Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 8, Number 45
November 20, 2008
Opinion + Analysis
A byte at the apple
Abbott & Costello
School kids with lice--no dice?
Reading First Impact Study Final Report
It's the Pitts
This week, Mike and Rick discuss Fordham's latest and brightest treatise on data, Randi Weingarten's acclaimed speech at the National Press Club, and the appointment of Linda Darling-Hammond as transition team education advisor. Then the show talks alternative certification--genuine programs as studied by PEPG in Amber's Research 45-Seconds (she's a pro!) and not so genuine programs involving illegal immigrants in Dallas on Rate that Reform.
A Byte at the Apple: Rethinking Education Data for the Post-NCLB Era
In A Byte at the Apple, leaders and scholars map the landscape of education data providers and users and explore why what's supplied by the former often fails to meet the needs of the latter. Most important, it explores potential solutions--including a system where a "backpack" of achievement information accompanies every student from place to place.
November 20, 2008
Education data sorely need a transformation. As commentators, boosters, and sometimes critics of education reform, we have witnessed policymakers struggling to make decisions in the face of incomplete information; school leaders in search of clearer data about the performance of their teachers and pupils; taxpayers and public officials puzzled by why more resources keep pouring into a system from which little more pours out by way of learning; and fellow analysts frustrated by muddy or outdated statistics. The question now, of course, is how to launch such a transformation.
It is true that the data available today are superior to those available in the past. No Child Left Behind has led to important strides in the availability of student achievement data. Emerging technologies are changing how such information is collected and are easing data entry, analysis, and dissemination. And many groups have been pressing for further improvements, such as the Data Quality Campaign doggedly nudging states toward longitudinal databases; the Schools Interoperability Framework Association, enabling seamless data sharing; Greatschools.net and SchoolMatters.com providing parents and policymakers with school-level data; funders such as Gates, Walton, and Broad supporting these and kindred reforms; and, in the public sphere, the U.S. Department of Education and its National Center for Education Statistics, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and numerous forward-thinking states, districts, and schools, collaborating on data reforms.
Yet we still have incredibly far to
November 20, 2008
New York Times columnist David Brooks began his June 13th piece with a question: "Is Barack Obama really a force for change, or is he just a traditional Democrat with a patina of postpartisan rhetoric?"
The answer, Brooks noted, might be found in Obama's approach to American K-12 education, a policy issue that had rather recently evinced in Democratic Party circles a divide between the status quo, teachers'-union-friendly camp, and those who crave school innovations, reforms, and HR structures that put the interests of kids before those of adults. With which group Obama chose to huddle could signal how he'll govern, generally, as president.
Alas, throughout the 2008 campaign, Obama huddled with ambiguity. His rhetoric about schools was soaring, his actual platforms grounded. He called the provision of first-rate education a national "moral responsibility," one that he pledged to fulfill, yet his major contribution to that end was to propose adding billions of dollars to the federal education-budget without fundamentally reshaping the sclerotic system it funds.
And yet, Obama gave Democratic reformers some cause for hope. In April, for example, he told FOX News Sunday host Chris Wallace, "I think that on issues of education, I've been very clear about the fact--and sometimes I've gotten in trouble with the teachers' union on this--that we should be experimenting with charter schools. We should be experimenting with different ways of compensating teachers."
When Obama reiterated his support for merit pay at the July
November 20, 2008
Here's a travesty: the perpetuation of the notorious funding adequacy case Abbott v. Burke. On Monday, the New Jersey Supreme Court decided 5-0 to, in effect, not decide, again, on the fate of this 27-year long effort to enhance the budgets of 31 poor and low performing districts in the Garden State. The 31 were designated "Abbott districts" when the Court forced the state to readjust its education dollars so that they'd get more state money--over 50 percent of state education aid, in fact. (The 2008-2009 budget clocks that figure in at a whopping $4.1 billion. By comparison, K-12 state aid for the whole state-i.e. all 616 districts--is just $7.8 billion.) The idea was to use state funds to equalize per-pupil funding between these districts and their wealthier neighbors. But since that time, demographics within state have shifted, impoverishing some districts while enriching others, making the Abbott system anachronistic. Last winter, Governor Jon Corzine proposed, and the legislature passed, a new formula for doling out these monies to address this problem: the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA). It would tie dollars to the neediest students rather than districts, and in effect reverse the Abbott designation. Unfortunately, those in black robes have decided that the governor will now have to prove that his new formula is "constitutionally adequate" before a court-appointed "special master." Meanwhile, the Abbott districts remain. Robert Holster, superintendent of Passaic, which is one of them, had
November 20, 2008
Ah, the two faces of Randi Weingarten. Perhaps overcome with election-induced fuzzies, she boldly proclaimed on Monday: "with the exception of vouchers... no issue should be off the table, provided it is good for children and fair to teachers." Reformers, take heart! Maybe it was fate, then, that brought her to say these words in our nation's capital where schools chancellor Michelle Rhee continues to map out strategies for bringing much needed reform to teacher salaries and tenure. With her union negotiations (with an AFT local) at an impasse, Rhee's latest brainstorms include declaring D.C. schools in a "state of emergency." Perhaps worrying that Washington Teachers Union President George Parker will fold, Weingarten and the chancellor were scheduled to meet this week. So does this mean impending détente? Apparently not. Weingarten has declared Rhee's ideas "totally at odds" with those that belong on the AFT's supposed table. Once again, words of reform are followed by actions that stymie it. When Weingarten starts talking out of only one side of her mouth, real reformers will consider taking her overtures seriously.
"Head of Teachers' Union Offers to Talk on Tenure and Merit Pay," by Sam Dillon, New York Times, November 17, 2008
"Fenty, Rhee Look for Ways Around Union," by Bill Turque, Washington Post, November 16, 2008
"Union Chiefs and Rhee Will Meet," by Bill Turque, Washington Post, November 18, 2008
November 20, 2008
Isn't the show over when the fat lady sings? Not for these four chronically failing schools in Miami-Dade. The story goes something like this: four schools that have consistently earned "F's" on Florida's state report card were slated to close at the end of last year. The district had tried myriad fixes: investing millions in the four, installing new leadership teams, and hiring academic deans and subject-area coaches, all to no avail. The latest? The School Board will take over the schools, with Superintendent Alberto Carvalho leading the charge. This would enable Carvalho to change the schools' leadership (again) and hire (more) expert consultants. And this is different from past efforts how? But don't worry, says Carvalho, this great pledge of leadership is just for show; ''The plan [to take control of the schools] is simply the legal requirement should the schools not make the grade. It is not my intention to have to live up to it." Instead, he expects a "miraculous" turnaround by the end of the year. "To me," he explains, "the only logical course of action is to maintain these schools under my direction." Too bad logic is the only thing missing in this kitchen sink.
"4 failing schools in Miami-Dade will stay open," by Kathleen McGrory, Miami Herald, November 15, 2008
November 20, 2008
Should the louse, that age-old creepy crawly elementary school pest, keep kids out of school? That's what a few school districts in Ohio are pondering. Some have strict "no nit" policies, insisting that kids can only return when all signs of lice are gone. Others take a more live and let live approach, permitting students to stay in class while being treated for their pesky visitors. The former will prevent the spread of lice while the latter will prevent missed school days. Which is preferable? Lice researcher Shirley Gordon of Florida Atlantic University warns that missing school because of lice can mean kids "stop getting invited to birthday parties and don't get invited to sleepovers anymore." But although "most parents don't want parasites on their children that bite and suck their blood," she explains, "it is not considered a public health threat." Pearls of wisdom indeed, but we're still wondering, how does one become a "lice researcher"?
"Schools wonder if it's worth losing class time over lice," by Jennifer Smith Richards, The Columbus Dispatch, November 12, 2008
Amber M. Winkler, Ph.D. / November 20, 2008
It's here. The Final Reading First (RF) Evaluation by the Education Department's very own Institute of Education Sciences (as contracted out to Abt). The headline? Analysts found no statistically significant differences between RF and non-RF schools on student reading comprehension in grades one, two, or three--as evidenced by three years of achievement data. Not good. On a more positive (and unsurprising note), it also found that RF teachers spent significantly more time teaching the five essential components of reading instruction and RF schools did a significantly better job of providing instructional support to teachers (e.g., help for struggling readers, professional development in scientifically based reading instruction, etc). The key to understanding this study is to recall that there are five components of successful early reading as determined by the National Reading Panel: comprehension, phonics (including decoding), vocabulary, oral fluency, and phonemic awareness. It takes all five to learn how to read but this study only studied the first two--and the second of these but for a single year in one grade of the 3-year study. Although Abt found in that one year snapshot that RF did have a positive impact on decoding among first grade students, such last minute antics are not enough to know conclusively. Many in the research community complained (including me) that only measuring comprehension (and decoding, briefly) does not effectively evaluate "reading achievement" (especially with a $6 billion price tag). But
November 20, 2008
Paul E. Peterson and Daniel Nadler
It's a cliche that things aren't always what they seem. But in the case of alternative teacher certification programs, when they are what they seem, they're pretty stellar-that is, in terms of recruiting minority teachers and boosting student achievement. In the latest issue of Education Next, Harvard's Paul Peterson and Daniel Nadler examine the alternative certification (AC) programs of 47 states (three states do not allow it). They found that in 21-Ohio is not one of them-there were genuine alternative programs, meaning that would-be teachers did not have to take the same number of courses as traditionally certified teachers or they could take a test to demonstrate teaching competency. In those states with genuine AC, over a quarter of teachers chose this route in 2004-05, compared to just five percent in states with symbolic AC. In these latter states, participants had to take the full 30 education credits. The study also measured minority inroads into teaching in relation to alternative certification, and in the 21 states with genuine alternative paths to the classroom, they found minority representation was much higher than in those states with symbolic or no alternative licensure. Finally, Peterson and Nadler also found that genuine AC states posted greater NAEP gains between 2003 and 2007 than did states with symbolic AC, though the researchers were unable to control for other state policies that may have been introduced during
A Tale of Two Districts: A Comparative Study of Student-Based Funding and School-Based Decision Making in San Francisco and Oakland Unified School Districts
November 20, 2008
Jay Chambers, Larisa Shambaugh, Jesse Levin, Mari Muraki, Lindsay Poland
American Institutes for Research
This study examines the implementation of student-based funding (SBF, also known as weighted student funding or WSF) in two neighboring school districts--San Francisco and Oakland--and offers a potpourri of findings. On the one hand, almost every school- and district-level respondent favored SBF over a return to traditional funding policies, despite the larger workload that SBF lays upon them. SBF can also lead to increased demand for transparency and other improvements, and, perhaps best of all, require a culture shift from compliance to innovation. But student-based funding is no panacea. The report stresses that it isn't really even a "reform mechanism for change." After all, implementing SBF policies doesn't address fundamental funding inadequacies or eradicate socioeconomic segregation or solve sundry other problems. SBF adjusts the inputs in a field where outcomes are what really matter. But it's based on a noble and practical premise, and more studies examining what works and what doesn't would be welcomed. As for this one, you can read it here.