Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 12, Number 13
April 5, 2012
Opinion + Analysis
What should accountability look like in the Common Core era?
Now comes the hard part
Don’t cheat teachers out of the respect they deserve
Testing and cheating are no package deal
Extra! Extra! Bad news sells!
U.S. Education Reform and National Security
Joel Klein and Condi Rice make the link
Tinkering Toward Transformation: A Look at Federal School Improvement Grant Implementation
SIG-nificant changes needed
Learning from Charter School Management Organizations: Strategies for Student Behavior and Teacher Coaching
Schools everywhere: Steal these ideas!
Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from the Educational Change in Finland?
It depends whom you ask
Six years and still buzzin'
On the podcast’s iron anniversary, Rick and Mike reflect on the highs and lows of education policy since 2006. Rick also provides a glimpse into the future (of the Common Core) while Amber explains what exactly can be learned from charter school management organizations.
Sh*t Ed Reformers Say
Defining Strong State Accountability Systems: How Can Better Standards Gain Greater Traction?
Rigorous standards and aligned assessments are vital tools for boosting education outcomes but they have little traction without strong accountability systems that attach consequences to performance. This pilot study lays out the essential features of such accountability systems, intended to add oomph to new common standards and aligned assessments.
Amber M. Winkler, Ph.D. / April 5, 2012
As of April 5, 2012, forty-five states plus the District of Columbia had adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). While they deserve plaudits for strengthening their previously lackluster expectations for students, nobody should expect standards-adoption alone to drive academic gains. Nor will the development of curriculum, adoption of new textbooks, and ramped up professional development—some of the “stuff” that folks refer to when they talk about “implementing” the CCSS—mean much unless accompanied by means of holding individuals and buildings accountable for progress. To get real traction from new standards, states must also install robust accountability systems that incentivize, support, reward, and sanction districts, schools, students, teachers, and other adults.
This is the perfect time for states to reboot their accountability systems, not only because of the opportunity presented by CCSS, but also due to the availability of waivers from some of the accountability shackles and oddities of No Child Left Behind. Moreover, most of the ESEA reauthorization bills now creaking through Congress would give states even wider latitude to design their own approaches to accountability.
But what do strong state accountability systems look like? And how strong are they today?
The time is ripe for states to revamp their approaches to accountability.
To examine those questions, Fordham probed the accountability
Tyson Eberhardt / April 5, 2012
Photo by Alberto G.
Direct from America’s cheating capital comes an Atlanta Journal-Constitution article describing suspicious test score patterns in lots of districts around the country. According to the analysts, who looked at scores from 69,000 schools, 196 districts had swings so extreme that the odds of them occurring by chance alone were less than one in a thousand. While the newspaper acknowledged that its analysis is not proof of cheating, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel wrote that it should trigger a thorough review. The union boss’s support of transparency on this issue is heartening: Wide-spread cheating undermines the foundations of standards-based reform and further investigation is indeed warranted. Accountability based on objective measures of student knowledge demands that those measures be accurate and trustworthy, else myriad efforts that rely on a clear understanding of performance—merit pay, tenure reform, VAM—are damned. But, of course, those are things that Van Roekel and his crew abhor, so he spoiled his message about cheating by also bemoaning the “corruptive influence high-stakes tests have had on our students, teachers and schools.” As Checker noted in July when the Atlanta cheating scandal first broke, the appropriate response to testing improprieties is increased transparency and test security, not abandonment of test-based accountability on grounds that educators
The Education Gadfly / April 5, 2012
A recent piece in the American Journalism Review ripped mainstream education journalism, especially the televised variety, for fostering a false sense of crisis. It contains a shred of truth. “The sky is falling!” is no longer a fair assessment of American education, as witness modest gains on NAEP and high-school graduation rates. But the author, hell bent to attack “reform,” doesn’t appear willing to give reform any credit for any of that, either.
The Wall Street Journal recently profiled ed school objections to the National Council on Teacher Quality's ongoing efforts to appraise America's teacher preparation programs. The more attention their resistance to transparency gets the better: It just makes more obvious how self-serving their complaints on this issue are.
A new poll shows Cleveland residents support Mayor FrankJackson's school reform plan. Here’s hoping that leaders in Cleveland and across Ohio will keep in mind that it's the community, not special interests, that should be driving the education agenda.
Reformers bemoan specific bureaucratic hurdles to improving schools, but perhaps the real issue is American education’s basic tendency towards bureaucracy, argues Philip Howard in a recent Atlantic essay. Howard’s observation that “the organizational flaw in America's schools is that they are too organized” is an axiom worth remembering when considering how to fix our byzantine approach to education governance.
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / April 5, 2012
One might fairly wonder why the Council on Foreign Relations, of all outfits, would wade into school reform, but in fact the task force that CFR convened on this topic has made a valuable contribution.
We’re accustomed to reformers arguing that America’s international economic competitiveness hinges on a better-educated workforce; we’re used to parallel (and equally justified) assertions that our civic future and cultural vitality depend on kids learning a great deal more in school. What the CFR team has done is remind us that revitalizing our education system is also essential for the defense of the nation itself. In their words, “America’s failure to educate is affecting its national security….In the defense and aerospace industries, many executives fear this problem [dearth of adequately skilled people] will accelerate in the coming decade….Most young people do not qualify for military service….The U.S. State Department and intelligence agencies are facing critical language shortfalls in areas of strategic interest….”
They’re not exactly saying that nuclear warheads will rain onto our population centers the day after tomorrow unless our schools become more effective but they are reminding us that the intersection of national wellbeing and education has many dimensions. One may usefully recall the post-Sputnik angst that led to the National Defense Education Act and a flurry of other efforts to strengthen the U.S. education system as well as the stirring and alarmist rhetoric
Layla Bonnot / April 5, 2012
Arne Duncan may be excited about the potential of his School Improvement Grant (SIG) initiative to turn around our nation’s lowest-performing schools, but the folks at the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) aren’t convinced. This qualitative report from CRPE examines the progress of Washington State’s SIG-funded school districts between December 2009 and June 2011. (More background on SIG here.) Forty-four interviews at the school, district, and state levels five months after SIG implementation began reveal signs of incremental changes in schools, but no sweeping shifts in achievement or culture. According to the report, the hindrances to bold reforms were timing, communication, and an aversion to risk taking. SIG’s constricted timeline (just two months between program announcement and application due date) negatively impacted the initial SIG application, the planning phase, negotiations with unions, and the hiring process, thus impairing implementation. Additionally, vague communication from districts left schools unaware of the SIG program’s expectations. Finally, most of the schools that did adopt changes opted for the least disruptive interventions (replacing the school leader only, rather than the whole staff, for example). To spur more fundamental reform, CRPE offers recommendations for players at each level: The feds should make SIG more competitive and allow time for a planning phase as part of the application process; states should clearly communicate the program’s goals to districts and schools; districts should
Learning from Charter School Management Organizations: Strategies for Student Behavior and Teacher Coaching
Lisa Gibes / April 5, 2012
In November, we learned from the National Study of CMO Effectiveness (a joint initiative by Mathematica and the Center on Reinventing Public Education) that the quality of charter-management organizations varies dramatically. (These findings were confirmed in second report released by the pair in January.) This latest from Mathematica and CRPE probes some of the common practices of high-quality CMOs. Based on data from the middle schools of twenty-two CMOs, we now learn that consistently applied school-wide behavior programs (which outline clear rewards and demerits for specific actions, hold “zero tolerance” for violence, and promote a strong culture of learning) and regular teacher coaching are the strategies most strongly linked to higher student achievement. Interestingly, other popular (and reformy) approaches didn’t correlate with better performance, including boosting instructional time, adopting performance-based teacher evaluation and compensation schemes, and using formative-assessment data frequently. To illustrate further how the two successful strategies work on the ground, the report then profiles five CMOs that utilize them—Aspire Public Schools, Inner City Education Foundation, KIPP DC, Uncommon Schools, and Yes Prep Public Schools. Uncommon Schools, for example, pushes a school culture based on its MAPP (Mindful, Achieving, Professional, and Prepared) and SLANT (Sit up straight, Listen, Ask and answer questions, Nod for understand, and Track the speaker) tenets. (Pioneered by KIPP’s founders, KIPP DC also uses the SLANT technique.) On the teacher-coaching front,
Daniela Fairchild / April 5, 2012
A great many education-policy types, mainly defenders of the status quo, are smitten with Finland. There, kids have little homework, high-stakes tests are rare, and teachers get lots of money and respect. This self-congratulatory but wide-ranging and informative book by Finnish Ministry of Education Director General Pasi Sahlberg gives such folks aid and comfort, but it also probes key elements of the Finnish system that have gotten less attention on our shores. The most important: Finland’s uber-competitive teacher-training programs, which ensure quality on the front end and allow Finnish schools to confer greater autonomy on teachers in their classrooms. Emulating Finland in that respect would be good for American education. But are the defenders of the status quo ready to embrace TFA-level standards for all entrants to ed schools? Even if that means slaughtering the ed-school cash cow? Finland-lovers, we await your reply.
Pasi Sahlberg, Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from the Educational Change in Finland? (New York, NY: Teachers College Press, 2011).