Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 10, Number 27
July 22, 2010
Opinion + Analysis
A heady dose of realism
Earthquake in Wake
Pass central office; go straight to kids
Janie Scull Superstar
Don't miss Janie's inaugural turn in the co-host spot, as she and Mike debate: our new report, NJ's supe salary cap, and Wake County's re-segregation woes. Then Amber dives into the Brown Center report on the Harlem Children's Zone, and Rate that Reform gives effort an F.
After votes yesterday in Massachusetts and the District of Columbia, twenty-nine states have now embraced the new “Common Core” standards for primary and secondary education. Already, a majority—including red states such as South Carolina, Utah, and Oklahoma—have declared that they will use Common Core English language arts and math standards in their public schools. Yet this profound, and we think positive, shift in American education is occurring with little outcry from the right, save for a half-dozen libertarians who don’t much care for government to start with. How come?
It certainly helps that the new standards were created by a voluntary partnership of forty-eight states, not by the federal government. But it’s also true that the Common Core standards are remarkably strong, vastly better than the standards most states have developed independently over the past fifteen years. Yesterday we released a 370-page study that finds the Common Core standards to be clearly superior to the existing ELA standards of thirty-seven states and the existing math standards of thirty-nine. Expert reviewers gave the national standards an A-minus for math and a B-plus for English—marks that indicate high levels of rigor and clarity as well as plenty of solid content.
One reason the Common Core fared so well is that its authors eschewed the vague and politically correct nonsense that infected so many state standards (and earlier attempts at national standards).
July 22, 2010
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is on a cost-cutting warpath in the Garden State. His latest bull’s eye: superintendent pay. New Jersey has a whole lot of notoriously small school districts—591 of them—which not only adds up when it translates into paying 591 supes, but also encourages bidding wars between districts that drive up salaries. (A whopping 253 school administrators make more than Christie himself, who nets $175,000 a year.) Now superintendents will be paid on a sliding scale (the smaller your district, the smaller your salary); the leaders of the sixteen largest districts will see their salaries negotiated individually with Trenton. Christie’s doesn’t need legislative approval for the proposed regulations, which he hopes to get on the books by December. “People are bouncing around like free agents in baseball, and getting higher and higher salaries as they go,” explains Christie. The goal is to “shift the paradigm” about how district leaders are paid: If supes leave the Garden State to find higher salaries, so be it, he says. “[I]f that’s the sole reason they’re here, then goodbye.” Let’s hope supes don’t pull a LeBron in response.
“N.J. Governor Seeks Cap on School Leaders’ Salaries,” Associated Press, July 15, 2010
July 22, 2010
Gadfly has generally been skeptical of Wake County, North Carolina’s busing plan, overturned this year by a new school board majority, focused as it was on making schools socioeconomically diverse more than on ensuring that their pupils learn plenty. But we’re not blind to the painful scenario unfolding in and around Raleigh as the community prepares for a return to more racially and economically isolated schools. Gerald Grant, author of Hope and Despair in the American City: Why There are No Bad Schools in Raleigh, explains that an influx of newcomers had thrown the community for a loop: “You had folks moving down there from Lexington, Mass., and buying a $275,000 house, and they thought a white school came with it.” Turns out the house came with an hour-long bus ride instead. So the bus rides are going away, or at least getting a lot shorter, but not without cost. "We're not going to sit idly by while they turn the clock back on the blood, sweat and tears and wipe their feet on the sacrifices of so many that have enabled us to get to the place we are today," pledged the state NAACP chapter head, who recently got arrested for civil disobedience at a school board meeting. Gadfly insists that academic achievement should be job number-one of any school system in America—and every school needs to focus on that, whatever it’s demographics—but it’s also
July 22, 2010
It was a bit slow on the uptake, but Rhode Island last month finally created its first ever state education funding formula. (It was, in fact, the only state without a formula until now.) These formulae are usually a big muddle that give districts and schools little autonomy, even as they try to even out dollars between property-tax rich suburbs and lower-income urban areas. RI tried to skip the muddle and do something, that at first blush, seems quite simple: Fund the child. But though this might sound like "weighted student funding," an approach of which we’re fans, it's not quite a home run. Though dollars will flow based on enrollment and demographics, districts and schools will have no greater freedom to spend those dollars nor will dollars truly "follow the child" from school to school. We'll admit to being tough critics—it is a state not local funding scheme, after all, and to its credit, enrollment numbers will be updated every year, reallocating dollars accordingly, while poor students will be "weighted" 40 percent more than the baseline per pupil allotment. Even better, charter and district schools will be funded equally by the state, which is great news for Rhode Island's charter schools. But that leaves us wondering: When you've made it to second base, why not take it to home plate?
“New Rhode Island School Funding Formula Aims at Equity,” by Lesli A. Maxwell, Education Week, July 19, 2010
Grover J. Whitehurst and Michelle Croft
Brown Center on Education Policy, Brookings Institute
The federal Promise Neighborhood program seeks to replicate the widely lauded Harlem Children’s Zone in twenty cities, complete with its suite of “Broader-Bolder” social services. At that scope, it seems reasonable to wonder: Does HCZ merely work, or does it work “as advertised”? Do all those services—health clinics, social programs, career counseling—make a difference, or are other nearby charter schools just as successful at raising achievement…without all those things? That’s what Whitehurst and Croft sought to find out, by comparing the academic results of HCZ’s Promise Academy I (the larger and older of two HCZ charters) to those of other charter schools in Manhattan and the Bronx that do not provide, or whose students do not have access to, HCZ-type services. Promise I fell in the middle of the pack: In math, students ranked at the 48th percentile (55th, once adjusted for demographics), and in reading, the 37th percentile (39th adjusted). In math and reading together, HCZ clocked in at the (adjusted) 47th percentile. In other words, roughly half of charter schools in the sample did better than the HCZ charter—without being enmeshed in a web of collateral community services. It’s worth noting that the sample size is small, the study descriptive, and that some of Promise Academy I’s competitors were standouts like KIPP. But it certainly makes the reader wonder: Should we invest millions of
July 22, 2010
Richard Lee Colvin, Betsy Hammond, Dale Mezzacappa, Sarah Garland, and Thomas Toch
This six-article set takes an honest look at the dropout problem through the lens of Obama's pledge to boost graduation numbers. What techniques are employed by three cities that have worked hard on this front in recent years (New York, Philadelphia, and Portland)? Can this problem be solved? Richard Lee Colvin is bullish in his overview but acknowledges that "good intentions and effort are no guarantee of success." All three cities tried similar strategies - working to fix their big "dropout factory" high schools and creating "alternative pathways" - and all three benefited from private financial support. Yet their results varied dramatically, with big improvements seen in New York, moderate success in Philly, and practically none in Portland. The difference, concludes Colvin, was "leadership and attitude." New York took a relentless, data-driven approach, which proved startlingly more effective than Portland's lack of accountability or focus. What might this mean for federal dollars? Colvin again: The government should spend fewer dollars on turning around failing schools, which is exceptionally hard to do, and instead open up new, small, accountable ones, as NYC did. Toch elaborates with the details of the recent MDRC NYC report (reviewed last week) on that city's new schools efforts. This collection is an articulate explanation of how achievement levels and graduation rates can rise together. Read it here.
Jamie Davies O'Leary / July 22, 2010
Jacob Vigdor and Helen Ladd
National Bureau of Economic Research
In this groundbreaking study, Vigdor and Ladd looked at five years of administrative data (2000-05) denoting home computer access among half-a-million North Carolina middle schoolers. They also looked at state test scores in reading and math for students with and without home computers—as noted in the administrative data—and with or without high-speed internet access in their neighborhood—as recorded by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Having a computer had a small positive impact on reading and math scores (which echoes previous research); internet access had none. But other factors associated with computer ownership—such as overall family wealth and position—may be enough to explain the impact. So, here’s where it gets interesting. They also compared the scores of individual students before and after they got a computer, and before and after their neighborhood got broadband. These results are more surprising: Gaining access to a computer had a small but negative effect in both reading and math and gaining access to high-speed internet had a slightly larger negative effect on math, and no effect on reading. These impacts were more pronounced for black, male, and/or low-income students. In other words, it seems like computer and broadband access may widen, rather than narrow, the achievement gap. And that the introduction of computer and/or internet access crowds out time allocated to studying generally and/or using the computer for studying, without, for example, complementary effective
Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids--and What We Can Do About It
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / July 22, 2010
Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus
This certainly isn't the first time that I've admired and agreed with a book blurbed by Diane Ravitch or Vartan Gregorian, but I'm pretty sure it's the first time in??forty-five years that I've found myself in agreement with Jonathan Kozol. In this volume, Hacker and Dreifus, both war-hardened veterans of American higher education (he at Queens College, she now teaching at Columbia), lucidly set forth what's gone wrong in that sector of our education system: The professors don't much teach, the students don't much learn,??demands and calendars shrink,??price tags rise. Today, the authors bluntly conclude, what happens on most campuses isn't worth what they charge for it - including the Ivy League. What to do instead? Most of it's pretty obvious. Get rid of tenure and sabbaticals, make everybody teach undergraduates, cut the frills, stop putting such a premium on research, stop relying on student loans, etc. Pie in the sky? Not necessarily. They also profile ten colleges they like because - more or less - they're doing the things they favor (Cooper Union, Notre Dame, Arizona State, Berea, Ole Miss, etc.) Most of the time, we at Fordham focus on K-12 education. But "college ready" is today's mantra for what schools are supposed to produce. What's the point of being ready for college if most colleges aren't worth getting ready for? Purchase a copy here.