Compromising one minute, angling the next

Jack and the Beanstalk
Did the LA school district trade their magic beans for a cow?
Drawing by George Cruikshank.

The Los Angeles school district and that city’s teacher union have reached what looks like the lamest compromise since the merchant traded Jack his magic beans for a cow. Sure, they say that teacher evaluations will include student achievement—but they’ve conspicuously left out any details regarding how much of such evaluations those may comprise. (The Los Angeles Times reports that it will be less than 50 percent). What’s more, teachers’ value-added scores will only be included in “feedback” sessions. Will we find out later that LAUSD leaders actually traded the teacher union a handful of pinto beans and received in return a proper cow? Or did they give up the beanstalk?

Twenty-thousand students in five states can expect their school year to increase by 300 hours. This three-year pilot program, which targets low-performing schools, will be funded by a mix of state, federal, and district funds, with the Ford Foundation picking up the slack and the National Center on Time & Learning providing technical assistance. How much of a good thing is this? On the one hand, American kids are spending too little time in school to learn all that they need to—and less than their peers in many high-achieving lands. On the other hand, much of the current school day is spent unproductively. (Bill Bennett once observed that if you’re a lousy chef with a bad omelet recipe, adding another egg to the mix won’t likely produce a more palatable result.) Besides, in an era of technology, who says all worthwhile learning needs to occur under the school roof? Still and all, this pilot is worth piloting—and studying carefully. We’ll be watching closely.

The first-ever federally compiled graduation rates were released last week, revealing lower-than-expected rates in most states and wide racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps. Kudos are due to the Department of Education for creating the common measure. But what happens next? We’ve known for a long while that graduation rates are too low and achievement gaps too wide.

Buzz surrounds outgoing Indiana State Superintendent Tony Bennett’s bid for the post of Florida Education Commissioner. He isn’t the only finalist but he’s by far the strongest candidate—and the powers that be in Florida deserve accolades for making the post worthy of him. Interviews are scheduled for Tuesday and are open to the public. We encourage the selection of our 2011 Ed-Reform Idol.

The Data Quality Campaign issued two reports last week: One details how states’ inability to share data creates knowledge gaps for educators, policymakers, parents, and students, while the other suggests ways to “break down the data silos” between states. Both build upon the DCQ’s laudable previous efforts to shepherd states towards better data systems. Get a move on, states! You know what you must do.

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