Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 10, Number 24
June 24, 2010
Opinion + Analysis
Just say "Knowles" to teacher tenure
The perpetuation of bachelorship
An extreme case for cost-cutting
While Rome burned
Andys last stand
Join us as we bid farewell to New Jersey's new Deputy Commissioner of Education, Andy Smarick. First, he and Mike discuss how to educate the severely disabled, then Andy gives us his final thoughts on Race to the Top, School Improvement Grants, and turnarounds. Amber's Minute is spent dissecting Diploma Counts 2010 and Rate that Reform gives law schools' grade inflation policies an F.
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / June 24, 2010
As we’ve noted before, the Fordham Institute team with help from the Gates Foundation has embarked on a multi-stage think-fest concerning the long-term governance of the “Common Core” state standards and the forthcoming assessments that are meant to be aligned to them.
As readers know, the final version of these K-12 “college-and-career-ready” standards for math and English language arts were released on June 2 by the Council of Chief State Schools Officers and the National Governors Association, the organizations that—with much help, tons of input, multiple drafts, a million meetings, and scads of reviews—developed them.
So far, thirteen states have declared that they will adopt these standards in place of their own. Many other states are considering the desirability and feasibility of doing that. By August, dozens more may declare their intention to replace their own academic standards in these two subjects with something state-based yet quasi-national.
Concurrently, the Education Department just wrapped up its grant competition for new assessment systems, systems meant to be aligned with the Common Standards and, like the standards themselves, used by multiple states in lieu of their present assessments. Grants will presumably be made to ardent consortia of states by September 30.
There are a million next steps to contemplate if these standards and assessments are to get traction in American K-12 education over the next few years. But we at Fordham are looking even farther ahead: We’re contemplating the thorny issues
June 24, 2010
If he could make one significant change to public education today, Timothy Knowles, one of the founding fathers of teacher “residency” programs, would eliminate teacher tenure. Why? “The more difficult it is for principals to address underperformance, the more likely they are to use informal methods to do so. This fuels labor’s argument that management is capricious, strengthening their case for increased employment protection.” Indeed, explains Knowles, “this pathological status quo” is the “one of the main sources of friction between labor and management.” Even teachers realize this. According to a 2009 American Federation of Teachers survey, 69 percent of teachers would rather their union focus on “working for professional teaching standards and good teaching” than “defending the job rights of teachers who face disciplinary action.” Knowles is clear: We should applaud the recent overhaul of tenure and evaluation in states like Colorado, and others should follow suit. Hear, hear.
“Opinion: The Trouble With Teacher Tenure,” by Timothy Knowles, Wall Street Journal, June 18, 2010
June 24, 2010
Richard Whitmire has been worried about the fate of boys in the classroom for some time now. He points primarily to lackluster overall high school graduation and college-going rates for boys, which are far lower than for girls. But as Hanna Rosin observes in her review of Whitmire’s Why Boys Fail, there’s a gender divide in New York City’s overwhelmingly female elementary gifted classrooms, too. Male toddlers are disadvantaged by an entrance exam and interview process that favors language, communication, and patience. Not only do boys develop linguistically later than girls, but they are much less able to sit through a cognitive test in the first place—at least until adolescence. To wit, New York’s gifted high schools have more boys enrolled than girls; indeed, she observes, overall achievement gaps between boys and girls shrink as students get older, though not completely. Boys are still less likely to graduate from high school or go to college than girls. Which leaves Rosin gloomy: “Men not achieving in school means men not going to college means men with no job prospects means men rejected as suitable marriage prospects by smarty-pants girls.” Turns out underachieving boys could spawn a population problem, too.
“The Genius Gap,” by Hanna Rosin, New York Magazine, June 4, 2010
June 24, 2010
According to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Donovan Forde has “multiple disabilities.” He’s part of a fraction of a fraction of special education students served by the public school system. In this New York Times profile, Sharon Otterman explores Donovan’s experience as a student at P.S. 79 in New York City, a special education high school in East Harlem where the student-teacher ratio is 2:1. Hit by a car when he was just six months old, Donovan cannot walk, talk, or see. But at age 20, with one more year to go in the system, Donovan’s teachers, one-on-one aide, and mother are uncertain how much Donovan has gotten from his fifteen years in the public education system. Under federal law, Donovan is entitled to an “appropriate” education, but he has repeatedly failed to successfully demonstrate the goals laid out in his Individualized Education Plan. The problem is that educating students like Donovan cost three-to-four times more than their average peer; in NYC, that’s $58,877 per year, more than triple the citywide average per-pupil expenditure of $17,646. Donovan’s story is heart wrenching, but the question it raises deserves to be addressed: Could we educate this population of special education students at lower cost?
“A Struggle to Educate the Severely Disabled,” by Sharon Otterman, New York Times, June 19, 2010
June 24, 2010
P.J. O’Rourke has just learned—some of us were there a while back—that not only is it expensive to send kids to school, but it isn’t yielding much bang for the taxpayer’s buck. He explains: We’re spending on average a reported $11,000 per pupil—and more like north of $20,000 in reality. The teacher-pupil ratio is roughly 15:1. We’ve got 4,615,000 employed “full time” education employees (“although if school districts used the same definition of ‘full time’ as the rest of us the number we’re talking about would be zero,” he quips); of these, at least half are not teachers. (Or as he puts it, “the people-doing-who-knows-what/teacher ratio is getting close to 1:1.”) Yet NAEP proficiency averages sit in the low 30s in both math and reading. O’Rourke’s had enough. His simple solution: “Close all the public schools. Send the kids home. Fire the teachers. Sell the buildings. Raze the U.S. Department of Education, leaving not one brick standing upon another and plow the land where it stood with salt.” O’Rourke’s version is clearly extreme, but his underlying message is not: After all the money we’ve spent to see achievement stagnate, shouldn’t we, too, be outraged?
“Opinion: End Them, Don’t Mend Them: It’s time to shutter America’s bloated schools,” by P.J. O’Rourke, The Weekly Standard, June 21, 2010
June 30, 2010
Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.
Christina Clark Tuttle, Bing-ru Teh, Ira Nichols-Barrer, Brian P. Gill, & Philip Gleason
This is the interim report of an ongoing (until 2014) longitudinal study of achievement in a quarter of KIPP's eighty-two schools. Though KIPP schools have been the focus of previous research (see here and here, for example), this is by far the largest and most rigorous study to date. And the results are encouraging. Using matched student achievement data from twenty-two middle schools that had been open since at least 2005-06, Mathematica analysts found statistically significant impacts on reading in fifteen of the twenty-two, and on math in eighteen. Conversely, just two schools had a significantly negative impact on reading, while one school had a significantly negative impact on math (in year 1), which actually reversed into a positive impact by year three. These positive effects are sizable, especially in math. After three years in a KIPP school, a student will have made on average 4.2 years of growth in math and 3.9 years of growth in reading. This was true even though KIPP included in its treatment group all students who were ever enrolled in a KIPP school during the study, including those who spent just one year at KIPP and subsequently left, as well as the results for two schools that lost their KIPP affiliation during the study and subsequently closed. That means these results are probably conservative in terms
June 24, 2010
Clara Hemphill and Kim Nauer
Center for New York City Affairs, The New School
This paper takes a close and levelheaded look at New York City’s “Children First” initiative, a district restructuring plan implemented in 2007 by Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein. As the authors explain it, Children First “centralized authority over what is to be achieved, and decentralized responsibility for how to achieve it.” More literally, this meant giving principals greater autonomy over curricular, budgetary, and personnel decisions and abolishing NYC’s geographic school districts, but holding principals to higher expectations when it came to achievement, school safety, and graduation rates, among other things. In other words, Bloomberg and Klein set out to reverse the customary “tight-loose” structure of public education systems. How is it going? Hemphill, Nauer, and their team conducted interviews, visited several dozen schools, and analyzed achievement data. What they found is a flawed system that’s nonetheless working. Achievement has improved since 2007, especially in the worst schools, where the new data-based accountability structure has turned around a culture of low expectations. But breaking down geographic barriers disconnected schools from their neighborhoods and in some cases left less-effective and/or rookie principals floundering and parents and teachers feeling alienated. The biggest problem, though, is the city’s grading system for schools, which has allowed for dizzying swings from one year to the next. But the city is aware of and working on this (see the chapters
Sally Kilgore / June 24, 2010
Kathleen Cushman wonders: What can we learn from students’ nonacademic pursuits that can teach us how to make classrooms more engaging? She interviewed 160 high school students to ascertain what lights a “fire in the mind” when it comes to their passions, from playing chess to making architectural drawings. Cushman notes that her interviewees were often drawn to a new pursuit, even a new passion, by a particular person rather than the activity itself. This lends itself well to academics: If teachers can be better adult guides to the material, kids will find the material itself more interesting. But keeping them engaged is another matter and the secret seems to lie in something called “deliberate practice.” Here we can learn from “experts” in most fields. They all practice—purposefully, a lot, and with measurable outcomes. It’s not always fun, but it produces results, and the trick is to make kids see that this un-fun practice is worth it and to construct class time and homework to be “deliberate” (which for the most part they currently are not). This leads Cushman to numerous recommendations for teachers and administrators, such as don’t try to cover everything within a given topic and make performance part of learning. Acting upon these could have myriad implications: for improving teacher quality and practice, redefining “seat time” as “learning time,” and overhauling class time and homework to be more productive and “deliberate.” Buy a
Daniela Fairchild / June 24, 2010
Emily Cohen, Aileen Corso, Valerie Franck and Kate Keilher
National Council on Teacher Quality
Using their comprehensive TR3 database, district data, and interviews from those in the trenches, the authors of this NCTQ report present ten politically lofty but logistically sound policy goals for improving teacher quality in Baltimore. They’re clear which changes depend on what, such as legislative action, an amendment to the teacher union contract, or simply a BCPS policy change. For example, under Maryland state law, only tenured teachers with a satisfactory rating are allowed to voluntarily transfer within the same district; this means that principals might rate an unsatisfactory tenured teacher they’d like to push out “satisfactory,” and that untenured teachers unhappy with their placements might elect to transfer out of the district (or the profession!) rather than wait three years to get tenure. A change in the union contract to let all teachers transfer, regardless of rating or tenure, would reduce the incentive to overinflate teacher evaluations and help with teacher attrition. They conclude that Baltimore is on the right track, but there’s plenty more to be done, especially around teacher retention, teacher evaluation, and teacher compensation. (See what NCTQ has unearthed about the teaching profession in other cities, such as Hartford, Seattle, and Boston.) Read the report on Baltimore here.