Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 8, Number 46
December 4, 2008
Opinion + Analysis
A piece of the pie
Sink or swim
How do you know she's a witch?
This week, we welcome guest co-host (and Fordham Insider) Dave DeSchryver to the show. He and Mike discuss the state of the Obama domestic policy transition, Michelle Rhee's appearance in Time, and Lou Gerstner's reform proposals. Then, Amber tells us about what it takes to recognize an effective teacher and Rate That Reform talks economy.
December 4, 2008
Last spring, Paul Reville, who was then chair of the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and is now the Commonwealth's Secretary of Education, created the 21st Century Skills Task Force. Its charge seemed reasonable at first glance--to review state curriculum frameworks and the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS), the high-stakes tests students are required to pass to earn a high school diploma, and update them to include additional skills needed to succeed in a rapidly changing world. According to the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, these futuristic skills include creativity, media savvy, cultural competence, problem solving, and improved teamwork.
But now that the task force has released its recommendations, it's clear that its real goal is to compromise the Bay State's nationally lauded standards and tests. That would be an enormous mistake.
Accolades for Massachusetts's current standards-and-testing program have come from all directions. Its curriculum frameworks have been praised by both the American Federation of Teachers and the Fordham Foundation; Fordham and the U.S. Department of Education have recognized its proficiency standards as being among the nation's most rigorous. Washington, D.C. recently adopted MCAS and the Commonwealth's curriculum frameworks as models.
Noted educator E.D. Hirsch lauded the Massachusetts model earlier this year in a Washington Post op-ed. "Consider the eighth grade NAEP [National Assessment of Educational Progress] results from Massachusetts, which are a stunning exception to the nationwide pattern of stagnation and decline," he wrote. "That is because Massachusetts decided...students
December 4, 2008
Seems wishful thinking is Miami-Dade schools' chief Alberto Carvalho's forte. His latest? Bailout the public school system. With myriad companies going hat-in-hand to the feds, Carvalho thinks schools should be given a slice of the bailout pie, too. Florida is facing a potential $1.4 billion tax shortfall, which Carvalho believes could translate into a $65 million cut for the Miami-Dade school system. The district has already trimmed $289 million from its $5.5 billion budget. Times are certainly arduous; both public and private institutions--including those in the Sunshine State--are feeling the pinch. Unfortunately, it's Carvalho who needs to be pinched--to wake him out of this quixotic (and incorrect) grasp of economics. We'll let University of Miami economics professor Michael Connelly clarify: public schools have "already been bailed out because they are public. They don't need...another bailout. They aren't private." Well put, Mr. Connelly. But he's not stopping there. "If the Florida school system goes down the drain, it will make no difference to the U.S. economy," Connelly explains. "If we have AIG or Citicorp fail, they we have a systemic failure in our financial system." Yikes. We're not sure we'd go that far, but Carvalho: Take note. These cockamamie schemes are just not cutting it.
"Miami-Dade schools chief Alberto Carvalho: Schools deserve bailout, too," by Kathleen McGrory, Miami Dade Herald, November 25, 2008
December 4, 2008
Disturbing news from our nation's classrooms: cheating is running rampant. A recent study from the Josephson Institute found that in the past year a whopping 64 percent of high school students have cheated on a test--and 38 percent had done it more than once. The news gets worse. Thirty-six percent admitted to using the internet to plagiarize an assignment while 30 percent had stolen from a store. A renaissance of the Artful Dodger? But while the adults may be squirming, students themselves are losing no sleep over their perfidious ways. Ninety-three percent reported they were "satisfied with their personal ethics and character" and 77 percent claimed they were "better than most people [they knew]" at doing "what is right." Sounds like we need to solve this dishonesty, and fast. Institute president Michael Josephson weighs in: "What we need to learn from these survey results is that our moral infrastructure is unsound and in serious need of repair. This is not a time to lament and whine but to take thoughtful, positive actions." Perhaps a hefty dose of the paternalism David Whitman found in six "No Excuses" schools is the cure for this malady.
"Survey Finds Growing Deceit Among Teens," by David Crary, Associated Press, December 1, 2008
December 4, 2008
The party's over for members of New York City's teacher reserve pool. Chancellor Joel Klein and UFT President Randi Weingarten have reached a rather sensible accord that sounds likely to provide some long awaited answers to this question: Why are so many teachers in the reserve pool unable to land classroom jobs? Klein and Co. believe it's usually because nobody wants ‘em and most likely for good reason. Weingarten disagrees; nobody wants them, she insists, because the city now charges school budgets for teachers' salaries, and thus principals have incentives to skip over more experienced, expensive instructors for their younger, less expensive peers. It became apparent last spring, however, that teachers in the pool--who receive full pay and benefits--could remain in this cushy fully paid limbo indefinitely and the city was spending big bucks as a result. The solution gives some to both sides. Klein will encourage schools to hire reserve teachers via district policy and, more importantly, financial incentives. Score for the union. But Klein has also smartly maintained principal hiring autonomy; principals will not be forced to hire reserve teachers and those hired after November 1 will be on probation for the remainder of the year. An inferior performance can land them back in the pool come June. One thing's for sure: teachers who are still swimming in limbo come next year really do deserve the pink slip.
"A plan to hire the best teachers," Editorial,
December 4, 2008
Thanksgiving meals don't often deteriorate into altercations requiring police intervention--unless you're the parent of a kindergartner in Claremont, CA, that is. For four decades, tots from two schools in this typically peaceful town have taken turns dressing up as pilgrims and Native Americans (OK, we'll say it: Indians) and hosting a sumptuous Thanksgiving feast. But not this year. Out: handmade paper pilgrim hats, bonnets, fringed vests, and Native American headdresses. In: protests outside Condit Elementary School, where parents objected to the political incorrectness and apparent unsuitability of said dress-up festivities. "It's demeaning," Michelle Raheja wrote to her daughter's teacher upon learning of the not-entirely-historically-accurate apparel requirements. Raheja, whose mother is Seneca, elaborates: "I'm sure you can appreciate the inappropriateness of asking children to dress up like slaves (and kind slave masters), or Jews (and friendly Nazis), or members of any other racial minority group who has struggled in our nation's history." Yowzers. Police separated the arguing parents while kindergartners--some of whom were dressed up anyway--played in the grass. "The kids were oblivious," said Lt. Dennis Smith of the Claremont police department, "as they should be." And thank goodness for that.
"Claremont parents clash over kindergarten Thanksgiving costumes," by Seema Mehta, Los Angeles Times, November 25, 2008
"Claremont school Thanksgiving costumes create a commotion," by Seema Mehta, Los Angeles Times, November 25, 2008
December 4, 2008
Center on Reinventing Public Education, School Finance Redesign Project
Paul T. Hill, Marguerite Roza, and James Harvey
This handy little report represents the culmination of a six-year, $6 million effort--the School Finance Redesign Project--designed to address one simple, but crucial, question: "How can states and localities spend money more effectively to promote high achievement for all students?" That question spawned 30 studies from more than 40 scholars, the sum of whose work is summarized in this report, and which identifies a handful of pressing problems and suggests four recommendations. On the problem front, the offenders are well known. For example, despite huge increases in funding in recent decades, student achievement has improved only marginally (if at all). And there are tremendous inequities on various levels--between states, district, schools, and even classrooms. For instance, one study found that the actual per pupil spending of a typical "core" class (e.g. math or English) was 20 percent less than a "non-core," or elective, class--due to differences in class size, teacher salaries, and teacher workloads. In another study, Roza, Davis, and Guinn found that spending patterns of principals were determined at least in part by level of autonomy. With greater control, principals "would often make different choices," such as hiring more teachers but at lower salaries. And of course multiple studies showed the funding inequities across states and between low and high poverty schools--gaps that are (at the state level) unfortunately correlated with
Amber M. Winkler, Ph.D. / December 4, 2008
Jonah Rockoff, Brian Jacob, Thomas Kane, and Douglas Staiger
National Bureau of Economic Research
Wouldn't it be swell if during the hiring process districts had better tools with which to identify the most promising teacher candidates? This technical study by a quartet of research heavy-hitters gets us one step closer to that administrator's dream. It examines whether various lesser studied teacher characteristics (versus the traditional ones like graduate education and certification) predict teacher effectiveness. Specifically, it examines content knowledge, cognitive ability, personality traits (like conscientiousness and agreeableness), feelings of self-efficacy, and scores on a teacher pre-screening evaluation, which measured level of organization and planning, among other areas. The study included a survey sample, which included roughly 400 new (in 2006-07) elementary and middle school math teachers in New York City, and a student achievement sample, which included most of the survey sample plus all students and teachers in grades 4-8 in New York City (approximately 13,000 classrooms in 988 schools). Besides survey and achievement data, researchers also collected administrative data like retention and teacher absences. Out of this, a handful of variables were found to have statistically significant relationships with student and teacher outcomes (for instance, teachers' math content knowledge was strongly related to students' math achievement--no surprise there). The bigger story, however, is that when all of these variables were combined into just two batches--cognitive skills (like SAT scores and math knowledge) and non-cognitive skills (like personal efficacy