Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 9, Number 32
September 10, 2009
Opinion + Analysis
Judges and schools
A compassionate history
Party like it's...2009
I got that socialist feelin
This week, Andy and Stafford discuss good grades in the Big Apple, school violence in Chi-town, and young principals in Beantown. Then Amber gives us the lowdown on the PDK/Gallup poll of American opinion on education and Rate that Reform grades Obama's (speech) lesson plans.
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / September 10, 2009
This week, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute (along with co-publisher, Brookings Institution Press) released From Schoolhouse to Courthouse: The Judiciary's Role in American Education, a timely and important book that examines the role of the courts in modern American K-12 education. From race to speech, from religion to school funding, from discipline to special education, few aspects of education policy have escaped the courtroom. Ohio is no exception, from the Ohio Supreme Court’s DeRolph rulings, to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Zelman decision, to then-Attorney General Marc Dann’s failed lawsuits against low-performing charter schools. In From Schoolhouse to Courthouse, experts in political science, education policy, and law describe just what the impact of judicial involvement has been. The following piece, by Fordham President Chester E. Finn, Jr. and adapted from the book’s foreword, explains why Fordham embarked on this project and why this book is must-read for those of us who care about improving student learning and see education as a critical social justice issue.
Primary-secondary education is obviously not the only realm of increased litigation in American life and intense court involvement in social policy. It's most definitely not the only field in which the fruits of such litigation have sometimes turned out to be mushy if not rotten. Nor is it the only sphere where policy disputes and reform initiatives--and resistance to these--have been fought out in courtrooms as well as in legislative corridors and voting booths. In the
September 10, 2009
The Chicago Public Schools see approximately 30 students killed and many more involved in some kind of school violence each year; that's why they've embarked on a $30 million initiative to lower those numbers, particularly the toll of fatalities. Using a probability model, the district will identify those high school students most likely to be gunshot victims--1,200 have already been spotted--and direct resources (such as a personal advocate, a social worker, and a paid job) towards these pupils in an attempt to reduce the odds of tragedy. Already, the data have revealed significant trends among the most at-risk: They are most likely to be black males, homeless, special-education students, and students at alternative schools. Typically, they are also at least two credits behind in their coursework, are absent for 40 percent or more of the school year, and tend to commit one serious school infraction per year. These stereotypes are not exactly news, but identifying and doing something about the individual students who fit into such categories is innovative and encouraging. The possibilities for using such algorithms to identify students at risk for other things--like dropping out or failing--are endless.
"$30 million plan to save kids," by Rosalind Rossi, Chicago Sun Times, September 4, 2009
September 10, 2009
Can dangerous schools be great schools? According to New York City's annual progress reports, the answer is yes. Not only did an astounding 97 percent of the Big Apple's schools receive A or B ratings on their 2008-2009 report cards, six of them also appear on the state's "most violent" list. Go figure. But how did 84 percent of the city's 1,058 elementary schools get an A this year when only 38 percent pulled that off a year earlier? Two ways: First, the state test has long been too easy and badly scored. In June, we saw huge and possibly spurious gains on it across the state. It turns out that just guessing can result in a passing score; on last year's state math tests, seventh graders receiving a 44 percent raw score could still pass. (The state's high-school subject tests, the Regents, suffer from a similar malady.) Second, New York City's school-rating formula heavily weights score improvement to the exclusion of other factors such as actual achievement and school violence. (The city's measure of violence is largely based on satisfaction surveys and it's no secret that parents tend to see their own child's school with rose-colored glasses. The state's list of violent schools is based on actual numbers of reported incidents.) Gadfly applauds New York City's effort to emphasize "value-added," but that only works properly when the test is rigorous and high-quality and the school-scoring
September 10, 2009
Where does "compassionate conservatism" fit into the political conversation? Steven Teles explains its intellectual and political past, present, and future in this piece for National Affairs, a promising new policy journal. The idea is much misunderstood, possibly because of its association with Bush 43, but it lurks behind many areas of domestic policy. In short, it embraces the goal of social justice but uses conservative precepts, such as market forces, efficiency, and efficacy, to aid those in need. The narrative of education policy is illustrative, Teles notes. For the most part, compassionate-conservative policy in this domain means an acceptance of the federal role (though many conservatives, as late as 1995, were calling for abolition of the Department of Education), while couching education as an issue of social justice. Such cherished conservative reform ideas as charter schools and vouchers turned into tools for improving the education of the poor and minorities. This enabled conservatives (and Republicans), at least briefly, to seize leadership of education reform from traditionally liberal (and Democratic) status quo groups like teacher unions and education schools. The pragmatic emphasis on what works over ideology served to boost compassionate conservatism even when its political bedfellows, namely the Republicans, fell out of favor. Sticking with its bipartisan allies, forecasts Teles, rather than aligning to political lines, is compassionate conservatism's best hope for the future. Though conservatism in general is presently in eclipse in this and other policy domains, and its
September 10, 2009
When it comes to charter schools, Albany, New York is one heck of a role model. It's not just that that small city (not quite 100,000 people) has eight top notch charters; it's also that those schools serve about a quarter of the city's students and serve them well-earning top marks on state assessments, far superior to those of district schools enrolling similar youngsters. But none of this was accidental. Unlike other cities (e.g., Dayton and Washington D.C.) with large fractions of their pupils enrolled in charters, many of which are mediocre or worse, Albany's grew slowly and deliberately. One charter organization led the charge: the Brighter Choice Foundation. It founded schools that were exact replicas of existing high-quality charters, like New Haven's Amistad Academy. It turned grant money into a revolving line of credit, whereby schools could get a mortgage on their nice new facility. It made sure the schools started small and grew slowly. Then it cajoled successful charter operators such as KIPP to open up shop in Albany. Above all, the growth of charters in New York's capital city was marked by what writer Peter Meyer calls "constant vigilance" and "constant adaptability." Albany should serve as a lesson: Charter quality control should be at the front and back ends of the chartering process--and everywhere in between.
"Brighter Choices in Albany," by Peter Meyer, Education Next, September 4, 2009
September 10, 2009
Woe to British teachers imbibing alcohol in their downtime. The General Teacher Council, a government regulatory body for state-school (in American-speak, public-school) teachers, has approved a new code of conduct for educators. Translation? No boozing and partying on the weekends. Geography teacher Brian Cookson complains that the new code is “practically demanding sainthood” from educators; over 10,000 of them agree, having now signed a petition against the code. Though the GTC has been able to reprimand, and in some cases remove from the classroom, its nearly 550,000 members for inappropriate behavior since its creation in 1998, the new code takes another look at appropriate behavior outside of school. But is the issue that teachers should be role models both in and out of the classroom or that the code intrudes into the private lives of British educators? The sides disagree. The GTC says that the code is intended to prevent egregious cases of misbehavior--most of which, it points out, would be illegal anyway and handled by law enforcement--not to prevent teachers from having a pint with their colleagues at the local pub. Teachers respond that they won’t be able to "let their hair down" on the weekends without risking their jobs. Bottom line, says the GTC, is that teachers should at least maintain "reasonable standards in their own behaviour" all seven days of the week. We’ll drink to that.
Amber M. Winkler, Ph.D. / September 10, 2009
National Bureau of Economic Research (Working Paper Series)
Scott Imberman, Adriana Kugler, and Bruce Sacerdote
This complex but intriguing paper asks to what extent did the arrival of Hurricane Katrina (and Hurricane Rita) student evacuees adversely affect the academic performance and behavior of “native” students in the schools into which they transferred? Analysts examined 2003-2007 student-level data from the Houston Independent School District and districts not affected by the storm in the state of Louisiana (they excluded six districts, four affected by Katrina and two by Rita, as well as schools outside those districts with more than 70 percent evacuees, since they were likely in or near an affected area), which collectively took in roughly 200,000 students after the August and September 2005 storms. They found that, on average, an inverse relationship between the number of evacuees and Houston elementary math test scores and Louisiana state secondary reading test scores. In other words, more evacuees meant a bigger drop in scores in those subjects. They also found strong evidence in Louisiana’s evacuee-receiving districts that the arrival of low-performing evacuees hurt native children’s scores in all quartiles; those most hurt by the presence of low performing evacuees were high-performing students, while low-performing natives were least hurt by the arrival of low-performing peers. The influx of evacuees also increased absenteeism and disciplinary problems of the native students--which analysts term the “bad apple” effect. After conducting a number of mini experiments to
Jamie Davies O'Leary / September 10, 2009
Center on Reinventing Public Education
Robin J. Lake & Paul T. Hill
No-strings management in public education is so 2007. Just a month after announcing the Race to the Top competition, Sec. Duncan outlined stipulations for winning $3.5 billion worth of Title I school improvement aid (see here), to be allocated to school districts -you guessed it - on a competitive basis. This report from Center on Reinventing Public Education could not be timed more perfectly. To make it in the new era of accountability, school districts have to do what many good businesses and governments have done for awhile - manage for performance. Implicit in the "portfolio strategy" adopted by districts such as New York, New Orleans, and Chicago is that leaders must view all decisions - rewards or sanctions, school closures, etc. - through the lens of performance. Portfolio districts do not concede to political pressures; they remain neutral about who runs a school (see our recommended reading here on Los Angele's decision to open up 250 schools to outside school operators); and they encourage innovation. The report offers no pretenses as to how difficult performance management is, particularly for smaller cities lacking educational entrepreneurs, and for centralized district offices lacking the capacity for this type of management. But Duncan isn't kidding when he tells districts to close or transform their lowest-performing schools through dramatic turnaround strategies. Any district serious about winning Title I school