Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 9, Number 30
August 27, 2009
Opinion + Analysis
International lessons about national standards
By , ,
Snapping out of LA-LA Land
Bureaucracy at its finest
GED: Grandfathered Educational Derangement
Is Philly "Going Ape"?
What are friends for?
The Italians of education reform
This week, Petrilli and guest co-host Palmieri ponder DC Chancellor Michelle Rhee's new teaching and learning standards, Los Angeles's school outsourcing plan, and Detroit's attempt to solve bankruptcy by spending more money. Then Amber tells us about a new EEPA study on curriculum similarity and Mickey sits in on Rate that Reform with a mass dress code fiasco.
Like comets, elections, Olympics, and the moon, education policy ideas come and go in cycles. Consider America's on-again, off-again enthusiasm for national standards and tests. Way back in 1959, President Dwight D. Eisenhower called for "national goals" in education, including "standards." A decade later, President Richard M. Nixon called "the fear of ‘national standards'" one of the "bugaboos of education." President George H.W. Bush embraced them in the early 1990s, only to see an angry Senate denounce the draft U.S. history standards. President Bill Clinton pushed for voluntary national testing, only to see an angry House pull the plug on their funding. And now the Obama administration is prodding states to participate in the Common Core State Standards Initiative and offering big bucks for the development of assessments to accompany those standards.
Another up-and-down-and-up-again notion is that U.S. education might learn something from the rest of the world. Anxiety about Soviet scientific progress spurred the National Defense Education Act of 1958. A Nation at Risk unleashed a wave of interest in the Japanese school system. Recent assessments and reports, particularly those from TIMSS, McKinsey, and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), have made "international benchmarking" all the rage. And widespread concern about America's economic competitiveness in the 21st century is rekindling interest in how other countries--especially those that seem to be gaining on us--successfully develop their human capital.
Fordham's hot-off-the-presses report represents the current waxing of both ideas: interest
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / August 27, 2009
The College Board, as always, hung a smiley face on it, but the latest SAT results are a real bummer. (Readers should go here and here.) Overall scores are flat or down. Almost every subgroup is flat or down. Gaps are widening slightly by race, income, and parental education. Indeed, the tidiest relationships and smoothest curves are those that continue--as they have for as long as anyone can remember--to show the steady upward progression of average SAT scores as family incomes and parents' education rise.
If that's not enough to depress you about the seeming permanence of America's education stagnation, recall edition after edition of National Assessment results, also showing 17-year-old and 12th grade scores stagnant or declining.
Then recall the recent ACT report indicating that barely one in four high school students taking that organization's tests in 2009 are fully prepared for college-level academic work. Then recall the year-in, year-out flatness of our high school graduation rate. Now laugh if you have spotted any good news regarding the readiness of American adolescents to face successfully the challenges of higher education, the workforce, adulthood, and citizenship. I can't find it. (OK, OK, I found one: Asian-American SAT scores are up yet again.)
What does this say about 26 years of education reforming since A Nation at Risk? About all the billions we have spent, all the laws we have enacted, all the five-part plans we have embraced, all the
August 27, 2009
Los Angeles must have Folgers in its cup this week, finally waking up to the woeful state of that city's schools. On Tuesday, the LAUSD board passed a resolution that would open 50 new and 200 underperforming schools to external operators. Under the plan, interested parties--from unions to nonprofit education management organizations--would submit management and/or takeover proposals to Superintendent Ramon C. Cortines; the school board will make the final decisions. Though the usual contenders have lined up on both sides of this debate, notable support comes from Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Cortines, and rallying parent groups, such as Parent Revolution, a close affiliate of the Green Dot charter school organization. That charter organization, in fact, staged a hostile takeover of one of LA's worst high schools last year, begging the question of whether, with this push for outsourcing, LA-LA Land is just saving itself the trouble--and embarrassment--of more such seizures. Still, this is a big step for LA, albeit one taken before by Chicago, DC, Philadelphia, New Orleans and New York, among others. We're glad LA is waking up to reality, but we can't help but notice that it certainly slept through its morning alarm.
"School board approves plan to open up schools to outsiders," by Howard Blum and Jason Song, LA Now, blog of The Los Angeles Times, August 25, 2009
"Proposal Would Open Up Management of L.A. Schools," by Lesli A. Maxwell, Education Week, August 25,
August 27, 2009
Albert Einstein once remarked that "Bureaucracy is the death of all sound work." He and Jonathan Keiler, a social studies teacher from Prince George's County Maryland, would get along swimmingly. This week, Jay Mathews narrates the story of Keiler's attempt to get his entitled pay upgrade. The only teacher at his high school with National Board certification and a law degree, Keiler had dutifully accumulated the necessary continuing education credits and submitted the paperwork to receive his step-pay-scale salary increase. After weeks of submitting and resubmitting, the PG County HR folks informed Keiler that, not only did he not qualify for a salary upgrade, he didn't even have enough credits for a standard certification. If Keiler didn't miraculously come up with 3 extra credits by the end of September, he would be decertified. "They are essentially firing me because they do not understand their own rules and procedures," remarked Keiler, "which of course are idiotic in the first instance, but at least they should know them." This story has a happy ending though; as soon as Mathews sent a draft of his Washington Post column to the county office, the situation was miraculously resolved in less than 24 hours. Whether or not one approves of pay raises associated with graduate degrees, one must conclude that Keiler's experience lays bare the absurdity of the entire pay scale system--and the bureaucracy that administers it.
August 27, 2009
Two weeks ago, we reported that Florida was going to stop awarding regular four-year diplomas to students who graduate through its GED Exit Option program. But the announcement came through garbled; administrators, parents, and teachers believed the GED EX OP program was simply being abolished. Furor followed, since it seemed that students would be unduly punished for an early-exit decision they had made in good faith. Now Public Schools Chancellor Frances Haithcock has issued another "clarifying" memo. She wants to be "clear" that students who enrolled in the program in 2008-09 or earlier are grandfathered in, meaning they will receive the standard diploma for completion of the GED requirements. Further, she "clarifies" that the policy is intended to bring the program into line with both state and federal laws, which prevent the awarding of regular diplomas to GED-takers. (But don't be confused by the fact that under state law GED-takers are still counted in the graduation rate but under federal law they are not.) Finally, she wants to make sure everyone understands that the adult-GED program (for those who have already dropped out) is not the same as the EX OP program (for those who have not), and these changes affect the latter not the former. The bottom line is this: We figured out most of this two weeks ago and if parents in Florida simply read the Gadfly, there'd be no need for any more clarification from the
August 27, 2009
"Who's The Boss" of sophomore English at Northeast High this year? That'd be Tony Danza, he of boxing and 70s-sitcom fame. He was recently approved to teach in that Philly school as part of a new A&E series, Teach. Move over Jon & Kate Plus 8, it's Tony Danza... Plus 30. We can only hope his students won't call a "Taxi" in a hurry to escape his class. The "Angel in the Outfield" will be accompanied by a (certified) co-teacher in the classroom and, according to the district, the students will not be able to see the rolling cameras. (Unclear how that works logistically, but we'll suspend our disbelief for now.) Though it's long been known that "Tony Danza cuts in line," he says he's "honored" and "humbled" by the opportunity to stand in front of the blackboard. Heidi Ramirez, a former member of Philadelphia's School Reform Commission, disagrees, voting against the scheme as a "potential distraction" for students. Seems hard for it to be a distraction, though, when the kids are still wondering: Who is Tony Danza, anyway?
"Tony Danza gets OK to teach at Northeast High School," by Kristen A. Graham, Philadelphia Inquirer, August 20, 2009
August 27, 2009
Remember that first scary day of kindergarten? A five-year-old in Van Buren, Arkansas came up with an ingenious way to calm his butterflies: Skip right to first grade. Was this self-social promotion? A gifted student testing into first-grade honors? Nope, just a story of friendship--or peer pressure, if you're cynical. The kindergartener made a first-grade friend on the playground; when it was time to go back inside, he decided he wanted to stick by his new pal. Upon discovery, the little boy confessed amidst tears that he just wanted to be in class with his bud. We feel for the tyke, but we'd hope the next time he goes to first grade, he's passed kindergarten first.
"Missing kindergartner found in 1st grade," The Associated Press, August 21, 2009
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / August 27, 2009
E.D. Hirsch, Jr.
Yale University Press
This provocative new book by E.D. Hirsch (dedicated to the late Al Shanker) poses fundamental challenges to both of the dominant reform movements in American education--challenges that their leaders would do well to ponder. On the one hand, Hirsch defies the skill-centric view of academic standards, contending that the nation's founders and Horace Mann had it right, but that for the past seventy years America's leading educators have misconceived K-8 education as being about the 3 R's rather than fundamental knowledge and civic values. On the other hand, he defies proponents of charters, vouchers, and other forms of school choice as wishful thinkers disposed to let marketplace theories trump evidence of student achievement while also undervaluing education's civic and cultural roles. Both sets of reformers, Hirsch suggests, have a narrow, utilitarian, and private view of schooling that ill-serves our democracy. He calls instead for an "American core curriculum" in grades K-8--for all kids, all schools, all communities, all states--and outlines what that would entail, as well as why it's important. What he does not do--this book is more exhortation than manual--is to suggest a path through the organizational, political, ideological, and intellectual foes of his appealing and well-argued conception of what a proper public-education system would accomplish for the United States in the 21st century. You can obtain the book here.
Amber M. Winkler, Ph.D. / August 27, 2009
Andrew Porter, Morgan Polikoff, and John Smithson
Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis
This report has several purposes; here are the three most important: to find out whether state curricula are more similar than we think, creating what the authors call a "de facto national intended curriculum"; to see if state standards in math and science are aligned to the national professional standards in those subjects; and to ascertain whether state curricula contain common topics that might be seen as a "core curriculum." In short, the answers are no, no, and yes, a little. The study examines state content standards in English/language arts and reading (ELAR), science, and math from 14 states in two specific grades (4 and 8) and across the span of elementary grades (K-8 or 1-8, depending on the subject). An "alignment index" was used to gauge the similarity of content and of cognitive demand (meaning the types of skills that students are asked to demonstrate, such as memorize, analyze, or apply), on a scale of 0 (no alignment) to 1 (perfect alignment). In individual subjects in fourth and eighth grade, average alignment was pretty low (0.2). And when standards were aggregated across grades (K-8 in ELAR and 1-8 in math and science), the alignment was only moderately stronger (on average, .5 for ELAR, .4 for math, and .3 for science). Math and science alignment to national professional standards was not much better. There was, however, some
August 27, 2009
Theodore Hershberg and Claire Robertson-Kraft, eds.
Harvard Education Press
If education policy debates about merit pay and teacher salary schedules still feel like ideological trench warfare, this book is the WWI Mark I tank breakthrough for reform. Aggressively forward-thinking and stoutly teacher-focused, it spells out a cohesive reform framework for school personnel policies, covering the gamut of topics from compensation to professional development to effective use of diagnostic testing. Specifically, it focuses on school-directed and individual-directed based merit pay, value-added "growth testing," and promotion based on effectiveness and leadership, not seniority or degree-collecting. While none of these is a new development, the authors--including some of the self-same educators that have pioneered their usage--make them more digestible. It's doubtful there's anybody better to write a chapter entitled "Professional Unionism" than Brad Jupp, the veteran Denver teacher who negotiated on behalf of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association for the ProComp merit pay contract. Similarly, educators are far more likely to listen to former principal Joel Giffin--who describes creative value-added test data usage at his top-performing Tennessee school--than to the brains who generate tests and analyze their results from afar. And getting reacquainted with these ideas through veteran eyes is an experience any serious education reformer should have. Test ride the tank for a fee here.