Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 11, Number 18
May 12, 2011
Opinion + Analysis
Addressing the tension between national standards and educational innovation
Local controllers, put away the pitchforks
Ms. Hubris vs. Mr. Humble
Where Spellings and Daniels diverge
Supply-side economics, school-choice-style
Enough isn't enough in NYC
All for one and one for all?
The perils of citizen-controlled schools
Expanded Measures of School Performance
The Rise of K-12 Blended Learning: Profiles of emerging models
Visualize the programs, then attack the policies holding them back
Education: Past, Present, and Future Global Challenges
Just how much does an extra year of school buy you?
The honeymoon is over
Smile. The magnanimous Dave DeSchryver guest hosts this week; he and Mike hash out the big takeaways from the common curriculum counter-manifesto and the Chamber of Commerce?s ESEA proposal before explaining what exactly is going down in Illinois. Amber dissects the branding of Catholic schools, and Marena is no slave to poor teacher judgment.
The “counter-manifesto” released this week in opposition to national testing and a national curriculum is full of half-truths, mischaracterizations, and straw men. But it was signed by a lot of serious people and deserves a serious response.
First, let us dispatch some silliness. To the best of our knowledge, and based on all evidence that we’re aware of, neither the signers of the Shanker Institute manifesto, nor leaders in the Obama/Duncan Education Department, advocate a “nationalized curriculum” that would “undermine control of public school curriculum and instruction at the local and state level” and “transfer control to an elephantine, inside-the-Beltway bureaucracy.” Nor is anybody calling for “a one-size fits all, centrally controlled curriculum for every K-12 subject.” We certainly wouldn’t support such a policy—and can understand why the conservative luminaries who signed the counter-manifesto wouldn’t want it, either. As parents, grandparents, charter-school authorizers, and champions of school choice in almost all its forms, we believe deeply in the importance of schools having the freedom to shape their own unique educational approaches.
So let us be clear: While the assessments linked to the Common Core State Standards will be mandatory (for schools and districts in states that choose to use them), the use of any common curricular materials will be purely voluntary. We don’t see any evidence to indicate otherwise.
We also find curious the attack line, penned by Jay Greene, that “centralization of education is bad for everyone except the central planners.” This faux-populist rhetoric is compelling until you consider that many of the counter-manifesto’s signatories have been deeply involved in efforts
Michael J. Petrilli / May 12, 2011
At first blush, it would appear that Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels and former Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings have a lot in common. Both served as cabinet members in the George W. Bush Administration. Both are generally pragmatic centrists. And both hold strong school-reform instincts.
But look closer and the similarities—on federal education policy at least—disappear.
In his big speech last week at the American Enterprise Institute, Governor Daniels went out of his way to stress that school reform—at the state and federal levels—is a work in progress. “The real test for us is dead ahead, and that is to implement these tools,” he said. “I will never stop learning about learning.”
Furthermore, while applauding President Obama and Secretary Duncan for their excellent work on education in general, and Race to the Top in particular, he indicated that a smaller federal footprint is appropriate. Of the federal education bureaucracy, he said, “There’s a lot more of it than we need.” The governor is humble about his accomplishments in Indiana and humble about what the feds can do to fix our schools. “I don’t have magic answers,” he said. “If I did I would have been here giving this talk years ago.”
Secretary Spellings, however, will have none of it. In a new ESEA reauthorization proposal she penned for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce last week,
May 12, 2011
New York City is known for its public-school-choice programs, particularly at the high school level. Students may test into a number of specialized schools (like Stuyvesant or Brooklyn Latin) or try their hand at the lotteries for small learning communities (like Robeson), charter schools (like Harlem Village Academy), and transfer schools (grades 10-12 schools for at-risk students, like Harvey Milk). But a labyrinthine application process, voluminous yet murky information available to parents, and 78,000 students applying for placement each year (for perspective, that’s the total K-12 enrollment in the District of Columbia), means a good number of applicants end up disappointed on “match” day. For the 2010-11 school year, Gotham failed to place about 10 percent of its students in one of their preferred schools (students could select up to twelve), forcing them to enroll at a less desirable neighborhood school. Fundamentally this is a supply problem: Gotham needs more great schools. In the meantime, however, the city’s residents need information aimed at students and parents—especially those from disadvantaged communities—information both about school choices and about how the process works.
“Lost in the School Choice Maze,” by Liz Robbins, New York Times, May 6, 2011.
May 12, 2011
As Gadfly has matured, he’s become increasingly skeptical of America’s education-governance structure. California is a vivid case-in-point. In the Golden State, a maze of governance arrangements leaves no one in charge and no one responsible for the state’s sub-par student achievement. That role is split among 1,040 elected local school boards, the state superintendent (also elected), the state board of education (appointed by the gov), and the governor himself. Adding to this clamor, voters directly influence education funding through oft contradictory and confusing referenda. A thorny predicament, indeed—and one that shows how an antiquated education-governance structure can be debilitative to student achievement.
“A lesson in mediocrity,” The Economist, April 20, 2011.
Marena Perkins / May 12, 2011
In anticipation of an ESEA reauthorization, policymakers are beginning to rethink which factors should be included in federal school-performance reporting. Enter this latest from RAND, which pushes the discussion along by explaining how states, districts, and other countries report school performance. At the state level, there are currently twenty jurisdictions that publish their own school ratings in addition to federal AYP. While the rating systems vary in detail, they all strongly rely on student testing—using assessment scores in subjects beyond ELA and math (usually science and history), tests weighted on a continuum (rather than a pass-fail mark), and ACT or AP scores (at the high school level). RAND analysts see merit in these metrics, but also push for expanding them beyond such “student outcome data” to assess the whole school culture. To that end, RAND showcases districts and states reporting school-culture indicators (like teacher and student satisfaction) and emotional, behavioral, and physical health indicators (like suspensions). Why is this necessary? As the authors aver, it is widely accepted that NCLB’s emphasis on AYP forced schools and districts to overemphasize testing. Using these expanded school-performance indicators might encourage schools to prioritize college and career readiness, school safety, civil-mindedness, and student health. While RAND is right to say that school-based accountability needs to be rethought, their push for adoption of such a broad slate of measures at the federal level is wrong-sighted. That’s a responsibility best left to the states. Thankfully, as this report points out, many have already picked up that torch.
Heather L. Schwartz, Laura S. Hamilton, Brian M. Stecher, and Jennifer L.
Gerilyn Slicker / May 12, 2011
Four months ago, Michael Horn and Heather Staker released a white paper, “The Rise of K-12 Blended Learning.” In it, they warned policymakers of the need to support blended learning—education that splits students’ time between the teacher-led classroom and the digital realm—lest it get stymied by current statutes around seat time, class sizes, life-long teacher contracts, etc. This follow-up paper profiles forty organizations engaged in blended learning of some sort, offering specifics to readers seeking a clearer picture of what blended learning actually looks like for the student and teacher. Along with this framing, the paper offers some smart, concrete policy recommendations to push for easier expansion of the blended-education approach. Some have been voiced in other reformer circles—things like relaxing “highly qualified teacher” mandates (to bring content experts into online classrooms) and completing the transition to the Common Core (to avoid tension between them and state standards). Others are out-of-the-box, but merit serious consideration. For example: those programs able to educate students for less money than the state allotment should be allowed to bank the extra funds in education savings accounts, from which students may pull to pay for tutoring, college tuition, and the like. As blended-learning policy and understanding begin to take shape, this paper—and the original in the series—do well to frame the issue.
Heather Staker, “The Rise of K-12 Blended Learning: Profiles of emerging models,” (Mountain View, CA: Innosight Institute, May 2011).
Daniela Fairchild / May 12, 2011
This World Bank paper looks beyond our borders to determine the marginal loss of income and equity associated with slower rates of human-capital accumulation in the developing world. In layman’s terms (though the dense economic paper never affords them to the reader): How much does each additional year of schooling affect a country’s economic growth and social equity? Using a new data set, the paper looks at 146 developing nations and draws a few interesting conclusions. First, the authors conservatively estimate a 7 to 10 percent average per capita income gain for each additional year of schooling, as well as a societal-inequity reduction of 1.4 points on the Gini index. Further, countries whose average educational attainments have reached the level of basic literacy (i.e., they’ve moved from five to six attained years of schooling) see a net increase of 15.3 percent to their per capita income. Comparing Pakistan and South Korea, the paper reports that, in 1950, both countries had similar per capita incomes ($643 and $854 in constant dollars, respectively). But as South Korea’s educational attainment rose—by 2010 it had reached 11.8 years, dwarfing Pakistan’s 5.6 years—so did its income level. In 2010, South Koreans, on average, made $19,614 compared to Pakistan’s $2,239. As the authors are quick to remind, there are many caveats associated with research of this nature (the effect of externalities, the self-employed, whether a country simply strikes oil or a gold mine, etc.). But the correlations cannot be discounted and lessons for the United States still remain, as some state and city attainment rates fall