Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 10, Number 4
January 28, 2010
Opinion + Analysis
Obama's super-double-secret edu-judges
By Frederick M. Hess
Education and campaign finance reform's "reform"
By Stafford Palmieri
Florida puts on its thinking "cap"
Everyone's a winner
Right to reform
Txtng is alrite
Fordhams hostile takeover
Mike and Rick tackle Duncan's secret RTTT panels, the impact of Obama's "spending freeze," and leadership voids in a few left-of-center ed policy shops. Then Amber explains the new OECD findings and Rate that Reform goes red.
Frederick M. Hess / January 28, 2010
Late last week, word leaked that the Obama administration has secretly selected the peer reviewers for its $4.35 billion Race to the Top (RTT) fund but has no intention of publicly revealing the identities of these fifty-eight august personages. It now appears that the “disinterested superstars” that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan promised last September will remain hidden until the RTT first-round winners are announced in April. This despite the President’s commitment to “unprecedented transparency” and RTT chief Joanne Weiss’s pledge that the program would feature an “unprecedented level of transparency.”
Showing off the chops he might have learned in the Clinton White House, Democratic education heavyweight Andy Rotherham has tried to square this circle with the novel argument that, "'Transparent' is not synonymous with contemporaneous. In other words, a process can be transparent while it is going on or it can be transparent after the fact." This is the old “it depends what the meaning of ‘is’ is” defense.
Race to the Top has delivered some benefits, no bones about it. It has spurred several states to raise caps on charter schooling, revisit teacher pay, and strike ludicrous rules that prohibited states and districts from using student learning to evaluate or compensate teachers. Whether these measures play out as hoped and whether they’re worth the money are open questions, but Duncan’s pet program has shown some promise.
So why the secrecy? Why turn the crown jewel of the administration’s $110
Stafford Palmieri / January 28, 2010
There’s been much talk about the Supreme Court’s decision last week in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which overturned a lot of campaign-finance “reform.” Last night, for example, President Obama appeared to look straight at the justices as he rebuked the Court for this holding. Most of the commentary to date has dealt with its implications for Wall Street, big oil companies, the auto industry, and the major unions. Turns out, however, that there may be big implications for education, too, because, when it comes to political spending, the two teacher unions (including their state and local affiliates) have, in recent years, outspent all the major corporate interests combined.
To refresh your memory, the Court majority sided with Citizens United, a non-profit that produced “Hillary: The Movie,” an anti-Clinton exposé released during the 2008 primary season. Two issues were addressed: how the movie was funded and the timing of its release. To handle the former, the Court overturned a twenty-year-old decision restricting corporate and labor outlays (Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, 1990) that distinguished between “corporate” and “human” speakers as legitimate sources of political speech. Corporations represent interests bigger than just the sum of its shareholders or senior executives, thus making their “speech” unduly influential. It specifically dealt with state-level campaigns. For the latter, it struck down part of the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (a.k.a. “McCain-Feingold”), which banned corporate and union-funded “electioneering communication,”
January 28, 2010
Florida has been “reconsidering” its state constitutional class size amendment since…2002, a.k.a. the year it was passed by voters. (Yes, really.) Could the 238539045th time be the charm? Just to recap (no pun intended), that amendment limits elementary classrooms to eighteen students, middle school classrooms to twenty-two students, and high school students to twenty-five. But that’s not all. The cap is real-time, meaning that if, say, a mid-year transfer pushes the school over the magic number, the school must hire an additional teacher and find classroom space to readjust in February, or whenever. “Say you get the 19th student,” explains State Senator Don Gaetz. “It isn’t just the 19th student. There’s a cascading effect. You have to set up a new classroom, and that requires a teacher and more space.” The state has already spent $16 billion to implement all of this, even though the legislature passed a temporary “fix” last fall that postponed the law’s full effect, namely caps by classroom, until fall 2010. Florida Governor Charlie Crist (who is running for U.S. Senate) now favors freezing the law as it now operates, i.e. with caps calculated as school-wide averages. That’s still a dubious use of money, considering how scant is the evidence that modest reductions in class size make a difference in school performance or pupil achievement), but Florida faces a far-worse alternative: room-by-room caps, busing students or running schools in double shifts to even
January 28, 2010
From the south side of Chicago to Harvard, Australia, and back, Arne Duncan’s unconventional path to Secretary of Education has the makings of a screenplay. Or at least a New Yorker article. Windy City native Duncan attended the University of Chicago’s prestigious Lab School by day, then turned up at his mother’s low-income afterschool program north of Hyde Park. There he saw firsthand the achievement gap between his own classmates and his mother’s students, and the opportunity divide between professors’ kids and gang victims. After Harvard, he launched a professional b-ball career down under but returned to Chicago’s south side in 1991 to direct the Ariel Education Initiative, an education-focused investment offshoot of Ariel Investments. In 1999, he joined the Chicago Public Schools, became C.E.O. two years later, and instituted an extensive school-turnaround policy; the rest is history. The Obama administration plucked him from this position in 2008, a move many of us saw as a compromise at the time, but which the article’s author (an old Lab School pal of Arne’s) thinks is inaccurate. He’s a bona fide reformer, the author argues, which is making educators on the left go nuts. Here’s hoping this Hollywood story has a happy ending, with improved schools for America’s kids.
“Class Warrior: Arne Duncan’s bid to shake up schools,” by Carlo Rotella, The New Yorker, February 1, 2009
January 28, 2010
When it comes to Race to the Top, most states have put on their Sunday best, bought new ties, and submitted their applications. Others refused or showed up in pajamas. Then there are those who didn’t even have the chance to participate. The Bureau of Indian Schools, which is administered under the Department of the Interior and which, of course, is not a state or even a “district” in the usual sense, was left out of the stimulus bill, both for ARRA funds and as a candidate for RTTT dollars. That will change if a new bill proposed by Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) passes. Pointing out that RTTT is supposed to help the neediest kids (which surely includes many Native Americans), the bill proposes that 1 to 5 percent of RTTT funding be reserved for BIE schools. Just because. We understand that BIE schools deserve formula aid. We also understand why the BIE can’t realistically be part of the Race to the Top competition. (It would amount to one part of the executive branch trying to incentivize reform in another.) But lots of states won’t get RTTT funds (or so Arne Duncan has promised); we’re not sure why the BIE should be guaranteed such funding. (And what about Guam?)
“Bureau of Indian Education Schools Want In On Race to the Top,” by Alyson Klein, Education Week, January 21, 2010
January 28, 2010
You often hear it (rhetorically) asked: If teachers’ unions are such a negative force in education, then why don’t the right-to-work states perform better academically? Alabama has the answer: Being right-to-work doesn’t mean that teachers and their unions are politically impotent. To wit, the ‘Bama Education Association basically eviscerated that state’s formerly-aggressive Race to the Top application. Off the table: proposals for quarterly standardized tests to track progress to state standards, new salary schedules for teachers that align with performance, and extra incentives for math, science, and special education teachers. Compare that to Minnesota, which submitted a proposal with elements like these intact, even though it’s supposedly a “strong union” state. Which just goes to show that the “right to work” label is about as meaningful as Tiger Woods’ apologies for his “transgressions.”
“State cuts teacher merit pay from federal fund application after AEA leader objects,” by Rena Havner Philips, Alabama Press-Register, January 24, 2010
January 28, 2010
LOL, txting is tot. nbd, so says the prelim fndings of a nu stdy from Coventry University. In fact, students who used the most phonologically-based text abbreviations--such as “nite” instead of night--were the best spellers. It all has to do with the child’s ability to recognize and manipulate sound patterns in speech. A larger, deeper study will be published next year, but the interim research has already sparked controversy amongst literacy experts. Of note, “textisms,” or text message abbreviations, increase as a proportion of text message language as a child gets older; 47 percent of Year 6 students use textisms, reports the study, a 26 percent increase from Year 4. What does this mean? “[M]ore sophisticated literacy skills are needed for textism use.” The study also found that proficiency in text abbreviations could predict a student's reading ability, but not vice versa. So what’s a ‘rent to do ab a txting teen? 4get all abt it. Looks like txting is good 4 u, or at least ur litera-c.
"Phone texting 'helps pupils to spell'," by Sean Coughlan, BBC, January 20, 2010
The High Cost of Low Educational Performance: The Long-Run Economic Impact of Improving PISA Outcomes
Amber M. Winkler, Ph.D. / January 28, 2010
This study builds on previous work by economists Hanushek and Woessmann and shows that improved performance on international math and science tests has a positive impact on a country’s future GDP. The effects within the U.S. would be remarkable. The analysts used data from twelve international tests (including PISA) dating back to 1964 to construct an index of cognitive skill levels for a large sample of countries. Since the U.S. had participated in all of these tests and also has a separate longitudinal assessment system (i.e., NAEP), they were able to calibrate scores on each international test against one another. They employed three scenarios to estimate the long-term effects of educational improvement. (1.) To increase average scores on PISA by twenty-five points (a quarter of a standard deviation) over twenty years would result in an increase in the American GDP of $40 trillion over the lifetime of the generation born in 2010. (2.) To bring each country up to the average level of the highest performing PISA country (Finland, or roughly fifty points) would boost American GDP by $100 trillion over the same time period. And (3) raising the scores of the 19 percent of young Americans children who perform below the PISA minimum competency level to that level would add $72 trillion to our GDP, again over the same timeframe. Those are BIG numbers, even in the Obama era. You can find the study here.
Daniela Fairchild / January 28, 2010
In this short paper, author Chad Aldeman explains how to create an accountability system for schools that is more accurate than the one enshrined in the No Child Left Behind act. We’ve highlighted how ineffectively NCLB’s “AYP” measures anything save the rigor of each state’s standards, but Aldeman explains that the problem goes further by not taking into account post-secondary success. Are students college- and career-ready when they graduate from high school? Determining this is easier than it sounds, he reasons, in large part (and perhaps ironically) because of NCLB. Since 2002, many states have developed data systems that track such things as graduation rates, college enrollment, and the number of grads who become fulltime wage-earners. To drive home his point, Aldeman proposes a points system based on Florida’s data infrastructure. On a 1,800 point scale, for example, 600 points would be based on state test scores, 100 points on AP and IB participation rates, 200 points on whether students can pass out of remedial classes in college, 200 points for the fulltime employment rate of graduates, etc. But less clear is how such a system might come to pass. The data systems may be up and running, but the political will is not. Read it here.