Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 11, Number 19
May 19, 2011
Opinion + Analysis
2011: Already a banner year for education reform
States take back the baton?as they should
The long arm of Georgia???s law
One small step for Georgia, one giant step backwards for charter schools
ESEA reauthorization a little bit at a time
The House GOP gets moving
Rigor is not a four-letter word
The dust-up over BASIS DC
Common Core Standards: The New U.S. Intended Curriculum
Where states and the Common Core diverge
Election Timing and the Electoral Influence of Interest Groups
When it comes to school-board elections, the date matters a lot
Fordham women lead the way
With Mike and Rick away this week, Janie and Daniela hold down the fort, discussing college rigor, the future of Georgia?s charter schools, and a new take on ESEA reauthorization. Amber digs into the weeds of Common Core and state-standards alignment, and Chris gets mad that no one asked him to the prom.
Daniela Fairchild / May 19, 2011
Late 2009 and early 2010 saw state legislators virtually nationwide all aflutter with education-reform excitement. Dangling a $4.35 billion Race to the Top carrot, Arne Duncan’s Department of Education lured policymakers from both sides of the aisle to support some key reform-style initiatives. These included adoption of the Common Core State Standards, creation of linked data systems, implementation of meaningful teacher-evaluation systems, and expansion of charter-friendly policies. Sure, they’re reforms states should have embraced on their own, and maybe some would have without federal inducement, but there’s little doubt that RTT sped things up and in some cases likely changed the outcome.
What we’ve learned over the past six months, however, is that education reform at the state level doesn’t necessarily depend on a big red-velvet triple-decker on Uncle Sam’s cake stand. Maybe all it really needs is voters willing to throw the establishment’s friends out of office. Aided and abetted, perhaps, by budget shortfalls.
It’s good to know that when states step back into the driver’s seat, they press the gas rather than slamming the breaks.
For what’s happened since the November 2010 election has been an intensification rather than a slackening of the pace of education reform in state capitals across the land—without any evident regard for federal carrots (or sticks).
Most of the big reform victories can be traced to the
May 19, 2011
In a 4-3 decision this week, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled to disband the Peach State’s Charter School Commission (which currently oversees sixteen growing charter schools) on the grounds that the entity is “palpably unconstitutional.” Why? Because the charters operating under its direction compete with local school districts for students and dollars. In an opinion that could be used as precedent in other states, the justices ruled that, under Georgia’s constitution, no other government entity can “compete with or duplicate the efforts of local boards of education in establishing and maintaining general K-12 schools.” Originally, these state-sanctioned charter schools circumvented this provision by calling themselves “special schools” (per Art. VIII, Sec. V, Par. VII (a) of the Georgia Constitution). This ruling judged these commission charters to be “normal” K-12 schools, not “special schools,” making them illegal. Many other states, of course, allow entities other than local school boards to authorize charter schools; in at least four of these states, charter opponents have filed similar judicial attacks (and in Florida, they’ve prevailed). But rulings like Georgia’s aren’t just a blow to the charter sector. They also have further implications for other forms of state-based or state-wide schools (e.g. virtual schools like Georgia Connections Academy and Georgia Cyber Academy). It’s no secret that Gadfly is no admirer of today’s (i.e. yesterday’s) system of school governance. It’s depressing that the courts are working to cement
May 19, 2011
For at least four years now, the enormity of ESEA/NCLB reauthorization has proven too large for lawmakers to swallow. Now, however, the House Education Committee is hinting at an alternative approach: grazing. Instead of tackling all 600-plus pages of ESEA in one sitting, GOP legislators are addressing specific issues associated with it, introducing smaller, bite-sized bills instead. The first was introduced in the House this week by Duncan Hunter (R-CA). It calls for eliminating forty-three K-12 education programs—each of which had either already lost funding, been slated for consolidation by Obama’s own proposal, or were never funded from the get-go. Such cuts won’t change the world (or the budget outlook) too much, but they’re a start. And with House Education and Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline hinting for months that he’d prefer to attack ESEA in a piecemeal manner, this new approach has some powerful backers. Despite Secretary Duncan’s clinging to a comprehensive reauthorization package, until broad consensus can be reached, legislators will be smart to keep nibbling away.
|Click to listen to commentary on ESEA reauthorization from the Education Gadfly Show podcast
“House Bill Calls for Eliminating 43 Education Programs,” by Alyson Klein, Education Week: Politics: K-12, May 13, 2011.
“Outlines of ESEA’s Future Emerging on Capitol Hill,” by Alyson Klein, Education Week: Politics: K-12, May 13, 2011.
May 19, 2011
The District of Columbia is home to a thriving charter-school market. Of all American cities, it’s also the one that has experienced the most rapid gentrification over the past ten years. As these two realities now converge, upper-middle class D.C. parents are seeking more charter schools for their kids. The District already boasts several charters serving substantial numbers of affluent families (sometimes by design, often not); these include E.L. Haynes, Capital City, Yu Ying, Two Rivers, Latin American Montessori Bilingual, and Washington Latin. And now there’s BASIS DC, a charter slated to open in 2012, which follows the successful, and uber-rigorous, BASIS charter-school program. The school will offer Algebra I in seventh grade, and require that high schoolers take eight AP courses (and pass six AP tests) in order to graduate. Rather than applaud such rigor, though, critics are crying “conspiracy,” wondering whether that kind of model is designed to create a publically funded school for Washington’s elite—and to exclude the vast majority of D.C.’s kids, who are poor, black, and under-achieving. As Skip McKoy of the D.C. Public Charter School Board stated, “I’m all for high standards…Kids should be pushed. But you have to recognize the population.” Wryly reading between the lines, Jay Mathews translates: “This school is too smart and too
Marena Perkins / May 19, 2011
Into the fracas over the Common Core initiative dives this Education Researcher paper by UPenn education dean Andy Porter and several of his colleagues. It explains similarities and differences between the Common Core and current state and international standards, using the Surveys of Enacted Curriculum (SEC) as its metric. The SEC is an analytic framework developed at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research that categorizes ELA and math content by two variables: topic (e.g., multistep equations, inequalities) and cognitive demand (e.g., memorize, perform procedures, demonstrate understanding). In all, the SEC identifies nearly 2,000 of these distinct types of “content” (the product of combined topic and cognitive demand variables). Experts then analyze and match individual standards with SEC content components and use these metrics to compare various sets of standards and curricular materials. The paper finds that—of the twenty-seven states’ standards that are analyzed—state and Common Core standards differ significantly, with the latter generally demanding a higher level of cognitive reasoning than the standards of the states. Despite this rigorous cognitive demand, the Core standards place less emphasis on advanced mathematical concepts in algebra and geometry than do the average set of state standards. What’s more, the Common Core standards don’t align all that well with international standards. For example, Finland, Japan, and Singapore all place greater emphasis on “perform[ing] procedures” than does the Common Core. Whether or not you completely buy into the SEC’s framework model, with its levels of rigor and definitions of content, these findings raise a cautionary flag about states’ abilities to quickly implement the Common Core standards and leads one
Peter Meyer / May 19, 2011
In this fascinating study, Stanford political science doctoral candidate Sarah Anzia offers new reasons for dropping “off-cycle” elections for school boards and other bodies—unless you’re part of a special-interest group. As is well-known, such elections (those that do not occur on a general-election or primary day) have notoriously low voter turnouts—with a delta between them and on-cycle elections of as much as 20 percent. Anzia explains that this “empowers the largest and best organized interest groups,” since those groups “make up a greater proportion of the total vote when that election is held off-cycle.” As evidence, she analyzed school-board election cycles and teacher salaries in those same districts. Given teacher unions’ mobilization, common goals, and tight organization, writes Anzia, “we should expect school board members to be more responsive to teacher union demands for higher teacher salaries when those teachers exert greater influence in their elections.” Because of the difficulty of cross-state comparison, she limits her evaluations to eight states that have “within-state variation in district election timing.” And her findings are striking: Districts with off-cycle elections pay their experienced teachers over 3 percent more than districts (in the same states) that hold on-cycle elections. The pay differential increased further for the most senior teachers: Those with more than ten years of experience received 4.2 percent more in districts with off-cycle elections. In Minnesota specifically, Anzia finds that a 5 percentage point decrease in voter turnout is associated with a 0.7 percentage point increase in average teacher pay. This is a fairly big deal since (as Rick Hess has reported) more than half of