Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 11, Number 44
November 10, 2011
Opinion + Analysis
You???d be crazy to see SB5???s defeat as rejection of Ohio school reform
A vote of support for first responders
We have a parenting problem, not a poverty problem
M is for marriage
Challenging all students: What a radical idea!
Common sense makes a comeback
Killing online learning with kindness
Idaho?s mandate gets it backwards
Charter-School Management Organizations: Diverse Strategies and Diverse Student Impacts
New study explains the ?what? and ?how? but not the ?who?
High-Stakes Reform: The Politics of Educational Accountability
Centralization leads to politicization
Terry Ryan / November 10, 2011
Ohio’s electorate soundly rejected Issue 2 (the referendum on Senate Bill 5) on Tuesday. As almost everyone knows, that statute made significant changes to collective bargaining for public employees in the Buckeye State. The most controversial bits included changes to binding arbitration (to give management the right to impose its last best offer), a ban on strikes by public employees, and elimination of seniority as the sole factor for determining who should be laid off when cutbacks are necessary.
Though teachers and their unions were most definitely included—both in Senate Bill 5 and in the frantic, well-funded ($30 million) effort to persuade voters to repudiate it—education-policy watchers outside Ohio may not appreciate the extent to which this was really a referendum on policemen, firemen, and other “first responders” in the public sector. They and their unions were covered by the measure, too, and played the lead role—and by far the most visible role—in the campaign to undo it. There is, in fact, every reason to believe that if the first responders hadn’t been involved, Senate Bill 5 would have survived Election Day.
On the same ballot, Ohio voters
repudiated Republican plans to restructure collective bargaining in the
Buckeye State and the big plans of Beltway Democrats to reshape the
nation’s healthcare system.
At their raucous victory party on Tuesday night,
Michael J. Petrilli / November 10, 2011
In kicking off Education Trust’s annual conference, Kati Haycock said that we can’t let “bad parenting” be an excuse for poor educational results. She’s absolutely right, of course. It’s not like our schools are running on all cylinders (especially schools serving poor kids), and if only parents were doing their jobs, too, achievement would soar. Sure, we’ve got several examples of school models that are making a tremendous difference in educational outcomes for kids, regardless of what’s happening at home.
That said, it strikes me as highly unlikely that we’re ever going to significantly narrow the achievement gap between rich and poor unless we narrow the “good parenting gap” between rich and poor families, too. (And yes, I know I’m going to catch a lot of grief for saying that.)
We're never going to significantly
narrow the achievement gap between rich and poor unless we narrow the
'good parenting gap' between rich and poor families, too.
Let’s admit it: The Broader/Bolder types are right when they say that a lot of what influences student achievement happens outside of schools and before kids ever set foot in a Kindergarten classroom. Where they are wrong, I believe, is in thinking that turbo-charged government programs can compensate for the real challenge: what’s happening (or not) inside the home.
Conservatives used to talk about this, but for whatever reason
November 10, 2011
For decades, college admissions officers have sought to re-engineer the demographics of their campuses—an understandable impulse with all manner of perverse consequences. Not surprisingly, this dubious idea has filtered down to the K-12 system, too. Districts, like the one in Alexandria, VA, are revamping entrance requirements for their gifted-education programs in an effort to boost minority enrollment. (In Alexandria, 34 percent of the students are black and 31 percent are Hispanic—yet, in the city’s gifted program, those percentages drop to 17 and 11, respectively.) Gadfly welcomes efforts to improve outreach and strengthen kids’ preparation: Qualified and capable students of color won’t enroll in gifted-education programs of which they aren’t aware. But slackening the criteria for program entry is something else entirely. As with AP classes, rigorous entrance requirements for gifted programs are necessary if high-achieving students (whatever their race) are to get much out of them. Simply put, our education system must work to the advantage of all its students—from those scoring in the top decile to those in the bottom. Districts should try this “radical” concept instead: Group students by academic prowess, and meet the needs of all pupils. Let common sense prevail!
November 10, 2011
Over the past few months, crusading Idaho state supe Tom Luna has shepherded a flock of forward-thinking and cost-saving reforms—including adoption of merit pay and a rollback of tenure and collective-bargaining rights. Yet amid Luna’s bold reforms hides one black sheep. If legislators agree in January, Idaho will become the first state to mandate that all high schoolers take at least two courses online. (Currently, Michigan and Alabama require students to each take one online course.)
Further, one of these classes must be “asynchronous”—think more “correspondence course” and less “virtual classroom.” Gadfly is a firm believer in the potential of digital learning to expand the reach of fantastic teachers, to individualize instruction, and to allow for more choice in public education. But the goal should be to expand access to digital learning, not to require kids to engage in it against their will. Supporters of such mandates often claim that learning how to take an online course is itself a critical skill to build. But if the courses are well-designed (like, say, your iPhone), mastering the experience should be a no-brainer. Luna might want to put the shears to this particular idea.
Laura Johnson / November 10, 2011
If CRPE’s recent meta-analysis of charter-school research was an amuse-bouche, this report (from Mathematica/CRPE) on the practices and impacts of charter-management organizations (CMOs) acts as the entrée—and perhaps also the dessert. It exhaustively details the characteristics of forty CMOs (of the nation’s 130, which serve 17 percent of charter-school students), noting some interesting commonalities: Compared to their district counterparts, CMOs typically run smaller schools (with smaller classes). They also offer more time in learning: Forty percent of studied CMOs provided their students with more instructional time than all of the nation’s traditional public schools. Completing the meal, the report analyzed student-achievement results for those CMOs with adequate data. Echoing previous charter research, the report finds that CMO performance varies—and widely. Of the twenty-two networks analyzed, eleven boast significantly positive impacts in math, while ten can make that claim in reading—this compared to a representative control group of district pupils. (Seven negatively impact their students in math, six in reading.) Why do some CMOs do so well while others flounder? Researchers note two reasons for success: intense teacher coaching and school-wide behavior standards (notably those that offered consistent rewards and sanctions and asked for parent and student contracts). Unfortunately, the authors stop there. No after-dinner coffee or digestif. Because of promises of confidentiality, the report names neither the high flyers nor the low performers. Interesting data, yes, but not much help to school shoppers or communities seeking effective CMO’s to run more of their schools. Though a palatable and hearty meal, the
November 10, 2011
In her new book, Kathryn A. McDermott of the University of Massachusetts tackles the complicated theory and history of educational accountability. According to McDermott, our increasingly centralized system has been shaped by the push for educational equality, going back to desegregation and continuing with performance-based accountability today. To make her case, McDermott showcases the rise of accountability structures in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Jersey, and the growth in federal involvement. Perhaps most interesting are the lessons McDermott draws from these case studies—relevant to other public-policy sectors as well. Notably, to design a smart accountability system, policymakers must first ensure that they have the capacity to operate it. Else accountability creates perverse incentives (like cheating on high-stakes testing). As federal policymakers contemplate handing accountability back to the states, it will be smart to remember whence and why our current model originated. This book shines a light onto that past.
Kathryn A. McDermott, High-Stakes Reform: The Politics of Educational Accountability (Georgetown University Press, Washington, D.C., 2011).