Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 10, Number 25
July 8, 2010
Opinion + Analysis
Lessons from Ohio's frontlines
The cold union shoulder
Second chance or fresh start?
Bullying goes viral
Public Education Finances 2008
Edubailout or edumiracle
Mike and Stafford tackle the edu-bailout ? should the Administration?s pet projects be spared a haircut when everyone else has gotten clipped? ? and cyber bullies. Amber gives us the final report on D.C.'s voucher program and Janie wants just one valedictorian.
In Fordham’s customary role as a bumptious ed-reform think tank and advocacy shop, it’s unusual to engage in the real work of transforming schools and educating children. But our home state of Ohio has blessed us with many opportunities to get down and dirty in real-world education-reform struggles affecting real kids in a real place. Not the least of those opportunities has been our sobering, eye-opening work as an authorizer of charter schools in the Buckeye State.
Humbling might be a better term for this experience. One of our sponsored schools imploded in a fashion worthy of a Greek tragedy. Just a few years ago, the W.E.B. Dubois Academy in Cincinnati was visited by the (then) governor, lauded in the U.S. Senate (as a praiseworthy example of a school narrowing achievement gaps) and cited in a Seattle newspaper as a prime example of why Washington State voters should approve a charter school measure then on the ballot. But fast forward a few years and the school’s dynamic founder was pleading guilty to five counts of theft in connection with charges that he misused school funds and services to improve his home. The school he founded was closed—for weak academic performance—just last month.
And that painful saga is just the tip of our experiential iceberg in Ohio, where we’ve learned the hard way that think-tankers don’t always fare well in the rough and tumble of politics, organizational interests, and human
July 8, 2010
Is Savannah’s Alfred Ely Beach High a “failing school”? After hiring a new principal in 2005, its graduation rate rose from 49 to 66 percent. Most students now meet state standards. Its school choir was even invited to sing at President Obama’s inauguration. But after seven years on the state’s academic watch list, it’s now primed for state takeover. So district officials identified Beach as a dropout factory under the Department’s School Improvement Grant criteria, and proceeded to fire the principal and require half the staff to reapply for their jobs to strengthen the school’s turnaround application. The school will resume in the fall with a new performance pay program and new restrictions on tenure and seniority. While these measures mesh with the administration’s education-reform priorities—and are, indeed, good ideas—this might be the wrong school to apply them to. Indeed, given Beach High’s impressive recent strides, the shakeup may just knock the wind out of the school’s reform sails. Of course, this is not what the administration intended with SIG—but how surprised can they be? As Arne Duncan occasionally notes, there’s a limit to what policymakers can do from Washington.
"The ABCs of Saving a Failing School," by Claudio Sanchez, NPR, July 6, 2010
July 8, 2010
After many rounds of election-time Kumbaya, both of the nation’s big teacher unions seem to have had it with Change We Can Believe In. Nobody from the Obama administration will speak at either the American Federation of Teachers or National Education Association conventions this summer. NEA prez Dennis Van Roekel, in a sermon to his flock, didn’t mince words: “Today our members face the most anti-educator, anti-union, anti-student environment I have ever experienced.” Still, some state and local labor leaders are singing a different tune. “We have to recognize that with Obama we have a voice in the decision making, they listen to us,” Tennessee Education Association president Earl Wiman told the New York Times. “The public is sick of hearing that an ineffective teacher has tenure,” chimed in New Haven Federation of Teachers head David Cicarella. “Those days are over.” As we said a few weeks ago, the unions are hardly monolithic and reformers can be found in their interstices. But it sure seems that the national union bosses have decided to call on their darker angels. And if their members stay home in November, that could spell trouble for Democrats.
“Teachers’ Union Shuns Obama Aides at Convention,” by Sam Dillon, New York Times, July 5, 2010
Note: This piece reflects a correction: No administration officials were scheduled to appear at either convention, but not for lack of being invited, at least by the AFT.
July 8, 2010
How much does a track record matter? Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa says a lot. That’s why he’s encouraging the LA Unified School District to hand over more schools to charter operators in this year’s round of school takeover bids. We applauded LA for “snapping out of LA-LA land" when it invited teachers, community groups, and charters to apply to take over the district’s worst schools or start-up a handful of new ones. But when the first round takeover decisions were made, LAUSD supe Ramon Cortines recommended, and the school board ultimately chose, to turn most (twenty-two of thirty) schools over to teacher groups, who’d scrambled in the weeks before the deadline to draw up their turnaround or start-up plans. Charters got no turnaround schools and only four new ones, and the city’s three largest charter operators (ICEF, Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools, and Green Dot) got none. Villaraigosa thinks this was wrongheaded. “You can write a great plan,” he explains, “but if you don’t have a history…of proven results, that plan is just a piece of paper.” We’re with him so far. But if we're going for a "history of proven results," then history is pretty plain: The track record of turnarounds is spotty at best.
“Charters, teachers vie to take over L.A. Unified schools,” by Howard Blume, The Los Angeles Times, July 2, 2010
“Villaraigosa backs charter school bids, rips Cortines,” by Howard Blume, The Los Angeles
July 8, 2010
It used to be that a bully would punch Johnny in the nose and steal his lunch money. Now, he or she’s more likely to write a nasty note on Johnny’s Facebook wall and send a withering rebuke to his cell phone via text message. And he or she is more likely to do it outside of school time. So what’s a school to do? That’s the question that educators, especially in hormone-riddled middle schools, are asking themselves as they devote increasing time to disputes started online and off the school clock. Some have been drawn into this fray by parents, who see schools as middle ground between awkward parent-to-parent conversations and drastic police action. But other parents believe that schools shouldn’t intervene and, when it comes to liability, the law is on their side: A recent court case used the famous Vietnam-era Tinker legal test of “school disruption” to find in the favor of a cyberbully, because the dispute she caused with a mean-spirited YouTube-posted video was handled quickly and quietly by the school, and thus wasn’t disruptive. (That is, until it turned into a court case and the videographer’s suspension was overturned.) Gadfly is thinking twice about his Facebook account.
“Online Bullies Pull Schools Into the Fray,” by Jan Hoffman, New York Times, June 27, 2010
The National Study of Charter Management Organization (CMO) Effectiveness: Report on Interim Findings
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / July 8, 2010
Robin Lake, Brianna Dusseault, Melissa Brown, Allison Demeritt, and Paul Hill
Center on Reinventing Public Education, University of Washington and Mathematica Policy Research
This important study of CMOs has another year to run--it's already run for two years--but the interim findings are important enough, and sobering enough, to warrant attention now. This joint CRPE and Mathematica effort adds to previous CRPE and other research on one of the hottest ideas in education-reform: the non-profit "charter management organization." As an alternative to one-off "mom and pop" charters, and as a way of bringing quality, scale, efficiency, and replicability to the charter sector, CMOs are favorites among policy makers (including Arne Duncan), philanthropists, and policy wonks. (Their for-profit counterparts, known as EMOs or Education Management Organizations, are also growing.) This study, however, flashes a number of amber caution lights. It seems that CMOs have great difficulty making ends meet (without continuous infusions of philanthropic dollars), due at least in part to the systematic underfunding of charter schools by states. It also turns out that replication of successful school models is mighty darn difficult--and that the efforts of CMO "central offices" to build systematic practices, predictability, and coherence threaten to re-create the regulatory overburden and heavy-handedness of traditional school systems. The authors make a number of suggestions for improving CMO efficiency and effectiveness but they also urge that we not rely exclusively on CMOs to "scale up" quality charter schools. (Their
July 30, 2010
Thomas C. Hunt and Timothy Walch, Eds.
Alliance for Catholic Education Press
Troubled by our 2008 “Who Will Save America’s Catholic Schools?” statistic that 1,300 Catholic schools had closed since the 1990s, Hunt and Walch commissioned a team of venerable authors to chronicle the history of urban Catholic education in twelve of America’s major hubs. Each case study approaches this task from five angles: demographics (specifically, the effect of the community’s ethnic mix on school development); the interest and commitment of Catholic leaders; the attitudes of and roles played by non-Catholics; the size and growth of Catholic communities; and how those four elements together molded the experience of students in each city. The essays delve deeply into the historical and social contexts of each locale but they also share a few themes. These include the fact that Catholic schools are themselves products of a “sheer will to survive,” from early colonial anti-Catholic sentiment to the white flight of the mid-twentieth century; that their development and success is largely due to America’s immigrant populations and the periods in which those populations grew substantially; and that not all Catholic leaders or populations responded to the parish school movement positively. Catholic schools also turn out to be, at least viewed through historians’ lenses, remarkably adaptable and to self-identify as “community” institutions. All of this leaves Hunt and Walch optimistic: As Catholic schools have overcome hardship yesterday, so too will they today
Jamie Davies O'Leary / July 8, 2010
Philip Gleason, Melissa Clark, Christina Clark Tuttle, and Emily Dwoyer
Institute for Education Sciences
Before you dismiss this report as another in the line of frequent—and often contradictory—charter effectiveness studies, take note: This is the first large-scale randomized trial examining charter effectiveness across multiple states and communities (hard to believe, perhaps, but true!). Using the same technique as other randomized (but smaller) charter studies—comparing students “lotteried in” or “lotteried out” of charters—researchers analyzed the academic outcomes for students who applied to thirty-six charter middle schools in fifteen states that held lotteries for the 2004-05 and 2005-06 school years. The students had to have taken the state assessment the year before applying (at a traditional school, usually) and their academic impacts for “lotteried in” and “lotteried out” students were averaged over the next two years. What do we learn? On average, charter middle schools perform roughly the same as their district counterparts in reading and math, and their performance varies widely. But there’s an important caveat: Charter middle schools serving low-income and/or low-performing (pre-admission) students had significant positive effects on math, while charters serving more affluent and/or higher-achieving (pre-admission) students had significant negative effects on math. In reading, there were no effects for low-income and/or low-performing students and negative effects for affluent and/or higher-performing students. Still, the positive impact on math performance adds weight to what we already know: While charter schools overall may not outperform traditional schools, they
Emmy L. Partin / July 8, 2010
U.S. Census Bureau
This annual report is a comprehensive accounting of financial statistics for the country’s 15,569 public K-12 school systems. In this latest iteration, analysts used data for 2007-08 (the latest available) to calculate three primary statistics: the breakdown of education revenue by type; current operating costs, with an extensive disaggregation of spending by function; and debt levels. Though the present financial crisis has surely up-ended the budgets of many districts and states, the findings are still informative, especially because we know that states and districts largely have no clue about what money goes where. A few sobering statistics: In 2007-08, the public school revenues totaled $582.1 billion, of which 8.1 percent came from federal sources, 48.3 percent, state, and 43.7 percent, local. In the same year, however, schools spent $593.2 billion, roughly $11 billion more than they collected. Outstanding aggregate district debt at fiscal year’s end ranged from $42.6 million in California and $56.4 million in Texas to $48K in Wyoming and $68K in North Dakota. Unfortunately, we don’t learn anything about charter finances, since the way the Census Bureau defines charter schools as “nongovernment entities” means that they are excluded from the report. But the mismatch between revenue and spending in traditional schools puts the current dire state budgetary situation in perspective: When you spend beyond your means, belt tightening is going to hurt that much more. Read the report here.