Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 12, Number 14
April 12, 2012
Opinion + Analysis
The voucher animus
8 reasons private school choice still struggles
We don't judge teachers by numbers alone; the same should go for schools
Bring on the school inspectors
The Tartans: The story of an Appalachian charter school in Ohio
It takes a village
Voucher accountability in the Pelican State
Keeping private school choice honest
Competition (and a little new blood) may be just the thing
Moving Teachers: Implementation of Transfer Incentives in Seven Districts
Sure, I’ll move—for a price
Understanding School Shoppers in Detroit
Improving Student Learning When Budgets Are Tight
Spend smarter, not more
The Education Gadfly Podstagram
Will Mitt take on ed? Is Jindal gutting public schools? The podcast has answers. Plus, Janie provides the inside scoop on state accountability and Amber analyzes school shoppers in Detroit.
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / April 12, 2012
Rumor has it that we will soon see an actual education plan from Mitt Romney, his team having been loath to wade into this debate during the primaries. I predict that it’ll include a strong push for vouchers, if only because this remains the clearest divide between the GOP view of education and the reform agenda of Arne Duncan and the Obama administration.
Most other distinctions are grayer today, involving degrees of difference about things like teacher evaluations, “common core” standards, and just how much discretion Washington should return to states.
Short of plain goofiness, vouchers are where bright lines get drawn.
Short of plain goofiness (as in “abolish the Department of Education”), vouchers are where bright lines get drawn. The conventional explanation is that Democrats don’t dare cross this threshold lest the teacher unions (already antsy about charters, merit pay, test-based accountability, etc.) forsake their traditional party—or simply sit on their hands come campaign season and election day, while Republicans tend to take the side of parents and don’t much care what the unions—or other parts of the education establishment—think or do.
It feels and acts like a political line—witness the political football known as the D.C. voucher program—yet not so many years ago this was primarily a split over platform language, and party positioning because vouchers were all but nonexistent. (For ages, Milwaukee, Cleveland, and a few wee towns in northern New England were the only places you could actually
Michael J. Petrilli / April 10, 2012
I’ve been in favor of results-based accountability pretty much forever. And for good reason: Before the era of academic standards, tests, and consequences, all manner of well-intended reforms failed to gain traction in the classroom. New curricula came and went; states and districts injected additional professional development into the schools; commission after commission called for more “time on task.” Yet nothing changed; achievement flat-lined. And it was impossible to know which schools were doing better than which at what.
Schools should be judged by inspectors, as well as numbers.
Photo by nathanmac87.
Then came the meteoric shock of consequential accountability, and student test scores (on the National Assessment of Educational Progress and state exams, too) started to take off. For some subgroups of students, math and reading skills improved by two or three grade levels since just the mid 1990s.
Yet we all know the downsides of the narrow focus on reading and math scores in grades three through eight and once in high school. This regimen puts enormous pressure on schools to ignore or exclude other important subjects (art, music, history, even science). It penalizes schools with an educational strategy that succeeds in the long term but doesn’t produce sky-high scores now. (I’m thinking of Waldorf schools, for instance, such as
Fordham has served as an authorizer of charter schools in Ohio since mid-2005. Our schools have been mainly in Ohio’s urban core—including Dayton, Cincinnati, and Columbus—and the vast majority of their students have been poor and minority.
This year, we added two more schools to our sponsorship portfolio, both located in Scioto County near Ohio’s southern tip on the shores of the Ohio River, i.e., what most would term the Appalachian region of the Buckeye State. Families and children there face challenges as daunting as those in Ohio’s toughest urban neighborhoods. Scioto is one of the state’s poorest counties with an unemployment rate of 12.7 percent (the state average is 8.5 percent). It has also been ground zero for the state’s opiate epidemic: It has the third-highest overdose death rate of all eighty-eight counties in Ohio.
Together the Sciotoville Elementary School (Kindergarten through fourth grade) and Sciotoville Community School (fifth through twelfth grades) serve about 440 students. This represents about one in five children who attend a K-12 school in the local Portsmouth City School District (the home district for most Sciotoville students). The percentage of kids attending charters in that district matches the rate in Cincinnati.
Sciotoville Community School became a charter in September 2001 when the district decided to close East High School. The master plan called for busing Sciotoville students to other buildings in Portsmouth, some of them more than an hour away.
Adam Emerson / April 12, 2012
When Louisiana lawmakers last week approved Gov. Bobby Jindal’s plan to award vouchers to low-income children, they also ordered state schools Superintendent John White to develop a system that holds participating schools accountable for the performance of their voucher students. Now it’s up to White and his Department of Education to figure out how this is going to work. May we make a suggestion? They might consider a sliding scale of accountability, with heightened accountability requirements for private schools that rely more on public revenue. Schools that see only a few voucher students out of a private-paying enrollment of hundreds should be treated more like private schools (those voucher students would still have to take the state test under the law Louisiana adopted), but schools that see upward of 90 percent of their revenues coming from public sources should be treated more like public schools, even if that means removing them from the program for poor performance. Such an approach balances the choice of the parent, the unique characteristics of a school, and the rights of the taxpayer.
“Jindal bill tweaked to add accountability,” by Kevin McGill, Associated Press, April 7, 2012
The Education Gadfly / April 12, 2012
Colorado Springs superintendent and teacher-compensation-reform pioneer Mike Miles is taking the reins in Dallas. The political and practical challenges of adapting his promising approach to a large urban district are no joke, but it's encouraging to see such a district buying in on a leader with a track record of taking on broken systems.
The Center for Education Reform recently released its annual review of the nation's charter school laws. Even with 2011 victories for charter schools in several states, the U.S. still averaged a "C" by CER's reckoning, a good reminder that choice supporters can't afford to rest on recent successes. (For another thorough look at the state of charter laws, don’t forget NAPCS’s excellent rating system.)
David Brooks neatly framed America’s economic and political divide this week in his description of two distinct U.S. economies, one driven by global competition to improve at all costs, the second insulated from these forces and slow to adapt as a result. Education, as Brooks notes, falls into the latter category, and that’s a shame: Make no mistake, our schools are very much in competition with those in other countries…and we’re not winning.
Getting Americans to sign on to an overhaul of the rules and systems governing our schools takes time, but here’s one reform we should all be able to agree on: In order to
Lisa Gibes / April 12, 2012
The dictum states: Teacher quality is the single most important in-school factor for student achievement. The corollary goes: It’s hard to staff low-income schools with high-bar teachers. Thus: Students who need the strongest teachers often do not get them. This recent Institute of Education Sciences report, using data from seven large urban districts that participated in its two-year Talent Transfer Initiative (TTI), analyzes whether school districts can incentivize top-tier teachers to transfer into chronically low-performing schools. TTI recruited districts’ top 20 percent of elementary and middle school teachers (based on two years of value-added scores). It offered each potential participant $20,000 in added pay (awarded over the course of two years) if he or she transferred to and remained in an identified low-performing school. (Retention bonuses of $10,000 were also awarded to upper-echelon teachers already in low-performing schools.) Most eligible teachers did not apply to participate in the TTI program. Of this group, 29 percent cited their lack of confidence in teaching in a low-performing school as reason not to transfer. A quarter stated that $20,000 was not a large enough incentive. Still, the 24 percent who did apply (and were subsequently placed by principals) filled 90 percent of the vacancies at the low-performing schools. The report offers much more by way of descriptive analysis (those who participated in TTI, for example, were more likely to be
Amber M. Winkler, Ph.D. / April 12, 2012
Over the past few years, Detroit has undergone a host of large-scale reforms in attempts to revitalize the city’s K-12 education system: Among the more promising, Motown has dramatically expanded choice options for students. Now, under the auspices of the Michigan Future Schools and others, Detroit is set to launch three dozen new choice schools over the next several years. This unique study by Patrick Wolf and Thomas Stewart examines the school-choice shopping behaviors of parents in the Motor City and offers recommendations that bear on the next generation of choice schools. Researchers conducted doorstep interviews of over 1,000 households representing roughly 1,700 school-age children to ascertain how many Detroit parents, particularly those of low income, exercise school choice. They found that 71 percent of Detroit families have shopped for alternative schools before—though with varying levels of engagement. At present, roughly 45 percent of Motown children are attending a non-neighborhood school (with 22 percent in charters, 15 percent in public schools outside Detroit Public Schools (DPS), and the rest in magnet and private schools). Parents rely mostly on other parents and friends when they consider options and most say they value strong academics, school safety, convenience, and, especially at the high school level, extracurricular activities. They typically school-shop when their children are entering capstone grades (such as fifth or eighth). As for why
Chris Tessone / April 12, 2012
This how-to guide from noted ed-school professor and school-budget expert Allan Odden offers some necessary advice for school administrators learning to wield their budget axes deftly (and a number of helpful examples of how districts are doing just that). Odden’s mission—for district leaders to make cuts intelligently rather than clumsily or politically—would lead to a radical shift in the K-12 spending paradigm. And it’s about time. His thoughts on ending across-the-board, quality-blind layoffs, nixing seniority-based salary schedules, and reconfiguring employee benefits are sage advice for all. But Odden fails to embrace the full slate of funding reforms needed to save school budgets while holding students harmless. A few of his recommendations are questionable at best: one-on-one or small-group tutoring as first resort for low-performing students is likely prohibitively expensive for districts, for example. And mindless minimum staffing levels prescribing “one librarian per school”—no matter the size of the school—are shortsighted. There are a number of worthy and actionable recommendations for hard-pressed school-budget officers in this volume. Just be wary of those suggestions that add, not delete, formula-based prescriptions for funding.
Allan R. Odden, Improving Student Learning When Budgets Are Tight (Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, A SAGE Company, 2012).