Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 8, Number 36
September 18, 2008
Opinion + Analysis
Obama vs. Strickland?
From the Lehman board to the board of ed
Terry Ryan / September 18, 2008
Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama's head-turning education speech in Ohio last week was notable for stepping away from several planks in his party's traditional platform. The national audience surely paid attention-but did his fellow Democrats in Ohio? Doubling spending on charter schools, promoting performance pay for teachers, and removing poor teachers from the classroom may not be new ideas. But they are light years away from what Democratic lawmakers in the Buckeye State-including Governor Ted Strickland-have been advocating for the last decade.
Case in point: only one elected Democrat from the General Assembly has ever supported legislation that could be called charter school friendly, and she-a Daytonian-became a pariah in her party and ultimately bolted for the GOP. Yet Senator Obama sounded as if he may have snagged an advance copy of Accelerating Student Learning in Ohio: Five Policy Recommendations for Strengthening Public Education in the Buckeye State.
This new Fordham report calls on state policymakers to:
- Create world-class standards and stronger accountability mechanisms. Ohio needs to build on its progress by aligning its K-12 standards with the knowledge and skills needed for success in post-secondary education and today's global economy and by benchmarking its standards against high-performing states and nations.
- Ensure that funding is fairly allocated among all children
Michael J. Petrilli / September 18, 2008
How refreshing to watch Wall Street reintroduced to "market discipline" this weekend, and how depressing to see "moral hazard" return by Tuesday night. The government's refusal to rescue Lehman Brothers seemed to indicate that financiers would have to face the consequences of their own risky actions. But then AIG was deemed "too big to fail."
Predictably, some education analysts are already pointing to the market meltdown as a cautionary tale about deregulation and "privatization." I don't know enough about high finance to say whether the 1990s-era policies and practices that lowered traditional barriers between bankers and other investors led to this malaise. But surely there's a better lesson in this mess for schools than just the "regulation is good" story line that certain interests want to peddle.
In the education sector, too, there's a history of bailing out organizations deemed "too big to fail." That's why states have come to the rescue of huge urban districts, long after they have demonstrated an utter inability to get results or balance their books. It's only the small fry--tiny, public charter schools--that ever actually go under. As well they should, if they aren't getting the job done for kids or aren't spending public funds prudently.
The Detroit Public Schools is the AIG of education. It's big, it's bad, and it's broken. And while its ship sinks, board members and superintendent squabble over "rudeness." Is
September 18, 2008
P.S. 8 in Brooklyn Heights, a school with some of the highest test scores in the city, is considered the bee's knees in that part of Gotham; it is so popular, in fact, that its leaders recently decided to build a new annex to "accommodate the flood of students wanting to attend." Everyone seems to love the school-everyone, that is, except Joel Klein and the New York City Department of Education. P.S. 8 will receive an F on its school report card this year; Klein explains that the low grade is "based on its failure to move its students forward over the past year at a pace competitive with similar schools and the system as a whole." Klein is right to emphasize student growth over reputation and popularity. But does the city have its metrics right? It seems to Gadfly that slapping an F on a school that appears to be leaps and bounds ahead of others-certainly in the eyes of parents and educators-undermines the credibility of the grading system itself. Could we settle instead on a Gentleman's C, everyone?
"In Brooklyn, Low Grade for a School of Successes," by Elisa Gootman, New York Times, September 12, 2008
"At P.S. 8, Image Didn't Match Performance," by Jim Dwyer, New York Times, September 13, 2008
September 18, 2008
Should policymakers force students with cognitive disabilities to take high-stakes tests? This is one of the core controversies of the No Child Left Behind act, and states are wrestling with it, too. In California, for example, critics are crusading against a state law requiring students with disabilities to pass the high school exit exam if they wish to receive a diploma. Opponents claim that those who fail suffer "horrific" psychological damage, so they should be granted a diploma sans testing. Balderdash. California already has a policy of granting "certificates" to students (including those with disabilities) who can't pass the test. That's a reasonable compromise. We have no problem if a child's Individual Education Plan exempts her from the state assessment and opts for the "certificate track" instead. But awarding diplomas to students who have not passed the exit exam will turn this symbol of high school completion into more pollywoppus. That's the last thing our schools need.
"Testing of special-ed students should be re-examined," by George Skelton, Los Angeles Times, September 15, 2008
September 18, 2008
Senators McCain and Obama might momentarily suspend their energy-policy and economic-policy bickering and pay a visit to Michigan Technical Academy, where students have converted used cooking oil from a nearby tortilla factory into biodiesel. The school's automotive technology teacher, Marty Depowski, is a master certified automotive technician who once worked for Ford. Now, he teaches students how to use their technical savvy to solve technical problems. For instance, pupils are currently devising a way to keep the biodiesel warm; two of the district's buses run on the stuff, and when the Michigan winter sets in and the temperature drops, the fuel will congeal. But nobody seems to be worried. The school's superintendent, Jeremy Gilliam, said, "We have a lot of students good at solving puzzles, diagnosing problems, coming up with creative solutions, working with their hands, and taking things apart to find out how to make them work better." And if they can't figure out how to keep the biodiesel fuel warm? Well, walking is good for the environment, too.
"Students' energy drives buses," by Karen Bouffard, Detroit News, September 15, 2008
September 18, 2008
Beantown is experiencing a talent migration. As go Pedro and Damon, so go the educational leaders? Plagued by charter school caps and a "broader environment" that is "at best tepid, and frequently hostile," founders of Roxbury Preparatory Charter School, Academy of the Pacific Rim, and Boston Collegiate-to name a few-have fled the Bay State's lukewarm embrace for the open arms of the Big Apple. Last year, fewer than 2.5 percent of Massachusetts students were enrolled in charter schools-ranking them nineteenth out of the forty states with charter laws. This despite the fact that once upon a time the Bay State was a leading light of the charter movement. The problem comes down to leadership, argues Jim Peyser, former aide to governors and chairman of the state board of education, specifically the leadership of Governor Deval Patrick and Boston Mayor Thomas Merino, who have "consistently opposed any expansion of charter schools." And thus, it seems, are consistently encouraging some of Massachusetts's finest educators to exit for points south.
"Brain Drain," by James A. Peyser, Boston Globe, September 14, 2008
September 18, 2008
What do safe sex, reading, and proper admonition of Mexican free-tailed bats have in common? They're just a few of the topics people think schools should teach. The latter, free-tailed bats (so named because a bit of their tails project beyond their uropatagia, of course), have taken up residence in some Salt Lake City schools that lie along the mammals' migratory route. Usually content to nest nocturnally in school attics, the immigrants occasionally "pop out of school vents, hang from wall fixtures outside the school, perch on the ceilings, or fly across the school's fourth-floor halls." Alas, an inquisitive lad captured one of the insectivores to impress his buddies; mom didn't take kindly to it. She's filed a lawsuit, alleging that the school "failed to warn her son of potential dangers from the animals, including rabies." Bat blather! says the Utah Attorney General's office-the state is not responsible for adolescent tomfoolery. True. But the biology unit on mammals should really come alive this year (large bat colonies eat 30,000 pounds of insects each night-a factoid more disturbing Gadfly cannot even imagine!).
"Stopover for bats on their way to Mexico," by Ben Fulton, The Salt Lake Tribune, September 15, 2008
Amber M. Winkler, Ph.D. / September 18, 2008
The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation
This report surveys college-educated Americans (aged 24 to 60) on their views of teaching as a second career. It presumes two things: 1) that we'll need two million teachers over the next decade to replace retiring baby boomers and fill behind the turnover of novice teachers (a presumption because no citation is provided), and 2) that we'll continue to staff schools as we always have (for instance, no distance learning). These assumptions aside, the report finds that 42 percent of the college-educated sample would consider becoming teachers. Among these, 44 percent say poor pay is the key reason preventing them from making the switch. What salary level might entice them to the whiteboard? Roughly 44 percent of the "serious deliberators" (the ones who'd be willing to try teaching now or in the next 2 years) say they'd want a yearly minimum of $50,000 or more. While some affluent districts already come close to that mark for new teachers, the average beginning salary for teachers in 2004-2005 was $31,753. But don't despair; we know there are smart ways to close this gap, including giving mid-career professionals credit for their previous experience by starting them several rungs up the salary scale. Or better yet: frontloading the compensation system by boosting starting salaries while trimming excessive retirement benefits. Find additional data in the report on where potential teachers would like to teach and who they'd like
Stafford Palmieri / September 18, 2008
The Reason Foundation
This report evaluates the recent rise of privatization efforts in various sectors; on the education front, it chronicles the expansion of school choice in its various forms. The news is good: more voucher programs, public charter schools, tax credits, special needs scholarships, and incidents of weighted student funding have furthered the cause of deregulation in significant ways. For example, student participation in publicly-funded private school choice, including voucher programs and tax credits, has increased 84 percent over the last five years. On the public front, there were 1.2 million students being served by 4,100 charter schools during 2007-8. Not surprisingly, charters have the largest market share of students in New Orleans, clocking in at 57 percent of schools. Southfield, Minnesota; Dayton, Ohio; and Washington, D.C. tied for second place with 27 percent of their students enrolled in charters. Funding schemes are seeing deregulation, too. In Baltimore, school chief Andres Alonso has started experimenting with new weighted funding formulas; Alonso will give principals more autonomy over hiring and firing, as well as cut over three hundred jobs and close a $50 million shortfall. All this and more can be found in this expansive study.