Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 11, Number 39
October 6, 2011
Opinion + Analysis
The charter-school quality agenda
What comes next?
Statue in a block of marble
Reviewing the NRC Science Framework
A Rocky Mountain low
Don't hate the player, hate the game
No need to reinvent the wheel
Someday we?ll hold ed schools accountable
The Hamilton Project: Promoting K-12 Education to Advance Student Achievement
Discipline Policies, Successful Schools, and Racial Justice
Part report, part psychological analysis
Transforming Public Education: Pathway to a Pre-K-12 Future
The last lurch of the preschool juggernaut?
Amber changes her name to Waterfall
Janie and Daniela go two-for-two. This week they unpack Duncan?s teacher-prep plan, quality control in digital learning, and the parallels between football and education. Amber boots out ineffective teachers and Chris calls out of turn.
We’ve seen big wins on the charter-school front over the last two years. Advocates in many states successfully eliminated or raised caps on new charters (New York, Massachusetts), created new statewide authorizers (Indiana), and unlocked resources for school facilities (D.C.). Each of these initiatives should lead to significant growth in the charter sector in the years ahead.
But expanding the reach of charters is only half of the equation. Ensuring their quality is even more important. On this front, state lawmakers should target efforts on three main policies, and follow the lead of those blazing each trail.
By far the most important thing states can do to promote school quality is to make sure that charter authorizers—those that charter, oversee, and, if necessary, shutter charter schools—have the incentives, skills, and tools to do their jobs well. States with strong authorizers—such as Massachusetts and New York—tend to boast high-quality charter schools. Those with lackluster authorizing practices have struggled.
Since the charter movement began, we have learned a great deal about what is required of effective authorizers (thanks, in part, to the great work done at the National Association of Charter School Authorizers and the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools). These authorizers are responsible, professional organizations that believe in charters but equally in student achievement. They have expert staffs. They have sufficient resources
Science will soon join the short list of K-12 subjects for which American states, districts, and schools will have the option of using new, common (aka, “national”) academic standards. Is this a good thing for American students and teachers—and for the nation’s future? It depends, of course, on whether the new standards (and ensuing assessments, etc.) are better than those that states have been devising and deploying on their own.
When those “common” standards are ready, we will review and evaluate them. In the meantime, we are completing our review of existing state science standards and planning to publish those evaluations later this year—just as we did in July 2010 for the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI) in English language arts and math.
But unlike the Common Core standards, whose authors scoured the nation and the world for evidence and advice regarding essential content and rigor in those subjects for the K-12 grades, the drafters of these “next generation” science standards are beginning with an anchor document—the Framework for K-12 Science Education that was released by the National Research Council (NRC) in July 2011.
At this time, we’ve no idea how the common science standards themselves will turn out. But we can gauge the quality of the framework that will undergird it. How reliable a guide is that document to the essential content of K-12 science? And even if it is solid on content, how good a job
October 6, 2011
A series of scathing articles soiled the pristine robes of digital learning this week, revealing stunningly high turnover, lamentable academic performance, and negligent oversight among Colorado’s largest online schools. The investigation by Education News Colorado and the I-News Network finds, among other things, that more than half of the Centennial State’s online students left their virtual schools in favor of local brick-and-mortars during the 2008-09 school year. Yet, though they left mid-year, the per-pupil funding attached to them stayed with their virtual educators. The Centennial State’s virtual schools did not commit malfeasance: They followed the letter of the law. In Colorado, school funding is based on a single “count” day, meaning that schools receive a set number of funds based on enrollment numbers in October, irrespective of how many students still attend that school in June. It’s no big surprise that virtual schools would have high attrition rates—students and families are trying out a very different model of education, after all—which makes it even more inexcusable for states to maintain funding systems that don’t take twenty-first-century realities into account. As digital-learning proponents, we welcome exposés of this ilk—if only to showcase how antiquated our current system is, and how it
October 6, 2011
For a bit over a year, the National Council on Teacher Quality has been engaging in a mammoth undertaking: to dive behind the Oz-like curtain and collect data on the efficacy and rigor of each and every one of America’s teacher-preparation programs—difficult not only because of the size of the dataset but also because of resistance to such data collection. Slews of education schools have refused to participate in the survey (the University of Wisconsin, all of Georgia’s public institutions, and New York’s SUNY system come to mind). But let that be no hindrance to Arne Duncan, who announced last week a new federal plan to improve teacher-preparation programs. The initiative will center upon three axes: The first will support states as they collect data on training-program quality (based on job placement, a survey of program graduates, and the value-add that alum contribute to student achievement). The second will seek to revamp the TEACH grant program, providing scholarships to strong teacher candidates while also monetarily supporting states that develop rigorous teacher-training systems. And the last will kick in funds to support minority-serving institutions. While mending America’s broken teacher-prep system is an admirable goal, Duncan would be better served by streamlining his objectives. A proposal:
Tyson Eberhardt / October 6, 2011
The Hamilton Project, a Brookings initiative, approaches education as one facet of economic reform—and produces work with a refreshing attention to the cost-effectiveness and economic impact of education reforms. See, for example, a series of papers released last month from some of the most accomplished scholars in education. UChicago whiz Derek Neal, for instance, proposes changes to standardized tests—eliminate multiple-choice, vary test formats, never repeat questions from previous years—that can boost student achievement. Jonah Rockoff and Brian Jacob use cost-benefit analyses to argue convincingly for later school start times, more K-8 schools, and increased teacher content specialization, particularly for young teachers. The most ambitious paper, by the Harvard team of Bradley Allen and MacArthur genius Roland Fryer, navigates what works and what doesn’t with incentive programs. The duo concede that incentives for teachers and outcomes have poor track records, but still lobby hard for carefully designed rewards for student behaviors that can affect higher performance: Kids should get paid—and paid well—for reading books, not acing tests. Give these papers a look.
Adam Looney, Michael Greenstone, and Paige Shevlin, “Improving Student Outcomes: Improving America’s Education Potential,” (Washington, D.C.: The Hamilton Project at Brookings, September 2011).
Derek Neal, “New Assessments for Improved Accountability,” (Washington, D.C.: The Hamilton Project at Brookings, September 2011).
Brian A. Jacob and Jonah E. Rockoff, “Organizing Schools to Improve Student Achievement: Start Times, Grade Configurations, and Teacher Assignments,” (Washington, D.C.: The Hamilton Project at Brookings, September 2011).
Bradley M. Allen and Roland Fryer, Jr., “The Powers and Pitfalls of Education Incentives,” (Washington, D.C.: The Hamilton Project at Brookings, September 2011).
Daniela Fairchild / October 6, 2011
Building off his September 2010 report on out-of-school suspensions in middle schools, this policy brief from UCLA Civil Rights Project analyst Daniel Losen asserts that minority students are being over-punished when compared with their white peers. The data that he reports are jarring: According to the federal Office of Civil Rights, the rate of suspensions has been increasing since the 1970s, dramatically so for minority students. During the 1972-73 school year, 3 percent of white students and 6 percent of black students were assigned an out-of-school suspension. In 2006-07, the percentage of suspended white students ticked up two points while that of suspended blacks more than doubled (to 15 percent). What’s impossible to know from these data, however, is whether the punishments are warranted. Is racism at play here, or are minority students more likely to break the rules? (Is it a little bit of both?) One can readily agree with Losen’s implicit conclusion: More data are needed to understand what’s really going on.
Daniel J. Losen, “Discipline Policies, Successful Schools, and Racial Justice,” (Boulder, CO: National Education Policy Center), October 2011.
October 6, 2011
This paper marks one of the final breaths of the big Pew initiative to expand universal pre-K. (Pew’s Pre-K Now campaign will cease operations at year’s end after a decade of work and more than $10 million pumped into early-ed advocacy.) But a grand breath it is. After much throat-clearing about the benefits of early childhood education, the authors introduce a hefty list of state and federal policy recommendations to ensure expansion of pre-K programs going forward: Pre-K standards must be added to the Common Core, assessments must be developed for the early grades, and education schools must incorporate child development in all teacher-prep programs. Of course, we’ve long questioned the efficacy and financial feasibility of expanding publicly funded preschool programs to all of America’s tots rather than targeting it to the neediest among them. So, while some may wax nostalgic with this passing of Pre-K Now, we aren’t sad to welcome Pre-K Yesterday.
Allison de la Torre, Jennifer V. Doctors, Masooma Hussain, et al., “Transforming Public Education: Pathway to a Pre-K-12 Future” (Washington, D.C.: The Pew Center on the States, 2011).