Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 7, Number 13
April 5, 2007
Opinion + Analysis
A helpful user's guide to the 2007 AERA Conference
By Francesca Lowe , Frederick M. Hess
The audacity of pragmatism
An empire of red tape
It's not easy being green
Sunshine and shame
The Road to Perdition
Opportunities to Learn in America's Elementary Classrooms
By Eric Osberg
The Costs and Benefits of an Excellent Education for All of America's Children
By Coby Loup
This week, Mike and Rick chat about mohair, pandering, and why Chinese students should move to the U.S. We've got an interview with Joe Williams about New York's charter regulations, and Education News of the Weird is glossy and luscious.
Francesca Lowe , Frederick M. Hess / April 5, 2007
As policymakers wrestle with No Child Left Behind's reauthorization and educators struggle to comply with its spirit, it is clear that both communities are increasingly serious about seeking out rigorous and useful research. But education professors Kevin Welner and Alex Molnar fretted in a recent Education Week back-pager that policymakers are turning to "slickly produced" research by "ideologically driven" think tanks rather than studies being conducted and sanctioned by the nation's professional education research community.
For those eager to familiarize themselves more broadly with "peer-reviewed" education scholarship, an exceptional opportunity will be presented next week at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association (AERA) in Chicago. More than 12,000 scholars will gather to consider a wealth of papers and analyses that have been vetted by their peers.
AERA offers the chance for academics to demonstrate why, as Welner and Molnar suggest, policymakers would be well-advised to look to them to tackle "significant research questions" with "original and important work." To help first-time attendees identify some of this promising work, we present this friendly user's guide.
First, for those policymakers interested in Creolist perspectives on social change and the current status of the Whig party, we strongly suggest catching these papers: "The Ebonics Phenomenon, Language Planning, and the Hegemony of Standard English," "Beyond the Anglicist and the Creolist Debate and Toward Social Change," and "‘The Whig Party Don't Exist in My Hood': Knowledge, Reality, and Education in the
April 5, 2007
New York Times columnist David Brooks is that kind of conservative. In Why I Turned Right, a new collection of essays by leading members of the right detailing their moves away from liberalism, Brooks calls himself "the kind of conservative some New York Times readers can stand."
Which means, of course, that lots of National Review readers can't stand him. Avowed social conservatives are often disappointed by Brooks's writings because he seldom takes sides in the culture wars. But Wall Street Journal-type fiscal conservatives aren't so enamored of Brooks, either, because his columns often call for more government, not less. Yet, Brooks is no liberal. His articles consistently trumpet the classical conservative virtues: humility, hard work, personal responsibility, obedience to authority, etc.
There are precious few places in the larger political world where such a fellow can feel truly at ease. But in the education policy realm, his kind should be, and often is, welcomed with open arms.
Why? Because a successful education policy, despite the prevalence of "culture war" issues in schools, eschews ideological distinctions. At bottom, schools are schools, kids are kids, and one way or another, youngsters must learn to read, to write, and to do math. It's no accident that the most-promising school reform ideas are those that cannot easily be slipped into an ideological slot. Is holding schools accountable for closing achievement gaps a conservative or liberal policy? Well, it's both.
Those who begin with a policy problem
April 5, 2007
Newly elected Ohio Governor Ted Strickland is set to strangle charter schools in his state. Calling charters "a dismal failure," he would impose a moratorium on new schools. (Hence, no KIPP Academy for Columbus, as is currently planned.) Worse, he would bind charters to "all other state laws and rules pertaining to public schools, school districts, and boards of education," thereby forcing charters to adhere to union contracts, teacher licensure, etc. This would leave charters with two choices: abandon their very essence and follow the law (i.e., become more like traditional public schools), or shutter their doors (see here). Of course, the Ohio charter movement isn't without fault here. It has consistently failed to police itself, as with the Harte Crossroads fiasco. But don't throw the baby out with the bath water, Mr. Governor. Ohio public schools are hardly a model of efficiency and high academic achievement. And Ohioans like the idea of educational choice, and charters in particular (some of which are doing very well--Citizen's Academy in Cleveland, ISUS and Mound Street Academies in Dayton, and the Graham School in Columbus, for example). So force authorizers to do their jobs (i.e., close bad schools), but don't tighten the noose on good schools that tens of thousands of children and their families have chosen, and then force students back into the state's failed public system.
"Job One in Ohio," Wall Street Journal, March 29, 2007
April 5, 2007
After New York's budget negotiations ended, charter school supporters exuded both cheers and moans. The good news: Lawmakers agreed to expand the state's charter school cap by 100 schools, bringing the total to 200. That's progress, to be sure. But Governor Spitzer originally asked for a 150-school extension, and his initial plan would've allowed New York City School's Chancellor Joel Klein to open 50 charter schools without final approval from the legislatively appointed Board of Regents. The final budget does not give Klein that authority. And then there's the provision that those charter schools enrolling over 250 students in their first two years must unionize. It's still unclear exactly what such unionization entails, though our sources (see here) tell us that it will involve the UFT, though not the citywide UFT contract. Regardless, it's a major attack on one thing that makes charter schools unique, and often successful--little or no union meddling. New York City Mayor Bloomberg had this to say about it: "It is a disgrace that when you have such demand [for charter schools], there's anybody at any level of government who's trying to limit parents' options... If they're not standing up for parents, I'm just going to point it out to everybody." Everybody now includes you.
"Spitzer Wins a Victory on Charters," by Jacob Gershman, New York Sun, March 30, 2007
"Mike Blasts Curbs On Charter Schools," by David Seifman
April 5, 2007
New Yorkers upset about the specter of unionized charter schools can at least expect such schools to be welcomed by the unions themselves, right? Not! Consider the plight of Green Dot, a chain of unionized charter schools whose proposed expansion in L.A. has been shut down by union-backed members of the Los Angeles Unified School Board. The vote "infuriated" board member and Green Dot supporter Mike Lansing, whose constituents include the families in high-poverty and troubled Watts the new schools would have served. "It's really disappointing that we keep talking about wanting to do what's best for children first, when without a doubt that vote was about a teachers union and three board members not having the backbone to stand up and do the right thing for kids over their ties to the union." Green Dot will appeal to the county, which will almost certainly approve the schools (they meet all necessary criteria under the state's charter law). But the local board's machinations will mean at least a one-year delay, leading the L.A. Times editorial page to conclude, "Once again, the losers are the students." Actually, we would argue that the "losers" are the unions, more concerned about power and politics than what's good for kids.
"L.A. Unified rejects charter expansion," by Joel Rubin and Adrian G. Uribarri, Los Angeles Times, March 30, 2007
"LAUSD puts politics before kids," Los Angeles Times, April 1, 2007
April 5, 2007
Charter schools in Florida are on shaky ground. On one hand, they're expanding like crazy. About 98,000 students have signed up for spots in over 300 Sunshine State charters over the past decade. On the other hand, the quality of many of those schools is questionable. The Orlando Sentinel reported that in 2006, five of the state's 21 failing schools were charters--close to 25 percent--even though charter schools enroll a mere 3 percent of the state's students. What's worse, a whopping 43 percent of charters don't receive grades from Florida's accountability system, mostly because they are exempt because they have fewer than 30 students per grade level. It's no secret that the previous administration in Tallahassee put parental satisfaction and competition before top-down accountability (former Governor Jeb Bush was far more zealous in his promotion of unregulated voucher programs than charter schools). But a recent St. Petersburg Times editorial shows what can happen when charter schools aren't held to high academic standards: their traditional enemies grow emboldened. Unless Florida wants to repeat the Ohio story (see above), it better start holding charter schools accountable and uprooting the low-performing kudzu.
"Charter Schools: Missing the Grade," Orlando Sentinel Special Report
April 5, 2007
Until recently, Mike Merrifield served as the Colorado House Education Committee chairman. Then he sent an email to another state legislator in which he opined that "there's a special place in hell" for supporters of charter schools. "They deserve it!" By Merrifield's standard, Gadfly--who, as a Dipteran, can only expect to live about 20 days total--will be a Hades tenant in the not-so-distant future. Where, exactly, in the nine levels of hell will he find himself? Unfortunately, Dante's Inferno Test yielded few answers; lots of questions about sin, very few about standards-based reform. So while we may not know Gadfly's position in the realm of eternal suffering, we do know that Merrifield lost his chairmanship. Do unto others, Mike.
"Rep. Merrifield's e-mail rips charter supporters," by April M. Washington, Rocky Mountain News, March 30, 2007
"Ed chairman quits over e-mail: Merrifield wrote charter backers have 'place in hell'," by April M. Washington and Alan Gathright, Rocky Mountain News, March 31, 2007
"Panel boss urged to quit over e-mail: Dem says she's not budging," by April M. Washington, Rocky Mountain News, April 3, 2007
Eric Osberg / April 5, 2007
Robert C. Pianta, Jay Belsky, Renate Houts, Fred Morrison, The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) Early Child Care Research Network Science
Volume 315, March 30, 2007
This short article and the more in-depth data and analysis findings describe the results of a set of intricately structured observations of more than 1,000 first-, third-, and fifth-graders across more than 1,000 schools (and ten U.S. cities). The NIH-funded research team, which precisely monitored 44 types of behavior, found that teachers spent the bulk of their time on literacy and math (e.g., 62 percent in fifth grade) and only a small portion on social studies and the sciences (in fifth grade, 11 percent and 13 percent respectively). Perhaps this is why USA Today quotes one education school professor complaining that the study "ignores the larger reality of mandates such as the federal No Child Left Behind law," which might be pushing teachers to narrow the curriculum (see here). And the authors themselves can't resist editorializing that their results support "arguments that a focus on standards-based reform and teacher credentialing may lead to instruction that is overly broad and thin." But such conclusions are careless: 75 percent of this study's classroom observations took place during 2001-02, just as NCLB was being born, and the authors make no attempt to compare teacher behavior before and after NCLB. But other conclusions are worth pondering. For example, the "emotional climate"
Coby Loup / April 5, 2007
Henry Levin, Clive Belfield, Peter Muennig, Cecilia Rouse
Teachers College, Columbia University
It's taken for granted that improving education boosts the economy and saves taxpayer dollars down the road. But in case anyone still doubts this, researchers at Teachers College have put together a cost-benefit analysis, though a dubious one at that. They claim that for a certain set of policy interventions "proven" to reduce high school drop-out rates, "the benefits are 2.5 times greater than the costs." To arrive at that number, they subtract the average per-student cost of those interventions from the gains in tax revenues and declines in welfare expenditures, crime, etc. that occur when at-risk students graduate high school. It's all pretty straightforward, but one wonders whether the supposedly proven interventions--two pre-school programs, two small-class models, and an across-the-board teacher salary increase of 10 percent--are really as effective as the authors believe. The section detailing the five interventions is among the shortest in the 75-page "Technical Appendix" attached to the report. That's because (as some have already pointed out) the authors relied on only one or two studies per model and then extrapolate the benefits if taken national. Yet if there's one thing we know from research and experience in education, it's that promising results for targeted interventions are rarely replicated when those interventions are scaled. The report offers a valuable reminder of why high school grads are important to the economy, but
April 5, 2007
Harvard Education Press
The author, Karin Chenoweth, an education writer who from 1999 to 2004 produced columns for the Washington Post and is now at Education Trust, knew before penning this book that poor and minority kids, when taught well, were capable of achieving academic success. She had lots of anecdotes to support her view, but precious little data. So, in typical Ed Trust style, Chenoweth decided to comb through the numbers, find the schools that were posting high test scores with populations of poor and minority students, and then report on them. This book is the result. It profiles fifteen neighborhood public schools (the author, not wanting to report on any schools that "select" students, did not evaluate charter schools) across the nation. Some are urban, some rural; some have traditional calendars, some year-round; some have good facilities, some poor. But they all share certain attributes which, Chenoweth posits, are key parts of their success. They do not teach to state tests; they have high expectations and welcome accountability; they embrace and use data; they pack the school day and use time wisely; and they make decisions based on what's good for kids, not adults. The "demography is destiny" crowd--the folks over at the Economic Policy Institute, the creators of Education Week's latest Quality Counts report, Charles Murray--would do well to read Chenoweth's book and see for themselves how students of all racial and socioeconomic backgrounds, given