Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 9, Number 13
April 16, 2009
Opinion + Analysis
Patriotism, education, and the Obamas
Should principals walk the plank?
An island of excellence
A swing and a hiss
Balanced Scorecards and Management Data
Friends don't let friends campaign for them
This week, we welcome guest co-host Andy Smarick. He and Mike discuss the DC voucher program's slow death, Obama's overseas mea culpas, and Tucson's plans to ditch principals. Then, Amber tells us about the updated Calder study on high school TFA teachers and Rate that Reform talks old-school poisoning.
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / April 16, 2009
Barack and Michele Obama seem to be exemplary parents. They're sending their daughters to a fine D.C. private school (while withdrawing similar options from hundreds of low-income Washingtonians). They left the girls home where they belonged--with Grandma and teachers--instead of carting them off to Europe. They reportedly insist that the kids make their own beds and eat healthy food. A swing-set was recently installed on the South Lawn. And after a judicious interval, and with help from Senator Kennedy, they've even delivered the long-awaited--and now much publicized--post-election puppy.
When it comes to many core American values--telling the truth, working hard, holding oneself to high standards, persevering, walking the dog, etc.--I'll bet the First Parents are also doing right by their children, both talking the talk with them and walking the walk. One gets a partial sense of this by watching Michelle Obama inspire other young people in schools from Anacostia to London. She's dazzling in this role.
I wonder, though, how they approach the value of patriotism. How are their two young daughters being taught to view the United States? More important, what examples are the Obamas setting for fifty million other American kids and their teachers and parents? What walk are they walking?
Is America, in their eyes, "the last best hope"? A place that doesn't always live up to its ideals but comes closer than anyplace else? A place worth defending from all enemies, foreign and domestic? And is
Michael J. Petrilli / April 16, 2009
The recent saga of the District of Columbia's federally-funded "Opportunity Scholarship Program" is one of opportunities missed or squandered, mostly by the Obama Administration. That's not meant as an indictment of its overall performance; with very little staff, too little time, and an enormous stimulus bill to implement, Arne Duncan and his team are doing a respectable job of keeping it all together at the Education Department. When it comes to the voucher program, however, they've made some early mistakes. The key question now is whether they will learn from them--and possibly salvage a valuable little program that is accomplishing some of their major objectives.
Their first blunder was underestimating the symbolic importance that both sides of the school choice wars assign to the D.C. program. It's a little bit like Vietnam: on the surface, it's small and strategically insignificant. But both proponents and opponents seem to believe in a sort of domino theory of school choice. If vouchers make it in the nation's capital, goes the thinking, they might spread like kudzu to other locales.
How else to explain the conflagration over an initiative that serves fewer than 2,000 students? Why else would the National Education Association send Democratic members of Congress a thinly veiled threat that they had better kill this program or face the music? How else to explain the heat that certain Congressional Democrats put on Duncan et al. after the Secretary voiced his sensible view
April 16, 2009
No child likes to be sent to the principal's office. Some students in Tucson, Arizona must be thanking their lucky stars. As the district contemplates an 18 percent budget cut, it seems some schools may cut their vice principals, share principals, or even abolish the school-leader position altogether. But will this plan be as successful as the Maersk Alabama without its captain? The move is not without precedent: there are approximately 80 teacher-led charter schools operating around the country with varying rates of success, according to an Education Next article (not Phi Delta Kappan, as erroneously cited by Ms. Bodfield). But unlike most Tucson schools, these teacher-centric schools tend to be tiny. Even strong supporters of the model admit it's neither replicable on the large scale nor the solution for large districts' budget woes. After all, principals do more than just walk the halls handing out high-fives; most successful schools owe their dynamic results in large measure to high energy, smart, dedicated leadership. This idea may deserve the Navy SEAL-pirate treatment.
"Principals: Do schools need them full time?," by Rhonda Bodfield, Arizona Daily Star, April 11, 2009
April 16, 2009
While the 2004 moratorium on new Rhode Island charters expired last June, it's taken months longer for state dollars to catch up. The Ocean State currently has a paltry 11 charters serving 3,100 students--and the waiting list to get in is almost as long. The good news is that Governor Carcieri has put $1.5 million for new charters into his 2009-2010 budget, including some funds for a home grown charter variation: mayoral academies. These schools were cooked up by the mayor of Cumberland, RI, Daniel McKee, in response to accusations that RI charters are charter-lite, with very little autonomy. State charter law subjects principals to a host of rules and regulations, which means they have little control over teacher salaries, retirement policies, and tenure. McKee's network of mayoral academies, which draw students from regions rather than municipalities, will be free from these stipulations. With a green light from the legislature, let's hope the reform rubber is finally on the Rhode.
"Charter schools compete for financing," by Jennifer D. Jordan, Providence Journal, April 13, 2009
April 16, 2009
Adults, beware this age-old problem: the childhood tendency to take your words literally. That's what's happened to one poor bloke in Palm Harbor, Florida. After a particularly nasty losing streak, the coach of a high school baseball team told his players they were "snake-bitten" and needed to turn themselves around. The team thought they might just end their losing streak if they beat a cowering serpent into submission--literally--and buried it in their pitcher's mound. So they did. Coach apparently wasn't around when the alleged incident took place (the snake carcass has yet to be found) but he has been temporarily relieved of his duties. While we commiserate with the poor snake, we're just glad the coach didn't call his team a bunch of kittens.
"Fla. baseball team kills snake to stop losing," Associated Press, April 9, 2009
"PHU players kill, bury snake to stop losing streak," by Bob Putnam, St. Petersburg Times, April 9, 2009
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / April 16, 2009
Terry M. Moe and John E. Chubb
Jossey Bass Publishers
The long-awaited and very fine new Chubb-Moe book is now out and you surely ought to read it. Written under the aegis of Hoover's Task Force on K-12 Education, it takes the discussion of technology's transformative effect on education to a new level, well beyond Christensen's influential Disrupting Class. The authors aren't just blue-skying about what technology could do if given a chance. What's most interesting in this book is its explanation of how technology will transform the politics of education and thus rewrite the rules by which it is determined what is given a chance. To oversimplify outrageously, they believe that inherent in the new technologies is the capacity to triumph over the usual forces of resistance to reform and renewal in primary-secondary education. They cite half a dozen essential characteristics of technology--geographic dispersion, individualization, transparency, choices, organic evolution, etc.--that will alter power relationships, end-run or weaken traditional barriers, and empower agents of change. You can pick up some of this from their recent debate with Larry Cuban in the pages of Education Next but to get the full benefit--and provocation--of their analysis you'll want to see the book itself. Start here.
Amber M. Winkler, Ph.D. / April 16, 2009
Zeyu Xu, Jane Hannaway, and Colin Taylor
The Urban Institute and CALDER
April 2007 (Revised March 2009)
When this report was released two years ago, it was the first of its kind. Nothing has changed since then, including the positive findings, though this version is even stronger methodologically and includes more data. (The authors went back and shored up their argument in response to accusations of statistical problems.) By using longitudinal data from end-of-course tests in 23 North Carolina districts from 2000 to 2007, it estimates the effects on student achievement of having a TFA teacher (versus the traditional kind). As before, the authors find that TFA teachers are more effective than traditional teachers, even those with more experience. In fact, the "TFA effect" on student achievement is 2-3 times greater than that of 3-5 years of teaching experience (and other studies show that the relationship between teaching effectiveness and experience typically diminishes after that point). These positive results held across multiple subjects, but were especially strong in math and science. Because the key research question was "whether or not the TFA program can provide effective teachers to supplement the existing teaching force," the study did not control for college selectivity or teacher licensing scores; it did control, however, for teacher experience, gender, race/ethnicity, educational attainment, and classroom environment. In other words, this study does not address what is driving TFA effectiveness (though we know TFA'ers tend to hail from the
Christina Hentges / April 16, 2009
Frederick M. Hess and Jon Fullerton
Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University
If FedEx does it and baseball teams do it, why can't school systems do it? The "it" in question, of course, is using data analysis to aid managerial decision-making. After all, "data driven" is a hot term in education and states are tracking student achievement and financial information more than ever. The problem, argue Hess and Fullerton, is that these data are collected as a "measure of performance," not as a measure for performance--i.e., to be analyzed for future decisions. Instead, we should be using a balanced scorecard approach, where managers view goals and data in one place and can compare how the latter stack up against the former. But poor quality IT systems, lack of incentives to collect better data, and a culture of status quoism make it hard to. This last piece might prove the most important since if data-driven practices are ever to succeed, superintendents and their lieutenants must understand and be willing to try them. This essay is one slice of the complex world of education data, explained more fully in Fordham's A Byte at the Apple, where Hess and Fullerton's idea first appeared. You can read their new paper here.
April 16, 2009
SCDP Milwaukee Evaluation
It's no secret that the quality of local public schools heavily influences the residential choices of parents and can impact housing prices, too. This study examines the effect of widespread school choice provisions on the residential housing market. It's part of a larger group of studies on education in Milwaukee, a fitting laboratory because it is home to one of the nation's largest voucher programs, a bevy of charter schools, and an intra-district public open enrollment program. But despite the extent of choice in that city's education system, a significant positive relationship can still be found between home value and average test scores of the nearest elementary school. A 1 percent increase in average scores produces a 1.35 percent increase in home prices. Put simply, Milwaukee's choice programs haven't socioeconomically integrated the city's residential areas. Unfortunately, as acknowledged by the author, the study suffers from methodological limitations, not least the fact that home price information is not available before 2002, though Milwaukee's private and public choice programs were implemented well before then. You can find it here.