Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 7, Number 29
August 2, 2007
Opinion + Analysis
"Buying in" with Obama
Big George's big speech
Norton v. parents
Clearing out the rubbish
New York City Charter Schools
Status of Education in Rural America
This week, Mike and Rick talk about educating through humiliation, removing poor kids from good schools, and why grades don't matter. Checker Finn and his granddaughter Emma stop by to talk pre-K and such, and Education News of the Weird is Too Close To the Sun.
Michael J. Petrilli / August 2, 2007
Two weeks ago, I escaped from Washington's oppressive humidity and headed with my wife's family to New Hampshire's Lake Sunapee. Like any Granite State vacationer I hoped for sunny days, cool, relaxing nights, and, of course, a visit from a major presidential candidate.
New Hampshire did not disappoint. A few days into our trip we spotted a flyer at the Sunapee Harbor announcing that none other than Senator Barack Obama would be speaking there two days hence; all were invited. Ice cream would follow. Say no more; we RSVP'd. (They needed to know how much ice cream to order.)
The big day arrived and with it a downpour. No matter. Hundreds squeezed under a small tent set up for summer concerts. We were among the last to arrive, so we settled for a spot under an improvised tarp. Occasional leaks sent rainwater flopping down onto my wide-rimmed hat (hastily purchased moments before at the Wild Goose Country Store; I don't bring an umbrella on my vacations).
The candidate was late, of course, allowing the excitement and anticipation to build. We talked about what questions we'd ask him if we had a chance. My (liberal) sister-in-law wanted to know how he would address the nation's preeminent national security threat: global warming. My (liberal and angry) brother-in-law wanted to know whether Obama would shoot or hang Vice President Cheney after trying him for war crimes. I got the impression that their sentiments were
August 2, 2007
Just as a centrist consensus around NCLB reauthorization appeared to be in sight (see here), House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller (and longtime NCLB supporter) gave a speech this week that made quick passage of an updated law much less likely. "Throughout our schools and communities, the American people have a very strong sense that the No Child Left Behind Act is not fair, not flexible, and is not funded. And they are not wrong," he said. So far so good (at least on the fairness and flexibility points). And he even had kind words for merit pay. But then he lurched left, proposing "multiple measures" to judge schools by more than just reading and math scores. Ed Trust's Ross Weiner was right to comment, "the devil is definitely in the details." The addition of, say, history exams is a good idea, but opening the door to non-standard measures (like portfolios or student grades) could be a disaster. Unless you're the NEA, that is. The union's Joel Packer boasted that Miller "is changing his view based on what he is hearing from educators." If so, say goodbye to the Washington Consensus, and say hello to partisan rancor, as expressed by Ranking-Member McKeon's angry reaction: "Changes to the law that weaken any of these three pillars of NCLB--accountability, flexibility, and parental choice--will be met with strong
August 2, 2007
Maryland has taken a profound and laudable step. At least the judiciary has. The state's Court of Appeals ruled, in a 7-2 decision, that charter schools should receive as much money per pupil as regular public schools. Whereas Maryland's charter schools used to receive cash and district-provided services (like school lunches), they can now demand cash in lieu of services--i.e., money follows the students, in full. That's important, because many of the state's charter schools claim they were being seriously overcharged for obligatory services. The numbers would seem to back up their assertion. Last year, for example, Baltimore budgeted $13,000 per public school student, but the city's charter schools received a paltry $5,859 in cash--which means the district spent over $7,000 per pupil in services, which is inefficient at best, and a lie at worst. Money should follow the child (see here and here). It's simply equitable.
"Charter school ruling could cost city millions," by Sara Neufeld, Baltimore Sun, July 31, 2007
August 2, 2007
Gadfly has heretofore expressed no opinion about the District of Columbia's lack of representation in Congress. But the latest crusade of Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District's nonvoting delegate to the House of Representatives, makes one think that perhaps D.C. shouldn't have a vote. Norton is trying to kill the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program, which turns federal dollars into private school scholarships for 2,000 of the District's neediest students. Her stance is, at minimum, odd, because parents whose children have received scholarships like the program (see here and here). So who is Norton representing? Evidently not her D.C. constituents. She recently said that the program "was experimental, it was never meant to be permanent." But Deborah Green, whose daughter Tanisha is thriving in her new private school, disagrees. Green said, "We're going to have a battle. I'm ready to do that because they need to keep the program going. Without it, the students don't have a choice, and I don't think that's fair." It's not fair. Whether or not you think Norton should win a vote in Congress, here's hoping she loses this particular fight and that the parents prevail.
"Future of D.C. school vouchers worries parents," by Kristen Chick, Washington Times, July 29, 2007
August 2, 2007
At exclusive Mills College in the upscale Oakland foothills, arriving fashionably late to meetings, lattes in hand, is considered good form. At American Indian Charter School in crime-ridden downtown Oakland, tardiness brings a swift kick in the derrière--latte or no. A Mills graduate student recently learned that lesson when he showed up late, coffee in hand, to a meeting with American Indian Charter's then-Principal Ben Chavis (himself a Native American), who turned his school into a high-scoring academic powerhouse. "I told [the grad student] he's a dumbass idiot," Chavis recalled. "An embarrassment to minorities. That's what I said. He came late. White people are on time. What does he think, there's black time? Mexican time? Indian time?" Chavis, alas, is no longer the school's principal; whether his exposition on timeliness expedited his departure is less clear. (He was criticized for other instances of roughness, such as when he purportedly punished a misbehaving student by making her clean the bathroom.) Whatever one thinks of Chavis's style, he produced awesome results. And he has produced students who are more likely to run a coffee corporation, not simply serve--or drink--coffee.
"Charter school principal who raised scores to leave," by Nanette Asimov, San Francisco Chronicle, July 27, 2007
"Charter's notorious chief quits," by Katy Murphy, Oakland Tribune, July 27, 2007
August 2, 2007
When Gadfly did graduate work in Britain, he was subjected to English teaching strategies ostensibly suited to his personality, lifestyle, and compound eyes. Diagnosed as a "kinesthetic" learner in the lexicon of multiple intelligence theory, he was required, while studying Ulysses, to constantly buzz about the library. But what was once sexy social science is now shown to be neuroscientific nonsense. According to Oxford pharmacologist Baroness Greenfield, the notion (developed in the U.S., popular in Britain) that children have specialized learning styles--and are thus genetically predisposed to learn either through "sight, sound or touch"--is claptrap. Professor Frank Coffield, who works at London University, agrees: "We do students a serious disservice by implying that they have only one learning style, rather than a flexible repertoire from which to choose." America has already done some debunking of its own, but we're pleased to see our British friends finally coming along. The special relationship is strengthened.
"Professor pans 'learning style' teaching method," Julie Henry, Sunday Telegraph, June 29, 2007
August 2, 2007
The New Teacher Project
Tradition trumps progress in teacher recruitment and assignment in Chicago Public Schools (CPS). So finds a new audit by The New Teacher Project (TNTP). This methodical look at teacher recruitment, transfer, and reassignment practices exposes the ingrained traditions that block CPS from qualified and evenly dispersed classroom workforce. For example, CPS has a strong candidate pool but its hiring process begins late in the school year. Thus, the system sacrifices many highly qualified candidates to bureaucratic delays. CPS does have a (relatively) progressive teacher transfer process--both teacher and principal must agree on the placement--that enjoys the support of 78 percent of educators. But teacher re-assignments are ultimately based on seniority, which often renders the "mutual agreement" moot. Seniority placements usurp principals' authority to assemble their own teams, and take no account of teacher performance. Furthermore, the way CPS evaluates its teachers only exacerbates such problems; a whopping 88 percent of schools failed to issue even one unsatisfactory rating over the past four years. TNTP recommends linking evaluation and hiring/transfer practices, and the organization points out that CPS should design an impartial, comprehensive evaluation system that sacks bad teachers and allows performance-based transfers and reassignments. TNTP offers an actionable road map for CPS to follow--one hopes it encourages the system to slough off its bad habits. Check out the report here.
Coby Loup / August 2, 2007
Caroline M. Hoxby and Sonali Murarka
National Bureau of Economic Research
This report presents the first findings of a federally-funded, multi-year study of New York's charter schools. Although the authors plan to evaluate such outcomes as dropout rates and post-graduation outcomes as more data become available, this report only analyzes test scores. Importantly, the authors employed a "gold standard" randomized-trial method, comparing the winners and losers of blind lotteries that determined which students gained admission to sought-after charter schools. The results are encouraging. For every year a student spends in an NYC charter school, his math scores improve 12 percent more than those of his district-school peers; reading scores improve 3.5 percent more. Due to a relative paucity of reliable data, the authors were largely unable to conclude which charter school policies have the greater positive impacts on student achievement. They did, however, detect a significant correlation between higher scores and the extended school year that most charters employ. The report also provides comprehensive data on the characteristics of the city's charter schools and their students. For instance, blacks (64 percent) and Hispanics (27 percent) account for most of the city's charter school applicants; they make up 49 percent and 39 percent, respectively, of the traditional NYC public-school population. Overall, it's a solid, well-researched contribution to the charter-school debate. Download it here.
Martin A. Davis, Jr. / August 2, 2007
National Center for Education Statistics, Institute for Education Sciences
Using a new classification system adopted in 2006 by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), analysts can now reliably compare data by locale across a variety of surveys (including the Common Core of Data, the Schools and Staffing Survey, and the National Assessment of Educational Progress [NAEP]). The Institute for Education Sciences (IES) deployed this new classification system for the first time in this study, which examines how well schools in rural areas (defined by their distance from an urbanized area--in general, 5 miles or greater) compare with schools in cities, suburbs, and towns. The findings aren't eye-popping; most are predictable:
- Though half of all school districts and a third of all public schools are classified as rural, just one-fifth of all k-12 students attend rural schools.
- Though rural students perform better, in general, on NAEP than do students in cities, they don't do as well as those in suburbs.
- A greater percentage of rural high school students graduate than do city students, while suburban students graduate at a higher rate than both.
That rural students' overall academic performance isn't higher may be surprising to those who believe that involved parents and satisfied teachers are the key to student academic achievement. The study found that rural parents are more likely to be involved in their children's schools and learning than in other locales, and that rural teachers are more satisfied
August 2, 2007
James C. Carper and Thomas C. Hunt
Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.
This new book by social historians James Carper and Thomas Hunt catalogues two centuries of conflict between public education and religion. Their core thesis is simple: our system of homogenized public education is as philosophically ludicrous as the idea of an established national church, and we're silly to expect that such a culturally diverse nation could ever agree on one approach to the education of youth. Or in their words: "The current structure of public education is incompatible with America's confessional pluralism and our sacred commitment to universal liberty of conscience in matters of education and religion." Religious parents and government schools have tussled throughout U.S. history, and the authors offer a series of illustrative discussions, from anti-Catholic efforts to outlaw private schools in the 19th century, to constitutional debates over Bible-reading in the classroom, to the contemporary phenomenon of religious homeschooling. Indeed, Carper and Hunt make clear that parental dissent is still going strong. Contemporary Christian evangelicals have retreated from public schools precisely because they find such institutions hostile to their faith. The solution, according to the authors, is to give parents choices. (Get more information here.)