attract students); student engagement with the school; student retention/completion; teacher attraction and retention; and funding equity. Different schools might weight these differently, perhaps even replace one or another of them, but the tool - and the concept underlying it - is useful indeed. It moves beyond sole reliance on test scores while shunning management via inputs and process. It calls to mind the "balanced scorecard" approach that's become popular in business (see here or here) whereby organizations judge themselves not merely on their bottom lines but also on key factors needed for long-term financial success, like customer satisfaction and employee development. More schools should manage themselves in this fashion - and be given the freedom to do so - and those that try would be well advised to rely on this guidebook, which is user-friendly and full of examples. It's available online here.
February 24, 2005
Nelson Smith, Progressive Policy Institute
In Texas, they do everything big, including charter schools, which now educate some 80,000 Lone Star students. This latest installment in the PPI series on state charter environments concludes that Texas charters have much to be proud of: "The Lone Star State boasts some of the most innovative and high-performing charters in the country." The Texas Education Agency also earns high marks for being a rigorous but flexible authorizer. Still, storm clouds are visible on the long Texas horizon: Caroline Hoxby's groundbreaking comparison of charter and nearby district schools (see here) found that Texas is one of the few states where charter students are outperformed in math. And the state has been taken to the cleaners by several fly-by-night operators whose well-publicized implosions gave the entire charter community a black eye. Even-handedly recounting both the good and the bad, this is another solid PPI-sponsored appraisal of a state charter scene, findable here.
February 24, 2005
The latest issue of Education Next includes an important debate about the future of NCLB. Stanford's William Damon contributes a fascinating article on teaching moral values. Somehow, he notes, schools became places for students to simply learn information sans the universal maxims (such as the Golden Rule) that are useful in instilling good values and encouraging decent behavior. Barry Garelick discusses battles over math instruction and describes an interesting encounter with a Democratic Senator. And James Lopach and Jean Luckowski critique a dubious new form of civil disobedience in which individuals decline to accept the legal consequences of their actions. There's plenty more, too, and you can find it here.
Longitudinal Assessment of Comprehensive School Reform Program Implementation and Outcomes: First-Year Report
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / February 24, 2005
Naida C. Tushnet et al., WestEd
WestEd won the federal contract for a longitudinal evaluation of the "comprehensive school reform" (CSR) program as it re-emerged in the No Child Left Behind Act, though the program's antecedents date to 1998, when "Obey-Porter" funds began to flow, and, arguably, back to the creation of the New American Schools Development Corporation in 1991, when "whole-school reform" reached the national agenda (See here and here). The current program channels money to states to support "comprehensive reform" of selected schools, mainly Title I schools, and sets forth eleven ostensibly research-based elements that these reformed schools are supposed to incorporate. The longitudinal evaluation that Congress mandated is to last three years, so it's unsurprising that the first-year report doesn't say much. In 66 pages, it mainly finds, as expected, that CSR schools are "more likely to include adoption of models and other activities closely associated with research-based models" and that CSR funds are "strongly targeted" to low-performing, high-poverty schools. Mostly, though, the authors say their findings "raise interesting questions." In other words, stay tuned and we'll see whether the WestEd authors have the moxie to answer them - if indeed the program survives at all, it being one of the Bush administration's leading candidates for obliteration in the 2006 budget. Meanwhile you can learn about some differences between CSR and non-CSR schools from this report, which can be found here.
Michael J. Petrilli / February 24, 2005
We appreciate the attention given to the U.S. Department of Education's priority published in the Federal Register on January 25 related to scientifically-based evaluation ("Science and nonscience: The limits of scientific research," February 17). While Rick Hess made a number of valid points about the appropriateness (or lack thereof) of experimental evaluation designs to answer certain education policy questions, we fear that he might have misled your audience about the intent of this priority.
The Department intends to use this priority in conjunction with discretionary grant programs that support distinct interventions. As explained in the Federal Register, "The priority is intended for use only with discretionary grant programs in which grantees may use their funds to implement clearly specified interventions, and when the Department desires to obtain evidence of the impact of those interventions on relevant outcomes." Only a small subset of Department programs will meet this criterion, and the priority will be reserved for them. To date, we have only used it to award "bonus points" for proposals with scientific evaluations in five programs, all of which fund discrete educational interventions.
We believe this priority is a major step forward. The Department funds thousands of discretionary grants every year and, to date, has developed precious little knowledge about whether any of the interventions we fund are effective in terms of raising student achievement. The use of this priority will transform at least a handful of our programs from a random collection of interesting projects to a serious research-and-development effort. We think that's a good thing for