Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 10, Number 9
March 4, 2010
Opinion + Analysis
Finn on Ravitch
Teaching as leadership
Wake me up before you go, go
The new politics of education
Marie Antoinette goes to CPAC
Sharing is improving
Vampire of Nazareth?
Zipping through Thailand
Rick and Amber are back, and what a show it is. First Rick and Mike discuss Diane Ravitch'*s new book, the Central Falls firings, and whether Governors Crist and Jindal are in a pickle. Then, Amber gives us the scoop on Boston teacher hiring, firing, and retention stats and Rate that Reform crosses the pond.
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / March 4, 2010
Diane Ravitch’s important new book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, has already stirred controversy, exactly as she intended. For it embodies and expresses--with her characteristic confidence, style, and verve--a fundamental change in her views about where U.S. K-12 education should be heading. Simply stated, she believes it should recapture the strengths of the traditional public-school system, incorporate a vigorous common curriculum, and renounce many of the theories, practices, policies, and programs that have comprised America’s major education-reform emphases in recent years. More than a few of those are reforms that she had herself promoted in her writings, board memberships, speeches, media comments, and government service.
She admits that she’s changed her mind.
Diane and I go back a very long way--three decades, give or take--and in addition to personal friendship we have, during that period, shared a basic diagnosis of what’s awry in U.S. education. It boils down to this: Most kids aren’t learning nearly enough of the important stuff that they ought to be learning.
That was true in 1981 when we jointly launched the Educational Excellence Network and it’s still true today. Our view of the central problem needing to be solved has, I believe, remained constant and there is no daylight between us on that score.
We also share a number of disappointments and frustrations arising from reform efforts that have been mounted to solve that problem. Standards, in many places,
Jamie Davies O'Leary / March 4, 2010
Though viewpoints on how to reform American public education are numerous and discordant, they tend to converge on one key premise: teachers matter. A lot.
Unfortunately, the consensus stops there. What characteristics do excellent teachers share? How do we measure these traits? What precisely do they do in the classroom that makes such a difference? Who knows? Maybe Teach For America does. In its new book, Teaching as Leadership: The Highly Effective Teacher’s Guide to Closing the Achievement Gap, authored by TFA’s vice president for knowledge development and public engagement Steven Farr, TFA has captured two decades worth of findings on 17,000 teachers to answer this simple question: What distinguishes an all-star teacher from the rest?
We learn that six traits characterize highly-effective teachers:
- Set big goals that are ambitious, specific, and measurable. This is also known within the TFA community as BHAG (“big, hairy, audacious goals”). Hairy is right--one NYC principal’s request that teachers outline their goals for students recently prompted the United Federation of Teachers to file a grievance.
- Invest in students and their families. Teach For America doesn’t have a monopoly on this; however, TFA may be unique in the extent to which its teachers will do nearly anything (dye their hair, shave their heads, pay for field trips out of their pockets) to motivate their pupils to learn.
- Plan purposefully. When you’re an amateur with a tough assignment, deliberate planning is one of the only ways to prevent
March 4, 2010
On Tuesday, North Carolina’s Wake County school board narrowly (5-4) decided to replace its four-decade-old policy of integrating schools via busing. The latest iteration of that policy, now one decade old, aimed to ensure a middle-class majority at each school in the system; the district was able to do this because it was big and relatively affluent. In the last decade, however, Wake’s population has increased 38 percent, mostly due to an influx of poor Hispanic families. The changing demographics made it harder and harder for the system to achieve its school diversity goals. Some students now travel as many as twenty miles to school, meaning bus rides of an hour or more, and are reassigned yearly to keep the balance. The long commutes and frequent upheavals propelled four new anti-busing members onto the school board last fall; they joined with an incumbent to create the five-person anti-busing majority. Over the next three years, the new plan will create neighborhood zones, some twenty in all, and depend on magnet schools to maintain voluntary socioeconomic integration. William Barber, president of North Carolina’s NAACP chapter, voiced the concerns of many when he said the plan will create “private schools with public dollars.” It seems likely that many Wake County schools will become racially and socioeconomically isolated (as the Charlotte schools did when that system ended its busing program). While perhaps unfortunate, this also seems to be a lesson in the
March 4, 2010
Gadfly occasionally grumbles about the Obama Administration’s policies and actions, but it’s hard to find fault with the President’s comments on Monday about the Central Falls, RI firings. "If a school continues to fail its students year after year after year, if it doesn't show signs of improvement, then there's got to be a sense of accountability," Obama said. "And that's what happened in Rhode Island last week at a chronically troubled school, when just 7 percent of 11th-graders passed state math tests--7 percent." This led to a quick and angry reaction from AFT president Randi Weingarten: "We know it is tempting for people in Washington to score political points by scapegoating teachers,” quoth she, “but it does nothing to give our students and teachers the tools they need to succeed.” That would be compelling rhetoric were it not that the Central Falls teachers were fired only after their union refused to play ball with the district on a reasonable reform proposal. Regardless, we can’t help but enjoy this intramural squabble on the left. Twenty-five years ago, when “right winger” Bill Bennett was squaring off with the teachers unions on issues like this, who would have guessed that in 2010 a liberal African-American Democratic president would be doing the same?
“Obama angers union officials with remarks in support of R.I. teacher firings,” by Michael A. Fletcher and Nick Anderson, Washington Post, March 2, 2010
March 4, 2010
How to eat your cake while claiming it’s disgusting, unhealthy, and philosophically bankrupt, too? Republican governors are quickly becoming savvy gourmands, as they attempt to balance their rhetorical opposition to federal stimulus funding with their growing reliance on it to fill gaping budget holes, a.k.a. the conundrum of metaphorical grandstanding crashing headlong into tax-based reality. Case in point: Florida Governor Charlie Crist, who has taken a beating in the polls from Tea Party favorite and primary challenger Marco Rubio for supporting Florida’s $16 billion federal stimulus intake. And the Sunshine State was just announced as a first-round Race to the Top finalist--due in great part to effective education reforms implemented under Republican governor Jeb Bush. If Florida wins, will Crist claim a political success? Or will Rubio turn the grant into yet another example of federal funding gone overboard? The same conundrum faces Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, who’s got conservative credentials to defend and whose state is also an RTTT finalist. Sweet talk won’t smooth over this hypocrisy.
“Federal funding: A Double-Edged Sword for GOP Governors,” by Harry Moroz, The Atlantic Online, March 1, 2010
March 4, 2010
New teamwork is visible in New Orleans and it’s not on the football field. Ten NOLA charter schools will participate in a collaborative effort led by the Achievement Network (ANet). The organization provides interim testing (on a six to eight week schedule) and support to charter organizations wondering how they’re doing--and how they can improve--in between yearly assessments. The alliance will serve a second purpose too: helping schools in the nation’s most decentralized district benefit from economies of scale. “As the formal government structures fall that are holding schools together, there will need to be organizations that are bringing schools together. We help schools identify what specific sub-skills students get confused on--it really isn’t revolutionary. But it’s very hard for schools to take this on on their own,” explains Josh Densen, managing director of ANet in NOLA. ANet also operates in Boston and Washington, D.C., where it helps schools improve their instructional practices by breaking down data at the classroom and student level. A school leader at one of ANet’s schools in the Big Easy said she found the variation between teachers within each grade to be striking--and informative. It’s refreshing to see charters voluntarily being more self-reflective--and testing being put to good, productive, immediate use.
“New Orleans charter schools form partnership to analyze performance,” by Sarah Carr, The Times-Picayune, March 1, 2010
March 4, 2010
An unnamed communications “staffer” in Utah’s Alpine School District is hoping a fire he (she?) ignited is soon extinguished by the nearby Great Salt Lake. The luckless employee posted a link to an essay which presumably elaborated on the district’s mission to “educate all students to ensure the future of our democracy.” So, what’s the problem? While the essay writer believes that America is a “representative democracy,” he also believes that Jesus was “one in a long string of ‘historic vampires,’” that we should worship the sun, and that the Virgin Mary was “just an unwed pregnant teenager.” Oh boy. Click-happy, conspiracy-prone parents cried “indoctrination!” and central administrators stuffed themselves with crow. A barrage of calls later, the link vanished into the ether. Note to school districts: If you expect your students to do their homework, you had better do yours, too.
“District parents angry over radical Web link,” by Caleb Warnock, Daily Herald, February 25, 2010
Closing the Expectations Gap 2010: Fifth Annual 50-State Progress Report on the Alignment of High School Policies with the Demands of College and Careers
Janie Scull / March 4, 2010
American Diploma Project Network
The fifth edition of this annual report presents its most encouraging outlook yet on the state of college- and career-ready expectations in the U.S. It looks at whether states’ K-12 standards, high school graduation requirements, assessments, P-20 data systems, and accountability measures are well-aligned. While nationwide adoption of each piece of this puzzle has been gradual (see the 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009 reports), the authors cite a new state-led consensus--that all students should graduate from high school college- and career-ready--as an encouraging sign that states are moving in the right direction. To wit, while only three states had college- and career-ready standards in place five years ago, thirty-one do now, an addition of eight in the last year alone. The rest, report Achieve, are either in the process of overhauling their standards or are waiting for the “Common Core” standards (with which Achieve is involved) as guidance. This is notable because the Obama Administration proposed last week that the reauthorization of ESEA tie Title I funds to “career- and college-ready standards” and because the immediate reaction to that announcement was that the Administration was implicitly requiring that states adopt the CCSSI standards when they come out. Then again, this survey relies on states’ self-reporting--though Achieve requires independent verification, and has itself verified twenty-three states’ claims--and “career- and college-ready” is based on each individual state’s postsecondary and business community’s
March 4, 2010
Ze'Ev Wurman and Sandra Stotsky
Pioneer Institute and Pacific Research Institute
This is an unforgiving analysis of the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI) that will energize ideological opponents of national standards. But please take it easy, at least for a few more days. This critique is based on drafts from several iterations ago. (Final drafts--but still drafts--will see daylight next week, we are assured, and a public-comment period will then commence.) The authors’ complaints are numerous, beginning with the ambiguity of the CCSSI’s “College and Career Ready” mantra, and ending with bad wording, incorrect statements, and gaps in the draft year-by-year sequences. Central to their case is a comparative graphical representation of thirty-two key math standards derived from extent standards in California, Massachusetts, the CCSSI draft, and high-performing countries. The CCSSI standards show some (though not many) gaps in their coverage. Thus, conclude the authors, the “First-Class State Standards” found in CA and MA are superior. (Mind you, the CA and MA standards are superior to those from the 48 other states, too.) The authors also take particular offense at the dearth of English majors and English teachers among the CCSSI drafting committees, and go out of their way to jab at the Gates Foundation, which has been behind many of the moving parts that comprise the CCSSI. As for us, we’ll wait another week and check out the actual “drafts” for ourselves. Find the report here.
March 4, 2010
Center on Education Policy
This short paper is CEP’s take on the reauthorization of ESEA, seeking greater prescription on the front end (standards, testing) and less on the back end (school turnaround efforts)--a bit like Fordham’s own suggestions of a year ago. In particular, they’d keep annual testing in reading and math, as well as the disaggregation of data by subgroup, while scrapping the 2014 proficiency goal and federally mandated sanctions for schools or districts failing to meet AYP. Helpfully, each recommendation is presented in the abstract and then in the more concrete manifestation of ESEA itself i.e., which specific provisions of the law they’d keep, abandon, or change. What’s particularly newsworthy and notable is that CEP’s Jack Jennings, who spent much of his liberal Democratic career staffing the House education committee and who will soon retire from CEP, has sized up the federal role circa 2010 and determined that greater humility is needed. Hurrah for him. Check it out here.