Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 7, Number 10
March 8, 2007
Opinion + Analysis
Three cheers for Steve Jobs
By Rod Paige
Playing the softball
Mr. Hess goes to Selma
This week, Mike and Rick chat about David Brooks, pizza, and terrorists. We've got an interview with field trip expert Kathy Carroll, and Education News of the Weird is weirdly liberating.
Rod Paige / March 8, 2007
If there was the slightest doubt that Steve Jobs is one of the most courageous men of our time, it was dispelled dramatically on February 16th. There he was at a high profile education conference when, in what I believe was a spontaneous outburst, he decided to take on teacher unions.
The Associated Press memorialized the moment, quoting Jobs as saying: "I believe that what is wrong with our schools in this nation is that they have become unionized in the worst possible way. This unionization and lifetime employment of K-12 teachers is off-the-charts crazy."
Jobs was a presenter at the Texas Public Education Reform Foundation's 2007 Statewide Education Summit when he made these and other comments in front of a packed ballroom at Austin's Hyatt Regency hotel. The topic was "Enhancing Education Through Technology" and it was almost as if he was talking to himself when he said, in response to a question, that technology in the classroom could not improve our schools "until principals could fire bad teachers."
This happened in front of an audience of educators, legislators, business professionals, and other highly placed individuals representing Texas' educational leadership. Sitting no more than 10 feet from him, I wondered, was he not aware of the lambasting that Bob Dole took when he raised this issue? Was he not aware of how the press barbecued me for a certain hyperbolic statement I made about this topic? Or, was he a courageous
March 8, 2007
Witness the gall of the New York State United Teachers. After watching Governor Eliot Spitzer shower an extra $1.4 billion upon the state's public schools in his budget, the union showed its thanks by waging a campaign of disinformation aimed at Spitzer's proposal to raise the Empire State's charter school cap from 100 to 250. Among the union's erroneous claims, which it plastered on billboards and broadcast in radio ads, is that charter schools are "unregulated." When a New York Daily News columnist pressed union President Richard Iannuzzi on that claim, he waffled: "They're not unregulated, no," he admitted. "‘Unregulated' would not be the word." Unfortunately, it was his word; he said it. Spitzer's office reportedly thought that by boosting state aid to schools over the next four years, it could buy some goodwill from the unions on charter school reform. Doesn't look that way. No doubt this steamroller governor will think twice before making such deals in the future... we hope.
"Teachers Open a Campaign Against Spitzer," by Jacob Gershman, New York Sun, March 6, 2007
"Teacher union ads flunk the honesty test," by Bill Hammond, New York Daily News, March 6, 2007
March 8, 2007
State education officials in the Land of Lincoln are jumping for joy--student performance on the state's ISAT exam is up from 2005. Way, way up. On most exams, the 2005-2006 gains outpaced the improvement made over the previous five years combined. Low-income and minority pupils posted the largest increases, which helped narrow the pernicious gap between their performance and that of their white, Asian, and more affluent counterparts. "The kids were prepared for the tests," said Becky McCabe, who oversees assessments for the state board, "and it shows on the results." What she didn't say is that the passing bar on the 8th grade math test was lowered dramatically. Or that students had longer to write (45 minutes more on the reading section). Or that there were fewer questions. "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that something doesn't compute here," said a University of Arizona professor. "All of the changes they made to the test will certainly inflate the scores." The head of the state's Business Roundtable was more blunt: "It's an anomaly that blows the credibility of this test." Puff!
"Why Test Scores Went Up," by Stephanie Banchero, Darnell Little, and Diane Rado, Chicago Tribune, March 6, 2007
March 8, 2007
David Brooks is softening. He's looking for "creative" presidential candidates willing to "talk about improving the lives of students" instead of just talking "about improving the schools." The creative ones "will emphasize that education is a cumulative process that begins at the dawn of life." Sen. Barack Obama might qualify; in his Selma speech on Sunday he preached that parents must take more responsibility for their children's educations. Bill Cosby has been saying similar things for years. And of course they're right: family support and culture and early childhood experiences matter enormously. But these arguments too often get refracted back by educators as "Parents are the problem; schools are doing the best they can with the kids they get." And of course that's wrong. Six years ago another presidential candidate put a name to that point of view-the "soft bigotry of low expectations." Which is why we're looking for a presidential candidate who will also talk about how schools can develop the emotional and cultural dispositions their students need if their families and communities fall down on the job.
"A Critique of Pure Reason," by David Brooks, New York Times, March 1, 2007
March 8, 2007
Harvard psychologist Susan Linn, co-founder of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, sees something devilish lurking behind Pizza Hut's "Book It" program, which rewards young readers with free pizzas. "In the name of education," says Linn, Book It is "positioning family visits to Pizza Hut as an integral component of raising literate children." Of course! It's just like what happened in the Manchurian Candidate and what that Pavlov fellow was up to with his hounds. By tying reading to mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce, Pizza Hut has created a nefarious system of classical conditioning and behavior modification: whenever youngsters stumble across the written word, they'll manifest an insatiable desire for a large stuffed crust with banana peppers and bacon. But despite the obvious mind control, some school leaders seem unconcerned. Principal Chris Carney of Bennett Elementary School in Fort Lauderdale says of Book It, "the positive effects outweigh other effects." He could be right. After all, four Gadfly contributors were onetime Book It participants (and Fordham's Checker Finn is still in the program). Then again, all of us do really like pizza.
"Critics want pizza to go--away," by David Crary, Associated Press, March 3, 2007
The War Against Hope: How Teachers' Unions Hurt Children, Hinder Teachers, And Endanger Public Education
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / March 8, 2007
Thomas Nelson Publishers
Former education secretary (and Fordham trustee) Rod Paige has written a real stem-winder about teacher unions and their mostly malign influence (he cites some happy exceptions) on American public education. After an extended explanation cum apology for his celebrated "NEA is a terrorist organization" remark in early 2004, he offers plenty of evidence that unions are doing a lot to sabotage promising education reforms. (He also shows how critics of NCLB and defenders of the education status quo used his ill-constructed words to advance their own ends.) This book manages to be thoughtful, provocative, and constructive--Paige offers much advice and many recommendations for how to do things differently--at the same time as it's pointed, vivid, and compelling. The author draws not just on his experience in Washington but also on his many years in public education in Houston and elsewhere. Anybody with a serious interest in education reform and what gets in the way of it will want to spend at least a couple of fruitful hours in these pages. Find the book here.
Coby Loup / March 8, 2007
U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for a Competitive Workforce
This report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (compiled with the help of the Center for American Progress and the American Enterprise Institute's Rick Hess) measures the educational effectiveness of states (and relies on Fordham's grading of state standards). The report doesn't assign an overall grade to each state, so one can't say which is at the top of the class. But the group's website provides a useful and well-designed tool that permits the curious to sift through the grades and rankings either by state or by indicator. The report's general conclusions are accurate if not novel: "The state of education data remains abysmal. No business could be run with such inadequate information." Moreover, the Chamber argues that schools must address a "lack of management savvy, information, and organizational discipline." All in all, this is a valuable companion to other state-by-state report cards. See the interactive map or download a PDF version of the report here.
March 8, 2007
Center on Education Policy
The title of this report is based on a Haitian proverb: Beyond the mountains are more mountains. Appropriate because, for the Golden State's lowest-performing schools (those required to restructure under NCLB), which this report is about, the challenges seem to stretch on forever. This study builds on CEP's first California restructuring review and is based on data analysis, interviews with state and district officials, and four case studies of districts with schools in restructuring. CEP finds that more California schools are entering restructuring. In 2005-2006, 401 schools were in the planning or implementation phase of restructuring; a year later, the number had jumped to 701. And between those two years, no school in the implementation phase made sufficient achievement gains to exit school improvement. All in all, really bad schools aren't getting any better, even while in restructuring. Probably that's because 89 percent of schools, instead of submitting to restructuring's demanding prescriptions, such as reopening as charter schools, use the "any other method" restructuring option. That's an NCLB loophole that lets bad schools off the hook (see here), and which often translate to little serious reform being undertaken. The report concludes that if restructuring in California is to be successful, it will require more support and monitoring, and perhaps even changes in the way Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) is calculated-schools may need to receive credit for hitting targets on the road to AYP, not