Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 10, Number 20
May 27, 2010
Opinion + Analysis
Rushing to judgment?
Moving beyond adoption
Profiting from for-profits
Charter School Funding: Inequity Persists
Condition of Education 2010
Lost on the ed reform island
Did you watch the ?Lost? series finale? Don?t worry, Rick?s here to explain, before debating Mike on for-profit organizations, Representative Chu?s new ?turnaround? plan, and the timeline snafu with RTT apps and the Common Core standards release date. Then Amber unpacks the new charter funding inequality study from Ball State and Janie takes Rate that Reform to Six Flags (by mistake!).
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / May 27, 2010
You could be forgiven for thinking that the education messiah will arrive on June 2, considering all the hype, angst, dither and pother that already surround next week’s promised unveiling of the final “common core” state standards (CCSS). I’m eager to see them, too, and to examine what’s changed during the comment-and-revision process that followed publication of the March drafts. But like so much else in contemporary American life, an orgy of carefully-orchestrated public relations ought not substitute for the careful scrutiny that these standards deserve.
The earlier drafts were unexpectedly and encouragingly good, particularly when placed alongside the crummy standards that too many states have come up with on their own. Fordham has been reviewing state academic standards since 1997, and we’ve been appalled by their general mediocrity even as we’ve been impressed and encouraged by a few. The final CCSSI standards would have to be a lot worse than the drafts for them not to represent significantly higher and more thoughtful academic expectations (in the two core subjects that they encompass) than those that presently drive K-12 education in much of the land.
It’s that widespread mediocrity, more than anything else, that has led me and my colleagues to favor some form of national standards—on the assumption, that is, that they’ll be more rigorous than what we’re using today. Plenty of other arguments can be made for national standards, including the fact that most big, modern, mobile countries on our
Kathleen Porter-Magee / May 27, 2010
The final drafts of the Common Core State Standards for English language arts and math are slated to be released next week. While there has been some controversy in a handful of states over their adoption, the majority of states seem poised to adopt these standards quickly and with little fanfare.
One consequence of moving quickly towards adoption has been surprisingly little public discussion of what state-level implementation of these standards should entail. Yet this topic should concern everyone who wants to see the new standards actually drive student achievement.
Just as it would be irresponsible for wannabe parents to adopt a baby without intelligently weighing the many challenges that accompany raising that infant to adulthood, so it would be foolish for states to adopt new standards without seriously pondering—and committing themselves to—their successful, long-term implementation.
In reality, however, it’s impossible to divorce successful implementation of rigorous standards from the systemic education reforms that will create the conditions necessary for these standards to affect achievement in the classroom.
To date, most of the meager discussion around implementation of CCSS has consisted of such platitudes as “we will, of course, need to adequately support teachers by providing rigorous new curricula and targeted professional development and training.” That’s simplistic and glib, for it masks innumerable specifics that will make the difference between these standards being a primary driver of student achievement or just a form of wishful thinking.
After all, as we’ve learned from those states that
May 27, 2010
This fall, the Supreme Court will consider the constitutionality of Arizona’s thirteen-year-old tax credit scholarship program, under which credits (against state taxes) can be taken by those who donate to special “school tuition organizations” (STOs); these orgs then award scholarships for students to attend private schools of their choice. The problem, allege the plaintiffs, is that most of the STOs award scholarships to religious schools—in some cases, specific religious schools—or to students of a certain religion or gender (e.g., to single sex schools). Nor does the AZ law require that recipients be needy and/or underserved by the public school system (as does the Ohio voucher program that was okayed in another Supreme Court case, Zelman.) The Ninth Circuit Court ruled against the program on the grounds that it “lacks religious neutrality and true private choice in making scholarships available to parents.” So SCOTUS again gets to ponder: Is the purpose of vouchers/tax credits simply to give parents more choices or to help woefully underserved students get a better education? Dare we suggest that it might be both?
“U.S. Supreme Court to weigh Arizona’s tax credit law,” by Pat Kossan and Ronald J. Hansen, The Arizona Republic, May 25, 2010
May 27, 2010
Is there a place for for-profit organizations in public education? If i3 and higher ed are any indication, the Administration rejoinder seems to be no. Gadfly wonders, though, are we being distracted by tax status to the detriment of evaluating quality? Yes, for-profits may be tempted to cut corners to fatten the bottom line. But they can also bring unique strengths to the table, such as a relentless pursuit of cost efficiencies, motivation to expand, nimbleness in resource allocation—and up-front private capital. Let’s table their tax status for a second and ask ourselves a different query: Are they doing a good job?
“Opinion: In Education, For-Profit Gets a Bad Rap,” by Michael Horn, Huffington Post, May 20, 2010
“The For-Profit Question,” by Frederick M. Hess, Rick Hess Straight Up a blog of Education Week, May 24, 2010
May 27, 2010
The Queen hath spoken and British “charters” are one step closer to reality. Tuesday’s “Queen’s Speech,” a monarchical tradition that sets the agenda for a new session of Parliament, announced an “Academies Bill” (officially introduced yesterday) that would make it tons easier for state-run schools to become “academies.” These are publically-funded privately-run schools, originally created by Tony Blair to fix the lowest-performing schools in the land. This time around, though, all schools are eligible—indeed encouraged. Newly seated Education Secretary Michael Gove hopes academies will become the “norm.” High-performing schools’ conversion process will be fast tracked so that as early as this September, there could be as many as 3,000 of them (up from fewer than 300 now). A second bill to be introduced this summer would add “free” schools, new schools started by teachers, parents, or community groups, also publically-funded but largely freed from state oversight. (In American parlance, we might say “academies” are conversion charters and “free” schools are start-ups.) Further, the fall bill will overhaul the country’s school oversight system, change the ways in which principals are held responsible for achievement levels and gap closing, slim down the national curriculum, and provide extra per-pupil dollars for the poorest students. Is this a revolution for choice and accountability? We’ll have to wait and see.
“EVERY school should become an academy: Gove’s challenge to England’s 20,000 headteachers,” The Daily Mail, May 26, 2010
Stafford Palmieri / May 27, 2010
Meaghan Batdorff, Larry Maloney, Jay May, Daniela Doyle, Bryan Hassel
Ball State University
This long-anticipated report reaffirms a sad reality: Charter schools are woefully underfunded compared to their district counterparts. It updates and expands upon an earlier Fordham report that used 2002-03 data. This one examines 2006-07 funding across twenty-five states, capturing more than 90 percent of the country’s charter school population. It also deploys a more finely-tuned methodology. On average, charter schools receive $2,247 fewer than district schools in the same state, a 19.2 percent difference in per-pupil revenue, a slightly narrower gap than four years before. Yet funding disparities widened over the same period in a handful of “deep dive” districts to the tune of $3,727 or 27.8 percent. Disparities ranged from just 5 percent in Indiana to a whopping 41 percent in D.C. For an average 250-student charter in the nation’s capital, that’s a gap of over $3 million. District disparities ranged from 4.5 percent in Albuquerque to 50.5 percent in Newark. The study also includes detailed state profiles and extensive slicing and dicing by funding sources (local, state, federal etc.), grades served, student demographics, and more. It’s a very valuable, albeit rather dispiriting, addition to our understanding of the charter cosmos within the U.S. K-12 universe. Read it here.
Stafford Palmieri / May 27, 2010
National Center for Education Statistics
This edition of NCES’s long-running series is a dense and sobering tome. It looks at forty-nine indicators under five familiar headings; this year’s special analysis considers high-poverty schools, a category which serves 17 percent of students. As always, the interesting tidbits are strewn throughout. For example, Roman Catholic schools still make up the greatest percentage of private school enrollment, though unsurprisingly their numbers declined from 45 to 39 percent between 1995-96 and 2007-08. However, because the report defines those Catholic schools as ones run by a parish (not a diocese or independently), the report partially attributes the decline to shifting management structures, rather than fewer students. In another section we discover that there remain significant differences in earnings based on gender and race. For example, in 2008, 25-34 year old males with a B.A. earned $53,000 on average, while women in the same age group with the same degree just $42,000. Meanwhile, Asian young adults with a tertiary degree earned more than their white or black peers with comparable attainment. Back in the realm of secondary education, graduation rates displayed no marked trends: eleven states saw their rates go up between 2000 and 2007, while five states saw their rates go down. In 2006-07, Nevada’s rate clocked in lowest, at 52 percent; Vermont came out on top at 88.6 percent. That’s but a sampling of the findings in this 400-page document. If you’re
Daniela Fairchild / May 27, 2010
Robin Lake, ed.
Center on Reinventing Public Education
Nearly 11 percent of charter students require special education services, and this book addresses the challenges—and opportunities—faced by charters in educating them. Though it’s a collection of essays, it amounts to a comprehensive overview of the topic, addressing the legal and practical issues both of specialized SPED charters and of disabled youngsters attending general charters. Things like limited access to district service infrastructure and lower funding levels (see above) hit charters serving SPED pupils particularly hard, and of course special education is governed by a complex regulatory web that limits school flexibility. Still, charters’ autonomy lets them take the IEP to a new level. The book uses six case studies to distill five characteristics of strong charter programs for students with disabilities: school-wide commitment to meeting individual needs, effective professional development, custom student intervention, focus on effective instruction, and safe and respectful student-to-student interactions. Overall, a fine primer for those interested in where these two sectors meet. Buy it here.