Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 7, Number 7
February 15, 2007
Opinion + Analysis
Toward a National Education Ministry?
One cheer for Utah vouchers
Tooley, Templeton, and tots
Advanced Placement Report to the Nation
The bi-partisan, governor-led, Gates-funded, Aspen-housed Commission on No Child Left Behind has produced a report that should be called No Idea Left Behind. Unfortunately, only a fraction of those ideas are sound.
This sprawling 200-plus-page document, capped with some 75 separate recommendations, adumbrates a solution to almost every problem ailing American education, and heralds several innovative reform ideas. What it doesn't do is sketch a coherent vision for NCLB version 2.0.
First, though, some raisins in this pudding: the Commission outlines an interesting and politically plausible path toward voluntary national standards and tests based on NAEP. It proffers some solid thinking about end-of-high-school academic expectations for students and how these might be married to NCLB. It has some good thoughts on longitudinal data systems. It would give principals the authority to bar weak teachers from transferring into their schools. It would allow states to use growth models in their accountability systems, giving credit to schools whose students are on track to reach proficiency within three years. (This is especially important for charter schools, which often enroll students who start out several years behind.) It seeks to ensure that needy schools get an equitable share of state and district resources before the federal Title I dollars are added on top. (This would give high-poverty schools the buying power to recruit and retain top-notch teachers--especially if they are also allowed to offer incentive pay.)
Not bad. But now take a deep
February 15, 2007
An expansion of parental options in education is a wonderful thing. But before we break out the champagne (or, for good Mormons, fruit juice) to fete the recent school choice victory in the Beehive State, let us raise a few concerns. Instead of a well-funded program that targets needy kids, Utah's new voucher law is both universal and cheap. Vouchers will range from $500 up to $3,000 per child (the sliding scale is based on socioeconomic status). Meanwhile, the state has only about 100 private schools boasting merely 6,000 vacant seats for half a million eligible students. On top of that, the state is only offering money to parents whose students are not currently enrolled in private schools. So what's the likely outcome? We know from Milwaukee that generous vouchers can produce the sort of demand that catalyzes new supply (see here). We know from the Cleveland experience that chintzy vouchers yield no such thing. The upshot, in Utah, is apt to be a lot of frustrated and perhaps litigious parents and, very likely, needy kids with few if any options. This could easily weaken the fragile political support for the program. (The bill passed by just one vote in the house of this solidly GOP state.) Otherwise, it's all just terrific and you may now return to your regularly scheduled celebration.
"Broad Voucher Plan Is Approved in Utah," Associated Press, February 11, 2007
February 15, 2007
"If good ideas were all that mattered, everybody who has heard of Jeffrey Sachs would have heard of James Tooley as well--but they aren't, and you almost certainly haven't." So begins Clive Crook's perceptive tribute to Tooley and his groundbreaking research on über-inexpensive private schools in the developing world. (See previous Gadfly coverage here.) Crook explains how Tooley stumbled across well-run for-profit schools in the slums of Hyderabad and then went on a globe trotting quest to understand the phenomenon of cheap but effective private education (see here for more). But alas, Tooley's findings are threatening to the international development ethos of (expensive) government-run education for all. Hence, major aid agencies and governments have treated him like they treat these private schools: they look the other way. Thankfully the Templeton Foundation (the primary benefactor behind his research work) is not so dismissive and is backing a Tooley-led effort to invest $100 million in private schools for the very poor worldwide. Maybe someday public agencies will understand the potential of such private enterprise, too.
February 15, 2007
Americans love picking winners and losers. Not so in other countries, apparently. According to The Economist, while Americans have few qualms about identifying and nurturing gifted youngsters, people in places such as Japan and Finland believe that "all children are born with the same innate abilities--and should therefore be treated alike." The question is, Are these differences of opinion influenced by culture, or is culture influenced by demography? Or possibly both? In American public schools (see here), teachers are charged not only with holding all kids to high standards and working closely with the academic stragglers, but also with challenging their bright students. This job is made even more difficult by self-proclaimed advocates of "social justice," who rail against grouping students by ability (see here). Maybe they should all move to Helsinki and Kyoto. Life in these United States ain't so simple.
"Bright sparks," The Economist, February 8, 2007 (subscription required)
February 15, 2007
Frederick M. Hess
February 6, 2007
After reviewing the (relatively thin) research on mayoral takeovers of school districts, the prolific Rick Hess emerges with a common-sense conclusion: this reform is not, on its own, enough to cure ailing districts of their maladies. "Mayoral control," he writes, "can do no more than offer a heightened opportunity for effective leadership," noting that "any benefits that inhere in the [mayoral takeover] may well diminish with time." Such cautious warnings are appropriately attached to most reform strategies but especially important for this one. Mayoral control is often accompanied by lots of hype, emotion, and unrealistic expectations--some of that has recently emerged in Washington, D.C., for example. And it's emerged in St. Louis, too. In a section of his paper treating that city as a case study, Hess writes that mayoral control there "would seem a sensible and appropriate step," especially because the city could use some continuity in its leadership. St. Louis has had six superintendents in four years. Check out this paper here.
Teacher Compensation in Charter and Private Schools: Snapshots and Lessons for District Public Schools
Martin A. Davis, Jr. / February 15, 2007
Julie Kowal, Emily Ayscue Hassel, and Bryan C. Hassel
Center for American Progress
It's standard practice in most enterprises: do high-quality work, or develop expertise in a high-need area, and you'll earn more money. But not in K-12 education, where "single-salary scales" require that schools pay teachers according to their years of experience and degrees earned, not the quality of their performance or the demand for their skills. Yes, you already knew that. But in public charter schools and private schools across the nation, some leaders are experimenting with using pay as a tool to keep and retain the best teachers. This report by Bryan Hassel and his team at Public Impact looks at such experiments and what district schools can learn from them. (See a 2001 Fordham report by Michael Podgursky and Dale Ballou on this topic, here.) Hassel and company find a considerably higher incidence of charters and public schools taking measures such as abandoning "single-pay scales"; offering higher starting salaries to high-needs science, math, and special education teachers; using pay for performance as a carrot and stick to accomplish student learning objectives; and providing "non-financial" rewards such as better working conditions to attract and retain top teachers. None of these alone is revolutionary, says Hassel. The important point is that "School leaders in the charter and private sectors [are] trying to use compensation as a tool to meet their goals." [Italics in original report.] By contrast,
Coby Loup / February 15, 2007
In most ways, this year's Advanced Placement (AP) report differs little from previous editions; the familiar "Closing Equity Gaps" section shows that the proportion of minority students taking AP exams rose by a sliver, and the College Board again celebrates (without remarking on the self-serving elements of this) the continuing expansion of its tests in U.S. schools. In a third section, however, we find preliminary findings from two intriguing new studies. According to one, students in Texas who took AP exams "earned higher college GPAs and took more credit hours in the subject area of their exam than non-AP students." According to the other, AP students also had a higher four-year college graduation rate than their non-AP peers. Methodological details are sparse on these yet-to-be-released reports, however, making it hard to know whether there is a causal relationship between participation in AP and these welcome outcomes. Find it here.