Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 12, Number 9
March 1, 2012
Opinion + Analysis
The war against the Common Core
Its supporters are their own worst enemies.
You can’t principal-proof a school
Why top down evaluation systems are doomed to fail
Learning from tragedy
Our thoughts are with Chardon, Ohio
Stagnation, snobbery, and spending: another week in Washington
Letter to the Editor
In response to Fordham's review of "The School Improvement Grant Roll Out in America’s Great City Schools"
Milwaukee Evaluations: Final Reports
Choice + accountability = higher achievement
National Cost of Aligning States and Localities to the Common Core Standards
The $16 billion-dollar question
Special report: Reinventing America
Think: technology and technical education
Certification Requirements and Teacher Quality: A Comparison of Alternative Routes to Teaching
Many paths to better teachers
Sounding off on "snobs" and Santorum
Mike and Rick break down the week’s news, from the prospects of John Kline’s ESEA reauthorization proposals to the college-for-all controversy. Amber analyzes the latest report on Milwaukee’s voucher program Chris wonders whether robbing a bank is enough to get a school bus driver fired.
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / March 1, 2012
The Common Core State Standards Initiative landed in our midst with four great assets:
- Its content-and-skill expectations for grades K-12 in English and math are, by almost everyone’s reckoning, about as rigorous as the best state-specific academic standards and superior to most.
- It was developed outside the federal government, voluntarily by states, using private dollars. (The related assessments are another matter.) And both standards and assessments remain voluntary for states.
- It opens the way, for the first time, to comparing student, school and district performance across the land on a credible, common metric—and gauging their achievement against that of youngsters in other countries on our shrinking and ever-more-competitive planet.
- Besides comparability, it brings the possibility that families moving around our highly mobile society will be able to enroll their kids seamlessly in schools that are teaching the same things at the same grade levels.
Ever since it landed, the Common Core has been the object of ceaseless attacks from multiple directions.
Ever since it landed, however, the Common Core has been the object of ceaseless attacks from multiple directions. The number of zealous assailants is small and, for a time, it all looked like a tempest in a highly visible teapot. That may yet turn out to be the case. But the attacks are growing fiercer; some recent recruits to the attack squad are people who tend to get taken seriously; and anything can happen in an election year. Remember the classic Peter Sellers movie, The Mouse That Roared? The Duchy of Grand Fenwick ended up triumphing over the United States of America. As
Kathleen Porter-Magee / March 1, 2012
As everyone in the education world already knows, several news media organizations won a lawsuit that forced the New York City Department of Education to release many of the teacher-level value-added scores it has been collecting as part of its accountability system. The result? The public unveiling of confusing, unreliable, and—apparently—error-riddled data.
Before we go further down the teacher evaluation path, now is a good time for education reformers to pause and ask themselves whether this kind of top down effort is really what will lead our schools to excellence?
The question is not whether student achievement data should be used as one of several measures of teacher effectiveness, but rather how those data should be used and who is ultimately in the driver’s seat.
Critics of using test data argue that it’s unfair; that standardized tests are imperfect and therefore cannot be used to determine whether students have learned what they should have, and certainly not whether teachers have taught what they were supposed to.
Teachers ultimately should be held accountable for how well they are able to drive achievement in their classrooms.
Such arguments are misguided for lots of reasons, chief among them that there is, in no profession, a perfect measure of effectiveness. And teachers ultimately should be held accountable for how well they are able to drive achievement in their classrooms.
But these critics are correct on a larger point: no matter how well developed the tool, it needs to be reality checked. Of course, the one thing critics—teacher unions foremost among them—hate more than giving Departments of Education
Emmy L. Partin / March 1, 2012
My heart hurts for the community of Chardon, in northeast Ohio. I know people who live there, and they are in deep shock and pain over Monday’s shooting at Chardon High School. I send my deepest condolences to everyone impacted by these events. As both a professional observer of Buckeye State public education and as a mom, two things stand out from Monday’s tragedy. First, there has been a tremendous focus here in Ohio on anti-bullying efforts. Many people initially assumed that bullying was the cause of Monday’s shooting—an assumption that has been largely dispelled. The suspect told law enforcement officials that he chose the victims randomly, and the prosecutor in the case believes his story. We absolutely need to address bullying in (and out of) school. But children, like all of us, can be deeply troubled and in need of help, even when they are treated kindly by others. Second, it appears as if the school, its staff, and its students did everything right when it came to responding to the situation. It is a Fordham mantra that no school can be everything to every student, but we all agree that all schools have a major responsibility to keep students safe and sound when they are in their charge. Emergency response drills and preparedness plans are important. Yes, they take away from “time on task” and force us to confront some of our worst fears, but they simply cannot and should not be overlooked. The leadership and staff of the Chardon school district deserve to be commended for
The Education Gadfly / March 1, 2012
GOP Rep. John Kline’s ESEA reauthorization bills slipped out of the House Education and the Workforce Committee on a party-line vote, but will likely stall in their current state. The time for posturing has passed: If Congress wants any role in education policy, it’s got to start compromising.
The dithering on Capitol Hill was in stark contrast to the activity at the Education Department, which received NCLB waiver applications from twenty six more states and D.C. by its Tuesday deadline. While the merits (and, indeed, the constitutionality) of the feds’ waiver program are far from settled, Congress has given states few alternatives.
It’s a welcome surprise to find a GOP candidate willing to talk about education, but Rick Santorum seems to be bringing all the wrong kinds of attention to important policies worthy of thoughtful support (home schooling) and skepticism (universal higher ed).
The National Association of Charter School Authorizers' latest brief in its Cyber Series is yet another bit (byte?) to add to the mounting evidence that best practices for charter authorizing provide a useful framework for overseeing online schools.
Congratulations are due to Robin Lake, the newly announced successor to Paul Hill as head of the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) at the University of Washington-Bothell. Congrats are due to Paul, too, for building such a stellar organization and team. We have worked closely with CRPE and both of those fine scholars in multiple ways over many years. We've come to admire and respect (and occasionally envy)
March 1, 2012
In her critique of “The School Improvement Grant Roll Out in America’s Great City Schools”, Daniela Fairchild badly mangles our findings, and then compounds the error by drawing a conclusion that cannot be supported by any information in the report.
Ms. Fairchild says that one learns from the report “that districts seem to be less aggressive with their turnaround efforts post ARRA.” She bases this claim on the assertion that the number of transformation schools, the most flexible of the reform models, jumped from 24 percent to 74 percent, pre- to post ARRA. Conversely, she indicates that the number of schools undergoing tougher reforms plummeted. But the route she took to arrive at a “pre-ARRA” figure of 24 percent was to take the total number of schools that were implementing some sort of turnaround strategy in the five years prior to ARRA, add the number of schools that were closed for academic reasons during this time, subtract the number of these schools that subsequently reopened, and then take the total number of schools that had only removed the principal and divide it by this number.
Unfortunately, all of this arithmetic does not result in a valid estimate of the number of schools pursuing the transformation model prior to ARRA. In terms of pre-ARRA turnaround efforts, we only asked narrowly about the replacement of principals in order to gauge districts’ perspectives on how well this strategy worked in the past--NOT to report the number of districts who were pursuing this model wholesale prior to ARRA.
Adam Emerson / March 1, 2012
Five years and thirty-six reports later, the researchers at the University of Arkansas’s School Choice Demonstration Project have written their last word on Milwaukee’s Parental Choice Program (MPCP) (some background here and here). Largely, the news is good for the nation’s oldest school-voucher enterprise. Eight new studies—written by Patrick Wolf, John Witte, Anna Jacob, and others—make plain that voucher students were more likely to graduate high school and enroll in a four-year college than their counterparts in the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS). Voucher pupils also made significantly larger reading gains. Perhaps most tantalizing, the state’s new school-accountability requirements seem partly responsible for the progress. In 2010-11, the final year of data collection, MPCP students made significantly larger reading gains than their MPS peers—unlike previous years, when voucher students were merely on par with their public-school counterparts. (Achievement growth in math was about the same for MPCP and MPS students throughout the studied years.) Interestingly, the same year saw a host of additional testing and reporting regulations added to participating voucher schools. For example, voucher-bearing pupils had to take state assessments and their schools had to adopt formal graduation and promotion standards. Though analysts couldn’t “determine conclusively how big a role the accountability policy played,” their findings encourage the view that voucher programs shouldn’t be ruled by the market alone; transparency and results-based accountability are good for everyone.
School Choice Demonstration Project, Milwaukee Evaluation: Final Reports (Fayetteville, AR: University of Arkansas, February 2012).
Kathleen Porter-Magee / March 1, 2012
The Pioneer Institute is no friend of the Common Core—which needs to be remembered when reading its latest missive. Released last week, this report claims that it will cost the nation $15.8 billion to implement the new standards over a seven-year period, with the lion’s share of those costs incurred during the first year. (Worse, the authors further remind readers that this is, at best, a “midrange” estimate.) The Institute projects a $10 million-plus invoice per school for professional development, technology, and textbooks and instructional materials in the first year alone—a number that strikes us as radically inflated, to put it kindly. To be sure, implementing the Common Core well will bring costs: Aligning materials, instruction, and assessments with new standards cannot be done on the cheap if it’s going to be done well. But Pioneer’s estimates are misleading. Not every dollar spent on CCSS will be “new money.” (It’s not as if we’re spending zip on professional development, textbooks, and the rest currently.) Nor do states need to follow the tired blueprint we’ve been modeling implementation off of to date—and that has too often failed to move the achievement needle. Examine Pioneer’s take on professional development, for instance. The authors project a one-time professional development cost of $5.26 billion across all states—a third of Pioneer’s total CCSS implementation estimate. Unfortunately, this fantastical number rests on two goofy assumptions. First, that the CCSS adopters should (and will) use our current and dramatically flawed PD-delivery model to prep teachers.
Layla Bonnot / March 1, 2012
This special edition of the Harvard Business Review explains America’s unready state for competing in the global marketplace. And it points an accusatory finger at our education system. U.S. public education—according to HBR authors—is “neither world class nor reflective of the large sums spent on [it].” It’s also a system that struggles to “produce employable workers.” In short, it’s broken. Luckily, there are solutions. In her education-specific article (the only one in the bunch), the Gates Foundation’s Stacey Childress (formerly an HBS professor) promotes the use of technology to improve and personalize content delivery. Suggestions from other contributors include calling on the business community and business schools to invest locally in schools (a call recently echoed by Governor Jindal) and to increase the number of apprenticeship and internship-type programs for high schoolers. At the higher-education level, authors pushed for curricula better aligned with the needs of employers. Those seeking a primer on U.S. competitiveness may wish to have a look. And to supporters of career-readiness efforts: This issue provides much fodder for a revamped approach to vocational and technical education as well.
“Special report: Reinventing America,” Harvard Business Review 90, no. 3 (March 2012).
Lisa Gibes / March 1, 2012
After decades of education schools’ oligarchic control over teacher licensure, alternative-certification pathways have gained traction in recent years. (Fordham has tracked and supported these pathways since the first such emerged in NJ.) Still, resistance to them remains. Many critics argue that alt-cert pathways cherry-pick their entrants. (Much has been written about TFA on this front). This paper by Tim Sass, a CALDER researcher and economics professor, analyzes three of Florida’s nine alternate pathways to teacher licensure—none of which engage in heavy recruiting, and some of which require no coursework before or after licensure. Overall, the author finds that teachers who enter the profession with no education coursework under their belts are better at raising student achievement than either those from traditional teacher-prep programs or alt-cert programs requiring some formal coursework—though there is much variability in programs’ effectiveness. Sass also investigates prior coursework taken by teachers who enter through each pathway and produces an interesting finding: Alternatively certified science teachers took far more discipline-specific courses than those who have been traditionally trained, though the same cannot be said for math teachers. Of particular note is the strong performance by teachers certified by ABCTE—an “alternate route on steroids” that Fordham helped to birth. While surely not the final word on alternative certification, Sass’s offers further reason for the expansion of smarter alt-cert options.
Tim Sass, Certification Requirements and Teacher Quality: A Comparison of Alternative Routes to Teaching (Atlanta, GA: Georgia State University, 2011).