Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 9, Number 37
October 22, 2009
Opinion + Analysis
A wing and a prayer
Seat time or hard time
The dismal science's promise for education
When the money runs out
Up close and personal with Mike
This week, Mike and Stafford discuss the fate of Catholic schools (again), Russ Whitehurst's call to the Obama Administration to stop ignoring curriculum, and the future of school boards. Then Amber tells us about a new RAND study on social promotion and Rate that Reform gets S.A.D.
Michael J. Petrilli / October 22, 2009
If you haven’t heard the news that the newspaper industry is dying, you must not be reading the newspaper anymore. Which is entirely possible. According to the Pew Research Center, newspaper readership fell 5 percent in just the past year, and advertising revenues are down 23 percent over the past two years. The third quarter of 2008 saw the worst decline in print ad revenue in nearly 40 years, reports the Newspaper Association of America. Several major chains are in bankruptcy, and a few big papers have disappeared entirely. With the economy in deep recession, the situation only looks to grow worse.
This is a topic that excites editorialists, who are, of course, members of the journalism profession themselves. Many bemoan the demise of the daily newspaper, arguing that it signals the end to the educated citizen. Others worry that Americans will retreat to ideological safe havens--cable TV channels, Internet sites, and blogs that conform to their strongly held views--which will lead to even greater divisiveness in our politics and culture.
Are these concerns valid when it comes to coverage of education? To find out, I interviewed some of the smartest minds in education journalism, including Richard Lee Colvin of the Hechinger Institute; Richard Whitmire, past president of the National Education Writers Association (EWA); Jim Bencivenga, formerly the education editor of the Christian Science Monitor; Virginia Edwards, the publisher of Education Week; and Elizabeth Green, an editor of the online upstart
October 22, 2009
It’s no broom-bedecked cover, but TIME coverage is still TIME coverage. In his recent article for that magazine, Gilbert Cruz reports that America's urban Catholic schools are facing a serious identity crisis--not to mention financial catastrophe. (That’s not news to Gadfly readers, of course.) Cruz says that these schools serve a socially important niche, but a growing number of poor students who can’t afford the full cost of tuition and the majority of teachers being of the salaried lay version mean they have an out-of-date business model. According to John Eriksen, superintendent of Catholic schools in Paterson, New Jersey, the church and Catholic schools have a hard time wrapping their respective heads around the idea of education provision as a business. Further, he explains, "a much more effective mantra than 'We're poor, give us money,' is 'We serve the poor. Invest in us, and we'll provide a good return on your investment.'" Amen to that.
“Looking for Solutions to the Catholic-School Crisis,” by Gilbert Cruz, TIME Magazine, October 12, 2009
October 22, 2009
Here’s an idea to curb the dropout problem: Make it illegal. Heretofore, the legal school-leaving age in many states was 16, two years younger, typically, than that of a graduating senior. But now states are amending their statutes to raise that bar to 18, meaning that nonattendance prior to that age would be truancy--and against the law. In Massachusetts, for example, where this measure is currently being considered, students can currently choose to leave school at 16 and--with the superintendent’s permission for medical reasons or to complete non-wage work at home--as early as age 14. In real terms, that’s like dropping out after eighth grade--and with the district’s blessing. Of course, this kind of measure, which has already been adopted in nineteen other states--many of which only recently--is certainly no cure-all. And it might not have the personal touch of going door-to-door (as they’re doing in LA) or the tough-love feel of urging businesses to not hire high school dropouts (thank you, Texas), but it seems like such common sense that we can only wonder what took so long--and why those 31 other states haven’t done the same.
“Law urged to make teens stay in school,” by James Vaznis, Boston Globe, October 21, 2009
October 22, 2009
Education research is slowly developing towards a cold hard science. So argues the latest edition of the Harvard Education Letter, which explores the role of economic research in education policy. Ever since Milton Friedman first put forth his "human capital theory" in the 1960s, practitioners of the “dismal science” have slowly been taking an ever-growing interest in education. The trend accelerated with the advent of No Child Left Behind, when there were suddenly mountains of new data to be analyzed. Economists have now become some of the most influential voices in our field, questioning our assumptions about how best to spend education money, proposing new incentive structures for students and teachers, and offering hard proof about what actually works and what doesn’t. Now when President Obama speaks of “evidence-based reforms,” he means those supported by the research of economists, not psychologists, education’s previous intellectual establishment. On the whole this is a promising development, except in one important respect: Economists don’t know much about what happens inside the “black box” of the classroom--and that’s still the crucible for just about every education reform.
“The Invisible Hand in Education Policy,” by David McKay Wilson, The Harvard Education Letter, September/October 2009
October 22, 2009
There’ll probably be more stories like this one: Chicago Public Schools is ending its version of Roland Fryer’s paying-students experiment. A number of cities, Chicago included, started pilot versions of programs that paid low-performing low-income students for good attendance, good behavior, and good grades. Now, Chicago’s Green for Grade$ has fallen victim to the budgetary axe for the 2009-10 school year. There were many reasons to be wary of a program that paid students to do things they should already be doing and it always remained unclear how long the philanthropic support for the program would last. Seems we have our answer. Can’t say we’re too sad to see this initiative go. Now the question is, will the students who used to participate in this program cut the mustard without the green compensation?
“Money No Longer a Motivator for CPS Students,” by Vee L. Harrison, Chicago Talks, October 16, 2009
October 22, 2009
Stuart Buck and Jay P. Greene
It’s hard to tell right now whether vouchers have a future in the nation’s capital, but Stuart Buck and Jay P. Greene are nonetheless bullish on the outlook for vouchers, at least when it comes to serving special education students. In this new Education Next piece, they make the case that special education vouchers are effective, politically palatable, and built on the firm legal basis of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the well-liked federal spending channel for special-ed students. The key insight is that IDEA already permits reimbursement for kids with disabilities to attend private schools, but only through a procedural gauntlet that is prohibitively costly: It requires lawyers, appeals, and lots of time and ultimately, most claims are rejected. Direct voucher programs (four states currently have them), though, put the onus on parents to determine whether private schools provide an “appropriate education” for their kids—and provide money up front. According to Buck and Greene, the McKay special-ed voucher program in Florida, for example, gives students options that are, on average, cheaper for the taxpayer and better for students and parents; in addition, it also creates a “rising tide” effect, whereby public schools actually improve their services for fear of losing funding. But mightn’t this pressure public schools to under-diagnose students with disabilities? And are there enough private school spots to fill the apparent demand for McKay-style vouchers? While McKay and other programs
Impacts of Comprehensive Teacher Induction: Results from the Second Year of a Randomized Controlled Study
Janie Scull / October 22, 2009
Eric Isenberg, Steven Glazerman, Martha Bleeker, Amy Johnson, Julieta Lugo-Gil, Mary Grider, Sarah Dolfin, Edward Britton, and Melanie Ali
Mathematica Policy Research
This report is the second installment of a three-year Institute of Education Sciences study to investigate the effectiveness of novice teacher induction programs. As induction programs are one of the most common policy interventions intended to address problems of high teacher turnover, poor preparation, and uneven teacher quality, this study is timely. It compares comprehensive induction programs (programs combining orientation and professional development sessions with experienced-teacher mentoring, classroom observations, and assessment-based feedback) with less intensive--and presumably less effective--“business as usual” programs. While the first year of the study compared a treatment group of teachers in comprehensive programs with a control group of teachers in informal programs in 17 districts, the second year divided the treatment group further, offering a subset of teachers a second year of comprehensive induction; this created the ability to investigate the effects of participating in zero, one, or two years of intense induction programming. Last year’s results were not promising; this year’s are equally disappointing. While teachers participating in the “fully loaded” model received significantly more support and intervention, the programs had a neutral, even negative, effect on student achievement. Startlingly, the one-year induction participants reported spending less time with mentors in the second (non-induction) year than did the control group. Teachers who participated for two years continued to report
Jamie Davies O'Leary / October 22, 2009
Paul Hill, Christine Campbell, David Menefee-Libey, Brianna Dusseault, Michael DeArmond, and Betheny Gross
Center on Reinventing Public Education
This report from Center on Reinventing Public Education is the next installment in a series on performance management (we reviewed the introductory report here). The authors present initial findings from four districts using portfolio management--New York City, New Orleans, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.--in the hopes that other districts considering the portfolio technique will learn from their experiences; the final report is due in 2011. If you recall, unlike traditional districts, portfolio districts empower schools to make instructional, HR, and budgetary decisions; they foster experimentation among schools rather than insisting on uniformity; and they base school expansion, closure, and funding decisions entirely on performance. The portfolio district continually reconstitutes, closes, opens, and experiments with its schools until, as the authors put it, “no child attends a school in which he or she is not likely to learn.” New York (through the city-wide “autonomy zone”) and New Orleans (through extensive and continuing chartering) have implemented portfolio management full-scale; Chicago and D.C. have adapted only parts of it so far. (In Chicago, portfolio management is only applied to the Renaissance 2010 initiative schools, while DCPS does not oversee a portion of the city's "portfolio" of schools, namely the charters and voucher-receiving schools.) The report outlines precipitating events that fostered their creation (e.g. Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and mayoral takeover in NYC), and the implications
No Time to Lose: Why America Needs an Education Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to Improve Public Education
October 22, 2009
Southern Education Foundation
This report from the Southern Education Foundation advocates for a “federal education amendment” to the Constitution as a means of fixing funding and resource disparities in American public education. After trying to explain why American education is failing, it turns to the vast funding and resource disparities (both intra-state and inter-state) among public schools. There are some impressive numbers, to be sure: In Alaska, for example, the highest-revenue district outspends the lowest-revenue district by more than $20,000 per student per year. The report points out that poor and minority students are often stuck in the lower-revenue districts, and it helpfully explains that, despite good intentions, federal Title I funding often exacerbates disparities. Next is a somewhat haphazard argument that funding disparities cause corresponding disparities in “opportunity to learn.” All of this leads SEF to the conclusion that it is time for the federal government to step in with a constitutional amendment. They offer several forms this might take, but the goal of each seems to be to equalize per-student funding across state and district lines. There are two problems here: First is the notion that the failures of American public education can all (or mostly) be attributed to under-funding. This simply isn’t true. There are plenty of well-funded schools and districts that are under-performing because of gross mismanagement, and there are plenty of under-funded charter schools that are outperforming them. This is not to say that resource disparities