Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 9, Number 39
November 5, 2009
Opinion + Analysis
Ed schools, hallowed no more
By Stafford Palmieri
High school diplomas go retro
3X for All: Extending the Reach of Education
By Janie Scull
Mickey perfects the dramatic pause
Andy and Stafford co-host, debating the Hawaii furlough debacle as they discuss Diane Ravitch's use of NAEP data to raise doubts about charters, Rick and Checker's piece on stimulus funding, and new charter changes in Massachusetts. Then Amber tells us about a new National Bureau of Economic Research evaluation of the Harlem Children's Zone and Rate that Reform bans texting while driving.
Stafford Palmieri / November 5, 2009
Education schools are under attack--yet again. But don’t yawn and assume that this, too, shall pass. For unlike innumerable previous assaults, which these institutions withstood with awesome obstinacy, this one may actually crack their fortified walls. That’s no sure thing, of course, given the history of failed attempts at reform in this area. But the current combination of forces at work on them, from Education Secretary Arne Duncan to the budgetary woes of state governments, may be weakening those rampart walls enough to yield some overdue change in how teachers (and principals) are prepared.
Duncan has officially added ed schools to his lengthening list of major components of American education that are not getting the job done. In recent speeches at UVA’s Curry School of Education and Columbia’s Teachers College, the Secretary laid it out plain: For the most part, ed schools churn our mediocre teachers, have no mechanisms for self-evaluation, and are located in states that have low certification standards. We need a “sea-change in our schools of education,” he declared at Columbia.
In particular, Duncan emphasized the disconnect between teacher effectiveness and where the teacher was trained. At Curry, he put it this way: “In all but a few states, education schools act as the Bermuda Triangle of higher education--students sail in but no one knows what happens to them after they come out. No one knows which students are succeeding as teachers, which are struggling, and
November 5, 2009
The Parent Revolution in Los Angeles continues to bring home the bacon, having managed to put organized parents squarely in the center of local education politics. In August, the LA Unified school board launched a new school choice policy, a corner stone of which is the outsourcing of 200 underperforming schools to outside operators. This fall, the Parent Revolution lobbied LAUSD Superintendent Ray Cortines to bump schools to the top of the 200 if a simple majority of the school’s current or future (i.e., feeder schools’) parents support a takeover. Though the final version of the so-called “Parent Trigger” clause is weaker than the original proposal (to the point of being “more likely to frustrate parents than empower them,” according to the L.A. Times editorial board), we still can’t help but admire Parent Revolution for its assertiveness and surely hope that kindred parent unions spring up and seize power in many other cities. Tom Vander Ark, former Director of Education for the Gates Foundation, called the Parents Revolution an idea “that will change the education landscape.” Let’s hope he’s proven right.
“LA Unified to allow parents to initiate school reforms,” Los Angeles Times, October 28, 2009
“L.A. Gives Parents ‘Trigger’ to Restructure Schools,” by Lesli A. Maxwell, Education Week, November 4, 2009 (subscription required)
“Parents Unite to Transform Your Schools! (Just Kidding…),” by Ben Austin, Parent Revolution blog, November 2, 2009
November 5, 2009
In perhaps the worst decision since the resurrection of the legwarmer, the North Carolina General Assembly has effectively granted retroactive diplomas to scores of high school seniors who failed graduation tests. Apparently to cut costs (though how, exactly, is not self-evident), the Tarheel legislature has eliminated the requirement that students pass state graduation tests in math, English, and computer skills. But in an odd, and seemingly unnecessary twist, they’ve made the measure retroactive to 1981. Paging Jim Hunt (who authorized the state board of education to institute the graduation test requirement): One of your reforms has just been sent the way of the side ponytail. It’s not clear how many students will take advantage of the new rules, since only those who completed all other graduation requirements save passing the tests are eligible, but the measure is certainly not going to be much of a money-saver. Districts will now have to spend time and dollars to determine who is eligible for a diploma; this will be particularly difficult for non-graduates from more than five years ago, as the state’s present data system was not in place then. Don Martin, Superintendent of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school board called the move just another “unfunded mandate” and “tedious.” But we’re left wondering about the greater repercussions on North Carolina’s work force. Will students retroactively be able to get into UNC? Retroactively earn their lost income? Retroactively attend senior prom? The potential
November 5, 2009
Arne Duncan may continue lambasting teacher preparation programs nation-wide, but Texas could soon give him something to smile about. The State Board for Teacher Certification recently gave initial approval to a proposal authored by veteran state Senator Florence Shapiro that would impose stricter standards on the state’s 177 traditional and alternative teacher prep programs. (Final approval is expected in February, 2010.) Heretofore, program accreditation was based on only one factor: percentage of teaching candidates passing a written certification exam. Shapiro’s two-step plan would raise the combined passing rate of all teacher candidates from 70 to 80 percent by 2012 (a move initiated in Rhode Island last month), and would also establish three other accreditation criteria: mandating evaluations by the principals of schools into which the products of teacher prep programs go to teach, instituting teacher prep program follow-up with certified graduates for at least one year, and ensuring that prep program graduates are improving student achievement for their first three years. Linking student test scores back to teacher training programs would be a big step for Texas; currently, such scores are only used to determine yearly bonuses for teachers. But the current proposal (pdf) leaves undefined the required “improvement in student achievement” of prep program graduates, the details of program follow-up with graduates, or how principal evaluations will be weighted; setting these bars too low and/or making them easy to circumvent, of course, would undermine the changes entirely. It’s also unclear whether a prep
November 5, 2009
“I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep…Those numbers completely changed my professional life,” says Sarah Fanning, referring to 1999 test scores that revealed a full third of freshmen at Buckhorn High School in New Market, Alabama, where Fanning oversees curriculum and instruction, read at or below the seventh-grade level. In response, Buckhorn became an early adopter of the Alabama Reading Initiative, which focuses on incorporating literacy instruction across all subjects. Buckhorn’s implementation seems to have three points of emphasis: Teach reading skills in all classes (not just English), use whatever methods it takes to help students understand and engage with concepts (visual aides, pop culture tie-ins, and hands-on projects are especially prominent), and make sure that every student understands all the content, even if that means starting at a basic level. The school now consistently outperforms surrounding high schools on reading tests. Programs like this can go horribly awry if, for example, they give teachers the power to substitute fluff projects for actual subject material. But, responsibly implemented, schools like Buckhorn show that putting reading and writing skills into practice in real courses is more successful than teaching them in the abstract.
“An Ala. High School Makes Literacy a Schoolwide Job,” by Catherine Gewertz, Education Week, October 30, 2009 (subscription required)
November 5, 2009
When the Gates Foundation announced in July that it would give up to $250,000 grants to fifteen states to help them with their Race to the Top applications, it was exercising the right of a private organization to be selective with its funds. But then the neglected 35 cried “unfair.” And the financial floodgates opened. Now all fifty states will get financial help with their RTT proposals. Will the same thing happen when the Department of Education determines RTT winners? And shouldn’t a private foundation be showing how to be selective rather than yielding, government-style, to political pressure?
“After Complaints, Gates Foundation Opens Education Aid Offer to All States,” by Sam Dillon, New York Times, October 28, 2009
November 5, 2009
Call before you print--that’s the lesson for Linda Vista Elementary School in Yorba Linda, California. That school’s PTA recently made tee-shirts for a student jog-a-thon that featured the school mascot (a lion) and an inspiring seven-letter slogan transformed into a 1-800 number. Turns out the toll-free digits lead callers to a real phone number--one that, a curious parent discovered, connects to an adult chat line. (We’re pretty sure none of the chat operators were participating in the jog-a-thon.) The school caught the gaffe and hastily recalled the dirty shirts. According to the Orange County Register, Linda Vista isn’t the only school to err with this particular phone number. (Though the Register didn’t supply the actual digits, Gadfly’s own research reveals the guilty phrase was “eat dust.” We don’t recommend typing that into your nearest phone, however.) But Gadfly is slightly stumped; doesn’t every combination of seven letters potentially connect to a real phone number, once an area code or equivalent prefix is attached? This may be an “innocent mistake” as a Linda Vista school official claims, but we guess that depends on your definition of “innocent.”
“Adult chat line accidentally printed on school shirts,” by Jessica Terrell, Orange County Register, October 27, 2009
November 5, 2009
Consortium on Chicago School Research
University of Chicago Urban Education Institute
Chalk up another mark on the growing “no-effects” list of school-reform research: This study finds that students impacted by school closures in Chicago Public Schools between 2001 and 2006 did, on average, no better or worse after leaving the shuttered schools. But no surprise here: 42 percent of the displaced students went from bad schools to equally bad ones (namely the bottom quartile of schools in Chicago). The rest of the findings are a mixed bag: There were some ancillary negative effects (lower summer school attendance and a temporary test score drop after students learned that their schools were slated for closure), some marginal positive effects (better scores for the 6 percent of students who subsequently entered high-performing schools), and a combination of both (for the 52 percent who wound up in second or third quartile schools). Behold the chicken-and-egg dilemma with school closure: What’s the point of closing failing schools when there aren’t any better options available? The authors point out that although some schools were closed specifically for low-enrollment rather than low test scores, the two categories typically overlap. (Some of the closed schools reopened as new schools but the report does not disaggregate effects on student achievement for doing so.) Andy Smarick writes that school turnaround should really boil down to a simple formula: “close failing schools, open new schools, replicate great schools, repeat.” But
Janie Scull / November 5, 2009
Emily Ayscue Hassel and Bryan C. Hassel
In order to ensure that every child in America has access to a high quality teacher, this working paper suggests a seemingly basic strategy: increase the influence and reach of excellent teachers already in the system. The authors start with two assumptions: First, that teacher effectiveness has the greatest in-school effect on student achievement; and second, that the top quintile of teachers produce pupil gains three times that of the bottom quintile (hence the label “3X teachers”). Therefore, they go on to explain, efforts to improve teacher recruitment, incentives, and professional development are noble, but are incapable of producing widespread gains anytime soon. Instead, if schools committed now to extend the “reach” (number of children served) and “touch” (direct interaction with students) of their 3X teachers, they could immediately reduce the shortage and increase the distribution of high quality teachers without actually hiring any more. This can be done in three ways. First, schools could restructure teacher organization and responsibilities to allow 3X teachers to concentrate on instruction and eliminate time wasted on rote activities (e.g., 3X teachers could simultaneously manage multiple classrooms while other teachers work under their supervision.) Second, schools could use technology to bring a 3X teacher into classrooms by remote means. Ideally, this would occur on a scale small enough to allow for personal interaction but large enough to reach two or three times more students. Third, 3X teachers could spread their best practices and lessons through mass production of lesson videos and literature, allowing them to reach an unbounded number of students. To make this system work,
Amber M. Winkler, Ph.D. / November 5, 2009
Victor Bandeira de Mello, Charles Blankenship, and Don McLaughlin
National Center for Education Statistics
Newsflash: Many states have lowered the proficiency bar in response to NCLB. Faithful Gadfly readers already knew this, of course, since we published a report on this very topic two years ago (and another one earlier this year). The difference this time around, however, is that the messenger is the federal government itself. NCES analysts mapped state proficiency standards in 48 states onto the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scales. The result? “All NAEP scale equivalents of states’ reading standards were below NAEP’s proficient range; and in mathematics only two states’ NAEP scale equivalents were in the NAEP proficient range…” To top it off, most states’ fourth grade reading standards were below NAEP’s basic level of performance. Readers might find the stats-speak hard to parse, but NCES does an excellent job of presenting the data. User-friendly tables lay out precisely (i.e., by naming them) which states lowered their proficiency standards between 2005 and 2007; the data are separated by which states have comparable results (i.e., because they kept the same tests) and those that do not (i.e., they changed their standards/tests/testing policies). Interestingly, nearly half of states changed aspects of their test or assessment system over that two year period. But when each version of these states’ tests was mapped onto the NAEP scale, results revealed that a third to a half
Janie Scull / November 5, 2009
U.S. Department of Education
Drawing from new data released on October 30 by the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, this report reviews the distribution of federal economic-stimulus funds to date and their effects on state economies and education systems. Bail-out indeed! Despite early talk about important reforms being driven by these dollars, in education at least, the federal largesse has been about jobs, jobs, jobs. Specifically, 325,000 jobs created or retained in this sector. (The report tries to smooth this over by stating the original purpose of the funds as “delivering emergency education funding to States” and sadly spends just a half-page in its 248-page entirety reporting on “ARRA Reform and Outreach” evidenced by “anecdotal accounts to the Department of Education.”) The report lauds the funds for restoring “nearly 100 percent of the 2008-09 budget gaps and significant portion of the 2009-10 shortfalls.” Call us naysayers, but we’re not convinced this is a big reason to break out the champagne. As we predicted when ARRA was in its infancy, the bailout dollars have likely retarded education reform; shielded from reality for another two years, states, districts, and schools left their unsustainable organizational bloat intact. And some of the news is even worse. Since ARRA only required states to maintain 2006 levels of funding, a number of states (such as Hawaii--and its furlough mess) used their federal funds to actually cut the state contribution to education. And what will happen in 2011 after