Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 8, Number 43
November 6, 2008
Opinion + Analysis
Sleepless in New York
Kevin Carey, smart person
This week, we welcome an occasional guest co-host and self-styled brainiac to the show. He and Mike make their post-election education predictions, chat about the gifted program hoopla in New York, and contemplate the asperity of superstar charter organizations' scalability. Then, Amber tells us about the new Mathematica study on teacher induction and Rate that Reform goes mental!
November 6, 2008
KIPP KEY Academy in Washington, DC. North Star Academy in Newark. Roxbury Prep in Boston. Amistad Academy in New Haven. These, and perhaps 200 other high-performing schools nationwide, are the bright lights of the charter movement. Despite social and economic disadvantages, their students not only trounce district peers on state tests, but top statewide averages, and, in some cases, surpass students from surrounding affluent suburban districts.
Inevitably, the question turns to scale. To narrow America's shameful achievement gaps, we would need thousands more such schools. Will that prove impracticable, because the schools rely on scarce resources, particularly teachers who themselves benefited from elite educations?
To explore the question, I turned to a locale well known for its concentration of strong charters: Boston. The city is host to the Academy of the Pacific Rim, Boston Collegiate, Roxbury Prep, Excel Academy, and a cluster of other star schools. Of 17 charter schools in the city, seven are posting striking results on the state's MCAS test. All but one school hews to something like the KIPP model: Driven and highly-educated teachers lead their students in a rigorous academic program, tightly aligned with state standards, that aims to set every child on the path to college. The approach has been dubbed "No Excuses" schooling because teachers adopt high expectations for their pupils and stoutly reject explanations from any quarter for low achievement, whether a child's excuse for failing to complete an assignment or a district
How should serious education reformers view the results of Tuesday's election? We find five causes for optimism and an equal number of worries.
Reasons for Cheer
1. In a year when the Democratic nominee was practically guaranteed to win the White House, the most reform-minded Democratic candidate won. While his education policies are semi-inchoate and (insofar as they're clear) far from perfect, Barack Obama's positions on charter schools, merit pay, and even No Child Left Behind point toward a thoughtfulness and willingness to buck the status quo that were strikingly different from the postures of his closest competitors.
2. Support from the teacher unions was not essential to Obama's sweeping victory and frees him--if he's so inclined--to advance policies and programs that they don't love, perhaps starting with charter schools (one of the few issues enjoying bipartisan support during this election).
3. As the first African-American president, Obama will be uniquely positioned to use his bully pulpit to exhort parents, particularly minority parents, to uphold their responsibilities to foster their children's moral and intellectual development. Done right, this could be a powerful complement to whatever formal policies he puts forward.
4. Republican Senators will maintain a hedge against Democrats' worst impulses, thanks to their continued potential for filibuster. This could give reform-minded Republicans (such as Lamar Alexander) and/or Independent Joe Lieberman a pivotal role in education, as the Democrats will need them in order to pass major legislation. Even in the House, Obama's allies will
November 6, 2008
It feels as though every few weeks another disturbing development limps out of the sink of inefficiency and poor decisions that is the Wake County (NC) Public Schools. The topic of today's episode? The school board has found that--wait for it--kids still want to transfer from their impoverished and underperforming neighborhood schools to their oftentimes-superior magnet brethren. In response to this sensible would-be exodus, the board is again contemplating methods by which to stem the tide and keep the neediest pupils stuck in their present redoubts of mediocrity. So what's this all about? Garrulous school board member Lori Millberg explains thusly: "[Letting students transfer] doesn't help to reduce concentrations of poverty in magnet schools if it increases the concentration in other schools." So, we should keep them there, instead? At this point in Wake's long and tortured obsession with race and class quotas, Gadfly is beginning to feel like a broken record. But one thing's for sure: that there are still parents putting up with these shenanigans is a doggone miracle.
"Wake may tweak magnet school criteria," by T. Keung Hui, Newsobserver.com, November 3, 2008
November 6, 2008
The city that never sleeps has once again borne out this moniker. Who's reaching for the Ambien? Parents. At fault is a salmagundi of complaints about the City's year-old entrance policy for its gifted programs. Having previously allowed sundry methods to identify the brightest tykes for gifted programs, the city aimed to equalize access with a simple standardized test (in 2007) and cutoff score (in 2008). While the plan has resulted in less racial diversity, the upping in standards was well needed. Chancellor Joel Klein says admirably, "We won't compromise standards and thereby dilute our programs." But it seems that standards are not the only cause for declining enrollment. Instead, busing snafus and missing waiting lists are at fault, leaving test-passing children unable to actually enroll and causing a rash of cancelled programs due to low numbers. Kudos to Klein for hewing to standards but we hope he now sorts out these organizational blunders, too.
"Fewer Children Entering Gifted Programs," by Elissa Gootman and Robert Gebeloff, New York Times, October 29, 2008
"Enrollment in gifted program drops 50% and minority admissions skid," by Meredith Kolodner, New York Daily News, October 29, 2008
November 6, 2008
Washington election junkies surely aren't the only ones going through withdrawal as the political season comes to a close, but at least parents in the D.C. area have an outlet for their obsessive-compulsive nature. That's because many school systems in the area now allow parents to track their children's every scholastic move via a variety of web-based grade books. The online tools include homework assignments, YouTube videos, and, of course, grades. Some parents report logging on as often as once a day. The shift is part of a country-wide lurch towards technology. And parents are impressed; mom Jeanette Backus explains: "I really would hate to be a student nowadays, there's just too much information for the parents. But I love it, of course." And so do we. This sort of transparency not only allows parents to participate in their children's education but also frees up teacher time typically spent fielding parent calls and complaints. Students report that open grade books have made them more accountable to mom and dad--and themselves. This is good news. The next step? Shoring up data privacy and enticing even more parents to take advantage of their newfound omniscience. Seems technology can cut costs and headaches. With budgets tight and costs skyrocketing, we're all for taking a byte out of these apples and more.
"Online Grading Systems Mean No More Changing D's to B's," by Daniel de Vise, Washington Post, November 3, 2008
November 6, 2008
Pity the school-loving geek in Clarke County, Ga. In a classic case of adults setting a Good Example, the school district cancelled classes last Friday for the Florida-Georgia football game, anticipating empty classrooms. But it wasn't the kids that they expected to go missing. Clark County--and neighboring Madison and Oglethorpe counties--worried they'd find themselves short on teachers. Last year, 137 teachers--twice the daily average--took off pre-game day and the district could find only 113 substitutes. "I've heard parents say that it's ridiculous, but the reality of the situation is, if there are so many people in this system and this community that go to the game--if that's a reality--it's irresponsible [to have school on that day]," opined Barrow Elementary School principal Tad MacMillan. You want to know what's irresponsible, Mr. MacMillan? Irresponsible is denying these students a day of learning for the sake of pigskin rivalry. And too bad, too, since Florida taught Georgia a 39 point lesson on the turf.
"Unable to find enough teachers, Ga. district cancels school," by ESPN.com news services, October 31, 2008
"Ripple effect: Georgia district cancels school," NBCSports.com news services, October 31, 2008
"Teachers fans, too, so no school," by Ryan Blackburn, Athens Banner-Herald, October 30, 2008
November 6, 2008
Andrew J. Rotherham
This new handbook gives philanthropists practical advice on how to support initiatives to boost teacher and principal quality. "Essentially," explains author Andrew Rotherham, "today's school leaders are running a complicated small business, often with a seven- or eight-figure budget, but they are doing so without adequate training or support." Two main groups are involved in this enterprise--innovative and entrepreneurial organizations training and mentoring teachers and principals (e.g. Teach For America, New Leaders for New Schools) and policy shops providing theoretical guidance (e.g. the Progressive Policy Institute, Fordham). And all are privately funded. Enter philanthropy. Rotherham provides a list of five strategic ways in which philanthropists can noticeably affect teacher and principal quality by supporting both kinds of organizations: attracting new talent, reforming teacher and principal training, distributing educators in neediest areas, restructuring incentives to reward excellence, and investing in research and advocacy. All five strands seem straightforward and worthy, and Rotherham lists examples of leading organizations in each of these five areas. Be warned, though, that this book is truly meant for donors. The casual reader's eyes may glaze over as it discusses how and where to give in each strategic area and examples of past philanthropy and its effects. But if you stick with it, you'll eventually reach page 111, where Rotherham lists ten sensible ideas to fill holes in education policy that need further financial support. You can find the (free) pdf
Impacts of Comprehensive Teacher Induction: Results from the First Year of a Randomized Controlled Study
Amber M. Winkler, Ph.D. / November 6, 2008
Steven Glazerman, Sarah Dolfin, Martha Bleeker, Amy Johnson, Eric Isenberg, Julieta Lugo-Gil, Mary Grider, and Edward Britton
Mathematica Policy Research
This report provides the first-year findings of a 5-year "gold standard" study sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences that compares "comprehensive" or high-intensity teacher induction programs to the (presumably) less comprehensive "business as usual" variety. Since virtually every school district in America offers some kind of new-teacher induction program, with some costing up to $6,600 per head, this study is relevant and timely. Seventeen school districts (serving primarily low-income students) in 13 states were randomly assigned either to a treatment group (that participated in a new comprehensive teacher program provided by Mathematica*) or a control group (that participated in the district's standard teacher induction program, although little explanation was provided as to what "business as usual" really looked like in each district). Not surprisingly, first-year findings show that teachers participating in the "fully loaded" model received significantly more mentoring, guidance on instruction, and time in certain professional development activities (e.g., observing other teachers) than did control group teachers. What was surprising, however, was the neutral or even negative effect of such stepped-up induction interventions on student performance. In fact, there were no across-the-board positive impacts on student test scores in grades 2-6--and larger interventions tended to lower math scores in grades 2 and 3. Neither were there any statistically significant differences between treatment and control teachers' instructional practices
November 6, 2008
U.S. Department of Education
Office of Innovation and Improvement
In the waning weeks of the Bush Administration, the Department of Education has issued new NCLB regulations that garnered some press and a report on America's Catholic schools that barely got any at all. In another little-noticed last hurrah, this report recaps the conversations at a May 2008 forum and highlights the charter movement's evolution from "innovation" to "accountability" to "quality." But the report also admits that the sector "stands at a crossroads," with too many impediments to opening new charters and too many current ones underperforming. To address the former, it urges policymakers to remove state charter caps while also upping facilities funding (easier said than done, given today's economy) and that states establish a diversity of high-quality authorizers--universities, state boards, etc.--to complement the good ole' local education agency (LEA). And to assist with the latter, the report stresses the need for a better support infrastructure and advocates for charter autonomy and accountability, echoing recommendations Fordham made two years ago. And if the bad apples still can't shape up within five years, shut ‘em down, the DOE wisely says. To read more, including how charters can develop political will, human capital, and a unified voice, click here.