Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 5, Number 24
July 7, 2005
Opinion + Analysis
The show goes on, and on, and on. . . .
Ohio options - new and improved!
Can history be saved?
Ray Budde, definer of charters
Studying Teacher Education
Terry Ryan / July 7, 2005
Charter schools in the Buckeye State face a well-financed and well-coordinated assault. These attacks are playing out in the General Assembly, in state and federal courts, and in the court of public opinion. Charter foes, led by the state's two teachers unions, are spending big bucks. These efforts can be vicious, too, as evidenced by a comment from the Cleveland Teachers Union president when he announced his union's $70,000 "truth" campaign against charter schools: "These bad schools are like 700-pound hogs at the dinner table eating everything in sight, and the longer they're there, the harder it's going to be to move them out and away from the table."
For the unions, of course, this is not about children. It's about jobs. In 2003-04, the Ohio Federation of Teachers and Ohio Education Association lost 2,900 unionized teaching jobs to charter schools. This is an important fact for the media to keep in mind when reporting on Ohio's charter schools. It frames the politics of the assault on charter schools. Yet a recent series by the Cincinnati Enquirer uncritically recited many of the arguments being made by the unions and their allies. To date, these arguments have largely been dismissed by the General Assembly, and some have been summarily dismissed by the legal system. Yet they continue to appear in newspapers around the state as if they were fact.
Three of the most common misconceptions about Ohio's charter schools will sound
July 7, 2005
As always, the National Education Association convention, recently concluded in Los Angeles, was quite a circus. The intrepid Mike Antonucci has all the absurd details, including the defeat of resolutions calling for the creation of a federal "Department of Peace," encouraging teachers to wear green on the first Tuesday of each month in support of "pension/retirement reform," and launching a Wal-Mart boycott. Union head Reg Weaver apparently revved up the crowd with a barnburner that castigated "those who choose to call us the keepers of the status quo." (Gadfly hopes that Weaver was referring to him.) Weaver went on: "The status quo is the public in public education, and we are the keepers!" George Archibald of the Washington Times reports that delegates from the group's college affiliate voted down a motion calling for the protection of "intellectual pluralism and the free exchange of ideas" in higher education, on grounds that free ideas are a conservative plot. Finally, USA Today wins the prize for most unintentionally funny headline: "Teacher union asks for higher salaries." Stop the presses!
"NEA convention coverage," by Michael Antonucci, Education Intelligence Agency
"Teachers union asks for higher salaries," by Greg Toppo, USA Today, July 4, 2005
"NEA affiliate rejects freedom proposal," by George Archibald, Washington Times, July 5, 2005
July 7, 2005
It's official! Late last week, Governor Bob Taft signed the Buckeye State's biennial budget into law, including a significant statewide voucher program known as the Ohio Educational Choice Scholarship Pilot Program (see here for previous discussion of the program). It will provide 14,000 vouchers for kids in schools labeled in "academic emergency" for three consecutive years starting in 2006, making it the largest program based on academic achievement in the country to date. Said Karen Tabor, a spokeswoman for House Majority Leader Jon Husted, "This is a commitment that needed to be made, providing Ohio parents and children with more choices in education." Voucher programs were greatly debated around the country this legislative season, mostly with little to show for it; proposals to start programs foundered in Indiana, Louisiana, Missouri, Nevada, Arizona, Texas, and Utah (save for a smallish program aimed at students with disabilities), while an attempt to expand Milwaukee's program also foundered (see here). Gadfly wishes the nationwide outcome had been more positive, but he'll sleep a little easier knowing that more kids in his home state will have better choices thanks to the hard work of Speaker Husted, Governor Taft, and the members of the legislature.
"Voucher program expanding," by Scott Elliott, Dayton Daily News, July 3, 2005
"Ohio to launch largest voucher program," by Sarah Anderson, Associated Press, July 2, 2005
July 7, 2005
That was the question examined by last week's Senate hearing on "The American History Achievement Act," a bill proposed by Senators Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts. This legislation would increase the frequency of national assessments in history from once a decade to once every four years and would authorize (voluntary) state-by-state break-outs of NAEP history results in grades 8 and 12. National Assessment Governing Board executive director Charles Smith announced that NAGB has already decided on a quadrennial schedule for history and expressed willingness to cooperate on state NAEP reporting, depending (of course) on funding. But the heavy hitter was historian David McCullough, delivering an Independence Day sermon on the woeful state of history education. "I think we are sadly failing our children, and have been for a long time," he said. Perhaps the most promising statement at the hearing came from the senior senator from Massachusetts, who promised to require testing in history under a reauthorized No Child Left Behind act - the surest way to keep history from becoming history.
"Students lagging in American history," by Kaitlin Bell, Boston Globe, July 1, 2005
"U.S. history: Our worst subject?" Testimony before the U.S Senate, June 30, 2005
July 7, 2005
Gadfly mourns the passing of Ray Budde, an education professor at the University of Massachusetts who defined the term "charter school" and helped to spark the movement that continues to this day. As someone who took a strong interest in "the way things are organized," Budde set his sights on restructuring the top-down education system in his 1974 paper, "Education by Charter." By giving groups of teachers "educational charters," he hoped to "remove power from most central office positions and direct funds directly to schools." The paper generated little fanfare until it was republished in 1988 and widely disseminated. The idea slowly spread. Union head Al Shanker endorsed Budde's concept, and Minnesota and California soon implemented pilot programs. Charters would expand far beyond Budde's original plans, but his basic notions pervade. An original thinker whose ideas helped thousands of kids receive a better education, he catalyzed a movement and will be missed.
"Ray Budde and the origins of the 'charter concept,'" by Ted Kolderie, Education|Evolving, July 3, 2005
"Educator who coined phrase 'charter schools' dead at 82," Associated Press, June 21, 2005
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / July 7, 2005
Marilyn Cochran-Smith and Kenneth M. Zeichner, eds., American Educational Research Association
This humongous volume from AERA deserves your awareness even if you cannot face its 800 generally depressing pages. In fact, you can learn all that most education policy wonks need to know by acquainting yourself with its executive summary, which checks in at a relatively svelte 35 pages. (Or you could settle for the excellent Education Week article about it.) I seldom have much positive to say about AERA and its publications, but the 23 members of that organization's "panel on research and teacher education," who labored for years on this project and most of whom also authored chapters in this volume, have done the field of teacher education a major service despite their parade of glum conclusions. The gist is that many of the practices and assumptions we associate with teacher education are supported by little or no rigorous research. Which isn't to say they "don't work." Rather, it says we cannot be confident that they do, based on competent studies carried out thus far. The AERA panel set rigorous criteria for the studies that it examined: if they weren't tied to some sort of important, measurable impact, they didn't count. But time and again, the available studies yielded little by way of robust causal relationships. There is, for example, scant evidence that teachers who do well on state tests are also more effective in the classroom,
July 7, 2005
Committee for Economic Development
This brief report is mostly a rehash of Measuring Up 2004 (see here), published by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, cut down for easy digestion by business leaders wanting to move education reform debates in their states. So, little new info here, but a nice summation of problems facing business (and the rest of us) as it seeks to employ qualified, skilled employees in the 21st century, including access to higher ed, affordability issues, and the need to raise standards in the K-12 system. The report calls on business to increase aid to poor students, support K-12 reform efforts, assist higher ed in "developing more efficient and effective management structure and systems," and advocate on behalf of higher standards generally. Unfortunately, colleges and universities are let off the hook since the report doesn't deal with needed curricular and structural reforms at the postsecondary level. (For more on that, see "Why must college be so costly?") Anti-reform types will spin dark fantasies from reports like this about the "troubling intersection of business and academia" or some such nonsense, but to the extent that business leaders sound the alarm about needed reforms, it's generally been and will be for the better. Check it out here.
Michael J. Petrilli / July 7, 2005
Daniel J. McGrath, Emily W. Holt, and Marilyn M. Seastrom, National Center for Education Statistics
Within this dense three-pager are noisome samples of a system gone berserk. Virtually everyone takes biology at some point in their high school career, yet 40 percent of the nation's biology students are taught by someone with neither major nor minor in the field. What did these teachers study? About half of them majored or minored in another natural science; this is most often the case for teachers in wealthier schools (those with less than a quarter of the kids in poverty). But in the highest poverty schools - those with more than half of their kids receiving free or reduced price lunch - almost half of these out-of-field biology teachers majored or minored in . . . elementary education. Seriously. This Issue Brief should make you queasy about the quality of the nation's science instruction. (Be warned: the upcoming Fordham review of state science standards will do little to alleviate your upset stomach.) It's all enough to stir up your memories of dissecting frogs. Formaldehyde, anyone? Check it out here.
Eric Osberg / July 7, 2005
This four-page "special report" from Education Trust-West urges the Los Angeles Unified School District to raise its expectations for poor and minority high schoolers and give them access to a challenging curriculum. California has an "A-G curriculum," in which students take "intermediate algebra, four years of English, and at least two lab sciences - not a huge stretch in our minds, but a rigorous sequence of courses most LAUSD high school students do not take." Though these traditionally "college-prep" courses are needed to enter today's workforce, they are far more prevalent in affluent schools than in poor ones. The report lays to rest several excuses for allowing so many students to slide by with easier courses. In L.A., most schools would need to add only one, two or perhaps no new teachers in order to offer these courses to all students. In total, only 104 new teachers would be needed in a district that currently employs 36,180 of them. Students actually want this rigor - even those identified as "non-college bound." And they point to San Jose, in which A-G is now the default curriculum, for evidence that increasing expectations need not increase drop-outs; on the contrary, graduations rates there improved and achievement gaps narrowed dramatically. In short, "All students need it, they want it, and LAUSD has the teaching force to teach it. . . . The real question is whether we have the will." You can