Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 12, Number 24
June 21, 2012
Opinion + Analysis
Disruptive innovation and independent public schools
Education’s mini mills
Ending Ohio’s charter-district feud
Why can't we be friends?
GAO and George Miller don’t understand how special education works
No public school serves all disabilities
Holding onto teachers and vouchers isn't easy
Checker and Mike explain why individual charter schools shouldn’t be expected to educate everyone and divide over Obama’s non-enforcement policies. Amber analyzes where students’ science skills are lacking.
Shifting Trends in Special Education
In this Fordham Institute paper, analysts examine public data and find that the proportion of students with disabilities peaked in 2004-05 and has been declining since. At the state level, Rhode Island, New York, and Massachusetts have the highest rates of disability identification, while Texas, Idaho, and Colorado have the lowest. Read on to learn more.
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / June 21, 2012
Famed business-school thinker Clayton Christensen was splendidly profiled in The New Yorker a few weeks back, which set me to reflecting on his influential meditation on K-12 education, Disrupting Class, the 2008 book (co-authored with Michael Horn and Curtis Johnson) that startled the edu-cracy with its bold prediction that half of all high school courses will be delivered online by 2019 and its explanation that technology will produce the “disruptive innovation” in education that previous reform efforts have failed to bring about. As I read the profile, though, I couldn’t help but wonder if the more disruptive force in education is lower-tech and already more widespread than Christensen himself realized.
Disruptive innovation drove out of business organizations in the steel industry that didn't adapt.
Photo by hanjeanwat.
“Disruptive innovation” is his seminal insight, perhaps better summarized in Larissa MacFarquhar’s profile than in the education book itself. “How was it,” he started wondering, “that big, rich companies, admired and emulated by everyone, could one year be at the peak of their power and, just a few years later, be struggling in the middle of the pack or just plain gone?”
He figured it out by closely observing the steel industry. The huge American steel firms (U.S. Steel, Bethlehem, etc.) were challenged
Terry Ryan / June 20, 2012
The infamous Hatfield and McCoy feud is an apt analogy for the history of district-charter school relations in Ohio. Neither side has much liked the other for years. Today, however, we see signs that the animosity and acrimony are fading.
The history of Ohio district-charter relations calls to mind legendary feuds.
Photo by Jimmy Emerson
Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson shepherded legislation through the General Assembly that would, among a host of innovative reforms, provide high-performing charter schools in Cleveland with local levy dollars to support their day-to-day operations. Building on the momentum coming out of Cleveland, Columbus Superintendent Gene Harris put forth a plan that would share local property-tax money with some of that city’s high-flying charters in the form of grants to enable those schools to help boost the performance of low-performing district schools.
There are other Buckeye State examples. Reynoldsburg City School District, serving one of Columbus’s most diverse close-in suburbs, has quietly built a portfolio of school options for its residents over the past decade. Now it is opening those options to students from other districts who might want to attend a Reynoldsburg school. Further, a group of school districts (including Columbus, Reynoldsburg, and the Dayton Public Schools), educational service centers, and the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation have been working together to build a joint
Michael J. Petrilli / June 21, 2012
Yesterday’s “exquisitely timed” GAO report set off an avalanche of accusations at charter schools for “discriminating” against students with disabilities with its finding that special-needs students represent a lower proportion of charter-school enrollment than they do in district schools. Representative George Miller, who requested the study, found the news “sobering.” Yet everyone already knows, as Eva Moskowitz told the Wall Street Journal, that the best charter schools try to help students with mild disabilities shed their labels (and Individual Education Plans) by improving their math and reading abilities. That could explain a significant part of the discrepancy. But there’s another point that’s overlooked entirely: No single public school is expected to serve students with every single type of disability. In fact, traditional public schools regularly “counsel out” students with severe disabilities because they don’t have the resources and expertise to serve them. Many school districts operate separate schools (or programs) precisely for those kids. Should the GAO put out a report blasting them for skirting their responsibilities? Of course not. What these districts are doing—what every school district of any size does—is to create special programs at particular schools that can better meet the needs of students with particular disabilities. Because, again, no single public school is expected to serve students with every single type of disability. Scratch that: Except for charter schools, which are somehow expected to do the impossible.
SOURCE: “Charter Schools
The Education Gadfly / June 21, 2012
A strikingly high number of teachers and principals in the nation’s capital have ditched district schools recently (55 percent of new teachers exit DCPS within two years, compared to one-third nationally), posing a real problem for one of the country’s most innovative school systems. While there’s value in some turnover if the lemons walk out the door, losing more than half of new hires so quickly is excessive. DCPS’s much-lauded approach to human capital must find ways to prioritize retention as much as it does recruitment and evaluation of talent.
Even increasingly diverse communities with appealing magnet schools struggle to integrate their classrooms, the New York Times pointed out on Sunday. Controlled choice and gentrification alone won’t achieve integration: It requires parents willing to take the plunge, and that’s easier said than done.
The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program will be preserved, following an agreement between Speaker Boehner, Senator Lieberman, and the U.S. Department of Education. The Obama Administration deserves a smidgen of credit for restoring some funding to this important voucher program but mostly a scolding for playing politics with thousands of students’ educations in the first place. The real kudos belongs to Boehner and Lieberman for persisting, even if this victory is incomplete.
Theda Sampson / June 21, 2012
For almost five years now, the Center for Reinventing Public Education and Mathematica have teamed up to assess the effectiveness of charter-management organizations (CMOs). And a productive partnership it has been. Their latest report on this topic (the fifth, by Gadfly’s count) deserves attention. It focuses on how CMOs hire, train, and manage staff to maximize their schools’ instructional and cultural coherence; there are strong implications here for districts and other charters. Analysts found that successful CMOs managed talent in three key ways. First, they recruited and hired carefully, targeting pipelines like Teach For America and communicating clearly the school’s mission and work ethic. (Messaging, these CMOs believe, helps teachers self-select during the application process.) Second, they used intensive and ongoing socialization of team members, including routine observations and real-time feedback. Third, they aligned pay and promotion to organizational goals, meaning, for example, that stellar teachers were offered the chance to coach others, develop new programs at the schools, and more. CMOs also provided cash rewards to rock-star teachers which, interestingly, were based more on leaders’ professional opinions than assessments or performance metrics. The report draws a number of conclusions that district schools and other charters would be wise to follow insofar as they can.
SOURCE: Michael DeArmond, Betheny Gross, Melissa Bowen, Allison Demeritt, and Robin Lake, Managing Talent for School Coherence: Learning from
The Nation’s Report Card: Science in Action: Hands-On and Interactive Computer Tasks from the 2009 Science Assessment
Amber M. Winkler, Ph.D. / June 21, 2012
We’ve long rued the state of American science education—and crammed worrisome evidence from national and international assessments (as well as our own evaluations of states’ science standards) into the ears of all who will listen. This follow-up report to the 2009 National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) science test has us concerned all over again, both with what it says and with how its findings may be interpreted. It examines (for the first time) students’ ability to perform hands-on and interactive computer-based science tasks. Three key trends emerged: The majority of pupils could make straightforward observations of data (e.g., 75 percent of twelfth graders could test a water sample and note whether it met EPA standards). Yet they struggled when investigations contained multiple variables or required strategic decision making to gather appropriate data (e.g., just 24 percent of eighth graders could manipulate metal bars to determine which were magnets). Finally, though students could often arrive at the correct conclusion, they struggled to provide evidence for their answer. (Seventy-one percent of fourth graders could accurately choose how volume changes when ice melts into water but only 15 percent could explain why that happened using evidence from the experiment.) These stumbles have already elicited grumbles among reporters, government officials, and others. Their argument: These data are proof that we’re forcing too much content (presented via
Matt Richmond / June 21, 2012
Demand for a school was highly correlated with its quality.
Baking a successful school-choice soufflé is challenging. The ingredients are hard to come by: Schools must be high performing while simultaneously offering options to a diverse parent base. And the recipe is fussy: Navigating the system should be easy and fair. There can be no inherent incentives to game the system. Denver’s new school-choice program (creatively titled SchoolChoice) may not be “Iron Chef” quality, but it has some stimulating flavors cooked in. This encouraging report from A+ Denver explains: Last year, the Denver Public Schools (DPS) streamlined its choice program, merging all sixty of the district’s varying school applications and deadlines into one system. This alleviated much headache and caused an uptick in intradistrict choice. For the 2010-11 school year, over 22,700 students (comprising a little over 25 percent of all pupils) participated, with over two-thirds of them gaining access to their top-choice schools (and 83 percent to one of their top three choices). Even more promising, demand for a school was highly correlated with its quality. Improvements to the program can still be made, however. The report finds, for example, that poor and minority families choose schools that are generally lower performing than their better-off peers (likely due to school location and marketing). There’s lots to learn from the paper, including new insights about parental preferences and school-choice decision-making. As DPS refines its program—and as other districts seek to copy,