Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 867-5309, (Love Potion) Number 9
April 1, 2011
Opinion + Analysis
Let us explain...
Keeping the ?classy? in ?classified?
Can't erase the past
The real PISA results are in
Teachers who get picked last in gym class
Don?t let them teach your kids math
Gimme more, more, more!
GOP govs get greedy
A boon for the coin-op industry
Ravitching: Loving Myself as an Immortal
Oprah didn?t see this one coming
By Diane Ravitch
The Porcupine Eater: Bees Won't Cut It in My Town
Think Michelle Rhee is tough? Try Vince Gray
The Final and Absolutely Definitive Study on Merit Pay
A cupcake a day?
Leaving a scorched earth of nicknames behind
From the vault: The best of the podcast bloopers.
April 1, 2011
An open letter to Gladfly readers from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute:
We at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the Education Gladfly offer our sincerest apology to our cherished readers and innumerable followers. We’re painfully aware that the press attention Fordham has received this week, in consequence of the 1,000-plus leaked inter-office emails and financial records, has cast our organization in what some might view as a negative light. Many of you are likely surprised, confused, and possibly even offended by what you’ve read. This letter is meant to clear the air and set the record straight.
To begin, allegations that Fordham has hawked its mission to the Gates Foundation are, frankly, hurtful. Those budget line items, carelessly titled “selling ourselves to the highest bidder,” refer to some extracurricular fundraising undertaken by Fordham blogger and former staffer Liam Julian. Gladfly readers will also note that this source of revenue was taken off the books as of our October 2008 board meeting. (It never amounted to much scratch, anyway.)
Second, any references to making teacher-union members “drink our Kool-Aid” in no way allude to cults, comets, or brainwashing those with differing opinions. Rather, they referred to a serious policy forum to which we invited participants from across the ideological and political spectrum; at said forum, we challenged all to a few fraternity-style drinking games as a good-faith gesture. When some attendees declined to participate in the merriment, we harassed, lightly threatened, and mildly hazed them. But trust us, we would never attempt anything as base and horrific as brainwashing.
April 1, 2011
A dark shadow has been cast over the widely-acclaimed prowess of Finland, Singapore, and Shanghai on recent international tests. Careful investigative reporting has found evidence of widespread cheating in all three locales, with teachers and government workers erasing and replacing students’ incorrect answers on PISA and TIMSS test papers. (In Shanghai, we learn, uncooperative teachers simply went missing.) Thus far, however, reactions to the news have been mixed. Finnish Minister of Education Henna Virkkunen asked unapologetically, “What did you expect us to do? We’ve got to protect our children from the emotional blow of bad test scores. They’re fragile creatures, you know, and we have fewer than a million of them.” OECD Directorate for Education head Andreas Schleicher released a statement embracing cheating as a “twenty-first century skill” and promising that this important capability will be assessed by PISA in the future. And U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan tweeted “How do you like me now, Singapore!?”
“Unlike Charlie Sheen, Finland and Singapore are NOT winning,” by Greg Bottomo, U-S-A! U-S-A! Today, March 29, 2011.
April 1, 2011
After the raging success of its teacher-value-added articles, the La-La Limes went fishing for another prime-time exposé. And they landed themselves a keeper. This week, the paper released data on LAUSD teachers’ weights and body mass indices (BMI). As it turns out, it’s not just the wheels on the (school) bus that are round, round, round. “The public has a right to know,” read the Times article, “especially as taxpayers are footing the hefty healthcare bills.” Going further, the Times found a strong negative correlation between teachers’ BMI and student test scores in fifth- and sixth-grade mathematics, demonstrating, statistically, that bigger isn’t always better. The findings provoked a predictable response from the city’s famously militant teacher union. According to UTLA President A.J. Duffy, this is “just another egregious example of the lack of district support for teachers. If the district had agreed to pay for lipo during the latest round of collective bargaining, LAUSD wouldn’t be in this pickle. Er, éclair.”
“Hey chubby, get out of the classroom,” by Richard Simmons, La-La Limes, March 30, 2011.
April 1, 2011
GOP governors like Scott Walker, Mitch Daniels, and Chris Christie have tasted the ambrosia of winning and the nectar of power. And they want more, lots more. Since these state leaders clinched roll-backs to collective-bargaining rights, they have become markedly more ambitious, almost manically so. Yesterday, Governor Walker signed HB123 into law, obliging all Wisconsin teachers to wear state-sanctioned uniforms. Two days prior, Governor Daniels autographed a piece of legislation limiting teachers’ time in the faculty lounge to fifteen minutes every six hours. As for Christie, his latest budget proposes using teachers’ lunch money to fill the state’s $10 billion budget shortfall. Asked by a reporter why he’s such a big fat meanie, Christie replied, “Joel Klein made me do it.”
“Give a governor an inch…,” by The Associated Steam Press, New Jersey Diamond-Ledger, April 1, 2011.
April 1, 2011
For some districts in Ohio, stretching the school dollar is no longer necessary. Neither are layoffs and other expense reductions. Thanks to a neo-Marxist initiative by Governor John Kasich (meant to reallocate the financial burden of schools to those who most benefit from them), entrepreneurial districts now charge students for sundry perks, such as lockers and bathroom usage, and also provide various “upgrades”—all for the right price. At Lincoln Penny School near Toledo, for example, 90 percent of students now store their books in coin-operated lockers; some students pay a premium above the fifty-cent basic-access fee for an air-conditioned version; and a few even drop $200 per month to rent walk-in lockers, each equipped with an Xbox Kinect and shower. Access to school restrooms requires a Sacagawea dollar; for five of the same you get a private stall. When asked why the school is nickel-and-diming its pupils, Penny’s principal replied, “Well, let’s be frank about this. We’re not nickel-and-diming them. We’re quarter-and-dollaring them. Education is expensive, and someone’s got to pay for their lifestyle.” Buckeye native John Boehner teared up when discussing Kasich’s bold new plan: “I’m just so happy that children today will have the same shot at the American Dream as I had.” And Akron industrialist David Brennan—who won the bid to manufacture
Diane Ravitch / April 1, 2011
Longtime Fordham friend and acclaimed education historian Diane Ravitch, author of last year’s The Death and Life of the Great American School System, has agreed to showcase here a brief excerpt from her next best seller, Ravitching: Loving Myself as an Immortal, to be published by the L. Ron Hubbard Press in September.
In the fall of 2010, I decided to completely revamp my home-entertainment system. Best Buy was refusing to special order VHS tapes for me anymore, and I was starting to understand the benefits of surround sound and a speaker set. As part of that transition, I went through all of my old videos, boxing them up for storage and making room for the newer DVDs (of course, I couldn’t just get rid of them!). When I came across my old favorite, Risky Business, I had to pop it in the player and relive the joys. Watching the familiar plot unfold, however, I was struck by how unactualized Tom Cruise was in that movie. As I watched him slide across the screen, I wondered what had changed so much for Cruise in the past thirty years. What was the turning point in his life? And, more importantly, how could I have a similar conversion experience?
Then I got it: Scientology. That was—that is—the missing piece in my life, the truth I needed to see the world more broadly and understand the issues in our education system more deeply. In this book, I describe my path to discovering Scientology and
April 1, 2011
While most politicians wait to finish their political careers before writing memoirs, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray is bucking the trend with the release of his new book: The Porcupine Eater. The volume, which chronicles the mayor’s story from cradle to city hall, provides a compelling narrative of the man behind the mustache and his commitment to, well, whatever Adrian Fenty didn’t support. To understand the book’s somewhat peculiar title, we turn to the foreword by AFT president Randi Weingarten. There we learn that she had recounted the now-famous Michelle Rhee bee-eating incident to Gray while the two were attending a function at the National Zoo. The mayor became enraged by the tale, yelling “She thinks that’s tough?!?” before ripping off his shirt outside the porcupine exhibit, hurdling the fence, and capturing one of the critters barehanded … “He had this crazy look in his eyes as he devoured it whole,” recalls Weingarten. “With needles still protruding from his lips, he let out a roar of victory and screamed, ‘how’s that for tough!?!’ Right then and there, I knew this man had what it takes to lead the nation’s capital.”
Vincent Gray, The Porcupine Eater: Bees Won’t Cut It in My Town (Washington, AC/DC: Quill Pig Press, 2011).
April 1, 2011
This rigorous empirical study, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, tracks a teacher-bonus pilot program conducted by Albuquerque charter schools between 2005 and 2010. Every year, each participating teacher was offered a unique reward, to be collected if he/she was able to raise student achievement in his/her respective subject by at least two full grade levels. Potential bonuses ranged from $250,000 in cold, hard cash at the high end to dollar-store trinkets at the low end. The findings offer sweeping implications for teacher compensation: Controlling for race and class, teachers who were offered a week’s supply of chocolate-frosted cupcakes were most likely to meet the desired student-achievement goal. (Those offered vanilla-frosted goodies only moved their students 0.4 grade levels.) The report concludes with recommendations for districts seeking to implement effective, lasting, and relatively affordable merit-pay systems. Forget the big-buck bonuses. Just never skimp on the butter and always use unsweetened cocoa powder from Cote d’Ivoire for the frosting. Thank goodness that debate has been settled.
Linda Oh My Darlin’-Hammond, “The Final and Absolutely Definitive Study on Merit Pay” (Music City, TN: Vanderbuilt/Randy Publications, March 2011).