Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 10, Number 14
April 15, 2010
Opinion + Analysis
Teacher quality policy and practice unite
Don't underestimate the elderly
The new normal: borrow, borrow, borrow
Taking the "pal" out of principal
Contentious objectors, in the science classroom
Partying at a Jersey Shore motel
This week, Mike and Rick take bets on whether Crist will sign the pending Florida teacher evaluation legislation, debate the merits of the newly proposed D.C. teacher contract, and decide holding prom on a weeknight was the death of fun. Then Amber confirms that teacher turnover might not have the negative effects on student achievement we assume, and Rate that Reform de-friends you.
Michael J. Petrilli / April 15, 2010
Be forewarned: It’s going to take me a while to get to my main argument. I hope you agree it’s worth the wait.
For going on two decades now, the twin movements to expand parental choice and foster accountability have been the major drivers of reform in the K-12 education system. And while choice and accountability can be seen as ends in themselves, for many reformers they have been primarily means: tactics for creating a high-performing education system, one that puts the needs of kids over the needs of adults. They are tonics meant to overcome the corrupting influence of complacency and protectionism within our public schools.
This brand of reform diagnoses the school system’s disease as primarily political rather than structural, behavioral, or attitudinal. It’s not that educators don’t work hard enough, or care passionately enough, or know enough. It’s that organized interests have a stranglehold on the system, creating incentives for managers at all levels to avoid making the hard decisions that are necessary for any organization to thrive. Most obviously, union contracts and civil service rules make it next to impossible to fire low-performers, whether they be central office bureaucrats, principals, teachers, or aides. And this creates an insidious cycle of cynicism that permeates the schools.
Enter choice and accountability. The theory of change goes something like this: Offer parents and their children real options outside the (unionized) public schools. Attach public dollars to the kids so that the money
Kathleen Porter-Magee / April 15, 2010
Too often in education reform, books are quickly pushed into one of two camps: policy or practice. Doug Lemov’s new book, Teach Like A Champion: 49 Techniques That Put Students on the Path to College, which was recently profiled in the New York Times Magazine, is so elegant in its simplicity that it has the power to transform the conversations in both worlds. That is, if enough people in both policy and practice read it, get past the “mundane” techniques Lemov proposes, and absorb its true message.
There are two critical ideas in Lemov’s book: 1. Getting results in the classroom stems from the honing of specific, often less-than-glamorous techniques. 2. Success should be defined by how well the teacher drives student achievement, not by how well he or she implements these or any programs, theories, or strategies.
While seemingly simple, the implications of these two messages are transformative: They would mean dramatically rethinking the way we view teacher training and ongoing professional development, as well as principal and teacher autonomy.
On the teacher training and professional development front, for example, a tremendous amount of time is devoted to learning theory and strategy. In the limited time schools (or districts or education schools) have with teachers before they are thrown into the classrooms, this is decidedly not time well spent. Competitive runners, explains Lemov, do not train like this; “Mulling your decision to run from the front [of the pack] a
April 15, 2010
The new United Federation of Teachers’ president Michael Mulgrew was voted into office with 91 percent of the vote. (Mulgrew has been in office since his predecessor Randi Weingarten took over the parent AFT, but only as interim prez.) This landslide victory, however, masks an interesting reality: That Mulgrew was voted into office by everyone but the classroom teachers he’s supposed to represent. Confused? We’ll explain. First, overall turnout was just 32 percent, so lots of union members didn’t vote at all. And of that 32 percent, non-classroom teachers outnumbered their classroom counterparts two-to-one. In other words, active union members—classroom teachers—had just a 24 percent participation rate, while 47 percent of the union’s retirees cast their ballots. Though in real numbers, the two groups came out roughly equal—40 percent of the vote—of their respective numbers, many more retirees made it to the polls. (“Functional” teachers, such as psychologists, nurses, and paraprofessionals made up the remainder.) If you’ve ever wondered why teachers’ unions spend so much time protecting pension plans, here’s your answer.
“And the UFT Election Envelope Please…,” by Anna Phillips, Gotham Schools, April 9, 2010
“Dysfunctional,” by Frederick M. Hess, National Review Online, April 14, 2010
“Blow by Blow: Preliminary UFT Election Returns—Updated,” Education Notes Online, April 10, 2010
April 15, 2010
Two months ago, when submitting its budget proposal to Congress, the Obama Administration crowed about its fiscal discipline and its commitment to flat-lining domestic spending (sort of). While education would receive an increase, it would be measured and responsible. Well that approach didn’t last long. This week Arne Duncan signed onto a bill promoted by Senate education committee chairman Tom Harkin that would provide $23 billion in more “edu-jobs” bailout funds for states and districts. "It is brutal out there," Duncan told reporters. "It is really scary. We're seeing massive layoffs around the country.” In fact, students are worried about losing their “favorite teacher,” he said. But as Duncan knows, said students will only lose said favorite teachers if unions force districts to abide by “last hired, first fired” rules instead of making lay-off decisions based on merit. (Yes, we’re assuming that ineffective teachers aren’t typically kids’ favorites; if they are, we’re in bigger trouble than we thought.) And with state and district coffers likely to remain strapped for the foreseeable future, Duncan and Democrats in Congress are just delaying the inevitable belt-tightening that’s yet to come. And regardless of what you think of this idea, we can all agree that announcing it right before Tax Day wasn’t the smartest politics.
“Duncan Calls on Congress to Pass Edu-Jobs Aid,” by Alyson Klein, Politics K-12 a blog of Education Week, April 14, 2010
April 15, 2010
In one Utah school district, students must say adios to earning extra credit through Facebook gifts (yes, there are such things) for their Spanish teacher. Granite School District wants to be the first in Utah to formally ban student-teacher friendships on the popular social networking site. Students and teachers won’t even be allowed to follow each other on Twitter. District officials say the ban wasn’t prompted by a particular incident, but merely a response to the blurring of boundaries caused by social networking in general. And they hope this will be the first step in upping disciplinary oversight of “inappropriate” contact between teachers and students. Unaddressed is the issue of how many fragile teenage egos will be crushed by teachers de-friending them. But don’t worry, Gadfly is still on Facebook. Become his fan today!
“Utah school district crafts social network rules,” by Joseph Freeman, The Associated Press, April 9, 2010
April 15, 2010
Are you against violence toward animals? Well you have an advocate in Hartford, Connecticut, where that state’s legislature is contemplating a bill that would allow students to complete science-class animal dissections virtually. Should students be forced to cut open that lifeless piglet or innocent frog to learn about their anatomy? The battle lines are drawn. On one side, the Connecticut Association of Biology Teachers says that the live experience is invaluable: “[Students] get over their squeamishness and find it highly informative,” explains CABT president Jonathan Morris. State Representative Maryanne Hornish disagrees: “This is about an ethical choice these kids are making. Some can’t handle the blood and gore.” (There’s actually no blood involved in dissections, but we get your point Maryanne.) One thing’s for sure: Computer simulations are getting better and better, so they could be a viable alternative for those with a moral or visceral repugnance to dissections in the flesh. At least this is a better use of technology than Physical Education classes online. But now we’re left wondering: Doesn’t Connecticut have better things to worry about, like filling in the blanks on its Race to the Top application?
“Strong Debate on Both Sides Over Bill Requiring Dissection Option in Schools,” by Grace E. Merritt, Hartford Courant, April 9, 2010
Amber M. Winkler, Ph.D. / April 15, 2010
Eric Hanushek and Steven Rivkin
National Bureau of Economic Research
Is teacher turnover a bad thing for student achievement, particularly when it occurs in high-needs schools? The study’s results challenge conventional wisdom by answering, No, not really. Analysts examined a matched teacher-student math achievement data set from one large (unidentified) school district in Texas in grades 4 through 8 for school years 1995-96 to 2000-01. The key finding: A whopping 30 percent of new teachers left their current school each year compared to 18 percent of veterans. Furthermore, exiters were significantly less effective on average than those who stay, regardless of whether they are compared to all stayers in the district or to the stayers in their school. Further, results reveal a similar pattern when school type is taken into consideration: Teachers who leave low-achieving schools or schools with higher percentages of black students are, on average, less effective compared to stayers, than those who leave higher-achieving schools or those with fewer black students. So, the takeaway is this: Teacher turnover is alive and well, but it doesn’t mean that schools are losing their best teachers, nor does it appear to adversely affect student achievement in math. (The analysts do posit, however, that the benefit of losing weak teachers is “offset” by the potential disadvantage of an influx of new teachers who are still learning the ropes.) While this study of one school district won’t settle the question of the impact of teacher turnover
The Cost of New Higher Quality Assessments: A Comprehensive Analysis of the Potential Costs for Future State Assessments
Daniela Fairchild / April 15, 2010
Barry Topol, John Olson, and Ed Roeber
Assessment Solutions Group for the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy Education
This paper, one of eight in a series on performance assessments spearheaded by Stanford Professor Linda Darling-Hammond, addresses the notion that instructionally-sensitive tests are too expensive. Using fancy cost-modeling software, analysts found that high-quality assessments (HQAs), such as those with short answer questions and expository writing samples, can compete economically with traditional multiple choice tests. A typical mid-sized state, defined as one that assesses about 900,000 students annually, now pays about $20 per student over the course of four years of “traditional” multiple choice math and English language arts assessment. But if that same state were to implement all of the cost-saving measures laid out in this paper, however, those states could bring that number to as low as $10 per student over four years for a high-quality test. The greatest money-saving move would be participation in assessment consortia (such as the ones being encouraged by the Education Department’s “Race to the Test” competition) and using teachers to score tests rather than the test company or independent paid assessors. Other tactics include more advanced technology, such as online testing, and remote and/or computerized scoring, though these had a much smaller impact on the bottom line. It’s probably no coincidence that Darling-Hammond herself is involved in a testing consortium, or that this paper finds participation in such a consortium to be
April 15, 2010
Since 1984, MetLife has administered its annual Survey of the American Teacher to examine attitudes and trends within the profession. This year’s theme, “Collaborating for Student Success,” draws upon testimonials from teachers, principals, and grade 3-12 students to determine how in-school partnerships between teachers and administration affect student achievement and teachers’ feelings of professionalism. Given recent controversial firings and tensions over merit-pay provisions across the country, the report’s findings on intra-school trust are notable: Teachers working in schools with higher levels of collaboration indicated stronger feelings of trust among the faculty (69 percent versus 42 percent of teachers working in less collaborative schools) as well as increased job satisfaction. Teachers’ likelihood of leaving their profession is on par with last year’s survey, and a predictable 69 percent of teachers feel they do not have a voice in the education policy debate, despite the Race to the Top push for stakeholder support. Finally one-third of teachers report having had a different career before entering the classroom. For more insights read the report here.
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / April 15, 2010
Princeton University Press
To their regret, Gadfly and his fellow heteroptera are so consumed with goings-on in the K-12 world that they often neglect higher education. But this superb new book by Ben Wildavsky warrants no neglect. For educators, it's the equivalent of Friedman's World Is Flat and carries much the same message: Higher education (and there are signs that K-12 is following behind) is no longer confined by national boundaries, much less campus walls. At least at its upper echelons, it's now an international industry, serving an international market, populated by globe-trotting people. From a U.S. standpoint, that's both good and bad. Although we are successfully exporting something we've long been good at--and importing students and faculty, too--the universities of a dozen other lands (including India, China, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, etc) are in hot pursuit and beginning to catch up. Ponder the implications. Meanwhile, read this book.