Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 11, Number 30
August 4, 2011
Opinion + Analysis
The schools???and the deficits???we deserve
Lower taxes + Increased school spending = Balanced budget?
Steven Brill: Brilliant or bonkers?
His new book suggests a few ideas crazy enough to work
The ???new normal???: No longer new, still normal
Schools: Your rich Uncle (Sam) is broke
A great time to close bad ed schools
Art Levine gets it half right
Public School Choice in the District of Columbia: A Descriptive Analysis
The skinny? Yes, charters are cream-skimming
The State of Learning Disabilities: Facts, Trends and Indicators
The low-down on LD
Profiles of Teachers in the U.S. 2011
Reformers have some new best friends: alt-cert educators
Critical Contributions: Philanthropic Investment in Teachers and Teaching
Guess who pulled in the largest purse? Hint: Their initials are TFA
When the cat?s away
Mike and Rick are in the zone this week analyzing the Save Our Schools March, how states can improve ed schools, and the merits of Missouri?s anti-Facebook-friending legislation. Amber gives Teach For America a high-five and Chri$ gives NC charter schools the flat-out deny.
Michael J. Petrilli / August 4, 2011
The latest Education Next poll results are packed-full of interesting findings on topics ranging from choice to merit pay, from NCLB to tenure reform. But particularly timely, in this era of fiscal austerity, are new insights about the public’s views on school budgets. And guess what: On education, like everything else, Americans don’t want to make tough choices. They want to keep taxes low while boosting school spending. Sound familiar?
Let’s start with taxes. Question 25a asked: “Do you think that local taxes to fund public schools around the nation should increase, decrease, or stay about the same?” Sixty-five percent of the public wanted taxes to remain steady or drop. The numbers were a little lower for African Americans, Hispanics, and parents, but not by much. (Half of teachers even expressed this view.) Interestingly, even more people (73 percent of the public) opposed raising local taxes, even if they were to be targeted to local (instead of national) schools.
Many people complain that our schools aren’t
responsive to public demands, but the opposite seems true.
OK, Americans don’t want higher taxes. So they must
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / August 4, 2011
Jay Mathews isn’t the only smart person to rave about Steve Brill’s new book, Class Warfare: Inside the Fight to Fix America’s Schools. Tiger-mom Amy Chua, Governor Chris Christie, Mayor Cory Booker, and Tom Brokaw are all pumped about it, too, or so they say on the dust jacket.
Brill is relatively new to the ed-reform wars—which may have been one of his prime assets while penning this volume; he doesn’t appear to have any particular ax to grind or ideology to advance. Though a neophyte in this realm, he’s a veteran journalist, and a fine one at that, who first passed through the ed-reform looking glass when reporting on New York’s notorious (thanks to Brill) “rubber rooms” for The New Yorker. He’s Gotham-based, himself, and many of the battle scenes in this long but compelling tome are situated there. (Joel Klein and Randi Weingarten get the most mentions in a fifteen-page index.)
His approach resembles Bob Woodward’s recent volumes on the real wars of the Bush and Obama eras: plenty of inside scoops, vivid quotes, extensive reportage, evocative vignettes and telling examples, lots of short chapters, a fast-paced narrative, and an ample supply of couldn’t-invent-‘em characters.
Not many ed-reform books are like this (Joe Williams's came close) and Brill’s repays attention, not just because it’s a rollicking romp but because it works through many issues, conflicts, interests, episodes, and people and comes to a measured set of conclusions that won’t please anyone in particular but deserve serious
August 4, 2011
Though the specifics are still unclear, the debt-ceiling compromise will—at base—spell big cuts to federal spending. And that will, in turn, mean less money for the states—education or otherwise. Bleak? Perhaps. But district leaders (and parents and the public): Pick your chins up off the floor. We’ve been sitting under the shadow of this “new normal” in education spending for some time now—and shouldn’t expect simply to wait out the eclipse. Instead, smart adjustments can yield the savings needed. Don’t slash teacher jobs; think about lifting class-size ratios or rethinking Cadillac benefits packages. Don’t eliminate art and music; think about more efficient ways of delivering them instead. As someone named Rahm said not so long ago, you never want to waste a serious crisis.
“Education takes a beating nationwide,” by Stephen Ceasar and Teresa Watanabe, Los Angeles Times, July 31, 2011.“Debt Ceiling Deal: Big Questions for K-12,” by Michele McNeil, Education Week, August 1, 2011.
August 4, 2011
One oft overlooked consequence of the current financial situation is that many newly minted teachers, straight out of the nation’s 1,200-odd ed schools, are finding it hard to get work. In comes former-Teachers College president (and ed-school critic) Art Levine with an interesting notion: If we need fewer teachers at present, we presumably need fewer programs through which to train them. Which is an opportunity, he explains, for states to shutter some of their lower-quality programs (more on this from NCTQ next year)—and allow those still in operation to be much more selective. But then he stumbles. Going further, he writes “It is also expensive to operate multiple systems for educating teachers, especially if the reason is that one system is not working well,” essentially calling for a clamp down on promising new models of teacher certification, like Teach For America—that themselves have very high standards and selectiveness. So read Levine’s article—but take his advice selectively.
|Click to listen to commentary on Levine's piece from the Education Gadfly Show podcast
“How to improve teacher education now (and why Teach For America isn’t the answer),” by Arthur Levine, Washington Post, August 3, 2011.
August 4, 2011
Forget federal politics for a minute. There is one area where Washington deserves kudos for its leadership: school choice. As this Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research (CALDER) brief explains, D.C. has one of the most extensive choice programs in the nation. During the 2008-09 year, only 35 percent of District students attended their traditional neighborhood school. The others could be found attending “out-of-boundary” publics (31 percent) or charter schools (34 percent). Furthermore, choice programs seem to be reaching those who need them most—poor and minority youngsters are significantly more likely to exercise choice than their affluent and white peers. Data also show a willingness to add several miles to the daily commute in order to attend the school of their choice. Of course, D.C.’s choice initiative isn’t flawless. This study finds evidence of “cream-skimming”—whereby relatively high-scoring students (still poor and minority, mind you) are likelier to take advantage of choice. In D.C., students who opted into out-of-boundary public schools entered their new school one-sixth of a standard deviation ahead of their “staying” peers in reading and one-fifth of a standard deviation ahead in math. (Students opting into charters significantly outperformed their “staying” peers, as well.) A difficult issue indeed, but surely not a decisive argument against school-choice programs, since the alternative—keeping everybody padlocked to failing schools—is hardly preferable.
Umut Özek, “Public School Choice in the District of Columbia: A Descriptive Analysis,” (Washington, D.C.: National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research, April 2011).
Janie Scull / August 4, 2011
This comprehensive look at learning disabilities (LD), neurologically based disorders that include diagnoses like dyslexia, exposes two truths. First, confusion about and misidentification of LD—a problem we described over a decade ago—persists, though improved instruction and intervention have helped curb the number of identifications over the last ten years (also illustrated in a more recent Fordham study). Second, there’s still a dearth of up-to-date research on how to support students with bona fide LD and improve their educational outcomes. The paper reports some familiar facts—boys are more likely to be identified as having LD, as are minority students, and those in poverty or unemployed (the study also collected data on the adult LD population). Further, students with LD are, on average, 3.4 years behind their grade level in reading and 3.2 years behind in math. The biennial report also furnishes many less-familiar stats. Notably, while the percentage of students with LD receiving a high school diploma increased from 52 to 64 percent from 2000 to 2009 (and dropouts fell from 40 to 22 percent), only 10 percent of all students with LD enroll in a four-year college. In addition, students with LD rarely use technologies to help moderate their disabilities: Just 6 percent learn with computers more frequently than their classmates and a mere 1 percent use software designed for students like themselves. Better and more targeted hardware and software may hold one key to further improving graduation and college-going rates—and doing so in a cost-effective manner.
Candace Cortiella, The State of
August 4, 2011
This survey report from Emily Feistritzer’s National Center for Education Information (NCEI) shows the changing face of America’s teacher workforce—and offers glimmers of hope to reformers looking for allies in the teacher ranks. (Are you watching, Steve Brill?) Of the large group of teachers who have been on the job five years or less, a third received their training through alternative programs. Such educators, in addition to being more racially diverse and STEM-oriented than their colleagues, are decidedly more supportive of ed-reform initiatives. Seventy percent of alt-cert teachers favor performance-based pay (compared to 58 percent of those traditionally trained), 52 percent say “yea” to axing teacher tenure (versus 31 percent), and 27 percent note that the unions need to go (compared to 19 percent). Reformers ought to enlist these non-traditional teachers—and thinkers—in the larger policy battles ASAP.
Daniela Fairchild / August 4, 2011
This report from the University of Georgia and Kronley and Associates analyzes the evolution of philanthropic giving to teachers and teaching over the past 150 years (with a focus on the 2000s). While the dollar amounts doled out to these types of programs pale in comparison to overall K-12 spending, there is much about their directional flow that is worth noting. From 2000 to 2008, national and regional philanthropies donated over $680 million to improve K-12 teachers and teaching—with close to a third of that money going to Teach For America. And it’s not just because of TFA’s strong track record or stellar fundraising team (though these reasons play a part)—funders have prioritized teacher-recruitment efforts over the last decade and have targeted investment in organizations they feel have strong leadership. Moreover, funders are becoming much more hands-on about the money they hand out. They’re learning lessons from ineffective philanthropic giving and targeting their resources to policies they feel bring about change, like alternative-certification pathways and performance-based evaluations and pay. It’s hard to say whether all of this money has added up to improved teacher effectiveness, but the direction in which it is going is certainly promising.