Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 7, Number 17
May 3, 2007
Opinion + Analysis
Education Trust or bust?
Stuck in the gate
Seize the day
Union "ad" ons
This week, Mike and Rick discuss meddling in California, extending school days in Boston, and drinking like a pirate. National Alliance for Public Charter School's COO Andy Smarick stops by to chat (and sing), and Education News of the Weird is magical and enchanting.
Michael J. Petrilli / May 3, 2007
Is it possible that the greatness and longevity of a social movement are determined more by the excesses it avoids than the successes it achieves? That to stand the test of time, reforms need to embrace mid-course corrections and shun the temptation to overreach?
If so, then the life expectancy and ultimate impact of No Child Left Behind will be determined by its current reauthorization, when Congress has a chance to walk the law back from the brink of backlash--a backlash that could bring down standards--based reform in general, not only the federal version.
Education Trust, a leading advocacy group and NCLB's chief architect, moral guide, and cheerleader, appears to sense what's at stake--but only to a point. Its newly released reauthorization proposal would bring some welcome rationality to the law's aspirational accountability system. However, its love affair with a heavy-handed federal role may put the entire NCLB enterprise at risk.
If history is a guide, there's every reason to believe that Congress will follow Ed Trust's lead. After all, its president (and recent Fordham excellence-in-education prizewinner), Kati Haycock, was voted the most influential individual in American education save for President Bush and Secretary Spellings (see here). She and her organization are respected by many Republicans and worshipped by lots of Democrats. Their pronouncements are taken seriously. But should this one be?
Let's start with the good part. Education Trust has finally admitted that "every child proficient in
May 3, 2007
On Saturday, hundreds of thousands of floppy-hatted revelers will descend upon Churchill Downs to watch the 133rd running of the Kentucky Derby. To witness this spectacle--the quaffing of sundry Mint Juleps (a delicious bit of Julep trivia, here), the scads of money wagered on the whims of equine beasts, the men clad in copious pink--is to witness something from another era. And for our purposes, it gives satisfactory reason to turn attention to Louisville's schools.
The Supreme Court is set to rule in the weeks ahead on whether the Jefferson County school district (Louisville and its suburbs) can continue its policy of using race to determine school assignments. To refresh:
After Brown v. Board of Education (1954) outlawed de jure school segregation, districts across the country began assigning students to campuses by race, which meant that lots of kids were bused across town to ensure proper classroom ratios. Jefferson County's desegregation program began in 1975. In 1991, however, the Supreme Court ruled that busing was no longer necessary and that individual districts could return to "neighborhood schooling" (assigning students to the schools closest to their homes) regardless of whether classrooms would become re-segregated.
But Louisville liked its integrated schools and opted to keep parts of the 1975 program in place. Jefferson County's current system allows parents to apply for the schools they want--92 percent get their first or second choice--and, according to the district's director of student assignment, race is
May 3, 2007
Education reformers around the nation are keeping an eye on Massachusetts, which this school year implemented an "Expanded Learning Time" initiative (ELT), putting into practice the much-ballyhooed idea of longer school days. The Bay State's program awards an extra $1,300 per student to ten high-need schools that volunteer to extend their day by at least 25 percent. The program's a big hit--at least with participating schools. "I don't know of a single educator who wouldn't say this is a good idea," said José Salgado, the principal of Umana/Barnes Middle School in Boston. His school appears to be doing it right. Rather than simply tacking on extra hours, it uses the time to supplement academics. A Harry Potter book club is offered for students performing at grade level; stricter instruction is on tap for those youngsters who are lagging behind. Other schools have used the additional time to offer more subjects, such as drama, that wouldn't fit into a regular school day. And all the ELT programs are, at the very least, keeping kids out of trouble. As the program expands next year, however, pushback is expected, especially from suburban parents whose students are involved in multiple activities outside of school. Here's hoping that "extended learning time" isn't another structural innovation to go the way of "smaller high schools," i.e., fine in theory, bad in execution. Massachusetts seems to be on the right track, though: making school days not just longer, but
May 3, 2007
Teachers' unions have long used their members' money for political goals--but it's getting out of hand. Consider Newark, New Jersey, where the local AFT affiliate has put up billboards that read "Help Wanted. Stop the Killings in Newark Now!" The union claims that it is trying to raise awareness about the city's growing murder rate, but insiders know that it's really just trying to embarrass Mayor Cory Booker, an avowed charter school and voucher supporter. Booker noted that, if he had union dollars, he wouldn't spend them on billboards. "I would use them for after-school programs. I would use them to help schools," he said. A novel thinker, that Booker. It's not just union members' money that the Newark Teachers Union wastes. Even those teachers who decide not to join the local union still pay a whopping 85 percent of the standard union dues. For what? To paper over the city's streets? And you wonder why the real "help wanted" ads are full of open teaching jobs.
"Blackboards Not Billboards," by David White, New York Times, April 29, 2007
May 3, 2007
The Gadfly's been leading a fleet of one against the Think Tank Review Project. On two occasions (see here and here), we've launched counterattacks against this faux impartial outfit, whose reviewers bombard research by organizations friendly to school-choice issues in particular and education reform in general. Now Linda Seebach--always an astute observer, even when she pans Fordham--has seen the problem. A recent column notes that this "research group" is funded with National Education Association money. (It comes via grants from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice, a nonprofit that in turn is funded by the national NEA and NEA affiliates in the Great Lakes area.) Project co-director Kevin Welner tells Seebach that (in her words) "there is no intention on anyone's part to make the project political." But look at the "Think Tanks That Are Currently Being Monitored" by TTRP page on the Great Lakes site. Fifteen are listed, every single one of them a friend of school choice in its various forms. Bombs away.
"Think tank project exists to please NEA," by Linda Seebach, Rocky Mountain News, April 28, 2007
May 3, 2007
It is with bittersweet anticipation that Hogwarts disciples await the final installment of the Harry Potter series, to be released across the land at midnight on July 21st. Young readers such as Ithaca, New York, sixth-grader Marcus Weathersby won't be the only ones sad to witness the dynasty's end, however; lovers of learning should be just as disappointed. According to a 2006 survey of readers ages 5 to 17 and their parents, these masterly tales of wizardry have not only helped improve kids' attitudes toward reading, but have positively affected other schoolwork, too. Young Weathersby for one credits the Harry Potter books for getting him interested in reading. "I whip through 50 books a year," he said. Wonder whether Marcus conjured up a hyperbole potion in his spare time. But he clearly now enjoys reading, and the Harry Potter series has helped millions of youngsters like him across the country and globe figure out how magical reading and books can be. If Gadfly had tear ducts, he'd be a little weepy.
"Harry Potter and the magic of reading," by Shayna Garlick, Christian Science Monitor, May 2, 2007
Coby Loup / May 3, 2007
Richard D. Komer and Clark Neily
Institute for Justice and the American Legislative Exchange Council
This first-of-its-kind report catalogs each state's constitutional provisions and court decisions that may affect future voucher legislation. In most states, voucher programs could face challenges from so-called "Compelled Support" Clauses and Blaine Amendments, one or both of which exist in all but three state constitutions. The former bar states from forcing their citizens to support religious institutions while Blaine Amendments prohibit states from funding "sectarian" institutions, such as religious schools. The resemblance of these provisions to the U.S. Constitution's Establishment Clause has been a great boon to school choice supporters, however, because in 2002 the Supreme Court ruled in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris that Cleveland's voucher program did not breach the separation of church and state. But while Zelman set a powerful precedent for voucher proponents, some state courts have interpreted their Compelled Support Clauses and/or Blaine Amendments more narrowly. Moreover, some states also have "uniformity" provisions that require them to provide a "uniform" public education system available to all children. For instance, the Florida Supreme Court ruled in 2006 that the Sunshine State's "uniform" public school requirement precluded the use of state money for the non-public Opportunity Scholarship voucher program (a ruling that is logically obtuse, at best; see here). In other states, such as Arizona and Wisconsin, courts have interpreted uniformity clauses only to establish a baseline above which additional
May 3, 2007
The Center for Teacher Quality
California State University
Like other states, California needs qualified teachers. But it also needs to keep the qualified teachers it already has, a challenge, considering that 22 percent of California teachers leave the profession before they're in the classroom five years. And lots of research has shown that the teachers most likely to hit the road are also most likely to be smart, savvy, innovative folks. This turnover doesn't only disrupt schools and drain them of the most-talented instructors, but it costs California nearly half a billion dollars each year in squandered teacher training. Conventional wisdom says Golden State teachers are leaving the classroom because they're not making a lot of money. And while lots of dissatisfied teachers (41%) do explain that poor compensation and benefits contributed to their decision to quit, more say that stifling bureaucracy (56%), poor district support (52%), low staff morale (45%), and lack of resources (42%) are the real problems. This report offers six solid recommendations for how to retain California teachers, recommendations that the state would do well to heed. You can read them here.