Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 9, Number 31
September 3, 2009
Opinion + Analysis
One of you, please get out of the bed
Standardizing education advertising
Stating the facts
King of the jungle
Flying past the competition
The Persuadable Public
Where's Babe the Blue Ox
This week Mike, and not-really-a-guest-but-semi-regular-co-host Andy Smarick discuss the English teacher practice of letting students pick their own reading material, the new Boston Parent University, and performance pay for Los Angeles top school officials. Then Amber tells us about a new Ed Next study on the Obama Effect and Rate the Reform gets swine flu (figuratively).
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / September 3, 2009
In the world of education policy and education reform, recent months have seen the relationship between government and private philanthropy grow entirely too intimate. Many of our major foundations, including some for which I generally have high regard (and occasional gratitude for their help with Fordham's work), have, with the best of intentions, acted as if their foremost mission were to instruct federal and state officials on what to do, tug the strings of public policy in directions that they favor, and spend their own money in ways that compliment (or foreshadow) outlays of government funds. What's more, the flow of active human traffic between foundation and government offices--in both directions--suggests not only that there's much overlap between private and public agendas but also that some of the same folks are working both sides of that street in alternate months.
Much of this has centered on Secretary Duncan's billions of "race to the top" dollars and his earnest effort to deploy those moneys to stimulate worthwhile reforms, not just to backfill recession-drilled holes in state and local education budgets.
Because the changes Duncan favors--national standards, better data, performance-linked evaluations of teachers, alternative certification, charter schools, etc.--more or less align with the priorities of many nongovernment analysts and donors (myself included, I readily admit), it's no surprise that those outside government have been tempted to lend a hand to make it all happen. Duncan & Co. have understandably encouraged and welcomed such help.
Stafford Palmieri / September 3, 2009
As the school year starts, many an urban district has been disappointed by slack first-day enrollments. In Washington DC, for example, enrollment in DCPS has dropped from 49,422 in 2007-08 to 45,190 in 2008-09 and to just 37,000 on the first day of the class for 2009-10; that's twelve thousand students lost in only two years. Detroit, too, has seen a mass exodus from its public schools. State-appointed financial manager Robert Bobb budgeted for 83,777 students for 2009-10, 11,000 fewer than in 2008-09 (94,054) and a whopping 25,000 fewer than 2007-08 (108,145).
These urban centers suffer from two primary maladies. First, shifting economic conditions, particularly the loss of jobs in the inner city, have parents moving out to more affordable suburbs, where their buck goes further, life is simpler (and safer), and the schools are typically better. Second, a widening variety of non-district options are available to students, which means that an increasing number of students no longer "belong" to the school system.
Three responses are popular:
1. Kill the competition. Typical tactics include lobbying for state charter caps, directing negative PR campaigns, and starting charter-alternatives, like Boston's "pilot schools." Districts also try to discourage virtual schooling and homeschooling, fight voucher programs, and oppose inter-district choice. Though this is a popular option, at most it slows the pace of school choice; it doesn't reverse it or produce better alternatives for kids.
2. Improve the product. It's exactly what it sounds, and
September 3, 2009
"Should a thousand bad teachers stay put so that one innocent teacher is protected?" That's what Steven Brill would like to know in his excellent New Yorker piece. The issue is due process: How much is too much and how little too little for the incompetent, miscreant, and excessed educators who remain on the payroll but not in a classroom? Of the 1,700 New York City teachers who live in this state of limbo, and will cost the city over $100 million in salary and benefits this year alone, how many deserve a second chance? The system, as written into the union contract, says all; common sense lists a number far fewer. Deputy chancellor Chris Cerf explains, "Our standard is tighter than ‘beyond a reasonable doubt.'" So much tighter, in fact, that the two to five year arbitration cases for teachers accused of incompetence or misconduct typically take twice as long as most cases of the criminal persuasion. As elementary school principal Anthony Lombardi explains, "Randi Weingarten would protect a dead body in the classroom." But this should not be our biggest worry. Only a tiny fraction of the total number of incompetent teachers winds up in the famed rubber room or excessed teacher reserve pool. "If you just focus on the people in the Rubber Rooms, you miss the real point, which is that, by making it so hard to get even the obvious freaks and crazies
September 3, 2009
While many school districts have experienced temporary state takeover--Philadelphia, Chicago, and Cleveland come to mind--New Orleans may be the first to permanently remain under state control. In light of a new poll of Big Easy residents showing strong support for state-controlled charter schools, as well as pervasive distrust of the New Orleans Parish School Board, State Superintendent Paul Pastorek has laid out several plans for the future of state-led Recovery School District, including permanent state-hood. (There are other less-surprising options on the table too, such as a phased return of schools back to the city, probably to a new entity that would replace the Parish School Board.) It's difficult to argue with the progress in NOLA schools since RSD has been calling the shots--the percentage of failing schools is significantly down, while test scores continue to rise in every subject across every grade, charter and non-charter alike. RSD Superintendent Paul G. Vallas hails the state takeover as the most important of four key strategies to New Orleans reform, above charter schools, parental choice, and teacher quality. This is surprising because, historically, state takeovers have been much more successful at cleaning up financial corruption and waste than improving student learning. Then again, the New Orleans story is different than any other chapter in our nation's history.
"Pastorek: State-run schools to persist," by Brian Thevenot, New Orleans Times-Picayune, August 28, 2009
"'Race to the Top' Lessons From New Orleans," by Paul
September 3, 2009
Much has been said and written in memoriam about the Lion of the Senate. Since education policy was one of Senator Ted Kennedy's primary interests, we will add our voices to that chorus. Of all the particular facets of his legacy, the one we'll miss most is his singular focus on getting things done, enabled by his willingness to compromise and reach a conciliatory hand across the aisle. Is there anyone in either chamber that could step into that void? This isn't just a matter of which Democrat will succeed Kennedy as Chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, though that individual will need a steely mettle, but an issue of Kennedy's unique form of leadership. Kennedy was a "dedicated liberal," explains Jack Jennings, President of the Center on Education Policy. But he "would have compromised this way or that way in order to get legislation through....I'm not sure there is somebody who could take over who would have that ability at this time." We're not sure either. One thing is for certain, though; the Lion's roar will be missed on many issues, not the least of which is education.
"Kennedy Gone; Power Shuffles Likely on K-12," by Alyson Klein, Education Week, August 28, 2009
September 3, 2009
Bart Sutherin is a total helicopter parent. Really. He flew his son, ninth grader Joseph Sutherin, to his first day of school this year in a rented bird. Unfortunately, neither Joseph nor his father thought to alert school district officials or the local sheriff's office to their plan. And the unexpected chopper was reported to the FAA, which is now investigating the incident. The idea was to "make a positive impression on the other students," says the father. Joseph agrees, "It wasn't something everyone did every day. It would be extraordinary, and I could say, ‘Yeah, I flew into the school in a helicopter.'" But Principal David E. Cunningham would like to keep helicopter parents strictly metaphorical: This is "not something that needs to happen every day--or ever."
"Boy gets special ride to school--in a helicopter; FAA alerted," by Denise-Marie Balona, Orlando Sentinel, August 26, 2009
Americans Speak Out: Are Educators and Policy Makers Listening?--The 41st Annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of the Public's Attitudes Toward Public Schools
Emmy L. Partin / September 3, 2009
William J. Bushaw and John A. McNee
Phi Delta Kappan
This hefty annual offering, which features some repeat questions and others dusted-off less frequently, is worth a yearly revisit. There's so much data in this big guy that we'd be hard pressed to even scratch the surface but we'll give it our best shot. So what do we think about public education in 2009? First, public schools aren't great and are getting worse. While most of us (51 percent) rate our local schools highly, far fewer (19 percent) are pleased with public schools nationally. Fifty percent say children today get a worse education than they received themselves. Second, we don't like the brand called No Child Left Behind but we support its major mandates. Just 28 percent look favorably on NCLB and only 24 percent believe the law is helping our local schools. Yet, two-thirds of us support requiring annual tests in grades three through eight, and this support has remained steady since 2002. And just one-third support letting each state use its own tests; instead, we continue to favor using a single standardized test nationwide, just as we did in 2002. (This should be welcome news to the Common Core State Standards initiative.) Third, we're not convinced early childhood education is worth the investment. Fifty-nine percent of us (including 53 percent of public school parents) believe that starting formal education one year earlier than usual would have a
Stafford Palmieri / September 3, 2009
William Howell, Martin West, and Paul Peterson
Public opinion remains largely stable over time, as demonstrated by the latest Kappan poll results. This is in large part due to the fickleness of public discourse, explain the authors of this brief, in which constantly shifting support for or against an idea tends to cancel itself out in the aggregate. But are there factors that can shape public discussion? This 10-pager combines a couple of surveys, the most interesting and recent (March 2009) of which looks at the effect of new information--specifically the support of President Obama or research evidence--on public opinion. The authors asked three groups of respondents about three common education policy topics: merit pay, charter schools, and school vouchers. The first group they asked without any qualifying information; the second group was informed if Obama supported (merit pay and charter schools) or opposed the idea (school vouchers); and the third group was presented with research that supported (merit pay and charter schools) or refuted the policy (school vouchers). Then each group of respondents was broken down by political affiliation and race. In all three cases, presidential opinion and research evidence influenced respondents' support or lack thereof. When told that Obama supported merit pay, for example, respondents liked the idea 13 percentage points more than those who were not told of Obama's support; supportive research evidence hiked respondent patronage by six percentage points. African-Americans were