Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 12, Number 45
December 6, 2012
Opinion + Analysis
Getting real about the Common Core
Considering the stakes for students
A judge decides what “public education” is in Louisiana
And the public loses
Meltdown in the Motor City
Hope fades for Detroit’s kids
Compromising one minute, angling the next
Bar Exam for Teachers?
The AFT's new and much-ballyhooed proposal, contained in a report titled Raising the Bar, revives the Shanker-era idea of a “bar exam” for entering teachers
Strength in Numbers: State Spending on K-12 Assessment Systems
The right kind of collaboration
Charter School Performance in New Jersey
Newark hits it out of the park
New York State Special-Education Enrollment Analysis
Beware the knee-jerk reaction
How Strong Are U.S. Teacher Unions? A State-By-State Comparison
This timely study represents the most comprehensive analysis of American teacher unions’ strength ever conducted, ranking all fifty states and the District of Columbia according to the power and influence of their state-level unions.
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / December 6, 2012
A foundation staffer I think well of posed these vexing questions the other day:
With the transition to the new Common Core assessments, states will have a number of decisions around how they use the new tests. Some of the most consequential are around possible use of the tests for high school exit or grade promotion. These are obviously sticky subjects. Should we be scrapping exit exams, especially given that they tend to be 9th-grade level at best anyway? Is there a need for an overall re-thinking and rationalization of state testing in general—rather than piling more on top?
Could Common Core improve the value of a high school education?
Photo by Anna Botz
Here’s what I think:
States today have sharply divergent views of what stakes, if any, to attach to test results for kids. Several have test-based 3rd-grade reading “gates” that you must pass to advance to 4th grade (Jeb Bush said the other day that “Seven states have started on this journey”). A few have “kindergarten-readiness” assessments (though those are more often teacher “checklists” than tests). And the last time I checked, about half the states have statewide exit tests that are prerequisite to graduating from high school, though it’s true that most peg such exams to what are today deemed 9th- or 10th-grade standards. (Under Common Core, I’d wager, a bunch
Adam Emerson / December 6, 2012
The Louisiana Constitution allows lawmakers greater freedom to design public education than the state’s school boards and teacher unions would have us believe. So it’s no surprise that what is “public” in the Bayou State today includes a largely charter school system in New Orleans, four publicly funded private-school-choice programs, a recovery school district, and online charter schools.
Jindal sought more than just budgetary leftovers when working to fund the voucher program.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons
That’s why it was frustrating to see a state judge declare late Friday that Louisiana’s newest and largest voucher program is illegal because it diverts “vital public dollars” to private schools. According to Judge Timothy Kelley, the state was wrong to fund its new voucher program from the same revenue stream that provides a “minimum foundation” to its public elementary and secondary schools.
That was the same argument put forward by the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and the Louisiana School Boards Association when they sued to abolish the voucher program, which already serves nearly 5,000 children in 113 private schools.
But what is the difference between privately operated charter schools and private schools accepting voucher-bearing students if both kinds are held accountable to parents and taxpayers?
Students receiving the Louisiana voucher have to take the same standardized tests as those administered at public
Adam Emerson / December 6, 2012
The last thing Detroit families need is for an incompetent school board to regain control of the Motor City’s worst schools, but that may happen now that Michigan voters have repealed the state’s “emergency manager” law. The repeal has emboldened the Detroit Board of Education to undo many of the biggest reforms that emergency managers have put in place in the district during the last four years. Perhaps the worst of these decisions (so far!) was voiding the contract that emergency manager Roy Roberts forged last year with the state’s fledgling Education Achievement Authority, a recovery district modeled on Louisiana’s and run out of Eastern Michigan University. The EAA had taken possession of the lowest-achieving schools in Detroit (and has been praised by Arne Duncan), but it remained an inter-local agreement between the university and the school district. The Detroit school board, which one newspaper columnist said was “sauced on power and staggering with incompetence,” now wants to take those schools back under its fold. Eastern Michigan has vowed to fight, but it’s hard to see how kids will benefit from this custody battle if the state doesn’t codify the recovery district into law. Two bills were introduced recently in the legislature to do just that, but their sponsors have met with critics who maintain that the Achievement Authority needs more time to prove itself. That’s an absurd position, considering the thousands of Detroit families who been waiting for
The Education Gadfly / December 6, 2012
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
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / December 3, 2012
The late AFT president Albert Shanker was instrumental in creating the NBPT.
Photo from the Library of Congress..
As President of the AFT, the late Albert Shanker was instrumental in creating the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) and much else in the education-reform world. Now Randi Weingarten is trying—earnestly and imaginatively—to return the organization and its (present) leader to the pantheon of real reformers.
Their new and much-ballyhooed proposal, contained in a report titled Raising the Bar, revives the Shanker-era idea of a “bar exam” for entering teachers—and charges the NBPTS with putting it into practice.
Andy Rotherham came out within hours with multiple doubts, some of which worry me, too. But let’s start by crediting Ms. Weingarten and her organization with a serious proposal to raise standards for new teachers as part of a broader effort to strengthen the profession.
Their proposal has three pillars. The second—but most important so far as I’m concerned— is this:
Teaching, like other respected professions, must have a universal assessment process for entry that includes rigorous preparation centered on clinical practice as well as theory, an in-depth test of subject and pedagogical knowledge, and a comprehensive teacher performance assessment.
My eye went immediately to the phrase “in-depth test of subject…knowledge,” and I combed
Greg Hutko / December 6, 2012
This new study by Brookings’s Matt Chingos makes its way through the labyrinth of state budgets for standardized assessments, and it is the first time we’ve ever seen anything coherent and reasonably comprehensive on this part of the K-12 spending universe. Chingos focuses on the costs of contracts between states and test-making vendors, which comprise about 85 percent of total assessment costs. Across the forty-five states for which data were available, $669 million was spent annually on standardized assessments for grades three through nine. That’s about $27 per pupil on average, but this figure varies widely: A child in D.C. costs $114 to assess; in New York, that same child would cost just $7. Some of the variance is due to state size. He estimates that states with about 100,000 students in grades three-nine (e.g., Maine or Hawaii) spend about $13 more per pupil on assessment than states in the million-pupil range, such as Illinois. From these data, Chingos concludes that all states would enjoy some savings by joining or creating assessment consortia—whether PARCC or SBAC for ELA and math or another smaller grouping for other subjects. Much speculation surrounds the in-development Common Core assessments; the new design is likely to cost more, though it’s difficult to estimate how much at present. (We’ve also weighed in on this topic.) Chingos shows that new (and hopefully better) assessments could be rolled out at about the same cost to states, provided
Andrew Saraf / December 6, 2012
Three years ago, Stanford’s Center for Research in Education Outcomes (CREDO) up-ended the conversation on charter school effectiveness with its much-cited study of sixteen states’ charter schools. This new report extends that kind of analysis into the Garden State, where the authors find a bumper crop of quality charters, particularly in Newark. CREDO analysts matched over 10,000 charter students in grades three through eight with “twin” students in traditional public schools (rigorously controlling for a host of student characteristics), tracking them between 2006-07 and 2010-11. The report offers a host of interesting data and solid ammunition for charter proponents in New Jersey—though its findings also raise a few serious questions. First, the good news for charters: Sixty percent of New Jersey charters outpace district learning gains in reading and 70 percent do so in math. And only 11 percent and 13 percent perform significantly worse (for reading and math, respectively). Statewide, charters added about two more months of annual learning in each subject compared to traditional public schools. Newark charters boast an additional seven and nine months’ learning in reading and math over the course of a year, respectively. Large positive effects in math were found for poor students and English language learners in charters, as well as small positive effects for black and Hispanic youngsters. Still, the report reveals shortcomings of charters too (some which—without further explanation—seem incongruous
Daniela Fairchild / December 6, 2012
A widely-noted Government Accountability Office (GAO) report back in June found that charter schools serve a disproportionately low number of special-education students, feeding concerns that these schools discriminate again special-needs (and ELL) youngsters. This latest from the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) adds much-needed nuance and should quell some of the concern. CRPE analysts examined 2011-12 special-education enrollments across 1,500 district and 170 charter schools in New York State, finding that aggregates in that state mask important differences across grade band, location, and authorizer. At the middle and high school levels, New York special-education enrollments are nearly identical in the district and charter sectors, with the only variance—albeit sizable—occurring at the elementary level. (The authors offer a few suggestions as to why, including that charter elementaries are less likely to label students special-needs as they have more effective behavior-management systems, smaller classes, or a general insistence on “individualized” education for every pupil.) From these findings, the researchers draw cautionary policy recommendations, urging against the adoption (or continuation) of blanket special-education-enrollment requirements. (New York has such a law; more on this on our Choice Words blog). Not a bad first step, considering that such requirements often lead to over-identification of students as disabled. But let’s also recall the larger question: Why should a single school—charter or otherwise—be expected to appropriately serve all students?
Robin Lake, Betheny Gross, and