Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 12, Number 2
January 12, 2012
Opinion + Analysis
ESEA Reauthorization: Everyone’s cards are on the table. Now let’s make a deal.
Last week, the House GOP presented the latest round of NCLB reauthorization bills. Now it's time for some Congressional deal-making.
The costs of online learning
Stretching the school dollar through virtual schools and blended models
Holding RttT winners half-way accountable
Aren’t “progress” reports supposed to show…?
Briefly Noted: Checking in on the courts, Catholic schools, and Cuomo
Resisting Rahm is futile
Quality Counts 2012: The Global Challenge
Same Old Line on top
Revisiting the Age-Old Question: Does Money Matter in Education?
The meta-analysis that wasn’t
Dirty jobs: school principal
This week on the podcast, Janie explains why she wouldn’t want to head a school, Mike breaks down the latest NCLB proposal, and your hosts discuss how much online learning really costs. Amber explains the fuss around the Gates Foundation’s latest study, and Chris wonders what’s wrong with Tebowing.
Michael J. Petrilli / January 12, 2012
Democrats across and beyond the nation’s capital—in the Administration, on Capitol Hill, in advocacy groups, and in think tanks—are up in arms about the ESEA reauthorization proposals released by House GOP leaders on Friday. Or at least they are pretending to be. While they contained a few surprises, the House bills were pretty much as one would expect: significantly to the right of both the Senate Harkin-Enzi bill and the package put forward by Republican Senator Lamar Alexander and his colleagues. In the parlance that we’ve been using at Fordham for three years now, the House GOP embodies the views of the Local Controllers, Senator Alexander embraced Reform Realism, and Harkin-Enzi represents a mishmash of ideas from the Army of the Potomac and the System Defenders.
But while there are significant differences among the players, a clear path toward a workable, maybe even bipartisan, package is still visible. In short: all roads lead to Lamar. Not only does the Alexander package represent smart policy, it also serves as a sort of mid-point between the Senate bill that passed out of committee and the House GOP bill that is likely to do the same. Let’s tackle the five big issues:
for standards and tests. The Administration and the Senate (including
supporters of both the Harkin-Enzi and Alexander measures) want states to adopt
standards that indicate college and career readiness; the House Republicans
don’t. The real issue at stake is not just differing views of big, pushy Uncle
Sam but also the new Common Core standards initiative, and
January 12, 2012
Online learning, in its many shapes and sizes, is quickly becoming a regular part of the education experience for many of our nation’s K-12 students. As it grows, educators and policymakers across the country are beginning to ask the question: What does online learning cost?
A very important question, to be sure, and one that our new Fordham-published paper seeks to address. Ultimately, new technology-rich education models will need to be evaluated based on their productivity—that is, the results that they produce relative to the required investment. Unfortunately, within the nascent field of online learning, this information simply isn’t yet available
This analysis is complicated—and needs to be—because costs vary within digital education just as they do within brick-and-mortar schooling options.
This analysis is complicated—and needs to be—because costs vary within digital education just as they do within brick-and-mortar schooling options. Educators and policymakers pursue online learning for different reasons and adopt different flavors of technology-rich models. Resource allocation also varies significantly within these categories. Some models explicitly look for savings, while others aim to free up resources from one area in order to use elsewhere. Therefore we caution readers against looking for one simple “price tag” for online learning or assuming that apparent savings necessarily translate into a lower overall cost per pupil.
For schools that deliberately use technology to reduce costs in one category so as to free up resources to invest elsewhere, “savings” from online learning are often an important component of the school’s overall resource-allocation strategy. We’re also mindful that economic pressures could require all school
Tyson Eberhardt / January 12, 2012
"Race to the Top states have made tremendous strides in this first year," raved Arne Duncan in a Tuesday press release, praising the “courage and commitment” that the twelve first-round grant recipients had shown in implementing their proposals. In a dozen state-by-state progress reports, the Department of Education described a year of great progress with only a few bad actors—Florida, New York, and Hawaii—who, rest assured, would be dealt with shortly. Kudos to Duncan for calling out three RttT winners guilty of minimal progress, but the rosy overall assessment is troubling. Every single state has reneged on at least one aspect of its proposal, and most are just beginning to spend the billions Uncle Sam doled out in a competition that looks increasingly more like a stroll than a sprint. While it’s probably unreasonable to expect much more in the way of critical self-reflection from the Obama Administration in an election year, stating the obvious isn’t the same as accountability. Here’s hoping that the folks at 400 Maryland Avenue are much more concerned than Tuesday’s reports suggest.
“Big Race to Top Problems in Hawaii, Florida, N.Y., Says Ed. Dept.,” by Michele McNeil, Politics K-12 blog, January 10, 2012
January 12, 2012
- The Washington State Supreme Court’s ruling that the state wasn’t meeting its constitutional obligations to fund schools was thankfully toothless on enforcement, freeing legislators in a budgetary bind to include ed in some tough but necessary fiscal decision-making. Charter schools anyone?
- The Hewlett Foundation will hand out a cool $100K to techies that code software capable of reliably grading essays as part of state tests. Ambitious, sure, but a great example of philanthropy driving needed innovation in edtech.
- Dozens of Catholic schools in Philadelphia are shutting down due to a 35 percent drop in enrollment since 2001 even as the mayor wants to get rid of 50,000 seats in underperforming district schools. Hmmm, there must be a solution...
- Slowly but surely, incentives and common sense are winning out, as the number of district schools in Chicago accepting the mayor’s offer of extra cash for a longer day quadrupled this week despite the teacher union’s continued objections. Keep at it, Rahm!
- It’s that time of year: Governors from Virginia
are making all kinds of ambitious proposals in their State of the State addresses,
from an extra
Daniela Fairchild / January 12, 2012
Be you a school-finance junkie, an accountability hawk, or a teaching aficionado, Education Week’s annual Quality Counts report—which scores states on dozens of indicators in six buckets and offers overall grades for each jurisdiction—will be of interest. Celebrating its sweet sixteen, this year’s QC offers updated data in every category but one. The overall rankings? Thanks to Ed Week’s persistent use of some silly indicators like “Chance for Success,” wealthy states continue to float to the top. (More on that here.) Maryland’s B-plus is enough for a four-peat as the nation’s lead scorer; perennial powerhouses Massachusetts, New York, and Virginia follow close behind. Yet some shake-up has occurred, with Florida and Pennsylvania dropping from the top ten. Ohio earns a C-plus across all metrics, buttressed by its A on the “standards, assessment, and accountability” indicator and its B-plus for equity in school finance. Probably most useful are the report’s state profiles, which, after this heavy-reform year, further explain each one’s policies along QC’s six indicators. (Of course, this is the only part of the online report that costs dollars to view.) Worth mentioning too is the host of commentary and analysis of the findings—including pieces by South Korea’s former education minister Byong-man Ahn (famous for pushing back against his nation’s entrenched testing culture) and Sir Michael Barber (the theme of this year’s QC is “global competitiveness”). Also the original survey data on how state policymakers report utilizing information from other nation’s policies and practices, in which twenty-nine states say they use international data when making policy decisions. (We’re rather surprised that
Gathering Feedback for Teaching: Combining High-Quality Observations with Student Surveys and Achievement Gains
Laura Johnson / January 12, 2012
The first set of preliminary findings from the Gates-funded Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) project generated much conversation—and some criticism. This latest report, also preliminary, is not much different. (Remember that this $45 million project seeks to ferret out, or design, an optimal teacher-evaluation system through the analysis of student test scores, surveys, and thousands of hours of classroom observations.) While the first iteration compared student scores with survey responses, this one analyzes the predictive strength of five frameworks for classroom observations (think D.C.’s IMPACT program for an idea of what they look like). The study finds that, while each method is positively correlated to pupil achievement (on both state tests and independent tests), the reliability of observations pales in comparison to value-added measures (VAM): The reliability of VAM is about double that of a single observation—from any of the tested measurement systems. Predictive abilities increase significantly when VAM and student-survey data are combined with classroom observations—leading the authors to recommend use of multiple measures when evaluating teachers. In response, Jay Greene has again sounded the battle cry. And perhaps rightly so. While the report’s analyses clearly show that value-added data is the single strongest predictive factor for student achievement and that adding observations almost negligibly improves reliability, nowhere do the authors caution policymakers about the potentially high cost and low yield that come with that addition. In other words, it is cheaper and almost as reliable to rely entirely on value-added data. (Gates does remind that classroom observations can help buttress strong teacher-improvement programs, though—in a way that VAM
Lisa Gibes / January 12, 2012
Through a set of carefully selected and presented research findings (he attaches seventy-five endnotes to his eighteen-page paper), Rutgers University education professor Bruce Baker uses this report to refute what he calls the reformers’ “mantra”—that increased education spending, in and of itself, will not lead to higher student achievement. Baker addresses three related policy questions: Does money matter? Do schooling resources that cost money (like class-size reduction) make a difference? And should states boost funding for schools? Backed by his cherry-picked data, he answers yes to all three. “When schools have more money, they have greater opportunity to spend productively. When they don’t, they can’t,” his argument goes. Does that sound to anyone else like a case for a blank check (unsurprising from the Shanker Institute, a creature of the nation’s second-largest teacher union)? To his credit, Baker does offer this disclaimer: There may be “better and more efficient ways to leverage the education dollar toward improved student outcomes.” In that case, we agree, because that’s the “mantra” most reformers have actually been reciting.
For more on this topic, check out Chris Tessone’s new Stretching the School Dollar blog.
Bruce Baker, Revisiting the Age-Old Question: Does Money Matter in Education? (Washington, D.C.: The Albert Shanker Institute, 2011).
Chris Irvine / January 12, 2012
This annual report from the union-funded National Education Policy Center (NEPC) profiles the nation’s Education Management Organizations—defined here as both nonprofit and for-profit entities that manage public schools, both district and charter. The NEPC offers trends in EMO growth and achievement, as well as profiles of almost 300 such entities. A few interesting tidbits: Enrollment in schools managed by nonprofit EMOs significantly trumps that of the for-profit kind, yet for-profits have squeezed into more states (thirty-three vs. nonprofits’ twenty-nine). For-profit entities disproportionately manage elementary schools (56 percent of their schools are K-5 compared to 37 percent of nonprofits’). And district schools managed by nonprofit EMOs fare significantly worse than their charter counterparts on measures of AYP (14 percent of district schools met AYP compared to 56 percent of charters). Interesting stuff, but beware of simplistic conclusions. These descriptive data are helpful, but can’t begin to tell us about the effectiveness of these respective organizations. For that, at least on the nonprofit side, see the Center on Reinventing Education’s pioneering work on CMOs instead.
Gary Miron, Jessica Urschel, Mayra A. Yat Aguilar, and Breanna Dailey, “Profiles of For-Profit and Nonprofit Education Management Organizations: Thirteenth Annual Report” (Boulder, CO: National Education Policy Center, January 2012).