Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 6, Number 12
March 23, 2006
Opinion + Analysis
How Bill Gates could really boost competitiveness
By Diane Ravitch
CEOs see the need for standards
A tale of three cities
Diane Ravitch / March 23, 2006
Memo to Bill Gates:
Bill, I heard you speak a few weeks ago at Davos, when you told a large audience that education is the biggest challenge for the future. You are right about that. You pointed to the 1,500 or so small high schools that the Gates Foundation has funded as evidence of your commitment to make a difference. If you are worried about our nation's future competitiveness, I am not so sure you made the right investment.
Small schools are not always the best answer to low achievement. Sometimes they are, sometimes not. Poor academic results can be found in large schools and in small schools. Great academic results can be found in schools of any size. Success is the result of a solid curriculum, dedicated teachers, a strong principal and students who arrive in high school with the skills and motivation to succeed.
There is another investment that you could make that would be far more effective in raising student achievement than churning out another thousand or so small high schools. As the chief executive officer of the largest software company in the world, you have a certain competitive advantage. Your company really knows how to use advanced technology to teach people almost anything.
If you took what you do best and turned it into curriculum and instruction for our schools, it would have a revolutionary effect. You could take your knowledge of software and develop amazing
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / March 23, 2006
The College Board, the Educational Testing Service, Pearson Educational Measurement, and the rest of them should be ashamed of-and held accountable for-the recent spate of screw-ups in SAT scoring, as well as the less-visible but recurrent delays and glitches in state test scoring and reporting. (One wonders how much of this has never been reported.) They are big, rich organizations that are as culpable for flaws in their products as Guidant is when its pacemakers kill people, or Ford was when its Pintos were catching fire. These education behemoths can afford to solve these problems, and they should be shown no mercy until they do
Testing will never be error-free, but, as with any other high-stakes process that we depend on-for the cleanliness of our food, the efficacy of our drugs, the safety of our airplanes, the purity of our water, the fire-resistance of our toddlers' pajamas, the veracity of corporate stock offerings, the integrity of bank accounts-it's got to be mighty damn close to perfect; close enough that we can trust it. And if government is going to deploy tests as part of its public policies, which is happening all over the land, the more so thanks to NCLB, government has a responsibility to ensure that they work as intended and are vulnerable to no more than the rarest of glitches.
There are umpteen ways of doing this, and they all require quality control measures
March 23, 2006
National standards and tests are no longer desired by just a select group of policy wonks-some of the country's most powerful business leaders are on board, too. State Farm Insurance CEO Edward Rust, for example, can't understand why there isn't one set of expectations for American students. "The laws of physics apply equally here in Illinois as in New York," he said to Bloomberg reporter Paul Basken. Intel chairman Craig Barrett agrees: "Ultimately, the competitiveness of your kids ought to prompt people into action." It's no longer a secret that states are dumbing down their tests to shield their schools from NCLB's sanctions. "These issues must become more of a priority," said Texas Instruments CEO Richard Templeton. We spot the signs of a growing consensus.
"Intel, State Farm Heads Say Easy Tests Sap U.S. Education," by Paul Basken, Bloomberg News, March 23, 2006
March 23, 2006
Charismatic Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is ready to shake up his city's beleaguered schools, and he's looking to Chicago and New York for lessons. He even took a field trip to the Big Apple this week, meeting with Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein to explore the potential and perils of mayoral control of schools. We hope the New Yorkers gave Villaraigosa the straight dope. As Chicago's Mayor Daley has learned, getting control of the schools is only the first step-then you have to figure out what to do with them. While Klein and company have had some success trimming the bureaucracy and expanding charter schools, their love affair with progressive educator Lucy Calkins has led to a pedagogical disaster of epic proportions. And it's hard to argue that those folks Bloomberg called "powerful entrenched interests" are significantly less so in either the Windy City or N.Y.C. Here's your homework, Mayor V: articulate a political plan to empower the system's consumers, especially poor and minority families, and then develop an education plan to actually address their needs. We suspect you'll find that mayoral control is part of the blueprint-necessary but by no means sufficient.
"Chicago Schools Offer L.A. a Cautionary Tale," by Joel Rubin, Los Angeles Times, March 20, 2006
March 23, 2006
There's more than one way to skin a Badger. So when the Wisconsin Education Association lost its initial legal battle to close the state's first cyberschool (the WEA said the school violated Wisconsin charter and open enrollment laws) it took another tack. In a suit filed in 2004 against Wisconsin Virtual Academy, the teachers union claimed the school depended too heavily upon parents, and not state-certified teachers, to educate their children. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Ozaukee County Circuit Judge Joseph McCormack ruled that Wisconsin Virtual Academy's parent-teacher partnerships fall within the broad authority of school boards to decide what's best for students. Moreover, nothing in the law requires teachers to spend a set amount of time in the same room with a student. Though only a lower court ruling, supporters of cyberschools are confident McCormack's words will aid similar schools popping up across the state. "It can't be illegal for a parent to be too involved," said the school's attorney. "If parents had to be certified to engage in any activity that might be considered teaching, that would make illegal much of the activity that goes on ... in conventional schools." The WEA's next move? Why, unionize parents, of course!
"Ruling supports virtual schools," by Katharine Goodloe, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, March 17, 2006
March 23, 2006
Fifteen-year-old Gaurav Rajav will not be receiving an Xbox 360 video game console this month. That's because the high school student, who hoped to recite 10,790 digits of Pi, and whose parents promised him the Xbox if he met that goal, could muster only enough intellectual stamina to correctly recite 8,784 numbers. "I'm kind of disappointed," he said, "but I guess I did OK." Sure, Gaurav, you did OK-if your goal was to remember 8,784 digits. But it wasn't, and there's a pretty large difference between 8,784 and 10,790. We doubt, for example, any of our subscribers would think it OK if Gadfly missed its publication goal by only 3,000 words. Or if, say, Congress missed balancing the federal budget by $3,000. Inexcusable. There's hope for Gaurav, though. His mother Seema offered to buy the video game system despite her son's mathematical meltdown. The young man refused, and he vowed to try again in May. Gadfly (who generally sticks to Pie-eating contests) wishes him well.
"This guy from Salem High does a number on pi," by Marquita Brown, Roanoke Times, March 15, 2006
Michael J. Petrilli / March 23, 2006
Steven F. Wilson
Harvard University Press
If author Steve Wilson were as good a businessman as he is a writer, Advantage Schools might still be in operation today. Learning on the Job is the story of six education management organizations (EMOs) and KIPP. Wilson writes as a scholar, policy wonk, and entrepreneur-he founded and ran Advantage Schools-but it's the journalistic detail that makes his book so worthwhile. The first chapter alone is worth the price of admission. In it, Wilson chronicles the two earliest experiments in private management of public schools-Boston University's tumultuous Chelsea project, and Education Alternatives' meteoric rise and fall-before profiling the seven organizations and their idiosyncratic founders. What's striking is how different the seven players are in style, educational approach, and business strategy. Little more needs to be said about the most visible of the crew-Chris Whittle and his Edison Schools. The undisputed hero from Wilson's perspective is National Heritage Academies (NHA) and its humble founder, J.C. Huizenga. While Whittle was busy attracting the ire of educrats and union hacks (along with hundreds of millions of dollars in investment), Huizenga quietly built one of the largest, most academically successful, and possibly most profitable of the education companies. NHA's genius was in developing a successful school and facilities model, and then replicating it carefully within a confined geographic area. This kept costs low and quality consistent, and it made profitability possible. Though it discusses each organization's educational approach,
March 23, 2006
Joe Nathan, Laura Accomando, and Debra Hare Fitzpatrick
Center for School Change
Twenty years ago, Minnesota enacted the nation's first initiative to allow high school juniors and seniors to use state funds to take university courses and earn university credits. The Post-Secondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) program gives high-achieving high school students a taste of college, and it provides them with the more-advanced instruction many of them crave. But does the program get students ahead? Are PSEO participants more likely, for example, to matriculate to college and graduate with a degree? Are Minnesota's citizens and PSEO participants satisfied with the program? The Center for School Change at the University of Minnesota conducted a statewide poll of 625 registered Minnesota voters, surveyed PSEO participants, interviewed state higher education officials, and worked closely with officials at Minnesota's Department of Education. It found that PSEO enjoys strong support, both from participants (86 percent would participate in PSEO again) and from Minnesota residents (82 percent support PSEO). PSEO participants also reported the program had a positive impact on their educational development (94 percent). The report does note that PSEO participants are "disproportionately female and affluent," and that the program could do a better job recruiting interested males and minority students. Overall, the authors portray PSEO as a success, but their examination is far from exhaustive, relying mostly on surveys and anecdotal evidence, rendering its conclusions unconvincing. Nonetheless, it gives a good summary of the