Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 9, Number 19
May 28, 2009
Opinion + Analysis
The teacher workforce: Bigger vs. better
Chart(er)ing their own course
Baltimore bests Boston
Puffed up PD
Educating the Public
The Condition of Education 2009
Investing in Charter Schools: A Guide for Donors
The Really Neat Paper Minute!
This week, Mike and Rick discuss New York City's Leadership Academy principals' lackluster results, charter school transparency in Pennsylvania, and whether we should try to encourage lower levels of truancy. Then, Amber tells us about a new Education Sector concept paper (but this isn't the Really Neat Paper Minute, protests Mike!) and Rate that Reform finds yet another incidence of school administrator cowardice on the topic of homosexuality.
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / May 28, 2009
All the gnashing of teeth and beating of breasts--and manifestos, studies, reports, and exhortations beyond enumeration--involving teacher recruitment, teacher quality, teacher compensation, and teacher retention miss the fundamental demographic reality at the core of almost all our teacher-related challenges: their sheer numbers.
I've previously observed that, over the past half century, the number of teachers employed by U.S. schools rose approximately twice as fast as the number of students attending them; that paying the salaries of all these additional people is where most of the additional education spending has gone; and that if the number of teachers had instead risen in proportion to pupil enrollments, today's average salary (assuming current school budgets) would exceed $100,000, plus generous benefits.
I recently went foraging for more macro-data regarding the teaching workforce. Instead of looking at NCES data, I turned to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). You may want to do that, too, particularly an informative May 2008 report on the number of people in various occupations and their pay.
There I found the number of school-teachers even larger than I had realized: 3,470,000 of them, not including special ed teachers, and more than four million when they are included. (These figures include private schools but not pre-school, specialized vocational teachers, teacher aides, or school administrators.)
For perspective, the BLS tallies 933,000 police and firemen; 1,134,000 accountants and auditors; and a mere 554,000 lawyers.
To get to numbers (of professionals) that even begin
May 28, 2009
"A leader must have the courage to act against an expert's advice," Sunny Jim once said (for those rusty on their modern European history, that's James Callaghan, PM of the UK in the late 70s.) Perhaps a lesson for Joel Klein, who's now taking heat from experts on his 14-month principal training boot camp, the Leadership Academy. A recent NYU study found that Academy graduates--high performing intellectuals and professionals, often recruited from outside the system, sometimes from outside K-12 education--fall short on the city's report cards when compared with traditionally-trained school leaders. In particular, parents tend to have less confidence in Academy-prepared principals and Academy-led schools have higher teacher turnover. But courage, abandon us not! The Academy has been around only since the advent of mayoral control in 2002. Thus, the principals it has trained are relatively new on the job. Compared to the veterans who have escaped Klein's principal purge, it would be an impressive individual indeed who could stack up. Further, as the study itself points out, being one of Joel Klein's principals requires variegated leadership qualities that "ask for things that don't often come in the same person." Klein may be recruiting Ivy-league smarties, but he may not yet have perfected his selection technique. Before we condemn these fledgling school leaders, let's give them a bit longer to make their mark.
"Principals Younger and Freer, but Raise Doubts in the Schools," by Elissa Gootman and Robert Gebeloff,
May 28, 2009
Should charter-school autonomy mean outsourcing services however a school sees fit? Ten schools in the San Diego area say aye. Heretofore, the charters in question were charged per pupil rates (a projected $763 next year) for district-provided special education services. As such, the special-education professionals were hired and deployed by the district--but they were also evaluated by the district and members of its union, not so good if a school has distinctive pedagogical approaches or longer days. So the ten went shopping and found the El Dorado County Consortium Special Education Local Plan Area (SELPA), which will charge them a mere $50 a head for oversight and guidance on special education legislative compliance (membership in such an organization is required by state law) while the schools themselves are responsible for finding, hiring, and maintaining their own special education teachers with the remaining $713. Although critics worry that the direct dispersal of sped funds to schools through SELPA, which is managed by the El Dorado County Office of Education, will disincentivize special education programs, the schools argue that the disposable income will allow them to service even more sped students. And COE's 500 mile distance from San Diego, another critique, can be easily overcome by technology. As Jed Wallace, CEO of the CA Charter School Association explains, it is "completely antithetical to what the charter school movement is all about" to keep special education under district lock-and-key. If these schools can
May 28, 2009
While cities like Boston and New York are jumping from the Teach For America ship crying poverty, Baltimore wants to double its number of passengers. Recognizing the promise of the program (over half the teachers placed there since the program came to Charm City still work there), city officials are asking for twice as many TFA corps members for fall 2009 and 2010. "I think of TFA as almost an instrument of reform in the district...We have surveyed principals that have used TFA before, and 97 percent would hire more if they could," says district chief Andrés Alonso. The one hurdle? The district may not have enough money to meet its goal, so it's looking to external fundraising to bring in the $3.8 million necessary to expand TFA's ranks. So far, businesses and foundations are stepping up to the plate. Three cheers to Mr. Alonso for recognizing that tough budget times shouldn't turn off the human-capital spigot.
"City Wants to Expand 'Teach for America' program," by Liz Bowie, Baltimore Sun, May 25, 2009
May 28, 2009
Dying to learn how to make balloon animals? Tie-dye a tee-shirt? Cut out the perfect construction-paper snowflake? If you're a teacher in Massachusetts, you're in luck. Courses in these very subjects are not only being offered by your union this summer (truly; read the conference agenda for yourself) but they come bearing professional development points (PDPs), too! What, you wanted to learn new pedagogies for teaching controversial historical subjects or improve your knowledge of English grammar? C'mon, this is a fun day of personal fulfillment where dull academic subjects are banished to make room for feel-good fluff. But not everything being offered at the conference is totally innocuous. Hidden amongst the classes on basket weaving, silk screening, and folk dancing (if only we were making this up!) are "Effective Advocacy: Grievance Processing," where you'll learn how to sock it to your district should you ever have reason to complain; "MTA's Lens on Beacon Hill," where all your union-qua-lobbyist questions will be answered; and "Designing and Bargaining Salary Schedules," which will explain how locals can more effectively bully their districts into bigger raises. We're long familiar with unions' political agenda but let's not attempt to disguise them as legitimate professional development--or pretend that basket weaving will turn Ms. Smith into a more effective and knowledgeable history instructor.
"Teachers' union flunks courses," by Charles Chieppo, The Boston Herald, May 27, 2009
"Balloon Animals," by Peter Wood, The National Association of Scholars
Amber M. Winkler, Ph.D. / May 28, 2009
William Howell and Martin West
This research piece uses data from the 2008 Education Next survey to evaluate how the public feels about school spending by dividing respondents according to those who were more or less informed about the topic. This distinctive survey method is part of what makes Howell's and West's analysis so intriguing. They split respondents randomly into two camps: those who were simply asked their opinion about school spending and teacher salaries without any additional information being provided to them, and those who were asked the same questions but also given accurate information about these matters. In short, the analysts found that when the public is given additional data about what is spent on public schools (generally far more than people thought), their support for increased spending and their confidence that more spending will improve student achievement both decline. Also, when given accurate information about how much the average teacher earns (also much more than most people thought), support for higher teacher salaries also declines (by roughly 14 percent). Respondents, in fact, underestimated average teacher salaries by more than $14,000. Howell and West also found tepid but constant support for charter schools: 40 percent were undecided about their support for charter schools even when told that charters cannot charge tuition or provide religious instruction. But when the charter data were sliced by political ideology--and additional information added--liberals were a bit more likely and
Michael J. Petrilli / May 28, 2009
National Center for Education Statistics, Institute for Education Sciences
This annual compendium of education statistics doesn't disappoint. Like a cluttered shop store strewn with little gems, there's a lot to find if you know where to look. Consider this one: the percentage of three- and four-year-olds enrolled in school increased from 20 percent in 1970 to 55 percent in 2007 -- probably the biggest change in American education since the rise of universal high-school education during the Great Depression. Homeschooling continues to grow; NCES now estimates that 1.5 million homeschoolers nationwide, i.e., about 3 percent of the school-age population, up from 1.7 percent a decade back. Then there are the interesting trends regarding public-school choice. Almost half of all parents report having some sort of "public-school choice" available to them. And more parents are taking advantage of these choices, opting for schools other than the one closest by. The percentage of children in a public school of choice rose from 11 percent in 1993 to 16 percent in 2007. But that grievously understates the amount of "choosing" that's going on, because 27 percent of parents also report moving to a particular neighborhood in order to buy-in to a certain public school. And the patterns break down by race and region in fascinating (if largely predictable) ways, too. Blacks are more apt to opt for public schools outside their neighborhoods -- 36 percent of those with choice opportunities do so, versus
May 28, 2009
Center for Reinventing Public Education, University of Washington
This 6-page "rapid response" paper from the CRPE makes one clear and simple point: the stimulus package will affect different states' education budgets in vastly different ways. Author Marguerite Roza took some state budget data, crunched it against the U.S. Education Department's recent projection of ARRA allocations by state, and came up with a rough estimate of how each state's overall K-12 education budget will change from this year to next. At one end of her final chart is California, with an estimated overall spending cut of 11.6 percent next year. (LA has already become a battleground over spending cuts and teacher layoffs.) At the other end, with projected budget increases of 18.9 percent next year, is--yes!--South Dakota. In between, there is a fairly linear distribution of states, with 21 projecting budget cuts and 28 projecting increases. More urban and affluent states (New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Connecticut) tend to follow California's lead while mostly rural states (Mississippi, Montana, Wyoming, and Maine) trend after South Dakota. For state officials, Roza's estimates are limited, being based on quick calculations without much access to internal information about budget plans. But this is a great first reference for wonks and analysts--and certainly for educational investors and entrepreneurs who might otherwise not expect fast cash windfalls in places like sixth-ranked Mississippi. Find it here.
Christina Hentges / May 28, 2009
Bryan C. Hassel, Julie Kowal, and Sarah Crittendon
The Philanthropy Roundtable
This updated donors' guide to charter schools maintains the four strategic priorities of its 2004 predecessor (increasing the supply of good schools, ameliorating operational hurdles, setting standards and measures of quality, and encouraging a charter-friendly policy framework) and adds a fifth (improving the supply and quality of human capital in this sector). It's evident that the authors have benefited from lessons learned over the past half decade. This edition is helped by their extensive conversations with philanthropists and charter school operators about how they've replicated good schools, cultivated strong school leaders, and managed costs. Their sources are almost a who's who in the charter world. The guide also delves into current political conditions and charter laws. One prominent theme is the need for more funding sources for charter schools, preferably including smaller philanthropists that find "niche" funding or collaborative opportunities. (The guide includes several potential ways of "leveraging smaller investments," such as an ESL program for a charter school.) The many real-world examples underscore the traction gained by the charter school movement in the past five years. But the challenges of access, quality, funding, and general opposition remain and will require significant investment to continue to expand charters' presence--and success--across the land. Check it out here.