Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 6, Number 36
September 21, 2006
Opinion + Analysis
Charter confusion: What they know just ain't so
By Frederick M. Hess
On faith and reason
Over the top on overachievers
Educating School Teachers
Education at a Glance 2006
An artful brouhaha
This week, Mike and Rick discuss private charter schools that teach religion and screw over poor kids, why the Pope is demanding school uniforms, and the?Wall Street Journal's incompetence. Art Levine chats about his new study on teacher education, and Education News of the Weird knows that good things come in small packages. Hugo Chavez thinks this 20 minute podcast smells of sulfur.
Frederick M. Hess / September 21, 2006
Buried in the findings of the recently issued 38th annual Phi Delta Kappan/Gallup Poll of the Public's Attitudes Toward the Public Schools are some useful eye-openers for the charter school community. Unfortunately, because charter advocates have grown accustomed to dismissing or denouncing the poll for its sometimes ill-phrased questions and dubious wording when it comes to school choice, there's a good chance these findings will be overlooked. That would be a mistake.
While charter supporters have spent the past few years discussing quality control, creating--and rebutting--analyses of charter performance, and celebrating success stories, they may have overlooked the fact that most Americans still don't have the faintest idea what a charter school is or how it operates.
Preposterous, you say? It's easy to imagine that by now the public is generally familiar with the charter school phenomenon. The first charter law was enacted fifteen years ago, there are today nearly 4,000 charter schools in operation, charter enrollment has topped the million student mark, and in more than a dozen cities charters enroll 15% or more of K-12 students. This includes such fair-sized media markets as New Orleans; Washington, D.C.; Kansas City; Detroit; Cincinnati; Cleveland; Buffalo; and Milwaukee. Surely, one may assume, media coverage would have produced a base level of public familiarity with charter schooling. But wait just one moment.
For the first time, this year's Gallup poll asked respondents some simple, factual questions about charter schools. Most telling, as always, are not the things that people
Michael J. Petrilli / September 21, 2006
Last week, Pope Benedict XVI sparked a firestorm in the Islamic world with a speech in which he quoted (but did not endorse) a 14th Century emperor who said that Muhammad had brought the world only "evil and inhuman" things. The reaction (and Benedict's apology for it) has motivated opinion writers around the world to read the speech in full.
The Wall Street Journal's Bret Stephens is one such writer, and in his essay (subscription required) he considers the Pope's central theme: Are faith and reason in conflict? And is dialogue between believers and non-believers possible? Here's how Stephens puts it:
Dialogue is possible, Benedict suggests, because despite their differences the respective sides are bound by a "single rationality," capable of inquiring broadly into all fields of knowledge, including the "reasonableness of faith."
...a triumph of dialogue...lies at the heart of Benedict's theology: Strip faith from reason...or reason from faith...and "it is man himself who ends up being reduced."
Would it be stretching the metaphor too far to consider what these words imply for education's version of inter-religion debate: the many policy battles fought as matters of faith (i.e., ideology); the endless bickering over the proper application of reason (i.e., scientific evidence); and the more fundamental struggle between ideology and evidence as the guiding stars for educational decisions large and small?
What if education policy needs both ideology and evidence--both faith and reason--in order to
September 21, 2006
Before applying to MIT, the Associated Press reports, one young man "built a working nuclear reactor in his garage." While no doubt intriguing to terrorists around the world, MIT's Dean of Admissions, Marilee Jones, was unimpressed. She finds such applicants just a tad run-of-the-mill. "You don't see a lot of [the] wild innovation from individuals you used to see," says Jones, who worries that the so-called teenage resume rat race "is making our children sick," and sapping their creativity and youthful exuberance. Clearly the SOS for upper-middle class suburban kids weighted down by stuffed backpacks (see here and here) has reached her Ivory Tower. So she's making big changes at MIT. While the school's new application forms still ask about extra-curricular activities, "there are fewer slots to list them," and there are not as many "lines for students to list Advanced Placement exams so as not to signal any expectation." So MIT hopefuls: put away your nuclear reactors, shelve those AP syllabi, and just chill. Oh, and make sure you apply to a safety school, because we find it hard to believe that MIT is really going to pass on its most qualified applicants, no matter what Dr. Jones tells the newspaper.
"Taking aim at admissions anxiety," Associated Press, September 18, 2006
September 21, 2006
The science teachers at Broken Arrow Elementary in Lawrence, Kansas, originally ordered from Carolina Biological Supply Co. a shipment of ladybugs. What they actually received in the mail was a shipment of fear. Instead of sending the delightful Broken Arrow children some harmless coccinellids, Carolina Supply botched the order and sent the youngsters a strain of E. Coli. Luckily the vial that turned up in Lawrence contained "Escherichia coli K-12 slant culture," a harmless strain that students often observe under microscopes. (E. coli 0157:H7 is the dangerous strain currently motivating the nation's War on Spinach.) Nonetheless, the Broken Arrow brass wasn't taking any chances. "When we noticed it was the wrong shipment," said Superintendent Randy Weseman, "we got the district's science people over there." The bacteria were then dispatched. Carolina Supply recommends doing the deed "by using double bagged autoclavable bags and autoclaving 121°C and 15 psi for at least 45 to 60 minutes," or, if incapable of autoclaving at precise temperatures and pressures, by dumping bleach on the specimen--which Broken Arrow did. Gadfly, the reprobate bachelor, wants to know: what happened to the ladybugs?
"Schoolkids sent E. Coli instead of bugs," Associated Press, September 13, 2006
Explanatory letters from Broken Arrow Elementary to parents and from Carolina Supply to Broken Arrow Elementary
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / September 21, 2006
The Education Schools Project
In this 140-page report, Arthur Levine, former president of Teachers College, Columbia and would-be Abraham Flexner of educator training, seeks to do for teachers what his solid 2005 report did for administrators: appraise the current state of their professional preparation and suggest needed reforms. There is good news ("[we found] excellent teacher education programs at more than a quarter of the schools we visited") and bad news ("Teacher education in the U.S. is principally a mix of poor and mediocre programs."). The hoi polloi of the teacher-prep industry are plebian indeed. That this enormous industry (175,000 university degrees annually) isn't doing an adequate job is hardly news, but having Levine join this reform chorus is a healthy thing. The problem is determining how to rectify the situation. As Levine readily admits, nobody really knows what makes for effective teacher education. Of course, that doesn't stop him from suggesting nine criteria, identifying four exemplary programs and making five big policy recommendations. But readers need to understand that teacher training today lacks the scientific base that equipped Flexner in the early 20th century to prescribe with confidence how physicians should be trained. Levine's policy guidance--such as arguing that ed schools should be less "ivory tower" and more "professional schools focused on classroom practice"--is sensible on its face. But it's hard to get around the fact that neither he nor anyone knows exactly how
Coby Loup / September 21, 2006
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
September 12, 2006
Reading the OECD's Education at a Glance report--which compares the world's education systems across a wide range of indicators--has become a painful annual rite for education policy wonks in the United States, and this year is no different. U.S. math scores continue to disappoint, as American 15-year-olds ranked 24th out of twenty-nine countries participating in the OECD's Program for International Student Assessment. And the news doesn't get any rosier. Although the U.S. is still near the top of educational attainment levels among 45- to 54-year-olds, the data for 25- to 34-year-olds suggest a reversal of American dominance. Among this younger cohort, secondary and tertiary graduation rates in the U.S. have stagnated even as the numbers in most Asian and European countries continue to rise sharply. In fact, Korea, Japan, and a few northern European countries have already eclipsed the U.S. in graduation rates, and others are closing in quickly. Furthermore, the number of college students in China and India, although still low as a proportion of total population, has risen dramatically in absolute terms. Between 1994 and 2005, college enrollment in China doubled, while in India it grew by 51 percent. China's 4.4 million graduates now dwarfs the E.U.'s 2.5 million. This should worry Americans, the report says, because the growth of the world's developing economies, along with technology's "flattening of the world," will drastically increase competition for high-skilled workers. No longer
Jennifer DeBoer / September 21, 2006
Emily Ayscue Hassel, Bryan C. Hassel, Matthew D. Arkin, Julia M. Kowal, and Lucy M. Steiner
The Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement
This report is tailored for administrators tasked with "restructuring" schools that have failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) under No Child Left Behind for five consecutive years. NCLB prescribes four Extreme Makeovers for these schools--chartering, contracting, reconstitution, and state takeovers--and then offers one loophole that regrettably permits superficial changes such as the addition of a new curriculum. This guide walks administrators through restructuring step-by-step, from the initial assessment (i.e., what type of radical school restructuring required?) to whether the restructuring should be state- or district-run, and finally through the aforementioned restructuring options. The roadmap addresses all types of restructuring scenarios, such as what to do with schools that missed AYP merely because of the performance of one student subgroup. Three key lessons are highlighted: 1) Big, fast improvements are different than incremental improvements; 2) transforming low-performing schools is an ongoing process, not a one-time project; and 3) strong leadership is necessary to effectively restructure failed schools. No surprises there. Though practical in format, explanation, and recommendations, the report is a bit Pollyannish in presuming that district leaders will opt for radical, as opposed to cosmetic, changes. Indeed, lots of data tell us that's a false presumption (see here and here). But for those who are serious about fixing their schools, not pacifying