Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 12, Number 3
January 19, 2012
Opinion + Analysis
Should schools turn children into activists? And should Uncle Sam help?
Thinking twice about “action civics” education
Evolution is to climate change as…
Walking the line between science and politics
The Long-Term Impacts of Teachers: Teacher Value-Added and Student Outcomes in Adulthood
Hanushek is nodding in agreement
Hopes, Fears, & Reality: A Balanced Look at American Charter Schools in 2011
It’s not all kumbaya, even if you want it to be
On Her Majesty’s School Inspection Service
The Brits are better at more than just cricket
Charter-School Management Organizations: Diverse Strategies and Diverse Student Impacts
Updated, but still without names
Who wants to be Tim Tebow now?
Fresh off his South American adventure (seriously!), Rick reunites with Mike to catch up on what he missed: NCLB reauthorization, tough talk in New York, and the fall of Tim Tebow. Amber explains why the latest value-added study really is a big deal and Chris describes a teacher scandal that really will leave you asking, “What’s up with that?”
The Louisiana Recovery School District: Lessons for the Buckeye State
January 17, 2012
By Nelson Smith
By Nelson Smith
Is it time for Ohio to take bolder steps toward turning around its most troubled schools and districts? If so, what might the alternatives look like? In looking for alternatives to simply doing more of the same, Ohio policymakers are looking to the experiences of other states. Among the boldest and most interesting of these is Louisiana’s Recovery School District (RSD), which is accomplishing both significant gains in student achievement and consequential impacts on district-level standards. In this recent report by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute author Nelson Smith ask if and how the RSD concept might be a model for Ohio.
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / January 19, 2012
Pretty much everybody favors better “civics education” in our schools and colleges. Pretty much everybody who thinks about such matters is alarmed that barely a quarter of U.S. school kids were at or above the “proficient” level on the 2010 NAEP assessment of civics—and that achievement at the twelfth-grade level is slipping even though just about all students “take civics” in high school. Almost everyone has encountered ample examples of students (and adults!) who cannot answer the most rudimentary questions about how the government is organized, what “separation of powers” or “checks and balances” means, how many senators their states have (much less their names), and more.
It is, indeed, a modern platitude that “we must do something to improve Americans’ knowledge of civics and government.”
But there is a problem in civics education, a sort of dividing line, about which there is far less agreement across society. On one side, we find an emphasis on infusing kids with basic knowledge about government, an understanding of the merits (as well as the shortcomings) of American democracy, and a sense of what can still be called patriotism: the belief that this country and its values need to be defended. (Stanford’s Bill Damon does a terrific job of elaborating on this viewpoint in his recent book, Failing Liberty 101.)
On the other side, we find much greater emphasis on civic participation and activism, on voluntarism and “service learning,” and on what is often termed “collective decision making” (or problem solving) and “democratic engagement,” which often boils down into the communitarian view that issues facing society are best
Kathleen Porter-Magee / January 19, 2012
Earlier this week, the National Center for Science Education—an organization devoted to “defending the teaching of evolution and climate science”—launched a new initiative to promote the teaching of climate change in schools. But they didn't settle for conveying the solid scientific fact that the climate (almost everywhere) is indeed changing. They want causality and they enter into policy, politics and civic activism. In the Center's formulation, schools should teach children that, while “climate has changed in the past…now it is changing because humans have become a force of nature and are altering the flow of matter and energy on the planet.” What's more, climate change needs to be taught in schools so that “future citizens to be able to make scientifically informed decisions about the consequences of climate change.”
But can we really equate people who question evolution with those who question the science behind what causes (and what, if anything, might ameliorate) climate change? According to NCSE’s executive director, Eugenie Scott, “Both [groups] are making a pedagogical argument, that it is somehow good pedagogy, good critical thinking, for students to learn both. That it is somehow good pedagogy for students to learn good and bad science.” Here is the problem: unlike evolution, where there is universal agreement among scientists, the scientific community does not agree about the degree to which man has contributed to global warming and certainly not about the efficacy of steps that might be taken, from a policy perspective, to combat the present warming trend. Nor, being scientists, do they get into the churning waters of
Amber M. Winkler, Ph.D. / January 19, 2012
Into the contentious debate over teacher effectiveness and value-added metrics (VAM) comes this important, timely, and supersized analysis, conducted by a trio of respected economists with the NBER, showing that the impact of good teachers follows their students into adulthood. The analysts pull data from 18 million test scores from roughly 2.5 million children over two decades (1988 to 2009). They note changes in teaching staff and find that, when high-value-added teachers (top 5 percent) joined a school, end-of-year test scores rose immediately in the grade taught by those teachers. In addition, a one standard deviation (SD) increase in a teacher’s value-added score raises student achievement by 0.1 SD on average across math and ELA (which equates to roughly one to two months of learning in a year). The researchers also meticulously track subsets of students into young adulthood (using income-tax records, W-2 forms, university-tuition payments, social-security forms, etc.) and find that the pupils assigned to teachers with higher value added across all grades are more likely to attend college, earn higher salaries, live in better neighborhoods, and save more for retirement. Further, they find with another cohort that, by age twenty-eight, a 1 SD improvement in teacher value added in a single grade raises annual earnings by an average of about 1 percent (which could add roughly $4,600 over a lifetime in additional earnings). And replacing a teacher whose value added is in the bottom 5 percent with an average teacher in any of the studied grades (four through eight) would increase the lifetime income of that teacher’s class by an
Lisa Gibes / January 19, 2012
Like the Hatfields and McCoys or the Montagues and Capulets, charter and district schools have a tradition of feuding. Districts have been known to waylay charters’ funding; charter leaders to wage legal battles against their local districts. Yet this sixth edition of Hopes, Fears & Reality (which depicts the status of the charter movement annually, with a pause in 2010) argues that a truce may be near. These nine chapters offer examples of districts and charters that have already begun to collaborate through the “portfolio management model” (PMM) of schooling—and explains how to tackle the philosophical and technical issues that stand in the way of further implementation of this new (and radically different) model of organizing districts. (In the PMM set-up, a central district office oversees a diverse portfolio of schools, instead of a group of cookie-cutter neighborhood schools; more background on PMM here and here). One chapter, for example, details how Baltimore enacted its city-wide choice program, which allows students to choose one of about thirty district or charter schools in their area. Another discusses how charters and the district came to share facilities in Denver. The authors note mutual benefits for strategic collaboration: Districts can exploit charters’ flexibility to leverage greater equity and higher student achievement; charters can partner with districts to (finally) ensure equitable funding. Portfolio districts are a fresh and intriguing prospect to be sure, but it will be some time before we see a general accord between the two disputers. Of our 14,000 or so school districts, fewer than thirty are currently experimenting with PMM.
Daniela Fairchild / January 19, 2012
As the tide of education accountability ebbs from federal shores and rolls back out to state seas, states are in a position to reboot, retool, and reimagine their current accountability models. This Education Sector paper from independent analyst Craig Jerald offers a novel suggestion: Model new accountability systems after the Brits’s long-running school-inspection program. The specifics of the program have been tinkered with since its inception, but its tenets remain the same. School ratings (given on a five-point scale) are based upon site-visit reports by trained professionals using a multi-dimensional metric. (Next year, those measures will be: student achievement, quality of teaching, students’ behavior and health, and leadership and management of the school.) Schools are told—explicitly—what they’re doing right and wrong, and are given tangible recommendations for improvement. And transparency is key—with all school evaluations made public online within fifteen days of site visit. Jerald is right to call for a more robust, and accessible, accountability system. And this British model (implemented in a union-friendly nation) is worth states’ consideration. But there’s still one anchor holding back large-scale adoption in the U.S.: Britain no longer has the powerful local school boards seen in the U.S.—entities that (along with other systemic issues) tie the hands of school leaders who might want to implement thoughtful improvement recommendations.
Craig D. Jerald, On Her Majesty’s School Inspection Service (Washington, D.C.: Education Sector, January 2012).
Laura Johnson / January 19, 2012
Two months ago, Mathematica and the Center on Reinventing Public Education offered preliminary findings from their four-year study on charter-management organizations. The upshot: When it comes to student achievement, CMO performance varies widely. Two weeks ago, analysts put out a revised and extended version of their interim report, adding analyses on graduation and postsecondary enrollment rates (and school-level, as opposed to CMO-level, middle school impacts). The results are again mixed. Data were much scarcer for these graduation and post-secondary enrollment components (in part because fewer CMOs run high schools): Six CMOs had sufficient data to investigate their graduation rates and four had sufficient data to investigate post-secondary enrollment. Of these, two had significantly positive effects when compared to similar district schools, raising both graduation and postsecondary enrollment rates by about 20 percent. And one CMO had a significant negative impact (22 percent) on graduation rates. Meager data aside, one frustrating thread continues through each of these published preliminary reports: Which CMOs raise college enrollment rates by 20 percent? And which lowers graduation rates by that same amount? Mathematica and CRPE never say. The project’s culminating report is due out in March. We wait with bated breath for the authors to name names.
Melissa Bowen, et al., Charter-School Management Organizations: Diverse Strategies and Diverse Student Impacts (Princeton, NJ: Mathematica Policy Research; Seattle, WA: Center on Reinventing Public Education, 2012).