Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 5, Number 33
September 22, 2005
Opinion + Analysis
Blind hogs and behaviorist laws
Sandra Feldman, in memoriam
Of minivans and charter schools
Playing the Blaine game
Left behind in L.A.
Three cheers for Madigan
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / September 22, 2005
"Even a blind hog finds an acorn once in a while," quoth the late Russell Long (D-LA), longtime chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. And so it is with the customarily education-blind New York Times editorial page, which unearthed a back-to-school acorn of wisdom on September 6.
Perhaps inspired by the flat-world musings of Times columnist Thomas Friedman, the editors delivered themselves of a perceptive analysis, noting that NCLB has done well at forcing states, districts, and educators "to focus at last on educational inequality, the nation's most corrosive social problem." But, they continued, "it has been less successful at getting educators and politicians to see the education problem in a global context, and to understand that this country is rapidly losing ground to the nations we compete with for high-skilled jobs that require a strong basis in math and science.... The United States can still prosper in a world where its labor costs are higher than the competition's, but it cannot do that if the cheaper workers abroad are also better educated." (emphasis added)
That sentence should be written on the blackboard a thousand times by everyone balking at the demands of NCLB and other standards-based reform strategies. For such reforms seek to secure America's future in two ways. One is by narrowing our domestic achievement gaps. The other is by boosting our overall level of academic prowess, at least up to the level that states have defined as "proficiency."
Diane Ravitch / September 22, 2005
Sandra Feldman was a brilliant and dedicated teacher unionist. From her earliest days in the civil rights movement, she exhibited intelligence, courage, and leadership. She was one of Albert Shanker's closest associates, and she shared his passion for democracy and civil rights.
As president of the United Federation of Teachers in New York City, she was an outspoken advocate for better education and a fearless defender of teachers' rights. Having lived through the contentious teachers' strikes of the late 1960s, she was wary of any effort to remove due process protections from her membership. As president of the American Federation of Teachers, Sandy Feldman was a powerful supporter of efforts to raise educational standards. She was a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat, of course, but she defended No Child Left Behind, realizing its potential to direct more attention and resources to the neediest students.
Like her mentor Al Shanker, Sandy Feldman was actively involved in efforts to promote democracy in Eastern Europe, Latin America, Africa, Asia, and wherever it was denied. She cared about children and teachers. Her clear, strong, and sensible voice will be missed.
She lived her final days as she lived her life: with courage, humor, and strength in the face of adversity.
Martin A. Davis, Jr. / September 22, 2005
An article in the September 12th edition of the Indianapolis Star (not available online) reported that the Hoosier State's charter schools are starting to sprout in the leafy suburbs. Similar news came out of Minnesota last summer. Is this a trend? And is it good for the charter school movement?
Suburban parents' reasons for choosing charters are varied. Some are looking for smaller education settings. In upscale Carmel, Indiana, for example, a number of students and parents, concerned that the local Goliath of a high school (the 4,000-plus-student Carmel High) isn't a good fit for them, are opting for the David-esque Options Charter High School (student population around 130, with a waiting list of more than 60). Five other suburban charter schools in Indiana are attracting students for similar reasons.
Marty Dezelan, who heads Ball State University's charter school office, is quick to point out that this expansion of charters into the suburbs is a "trickle, not a flood." Nevertheless, more suburban-based schools are in the works to meet the rising demand for slots.
Other parents want charters that offer a back-to-basics curriculum, which frequently isn't found in their children's local schools. National Heritage Academies, for example, has some 50 schools in five states - many in the suburbs - catering to parents and students who appreciate the back-to-basics philosophy. One of these schools, Canton Academy in Canton, Michigan, has a student population of around 600, and a waiting list nearly as
September 22, 2005
Only a thoroughgoing grinch, one might suppose, would find fault with the Bush administration's proposal to help all Katrina kids find a safe place to go to school this year. The administration will offer up to $7,500 per displaced student to cover education costs. Naturally and properly, some of these funds will find their way to private schools, as have the children displaced by the hurricane. About a quarter of all students in the areas hit by the hurricane previously attended private (mostly Catholic) schools - a cultural artifact of the region's strong French-Catholic roots and, it must be said, also a consequence of the lackluster public schools that surrounded many of them. When families fled to Baton Rouge or Lafayette or Houston, many naturally wanted to put their children in educational environments that felt familiar. Besides, local public schools are busting at the seams, in no small part because of the influx of Katrina survivors. Allowing beleaguered parents to choose the best educational environment for their children is a good example of what David Brooks calls "Bushian Conservatism": energetic but not domineering government. So what's the problem? "This is not the time for a partisan political debate on vouchers," said Senator Ted Kennedy in a statement. He's right. There should be no debate - and he should show the way by shutting his yap. This is a time to focus on the needs of kids, not the parochial interests of the
September 22, 2005
Los Angeles's poor students aren't getting a lot of love. An Education Trust - West report shows that the Los Angeles Unified School District's most experienced teachers tend to work in higher-paying, less-troubled schools in the city's more affluent areas. No surprise there. According to the report, LAUSD's "seniority bumping rights" policy is partly to blame. It allows more-senior teachers first dibs on open positions in less stressful environs. Predictably, teachers opt for Bel Air over South Central. New York City's schools have much the same problem, and Chancellor Joel Klein has some ideas on how to change that. Among his thoughts: Give higher salaries to qualified teachers who opt to work in underperforming schools, and performance bonuses to teachers in schools with "exceptional growth" in test scores. Needless to say, if New York's United Federation of Teachers could have its way, it would run Klein and his pay proposals right out of town - maybe all the way to L.A.
"A-list teachers avoid poor kids," by Naush Boghossian, Los Angeles Daily News, September 15, 2005
"Schools Chief Urges Teacher Pay Changes," by David M. Herszenhorn [check spelling], New York Times, September 21, 2005.
September 22, 2005
Dr. Kathy Madigan is stepping down as president of the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence (ABCTE) effective September 30, 2005. During her four-year tenure, Madigan's leadership was instrumental in developing ABCTE's Passport to Teaching program, which has become the "premier national alternative route to the teaching profession." Gadfly wishes Dr. Madigan the best of luck in her future endeavors and thanks her for showing such tireless dedication over the past four years.
"President of Alternative-Certification Group Resigns," By Bess Keller, Education Week, September 21, 2005, (subscription required)
September 22, 2005
Last week the Toledo Blade reported that Toledo Public Schools Superintendent Eugene Sanders interviewed for the top executive position at New Schools of Detroit, a nonprofit created in August by the Skillman Foundation of Michigan to oversee new charter schools in the area. Ordinarily, Gadfly might applaud an experienced education leader defecting to charter schools, but Sanders is notorious for his crusade against charters in Toledo, and indeed across the state. The Blade reports one on-the-record example of Sanders's view of charters: "I think the regretful element of the charter school movement in Ohio is reflective of individuals who don't have the best interest of children in their scopes.... They are attempting to run private types of business with public funds." If the Skillman Foundation considers Sanders a leading candidate, it's high time the NEA considers Gadfly's impressive resume for Reg Weaver's job. (Our platform: better food for union staffers!)
"Sanders interviews for charter school job," by Ignazio Messina, Toledo Blade, September 15, 2005
Education Myths: What Special Interest Groups Want You to Believe about Our Schools - And Why It Isn't So
September 22, 2005
Rowman & Littlefield
Jay Greene's new book works on a simple premise: Education is prone to myths - here are the facts. He goes about debunking 18 common education inaccuracies, and he relies on actual numbers to do it. Are schools dangerously under funded, are teachers sorely underpaid, are over-crowded classrooms sinking prospects for our nation's students? Well, according to the data, no. Not surprisingly, the book's causing some consternation in the usual places. The Washington Post dubs Education Myths a "data-driven polemic." "Still," the reviewer bafflingly writes, "all the numbers in the world won't end debate over what's true." Maybe not, but they do create a common ground for discussion. On the left coast, the usually sane Richard Lee Colvin, writing in his old haunt, the Los Angeles Times, calls Greene's conclusions, which Colvin frequently misconstrues, "absurd." Greene, for example, notes in a couple of sentences that smaller school districts generally perform better than larger ones. Colvin turns Greene's observation into a demand when he writes, "Breaking up Los Angeles into districts the size of Manhattan Beach or Beverly Hills isn't going to change the quality of teaching or make poor and immigrant kids from single-parent or no-parent families without healthcare suddenly perform like the children of well-paid executives." No, it wouldn't, and surely Jay Greene would be the first to agree. What most upsets such critics, and leads them into hyperbolic accusations and poor arguments, is Education Myths'
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / September 22, 2005
As a Marylander who hasn't done much for his state, I was honored to serve on this commission, which was appointed by Governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and chaired by Lt. Governor Michael S. Steele. Though a large, Noah's Ark-ish assemblage, its talented members worked hard and came forth with 30 recommendations for overhauling K-12 education in a state that has been wary of major reforms but that needs them. The policy advice ranges from plain vanilla (more parent involvement, seamless early childhood services), through pistachio (a statewide school-ratings system, a close review of all teacher preparation programs), to rocky road (differential pay for teachers, a much stronger charter school law). Then there are recommendations (e.g. a fully portable pension system) that would be welcomed and applauded anywhere but public education, whose astoundingly conservative leaders immediately balked. So far, in fact, reactions (at least those reported by the papers) have been absolutely predictable, with every interest group and politician saying exactly what you would expect. I second the governor's recommendation to them: How about reading the report first. It runs 50 pages but has a good executive summary of the key suggestions.
"Lt. Governor Releases Guidelines for Md. Schools," by Daniel de Vise, Washington Post, September 15, 2005
"Teachers union critical of report by Steele panel," by Sara Neufeld, Baltimore Sun, September 17, 2005
Eric Osberg / September 22, 2005
Center for Education Reform
This short paper by CER, released the week after Fordham's Charter School Funding: Inequity's Next Frontier, provides insight into the reasons charters are shortchanged when school funds are doled out. They frequently lack access to facilities funds and cannot participate in local bond measures. Moreover, school districts often have the power to withhold funds from charters or exclude them from categorical programs. District schools benefit from "hold harmless" clauses that allow them to retain funds for services ostensibly provided to charters, such as transportation, and minimize the impact on districts of losing funds to charters. Perhaps the most pressing problem is one that CER describes as "funding flow," such that "even when the law specifies a percentage of funds should go to the charter, this does not necessarily occur," because the state itself does not control the money - local funds are kept by districts and not shared with charters. CER lays out a variety of solutions, which boil down to improving state legislation and management so that charters get their fair share. We heartily concur. You can find it online here.