Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 12, Number 27
July 19, 2012
Opinion + Analysis
The case for public-school choice in the suburbs
“Customization” isn’t just for urban hipsters
Business leaders rally around Common Core
Fired up for standards
Complacency and false promises—we can’t afford either
Pursuing the American Dream: Economic Mobility Across Generations
The good news: Almost everyone’s upwardly mobile
Pieces of the Puzzle: Factors in Improving Achievement of Urban School Districts
They’re onto something here
Special Reports on School Improvement Grants
Another day, another report on SIG…and another CEP survey
An Accident of History: Breaking the District Monopoly on Public School Facilities
It’s time for some trust-busting
Move to the head of the class
Mike and Rick reunite to talk social mobility, the NEA’s membership woes, and what sequestration would actually mean for schools. Amber explains where parents stand on digital learning.
American Achievement in International Perspective
The latest results of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) garnered all the usual headlines about America's lackluster performance and the rise of competitor nations. And to be sure, the findings that America's 15-year-olds perform in the middle of the pack in both reading and math are disconcerting for a nation that considers itself an international leader, priding itself on its home-grown innovation, intellect, and opportunity. But that's not the entire story. Read on to learn more.
Michael J. Petrilli / July 19, 2012
For two decades now, school-choice supporters have advanced two main arguments. First, it’s unfair to trap poor kids in failing schools when better options are available. And second, giving these kids a choice will force the entire public-education system to improve.
Those assertions are still compelling, but they have their limitations. Namely: What about kids who aren’t poor; attend schools that aren’t failing; and live in school districts that, by some measures at least, aren’t in dire need of improvement? I’m talking, of course, about our affluent, leafy suburbs. Do their residents deserve school choice too?
Why shouldn't suburban residents enjoy options for public schooling?
Photo by Hunter Desportes.
Set aside, for a moment, the fact that many suburban communities are diversifying, with low-income and otherwise disadvantaged children moving into them in greater numbers than ever before. Forget, too, that even our best suburban districts are no great shakes when judged by international comparison. Focus just on the most affluent, high-achieving, homogeneous communities you can picture: Say, Scarsdale (New York) or Bethesda (Maryland) or McLean (Virginia) or most of Marin County (California). Does school choice also have a place in these “super zip codes”?
Many people believe it doesn’t—witness recent debates about
Terry Ryan / July 19, 2012
Earlier this week I attended the GE Foundation's Summer Business and Education Summit in Orlando. Most of the two-day conversation among the 150 or so participants revolved around Common Core implementation. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush captured the scale of the challenge when he told the gathering on the first morning that states are heading for a “train wreck.” He noted that when the new standards and assessments come fully online in 2015 that many communities, schools, and families are in for a rude awakening.
Running away from the Common Core would be a huge mistake for the country, its children, and its future.
Governor Bush said that the more rigorous Common Core standards, if backed by equally rigorous assessments, will show that only one in three children in America qualify as college or career ready. Bush warned that such bluntness about the poor health of American education and student achievement will trigger serious political backtracking. He said, “My guess is there’s going to be a lot of people running for cover and their going to be running fast.”
But, as Governor Bush and other speakers during the two-day conference argued, running away from the Common Core would be a huge mistake and a serious step back for the country, its children, and its future. This, in fact, was the overwhelming feeling of the group of business leaders gathered in Orlando. A recurring message throughout the event was that states must move forward
The Education Gadfly / July 19, 2012
The Obama administration would like to spend $1 billion to improve STEM education by creating a Master Teacher Corps of higher-paid expert math and science educators. Prioritizing STEM is admirable and Arne Duncan deserves credit for being willing to pay some teachers more than others, but the fact that the Obama administration is hauling out these “be generous to teachers” schemes during the run up to a close presidential election smacks of politicking, rather than sound policy.
Nearly two-thirds of the states seem thrilled with their exemptions from NCLB accountability requirements—just don’t ask folks in the Hawkeye State about the Department of Education’s version of flexibility. Iowa’s director of education said this week that the state’s NCLB waiver rejection has created an “unworkable situation,” perhaps a sign that the Obama administration may yet regret playing tough with Iowa’s application come November.
Larry Summers penned a Washington Post op-ed this week arguing that the firestorm over income inequality (really a debate over outcomes) must shift to a focus on equality of opportunity. Agreed, but here’s hoping that Summers’s faith in public education’s ability to provide opportunities that spur social mobility isn’t overly optimistic.
Daniela Fairchild / July 19, 2012
Social mobility dominated water-cooler conversation at Fordham since Charles Murray gave a talk at our place last month and calmly explained that the efficacy of American meritocracy actually hinders social mobility. This recent Pew report (a follow-up to its seminal 2008 work on the topic) has us all back to fill up our cups. It investigates absolute mobility (whether a person has more or less income and wealth than her parents did at the same age) and relative mobility (whether one is ranked higher or lower on the income and wealth continua than her parents). It shows that we’re not as economically stagnant a populace as recent discussion might suggest—but that there remains ample cause for concern. Eighty-four percent of Americans exceed their parents’ family income (normed to 2008 dollars), including 93 percent of those in the bottom quintile. Further, 72 percent of Americans in the bottom quintile exceed their parents’ family wealth (which equals total assets minus total debts). Yet despite these positive indicators, relative mobility is far more elusive. Forty-three percent of Americans who begin on the bottom rung stay there, and nearly three-quarters remain in the bottom 40 percent. A black-white mobility achievement gap is present as well: Half of blacks who were raised on the wealth ladder’s bottom rung stay there as adults, compared to a third of whites. The
Matt Richmond / July 19, 2012
Einstein famously opined that one only understands a subject that he can explain to his grandmother. If that’s the case, then Council for Great City Schools chief Michael Casserly understands a great deal. This AEI Outlook by Casserly culls the findings from the CGCS’s dense report on urban school improvement (released late in 2011), making them accessible to the grandmother in all of us. The study, which analyzes fourth- and eighth-grade NAEP scores for reading and math, finds that urban school districts have improved student outcomes more in recent years (2003-07) than has the nation as a whole, but that some have been markedly more successful than others. To probe the reasons, study authors profiled four districts: Atlanta (which made great gains in reading achievement, assuming its test scores are to be believed), Boston (which significantly boosted math achievement), Charlotte-Mecklenburg (a consistent high performer), and Cleveland (a persistently low performer). Researchers found several common characteristics that worked in tandem to create a purposeful and coherent “culture of reform” in the first three of those districts. Each had: strong leadership, robust accountability systems, a standard and consistent curriculum over the study period, meaningful professional development, solid central-office support, and clear data and assessments. Notably, each picked a plan (whether a specific literacy program in Atlanta or a common, concept-rich math program in Boston) and stuck with it. Interestingly, alignment of state standards to NAEP was not at all related to increased student achievement, even though NAEP
Kai Filipczak / July 19, 2012
Since 2010, the Center on Education Policy (CEP) has issued two handfuls of reports on the reborn federal School Improvement Grant (SIG) program. These latest three (1) tackle the challenges related to SIG staffing requirements, (2) tackle the challenges related to increased learning time, and (3) profile the culture changes made in six SIG schools. The first and third reports are worth mentioning. In the first, surveyed state leaders explain that finding and keeping quality principals and teachers is difficult for SIG schools, especially those in rural areas. Yet just 21 percent broke the hiring mold and offered recruiting and appointment assistance to SIG schools and districts looking for qualified staffers. It’s unclear from the survey data how many states and districts are utilizing alternative recruitment pathways like New Leaders or Teach For America. Instead, some state officials interviewed called for the relaxation of SIG schools’ replacement mandates. Indeed, just 55 percent of those in states with schools undergoing the “transformation” model (where the school must replace the principal and implement other programmatic and structural reforms) felt that replacing the school’s leader was a key or “somewhat” key element in upping student achievement. (Of course, there are inherent flaws in state-official survey data.) In the third report, CEP explains specific strategies implemented to change schools’ cultures, including requiring uniforms, hiring behavior specialists, and improving teacher collaboration (via pay for instructional coaching, etc.). Interviewees, unsurprisingly, most often cited improvements in
Ben Bennett / July 19, 2012
“Public education sometimes seems to operate on its own planet, immune to the conventions that bind other areas of our economy and public life,” writes Nelson Smith in this National Alliance for Public Charter Schools report. He further explains (in a companion Education Next article) that “school districts have largely lost their monopoly on education programming, but are still the only game in town when it comes to financing, developing, and deploying public school buildings.” Of the forty-two states that now have charter laws on the books, only eleven offer direct support for facilities expenses, and only three provide more than $1,000 per pupil toward these costs. Charters have no taxing power, no access to state capital budgets, and often no bonding authority. What’s more, when states do enact laws offering facilities aid to charters, these statutes are too often interpreted away or disregarded. Smith’s exposé offers an historical account of the situation and current examples of how it plays out in states and districts. Smith concludes with three potential approaches to facilities-portfolio management. The “Real Estate Trust” would put a single state entity in charge of all school facilities; schools (both public and charter) would receive faculties funding and would lease their buildings from the Trust. The “Construction Authority” would be a locally controlled “soup to nuts” body, in charge of handling all financing, building, and overseeing of local schools. The third option would contract out the entire