Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 9, Number 38
October 29, 2009
Opinion + Analysis
Remembering Ted Sizer
Teaching the teachers
The content of a great reformer
Education lifts election doldrums
Our secret 400 Maryland Ave listeners
Rick and Mike snuggle around the microphone ("Can you not touch my leg?") as they discuss Arne Duncan's recent ed school speeches, Deborah Gist's working within the system in Rhode Island, and the relationship between New York State's charter cap and charter quality. Then Amber tells us about a new Public Agenda survey of teachers and Rate that Reform gets serious (about New Haven).
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / October 29, 2009
Theodore R. (Ted) Sizer, who passed away last week after a long and valiant battle with cancer, was a towering figure in American education--and a wonderful guy. The youthful dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education--indeed, Ted had a youth’s vivacity, optimism, and looks for decades longer than anyone has a right to--succeeded Frank Keppel when the latter went to Washington as Commissioner of Education for presidents Kennedy and Johnson. He was a historian, an educator, an educator of educators, and an education leader with few peers.
He went on from Harvard to serve as headmaster of Phillips Academy (Andover) and later as founder and head of the Coalition of Essential Schools, professor at Brown University and I cannot remember what all else. (I’m writing this mid-ocean, far from all reference materials.) He authored scads of perceptive and influential books, perhaps the best known of which, Horace’s Compromise, may fairly be said to have launched the modern era of high-school reform. Along the way, of course, he served on umpteen commissions, boards and such.
I didn’t always agree with Ted. He viewed education through the eyes of a teacher more than a policymaker and he had boundless faith in the capacity--indeed the necessity--of educators to make and remake their own schools. But he also wisely understood that while state and federal policy and programs had their place, they often did harm as well as good, getting in the way
October 29, 2009
Having touted teacher quality as an important spoke of his reform wheel, it was only a matter of time before Education Secretary Arne Duncan took on the largest purveyor of teacher training: education schools. In two recent speeches, one at UVA’s Curry School and one at Columbia Teachers College, Duncan called them “mediocre,” explaining that student teachers don’t get enough hands-on classroom management training or classes on how to use data to inform their practice. In particular, Duncan wants ed schools to focus less on inputs and more on outputs, namely the achievement of the future students of the some 220,000 teachers graduating every year from ed schools. “Education schools act as the Bermuda Triangle of higher education--students sail in but no one knows what happens to them after them come out,” Duncan told Curry students. States like Louisiana have tried to remedy this disconnect by tracking student achievement for individual teachers back to the schools or alternative certification programs from which they graduated. More states should follow suit, says Duncan. Louisiana researcher George Noell explains that you have to look at the supply side of teaching: “Then you can make a link between who taught a kid, who trained the teacher, and the overall efficacy of that teacher.” That data can then be used to strengthen ed schools’ weak spots, or shut them down all together. This shift in focus from “highly qualified” to highly effective is
October 29, 2009
In this excellent biographical article in City Journal, Sol Stern takes a closer look at the life and works of E. D. Hirsch, Jr. Father of the Core Knowledge movement (and foundation by the same name), Hirsch started as a scholar of English. He broke from the Yale New Critics, amongst and under whom he did his graduate work, when he realized that a reader’s background content knowledge was fundamentally tied to his or her understanding of a piece of literature. Translate that to education: A student who has played baseball is much more likely to score well on a reading comprehension passage on baseball. (This is the very reason that schools like Harlem Success Academy in New York take their inner-city students to a farm each year to expose them to unfamiliar rural life, which is often a topic featured on state reading tests.) In Hirsch’s latest book, Making of Americans, he argues that common knowledge is fundamental to this American-making process; immigrants and native-born children alike must have the common educational experience, in history above all, to be contributing members of society. Indeed, Hirsch believes common content knowledge is the number one tool of social mobility. The good news is that more and more folks are starting to agree, including, apparently, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who bemoaned the low enrollment in Hirsch’s Curry School classes in his recent Columbia Teachers College speech. The education
October 29, 2009
After the pomp, circumstance, and hope we can believe in of 2008, you may have an election hangover. And if you don’t live in Virginia, New Jersey, New York City, or Boston, you may not have even realized that next Tuesday, November 3, is Election Day. But of four big races (and a few ballot initiatives) due next week, education is a common theme in all of them. New York City’s mayoral election is perhaps the most contentious, with incumbent Michael Bloomberg’s mayoral control of city schools dominating the conversation; his opponent, city comptroller William Thompson, sat on the school board from 1996-2001, the period immediately preceding Bloomberg’s control of schools. The election has been plainly deemed a referendum on Bloomberg’s work in education. In Boston’s mayoral election, meanwhile, charter schools have become the topic du jour. Then over in New Jersey, incumbent governor Democrat Jon Corzine has portrayed education as an area of particular achievement for his administration, including the retooling of state education funding formulae. Down in Virginia where another gubernatorial race rages, education has crossed party lines: Republican contender and current favorite in the polls Bob McDonnell’s education platform looks a lot like President Obama’s Race to the Top criteria, while Democrat Creigh Deeds has picked up on fewer of RTT’s stipulations. We may not be back down on earth from last year’s sojourn in the hope and dream clouds, but education hasn’t strayed too far
October 29, 2009
Last week, you may have read about Rhode Island State Superintendent Deborah Gist’s move to abolish seniority bumping rights for teachers. But what you might not have seen was another move just as important: Raising cut scores for Rhode Island teacher candidates on the Praxis I exam. That state had one of the lowest cut scores in the land, clocking alongside that of Guam. So she asked her staff to figure out which state had the highest scores in the land—the answer: Virginia—and then she set Rhode Island’s score one point higher. The move is part of Gist’s larger plan to overhaul “the entire career span of a teacher,” from who is allowed to be trained as a teacher to veteran support and training—and every stage in between. This is no minor bureaucratic maneuver; raising the cut score from 170, where an estimated 30 percent of students fail the Praxis I, to 179, where 54 percent will, is sure to lead to an outcry among many a prospective teacher and their ed school profs. But what’s most impressive is Gist’s gutsiness. She didn’t seek approval from the legislature to make this momentous change; she is simply working within already established state law. Which means that in her three-month tenure at the head of Rhode Island schools, she’s accomplished a ton of things that her predecessors could have but didn’t do, all without changing or breaking the current rules. Other
October 29, 2009
Forget sleeping in class. Try sleeping on the way to class. At night! On a Sunday! Last weekend, sheriff’s deputies in St. Charles, Illinois, discovered a 5 year-old boy at his elementary school way past his bedtime. Seems the little guy had sleepwalked to school, managing to escape the house without waking his parents. Upon discovery at 1:30 am, the police took him to the hospital where a school district official identified him and sent him home. What could have caused the wee fella to make the trek? Trying to impress his teachers? Text-anxiety? Determined to stake out the best seat in class? Hard to tell, but one thing is for sure: His parents can rest assured that their son definitely knows the way to school.
“Boy, 5, sleepwalked to his school at night,” UPI, October 21, 2009
October 29, 2009
Jean Johnson, Andrew Yarrow, Jonathan Rochkind, and Amber Ott
This attitudinal review divides teachers into three categories: idealist, disheartened, and contented. A “cluster analysis” method was applied to sort respondents into three categories based on their statistically similar results to survey questions. The idealists are young (22-32), working in underserved communities, and optimistic about the power of education to improve kids’ lot in life; they also believe that their work is notably improving their students’ achievement. The (typically more veteran) disheartened teachers serve a similar population but have a much less rosy outlook: They see themselves as in conflict with administrators over working conditions, with students and parents over behavior, and with policymakers over the current accountability regime. The third group, the contented, serve a much more affluent population in suburbs and high-performing urban schools, and generally report satisfaction with their working conditions. Imagine an archetypal Teach For America corps member, a jaded inner-city public school teacher, suburban veteran teacher, and you get the gist. Analysts found a few big differences between the three groups--for example, 53 percent of disheartened teachers cite low pay as a major drawback to teaching, but only 26 percent of contented teachers agree (maybe because they are making more money?). Perhaps the biggest shocker: A quarter of the disheartened teachers would be interested in teaching in a charter school run by teachers, more than double the rate for contented teachers and idealists. Charter
Emmy L. Partin / October 29, 2009
Thomas Toch and Chad Aldeman
Mandatory public choice--the practice of a school system requiring students to choose a school rather than be automatically assigned to one--has shown to foster innovation in public schools if joined with an effective placement system, according to this report from Education Sector. The report chronicles the evolution and success of New York’s and Boston’s systems of public school choice, both of which were initially stymied by logistical hurdles and ineffective methods of placing students in the schools they wanted. The districts consulted with experts who had developed successful models for placing medical students in residency programs, awarding law clerkships to law students, and pairing kidney donors with recipients. As a result of the improved school-placement practices, more students were able to get into their top picks, which in turn increased competition among schools. The report’s extensive explanation of the matching methodologies could be useful to districts seeking to create or improve their magnet and school-choice lottery processes and also how to create a successful portfolio of schools. (New York has a well-developed one.) Such mandatory choice programs have yet to show any significant impact on achievement, but they lay a solid foundation for increased competition and innovation among public schools and can provide a valuable complement to charter schools and voucher programs. Check out the full report here.
October 29, 2009
Susan Moore Johnson and John P. Papay
Economic Policy Institute
This publication is really two reports in one: a new framework for understanding various existing pay-for-performance schemes and a proposal for a new system of performance-based pay. According to authors Johnson and Papay, there are three crucial differences between merit pay systems: how merit is assessed (by in-person evaluations, student test scores, or a combination of both), whether merit is judged against an objective standard or relative to other teachers, and whether merit is rewarded at the individual or school level. Then, in the second half, Johnson and Papay outline their own vision for teacher-pay reform: the “Tiered Pay-and-Career Structure.” Featuring four levels, this is intended to be a way for school districts to use “performance-based pay as part of a well conceived human capital strategy for developing teachers through all stages of their career” instead of “simply [appending] new components to [the] current compensation system.” The tiers work as follows: 1. probationary teachers, 2. teachers with tenure or those who have achieved permanent status, 3. master teachers and school-based leaders, and 4. school and district leaders. This structure, argue the authors, would be a way for teachers to earn more pay based on individual merit (through promotion rather than monetary bonuses), while simultaneously setting up a support system for teachers where the most experienced and best teachers aide their younger, less-experienced colleagues and rewarding merit pay bonuses on the school