Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 12, Number 23
June 14, 2012
Opinion + Analysis
Nobody loves standards (and that's O.K.)
The Common Core is common sense
By Robert Pondiscio
Cleveland’s on the rise. Chicago?…not so much.
By The Education Gadfly
Diplomas Count 2012: Trailing Behind, Moving Forward
The Latino imperative
The Greenfield School Revolution and School Choice
Innovation demands investment
A Time for Governing: Policy Solutions from the Pages of National Affairs
The time for tinkering has passed
No Citizen Left Behind
Do High Flyers Maintain Their Altitude? Performance Trends of Top Students
"Do High Flyers Maintain Their Altitude? Performance Trends of Top Students," is the first study to examine the performance of America's highest-achieving children over time at the individual-student level. Produced in partnership with the Northwest Evaluation Association, it finds that many high-achieving students struggle to maintain their elite performance over the years and often fail to improve their reading ability at the same rate as their average and below-average classmates. The study raises troubling questions: Is our obsession with closing achievement gaps and "leaving no child behind" coming at the expense of our "talented tenth" and America's future international competitiveness? Read on to learn more.
Robert Pondiscio / June 14, 2012
I don’t love standards. I doubt any teacher does.
I love literature. History. Science. I love grappling with ideas. I’m excited to know how things work and to share what I have learned with others, especially eager-to-learn children. Standards, by contrast, are unlovely, unlovable things. No teacher has ever summoned his or her class wide-eyed to the rug with the promise that “today is the day we will learn to listen and read to analyze and evaluate experiences, ideas, information, and issues from a variety of perspectives."
No teacher has ever summoned his or her class to the rug with the promise that "today is the day we will learn to listen and read to analyze and evaluate experiences, ideas, information, and issues from a variety of perspectives. Won't that be fun boys and girls?!"
Photo by Fort Rucker.
“Won’t that be fun, boys and girls?!”
Well, no, it won’t. Standards are a joyless way to reverse engineer the things we love to teach and do with kids. Thus I understand and sympathize if beleaguered teachers view Common Core State Standards (CCSS) as just one more damn thing imposed on them from on high, interposed between them and their students. But if they do, that’s a shame. Because far from being
The Education Gadfly / June 14, 2012
Times are tough for the nation’s largest union: Fresh off Scott Walker’s recall victory and a narrowly avoided strike by its own employees, the NEA is bracing for the reality that its 2013-2014 membership may be 15 percent lower than its 2009-2010 peak. What remains to be seen is whether it and the AFT will respond to dwindling memberships by doubling down on current dogmas or opening up to change.
Kudos, meanwhile, to Buckeye State lawmakers for approving key elements of Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson’s school reforms on Tuesday. Now it’s up to the city and district to make the promise of merit-based layoffs and greater equity in charter funding a reality.
President Obama used his latest weekly address to call for more federal dollars to bridge budget shortfalls, keeping teachers in classrooms and class sizes from creeping upwards. Someone would do well to remind him that it might be better to push for greater cost-effectiveness in U.S. education policies and practices. Someone like, maybe, Secretary Duncan?
The Chicago Teacher Union raised the likelihood of a Windy City showdown when 90 percent of its members voted to authorize a strike if negotiations with the district break down next fall—although Gadfly’s not betting against Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
A California judge sided with a group of parents this week and ruled that the Los Angeles Unified School District
John Horton / June 14, 2012
Seesawing between sobering and encouraging, this eighth edition of Education Week’s Diplomas Count annual report illuminates the educational attainment of America’s Latino population—a sometimes neglected group with the fastest growing share of our nation’s classroom seats. And it comes none too soon. If public education is to improve over the next ten years, more attention must be paid to the 12.1 million Latino pupils (among 54 million total students) currently in the U.S. schools. (By 2020, Latinos are slated to comprise a quarter of the nation’s school children.) We learn that this group has made noteworthy strides in graduation rates—up 1.7 percentage points from 2008 to 2009 (the most recent year for which data are available) and 5.5 percentage points over the prior decade. Still, despite these big bumps, Latinos’ graduation rate is 10 percentage points lower than the national average meaning that we have a daunting hike ahead. And, as Ed Week’s authors explain, doing ELL education right will offer a big boost up this mountain.
SOURCE: Education Week, Diplomas Count 2012: Trailing Behind, Moving Forward (Bethesda, MD: Editorial Projects in Education, June 2012).
Adam Emerson / June 14, 2012
We know anecdotally that our current collection of private-school-choice programs has done little to encourage new and innovative models of private education to flourish. This report from the Friedman Foundation, which tracks private-school enrollment in eight choice-heavy locales over the lifespan of their tax-credit or voucher programs, offers evidence to back up those impressions: In Milwaukee, for example, the number of private schools has grown since choice legislation was enacted, but these schools have become larger and “presumably more stable and even insular” (and thus, less likely to be innovative). For authors Greg Forster and James L. Woodworth, this justifies a move toward universal school choice—making all children, regardless of income level, eligible for vouchers or tax credits—which, they argue, will allow for a shift in institutional culture, where entrepreneurs can “innovate beyond the confines of the ‘default’ public school model.” Or, to draw on Rick Hess’s terminology, universal choice will allow for the “greenfield schools model,” or a “rethink [of] how schools are designed from the ground up,” to take root. But why default to universal choice as the best way to reach greenfield schooling (apart from fact that promoting choice-for-all is the mission of the Friedman Foundation)? Following Forster’s and Woodworth’s own logic, upping the dollar value of vouchers (or tax credits) is more likely to prime the pump of supply-side innovation than simply opening
Tyson Eberhardt / June 14, 2012
Teacher evaluations and Common Core implementation can wait. According to this valuable National Affairs compendium, our education system suffers from more basic ailments. In fact, all policies that have been pushed over the last few decades—from those that relate to the tax code to healthcare, social security to monetary policy—are unsustainable. In his introductory chapter, National Affairs editor Yuval Levin argues that, for decades, America has been slowly (and seemingly inevitably) marching toward becoming a “technocratic welfare state.” Yet, thanks to current social and financial circumstances, that social-democratic ideal is no longer viable. According to Levin, we have “perhaps a decade” to fix things before economic catastrophe strikes. Luckily, the nineteen luminaries who contributed to the volume provide an impressive if occasionally contradictory package of solutions to many of these problems, solutions that, properly implemented, would fundamentally overhaul the shape of American policy and save us from fiscal collapse and public dependence on the “welfare” state. While only two chapters (by Fordham’s Chester Finn and AEI’s Rick Hess) explicitly address schools, all approach systemic flaws with a refreshing aversion to bureaucracy that would serve our education system well. In particular, Josh Barro’s playbook for overhauling public-sector pensions—don’t just target new hires, ditch the defined-benefit model, and consider buying out existing benefits—represents an ambitious and transformative plan (one the education system would be
Daniela Fairchild / June 14, 2012
Much has been written in recent years on the crisis in American civics education—of students’ low achievement, of the deprioritization of civics in classrooms. This book by Harvard ed-school professor (and famous left-winger) Meira Levinson covers many of the same points. Part teaching memoir, part policy analysis, it laments our nation’s “civics empowerment gap” and explains how teaching civics can reengage low-income youth in the education system. Much of the book makes familiar arguments. But one section stands out. In it, Levinson explains how the three-legged stool of standards, assessment, and accountability (what she calls SAA) can help promote democratic values. Though not a direct discussion of civics literacy and classroom-based civics teaching, this section of the book does offer an interesting perspective. As Levinson explains, rigorous standards model democratic principles of equity by helping to ensure that all students are afforded the same access to quality education (of course, there’s more to it than just standards). Their linked assessments and accountability structures promote the democratic ideals of efficiency and transparency—and help empower parents and others to engage in democratic dialogue and deliberation about the quality of American schooling. And these common goals allow for diversity in other areas (allowing for more individualized teaching and disparate educational philosophies). Critics of SAA, take note.
SOURCE: Meira Levinson, No Citizen Left Behind (Cambridge,