Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 11, Number 33
August 25, 2011
Opinion + Analysis
One size fits most
How to marry two contradictory world views on reform
Duncan vs. Perry
Bipartisanship has sailed
The school-to-prison pipeline
Disciplinary action gone wild
Globally Challenged: Are U.S. Students Ready to Compete?
We're starting to see a trend here
Grade Inflation for Education Majors and Low Standards for Teachers: When Everyone Makes the Grade
The proficiency illusion hits higher ed
Husky sexy voices
Mike and Rick get punchy this week, asking Arne Duncan what he was thinking going after Rick Perry, why the cheating scandals are snowballing (and why people thought it would be otherwise), and if four-day weeks are as bad as they seem. Amber goes back to ed school to pad her GPA and Chris reminds a Florida teacher of his first-amendment rights.
Michael J. Petrilli / August 25, 2011
If you step back from day to day vitriol that characterizes the current education-policy “debate,” and glimpse the larger picture, two worldviews on education reform emerge. One, articulated by the likes of Linda Darling-Hammond, Marc Tucker, David Cohen, and others, obsesses about curricular “coherence,” and the lack thereof in our nation’s schools. The other, envisioned by Rick Hess, Tom Vander Ark, Paul Hill, and many more, seeks to unleash America’s trademark dynamism inside our K-12 education system. Though these ideas appear to pull in opposite directions, they might best work in concert.
Let’s start with the Coherence Camp. Its argument, most recently made in David Cohen’s Teaching and Its Predicaments, is that America’s teachers are being set up to fail by a system that is fragmented, divided, and confused about its mission. Teachers are given little clear guidance about what’s expected of them. Even when goals are clear, these teachers lack the tools to succeed: Pre-service training is completely disconnected from classroom expectations, and never ending “reform” pulls up the roots of promising efforts before they are given time to flower.
Asking people with diverse views to
coalesce around one educational model is a little bit like asking all
citizens to choose a single religion.
The Coherence Camp looks longingly at Europe and Asia, where many (national) systems offer teachers the
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / August 25, 2011
The gloves are off. What vestiges remained of bipartisanship on education in Washington has been buried. And education may yet turn into a major issue in the 2012 presidential race.
All this in the wake of Rick Perry’s recent entry into that race. Though the Governor has not (yet) put education on his campaign agenda—it is not, for example, one of the four issues highlighted on his new Perry for President website—he has, on multiple occasions, depicted Texas as an independent-minded model of educational progress. Everyone knows that he wanted no part of Race to the Top or of the Common Core standards. Nor is it any secret that he thinks the federal government should butt out of just about everything. Or that he has many bones to pick with higher education in the Lone Star State and beyond.
Last week Arne Duncan, usually a nonpolitical sort of guy, went after Perry, six-guns blazing, regarding the Texas education record. And the retaliation against Duncan’s attack has been swift and aggressive.
Perry’s folks have already responded to Duncan, as have many others (from within Texas and without). More such jousting will continue and probably intensify. But this issue isn’t just a Perry-Duncan (or even a Perry-Obama) thing. Shrinking the role of government—every government—in education is one of Michele Bachmann’s favorite themes. (Though she doesn’t yet have
August 25, 2011
Last month, we learned from a landmark Justice Center/Public Policy Research Institute report that 54 percent of Texas students received in-school suspension and 31 percent received out-of-school suspension at least once between their seventh- and twelfth-grade years. (The researchers looked at data from 2000 to 2008). This week, possibly joining the “gang up on Rick Perry before he becomes a serious threat to the world as we know it” movement, the Washington Post explains how this “no excuses” ethos plays out for kids in the Lone Star State. It seems that children as young as five are receiving “tickets” that require court appearances and may result in hefty fines, community-service hours, behavior-modification classes, and criminal records. The tickets (which connote Class C misdemeanors) come when students use offensive language, disrupt class, or tussle with another in the schoolyard. Unpaid fines can lead to an arrest warrant upon a student’s seventeenth birthday. Gadfly is all for effective school discipline, but please, let’s keep it out of the courts. Grown-ups do more than enough litigating and misbehaving and judges are not well-suited to settle playground tussles.
“Texas students sent from classroom to courtroom,” by Donna St. George, The Washington Post, August 21, 2011.
Daniela Fairchild / August 25, 2011
Last November, Harvard’s Program on Education Policy and Governance (PEPG) teamed up with Education Next to assess how well American states fare at getting their students to advanced levels in mathematics compared to their international peers. (Hint: not so well.) Continuing this line of work, this new PEPG/Ed Next report analyzes how successful states are at lifting their students to proficient levels—this time for both math and reading. To do so, Paul Peterson, Ludgar Woessman, Eric Hanushek, and Carlos Lastra-Anadon performed a crosswalk between NAEP and PISA results for math and reading for the Class of 2011 (a representative sample of which took both the eighth-grade NAEP in 2007 and the fifteen-year-old PISA in 2009). And the findings aren’t any more promising: In terms of math proficiency, the U.S. average puts us on par with Iceland, Italy, and Spain. Our worst states, Alabama and New Mexico, rank below Turkey and just ahead of Bulgaria and Serbia. Similar results are found with reading. The report goes on to explain that America’s lackluster results aren’t just about our achievement gap; even U.S. white students don’t command international acclaim—they are surpassed (in terms of percent proficient) by students from sixteen countries in math and eight countries in reading. Going further, the research team determined that the U.S. could enjoy staggering bumps in its annual GDP growth per capita by enhancing the math proficiency of its students—we’re talking $75 trillion over twenty years (which is roughly five times our current GDP). The debt-ceiling super-commission
August 25, 2011
Education schools have long been criticized for accepting students of middling caliber. This new study by University of Missouri professor Cory Koedel demonstrates that low standards do not rise once these students are enrolled. He finds that getting a high GPA as an education major is easier to accomplish than receiving similar marks from any other department on campus. In fact, at Koedel’s own university, students in the education department boast an average 3.7 GPA. On average, education-department GPAs are 0.5 to 0.8 grade points higher than in the other departments. These higher grades cannot be explained by higher-quality students or the smaller class sizes of ed schools. (In general, ed-school students posted lower college-entrance exams than others in their university cohorts, and the analysis adjusted for class-size effects.) From this research, Koedel draws two conclusions: We are training teachers who know less (because they are forced to work less hard for the “easy A”), and education departments are contributing to a culture of low standards for educators. (To this point, Koedel connects lax grading rigor in ed departments to the norm of overwhelmingly positive teacher evaluations in public schools.) Ed schools often complain about getting no respect; making it harder to get an A is one simple thing they could do to help correct that.
|Click to listen to commentary on Cory Koedel's paper from the Education Gadfly Show podcast.