Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 7, Number 36
September 20, 2007
Opinion + Analysis
Alternative certification's Pyrrhic victory
Just say no
When progression is regression
Improving Student Achievement? (Working paper)
Use protection at the co-op
This week, Mike and Rick talk about marketplaces, attorneys general, and Denver. Checker Finn pays us a visit and chats about the Broad Prize, and Education News of the Weird is: Got Milk?
At first glance, the explosive growth of "alternative" teacher certification--which is supposed to allow able individuals to teach in public schools without first lingering in a college of education--appears to be one of the great success stories of modern education reform. From negligible numbers twenty years ago, alternatively-prepared candidates now account for almost one in five new teachers nationwide.
As longtime supporters of alternative certification, we should be popping champagne, declaring victory, and plotting our next big win, right? Not so fast. As the cliché says, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
Alternative Certification Isn't Alternative, a new report authored by Kate Walsh and Sandi Jacobs of the National Council on Teacher Quality and published jointly with Fordham, finds that most alternative certification programs, contrary to their original mission, do not, in fact, provide a true substitute for traditional education schools. In many ways, they represent a setback for education reform and its boosters.
We've suspected as much for years. Just as we came to understand that few charter schools are as estimable as KIPP, so too did we come to wonder whether "typical" alternative certification programs are as strong as the best of their number--"teaching fellows" programs run by The New Teacher Project, for example.
This study confirms our fears and suspicions. Two-thirds of the programs that the analysts surveyed accept half or more of their applicants. One-quarter accept virtually everyone who
September 20, 2007
It's no small thing to ascribe racist motivations to public officials. New York Times reporter Sam Dillon, generally a model of careful education journalism, came close to doing just that in a front-page story on the rezoning of students in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
Dillon's first sentence: "After white parents in this racially mixed city complained about school overcrowding, school authorities set out to draw up a sweeping rezoning plan." He continues in this vein, focusing on race, even noting (in case you forgot) that George Wallace once stood in Tuscaloosa, in a University of Alabama doorway, to stop the college from integrating.
Controversial, sexy leads and images of a racist South are proven ways to transform news into front-page material. But they're lousy ways to tell a complicated story such as this one.
The tale of Tuscaloosa's school reassignment is not about race; it's actually rather mundane and managerial. In fact, the most unusual thing about it is the involvement of a proactive, reform-minded school board. Leaders of the 10,000-student district sought ways to make more efficient use of their facilities and buses. The result was a school restructuring plan that offers parents choices, creates a new magnet program, turns some primary schools into k-8 campuses, and rezones several hundred students.
No evidence indicates that district officials acted with anything but good intentions. To insinuate otherwise is irresponsible.
Dillon's article makes two main points. First, that the school board is actively resegregating
September 20, 2007
When it comes to merit pay, Florida's teachers are about as ill-tempered as a gator buzzed by an Everglades airboat. The state legislature launched the STAR (Special Teachers are Rewarded) program in 2006, which gave 25 percent of public-school teachers five-percent bonuses, based primarily on student scores on the Sunshine State's standardized assessment. Educators growled, claiming that STAR encouraged an unhealthy competition for limited funds. The legislature responded, in March replacing STAR with MAP (Merit Awards Program). The initial response from teachers? NOPE (No merit-pay Options will Placate our Educators). But of late the tide is turning (see here and here) and those who still flat-out reject teacher-pay reform are starting to look like a surly lot who simply refuse to compromise. As we see it,, the performance-pay train is leaving the station, and the "just say no" crowd can either jump on or eventually get left in the dust.
"Teachers Slap ‘F' on Bonus Pay Plan," by Bill Kaczor, Associated Press, September 16, 2007
September 20, 2007
If there's one thing Gadfly is not, it's an apologist for bad schools, and he therefore cannot quibble much with Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann's contention that two chronically-failing Buckeye charter schools should be closed. But when Dann, in a brazen attempt to bypass current state charter-accountability mechanisms, filed a creatively-reasoned lawsuit to strip the schools of their charters--well, such audacity Gadfly cannot abide. Ohio statute stipulates that charter schools must close after three years of "academic emergency" status. It also expects school sponsors and the state education department to take corrective action against failing schools. Yet Dann (whose actions have, unsurprisingly, garnered praise from teacher union leaders) apparently thinks it more politically prudent to lob lawsuits and ask judges to do what they do worst: decide complex matters of applied public policy. There's no question that charter advocates have struggled to find the perfect balance between autonomy and accountability, especially in Ohio (see here and here). But throwing a ton of bricks on one end of the scale hardly brings us any closer to that equilibrium.
"Ohio attorney general sues to close 2 Dayton-area charter schools," by Reginald Fields, Cleveland Plain Dealer, September 13, 2007
"Charter schools fire back at Dann," by Catherine Candisky and Bill Bush, Columbus Dispatch, September 14, 2007
"Dann: Right struggle, wrong tactics," by Terry Ryan and Michael B. Lafferty, Ohio Education Gadfly, September 14, 2007
September 20, 2007
The Denver teachers union has proposed to end social promotion in the Mile High City schools and instead tie students' progress to their scores on standardized tests in third, fifth, and eighth grades. Opponents of the plan worry that it will harm the self-esteem of students who are held back and could encourage those youngsters to drop out. "Unless you've got a very serious set of interventions in place, all retaining kids does is drive the dropout rate up," says Denver Superintendent Michael Bennet. The union agrees, which is why its plan calls for extra services for students with low test-grades and reading scores. And what's the alternative? Allowing students to progress through the grades without, say, being able to do basic math? If you want to talk about a blow to self-esteem, talk about the seventh grader who reads at a third-grade level. There may be more to this story: the union and district are embroiled in contentious contract negotiations. But on this issue, regardless of the politics that may be involved, we're taking the union's side.
"Teachers want more red lights," by Jeremy P. Meyer, Denver Post, September 16, 2007
September 20, 2007
Michigan's state Department of Education last week finally introduced its proposed curriculum for k-12 social studies. Although the plan has strong points--greater rigor and more focus on preparing students for college--it is also a classic case of political correctness run amok. One outrageous example is the demand that elementary students taking American history spend several months studying African history before beginning to learn about colonial America. Why? "Developers obsessed," says the Detroit News, "over how elementary school students would perceive the relationship between the first European colonists and Native Americans, and whether they would understand why African-Americans arrived in the United States on slave ships." But the teaching of U.S. history is about teaching, well, U.S. history--the key individuals, institutions, and ideas that forged America. Obviously, this should include honest discussions about slavery, its African roots, and Europeans' first contacts with Native Americans. A rational approach would reserve world history for world history class. But this and some other parts of Michigan's plan are more about politics than education. And that has no place in the classroom.
"Drop political games from social studies plan," Detroit News, September 17, 2007
Coby Loup / September 20, 2007
Martha Abele Mac Iver and Douglas J. Mac Iver
National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education
Earlier this year, responding to a RAND study that questioned the efficacy of Philadelphia's privately-managed school experiment, Paul Peterson released findings showing that the private operators were, in fact, producing achievement gains. Unfortunately, both his report and the RAND study it rebutted had methodological weaknesses due to data limitations. This working paper from two Johns Hopkins researchers addresses those shortcomings by using longitudinal, student-level test results to measure the impact of private education management organizations (EMOs) on student achievement. The authors compared state assessment scores of Philadelphia middle-schoolers in EMO schools to those of their peers in traditional public schools. As with the RAND analysis, the results are not encouraging for advocates of privatization. Overall, schools run by Edison Schools made the same gains in math and reading as their district counterparts while other EMO schools were outpaced by traditional public schools. The authors allow that EMO schools may show greater gains over time (they've only been operating in Philadelphia for four years) but note that "privatization has not directly addressed the key determinants of student achievement growth uncovered in previous educational research": teacher quality, principal instructional leadership, "school climate focused on academic achievement," and "consistency and coherence in curriculum and instruction." Read it here.
Achievement Trap: How America is Failing Millions of High-Achieving Students from Lower-Income Families
September 20, 2007
Joshua S. Wyner, John M. Bridgeland, and John J. Dilulio, Jr.
Jack Kent Cooke Foundation and Civic Enterprises
It isn't only struggling students who have been left behind: 3.4 million high-ability but low-income pupils aren't receiving the educations they deserve, either. Case in point: almost half of low-income youngsters who scored in the top quartile on reading tests as first graders were no longer scoring in the top quartile as fifth graders. Of low-income eighth graders who scored in the top quartile on math tests, only 25 percent were still hitting that mark in twelfth grade. Academically talented poor students are, it seems, still lumped in with their lower-achieving classmates and not given challenging material or held to high expectations. This report makes clear that low-performing schools--often in rural and urban areas--are bringing down their high-achievers rather than pushing them up. While schools focus on bringing low-achieving pupils to a "proficient" level, talented kids with the potential to be "advanced" slide to mediocrity (or worse). Find the report here.
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / September 20, 2007
University Press of Kansas
Oxford historian Gareth Davies has delivered a superb history of federal education policy and politics in the United States from the passage of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in the mid-sixties to Reagan's first-term efforts to curb the federal role. (It also includes bits and pieces, particularly in the concluding chapter, on more recent events, including NCLB.) The book's insightfulness is best illustrated by its authors' own words: "The federal role in schools became bolder and ever more entrenched [during this period], despite a lack of convincing evidence that federal dollars were improving the quality of American education, and despite the fact that there were Republicans in the White House much of the time who were committed to reining in federal spending....Why...? One must begin by noting that there was not a dramatic expansion in federal spending on elementary and secondary education.... Rather, what stands out in education policy after the 1960s is the increase in federal regulation.... Other than the degree of federal direction, perhaps the most significant feature of this education regulation regime was its comparative detachment from the world of majoritarian politics. The leading actors in federal policy making by the 1970s were not presidents. Instead, they were, for the most part, unelected political actors.... In the case of education, Americans at the beginning of the twenty-first century were still living in the Great Society era, even if the federal