Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 11, Number 16
April 28, 2011
Opinion + Analysis
The problem of education governance in twenty-first century America
It's time to start anew
A Kohn-headed argument
High-flying schools don?t embrace the ?pedagogy of poverty?
Calling all edu-funders!
Urban Catholic schools need YOU
AP for all or success for none?
The dark side of universal access to AP
Do Low-Income Students Have Equal Access to the Highest-Performing Teachers?
Some hard numbers for the debate on the teacher-quality gap
The State of Preschool 2010
A host of ?new normals? for the preschool juggernaut
The Influence of Teachers: Reflections on Teaching and Leadership
A classic chicken-and-egg debate: Fix the teachers or fix the profession?
Unsustainable: A Strategy for Making Public Schooling More Productive, Effective, and Affordable
Separate the faith from the church
Education policy 0 royal wedding 1
Mike and Janie look into the crystal ball of edu-policy, making predictions on the sustainability of the local school board, potential backlash to reform, and the market?s role in education. Amber blows holes in the teacher-quality-gap line of reasoning and Chris gets salty about pepper spray.
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / April 28, 2011
Click to watch a video of this commentary, as part of Fordham's
recent event, "Are School Boards Vital in the 21st Century?"
The shortcomings of elected local school boards are only the most obvious of the many problems of education governance in the United States in 2011. To be sure, those boards are a fundamental part, maybe the largest part, of our customary governance arrangements, but my discontent with them is just part of my larger dissatisfaction with all traditional governance and structural arrangements for K-12 education on these shores.
These arrangements, though they differ some from place to place, generally display four characteristics that make them obsolete at best and dysfunctional at their all-too-common worst:
First, while formal constitutional responsibility for educating kids belongs to the states, the actual delivery of that education falls squarely on local education agencies, typically called districts, which are geographically defined, most often by the boundaries of a city, town, county, or other municipality. Kids are generally educated in public schools operated by these districts.
Second, though states have shouldered some responsibility for financing public education, usually by decreeing a minimum or “foundation” level of per-pupil spending, sizable portions of education revenue are locally generated through property taxes, bond levies, and such. Those amounts differ enormously from place to place within the same state and are uncommonly vulnerable
Kathleen Porter-Magee / April 28, 2011
Kohn constructs a pedagogical strawman
Photo by srqpix
In his most recent missive, Alfie Kohn decries “the pedagogy of poverty”—i.e.: the “drill and kill” method of rote instruction that he sees being thrust upon many low-income students in public district and charter schools around the nation. And on that front, we couldn’t agree more. No students, low-income or otherwise, should be forced to choke down lackluster coursework through lazy pedagogy. But then he kept on writing, as he so often does, falling into emotion and false dichotomies, his logic becoming increasingly murky. He implies, for instance, that having tight classroom management and routines is antithetical to students being able to think deeply about issues. Nonsense. Oftentimes, that is exactly what’s needed to create conditions in which students can learn. Going further, Kohn insinuates that high-performing charters (we assume he means models like KIPP, Achievement First, et al.) are not high-performing at all; the students have been taught to succeed on tests and all traces of intellectualism have been stripped from their schools. Wrong. Done well, many of these schools help push students far beyond low-level test questions. What’s more, plenty of their teaching techniques are effectively used in suburban and private schools around the country as well. (Catholic schools are, for example, known for their tight culture and strict rules—and their long history of success at educating poor children.) There are plenty of thoughtful criticisms to be leveled
April 28, 2011
In New York City and elsewhere, when it comes to student enrollment, St. Joe's parochial school may be losing out to the charter school down the block. Catholic schools have educated urban youths ably for decades—many of them poor, non-Catholic youngsters in desperate need of quality educational alternatives to wretched district schools. Yet urban parochial schools are closing or consolidating in droves, suffering from enrollment declines as potential pupils opt instead for tuition-free charters and from the parallel loss of philanthropic support as donors conclude that these parochial schools are a shaky investment or simply that the charter sector is where the education action is. In response, diocesan school systems in some areas are trimming management costs and trying to spread the fiscal burden across all their parishes, including those without schools. Some dioceses are even considering admitting wealthy students from abroad to subsidize local pupils’ educations. The stakes for American education are high: Continued losses of parochial schools will send more kids back to poorer-quality neighborhood schools, upping the cost to the taxpayer dramatically—and will mean that we’ll have to find ways to create even more quality new schools from scratch. Education philanthropists and voucher proponents: Look alive. You’ve got a chance to do some real good. And never have you been more needed.
“Audacity and Hope at Harlem’s St. Aloysius,” by Sol Stern, City Journal, Spring 2011: Vol. 21, No. 2.
“Making Urban Catholic Schools Viable: Here’s How,” by Patrick J. McCloskey, City Journal, Spring 2011: Vol. 21, No. 2.
April 28, 2011
Babies excited to take their first steps first try out their legs by crawling. Painters looking to become modern-day Michelangelos start honing their craft by mixing colors. And high school students desirous of taking college-level English courses, like those offered by the Advanced Placement program, first learn basic grammar and writing. Yet this fundamental concept of sequential progress is too often lost in the “AP fervor” that currently grips American high schools. This week’s case in point is Boston English High, a struggling school (among the nation’s worst) with big-time AP enrollment (within Beantown, it’s second only to Boston Latin). The story of how its AP enrollment surged is instructive. Rather than carefully preparing pupils for the rigor of challenging twelfth-grade classes (starting in middle school or before), English’s teachers and administrators instead force-enrolled students with “potential” in AP courses. This meant an infusion of under-prepared pupils into what should be the most rigorous English course offered at the school—and not surprisingly, many of them floundered. Of course there are benefits to introducing lower-achieving students to motivated peers, quality AP teachers, and rigorous, stimulating content. But when “AP for All” is implemented in a hurry, without attention to preparing students over the long haul to succeed in it, the costs far outweigh the benefits.
“A lesson in Advanced mis-Placement,” by Junia Yearwood, Boston Globe, April 25, 2011.
Chris Irvine / April 28, 2011
Conducted by Mathematica, this Institute of Education Sciences (IES) brief sheds needed light on a controversial education-policy topic: The teacher-quality gap. While it is well known that disadvantaged youngsters have teachers with less experience and fewer credentials, there is precious little evidence showing that these easy-to-measure attributes correlate with teacher effectiveness. So IES decided to look at effectiveness itself. Through an analysis of value-added data for over 11,000 teachers in ten large districts, analysts found that, compared with their well-off peers, low-income middle schoolers had dramatically less access to the highest-performing teachers (defined as the top 20 percent of faculties, based on average student performance across multiple years, within each subject or grade level). But here’s a head scratcher: There was no significant difference in access at the elementary level. Parsing data out by district, researchers unearthed still more interesting findings. For example, one district saw an abundance of the highest-quality teachers in their low-income elementary schools (35 percent in the poorest quintile compared to 12 percent in the wealthiest). Unfortunately, the brief stops short of diving into the policies and practices that might have helped districts like this one close (or reverse) the teacher-effectiveness gap. One hopes a part II is on the horizon.
|Click to listen to commentary on the IES brief from the Education Gadfly Show podcast
Steven Glazerman and Jeffrey Max, “Do Low-Income Students Have Equal Access to the Highest-Performing Teachers?,”
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / April 28, 2011
For the ninth time, the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER), based at Rutgers, has issued a voluminous “yearbook” on the progress of state-funded preschool programs. This is all part of NIEER's commitment—and that of the yearbook’s primary funding source, the Pew Charitable Trusts—to making publicly financed, state-sponsored preschool universally available across the U.S. I’ve long harbored serious misgivings about the “universal” part. Because some kids really need a ton of preschooling and others don’t, in a time of tight resources, it makes more policy sense to focus on intensive programs for the neediest youngsters rather than on what generally turn out to be rather thin programs for everyone. And today resources are tighter than ever. In fact, 2010 is the first time since NIEER began tracking these numbers that state funding for preschool actually declined, and the yearbook states clearly that sans short-term federal subsidy it would have declined precipitously. This the authors naturally lament. But as tight resources—the “new normal”—beset federal, state, and local budgets now and for the foreseeable future, such lamentation might better be turned to refocusing the policy objective. (A new normal is also going to arrive in the universal preschool-advocacy sector in the near future, as Pew winds down its generous support of such activities and moves on to other topics—ironically including the effects of the “new normal” on state and local budgets.) Another problem echoed in this yearbook: NIEER’s definition of “quality” preschool, while faithful to widely held views in the early-childhood
Gerilyn Slicker / April 28, 2011
A compilation of interviews, op-eds, blog posts, and stories drawn from journalist/educator John Merrow’s own experience, this self-published book frames the debate around teacher quality in a spunky, fun-to-read way. Writing in a style that blends journalism with story-telling, Merrow deploys his material to discuss tenure, charter schooling, the leadership shortage, and more. At its core, the book tackles two big questions: “Are mediocre teachers the heart of education’s problems? Or is it the job itself, with its low pay and even lower prestige?” He skillfully walks the reader through each facet of this slippery topic. After what seems to be much internal strife, Merrow settles the debate (for himself, anyway) in the book’s final chapter. To him, it is the job that is the problem; teaching must be professionalized. To that end, he recommends five tactics to making teaching a “better job,” including: Have teacher evaluations of students count at least as much as one-time standardized test scores; give principals autonomy to hire their staffs; and recognize that the job of teaching is to help young people learn the skills needed to inquire, not regurgitate answers. Whether you agree with Merrow’s conclusions or not, he provides an enjoyable, highly readable text, and a useful framing of an ever-important debate.
|Click to listen to an interview between Mike Petrilli and author
Daniela Fairchild / April 28, 2011
This Education|Evolving book punches hard from its first pages. “This country’s current system of K-12 schooling is not financially viable and is becoming more inefficient year by year,” it tells us. But that’s not all. “When [rethinking education], it is necessary to divide the goals society has for public schooling from the particular system set up to pursue them.” To stem the tide of American K-12 overspending (and underachieving), the volume argues for a modular, customized approach to education, pulling ideas from Christensen’s, Horn’s, and Johnson’s Disruptive Innovation (but not going quite as far as Hess and Manno in Customized Schooling). The author’s suggestions are bountiful, including: Open doors to research and development, improve the “net labor” output through improved student productivity, and put teachers in charge of school budgets. One of its major tenets—that reformers shouldn’t seek a single solution that works today, but create conditions that allow the system to innovate and grow—is indeed central to successful education policy. There is plenty to ponder here and those ready to wrap their brains around a radical restructuring of the process of education delivery would be wise to give it a close read.