Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 11, Number 10
March 10, 2011
Opinion + Analysis
The rebirth of the education governor
Welcome the largest crop of ed-reform governors in thirty years
Standards don???t mean a thing without that curriculum-swing
The case for a voluntary national curriculum
The newspaper that cried wolf
Another take on the USA Today data
Leaders no longer in limbo?
School leadership challenges in the post-collective bargaining era
A Smarter Teacher Layoff System: How Quality-Based Layoffs Can Help Schools Keep Great Teachers
The New Teacher Project nails it again
The MetLife Survey of the American Teacher: Preparing Students for College and Careers
Favoring both the Common Core and 21st century skills?
Arts Education in America: What the Declines Mean for Arts Education
The newest racial gap: exposure to arts education
Mike throws rock Rick throws paper
Mike and Rick get a verbal boxing workout as they discuss a potential national curriculum. To cool down, they talk about cheating teachers and the de-earmarked TFA. Amber explains the findings from Fordham?s most recent study?Yearning to Break Free?and Chris goes after the fine art of RIFing.
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / March 10, 2011
Thirty years ago, Saturn started its current revolution around the Sun, Mt. St. Helens erupted, and Americans began to understand that governors are the most important people in U.S. K-12 education. They control, on average, about half of schools’ budgets. They propose, lobby, and ultimately sign legislation that spans the spectrum from teacher evaluations and collective bargaining to textbook adoption. Today, with bold gubernatorial leadership on display once again, we do well to recall some of the pioneering “education governors” of the 1980s, men and women who set about to reform their states’ public schools—indeed, to overhaul their states’ entire K-12 system.
Most of them were considered political “moderates”—mind you, that was neither a slur nor an endangered species in the ‘80s—and they definitely came from both parties. Prominent among them were Dick Riley (D-SC), Tom Kean (R-NJ), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Jim Hunt (D-NC), John Engler (R-MI), Bill Clinton (D-AR), Tommy Thompson (R-WI), Ann Richards (D-TX), and Rudy Perpich (DFL-MN)—to name a few.
These leaders ushered in statewide academic standards, new tests, the concept of results-based accountability, some fresh thinking about teachers and principals, charter schools, and plenty more. Teamed up (in 1989) with the first President Bush in Charlottesville, they also produced a set of “national education goals” such as this land never had before, and they helped to comprise a new panel in Washington to monitor the country’s progress
March 10, 2011
In case you hadn’t heard, a group of 140 (and rising) education leaders—including Fordham President Chester Finn and some unlikely confederates (Randi Weingarten and Linda Darling-Hammond, for two)—have proposed the creation of voluntary common curricular materials. Federalist eyebrows rise in unison because, inevitably, this sort of thing gets dubbed a “national curriculum” even though there could be many of them and they’d all be voluntary for states, districts, schools, and teachers to use as they see fit. (In fact, our friends at Common Core have already produced a terrific specimen of such materials for ELA.) As Finn told Catherine Gewertz of Education Week, providing quality curriculum materials that states, schools, and teachers may choose to utilize, augment, or ignore shouldn’t rile people up. The fact that too many of our nation’s students attend schools teaching content-deficient curricula should. So should the fact that many teachers have been pleading for sound curricular materials to accompany the standards they’re charged with bringing to students.
|Click to listen to commentary on common curricula from the Education Gadfly Show podcast|
March 10, 2011
The L.A. Times had its exposé on teacher performance; now USA Today has its own, this one analyzing high-stakes testing and the “cheating scandals” that go with it. The analysis examined test-score data in six states and found 1,610 schools with unusually large grade-level performance gains from one year to the next (the analysis included anywhere from three to seven years of data for each state). In some cases, these gains disappeared as students moved to the next grade, implying that the sudden boost was not only temporary but also probably fabricated. That’s disconcerting, for sure, but the instances of potential cheating were exceedingly rare: As Chad Aldeman points out, just 304 schools out of 22,039 were flagged in 2008-09, or less than 1.4 percent. By all means, states and districts should work at test security, guard against cheating, and prosecute any bad actors. But this analysis hardly indicates that standardized testing is forcing unethical behavior at large scale.
|Click to listen to commentary on the USA Today findings from the Education Gadfly Show podcast
“When test scores seem too good to believe,” by Greg Toppo, Denise Amos, Jack Gillum, and Jodi Upton, USA Today, March 6, 2011.
“Schools across the country show unreal gains on tests but stand by results,” by Greg Toppo, Denise Amos, Jack Gillum, and Jodi Upton, Detroit Free Press, March 6, 2011.
March 10, 2011
Once again, the Hechinger Report has dived into the waters of education-policy reporting and emerged with a pearl. Its latest package of articles addresses the need for—and dearth of—strong school and district leaders. (Gadfly has treaded these waters in the recent past as well.) As Hechinger articulates, excellent leaders are essential in the formation and maintenance of a positive and effective school environment. According to a 2009 New Leaders for New Schools study, principals account for 25 percent of a school’s impact on student gains. Yet we face a critical shortage of strong leaders, despite the factory-like efficiency with which education schools pump out certified (but unprepared) principals. As Hechinger reports, this break in the supply-demand curve requires a rethink of how we prepare school leaders and where we recruit them from. Luckily, with collective bargaining on the ropes in states across the country, school and district leaders might finally have authority commensurate with their responsibility. And, if nothing else, that should be very good for recruiting better candidates.
“Why School Leadership Matters,” by Staff, Hechinger Report, March 3, 2011.
“Supply vs. demand: Rock-star superintendents,” by Justin Snider, Hechinger Report, March 3, 2011.
“Leadership crisis: Issues of quality, not quantity?,” by Staff, Hechinger Report, March 3, 2011.
Chris Irvine / March 10, 2011
Moving from quality-blind to quality-based layoffs is integral to today’s education-reform agenda. Yet figuring out how best to pull this off in a productive, teacher-friendly manner has been a whopping challenge. Enter this New Teacher Project (TNTP) brief, which offers a novel method for districts engaging in quality-based layoffs. Based on a survey of 9,000 teachers from two large, urban districts, TNTP presents a “scorecard” of weighted factors that the organization (as well as the teachers it surveyed) believes should be considered in layoff decisions. This scorecard includes teacher performance ratings, classroom-management skills, attendance, and support for extra-curricular activities—along with years with the district. (Conspicuously lacking is credit for graduate credit hours and advanced degrees: Only one-third of surveyed teachers supported including this factor in layoff decisions.) TNTP’s brief offers a method for handling layoffs that is both tangible enough to be implemented and flexible enough to be adapted for district need. The one caveat: While the brief’s workable model for making layoff decisions is an excellent first step, it does not go further to address how teachers’ performance and classroom-management skills should be judged—probably because their surveyed teachers counted principal opinion as the least appropriate factor for making layoff decisions.
The New Teacher Project, “A Smarter Teacher Layoff System: How Quality-Based Layoffs Can Help Schools Keep Great Teachers,” (Brooklyn, NY: The New Teacher Project, March 2011).
Daniela Fairchild / March 10, 2011
Yesterday marked the release of findings from Part I of MetLife’s twenty-seventh annual education survey, which focuses on what it means to be “college- and career-ready.” In this poll of middle and high school teachers, students, public-education parents, and executives of Fortune 100 companies, the organization investigates how stakeholder groups feel about the college- and career-ready goal and what students need to do to reach it. Many of the findings are interesting if unsurprising: Only 17 percent of teachers give high priority to more school choice, compared to 43 percent of parents and 46 percent of executives. When asked about the need to graduate all students college- and career-ready, 73 percent of parents said it needed to be done, compared to only 43 percent of executives. Then puzzle over this: All groups of surveyed adults find that “higher-order, cross-disciplinary skills”—such as problem solving, self motivation, and relationship building—are more important for college preparation than higher-level math and science content. (Executives place greatest emphasis on the capacity for team work.) Yet, nearly 90 percent of middle and high school teachers support implementation of the Common Core standards in math, ELA, and (when available) science—standards that largely rejected the “twenty-first century skills” agenda. An interesting read, this year’s MetLife survey further articulates the fogginess of “career- and college-ready.” Part II of the survey, “Teaching Diverse Learners,” is set to release March 23.
Harris Interactive, “The MetLife Survey of the American Teacher: Preparing Students for College and Careers: Part 1: Clearing the Path” (New York, NY: Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, March 2011).
Gerilyn Slicker / March 10, 2011
Participation in arts education has declined steadily since the 1980s—long before our current recession and before NCLB, according to this National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) report, and minority children have been hit hardest: In 2008, only 26 percent of African American students reported receiving any arts education (down from 51 percent in 1982); Hispanic youngsters were at 28 percent (down from 47 percent in 1982). These figures take on greater magnitude when linked to the growing body of research that shows arts education as an effective pathway to deeper engagement and success in school—and with higher levels of student achievement, positive social and emotional development, and successful transition to adulthood. The most recent NAEP arts assessment (which assessed eighth graders in 2008) adds more depth to these findings. While the NAEP saw no differences in opportunities for arts instruction among racial groups, it did find that only 57 percent of schools offered music instruction three times a week, and 47 percent offered visual arts instruction with the same frequency. Neither methodology is perfect (the NEA uses a retrospective student survey and the NAEP only gathered data on school offerings—not on student participation). But both remind us of one key point: Especially in our era of austerity and testing, arts education is at risk and needs protecting.
Nick Rabkin and E.C. Hedberg, “Arts Education In America: What the Declines Mean for Arts Participation” (Washington, D.C.: National Endowment for the Arts, February 2011).