Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 7, Number 16
April 26, 2007
Opinion + Analysis
The parents' party
Education, the new healthcare
Grapes of wrath
This week, Mike and Rick chirp about middle class goodies, friendly Singaporeans, and New Orleans. Checker Finn doesn't like downtown Albuquerque, and Education News of the Weird leads to a fruitful discussion.
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / April 26, 2007
For decades, Republicans have had trouble figuring out what they're for in K-12 education, especially at the national level. Until about twenty years ago, they were far more adept at saying what they opposed: a bigger federal role. Then they got into both standards-based reform (Bush 41's America 2000 and of course Bush 43's NCLB) and school choice (vouchers, charters, etc.), all pointing to a greater role for Washington.
Some have attempted from time to time to shove that genie back into his lamp, such as Reagan's (abortive) effort to abolish the Education Department and reduce spending, the (futile) post-1994 efforts by some Gingrich allies to do the same, and today's GOP House and Senate bills to roll back NCLB (see here). But the long-term trend has indisputably been toward expanded and more forceful federal involvement with education that often, though not always, could claim grudging Republican support if not Republican origins.
Politically, however, education has been a far stronger issue for Democrats, who have unblushingly pushed for more federal dollars, more protections for favored groups, more special-interest-serving programs--but who also have cleverly served up to middle-class soccer moms and dads a buffet of such goodies as smaller classes, school uniforms, after-school programs, even the promise of better teachers. It mattered not whether this made for sound federal policy or better schools. It was shrewd politics--and relatively easy to do, since it appears (however cynically) to blend the real
April 26, 2007
There was Ahnold, on the cover of the April 16th Newsweek, expertly balancing a photo-shopped globe on his right index finger, a knowing smile on his face. And why wouldn't he smile? In climate change, Schwarzenegger has found an issue that he can attack with impunity, and one that will garner him significant praise from all corners.
And Schwarzenegger is ubiquitous these days, always plugging his new muscular environmentalism. There he is on Letterman, there he is with Tony Blair, there he is on MTV's show Pimp My Ride (a special Earth Day episode), lovingly inspecting a '65 Chevy Impala that runs on bio-diesel. Why Pimp My Ride? "To show people that biofuel is not like some wimpy feminine car, like a hybrid," said the governor.
It's too bad, though, that Schwarzenegger seems unwilling to put his macho fervor to work in policy areas that might actually need it. Anyone paying attention to California's schools knows that public education would be a great place to start. Sure, he's promised to make 2008 the "year of education." But California's governor hasn't been setting the stage for it. Schwarzenegger was once forceful and open about his quest to remake the state's schools; he's been conspicuously quiet as of late.
Some of that silence no doubt stems from Schwarzenegger's losses in November 2005, when he invested time, effort, and several millions of his own dollars on ballot proposals that were ultimately defeated. Among
April 26, 2007
The Gates and Broad Foundations are pumping $60 million into a campaign called "Strong American Schools," designed to boost consciousness and foster debate about three big education reform ideas during the run-up to the 2008 presidential election, and more fundamentally, make sure that candidates don't ignore the issue (see here). Led by ex-Colorado governor, ex-Democratic National Committee chairman, and ex-Los Angeles superintendent Roy Romer, this well-intended venture risks becoming a source of debate only on the Democratic side of the election cycle. Assiduously steering clear of any support for any form of school choice, even charter schools, two of its three ideas (national standards, longer school days and years) are more apt to interest D's than R's. Indeed, many R's (wrongly, in Gadfly's view) run screaming from any mention of national standards. As for the third focus, boosting teacher quality via--among other things--merit pay, Republicans are apt to applaud while many Democrats will look over their shoulders to see what the unions are signaling. All three S.A.S. ideas have merit, but it still looks to Gadfly like a two-to-one advantage for D-type issues. Will Republican candidates engage, sit on their hands, or denounce? Unknowable today. But it's usually a mistake to underestimate Roy Romer.
"Billionaires Start $60 Million Schools Effort," by David M. Herszenhorn, New York Times, April 25, 2007
April 26, 2007
According to the Indianapolis Public School system, 94 percent of its students are in class each day. Sounds pretty good, right? But a four-part report this week by the Indianapolis Star, while not exactly disputing that number, tells a very different story. The paper launched an investigation into truancy, defined by the editors as a student having 10 or more unexcused absences, and found that eight of IPS's high schools have a combined truancy rate of 37 percent. In other words, almost 4 in ten students miss at least two weeks of school a year. And at 26 of the district's 51 elementary schools, as many as 18 percent of students are chronically absent. The story is similar in Marion County (reported attendance rate, 90 percent), where in one township a third of students qualify as chronic absentees. One researcher calls truancy "the middle chapter of the dropout story." Students "don't say one morning, 'I'm dropping out.'" IPS may need to implement strict fines, or even press tough criminal charges, against parents whose students don't show up for class. One thing's for sure--it's hard to help all students achieve proficiency in reading and math when kids aren't even in class.
April 26, 2007
Agnes Hitchcock is a regular at meetings of the Detroit School Board. As head of the Call ‘Em Out Coalition, which is a grassroots something or other, Hitchcock was recently arrested for assault, battery, and disorderly conduct after she allegedly hurled red grapes at school board members because they voted to close 34 school buildings (a laudable move; see here). It remains unclear whether or not the grapes contained seeds. Board Vice President Joyce Hayes-Giles was hit, though not wounded. Hitchcock was released from custody after posting a $100 bond, but she is barred from attending subsequent school board meetings and having direct contact with members. Hitchcock didn't comment on the case, but her attorney, William Hackett, told reporters his client was being unfairly singled out. "It's my understanding," he said, "that my client wasn't the only person who had grapes." Rumors of raisins abound.
"Grape thrower called a 'social terrorist'," by Lori Higgins, Detroit Free Press, April 6, 2007
"34 Detroit schools to close," by Chastity Pratt, Peggy Walsh-Sarnecki, and Lori Higgins, Detroit Free Press, April 5, 2007
Expressing International Educational Achievement in Terms of U.S. Performance Standards: Linking NAEP Achievement Levels to TIMSS
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / April 26, 2007
Gary W. Phillips
American Institutes for Research
April 24, 2007
Earlier this week, the American Institutes for Research released an important paper by chief scientist Gary Phillips, who for many years headed the NCES unit that administers NAEP and who knows that assessment system as well as anyone. In essence, he links NAEP's scoring scale to that of the Trends in Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) so that he can project NAEP's three well-known "achievement levels" (basic, proficient, advanced) onto the TIMSS scale and show how kids in other countries do (in math and science only) in relation to NAEP's expectations. A very nice piece of analysis, for starters, and one that undermines the assertion by state officials and some academics that NAEP's "achievement levels" expect too much. When a non-trivial number of other countries, including some of America's toughest economic competitors, already boast far larger fractions of their students at or above NAEP's "proficient" level than the U.S. itself can claim, we'd be foolish to lower our expectations. The next time you hear a state testing director argue that his state's definition of "proficiency" is more akin to NAEP's concept of "basic," understand that you're listening to someone who is content when young Americans are more like Latvians or Indonesians than like Koreans or Belgians. Which is not to say that any country has all of its kids "at or above proficient." Far from it. If, for NCLB purposes,
Coby Loup / April 26, 2007
Center for Teaching Quality
Last year the Center for Teaching Quality convened 18 accomplished educators from around the nation to contribute their insights on teacher pay. The result is this clear and thoughtful outline of some of the most important teacher-pay issues. A major strength of the report, beyond its strong support for dumping the single salary schedule, is its emphasis on local flexibility. Unlike some recent "blue-ribbon" panels (see here and here), this group of teachers recognizes that "Teacher incentives must be meaningful in the context of the communities where they are offered." This means that certain districts, or even individual schools, might provide different incentives to attract different kinds of teachers according to their needs; in short, it is, as they say, a "market-driven model." Also valuable are their insights on professional development. Under the single-salary schedule, teachers are often rewarded for attending workshops or getting advanced degrees that have little relevance to their classroom teaching. This report calls for rewarding teachers who acquire knowledge and skills that "meet the specific, identified needs of the students they currently serve" and the "strategic goals of local schools." To identify such needs, schools and districts might consider "demographic trends, skills likely to be valued in the marketplace, and community aspirations." But, once again, the report emphasizes that the ultimate responsibility for ironing out the details of such policies lies at the local level. By taking this reasoned