Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 10, Number 15
April 22, 2010
Opinion + Analysis
Avoid fruit salad
Earning its name at last
Act your age, not your shoe size
Educational Economics: Where Do School Funds Go?
Linda Darling-Hammond gets her own theme song
This week, Mike and Andy discuss Charlie Crist's veto, Linda Darling-Hammond's charter school, and Race to the Test's quickly narrowing field. Then Amber tells us about a new PEPG study on teacher compensation, and Stafford eats a cold cheese sandwich?and loves it!
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / April 22, 2010
What will the Education Department’s current $350 million competition to develop new multi-state assessments actually yield? One new “national test”? Two? A bunch? Will they be any good? Will they yield the information that America needs and that many educators and parents crave?
Answers to many such questions will not be known for years. But one key question will get answered, for better or worse, by September 30: How many different test-development initiatives will Secretary Duncan agree to pay for?
And here’s the answer to dread: just one. The number of potential applicants has been falling faster than volcanic ash over Europe and a scary rumor says those that remain may yet wrap themselves into a single project before the end-of-June application deadline.
Education Department spokespersons have recently talked talk of funding “at least two” such consortia. Not many weeks ago, however, the field was buzzing with talk that six or more consortia were forming for this purpose. At a big ETS-sponsored conference last month, four new assessment “models” were displayed before an audience of state and district leaders. It was, in effect, an audition, after which states were expected to sign up for the version they liked best—or maybe more than one.
Today, however—nine weeks before proposals are due at ED—there are clear signs that, like the airline industry, consolidation is underway and perhaps just two consortia will even apply (not counting a separate high-school-only assessment development that is
April 22, 2010
Will alternative certification finally be alternative? In New York State, at least, the answer is yes. Under a pilot plan passed unanimously by the State Board of Regents on Tuesday (and ushered through by a former ed school dean, David Steiner), alternative teacher preparation programs such as Teach For America and New York City Teaching Fellows will no longer have to concurrently enroll their participants in traditional education school master’s programs. New York State still requires teachers to obtain a master’s degree within five years of entering the classroom, but TFA, NYCTF, and other alt cert organizations will be able to create their own master’s programs, with the Regents awarding the degree themselves; the degree-recipient would have to commit to work in a high-needs school for four years. Many states have alt cert pathways, but only a few, such as Rhode Island and Louisiana, let those alternative programs effectively certify their own teachers. As a result, in most other states, the “alternative” route looks a whole lot like a traditional ed school experience. No more. In what’s a nod to both criticisms that ed schools aren’t up to snuff and that these alternative programs are producing teachers at least as good as, if not better than, traditionally trained teachers, New York’s alternative certification programs will now be just that: alternative. Let’s hope more states follow suit.
“Regents Plan New Route to Master’s in Teaching,” by Lisa W.
April 22, 2010
The feds want serious change for their “School Improvement Grants” bucks, but several of Iowa’s thirty-five lowest-rated schools aren’t buying it. The state received $18.7 million in turnaround funds to help the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools, which could win $50,000 to $2 million each. But despite feeling pressured by tight budgets, eleven of the thirty-five simply won’t apply, citing the money’s strings as a “federal intrusion” into what’s an issue of “local control.” More troubling is the ways in which other schools are getting around the rules. To fulfill the necessary replacement of a school’s principal under the “transformation model,” schools in Columbus, Iowa are going to have the principal of the lowest-performing junior high school and lowest-performing high school simply switch jobs. Another district simply promoted the principal to a central office gig. We could call it principal musical chairs. But one thing’s for sure, there’s only one winner in that game, and it certainly won’t be the kids. States beware: There are lots of ways to “turnaround” a school, and many of them are not up to par. Just ask Columbus, Iowa.
"Schools reluctant to take reform money," by Staci Hupp, Des Moines Register, April 18, 2010
April 22, 2010
What do you do when you’ve got a surplus in one area, and a shortage in another? California’s got an answer. Forced to pink-slip 23,000 regular education teachers this year due to budget shortfalls, the state plans on retraining some of them to help ease the shortage in special education classrooms. Through a partnership between the California Teacher Corps and local school districts, the pink-slipped teachers can work toward alternative special education certification, and can then be rehired by their districts as SPED teachers. In most professions, hiring the folks who’re fired to serve the neediest population might seem backwards (and, hey, immoral). But this is teaching, where tenure-strangled human capital decisions mean layoffs typically have much more to do with longevity than quality. So props to California, which has found a way to keep young and enthusiastic teachers in its classrooms and address the SPED teacher shortage at the same time.
“Special Education a Second Chance for Pink-Slipped Teachers,” by Katy Murphy, Oakland Tribune, April 14, 2010
April 22, 2010
Bullies have been stealing other students’ lunch money for years. But students at one New York elementary school face a new adversary: their teacher. A third grade educator faces charges of petty larceny and endangering the welfare of a child after he repeatedly ate the noontime repasts of three students who receive free lunches under the federal National School Lunch Program, effectively stealing lunch money from the government (and food from his hungry students’ mouths). The district was able to track the lunches because the students used their personal identification numbers to purchase them. They then delivered the lunches to the teacher’s classroom. Gadfly can’t help but be nostalgic for the times when we brought our teachers an apple for their desks. Here’s a solution that might be more effective than prison: This teacher should be put on an all-cheese-sandwich diet.
“Third Grade Teacher Arrested for Stealing School Lunches,” 13WHAM.com (Rochester, NY), April 13, 2010
Amber M. Winkler, Ph.D. / April 22, 2010
Matthew Chingos and Martin West
Program on Education Policy and Governance, Harvard University
This sophisticated and novel study can answer its title with one word: Yes. Chingos and West examined Florida public school income records and value-added data between 2001-02 and 2006-07 for 90,000 classroom teachers and 20,000 teachers who left the classroom during that time. They found that the majority (roughly 60 percent) of exiters remained employed by public school districts in Florida. (Only 4 percent moved to private schools, for example.) Further, when those fulltime exiters made a move, their median earnings increased, perhaps because many fled to higher-paying districts. Then, Chingos and West examined the relationship between pay (in the real world) and teacher effectiveness (in the classroom). First, they found that when they entered other industries, teachers had much wider variation in earnings than when they were in schools (not surprising if we take into account rigid teaching-salary schedules). More importantly, they found that, among grade 4-8 teachers leaving for other professions, there was a positive relationship between a teacher’s increase in value-added math and reading student achievement and higher earnings outside of teaching. Admittedly, the sample was small, not randomly-selected, and only from one state, but the authors’ conclusion makes sense: “Although teaching is surely a unique endeavor requiring specialized skills, the same attributes that make for effective teachers also appear to be rewarded in the broader labor market.” It’s too bad that
Urban Institute Press, 2010
This book is an excellent synopsis of the work on school funding that Marguerite Roza and her colleagues at the University of Washington’s Center on Reinventing Public Education have done over the past decade. In short, accessible fashion (just 99 pages), the book lays out the fundamental and systemic problems with school funding. It also explains how the complexities of and multiple actors in schooling cause $500 billion spent annually on K-12 education in this country to flow in perverse and sometimes surprising ways. For example, those with the most resources tend to be “[m]iddle- and upper-class students, not poor students. Electives and athletics, not core subjects. Gifted and high-achieving students, not struggling students.”
Mandates and strings attached to state and federal funding surely tie local school leaders’ hands when it comes to how they spend the money, and as such those at the local level might be tempted to wash their hands of blame for funding and spending peculiarities. However, Roza does a great job of illustrating how local policies, practices, and personalities adversely impact school funding and spending.
For example, CRPE found school-to-school spending differences, in the same district, of $14,000 per student. In one school, the principal had control over just $4,000 of her school’s entire budget. Fordham found similar examples in our 2008 look at Ohio’s school funding system. In the Columbus City School District, the per-pupil funding gap between elementary schools
April 22, 2010
Student Assessment Division, Department of Assessment, Accountability, and Data Quality
Texas Education Agency
The Texas Education Agency wanted to know whether moving to Texas in the wake of Hurricane Katrina improved the achievement of the displaced students. It matched Katrina students (defined as pupils from Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida arriving in Texas and enrolling in Lone Star State schools after June 1, 2005) and “native” students with similar demographic characteristics. Using TAKS data from 2006 to 2009, researchers found that Katrina students in grade 3, 5, and 8 started out with lower TAKS scores than “native” matched students in 2006—no surprise there. But TEA also found that those same Katrina students made bigger gains in the intervening four years, resulting in marginally higher actual scores than their “native” peers in 2009. Compared to all Texas test takers, however, Katrina students didn’t do so well: Scores ranged from 2 percent better (grade 3 reading) to 12 percent worse (grade 8 math) than all students in Texas in 2009. Further, the “native” matched Texas students also performed significantly worse than total Texas test takers. This paper provides an interesting second perspective to the August 2009 National Bureau of Economic Research working paper on Katrina evacuees, which looked specifically at the effect of those transferred-in students on native student achievement. It found that an influx of Katrina students had a distinctly negative effect on receiving schools’ students’ test scores and
Stafford Palmieri / April 22, 2010
Frederick M. Hess
What if it’s the system that’s the problem? That’s the question AEI’s Rick Hess tackles in this discussion of what he calls “greenfield” schooling. He copped the word from the vocabularies of investors, engineers, and builders, who use it to describe “an area where there are unobstructed, wide-open opportunities to invent or build.” There aren’t a lot of those in American K-12 education. In fact, the system, he argues, is doing a downright terrible job of laying a path for creative problem-solvers, and it’s to their own detriment. These folks have more cost-effective and time-efficient ways to do most anything in education, from training teachers, to conducting student assessments, to the actual nuts and bolts of classroom practice, and yet our bankrupt, failing, and archaic system goes out of its way to make life hard for them. Hess explains how we could change this, and what these problem-solvers need to succeed: human capital, venture capital, fewer bureaucratic hurdles, effective quality control mechanisms, and above all, an open mind on the part of the system they so desperately want to help. Even better, the system could learn from these organizations’ recruiting processes, quality control standards, and cost-effective measures, as they blaze ahead despite the daily assaults from every front. This isn’t about grand solutions or silver bullets; it’s about long-term sustainable overhaul that changes the way we think about education service delivery and the policies that support