Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 6, Number 39
October 12, 2006
Opinion + Analysis
The road to quality
An apple from the teachers
A dose of reality
Teacher quality problemas
Tales from the crypt
Did you say Afrikaner?
This week, Mike and Rick chat about education's talent dearth, why pessimism pays, and inadequate pencilnecks. We have an exclusive interview about student hackers, and Education News of the Weird is a scream. Attention: This 20-minute podcast has left the building!?
Policymakers across the country are struggling with issues of charter school quality. Even well-intentioned, reform-minded leaders aren't sure what to do when many of their charters veer off track. Ohio is no exception. Thus, we were challenged this past summer when the state's top officials--Governor Bob Taft, Senate President Bill Harris, House Speaker Jon Husted, and Superintendent of Public Instruction Susan Tave Zelman--requested from three national organizations an external audit of Ohio's charter program and recommendations for improving it. This was a gutsy and, to our knowledge, unprecedented act: inviting outside scrutiny of their state's charter sector.
The result is Turning the Corner To Quality, a report released yesterday by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. In response to the state leaders' invitation, it sets forth seventeen "steps Ohio might consider to increase quality of education provided through the charter school choice option."
These recommendations rest on an analysis of Ohio school performance data; a review of best practices in other states; input from experts in charter school finance, sponsorship, accountability and policy; and evaluation of dozens of policy options. Joining with our three organizations in conducting the study were a number of national charter-policy experts, including Bryan Hassel and Louann Bierlein Palmer.
It is clear that Ohio's charter school program is at a crossroads. Thousands of students attend nearly 300
Michael J. Petrilli / October 12, 2006
I live in Takoma Park, Maryland, a.k.a. "The People's Republic." An inner-suburb adjacent to the District of Columbia, it's generally known to be to the left of Berkeley, Madison, and Ann Arbor. In the 1980s, our town was home to a communist mayor. Even our local pet food store is organic.
Not surprisingly, the big local elections around here are the Democratic primaries; the general election is not much more than a coronation. (There's not even a Republican candidate in the race for the state senate seat in my district.)
And what a big election September's primary was. Voter turnout around here must top 90 percent; maybe four-fifths of the houses had campaign signs on their lawn. (Actually, "lawn" isn't quite accurate--more like "yards with collections of non-invasive species that thrive without fertilizer, water or other environmentally-draining ingredients.") And not just one campaign sign per house--the average was probably five or six. Takoma Park residents hold strong views and want their neighbors to know what they are.
Primary day came and went, and soon most of the campaign signs disappeared like summer's humidity. Those that remained were for victorious candidates, headed to their November romps.
And as I biked to work the other day (driving is frowned upon) I noticed that most of the still-standing signs had something in common: a sticker in the shape of a big red apple with thick, friendly letters spelling "Teacher recommended."
I stopped at one sign and took
October 12, 2006
When New York's intermediate court decreed earlier this year that the state must appropriate upwards of five billion dollars more to the Big Apple's schools--thereby creating the conditions for "adequate" education--the state appealed. Oral arguments wrapped up Tuesday. Of course, the Empire State is not the only place to suffer through such adequacy litigation (almost half of the states have similar suits in court right now), but New York City tends to set trends--be they in fashion, art, or litigation. Hoover Institution economist Eric Hanushek worries that, regardless of the final ruling, other states will follow the New York plaintiffs' "professional judgment model," by which hired consultants pretend to determine how much an "adequate" education costs. Their "analysis" yields the equivalent of an educators' wish list, calculating costs "in a way designed to obtain the maximum spending needed." Hanushek calls this "junk science" (see here). Pricey junk science, to be sure. Compromise may be imminent, but the larger problem is easy to spot--besides the shoddy calculations, these lawsuits focus on dollars, not achievement.
"The Cost of an ‘Adequate' Education," by Eric A. Hanushek, Wall Street Journal, October 9, 2006 (subscription required)
"School Financing Case Plays Out in Court, and in Classrooms," by David Herszenhorn, New York Times, October 10, 2006
October 12, 2006
Education reformers found a silver lining in the Katrina tragedy when Louisiana officials announced that charter schools would play a central role in the rebirth of New Orleans's education system. Reality, however, has a way of sprinkling ice water on such idealism. So far, a number of charters--especially those overseen by the state-run Recovery School District--are struggling mightily. Shortages of teachers, textbooks, classrooms, and cafeteria equipment, for example, have forced students into chaotic situations where little learning is apt to occur. (For instance, half-day study hall, held in the school auditorium.) And administrators already straining to rebuild schools from scratch must devote significant chunks of their day to combating violence. McDonogh High, one of five high schools in the recovery district, has already registered a whopping 50 suspensions and eight expulsions. If there is any bright side to this mess, it's that teachers will eventually have newer and better supplies than in their old schools--along with greater autonomy. McDonogh biology teacher Wanda Dailet said "This is my first year coming in with a brand new desk, without wood peeling off it." A small comfort perhaps, but relief is clearly going to come in small doses to education as to everything else in New Orleans.
"Problems plague N.O. schools recovery," by Steve Ritea, New Orleans Times-Picayune, October 9, 2006
October 12, 2006
Sarah Whittier, 53, has received a doctorate in English and a statewide award for excellence in teaching. Still, in order to teach students at Pacific Collegiate School, a public charter school in Santa Cruz, California, she was forced to sit through teacher certification courses, packed with students in their early 20s, in which she learned about how to write a lesson plan and maintain classroom discipline. After witnessing his wife's ordeal, Jefferds Huyck (Ph.D. in classics from Harvard; 22 years teaching), who also taught at Pacific Collegiate School, declined to repeat her humiliation and decided that, rather than take time- and money-consuming ed school classes, he would resign and move to a private school. Such is the saga of No Child Left Behind's highly qualified teacher provision, which does a lousy job identifying quality teachers but a fantastic job driving them out of public schools. As New York Times columnist Samuel Freedman writes, "To call this situation perverse, to ascribe it to the principle of unintended consequences, is to be, if anything, too reasonable." To be fair to the feds, the state of California (like all states) has the option of waiving certification requirements for charter schools, so Governor Schwarzenegger: Stop this perversity!
"Despite a Doctorate and Top Students, Unqualified to Teach," by Samuel G. Freedman, New York Times, October 11, 2006
October 12, 2006
Sadly, despite its promising name, Pablo Neruda's Elementary Odes contains no advice for improving his country's educational system. Too bad, because Chile could use some help. Once again, the country is being riled by sporadic protests--by students and teachers alike--over education. Although the most vocal protesters are demanding more funding for schools, Chile's larger education problem concerns low teacher quality, which many citizens believe is the reason for the huge disparity between Chile's lofty economic rank on the World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Report (27th in the world and far ahead of the rest of Latin America) and its world rank (100th) in math and science education. During the Pinochet years, teacher wages decreased and schools were forced to hire loads of unqualified workers. Now, thanks to unions, it's nearly impossible to fire poor-performing teachers. The government has expressed a desire to raise classroom standards, but powerful teacher unions have blocked it every step of the way. Sounds familiar--maybe the world really is flat.
"Chile's Schools: How to make them better," The Economist, October 5, 2006
October 12, 2006
Hands-on learning can be a good thing. But when Candace Longworth, a biology teacher at Rocky Gap High School in Bland County, Virginia, snuck into a cemetery vault with two students and photographed them handling human bones, she may have taken the concept a bit too far. The vault, which contains the remains of 114 coal miners killed in an 1884 mining explosion, is not actually located in Bland County, but in the nearby town of Pocahontas. Rocky Gap Principal Robert Morehead hammered home this point when he said of the incident, "It's something that happened on [Longworth's] own time, on the weekend, in another county. It has nothing to do with this school." Longworth may face up to ten years in prison for "contributing to the delinquency of a minor" and "disturbing and defiling a dead person from a place of burial." Rocky Gap has suspended the biology teacher, but Gadfly is withholding judgment until he sees the students' latest science test scores.
"Teacher, students crept into vault," by Rex Bowman, Times-Dispatch, October 6, 2006
Coby Loup / October 12, 2006
American Institutes for Research
Publications from the CSRQ Center, a project of the American Institutes for Research (AIR), are the Consumer Reports of the comprehensive school reform (CSR) world. A previous edition evaluated CSR models at the elementary level (see here); this one focuses on middle and high schools. It rates 18 CSR models by reviewing their evidence of effectiveness in five categories: student achievement; additional outcomes, such as high attendance and effective discipline; parent, family, and community involvement; link between research and the model's design; and services and support. Most models had little or no rigorous data in several of the categories. When it came to the most important outcome--student achievement--AIR gave four models (America's Choice, School Development Program, Success for All, and Talent Development High) a grade of "moderate," (as in "moderate" evidence of effectiveness) which is the middle rating on a scale of "very strong" to "zero." Six other models (including Expeditionary Learning and KIPP) present "limited" evidence on this front. Eight more received the "zero" ranking. The report offers the caveat that "these reviews are intended to clarify options, not to point to or endorse best buys from among the reform models that are profiled." But as a basic guide to negotiating the congested terrain of CSR models, it's a pretty good start. Read it here. (Also see the CSRQ model registry, which collects information