Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 9, Number 14
April 23, 2009
Opinion + Analysis
Imagining IES's future
An unhappy union
Good question from on high
Did you hear that?
People of gender?
This week, we welcome guest co-host Howie Schaffer to the show. He and Mike debate the lessons of Columbine, implications of the long-drawn-out-but-perhaps-heading-towards-resolution Flores v. Horne Supreme Court case, and NGA and CCSSO's joint statement in support of national standards. Then Amber explains a new Manhattan Institute study on NYC's performance pay scheme and Rate that Reform is thick with research. (Research guiding reform?! Shocking!)
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / April 23, 2009
It's amazing how thoroughly the subject of money has taken over America's education conversation in recent months. By comparison, you don't hear that much about NCLB problems and reauthorization challenges anymore, or about curriculum, test scores, even teaching and teachers, except for how many may lose their jobs.
On one side is much dire talk about recession, revenue shortfalls, budget cuts and program eliminations. On the other side is happy jabber about federal stimulus funding and how it will magically salve budgetary bruises while simultaneously leaping over all known barriers to education reform. Indeed, behind the scenes, a tussle is audible between die-hard school reformers appalled by the prospect that these new (and possibly fleeting) federal dollars may wind up paying for more-of-the-same, and politicians (and school executives) grateful that Washington is sparing them from tough targeted cuts or painful across-the-board reductions.
I'm with the reformers, of course, though they don't have much leverage, considering the deep trenches through which Congress mandated that most of this money flow to districts, and the wide discretion accorded to those districts once it arrives. This probably means that wealthy and/or well-led school systems will do some good things with the federal largesse but those that most need to change won't. (A galaxy of private reform groups and deep-pocketed foundations is striving outside the government to avert my glum prediction and turn job-saving stimulus dollars into finally-we-can-do-it reform dollars. I surely wish them well.)
Mark Schneider / April 23, 2009
Unless something unexpected happens during the Senate confirmation process, John Easton, who was just nominated by the White House, should be taking over as Director of the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) in a matter of weeks.
He follows Russ Whitehurst, who as founding director created a respected social-science agency that pushed forward rigorous research, emphasizing randomized control trials (RCTs). In reality, IES has supported a wide range of research approaches, but the focus on RCTs is a defining characteristic of Whitehurst's legacy.
Easton represents a very different research tradition, which has caused much tooth-gnashing over whether his appointment represents a retreat from rigor. It is too early, of course, to tell where Easton will actually lead IES, but here are some milestones to watch for.
Assuming he is swiftly and uneventfully confirmed, it's important to pay close attention to Easton's introductory speech at the IES Research Conference scheduled for the first week of June. He will no doubt seize that opportunity to lay out his vision for the agency.
But we already have a pretty good roadmap. In February 2009, Easton and his colleagues at the Consortium on Chicago School Research--which he has led since 2002, obviously getting well acquainted with Arne Duncan during that time--issued a report entitled A New Model for the Role of Research in Supporting Urban School Reform. It spells out Easton's approach to education research, at least as developed and implemented in the Windy City.
April 23, 2009
It's been said before and is being said again: America needs national standards. So proclaimed representatives from 41 states last week, who met in Chicago to affirm their commitment to common expectations in math and English. "I've been in education more than 35 years, and we've had major meetings that have called for progress before, but I see [this] meeting as the first step to really taking aggressive action," explained Eric Smith, Florida's education commissioner. Secretary Arne Duncan has said he wants to use part of his economic stimulus kitty to push for national standards, and the collusion of states under the National Governors' Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers' leadership is certainly a big step forward. But the problems that derailed previous attempts at national standards still linger. Most importantly, it remains to be seen who will create, implement, and enforce these standards from the statehouse to the classroom--in other words, where the rubber will hit the road. Not to mention the assessments without which standards tend to lack traction. We'll bounce around some ideas gleaned from other countries at our upcoming May 5th conference.
"NGA, CCSSO Launch Common Standards Drive," by Michele McNeil, Education Week, April 17, 2009 (subscription required)
April 23, 2009
Gadfly suffered some serious wing pains when news broke that teachers at New York's KIPP AMP planned to unionize; it would have been the third KIPP school in New York to have union ties (the other two, KIPP Academy and KIPP Infinity, have had union membership from the get-go because of a quirk in state law). Turns out AMP's teachers are having second thoughts--and teachers at Academy and Infinity are seeking to break their union ties, too. Even AMP teacher Kashi Nelson, who led the union charge, withdrew her support. At Academy and Infinity, the UFT had been butting in on teacher-leadership business without being asked to do so. "We were totally caught off guard, and our feeling was that we are happy at our schools and we don't need someone to step in on our behalf," explained Academy teacher Matt Hureau. "You feel like you have two parties who are freely communicating, so why would you want a third person to come in for that?" A valid question, indeed. Both matters are in front of the Public Employee Relations Board; we can only hope they side with the employees.
"Charter Schools Weigh Freedom Against the Protection of a Union," by Jennifer Medina, New York Times, April 20, 2009
"KIPP vs. the Teachers' Union," by Marcus Winters, City Journal, April 16, 2009
"Panel to Rule on Charter-Union Tug-of-War," by Yoav Gonen, New York Post, April 22, 2009
April 23, 2009
This was "education week" at the Supreme Court, with the justices hearing cases about student privacy and state obligations to fund programs for English language learners. While the former received most of the attention (it involved the strip search of a thirteen-year-old girl, after all), the latter could have greater implications for education policy. At issue was whether Arizona has done enough under a 1974 federal law to provide opportunities to students learning English. But the deeper issue is whether courts should be in the business of telling legislatures how to spend taxpayer dollars. Chief Justice John Roberts wondered aloud whether a district court could say, "You've got to spend this much money on this program, and I don't care what it means for jails, roads, anything else"? That's a great question; we hope other judges start asking it, too.
"Justices Weigh Arizona ELL Case," by Mark Walsh, The School Law Blog, Edweek.org, April 20, 2009
April 23, 2009
As if principals don't have enough land mines to avoid already, now they have to be delicate about decibels. San Antonio Police issued Olympia Elementary principal Terri LeBleu a ticket last week after a neighbor complained about the racket coming from her school during Family Fitness Day. This wasn't the school's first offense; complainant Butch Armstrong had raised Cain about the school's noise levels before. Never mind that the school had already installed a soundproofing 7-foot fence out back, put special backing on the basketball hoops (apparently, Butch was disturbed by the sound of ball-to-backboard), and banned loudspeakers. According to the responding police officer, Mr. Armstrong told him that, "police, fire, ambulances and the USAF training jets are not unreasonable, but the noise coming from the elementary school was." (The officer wasn't convinced, based on his "experience as a police officer and being of normal and ordinary sensibilities," whatever that may imply about Armstrong's own.) Unfortunately for LeBleu, other neighbors agreed. Bob Brown explained that the ground was vibrating as if he was in a "mosh pit at a rock concert and Ozzy Osbourne was up there." Chin up, Terri, at least you didn't inadvertently bite off the head of a live bat, right?
"Cops ticket principal for school noise," by Lindsay Kastner, San Antonio Express-News, April 13, 2009
April 23, 2009
McKinsey & Company
Consulting giant McKinsey's new report on the achievement gap might not turn many heads in ed policy circles. But the company's reputation, combined with the report's economic findings, might just help thrust education more fully into the national consciousness. (In fact, the report received play from The New York Times' Tom Friedman prior to its release yesterday.) The study consists of three sections. The first details four worrisome achievement gaps: the international gap between the U.S. and other advanced nations; the racial gap between white students and students of color; the income gap between students from high- and low-income families; and the systems-based gap between neighboring classrooms, schools, districts, and states. The second portion examines the consequences of these gaps. The implications for individuals--lower career earnings, a higher probability of incarceration, a less healthy lifestyle, and lower civic engagement--are already widely known, but the impact on our nation's economy has been less explored. Using models that assume varying levels of progress between 1983's A Nation At Risk and 1998 (presumably, this 10 year gap between 1998 and 2008 was to let graduates filter into the working world, and thus effect GDP), McKinsey estimates that the racial, class, and systems gaps have each cost the U.S. somewhere in the neighborhood of $300 billion to $700 billion (2 to 5 percent of our GDP). But the international achievement gap delivers the real economic whammy: if the
Amber M. Winkler, Ph.D. / April 23, 2009
Matthew Springer and Marcus Winters
Center for Civic Innovation at the Manhattan Institute
This random assignment study of New York City's School-Wide Performance Bonus Program isn't going to calm the controversy over performance-based pay--at least not yet. It looks at the math scores of 100,000 students in 200 Gotham schools and finds that the bonus program had no effect on achievement or on students', teachers', or parents' perceptions of the school learning environment. (Oddly enough, they found limited evidence that math performance decreased in larger participating schools but those findings are likely "spurious"--i.e., researcher talk for "lacks validity.") But don't despair yet. Although MI's report is an impact study, there were less than three months between the start of the performance-pay program and the administration of the state test. Virtually any educational intervention is doomed to have negligible effects if given 90 days or less to take effect. Seeking to downplay the impact angle of the study, analysts rightly term it a "baseline" endeavor and essentially say to hang tight until the program matures a bit. (Perhaps that's why MI made little effort to promote its findings.) Unfortunately, the program itself is weak. It uses the school rather than the individual as the unit of accountability, making for a feeble incentive (it was UFT-negotiated, after all), and the payout is small potatoes (three-fourths of the schools awarded a maximum individual bonus of $3,000 or less). But at
April 23, 2009
Neeta P. Fogg, Paul E. Harrington, and Ishwar Khatiwada
Center for Labor Market Studies, Northeastern University for Philadelphia Workforce Investment Board
This report's lengthy title sums up its main point: that dropping out of high school isn't just a loss for the individual; it also imposes a fiscal burden on city, state, and federal governments. The authors compare the mean annual net contributions to public coffers (city, state, federal) of Philly dropouts, high school graduates, those with some college, and those with bachelors or advanced degrees, using indicators of employment and earnings, home ownership, property taxes, annual tax payments, receipt of monetary and other social services, and incidences and costs of incarceration. Here's the bottom line: each student who drops out of high school in the City of Brotherly Love costs the city, state, and federal government $580,000 over their lifetime. Even more worrisome, only 32 percent of the city's dropouts are currently employed--compared to 58 percent of high school graduates, 70 percent of those with some college, and 82 percent of those with a four year degree. Although the study was well executed, the findings are nothing new. Brookings published a similar (national) study in 2007, which found that if a year's worth of 18-year-old dropouts graduated from high school, federal and state governments would score an additional $156 billion over their working lives from income taxes paid on higher earnings. Unfortunately, the authors of this report