Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 10, Number 28
July 29, 2010
Opinion + Analysis
Conserving the status quo?
Rhee-arranging D.C. teachers
Prying into private schools
Ricks back and we are rusty
This week, Mike and Rick discuss whether national standards are "conservative," if Obama has expended his political capital on education policy, and what civil rights "accountability" in private schools could possibly look like. Then Amber considers whether paying students raises NAEP scores, and Janie tells Hawaii: letting kids take the state test more than once might not be such a bad idea.
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / July 29, 2010
We confess. Mike and I were partly wrong last week: More than half a dozen conservatives have misgivings about the “Common Core” standards and the tests to follow. The number is up to at least eight and, since conservatives tend to get excited by the sight of red (red meat, red blood, red states, etc.), every time we wave this scarlet flag in front of them we can expect more of them to charge us. Perhaps including the piece you’re now reading.
So far, though, we’ve been nicked but not gored by their horns—and we cheerfully concede that critics have several legitimate concerns. Yes, it would have been better if the voluntary move by states to develop and consider adopting common standards hadn’t been entangled in a competition for federal money. Yes, it would be better if more of that same federal money weren’t paying for development of new assessment systems to accompany the standards. Yes, it would have been lots better if President Obama had never hinted at harnessing national standards to future Title I funding. Yes, the long-term governance of the standards and tests remains to be worked out.
But good grief, folks, do you really want to preserve the meager academic expectations, crummy tests, and weak-kneed accountability arrangements that currently drive—or fail to drive—K-12 education across most of this broad land? Are you so risk averse and change resistant as to see no merit
Michael J. Petrilli / July 29, 2010
Almost three years ago, Fordham and the Northwest Evaluation Association published a landmark study, The Proficiency Illusion, which found that state “proficiency cut scores” varied tremendously, not just from state to state but also within states. Cut scores for elementary school kids were lower than for middle school kids; cut scores for math were higher than for reading; and “cut scores” tended to drift downward over time.
This created an incredibly patchy and misleading portrait of student achievement across the land. In the report’s foreword, Checker Finn and I wrote:
What does this mean for educational policy and practice? What does it mean for standards-based reform in general and NCLB in particular? It means big trouble—and those who care about strengthening U.S. K-12 education should be furious. There’s all this testing—too much, surely—yet the testing enterprise is unbelievably slipshod. It’s not just that results vary, but that they vary almost randomly, erratically, from place to place and grade to grade and year to year in ways that have little or nothing to do with true differences in pupil achievement. America is awash in achievement “data,” yet the truth about our educational performance is far from transparent and trustworthy. It may be smoke and mirrors. Gains (and slippages) may be illusory. Comparisons may be misleading. Apparent problems may be nonexistent or, at least, misstated. The testing infrastructure on which so many school reform efforts rest, and in which
July 29, 2010
George Parker put his name on the dotted line. And thus, a city which previously paid, in the words of the Washington Post, “lip service” to teacher quality put its money where its mouth is. Or rather, Chancellor Michelle Rhee did, when she fired 165 teachers for ineffectiveness (plus 76 for licensure issues) and put another 700 or so on notice for being “minimally effective.” That rating comes from D.C.’s new teacher evaluation system, IMPACT, the use of which the union agreed in the newly ratified contract. Perhaps the union’s promise to file a grievance is just for show—or maybe not—but it can’t seriously have thought that Rhee was bluffing. WaPo has it exactly right when it observes that “a better use of [the union’s] time might be to work with Ms. Rhee to improve the performance of the 737 teachers in danger of losing their jobs next year.”
"Giving lousy teachers the boot," by William McGurn, Wall Street Journal, July 27, 2010
"Rhee dismisses 241 D.C. teachers; union vows to contest firings," by Bill Turque, Washington Post, July 24, 2010
“Opinion: The D.C. teacher firings,” Washington Post, July 25, 2010
July 29, 2010
Gadfly’s not sure what to make of Secretary Duncan’s comments earlier this week in a big speech to the National Urban League. According to a press release from the Department, he proclaimed that “We will ensure that all schools—public, private and charter—serve the kids most in need…That is also something you told us was important. We heard you loud and clear, we are responding and these schools will be held accountable.” Set aside the Secretary’s assumption that charter schools aren’t serving “the kids most in need.” What on earth is he planning to do to “ensure” that private schools serve needy kids? How is he going to hold them “accountable”? Accountable to whom? Most don’t get public funds, and the administration's refusal to back the D.C. voucher program signals that they don't want private schools to get public funds--not even to educate needy, poor, black kids. The Administration’s thinking on civil rights has already been muddled; now it’s downright mystifying.
We often find ourselves in the other corner of the policy ring from AFT President Randi Weingarten. So it is with a mixture of cheer and frustration that we discover Ms. Weingarten to be a talented crafter of haiku, sanely ambitious (“just enough to make a difference”), and notably tireless (“what is sleep?” she queries when asked how much she gets). That’s what we learned, at least, from her responses to Politico’s “Answer This” series. She’s even witty—she favors her legs over other body parts because she has to “walk a tight rope most of the time.” But we best her in one category: Humor. No jokes grace this (allegedly) off the cuff interview, because by her own admission, she is “far too serious.” We may not always agree, but we’ll tip our hats to a formidable, albeit humorless, opponent.
“Answer This: Randi Weingarten” by Patrick Gavin, Politico, July 26, 2010
An Experimental Study of the Effects of Monetary Incentives on Performance on the 12th-Grade NAEP Reading Assessment
July 29, 2010
Henry Braun, Irwin Kirsch, and Kentaro Yamamoto
Teachers College Record
We’ve tried paying students to show up, behave, and perform but what about cash incentives to try harder on a no-stakes exam? The authors of this forthcoming article (available online, but to be published next year) put this to the test, literally, on the twelfth-grade NAEP reading assessment, a grade level whose scores are thought to be depressed by senioritis. (Seventeen-year-olds are thought to be savvy enough to know that this test doesn’t count, for them or their teachers.) Two-thousand-six-hundred seniors in fifty-nine schools from seven states were divided into three groups: The first received no money; the second was given fixed incentives of $20 before they took the test; and the third was given a conditional incentive of $5 before the test and an additional $15 for correct responses on each of two randomly selected questions for a maximum payout of $35. No group knew about the others or that it would receive incentives before test day. Researchers then administered one block of previously released twelfth-grade NAEP reading questions. (The actual NAEP tests use four blocks.) While control-group students scored an average of 289.2 points, fixed incentive students averaged 3.4 points higher, and conditional-incentive takers 5.5 points higher. This makes sense, and is no trivial amount; 5 points is about a quarter of the black-white achievement gap on twelfth-grade NAEP. This study indicates that U.S. twelfth graders know more than
Emmy L. Partin / July 30, 2010
Paul Hill and Marguerite Roza
Center on Reinventing Public Education
These eleven pages do something quite useful: Explain the disconnect between education inputs and outputs in the language of economics. The affliction is Baumol’s cost disease, or “the tendency of labor-intensive organizations to become more expensive over time but not any more productive…(defined as the quantity of product per dollar expended).” Take a string quartet that “produces the same music from the time it is first assembled until the players retire.” Then consider that the education sector solves problems by adding more (money, teachers, etc.)—“the string quartet both gets wage and benefit increases and adds enough new members to become a sextet.” This is a structural problem, the authors explain, and one that better teachers and competition from independent operators (e.g., charter, private, and voucher-receiving schools) cannot (at least not alone) fix. But other industries have cured Baumol’s—or at least controlled its effects—which leaves hope for education. Some strategies are more applicable (or even already in use) than others: deregulation, which allows in new firms and new efficiencies (e.g., alternative certification routes), and information technology, which streamlines capacity, extending the touch of workers so that companies need fewer of them (e.g., virtual education). Others are further off, such as production process innovation, wherein tasks become specialized by competency and paid accordingly (e.g., the medical model: doctors supported by descending chain of residents, interns, nurses, etc.). The bottom line is
Stafford Palmieri / July 29, 2010
Center for American Progress
One of Secretary Duncan's primary concerns with teacher preparation when he went on the offensive last fall was that here was simply no quality control. Not only do these programs know next to nothing about their graduates, but ones that produce sub-par teachers see no consequences for doing so. In this paper, Edward Crowe lays out the myriad problems afflicting teacher licensure laws and how preparation programs are regulated by states (mostly) and the federal government (less so). For example, every state has their own set of licensure rules, which are informed by some subset of nearly 1,100 licensure tests of various quality and content. This mishmash basically means that district personnel offices must guess about the rigor of candidates' preparation, and preparation programs get mixed signals from states about what is expected of their graduates. Crowe's accountability system would start with a teacher-effectiveness measure (based primarily on how much students are actually learning), which would be the centerpiece of a system tying that measure to the alma mater of the students' instructor. Then, teachers and school leaders would complete feedback surveys about individual programs, the results of which, alongside teacher persistence rates and effectiveness numbers, would be publicly published for every preparation program. And finally, licensure tests would be streamlined and test cut scores and pass rate policies (i.e., how many students must pass for a program to stay open)
July 29, 2010
“Data-driven instruction” is such a buzz phrase in education these days that a 300-page tome on the topic might seem like overkill. Yet this book turns out to be relevant, fresh, and accessible. It explicates the data techniques that have helped Bambrick-Santoyo and his colleagues at Uncommon Schools, a major and well-regarded network of charters, produce phenomenal results with some of America’s least privileged kids. The core insight is the need for interim assessments that enable teachers and school leaders to make mid-course corrections when warranted. It also offers case studies of schools that made dramatic achievement gains after installing comprehensive data management systems. The reform community has for years jabbered about the need for more “formative” assessments; this book is a guide to creating, using, and making the most of them. The author goes so far as to suggest that assessments should essentially determine standards: “Rather than have each teacher choose a level of rigor in response to vaguely written standards, the effective data-driven school leader or teacher works to create challenging interim assessments that set a high bar for student achievement.” One hopes that the advent of new assessments aligned with the Common Core standards will make this task easier and more efficient. Add this to your list of worthy 2010 how-to manuals (see here and here) from untraditional education providers. Purchase a copy here.