Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 12, Number 47
December 20, 2012
Opinion + Analysis
Sandy Hook and school reform
The sorrow remains, but the work goes on
Oh, Starr-y superintendent
Leaders or laggards in the suburbs?
Cause for hope
Our Responsibility, Our Promise: Transforming Educator Preparation and Entry into the Profession
The states take aim at ed schools
The Effects of Texas’s Pre-Kindergarten Program on Academic Performance
Pre-K for the (right) people
The Futures of School Reform
An ed-policy defibrillator
Strategies for Smarter Budgets and Smarter Schools
yes Nathan Levenson / December 12, 2012
This new policy brief by Nathan Levenson, Managing Director at the District Management Council and former superintendent of Arlington (MA) Public Schools, offers informed advice to school districts seeking to provide a well-rounded, quality education to all children in a time of strained budgets. Levenson recommends three strategies: prioritize both achievement and cost-efficiency; make staffing decisions based on student needs, not student preferences; and manage special-education spending for better outcomes and greater cost-effectiveness.
Michael J. Petrilli / December 20, 2012
That it’s taken me so long to write about the horrific acts of violence perpetrated on Newtown, Connecticut, is one indication of how torn up I’ve been about it. As the father of two small boys, this one really hit home. May God bless the children, their educators, and their families.
I can’t get Sandy Hook out of my mind—nor, in one sense, do I really want to.
Photo from the International Business Times.
When we—the Fordham team and many of Flypaper’s readers—pick ourselves up and turn back to our day jobs, the work of school reform, there is an unavoidable question: What does Sandy Hook mean for that work? For our mission of bringing excellence to America’s schools and ramping up opportunity for all children? For the public discourse in which we engage?
One possible answer: nothing. As tragic an event as it was, it’s only loosely related to education policy. A deranged man with access to high-powered weapons chose an elementary school as his target. He might have chosen a hospital, a day camp, or a circus performance. As Americans, it’s absolutely appropriate to debate whether stricter gun controls or reforms to our mental-health system or greater security barriers might help to reduce the
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / December 20, 2012
America has nearly 12,000 school superintendents, of whom the overwhelming majority are career educators who have taught in the classroom and risen through the administrative ranks of public education. Most are middle-aged-to-older white males—and almost half say they will retire within five years.
Joshua Starr has emerged as a fully fledged anti-reformer.
Photo from WAMU 88.5.
You wouldn’t necessarily expect them to be ardent change-agents. They’ve lived and worked within this system and will benefit from its pensions in retirement. Why make waves?
To be fair, some are earnest, tireless, and imaginative reformers, bent on altering public education so that it better serves the country’s girls and boys. Among the most nationally visible of these have been Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein, Kaya Henderson, Tom Boasberg, John Deasy, Jean-Claude Brizard, and Andres Alonso. (Several of these, of course, followed non-traditional paths to the corner office.) Others, just as committed to major overhauls, are well known only in their communities, such as Cleveland’s Eric Gordon, Cincinnati’s Mary Ronan, and Dayton’s Lori Ward (if only she had a supportive board). These people strike sparks and light fires.
But thousands of superintendents are more set in their ways, sometimes firefighters but rarely kindlers. They preside (often ably) over “the system as we know it”: holding staff
The Education Gadfly / December 20, 2012
This week, Student Achievement Partners—the group co-founded by Common Core architects David Coleman and Jason Zimba—announced a partnership with the NEA and AFT to develop and disseminate Core-aligned curriculum at no cost to teachers, thanks to a three-year, $11-million grant from The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust. As Kathleen Porter-Magee noted in yesterday’s Common Core Watch, “Given the dearth of quality, CCSS-aligned materials available to teachers who are already working to align their practice to the new standards, this additional investment is welcome.” We eagerly await the materials.
A task force convened to determine whether D.C. charter schools ought to give admissions preference to nearby students came up with a verdict on Friday: While the District should allow charters that move into closed public school buildings to give neighborhood preference, other charter schools should not be compelled (or even allowed) to do so. This is a sensible compromise that will ease the burden on students transitioning from schools that are closing while maintaining a central tenet of the charter school idea: to be open to all students, regardless of home address.
As part of its “30 under 30” series, Forbes magazine identified thirty Millenials taking the education world by storm. We saw a few familiar faces (shout-outs to Catharine Bellinger and Alexis Morin of Students for Education Reform, Jon Cetel of PennCAN, and Patrick Herrel of the Mind Trust).
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / December 20, 2012
Hard on the heels of the AFT’s proposed “bar exam” for teachers, the Council of Chief State School Officers brings forth this sober, comprehensive, and exceptionally well-thought-out set of recommendations for fundamentally revamping the preparation and licensure of both teachers and principals. It’s a thirty-eight-page blueprint containing ten big recommendations that, if put into practice by states, would indeed be transformative.
Written in straightforward, non-inflammatory prose, the report, in some respects, doesn’t go as far as it could. It does not, for example, do away with state-level certification of educators—which it could justify on grounds that research has found no link between such credentials and actual effectiveness. But it does seek to make certification meaningful by building exacting standards into the framework, standards that rely on evidence of knowledge and performance rather than a checklist of courses taken. Also tucked into the recommendations are such worthy ideas as serious acceptance of alternative pathways and “residency”-style preparation; insistence on real standards for entering prep programs and getting certified; the demand that prep programs respond to K–12 education’s actual supply-demand numbers rather than enrolling as many people as possible (thus probably killing the proverbial ed-school “cash cow” within universities); and tracking the performance of those emerging from various prep programs and institutions—and actually closing those that don’t produce successful professionals.
Underlying all this is the fact that states have plenty of leverage that could be used to boost the quality and effectiveness of the education workforce—and most of them haven’t been using much of
John Horton / December 20, 2012
Universal pre-Kindergarten programs, beloved by many education advocates and policy wonks, also have some critics (ourselves included). The critics aren’t anti-kid or unworried about Kindergarten readiness. Rather, they argue that states should target their limited resources at pre-K programming for youngsters truly in need. This CALDER study, which examines the impact of such a program in Texas between 1990 and 2002, backs that assertion. Drawing upon a huge sample of “at-risk” children, analysts compared those who participated in Texas’s PreKindergarten Early Start (PKES) program to those who didn’t. They found that PKES participation was linked to higher academic achievement in reading and math and lower likelihood of being held back or receiving special-education services. Two more items of note: These achievement data were collected in third grade, showing the staying power of the PKES program (positive effects of Head Start begin to fade after first grade). And the PKES program’s per-pupil cost is less than half that of Head Start in Texas. The report concludes, “Even modest programs can achieve important gains” for disadvantaged youth. A question naturally arises: What is the PKES program doing differently than its counterparts, many of which have been found wanting? We think we’ve found the answer: In Texas, even pre-K has standards and curriculum—and they’re aligned with those of the K–12 system.
Rodney Andrews, Paul Jargowsky, and Kristin Kuhne, The Effects of Texas’ Pre-Kindergarten Program
Greg Hutko / December 20, 2012
Tony Bryk, Paul Hill, Terry Moe, and Paul Reville (among others) contribute to this wonk-studded volume, which was borne of a four-year Harvard working group and starts from the premise that today’s incremental reforms will not effect lasting change for K–12 education; rather, we must think bigger. To that end, the collection offers six provocative essays. While several extend current reform ideas (moving to a mixed model of government and market-based providers; addressing the disadvantages of poverty through social reform and wrap-around services; copying successful strategies of countries that improved rapidly), others are unique visions for the future. One would professionalize teaching through “network improvement communities” that allow educators to share research, instructional materials, and pedagogical insights across sites. Perhaps the most radical vision for change suggests that education tomorrow will not be synonymous with schooling, as access to knowledge from outside the classroom increases and youth engage in “lifewide” learning. (We would argue, further, that “schools” in the traditional sense might not even be the best vehicle for education delivery in years to come.) Taken together, the essays present a refreshing and forward-thinking design for education reform and reformers.
Jal Mehta, Robert B. Schwartz, Frederick M. Hess, eds. The Futures of School Reform (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press, 2012).