Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 8, Number 2
January 10, 2008
Opinion + Analysis
Quality Counts. Or does it?
Stick to the recipe
Small classes, big problems
Charter School Law Deskbook
Michael J. Petrilli / January 10, 2008
Senator Barack Obama sees a post-partisan future for America, but that doesn't mean all divisions will disappear. Already the Democratic primary is shaping up to be a generational battle royale. In Iowa, Senator Hillary Clinton beat Obama by 20 points among voters over 50; by New Hampshire that margin grew to 30. Meanwhile, Obama beat Clinton by 46 points among voters under 30 in Iowa, and a slimmer but still significant 22 points among that demographic in New Hampshire.
Though we don't know how Democratic teachers in those states voted, it's not hard to imagine a similar generational sorting in their ranks, too.
First, consider older teachers. Not only are they of Clinton's generation, they also tend to dominate the teacher unions--the very unions that are at the base of her party-mainstream support. While the National Education Association hasn't yet endorsed a candidate, its New Hampshire affiliate came out for Clinton (and Huckabee on the Republican side). (The Iowa union kept its powder dry.) When you hear about the "Democratic establishment," think teacher unions; their members regularly constitute some 10 percent of all delegates at the Democratic National Convention, after all. As the "establishment" candidate, then, Clinton is and will likely remain the teacher unions' favorite.
Everybody knows that those unions' leaders and most active members tend to be older. Why? Simply because senior teachers have the most at stake. After toiling in the classroom for decades for modest pay, they
January 10, 2008
This week brought the twelfth edition of the yearly Quality Counts report, which evaluates public education in the states and nation. Each of those political entities is graded in six areas, and those six grades are then combined to yield for every state (and the country and D.C.) an overall grade. The best thing about QC Version 12.0 is its focus on teachers and a selection of indicators by which it judges whether policymakers are committed to putting the best educators in the classroom.
In the past, QC has concentrated on "the state's role as a gatekeeper" for teaching by looking at licensure requirements and such. This year, the report shifts its lens to "the state's role in attracting, developing, deploying, and keeping the very best education workforce possible." And QC's editors rightly think part of that role is advancing smart pay-for-performance initiatives (see here). The report contains much valuable data about the teaching profession; for example, 43 states formally evaluate their teachers, but only 23 formally train the evaluators. In only 12 states is teacher evaluation tied to student achievement.
But QC has sundry drawbacks. For starters, its creators unaccountably (and, we think, knowingly, willfully, and politically) ignored the path-breaking work in this field by the National Council on Teacher Quality, including that organization's superb state teacher policy "yearbook," which you can find here. But there's more. An essay by the
January 10, 2008
The Golden State is anything but. Yet again, California is in a budget crisis--this time it faces a $14 billion deficit. "For several years, we kept the budget wolf from the door," said Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. "But the wolf is back." And while that wolf may take a bite out of the state's education funding (Schwarzenegger is expected to propose $1.4 billion in education cuts), the governor indicated this week in his State of the State speech that Canis lupus is not chewing up all of his "Year of Education" reform plans. He pledged that California will become the first state to intervene in school districts which have for five years not met No Child Left Behind academic requirements (there are 98 such districts in the state), that high-performing schools will be able to apply for waivers that exempt them from the more-prescriptive aspects of the state's voluminous education code, and that California will improve the quality and accessibility of education data. Yes, it's a start. But it pales alongside the estimable and comprehensive education reform package recently laid on the Gubernator's desk by his very own Committee on Education Excellence, chaired by Ted Mitchell (find analysis of the report here). Some of the report's recommendations are pricey, though--the study recommends, for example, $6.1 billion in new education spending. So perhaps the governor is simply playing the best he can with the budget hand he's been
January 10, 2008
Has any commentator yet compared the No Child Left Behind act to a stew, one into which cooks dump whatever odds and ends and leftover bits they find in the kitchen, keeping the pot bubbling forever on the back of the stove? If not, allow us to be the first. The newest ingredient struggling to find its way into said pot is "financial literacy." Arkadi Kuhlmann, president and CEO of ING Direct USA, wrote an op-ed in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette urging that this subject become part of every school's curriculum and incorporated into any NCLB reauthorization. He thinks "it makes little sense to leave financial literacy on the backburner of the debate" where it would keep company with that stewpot. Like so many education ideas, Kuhlmann's makes sense on first reading: more financial planning know-how for America's students is a fine thing; today's mortgage meltdown shows what happens when so many people lack an understanding of financial basics. But a similar case can be made for sundry other additions, too: obesity-prevention, environmental awareness, sex ed, and on and on. Our schools--and the federal law--need not take on more subjects when they haven't even mastered the basics. Waiter, take this murky stew away--Gadfly desires a consommé.
"The Private Sector: The ABCs of financial literacy and No Child Left Behind," by Arkadi Kuhlmann, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, January 1, 2008
January 10, 2008
In November 2002, Florida voters amended the state constitution to mandate that classes from pre-k through third-grade have no more than 18 kids, grades four through eight no more than 22, and grades nine through 12 no more than 25. These targets didn't have to be met class-by-class until fall 2008. It ain't gonna be easy. Republican State Senator Don Gaetz predicts "a lot of meetings ... where angry parents are demanding to know why their children can't go to school in their neighborhood school," he said. School officials are themselves confused: Will they be forced to turn students away on account of class-size limits? And if schools do have to accommodate the extra youngsters, it will certainly mean making more classes. (The campus of Sickles High School in Tampa is, for example, now home to 24 portables, which is ten more than it had last year.) We'll break it down: Florida's class-size amendment is proving extraordinarily expensive and disruptive for something that's based on the dubious idea that academic achievement is tied to a magical number of desks in a classroom. Perhaps now, when the amendment's practical consequences are beginning to be felt, Sunshine State voters will reconsider the choice they made in 2002.
"Class limits raise anxiety," by Letitia Stein, St. Petersburg Times, January 5, 2007
January 10, 2008
Calvin Trillin--veteran New Yorker writer and author of, among other swell books, Tepper Isn't Going Out, which revolves around a New York City man's parking habits--harbors intense feelings about vehicular placement. Trillin describes the savvy Gotham parker: "He plays rough but clean like the West Point football team, trained not to gouge people's eyes, but to take every possible advantage. It's dog eat dog. You want it easy? Go to Elmira." And apparently Trillin isn't the only Big Apple resident who takes parking seriously. Last Thursday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced he would cut by 20 percent the number of parking permits issued to New York City employees, including public school teachers. Randi Weingarten, president of the United Federation of Teachers, reacted predictably, sending Bloomberg a letter that termed his parking-pass cutbacks "deeply disturbing." Odd. When Gadfly thinks of "deeply disturbing" things, he envisions chainsaw massacres in Texas, taking advice from Dr. Phil, and the Byzantine process required to fire a teacher in the New York City Public School System. But then, Gadfly has always used public transportation.
"Parking Plan Is Rebuffed by Teachers," by Elizabeth Green, New York Sun, January 7, 2008
Coby Loup / January 10, 2008
Paul T. O'Neill
LexisNexis and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools
The Charter School Law Deskbook is an invaluable reference guide for anyone needing federal or state charter-school law at their fingertips. For each state (at least those with charter laws on their statute books), O'Neill lists all charter-related statutes and, as applicable, regulatory guidelines. It's no page turner, though it's kinda fun to use the table of contents to compare the lengths of the state sections. Not surprisingly, Texas (where everything is bigger, after all) wins with 76 pages of single-spaced legalese. The District of Columbia, with 66 pages, and California, with 62 pages, round out the top three. Also interesting is a reader-friendly chart comparing key features of charter law, such as teacher certification requirements and caps on the number of schools. The section on federal law includes a number of relevant guidelines: how charters are affected by No Child Left Behind, what kind of federal grants they're eligible for, etc. The Deskbook also includes a short but comprehensive Q & A section on "Applying Law to Charter Schools," which provides an informative introduction to the forbidding legal issues one needs to consider when starting a charter school. One assumes that, by distributing photocopies of this Q & A with their application materials, policymakers and authorizers could begin to weed out those who are naïve or only half-serious about opening new charter schools. If you do