Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 9, Number 26
July 23, 2009
Opinion + Analysis
Stumbling into the "Race to the Top"
Adults first, again
Contract fixes for the Big Apple
The principles of principals
Caught in the act
With Mike and Rick playing hooky, Andy and Stafford stage a coup of the podcast. They discuss Obama's solidarity speech to the NAACP, the end of privately-paid-for teacher aides in New York City, and a stimulus funding snafu that's left Arizona $250 million in the red. With Amber on vacation, we then skip to Mickey's Rate that Mascot and the reemergence of the summertime Gentleman's C.
Terry Ryan / July 23, 2009
With the first quarter of 2009 witnessing the sharpest decline in state tax receipts on record, it comes as no surprise that many states are scrambling to win federal "Race to the Top" dollars. The four-plus billion dollars in extra cash comes from Secretary Arne Duncan's discretionary kitty--and he's been very clear about what kinds of behaviors deserve to be rewarded.
Duncan's most-publicized comments have centered around raising state charter caps, but the Obama Administration and the stimulus legislation itself has four broader goals: 1) turning around low-performing schools (in part by expanding charter schools); 2) enacting rigorous (and preferably common) academic standards; 3) improving teacher quality and the equitable distribution thereof; and 4) beefing up state data systems. (We'll know more about the specifics tomorrow when the Race to the Top application is released.)
Some states, like Colorado, Florida, and Louisiana, seem to be sprinting towards their share of the money. Others, like Ohio, are stumbling into the sweepstakes. Where is the Buckeye State falling short and where is it making the grade? Let's take a look:
Charter schools and turnarounds
Falling Short. In both his 2007 and 2009 state biennium budget proposals, Ohio's Democratic Governor Ted Strickland sought to set back Ohio's charter school program big time. In fact, his budget proposals would have largely dismantled the state's program by creating a moratorium on new schools and imposing myriad regulatory provisions on those that already
July 23, 2009
Milwaukee's New Schools Approval Board, created after intense legislative negotiations earlier this summer, has released its first set of decisions: three approvals, sixteen denials. That would make it among the most rigorous and quality-conscious charter school authorizers in the country, except it doesn't work in the charter sector. These were to be private schools, aiming to participate in Brew City's voucher program. The board is part of the Howard Fuller-led Institute for the Transformation of Learning at Marquette University. It was Fuller, in fact, who brokered a deal this spring that ramped up accountability for participating schools in reaction to concerns over low quality. Like a good charter authorizer, the board is looking not just at the financial viability of the new schools, but sound pedagogical practices, too. Institute assistant director Robert Pavlik explains, "My hope is that as anyone goes forward to open a school, they would recognize what an honor and privilege it is" to do so. Not only is this a promising development for Milwaukee, it also demonstrates the blurring of lines between public and private, charter and voucher. Which is only going to make it harder for people like Arne Duncan to explain why they support one but not the other.
"Just 3 new voucher schools approved," by Alan J. Borsuk, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, July 20, 2009
July 23, 2009
The Gotham teacher aides who'll be jobless come September are not victims of the financial crisis. Instead, the cause of their unemployment is the source of their salaries. Parents at a number of affluent public schools have contributed $200,000 to 300,000 a year to pay directly for the additional adult help. They love being able to lower student-teacher ratios and are more than willing to cover the cost out of their own pockets. But the United Federation of Teachers is not so pleased, filing several complaints to the NYC Department of Education because, under its contract, all school employees must be DOE employees, and, more importantly, union members. City officials have finally cowed to their demands. A UFT spokesman spoke plainly when he explained that the freelance parent-paid aides were bad for business: "It's hurting our union members, and to some extent it could be hurting kids..." We're glad the UFT is admitting to its priorities--union first, then kids as an afterthought--but the implications are awful. Under the new policy, schools will be forced to hire more expensive unionized paraprofessionals, many of whom are neither as experienced as the current aides, nor even required to have a four year degree. And since the city has instituted a hiring freeze, the parent-paid aides can't even reapply to DOE for a unionized version of their jobs. Here's one silver lining: this action is sure to radicalize the affluent (and influential) parents who
July 23, 2009
Sol Stern is a man with a plan. The 2009 New York City teacher contract is set to expire three days before Election Day, and Mayor Bloomberg's overturning of term limits mean the United Federation of Teachers and that hizzoner will be going to bat once more. This is a golden opportunity, explains Stern, to make some fundamental--but politically feasible--changes that will, once and for all, put the needs of students above adults. His suggestions number seven. Among them, there's reforming of the teacher lockstep pay scale to better reflect meaningful steps to improve their practice. And there's using master teachers as instructional leaders and mentors instead of more expensive and administratively-minded associate principals. Stern's not here to mince words. On the subject of retaining good teachers, he blames, in part, rookies' ill-preparation: "Klein and Weingarten should deliver a joint message to education facilities (i.e., ed schools): the city's new teachers need to learn how to manage classrooms in tough neighborhoods, not how to regurgitate the radical education theories of Paulo Freire, William Ayers, and Jonathan Kozol." Stern would also like to see the renaissance of the Chancellor's District, a turnaround zone that included all of the city's underperforming schools, and which Klein abolished in 2003. These schools should then be given freer rein to copy the successful practices of charter schools, since, "after all, that was the charter-school experiment's original purpose--to be a laboratory for innovative education practices." If
July 23, 2009
Atlanta principals are feeling more than just summer heat. And recent probes into test score discrepancies have revealed just how hot it can get. When low springtime scores at Deerwood Academy turned into huge gains during a summer-school retest, Principal Lisa Smith was accused of tampering with the results. Meanwhile, when 2009 National Distinguished Principal Lee Adams admitted his school's statistically improbable gains could look "a little bogus," he and the assistant principal went under investigation. Test-score ups and downs can make or break a principal's career. High scores mean bonuses and promotions into higher administrative levels; persistently low scores, big drops, or even big gains can equal disciplinary action. When it comes to student achievement, "The principal, ultimately, is the one responsible," explains Max Skidmore, a professor at the University of Georgia. "The buck stops with them," says Fulton district spokeswoman Susan Hale. But we're not so sure that's entirely true. Principals have very little hiring and firing autonomy under most union contracts and state laws; since teacher quality has been deemed the most likely predictor of student success, having no control over their teaching teams can leave principals being held responsible for circumstances outside their control. It's important that we hold administrators accountable for student achievement, but let's give them the leeway to get the job done.
"Principals bear weight for test goals," Heather Vogell, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, July 17, 2009
July 23, 2009
When a prospective robber "does his homework," the implication is figurative. That is, unless you're this pair of robbers from Sacramento, CA. The two teens, aged 15 and 17, respectively, broke into a home in the Golden State's capital. When the house's owner returned, the aspiring pilferers dropped their backpacks to speed up their fence-jumping retreat. Unluckily for them, inside one of the packs was a school assignment with the suspect's name on it, leading to a speedy arrest. Now, this teaser of a story leaves a whole lot of questions unanswered, starting with, of course, why two students were doing homework in the middle of July. Could we possibly be dealing with summer-school students freelancing in crime? And will they get marked down for tardy assignments presumably held as evidence by the police? Did the suspects get to finish their homework while in juvy jail? But one thing is sure: Crime never pays, and sometimes schoolwork doesn't, either.
"Suspects break into home, leave homework behind," by Steve Large, CBS 13 Sacramento, July 16, 2009
July 23, 2009
Paul Teske, Jody Fitzpatrick, and Tracey O'Brien
Center on Reinventing Public Education
Transportation is one of those down-to-earth issues that many of us pointy-headed policy wonks tend to overlook. But any effort to offer parents options outside of their neighborhoods has to grapple with it. In this report, the authors interviewed 600 low-income and middle-class parents in Denver and Washington, D.C. It chose Denver because of its low population density and limited public transportation, and D.C. for its typical East Coast urban density and ample rail and bus options. Across both cities, one quarter of respondents said their child was not attending the school they preferred due to transportation difficulties. That percentage increased to one-third for low-income families. Furthermore, two-thirds of respondents said they would choose a better school for their child if transportation options improved; a whopping eighty percent of low-income families would do the same. Interestingly, even though the District has a richer array of public transportation options, answers from parents in each city did not differ significantly. The authors fault a lack of information and archaic district transportation models based on a pre-choice era. Their solution is transportation vouchers, which would let parents spend the roughly $700 allocated annually per student for transportation as they saw fit--servicing their cars, paying for public transportation, etc. With charter schools and choice options on the rise, the issue of transportation limitations will only grow in prominence; this report is a
Stafford Palmieri / July 23, 2009
Paul E. Barton
Educational Testing Service
This national standards primer takes a look at the who, what, where, when, and why of this movement as it has alternately spurted and stalled over the last 25 years. Or as Michael T. Nettles explains in the preface, "While the report is not a ‘yes' or ‘no' about uniform national standards, the clear message is that anyone who wants to make a sound and reasoned judgment on the question needs to do much homework first. This report will help with that." The scope is broad: Having laid out the history of national standards, author Paul Barton looks at the current conversation, including, in particular, the variation in how we define "national standards"--do we mean content and curriculum, performance standards, or student achievement? The common conflation of these three concepts has only served to confuse the movement, he explains. This confusion is also reflected in the sheer magnitude of variation in states, districts, schools, and students. From basic school structure to students' differing levels of cognitive development upon entering kindergarten, the American public education system certainly seems to reflect its bottom-up history. Tackling that organic history will be a tough battle for any national movement, especially this one. In fact, the risks and difficulties it faces mean that any set of national standards will necessarily be voluntary. And it's yet unclear how these standards will remain national but not federal, who will oversee