Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 9, Number 42
December 3, 2009
Opinion + Analysis
Is "separate but equal" the best we can do?
No oaks needed
Better brew in new stein
When seniority doesn't rule the school
Teaching about Islam
Salvaging Catholic schools?
Missing your connecting flight
Performance Management Report
Staffords Got Talent
This week, Mike and Stafford discuss ACORN-affiliated schools, Texas's stand against the common core standards, and the rise and fall of helicopter parents. Then Amber tells us about the affects of NCLB accountability on student achievement and Rate that Reform grades grades.
Michael J. Petrilli / December 3, 2009
Try this education Rorschach. Imagine a public school that’s knocking the roof off of the state test. Its classes are led by energetic, passionate, thoughtful teachers who engage their students in rigorous study. The curriculum is rich and varied, with plenty of time for history and science, art and music, along with the 3 Rs. Its classrooms are orderly, its students respectful to one another and to adults. But it’s not dour; there’s a sense of joy, even wonder, at the school. It’s a lively, bright, warm place to be.
Now add this one wrinkle: all of its students are poor and black (or Hispanic). It is as “segregated” as Southern schools before Brown. Here’s the test: Do you think this school is unabashedly worth celebrating? Replicating? Viewing as a national model?
There’s no right or wrong answer, but the thought experiment illumines a divide within the education world. If you said “yes, this is a wonderful achievement that we’ve created these sorts of schools,” then count yourself within the (now-mainstream) education-reform community. You look at the typical KIPP school or Amistad Academy or any of the other “high flying” high-poverty, all-minority schools and say “see: it can be done.” You embrace the “no excuses” battle cry. Even schools full of poor and black/brown kids can achieve tremendous results--and we should have more of them.
If, on the other hand, you find this picture regrettable, somewhat sad, maybe even unsettling, your inclinations are
December 3, 2009
We have schools that teach Ebonics, schools that don’t assign grades or tests, schools that promote Afro-centric or Mexican curricula, and schools run by students. Add to this whacky list schools in the Big Apple run by none other than ACORN. Yes, infamous ACORN of voter-fraud- and prostitution-fame. Though the two NYC schools bearing the organization’s name claim that they’re no longer affiliated, parents and teachers say they do indeed follow ACORN’s philosophy of “reform and change.” And even if ACORN itself has been evicted from the city’s schools, it left many “social justice” relatives in its wake. Take the Bushwick Community High School in Brooklyn whose mission “is for students to become empowered for positive social transformation and liberation.” Then there’s the Vanguard High School in Manhattan that recently hosted a “radical math” conference--not to be confused, mind you, with “Social Justice Math.” That no-doubt enthralling confab included a session on “how to use the history of the Black Panther Party to fuel an algebraic curriculum.” Next, we find students at Banana Kelly High School in the Bronx who practice “restorative justice”--misbehaving students are asked to “acknowledge their feelings” as opposed to, perhaps, sitting in detention doing schoolwork. Geez, enough is enough. Clearly the let-a-thousand-flowers-bloom approach is not working in American schools--and the social-justice bloom has turned into a real stinker in New York. It’s not clear how many ACORN-inspired schools there
December 3, 2009
Gadfly’s high hopes and expectations for New York State Education Commissioner David Steiner were sustained by his first major policy move. In a presentation to the Regents, Steiner made an impassioned case for reform of teacher preparation. His plan has five parts: a rigorous new certification test that factors in student performance; an overhaul of education school curricula; new accountability measures for ed schools, including tracking graduates’ effects on their students’ achievement; alternative paths to certification for new teachers; and bonuses for teachers teaching in high-needs schools and subjects. Most attention has centered on the possibility that New York might (finally) open up some alternative pathways into public-school teaching. This would, inter alia, make life a lot simpler for programs like Teach for America and The New Teacher Project, whose Empire State participants are currently forced to take traditional ed-school courses at night--and it would let providers other than those same ed schools offer preparation programs. Also important, however, are Steiner’s plans to reform the certification test and ed schools themselves, both of which were recently advocated by Education Secretary Arne Duncan (in a New York speech), and which could go a long way toward improving teacher quality. The details still need to be worked out—and that’s always risky, including pushback from Steiner’s own stodgy bureaucracy, but the Regents have the power to enact most of them without legislative intervention. Let’s hope they do.
December 3, 2009
On November 24, Arizona's H.B. 2011, originally passed in September, went into effect. That means that districts are now barred from using tenure and seniority when making hiring and firing decisions, and granted new flexibility when it comes to notifying current teachers whether they'll be retained and on what criteria they'll make salary decisions (specifically, that they need not be based on seniority). Though in large part this bill was less about contracts and more about local control, we can't help but note the irony that districts had their union-contract shackles replaced by another set of restraints: districts who do want to make hiring and firing decisions based on seniority are no longer allowed to do so. That enables the Arizona chapter of the NEA to assert that these changes have now made the Grand Canyon State one of the 'most restrictive' on teacher hiring, firing, and salaries. That's probably true, if you're talking about restricting the unions; as for districts and schools that will be finally be able to make hiring, firing, and salary decisions based on something other than seniority, however, we think of this as freedom.
Law changes way teachers contract with districts, by Alex Bloom,??The Arizona Republic, November 23, 2009
December 3, 2009
What to think when a self-proclaimed Jewish-American ex-Trotskyist Muslim-convert neoconservative comments on the treatment of Islam in state history standards in a post-9/11 world? Stephen Schwartz’s Weekly Standard evaluation of current standards in Florida, California, and Texas, three big states that dominate the textbook industry, is worth the read. His own outfit, the Center for Islamic Pluralism, seeks to “Educate the broader American public about the reality of moderate Islam and the threat to moderate Muslims and non-Muslim Americans represented by militant, political, radical, and adversarial tendencies”--and he finds the Florida and Texas standards in much closer alignment with this worthy mission than California’s. FL and TX standards, he says, do an exemplary job of addressing extremism, “dhimmitude,” and other unsavory elements of contemporary and historical Islam, including distinguishing among the different sects and studying its sometimes violent history. CA’s standards, on the other hand, express a more unified, Arab-centric, and benign history of Islam, all of which Schwartz finds to be misleading. Given that Fordham gave California an “A” on world history in 2006, with specific kudos for rigorous coverage of Islam, and gave Florida an “F” for vagueness, these revelations may portend other big changes in state standards in the past three years. As for nuanced coverage of non-Texans in Texas--will the wonders never cease?
“What Johnny Needs to Learn about Islam,” by Stephen Schwartz, The Weekly Standard, December 7, 2009
December 3, 2009
When the Washington D.C. Archdiocese agreed to convert seven of its schools to charters in 2007, the education world was taken aback. But the transition went smoothly and, by all accounts, the schools are thriving. So why now, when faced with a possible closing of fourteen more Catholic schools (seven in Maryland and seven in the District), is the Archdiocese apparently considering every possible solution except that one? Instead, it seems, the Archdiocese is mobilizing parents to lobby for the resuscitation of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program, which was more-or-less halted by Congress a few months back (though current enrollees will be allowed to finish). At least one in five youngsters in the seven financially-problematic D.C. Catholic schools is a voucher-recipient; at one of the seven, voucher recipients are one in two. But what about Maryland’s seven, clustered mostly in working class areas with significant Hispanic and black populations, like Silver Spring, Hyattsville, and Greenbelt, where there is no voucher program? There is another way. Research on Catholic-charter conversions, courtesy of yours truly and Seton Partners, as well as the Archdiocese’s own experiences two years ago, means it might even be smoother going this time around. There’s definitely something lost when a Catholic school goes secular, but that’s a far cry better than closing them down all together.
"Catholic schools look at closing," by Michael Birnbaum, Washington Post, November 24, 2009
December 3, 2009
The “helicopter parent” may be coming back to earth, or so this longish TIME piece hypothesizes. As readers may know, helicopter parents hover over their children pretty much 24/7. Such a parent might hire tutors to correct a 5-year-old’s “pencil-holding deficiency,” throw out the swing set so Johnny doesn’t hurt himself, demand that nursery schools teach Mandarin to give little Sarah a leg up, or, in the worst case scenario, ghostwrite the kids’ homework assignments. But as with so many things in education that get carried too far, the pendulum may be swinging back. We now learn of “free-range” parenting, obviously meant to make us think of chickens allowed to peck for worms and bugs rather than being confined in airless coops. Yes, kids need some freedom to be kids and yes, too many parents have been way too “involved.” But children also need structure, discipline and protection. Extremes in child-rearing are never a good thing.
“The Growing Backlash Against Overparenting,” by Nancy Gibbs, TIME Magazine, November 20, 2009
Amber M. Winkler, Ph.D. / December 3, 2009
Thomas Dee and Brian Jacob
NBER Working Paper
Researchers have produced a slew of studies in the last several years that purport to address No Child Left Behind’s impact (or lack thereof) on student achievement. This latest from well-regarded economists Thomas Dee and Brian Jacob uses state-level (and low-stakes) NAEP data from 1992-93 to 2006-07 to trace the influence of the landmark legislation. They analyze changes in NAEP scores for two groups: states that already had school-accountability policies in place prior to the year when NCLB was fully implemented (the control group) and those that did not (the treatment group). The idea is that NCLB would represent less of a “treatment” in states that already had NCLB-like accountability policies in place; hence, they can serve as foils to states that lacked such practices prior to NCLB’s full implementation in 2002-03. They conclude that NCLB produced statistically significant increases in the average math performance of 4th graders, and in the highest and lowest achievement percentiles. They also witnessed improvements in 8th grade math, especially among low-achievers. But there was no evidence of a similar effect on reading achievement in either grade. Since more than half the states had introduced school accountability policies within the four years prior to NCLB’s implementation, they also conducted a separate analysis that omitted these “late adopters” (since newly-birthed state policies and NCLB policies could easily intermingle and understate the latter’s effect). As expected, the gains attributed to
December 3, 2009
Michael & Susan Dell Foundation
This report urges the adoption of sensible Performance Management Systems in schools, which is not altogether surprising, that being an area in which the Dell Foundation has invested considerable money. Whereas previous research on “portfolio districts” (see here and here) focused on how management systems can be useful at the district level, this report is more concerned with how they can be useful to individual teachers and pupils. In case you were wondering, Performance Management Systems are software programs that contain key data like grades, standardized test scores, and class-by-class attendance records for each student. Such information can help teachers gain greater understanding of their students, but at most schools it’s tucked away in administrative files with limited access. But Performance Management Systems are more than databases and do more than make information more accessible. The best of them can monitor trends, analyze progress toward goals, make statistics-based projections regarding the future, and present key findings in a user-friendly interface. Thus, teachers can easily see, for example, that a particular student is missing so many classes that it puts him at a high risk of dropping out, or that his math grades have fallen since he switched to the honors class. The idea is to use real-time data to spot latent problems--and intervene before they become serious ones. The report offers brief case studies of such systems at work in Austin, New York, and Chicago. Still, though
The Tab: How Connecticut Can Fix its Dysfunctional Education Spending System to Reward Success, Incentivize Choice and Boost Student Achievement
Janie Scull / December 3, 2009
Bryan C. Hassel and Daniela Doyle, Public Impact
Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now (ConnCAN)
Connecticut’s current school funding system is inequitable, inefficient, and ineffective. So says the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now (ConnCAN). The Nutmeg state’s murky and misguided budget channels fail to produce student gains. Though its per-pupil spending levels rank among the highest in the land, it is home to one of the widest socioeconomic achievement gaps. In this report, ConnCAN explains specific problems with Connecticut’s education funding structure, analyzes why these issues are so troublesome, and then proposes a three-part solution: portable and variable student-based funding; an accessible and intelligible database to increase fiscal transparency; and dramatically increased budgetary flexibility for districts and schools. Tying dollars to students, and varying the amounts to align with student needs, as Fordham has previously noted, would yield multiple benefits, such as incentivizing schools to keep students, particularly those who are more challenging to educate. ConnCAN asserts, we think plausibly, that these three steps will enable the state to respond to demographic shifts, educate disadvantaged students, incentivize great school operators to serve high-needs locales, and allocate funds more fairly. You can find the report here.