Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 40, Number 44
December 2, 2010
Opinion + Analysis
Re-imagining local control
Diane Ravitch gets it half right (again)
Republicans, quote this schools speech
From your good friend Arne Duncan
The great compromise of 2010
Black is in, silly credentialing laws should be out
To infinity, and beyond!
Toss out those outdates notions; we're doing it digital
Special education, back in the spotlight
The twin pressures of budget cuts and accountability are spurring calls for change
How the World's Most Improved Systems Keep Getting Better
Context matters--but so does getting the fundamentals right
Evaluating Teachers: The Important Role of Value-Added
Like batting averages? You'll love VAM
Children First and Student Outcomes: 2003-2010
Joel Klein's legacy by the numbers
You're Leaving? Succession and Sustainability in Charter Schools
What happens when a charter principal says "I'm outta here"?
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / December 2, 2010
Writing earlier this week in the Wall Street Journal, my friend and long-time former co-author, Diane Ravitch, challenged resurgent Congressional Republicans to return K-12 education to “local control” and to repudiate and reverse the nationalizing/federalizing tendencies of No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, Common Core standards, etc. Appealing to the GOP’s history as “the party of local control,” she urged the re-empowerment of local school boards and teachers-as-professionals as the proper remedies for what ails American education.
As in her much-discussed book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, Diane has it half right. She pinpoints genuine shortcomings in NCLB and failings in a number of other federal education programs, and correctly observes that many of the school-reform efforts and innovations of recent years have not yielded the desired achievement gains.
But she’s wrong about the remedy for these failures and about the course that Republicans (and, for that matter, reform-minded Democrats) should follow in the days ahead.
The weak and generally stagnant academic performance of most American school kids, our scandalous achievement gaps, the country’s sagging performance vis-à-vis other countries, the skimpy preparation of many teachers and principals, the shoddy curricula, the fat and junky textbooks, the innovation-shackling union contracts, the large expenditures with meager returns—these are not the result of an overweening federal government. They are, in fact, almost entirely the product of state and local control of public education—as it has traditionally been
Michael J. Petrilli / December 2, 2010
For about two years now, President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have been co-opting much of the GOP playbook on education. They support charter schools. They endorse merit pay. They decry teacher tenure and seniority. On alternate Thursdays, they bracingly challenge the teacher unions.
But on one key issue—spending—they have acted like traditional borrow-and-spend Democrats, only more so. The 2009 stimulus bill included over $100 billion for schools, most of it designed to simply save teachers' positions. A 2010 "edujobs" bill showered another $10 billion in bailout bucks on K-12 systems to forestall hard choices. And Duncan's insistence last summer that school districts had already cut "through, you know, fat, through flesh, and into bone," only served to pull the rug out from under those state and local leaders inclined to swing the budget ax, by making their tough medicine seem mean-spirited—and unnecessary.
Well. We're not sure if the Secretary of Education had a conversion experience, had a secret plan to woo the ed establishment and then hit it with tough love, or is simply reading the Tea Party leaves, but what a difference a couple months can make! The week before Thanksgiving, Secretary Duncan sang the praises of productivity in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute titled "The New Normal: Doing More With Less."
It was a humdinger. Duncan opened: "For the next several years,
December 2, 2010
Media exec Black gets waiver to lead NYC schools, by Karen Matthews, Washington Post, November 29, 2010.Senseless ‘certificate': Silly hurdle for schools boss, by Chester E. Finn, Jr., New York Post, November 23, 2010.
High drama in NYC: Cathie Black got her waiver from State Commissioner David Steiner on the condition that she team up with Shael Polakow-Suransky. Wait, who? Black’s new number two is a former Gotham teacher and principal currently employed by the NYC Department of Education’s central office, as well as an alum of the Broad Superintendents Academy. Polakow-Suransky may not be a household name. But, he’s well-respected by many an education reformer (including Deborah Gist and Tom Vander Ark). Time will tell whether this shotgun marriage can yield a happy relationship and workable structure. (Having two people more or less jointly in charge often does not.) But the appointment fiasco highlights a major issue with superintendent certification regulations, in New York and elsewhere. By and large, they’re arcane, archaic, and unrelated to school effectiveness. This lock-step licensure process not only keeps terrific people out of public education who would readily lead if it wasn’t so costly—in terms of dollars, time, and hassle—to get approved, but it has no bearing on an administrator’s leadership prowess or a school system’s academic achievement. None. So well done, David Steiner, within the silly limits that state law has placed upon you. A smart (yes, diplomatic) decision—but one you shouldn’t
December 2, 2010
Foundation for Excellence in Education, Digital Learning Now!, (Foundation for Excellence in Education, December 1, 2010).Education Summit in D.C. Fuels High-Tech Ideas for Reform, Huffington Post, December 2, 2010.
Over the past decade, digital learning at the K-12 level has exploded—from a national enrollment of 40,000-50,000 in 2000 to an estimated 3 million in 2010. And this trend line is sure to get steeper, way steeper, in coming years. But what sort of policy environment will greet this development, which cannot be stopped but can surely be bungled? This week, the Digital Learning Council (chaired by former governors Jeb Bush and Bob Wise—and shepherded by Tom Vander Ark) released policy recommendations for the future of virtual and hybrid education in America’s K-12 classrooms, in conjunction with the Foundation for Excellence in Education’s high-profile, well-attended and generally first-rate national summit. This manifesto highlights ten elements of high-quality digital learning that every state should put into place. These non-negotiables include access to digital learning from multiple, high-quality providers and customizable content for all students. Although it stays at the 30,000 foot level, the paper’s release at the FEE summit has quickly put it in the hands of governors, state education secretaries, school superintendents, and a myriad of other folks in attendance—including Secretary Duncan. And the Council (and FEE) will be back in October with a scorecard on how states are doing in relation to these recommendations. Up, up, and
December 2, 2010
In special-education system, innovation leading the way, by Shannon Mullen, Asbury Park Press, November 26, 2010.
The special-education system has long been a thicket of politics, social obligations, massive spending, and (mis)diagnoses. Yet a backdoor benefit of strained district budgets and NCLB’s looming proficiency deadline is that this clunky and oft-untouchable system is seeing increased state-based reform moves. Florida, Georgia, and Utah offer vouchers to parents unhappy with the public schooling of their special-needs children (Ohio offers a voucher program limited to autistic students). A new-fangled data system that would provide an “electronic portfolio” of student achievement is being developed at the University of Kansas—with fourteen states set to pilot it in 2014-15. And in New Jersey, one public school district has trimmed SPED costs by partnering with a private service provider: The district provides facilities in exchange for a learning program for autistic students. Interestingly, these reforms aren’t just coming from cash-strapped districts or states wary of their federal proficiency designations. Disability-rights groups are also heeding the call for reform. One New Jersey advocacy group is pushing the state for a system-wide cost-benefit analysis of special education (they’d do well to reference chapter seven of our Stretching the School Dollar book)—something that hasn’t been done in fourteen years. Flowers of change are blossoming; we say let them bloom.
Daniela Fairchild / December 2, 2010
Mona Mourshed, Chinezi Chijioke, and Michael Barber, How the World's Most Improved School Systems Keep Getting Better (Washington, D.C.: McKinsey and Co., December 2010).
A follow-up to their 2007 study, How the World’s Best-Performing School Systems Come Out on Top, this mixed-methods analysis from the folks at McKinsey looks at twenty of the world’s school systems—from U.S. districts like Long Beach and Boston to the German state of Saxony to countries like Poland and Singapore. They even analyze some up-and-comers like Armenia, Ghana, and India’s Madhya Pradesh. The systems differ in a hundred ways, yet they also turn out to share some key features. All have been improving. All place priority on strong academic standards, adequate teacher pay, professional development, student assessment, and the use of data. They have sustained leadership (the average leader tenure in these systems is six years for political leaders and seven years for technical leaders, compared to 2.8 years for U.S. urban supes). And these leaders engage with stakeholders, install capable and like-minded individuals in critical positions, and explicitly determine which interventions are non-negotiable. They differ in focus and strategy, however, depending on how far along the improvement continuum each system is. Those climbing from poor to fair focus on improving basic skills while systems going from fair to good become increasingly data-driven. The shift from good to great is characterized by a professionalization of teachers and school leaders, and a (rare) jump from
Janie Scull / December 2, 2010
Steve Glazerman, Susanna Loeb, Dan Goldhaber, Doug Staiger, Stephen Raudenbush, and Russ Whitehurst, Evaluating Teachers: The Important Role of Value-Added, (Washington, D.C.: The Brown Center on Education Policy at Brookings, November 2010).
This task-group paper from Brookings tackles four conventional arguments against the use of value-added calculations and show that each is misguided—and that none disproves the overall worth of such data. First, the authors address critics who decry value-added measures (because they fear public release of such data—think: L.A. Times). Glazerman et al. acknowledge that value-added measurement isn’t perfect, but assert that uncertainties surrounding this personnel policy shouldn’t dismiss the metric. Next, they take on naysayers who contend that value-added systems are imprecise and may harm teachers by labeling some good ones as bad (a false negative, statistically speaking). The authors admit this possibility, but argue two points. First, it is not about the teachers, but the students. And second, the relative infrequency of these false negatives compared to the current evaluation system which keeps ineffective teachers in classrooms at alarming rates would yield a much better outcome for students. Switching gears, the authors then explain that evaluation systems in other industries—such as college applications, investment firm comparisons, and baseball batting averages—all incorporate similar levels of imprecision but are well accepted as objective and fair nonetheless. They conclude that value-added teacher evaluations may not be perfect, and mustn’t be used uniquely, but are better predictors of teacher success than
Chris Irvine / December 2, 2010
James J. Kemple, Children First and Student Outcomes: 2003-2010 (paper presented at Children's First retrospective conference, New York City, NY: New York City Reform Retrospective Project, November 2010).
What was the true effect on student outcomes of New York’s sweeping education reform initiatives—collectively known as Children First—during Joel Klein’s regime? This paper by James J. Kemple tackles that timely question in a statistically rigorous way. It compares NYC school students to those in the state’s other “Big Four” (Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, and Yonkers), as well as the rest of the Empire State and finds that the Children First reforms had a positive effect on ELA and math proficiency rates in grades 4 and 8, and on graduation rates between 2003 and 2009. Moreover, “the evidence suggests that the effects on proficiency rates extend both to general education students and to students with disabilities, with especially large effects for the latter.” These powerful findings are mitigated, however, by some of Kemple’s other observations. First, raising the proficiency bar on state tests (which happened in 2009-10) decreased the efficacy of the Children First reforms. Second, drawing conclusions about the impact of Children First on NAEP scores still isn’t statistically possible; and third, the reforms haven’t narrowed the gap between high- and low-poverty schools. Despite these lingering questions the analysis offers rigorous proof of the positive effects of the reforms undertaken by Klein et al. Interested in learning more? This is just one
Kathryn Mullen Upton, Esq. / December 2, 2010
Kudos to the Center on Reinventing Public Education for its new report, which sheds much needed light on a critical yet rarely addressed element of charter schools’ sustainability: school leader succession planning. Leader turnover in charters is high—71 percent over five years. Yet less than a quarter of schools surveyed here had substantive succession plans in place—a necessity for allaying potential leadership crises. While the author acknowledges that many charters face myriad daily issues that stretch their leaders in multiple directions, the uniqueness of each school’s mission necessitates finding a qualified, like-minded leader. When formulating succession plans, charter school boards should address the school’s mission, strengths, and weaknesses and account for emergency and longer term circumstances. Most importantly, though, all stakeholders, from the school leader to the authorizer, should be engaged in honest discussion and held responsible for their share of the process. This report is a must read for charter practitioners of every sort.
Christine Campbell, “You’re Leaving? Succession and Sustainability in Charter Schools” (Seattle, WA: National Charter School Research Project, Center on Reinventing Public Education, November 2010).