Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 10, Number 18
May 13, 2010
Opinion + Analysis
Chinese alarm bells
An alarming failure to communicate
Bing, bang, boom, ca-ching
A Chinese Sarafina
Failure to launch?
Learning as We Go: Why School Choice is Worth the Wait
Trends in the Use of School Choice: 1993 to 2007
Amber, the fashionista
This week, Mike and Stafford discuss education reform's newfound Wall Street heft, what to do about expensive teachers, and whether we really want China supplying our Chinese teachers. Then Amber gives us more evidence that nothing works (in gold-standard studies, at least) and Janie won't let Rate that Reform take a kiddie sabbatical?a.k.a., temporary homeschooling.
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / May 13, 2010
In this new section, which will appear occasionally, we will present two points of view on the same topic. In our inaugural edition, Fordham's own Chester Finn and Asia Society's Chris Livaccari debate Confucius Classrooms, a K-12 Chinese language program for American schools subsidized by the Chinese government.
Is it possible that money-strapped U.S. educators—school and college alike—are selling their students’ birthrights to Beijing for a mess of free Mandarin lessons? Are we in the early stages of outsourcing our education system to the same country to which we’ve surrendered our manufacturing sector and entrusted our national debt?
Okay, that’s probably too dire, at least for now, but watch the Chinese education ministry extend its tentacles worldwide, from some 550 higher-ed programs (“Confucius Institutes”) already operating in ninety countries (including almost seventy on American shores) to the newer but no less worrisome K-12 language programs that are taking the U.S. by storm. These “Confucius Classrooms” are multiplying like, well, like everything else about China. One of Beijing’s chief U.S. partners in this venture, the Asia Society, has already opened twenty pilot sites in American public schools and seeks to launch eighty more by fall 2011. Besides that, some districts and states—notably North Carolina—are working directly with the Chinese government, while still more districts are turning to their local university-based Confucius Institute to get started.
The basic offer is surely tempting, and doubly so in a down economy: At
C. Peter Svahn / May 13, 2010
Ludwig Wittgenstein famously gave birth to analytic philosophy by declaring, “The limits of my language are the limits of my world.” As we enter the second decade of the most globalized century in human history, we can ill afford to be bound by our linguistic limits. The world is changing rapidly—faster than many of us can keep up—and the growing importance of Asia to the future of the United States has now been a fact of life for decades.
Asia Society has been working since 1956 to strengthen relationships and promote understanding among the people, leaders, and institutions of the United States and Asia across the fields of education, the arts, policy, and business. Asia Society’s work to build a Confucius Classrooms Network of U.S. schools with exemplary Chinese language programs is part of a broader strategy to help prepare Americans to communicate effectively with the rest of the world and compete in the global economy.
There is perhaps no country in the world today more important to the prosperity and stability of the United States than China. A 2007 report from the National Bureau of Economic Research forecasts that by 2040 China’s GDP will be larger than that of the entire rest of the world, and that the Chinese market will be larger than those of the U.S., European Union, Japan, and India combined. Success in that market and cooperation between the U.S. and China on a range of issues is
May 13, 2010
It was a long time coming, but education reformers have realized a new political necessity: bucks to back their bang. And the bucks seem willing and able. A number of New York financiers have taken an increasing interest in education reform, charter schools in particular, under the leadership and guidance of Democrats for Education Reform. These folks (and their firms) are giving speeches, attending fundraisers, and sitting on charter school boards—and could be the much needed counterbalance to the political and monetary heft of the nation’s teachers’ unions, by far the biggest political spenders. DFER, along with Harlem Village Academies and Teach For America, has even hired a top-notch lobbyist and PR firm to advance their cause in the statehouse. Undemocratic? Maybe, but no less so than teachers’ unions extracting dues from their (taxpayer-supported) members to fill the coffers of friendly candidates and pols. Some will say “two wrongs don’t make a right” but we’d prefer to call this leveling the playing field.
“Charter schools’ new cheerleaders: Financiers,” by Trip Gabriel and Jennifer Medina, New York Times, May 9, 2010
“Reformers’ secret weapon: Class-act lobbyist,” New York Post, May 5, 2010
May 13, 2010
Think domestic identity cards went the way of Apartheid? Think again. The Chinese hukou system is alive and well. Every Chinese man, woman, and child is identified by their place of origin, a locale passed from mother to child, and classified as “urban” or “agricultural.” And it’s very hard to change your stars—even children who’ve never even visited their “home” town are classified by their mother’s hukou. So what does this have to do with education? Many rural Chinese are moving to urban centers, but their hukou basically denies them access to many of the urban services provided in those centers, including education. Migrant children are forced to attend and pay for private schools (often run by other migrants), while their urban hukou holding neighbors attend free state schools. Universities operate on hukou quotas, with huge numbers of spots held for Beijing and Shanghai residents. Migrant students often have to travel halfway across the country back to their “home” village to take annual tests, a prohibitive measure for the less well-off. All of this denies an affordable education to an entire class of children, while also crushing their university aspirations or any chance at social mobility, just because of a piece of paper. As if China wasn’t doing enough to oppress its citizens.
“Invisible and heavy shackles,” The Economist, May 6, 2010
May 13, 2010
What does it take to be a successful parent on Manhattan’s Upper East Side? The New Yorker can give you a clue: An iPhone, the perfect family dog, and a membership to the Parents League of New York. For the paltry price of $195, a Parents League membership (good through the 2010-2011 academic year, of course) opens the door to things most parents don’t even know they need, like bi-weekly workshops on preschool admissions. (Obviously, the key to an Ivy League diploma is the right preschool.) You can also attend the college admission events where you’ll find the parents of mostly middle schoolers, and a few late bloomers whose children are in ninth grade. About that family dog…don’t worry, you can sign up for “Parenting Workshop: Choosing the Right Dog for Your Family.”
“Ready for Launch,” by Mark Singer, The New Yorker, May 17, 2010
Kathryn Mullen Upton / May 26, 2010
Sean Conlan, Alex Medler, and Suzanne Weiss
National Association of Charter School Authorizers
NACSA’s second nationwide survey of authorizers (aka “sponsors” in Ohio) contains several policy insights (as reviewed by my colleague, Janie Scull), as well as interesting findings regarding “practitioner basics” for those of us that authorize schools (the Fordham Foundation sponsors six charter schools). The survey examines how authorizers approach key practices that are critical in the life of a charter school: application process, performance contracting, oversight and evaluation, and charter renewal.
NACSA identified 872 total authorizers across the nation, and found that 86 percent of those authorize five or fewer charter schools; 6 percent authorize six to nine schools; and 8 percent authorize ten or more schools. Authorizers in this last category oversee well over half (64 percent) of all the charter schools in the nation. One of the most interesting findings for those of us here in Ohio relates to services provided by authorizers. Specifically, among small authorizers (ten or fewer schools), 66 percent provide financial services; 89 percent provide training on improving instruction; 72 percent provide special education services; 74 percent provide data analysis; and 85 percent provide training on special education requirements.
Interesting stuff, considering we recently found that of Ohio’s approximately 67 active authorizers, two authorize one-third of all Ohio charter schools, and 52 authorize two or fewer schools. Ohio’s authorizers vary in their roles and the degrees to which they provide services
Effectiveness of Selected Supplemental Reading Comprehension Interventions: Findings from Two Student Cohorts
Amber M. Winkler, Ph.D. / May 13, 2010
Institute of Education Sciences
Add this to the list of high-dollar federally-supported gold-plated randomized studies showing “no impact” of an education intervention. A second year follow-up evaluation, it investigates the effect of three supplemental reading curricula: Project CRISS, ReadAbout, and Read for Real. The original (first year) study examined use of the curricula in ten urban districts and its impact on the academic performance of over 6,000 fifth graders after one year (2006-07). Not surprisingly for an intervention with such a short time period, there was no effect. This new installment analyzes a second year of data for the original cohort, who did not use the programs in year two, to see if there were any longer-term effects from exposure to the curricula during year one. There weren’t. Analysts also added a new cohort of fifth-graders in year two (2007-08); these students used the curriculum the second year and tended to have teachers who had experience with the curriculum (having taught it to the previous cohort). Here, one of the curricula (ReadAbout) had a moderately positive impact on reading comprehension in social studies (but not on general reading comprehension or reading comprehension in science). There were no impacts elsewhere. If you’re not snoring yet, there is one interesting tidbit: None of these programs led to an increase in teachers’ use of “informational texts” (also known as content-based reading). Scholars such as E.D. Hirsch maintain that the teaching of reading comprehension
Jamie Davies O'Leary / May 12, 2010
Paul T. Hill
Hoover Institution Press
Why haven’t school choice programs—especially charters and vouchers—been the smashing success many of us expected? In this new book (which was the subject, along with Paul Peterson’s new work on choice, of a recent Fordham event), Paul Hill explains. For the most part, it was a matter of misplaced assumptions, namely that choice would stimulate a “virtuous cycle” of school improvement. Think flow chart: Schools of choice create competition; parents vote with their feet and enroll their students in such schools; public schools feel pressure to improve; entrepreneurs create more new schools based on rising demand; new schools pay “premiums” for better teachers; and so on. But there are numerous realities, explains Hill, which throw a wrench in this circuit, none of which should come as a surprise. Most notably, education systems are “entrenched” in procedure, compliance, and employee protection, and often debilitated by nonsensical state and district laws and policies. But all is not lost, says Hill, and we certainly shouldn’t give up on school choice. He provides several recommendations to fix these problems, including “re-missioning” education toward continuous improvement (via performance-based “portfolio-run” districts, a topic Hill has engaged with before). We agree; school choice is worth the wait—and the fight. You can buy the book here.
Kathryn Mullen Upton / May 12, 2010
National Center for Education Statistics
Sarah Grady, Stacey Bielick, and Susan Aud
This statistical analysis from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) breaks down trends in enrollment in all major venues for K-12 education: public and private, charter and district, plus homeschooling. The report also examines characteristics of students as well as parents’ satisfaction with and involvement in such schools.
The study is an update to previous NCES reports on school choice and at 77 pages contains more data than any review can thoroughly describe. But, a few trends during this 14-year span stand out:
- The percentage of students in grades 1-12 attending assigned public schools decreased from 80 percent to 73 percent. In effect, more students and their families are availing themselves of school choice options.
- In 2007, just two percent of students in grades 1-12 were enrolled in charter schools. A much higher percentage of charter students hailed from cities (64 percent) when compared to students in other public schools (30 percent).
- Public school options account for most of the increase in the use of school choice. In 1993, 11 percent of students chose to enroll in a public school other than their assigned neighborhood school. By 2007, that number grew to 16 percent. In the meantime, the number of students in both private religious and private non-religious schools grew by one percent each (from eight to nine percent, and two to three percent, respectively).
Thus, the expansion
Daniela Fairchild / May 13, 2010
Madeleine Sackler, director
The Lottery, LLC
Classroom educators may have Stand and Deliver, Freedom Writers and Lean on Me for inspiration, but thanks to a spurt of new documentaries, education reformers now have an excuse to pop some corn too. One of the best is The Lottery. Compellingly understated in its delivery, it tracks the springtime lottery at Harlem Success Academy, a high-achieving New York City charter school run by Eva Moskowitz. Each year, thousands of families apply for one of the few hundred seats available at the school. The movie follows four black Harlem families in the months leading up to the lottery, highlighting their aspirations and family situations and juxtaposing these against the political backlash and hostile community atmosphere in which Harlem Success Academy operates. Fusing all aspects of the education reform debate—from the struggles of the school choice movement to the political clout of the Goliath teachers’ unions—The Lottery reminds us that our outdated and outmoded system is seriously broken. Watch the trailer and get inspired here.