Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 8, Number 4
January 24, 2008
Opinion + Analysis
Split the difference
Now that's bonus pay
New York values
Headmaster of Business Administration
What's in a diploma?
Tastes bad, less filling
Fair Trade: Five Deals to Expand and Improve Charter Schooling
By Coby Loup
I propose a toast
This week, Mike and Rick chat about MBA principals, New York City's data-tracking, and what else ails Dallas. Education News of the Weird is personality driven.
January 24, 2008
Thomas Friedman decided in 2005 to overturn two millennia of astronomical wisdom by releasing a book called The World Is Flat, the crux of which is that the United States faces growing economic competition from countries such as China and India. The tome's title is cliché, but its omnipresence defies disregard.
Three years after the book besieged bestseller lists, the nation has yet to get over it. When we read this week that Tata, the Indian conglomerate, is now the frontrunner to buy Ford's Jaguar and Land Rover brands, and that it will soon start exporting electric cars to the U.S., we get a bit squirmy in our seats.
But most worrisome to Americans, it seems, is that our nation may be losing the human-capital battle, the struggle to produce, attract, and retain skilled and talented workers. A new documentary, Two Million Minutes, follows six high-school students--two each from the United States, India, and China--and finds that the Asian-educated kids study (especially math and science) a lot more than their American peers
The film's most fervent promoters call this a "crisis." The description oversimplifies, but it nonetheless illumines a question that never quite abates, that always dwells just beneath the surface of other education conversations. If the U.S. does face competition from Indian and Chinese students, are American interests better served by lavishing resources on our lowest academic achievers or our highest?
January 24, 2008
"Please," cry the teachers of Dallas, who are currently disallowed from giving their students any grade lower than a 50 percent, "let us bestow upon our pupils the grades that they in reality earn." Superintendent Michael Hinojosa scoffs at such pleas. He thinks if students do nothing early in a semester and receive zeros, they'll be unable to affect an academic turnaround later in the marking period. But if youngsters who complete no assignments nonetheless receive 50-percent credit for them, they can--if lightning strikes--still pull out a passing grade later in the semester. Such tortured logic, realized through the Dallas school code, magically accomplishes at least three undesirable goals. First, it shows students (and teachers) that their school grades are wholly fabricated. Whereas once perhaps As, Bs, and Fs meant at least something, they do no longer. Second, it lets teachers know that they have no autonomy in their classrooms, even in grading. And third, it mocks those who push for higher standards and more accountability, and it makes hypocrites of Dallas's school administrators. Bravo. We said it last week, we'll say it again: Dallas has problems.
"Dallas teachers ask for ability to give grades below 50," by Kent Fischer, Dallas Morning News, January 18, 2008
January 24, 2008
Paying teachers extra for serving in high-needs schools is one of the few ideas embraced by presidential candidates on both sides of the aisle this election year. And even lots of teachers like the notion, at least in theory. But districts experimenting with "hardship" pay have come up against a problem: a little bit extra won't do. Because teachers value good working conditions more than cash, bonuses have to be big to be effective. Australia's Noel Pearson seems to have gotten the message, and then some. He's launching Teach for Australia with private funds. For experienced teachers who move to the bush and teach successfully in Aboriginal schools, the program will provide $50,000 extra--yes, on top of regular salaries. (Granted, that's only $43,000 in U.S. dollars.) One of the project's leaders told the Australian, "We think if you get the incentives right, there will be a huge number of people wanting to do this." No kidding--can we apply?
"Teachers' $50K bush bonus," by Justine Ferrari, The Australian, January 17, 2008
January 24, 2008
Randi Weingarten--UFT president, AFT heir-apparent--must enjoy fighting losing battles. Her latest hopeless quest is to keep New York City schools from using "value-added" achievement data to evaluate teachers. "If one permitted this, it would be one of the worst decisions of my professional life," she told the New York Times. (Even worse than permitting this "deeply disturbing" reform?) Furthermore, Weingarten thinks "any real educator can know within five minutes of walking into a classroom if a teacher is effective." Really, Randi? Then why are so few obviously ineffective teachers removed from Gotham's schools? Perhaps it's because principals are afraid to do so without objective data lest they be charged, by Randi, with acting on a "whim." So let Gadfly propose a responsible use of New York's new spreadsheets. No, information on the effectiveness of individual teachers should not be made public (as Deputy Schools Chancellor Chris Cerf suggests), but it should be given to principals. And they should be allowed, even encouraged, to use it as one part of evaluating teachers and making tenure decisions. We can see Randi's reaction now.
"New York Measuring Teachers by Test Scores," by Jennifer Medina, New York Times, January 21, 2008
January 24, 2008
What type of formal education makes great CEOs? According to Forbes magazine, chief executives earn shareholders similar returns whether they have a Ph.D., MBA, J.D., master's degree, or even just a bachelor's degree. What type of formal education makes great principals? Nobody knows, because until now they've mostly come from the same place: schools of education. Several programs (such as New Leaders for New Schools and KIPP) have bucked this trend, and now higher education is getting in on the action, too. Rice University, in Houston, is launching an MBA program specifically to train principals. Although candidates must have some classroom experience, the curriculum involves no instructional training (Rice doesn't have an ed school) and focuses, instead, on administrative issues. Prince George's County Superintendent John E. Deasy finds the approach promising and notes that many school leaders manage a "$5 million payroll and a plant worth $90 million. That is a job for an MBA." Some rightly fear that business-minded principals will be ineffective instructional leaders, of course. And there's a real risk that MBA-school leaders who find their hands tied won't stay in bureaucratic k-12 systems. But there's only one way to find out if such concerns are valid: Give the MBA approach a try and see what happens. Such is the kind of innovation and experimentation that public schools need.
"Rethinking Principal Priorities of Training," by Jay Mathews, Washington Post,
January 24, 2008
When 45 percent of Pennsylvania's 127,000 high-school seniors fail basic reading and math exams, when close to 75 percent of Philadelphia's 2006 graduates don't pass them, what is to be done? The state's education secretary, Gerald Zahorchak, has an answer. He wants Pennsylvania's Board of Education to create ten Graduation Competency Assessments, at least six of which a student would have to pass in order to graduate. The youth disapprove. Jamillah Hannibal, a Philadelphia student who failed the state math exam but has already been accepted to college, said, "I can do the work, but tests are not my strong point. I've worked my four years so hard to graduate, and [under the proposed regulations] I couldn't see my diploma because of one test? That's wrong." No, Jamillah. What's wrong is sending 18-year-olds into the world without basic reading and math skills. Gadfly applauds Zahorchak for speaking out on the Keystone State's low expectations. Still, the Board of Education should tread deliberately and carefully as it moves ahead; end of course exams are useful but tricky things. In the words of Poor Richard, "Well done is better than well said."
"Receiving diplomas without skills," by Dan Hardy, Philadelphia Inquirer, January 17, 2008
January 24, 2008
British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver caused a stir recently when he offed a chicken in front of a live, studio audience. The demonstration's point (buy ethically reared fowl), and perhaps the demonstration itself, would be right at home in the U.K.'s new curriculum. Starting in September, all British 11- to 14-year-olds currently enrolled in food technology courses (85 percent of them) will take mandatory cooking classes as part of the government's anti-obesity strategy. Ed Balls, Britain's schools secretary, has also proposed a new secondary curriculum that includes lessons on practical cooking skills and wise grocery shopping. Meanwhile, American home economics classes are rapidly diminishing. (The effects are showing, and the Brits are jeering.) A 2000 study in the Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences Education predicted that by 2012, 77 percent of American home economics teachers will have retired. And because U.S. schools are eliminating family and consumer science programs, those home economics instructors who haven't retired will have a tough time finding jobs. But it's a flat world, and flights from Kennedy to Heathrow are going for less than $200 (3.71 GBP). Yankees who want to teach cooking to 13-year-olds need only learn how to whip-up a mean Welch Rarebit, and hop on a plane.
"Obese teenagers to be taught how to cook," by Natalie Paris and agencies, The Daily Telegraph, January 23, 2008
Coby Loup / January 24, 2008
Andrew J. Rotherham
The debates over charter schools that play out across blogs and opinion pages are heated, but in state legislative chambers cooler heads eventually have to prevail to reach compromises on charter-school legislation. This policy brief by Education Sector's Andy Rotherham recommends some ways to reach those compromises. Rotherham's first suggestion is "smart charter school caps" (more here), which "allow schools that have met a performance threshold to replicate as fast as they are able to." Structuring policy in this way allays the fear that poorly-performing schools run by wackos, yahoos, felons, and ex-Stasi will proliferate. Another recommendation: High-performing charters looking for permanent homes should lend their academic credibility to struggling public schools in exchange for building space. (Ohio, for example, has a law that allows traditional public schools who make room for charters to include the charter's performance figures in their own accountability reports.) Other ideas include providing transition aid for traditional public schools that lose students to charters, implementing a system of weighted student funding, and developing "thin" teacher contracts for charter schools, much like those used in the Green Dot system in Los Angeles (compare the 53 pages in Green Dot's contract with the 348 in LAUSD's). Rotherham points out, too, the types of risks inherent in any political compromise. Regarding the "test scores for space" recommendation, for instance, what happens if the high-achieving