Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 11, Number 42
October 27, 2011
Opinion + Analysis
Let the implementation begin!
Next steps for Common Core
Michigan???s ed school is on the Ball
Getting serious about teacher preparation
Better late than never
The Washington PTA finds charters
Up with pencils, up with books
Silicon Valley taps its rustic roots
Lessons from the Land of the Morning Calm
South Korea?s novel problem: Too many college grads
State of the States: Trends and Early Lessons on Teacher Evaluation and Effectiveness Policies
NCTQ?s two-pronged push for increased teacher effectiveness
The Effect of Charter Schools on Student Achievement: A Meta-Analysis of the Literature
Add up all the research and charters look good
Redefining Teacher Pensions: Strategically Defined Benefits for New Teachers and Fiscal Sustainability for All
Cash benefits have their place
Odd Man Out: How Government Supports Private Sector Innovation, Except in Education
Supporting the private sector post Solyndra
Kathleen Porter-Magee / October 27, 2011
The adoption of the Common Core State Standards has upped the quality of most states’ English language arts and math expectations. But, for them to positively impact student achievement, we must get implementation right. This is a rare opportunity: States have set the bar higher. Now it’s time to jump.
Unfortunately, effective implementation is hardly inevitable. Consider the lackluster results witnessed in several states that adopted strong standards in the 1990s, only to see them ignored.
In some states, such as California and Indiana, this was because the assessments to which the standards were tied weren’t strong enough, or they weren’t tied to a meaningful state accountability system. In other states, teachers had limited access to high-quality curricular and instructional resources that were properly aligned to their state’s standards. These challenges have caused many to question the potential of standards-driven reforms; to wonder whether we need to focus our attentions elsewhere.
This is a rare opportunity: States have set the bar higher. Now it’s time to jump.
There is, however, evidence that, done right, standards-driven reform holds enormous promise. In Massachusetts, for instance, a combination of rigorous standards and assessments and thoughtful state-level implementation has catapulted its students to the top of national and international assessments. In fact, since Massachusetts adopted its standards in 1993, the state has seen its achievement levels rise precipitously: from a 23 percent
October 27, 2011
According to Deborah Loewenberg Ball, dean of Michigan’s education school: “Teacher training in this country is in deep trouble.” Gadfly—and myriad other smart policymakers, education shops, and concerned citizens—couldn’t agree more. But Ball goes one further: This week, she’s unveiled TeachingWorks, a wing of the UMich ed school that will focus on “raising the standard for practice as a classroom teacher by transforming how teachers are prepared and supported.” While details of the initiative are still fuzzy, the skills that Ball seems to be pushing into education-school curricula—teaching educators to communicate with parents and manage small group work effectively—are a welcome change from the typical blather about Piaget and Paulo Freire. And the nineteen specific skills distilled by TeachingWorks should help bring some order to the unruly and cacophonous court of teacher preparation. If more education schools sign on to the initiative, we might even be looking at the beginnings of “common core” teaching standards. How novel.
“U. Mich. Project Scales Up 'High Leverage' Teaching Practices,” by Stephen Sawchuk, Education Week, October 24, 2011.
October 27, 2011
There’s reason for (cautious) optimism that one of the most obstinate holdouts against school choice may finally be coming around. Washington State’s PTA recently added support of charter schools to its agenda, giving reform advocates an invaluable ally in the marathon struggle to bring charters to the Evergreen State. Having the parents on board, sadly, does not guarantee that students in Seattle and Spokane will enjoy the opportunity to choose from a vibrant array of public education options. Washington is the most populous and intransigent of the nine states that still prohibit charter schools, having resisted attempts at reform for nearing two decades. The unions used the state’s initiative process to defeat pushes for charter schools in 1996 and 2004, the latter time rejecting a bill supported by both the legislature and governor. Still, the growth of organizations in the region committed to changing the status quo (Gates anyone?), combined with pressures for cost-effective solutions during a budget crunch, may give the charters the momentum they need. Parent Teacher Associations have often been leery of charters—perhaps a function of “T” overly influencing “P”—so it’s doubly heartening to see a PTA stepping up for school choice in a state where it’s needed most.
“Washington PTA wants charter schools reconsidered,” by Donna Gordon Blankinship, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, October 20, 2011.
October 27, 2011
Scorners of digital-learning initiatives have found a few powerful and unlikely allies. At the Waldorf School of the Peninsula, set deep in the heart of Silicon Valley, children of higher-ups from Google, Apple, and eBay learn through creative, hands-on tasks. There is not one computer or smartboard or tablet to be found. And School of the Peninsula isn’t alone in its methods; nationwide, there are over 160 Waldorf schools (most but not all of them private). While digital instruction surely works for some, others find comfort and success in a more holistic and physically engaging classroom. To which Gadfly says: Great! We’d never think to ask all parents to ascribe to the same religion, sign their children up for the same extracurricular activities, or feed them like meals. Prescribing one educational model for all families would be equally as foolish. Different strokes…
“A Silicon Valley School That Doesn’t Compute,” by Matt Ritchel, New York Times, October 22, 2011.
October 27, 2011
An omen of what’s to come in the U.S.? The South Korean government has launched an initiative pushing students away from the traditional four-year college-degree program: With a 60 percent college completion rate—Obama’s target college-completion rate for 2020, remember—South Korea’s economy isn’t able to absorb all degree-bearers into relevant, educationally appropriate positions. Instead of a utopia of educated people, the country lists almost 40 percent of its university grads as unemployed. The government is also rethinking what it would mean to re-up the respect-level of the high school diploma, a certification that carries little weight in the country today. And South Korea isn’t alone: Other countries like Japan have also increased their vocational-school options for students in these tough economic times, and are seeing higher employment rates and happier employers for it. Graduates of Japan’s vocational colleges can expect about twenty job offers each upon graduation, say school officials. These Asian Tigers might be on to something.
“In South Korea, too many college grads, too few jobs,” by Fred Hiatt, The Washington Post, October 24, 2011.“With workplace training, Japan’s Kosen colleges bridge
Daniela Fairchild / October 27, 2011
Given recent sea changes to teacher-evaluation-policy—thirty-two states have updated policies in the last three years with much of this movement occurring in 2011—the National Council on Teacher Quality offers up this teaser to its annual State Teacher Policy Yearbook. It offers a comprehensive appraisal of each state’s teacher-evaluation policies, and also explains what eighteen states with the most ambitious evaluation plans (some Race to the Top winners, others not) are up to, ranking each against NCTQ’s ten elements of comprehensive teacher policy. What’s most interesting about the paper are the early lessons it draws from these states’ initiatives. As the authors explain, “teacher effectiveness measures don’t have to be perfect to be useful.” They should, however, include classroom observations, entail third-party evaluations, and incorporate student-growth measures for non-tested subjects. And they don’t need to be the same for teachers of all grades and all subjects. Two words: Read it.
National Council on Teacher Quality. “State of the States: Trends and Early Lessons on Teacher Evaluation and Effectiveness Policies” (Washington, D.C.: National Council on Teacher Quality, October 2011).
Laura Johnson / October 27, 2011
Three years ago, Julian Betts and Emily Tang surveyed the charter-effect literature, finding “large-scale heterogeneity in program efficacy”: Some schools outperformed their district peers while others floundered in comparison—though the overall effect of charters was still positive. This updated meta-analysis of charter-effect studies shows that little has changed since 2008. Evaluating all experimental (lottery-comparison) or student-growth studies, the authors find favorable charter-school effects (even when studies of KIPP schools were scrubbed from the dataset) for elementary and middle school math. (The effect on elementary and middle school reading is also positive, but not significantly so; those on high school reading and math are minimal.) And for other factors, like attendance rates and behavior, charter effects are significantly positive. Further delineating the studies, Betts and Tang find urban charters to be more able to lift student achievement than their suburban peers—especially schools in Boston and New York. Yet, even with three years’ more data in hand, the authors caveat their findings: The research landscape is still sparse, they explain, with studies limited by sample size, geographic narrowness, and a disproportionate focus on the KIPP schools. To really understand the variance of charter-school success, it will be imperative to undertake school-level research meant to ID specific successful practices. Still, to those who continue to insist that charter schools “don’t work” we say: “You’re wrong.”