Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 7, Number 1
January 4, 2007
Opinion + Analysis
Reforms that add up
Where no man has gone before
Funding Gaps 2006
Average Yak Poundage
This week, Mike and guest co-host, education advocate Dave Deschryver, chat about why management matters, why Checker Finn is not the only conservative in Washington, and why we'll have two more years to criticize NCLB. Education News of the Weird is out of the office and will have inconsistent email access.
Michael J. Petrilli / January 4, 2007
For almost five years now, I've considered myself a supporter of the No Child Left Behind Act. And not just the casual flag-waver variety. Much of that time I spent inside the Bush Administration, trying to make the law work, explaining its vision to hundreds of audiences, even wearing an NCLB pin on my lapel. I was a True Believer.
In a way, I still am. After all, in the 21st Century, saying you "support" NCLB is shorthand for affirming a set of ideas, values, and hopes for the country as much as an expression about a particular statute. I'm not just referring to the proposition that "no child should be left behind"--the notion that we have a moral responsibility to provide a decent education for everyone. Ninety-nine percent of the education establishment can get behind that "purpose" of the law and still resist meaningful reform.
I mean a set of powerful--and controversial--ideas that provide the subtext for all the big NCLB battles. First, that virtually all children (even those living in poverty) have the capacity to achieve a reasonable level of proficiency in reading and math by the time they turn 18--and that it's the education system's job to make sure they do. Second, that everyone benefits from having someone looking over his shoulder and that schools and school systems need external pressure-i.e., accountability-in order to improve; good intentions aren't enough. Third, that good education is synonymous with good teaching.
January 4, 2007
Inspired by the good work of our Washington Insiders (see here), Gadfly screwed up his courage to offer these predictions about what America's ten most influential ed-policy organizations (so says the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center) will accomplish in 2007:
U.S. Congress: Struggling to re-authorize NCLB, deadlocks over whether to re-name law the "It Takes a Village Act" or the "Audacity of Hope Act."
U.S. Department of Education: Bent on eliminating all ineffectual federal education programs, finds itself left with nothing but Reading First and its two employees.
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation: Despairing of the intractable task of reforming U.S. high schools, determines to reform driver education (with emphasis on small cars).
Education Trust: Hires Borat to scour nation for vivid examples of the soft bigotry of low expectations.
National Governors Association: Abandoning hope for a common metric by which to track high school graduation rates, opts to develop common metric for counting the books on school-library shelves.
American Federation of Teachers: Selects Diane Ravitch as its next president (see here).
Achieve, Inc.: Armed with $50 million more from the Gates Foundation, and fearing the 50 states may never agree on anything, re-brands its leading project the "Inter-American Diploma Project," recruits Bolivia, Nicaragua, Chihuahua, St. Kitts, and Prince Edward Island to align their high school exit and university-entrance expectations.
National Education Association: After tangling with George Miller over teacher qualifications, brands Democratic Party a "terrorist organization" and commits all future political
January 4, 2007
Although Massachusetts students lead the nation in math scores, state education officials are nervous-less than 50 percent of Bay State youngsters demonstrate a solid command on national math tests, and elementary math scores on MCAS exams have not risen in two years. Sandra Stotsky, a new state Board of Education member, blames shoddy teacher preparation: "If we don't have high-achieving teachers, how do you get high-achieving students?" Good question, and policymakers in Massachusetts are answering it. Starting in 2008, elementary school teachers will have to pass a broader and tougher math sub-test to earn a license. Math instruction is also receiving corrective action in Maryland. In response to the recent NCTM report (see here), state officials are proposing to revamp their math standards, which they say are "a mile wide and an inch deep," by narrowing them to three, focused objectives in each grade level (as opposed to the 50 or 60 each now contains). Stronger math skills and less scoliosis? A promising start, indeed.
"Teachers' math skills are targeted," by Maria Sacchetti, Boston Globe, January 2, 2007
"Can Less Equal More?" by Liz Bowie, Baltimore Sun, January 2, 2007
January 4, 2007
Gadfly was buzzed even before the champagne started flowing New Year's Eve, thanks to a late-December story in the Christian Science Monitor. It profiles Betsy Rogers of Alabama, winner of the 2003 National Teacher of the Year award. After receiving it, she transferred to the perennially struggling K-8 Brighton School just outside Birmingham. Rogers came to the school as curriculum coordinator (a teacher for teachers), believing the worst schools deserve the best instructors. "I don't see this as being a big sacrifice," she said. "It should be obvious why a teacher would want to go into a needy school." Should be, but often isn't, as this New York Times editorial about seniority "bumping" explains. Rogers, aided by her principal and a host of subject experts who work with Brighton's teachers, is turning things around. Last year, 82 percent of the school's fourth graders couldn't pass the state reading test--this year, 73 percent of that same cohort reached the "proficiency" mark. The district was so impressed that it asked Rogers to become its school improvement specialist. She said yes, but only if she could be based in Brighton. "I've learned more here in the last three years than I have in forever," she said. For her next act, perhaps she can convince more teachers to follow in her footsteps.
"When a Teacher of the Year takes on a failing school," by Gigi Douban, Christian Science Monitor, December
January 4, 2007
When Captain Kirk waffled over whether to open relations with the Klingon Empire, Spock encouraged engagement by noting, "Only Nixon could go to China." Were the wise Vulcan advising education policymakers, his words would be much the same: "Only a true conservative can push national standards." And according to National Public Radio, that's exactly what's starting to occur. In a 6-minute piece on Morning Edition, reporter Larry Abramson compares Western countries such as France and Germany, where national exams exist, to the United States, which has an all but inscrutable hodge-podge of state standards and tests. But he says that where progressives such as Bill Clinton have failed to generate support for national testing, conservatives (such as our own Checker Finn) might just succeed. So we hope. Last winter commentators said we didn't have a snowball's chance in Hell to get national testing; now they see an "avalanche" of conservative support for the idea. Of course, neither view is accurate, but we don't mind the direction the forecast is heading.
"Conservatives Call for National Education Curriculum," by Larry Abramson, Morning Edition, January 1, 2007
Eric Osberg / January 4, 2007
The Education Trust
This latest installment of The Education Trust's annual series on the inequities in school funding is as essential as its predecessors. It succinctly explains how states and districts short-change schools that serve poor or minority students. One learns that in 2003-04, for example, Illinois spent $1,900 less per-pupil in its high-poverty schools than in their wealthier counterparts, and $1,200 less in high-minority schools than in low-minority ones. In New York the gaps were even larger: $2,300 and $2,200 respectively. Of course not all states' gaps are so egregious. Some, such as Massachusetts, actually target more funds to its neediest schools. This year, the report also includes two insightful guest-writers. The first, Goodwin Liu of UC Berkeley, explains how federal Title I funding is systematically allocated to states with fewer high-poverty students, thus exacerbating inter-state funding differences. He suggests a couple of remedies: Title I should reward states for their spending "effort" (i.e., spending as a function of their tax base) rather than total spending, and the feds should spend more overall to smooth out differences among states. Why not just fund students on a per-pupil basis? The second is Marguerite Roza of the Center on Reinventing Public Education, who explains how districts obscure inequities among their individual schools, both by "salary averaging" (i.e., budgets that hide the fact that more expensive teachers tend to work in wealthier, low-minority schools) and by using "unrestricted" funds unfairly--sometimes simply by
Martin A. Davis, Jr. / January 4, 2007
Louann Bierlein Palmer
Progressive Policy Institute
Fordham produced two of the first studies on charter authorizers in the nation (see here and here). Now, Louann Bierlein Palmer, who co-authored the first of our studies, has issued this report on "alternative" authorizers, which are "rapidly becoming the preferred authorizers and are increasingly being asked to develop model authorizing practices." An "alternative authorizer" is defined as a group functioning outside the traditional realm of public K-12 school governance. (To date, just 14 of 41 states and the District of Columbia permit alternative authorizers.) Alternative groups, according to Palmer, are also distinguished by these three characteristics: 1) their desire to work as authorizers, 2) their relative isolation from politics, and 3) their ability to create infrastructure, and not just serve as an overseer. Palmer examines four major types of alternative authorizers (separate state-level charter boards, higher education institutions, municipal offices, and nonprofit organizations) and rates how strongly each embraces the above-mentioned characteristics. The result is an interesting snapshot of the range of strengths and weaknesses that each brings to the table. (Nonprofits are more insulated from politics than are separate state charter boards, for example, and therefore more likely to make data-driven decisions.) Policy makers looking to bring alternative authorizers into their states will benefit from Palmer's detailed descriptions and analysis. Read it here.